Las Ramblas, Barcelona, was The Happy Street. The legendary writer García Lorca said it was the most joyous ‘calle’ street in the world. Before the Olympic Games, hosted by Spain in 1992, when everything was ‘done up’ and ‘improved’, Las Ramblas was one of the most inspiring neighbourhoods of my life. Rich in sounds, compelling in atmosphere, filled with life, night and day, lined on each side of the street with stalls selling flowers, birds in cages, drinks, hot doughnuts.
Music from bars that never closed, always soul-stirring and broadcast from the same radio station. A narrow street led to the Gothic area, a hidden territory, a maze of alleys where the people of the night gathered in bars and the girls plied their trade. This, a private quarter frequented by artists, musicians, and those who could not be seen in the light of day. The Gothic area offered enticements not possible elsewhere. It was not without danger. It also had good restaurants. Further up Las Ramblas, in the prestigious art gallery, my play about Modigliani was performed in the middle of an exhibition of his work. That was a night of celebration in an area that could do celebration justice. Writing about those nights in The Siesta, and then in the movie that followed (Miles Davis wrote the music), it all started here.
The street cries in the night and the church bell that was uneven due to bomb damage from The Civil War, and the noisy birds, and the smell of frying oil and toilet water filled my street-facing room in the cheap hotel. I remember a woman shouting by the bird-stalls and this sound, in turn, raised a terrible squawking from the cages. The woman’s hoarse chanting over and over must be a cry for help. Had she lost her mind? I decided she was a working girl accosting a customer who had not paid. 4 a.m. and the cry went on in the hot night with people still wandering around. It was not some ritual. She was selling lottery tickets. Her voice raw from ‘Get lucky. Get lucky’. Las Ramblas will get lucky again. Lorca is right. But after Thursday’s atrocities: ‘Corazon Partido – Heart Broken’. That’s my cry.