La Barceloneta

By way of introduction, Barceloneta is triangle-shaped barrio bordered on one side by the port of Barcelona and on the other by the sea, historic home to fisherman, dockworkers, and other working class families. The fishing industry is gone, the port has undergone a Miami-style face lift, the beach is mobbed by tourists, but somehow the neighborhood has survived this far maintaining local character and traditions. A few nights ago they celebrated la fiesta de los coros. People associate via local bars into bands of a few dozen for a weekend of revelry. In short, these gangs and their hired bands parade from their home bar to the other bars to show off, then go away to a hotel out of town for a few days of constant intoxication, then return and parade again. They parade for hours, fueled by some cocktail of drugs, traditionally accompanied by natty brass marching bands, but nowadays there are many backed by brazilian-style batucadas. The gangs terminate their parade around midnight at their home bar, with a bunch of firecrackers and small explosives blowing up overhead, or sometimes a flaming logo, or a street filled with foam or some other trick. It's a potlatch style festival, like mardi gras, carnival or even the d.i.y. parts of Burning Man. The participants try to throw the best party, have the best band, show off their costumes, and share some dangerous & impressive fireworks display. Like any good street party it's chaotic, blurry, auto-organized, and with almost no presence of authority. These people have somehow weathered a lot of bullshit city plans and gentrification, but the biggest challenge might be arriving just now. There is a new landmark in the neighborhood, the Hotel Vela, a glass skyscraper imitating the sail-shaped hotel in Dubai. It's plopped right on the coast, 5 stars of ugliness sitting atop a new shopping mall. It's hard to find someone happy about it. For instance today I got an email invitation to a public action meeting, some excerpts:
S'ha al�at en l'horitz� de la ciutat una torre d'assalt. L'Hotel Vela. L'Hotel Vela culmina l'estrat�gia del �model Barcelona�: la transformaci� desp�tica d'un territori urb� sotm�s a l'inter�s privat, l'extracci� de benefici econ�mic, i el control policial que aquestes activitats demanen, amb el recurs a un sentit com� neoliberal que no ignora el mesqu� inter�s quotidi�, i la brutal traject�ria. L'Hotel Vela �s un agent de l'extensi� d'aquest desert. (........) Alguns volem dinamitar l'Hotel Vela. (........) T'hem afegit a la llista de distribuci� de la campanya Bomba a l'Hotel Vela.....
It basically says to the the hotel as a tower of assault, the final touch in the ongoing program of converting territory from commons to private for the sake of enriching certain peoples, and brings with it the policing necessary to secure these new private upscale spaces, etc... Later it follows: Some of us are going to dynamite this hotel.�Then the bulk of the email which talks about the meeting plans. And from the end of the message: you are on the mailing list to Bomb the Hotel Vela, if you wish to unsubscribe etc.. It's one quick solution. Less messy would be to hire David Copperfield to make it simply disappear. The below foto I took during construction, from the rocks below where I used to sit and practice darbouka. The grafitti has been replaced by a giant "W Hotel" advertisement, and the skeleton now tarted-up with glass. Now I go elsewhere to play my instrument, but am running out of places.� This building is personal for me in another way. The night of St. Joan 2007 I was explaining my pipe dream of a floating container-ship city to Mireia while sitting in the port. I looked up and realized that in fact we were sitting in the shadow of a cargo ship with the hand-painted name of "Freetown." Later I found out it was�abandoned by a bankrupt Indian shipping company. Soon after I brought out a friend with more arts/government connections to see the ship, but they had closed the entire zone, including public streets. We were turned around and told there'd be no access for a few years. By now Freetown is likely scuttled.