Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

Platja d'Aro - Carnival 2014

Platja d’Aro – Carnival 2014

Thirty or so years ago Platja d’Aro was just a quiet village on the northern coast of Catalonia. With the development of tourism and the creation of the ‘Costa Brava’ the town mushroomed and now is predominantly a place of hotels, apartment blocks and summer homes for the Catalan wealthy. From the end of the summer season in September/October until Easter the following year the place reverts to its original population levels, summer homes being closed for the winter. Apart, that is, until it’s time for the Platja d’Aro Carnival.

Platja d’Aro never used to have a carnival. In fact Carnival was never really a big thing in any part of Catalonia but someone at sometime thought that there was money to be made out of this weekend of madness and holiday resorts are always on the lookout for opportunities to extend the season.

What Platja d’Aro has succeeded in doing is making itself THE centre for carnival in that part of the region and attracts participants from the smaller towns and villages nearby, to the south and east of Girona – the distance is limited due to the fact that the decorated floats aren’t the easiest of vehicles to move over great distances and are probably breaking all kinds of traffic regulations under normal circumstances.

Arriving just before midday on the Thursday there was little to indicate that anything of any substance was going to happen within a couple of days. There were some street decorations but everything seemed remarkably quiet.

Although carnival related activities might take place earlier than the weekend everything really kicks off on the Thursday. This Thursday is known as Dijous Gras in Catalan (Jueves Lardero in Castellano or Fat Thursday in English). This is basically the day that is celebrated in Britain as Shrove Tuesday – the idea being the same, i.e., to use up any fat before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. In the Iberian peninsular they use of their fat up a few days earlier, probably due to the Catholic influence which has a desire to increase the period of penance. For the British this is perhaps one of the beneficial aspects remaining from Henry Tudor’s Reformation of the 16th century.

Traditionally, throughout Spain, the carnival weekend starts with the ‘pregon’ (prego in Catalan). This takes the form of announcement/declaration/speech (I can’t think of an exact parallel in English culture so it encompasses all of these things) made by a ‘town crier’ chosen for the task each year. For an outsider these can be difficult.

I was in a small town called Zahara de los Atunes, in the Cadiz province, some years ago at the time of carnival. I stood in the town square listening to the ‘pregonero’ make his speech but didn’t understand any of it. Some of the words yes, but the meaning no. I afterwards learnt that the ‘pregon’ takes the form of a satire, or an attack, on local and national politicians, local characters, or generally anyone in positions of power and influence. That means there are lots of local references, ‘in jokes’, etc., which need a good understanding of the immediate environment to get any of it.

For it has to be remembered that this is where the whole culture of carnival started. The local peasants were allowed a few days to let off steam. The whole social order was turned upside down for a short, determined and restricted period of time. People were permitted to break taboos, get drunk, dress in bizarre costumes, cross dress, disguise themselves and get away with behaviour that sometimes would even border on the criminal (read the section about the Venice carnival in The Memoirs of Casanova to get an idea of what he got up to in 1745, masked and cloaked in the narrow, dark alley ways by the canals). In such circumstances disguise was necessary to protect the ordinary people from later reprisals so in the past carnival would have been a somewhat surreptitious affair.

I really didn’t understand anything said by the ‘pregonero’ who stood on the balcony of the Town Hall (above the Tourist Information Office) in Platja d’Aro at 13.00 on Fat Thursday, for all the reasons mentioned above and added to that he was speaking in Catalan. I can understand some Catalan but not when it comes out like shrapnel, moving from one topic to another without warning. He was accompanied by the previously elected King and Queen of the Carnival (Reis Carnestoltes in Catalan) but the rest of the relatively small crowd seemed to like it.

There was a taste of what was to come in store later that day after it got dark. About a half a dozen of the floats (carrosses) shuttled up and down a section of the closed off main street which couldn’t have been much longer than a sprint track. Although only a few floats and only a few people at each one it was possible to learn from them a couple of the aspects that would mark the main parade – noise and alcohol.

11 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

11 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

Each float would have huge speakers pointing in all directions and the only setting on the amplifier was loud, so loud that you felt the float passing you. Another integral component of every float was the cupboard/s for the booze. A self-service arrangement where empty glasses were filled by whatever selection of drinks their budget would be able to manage.

Friday was a day of nothing more than a few bouncy castles and games for children in the gardens in front of the town’s community hall. Obviously everyone was getting prepared for the ‘big day’ on Saturday. If Friday was there for any reason at all it was so that people could arrive in time for the parade the following day. Restaurants that had been closed for the winter finished up their pre-season clean up and the tables were prepared for customers. More cars appeared in the private car-parks attached to some of the apartment blocks and the bars and cafés in town started to have smiling proprietors as the empty tables became more rare and people were staying for longer, meeting up with friends they hadn’t seen in a while.

The weather hadn’t been too bad in the week before the sun rose on Saturday morning. If the sun was out it could be quite pleasant but after dark, with the clear skies, the temperature would plummet. Being this far north I’m sure the temperatures were being effected by the cold air coming down from the snow-laden Pyrenees, not visible from the coast but that was where the cold air was coming from. The crazy weather that had hit more northerly Europe was having a knock on effect on the Mediterranean coastal towns.

There were two parades advertised for the Saturday, one at 11.00 and the other at 16.00. Even when I look back on it I don’t really understand why. Being this the first time that I had been there at any time, let alone Carnival, I got my information from the published material and just made sure that I was where it was all happening well before the appointed time.

To give you an idea about the procession perhaps its worthwhile saying something about the structure of Platja d’Aro. There’s a main road (C-35) that comes off motorway (E-15) – the main route into France from Barcelona – and then a spur off that which takes you into the centre of the town, at a roundabout near to the Town Hall. There it meets the road that runs parallel to the coast and goes all the way through Platja d’Aro. This is the main shopping, eating and socialising street, especially when the hotels and bars right by the beach are closed in the off-season. From where the parade starts to the roundabout at the end where all the ‘VIPs’ sit is no more than a kilometre and could be walked in less than 10 minutes.

On both sides of this route were plastic chairs, barely leaving any space for people to pass through. Where there weren’t these plastic chairs you had the outside seating for the cafés. These chairs had obviously been placed there overnight or very early in the morning and as we walked up to the start of the 11.00 parade I couldn’t work out why so many of them were empty.

This is the biggest Carnival parade in the area. Surely the seats would have been claimed long before the official start time? The answer was that the morning parade was very much a taster for the main course to come later in the afternoon. Some of the participants and floats appeared later, but not all but to tell the truth I couldn’t work out why there were two parades at all.

Although the same amount of effort would have gone into making the floats and the costumes as well as practising some, at least for me, fairly complex dance routines there were much fewer people watching to appreciate it. In fact, on the Saturday morning there were still more people arriving from the likes of Barcelona.

02 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

02 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

Coming from the UK my approach would have been to have one big parade, starting around about 14.00 and going on till every float had passed by. That would mean more of it would take place in the sun, more people would be around, and every participant would get the appreciation they deserved. But that plan would come up against a cultural barrier that to break down would rival the tasks of Hercules. And that’s the midday 3 or so hours designated for lunch and a possible siesta. It would be inconceivable that this could be changed, even for one day and anyway there would be a riot by the café and restaurant owners. So due to this intransigence some people are forced to perform to an empty street.

01 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

01 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

The main parade at 16.00 was a much different affair. I know there were at least 63 floats but they didn’t move through very quickly, going at an average of about 12 an hour. This meant that it was getting close to 22.00 before the last float went down the home stretch to be ‘greeted’ by the VIPs and to get their images broadcast on the local TV station. By that time it was getting cold. If at the start everyone was enjoying the sunshine by the time two-thirds of the parade had gone by people were starting to drift away.

08 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

08 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

And this seemed a shame. It was obvious the amount of effort that some people had put into their presentation was immense, both in terms of effort and expense. Some of the floats were papier-mâché works of art which had their 15 minutes of fame and presumably would have been dismantled within days. The people who walked with those floats were all dressed in some sort of costume, following the theme that had been chosen by their group. Some had only a few people but some of the bigger groups had 50, 60 or even more people, of all ages and sizes, all dressed exactly the same. But the ones at the back would only have been seen by a fraction of the crowd as those whose float had the numbers 1 to 25.

06 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

06 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

This is an event were everyone in a particular community or club would participate, regardless of age or gender. Often, under the make up and the costumes, it was impossible to tell the gender. And the make-up was another matter. The costumes would have been made over a period of months (I assume that these groups have already decided on what they’re going to do for 2015 and are beginning to put together what is necessary for next year’s carnival) but the make-up would have to have been done just a matter of an hour or so before they went out on to the street. I didn’t think of it at the time, and only thought about it now as I type, that it would have been interesting to have seen all the back-room work being done by those who perhaps did not walk in the parade.

07 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

07 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

Some people just walked in their costumes whilst others had a set dance routine which they would perform whilst they were stopped in one place. After a while it was possible to see patterns develop and what seemed to differentiate the different groups was the combination, difficulty or adventurousness of the moves. I’m sure the choreographer for each group (comparsa) would be videoing the whole parade to see what could be filched for incorporation in next year’s routine.

09 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

09 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

Most of it was conventional in that they played for colour and going for the attractive such as the 18th century dandies, the Red Riding Hoods or the Ali Baba themed float. Some went for the comic. I thought the dancing pizzas was a bit unusual.

10 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

10 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

There were, however, only two that I could distinguish that had chosen to be confrontational and were making a statement about present Catalan/Spanish society.

One group were skitting corruption within the state with cartoons on the side of the float of those who have recently been involved in political and economic scandals. They were dressed like burglars with a golden swag bag and a currency symbol (a $, £ or €) on their T-shirts. Alongside the entrance to a parliament building they had a string of chorizos, Spanish slang for a ‘prick’.

05 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

05 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

Another one was making a direct attack on the Catholic church. Their float had the depiction of a topless nun, dressed only in a G-string, a cornette and a wimple. Over her left shoulder she was carrying a wooden cross (which by Sunday night was broken just below the horizontal arm and pieces of her anatomy had also been damaged – the victim of an Opus Dei attack?). On the other side was a depiction of a bemused Christ, hanging on to his cross for dear life and with a somewhat disproportionate erection sticking out from under his loin cloth. At the front was a cartoon of a priest and a nun and the ‘Bebe Anticrisis’. The people, mostly young, from this float were dressed as priests or nuns – in mini-skirts and suspender belts. Every time I saw them they were happily drinking from the bar – which formed the internal part of the structure. One thing I found interesting about this particular float, apart from the imagery, was the fact that they seemed to have the most local sponsors with the names and addresses of businesses in the town – this group was from Platja d’Aro itself.

03 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

03 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

There was also one ‘attack’ on the Spanish ‘Empire’ with a reference to Madrid’s bid for the 2024 Olympics. To understand the imagery it’s necessary to know that the bear is the symbol of Madrid – in the Plaza del Sol in Madrid you can see the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue and this image appears throughout the city from manhole covers to the crest on the sides of taxis.

04 - Platja d'Aro Carnival 2014

04 – Platja d’Aro Carnival 2014

I’ve already mentioned that copious supplies of alcohol (and presumably soft drinks for the children) were a pre-requisite for the designer of the floats. Another was a place to store big bags of confetti. All the floats that I saw (apart from the few that were making a political/social point) had these bags of what looked like the round pieces of paper left when you punch a hole in a sheet to put it into a ring binder. Where they came from I don’t know but if you are standing watching you can expect to have some of this thrown over you. Wear something dark and you’ll be picking at it for days. It could be worse – in Cajamarca, Peru, they paint you with watered down shoe polish.

There was a dance in the community centre that Saturday night and at midday on the Sunday the floats were on display closer to their homes. It was advertised that they would be on the street at Castell Platja d’Aro (about 4 kilometres away) and we passed some of them with their speakers blaring out in Sant Antoni de Calonge/Palamós. Apart from that the street events had all but come to an end. On the Sunday night a few of the local floats had their swan song in the same place in Platja d’Aro as they were on Fat Thursday but by 20.00 the music was turned off and the police escorted them to a parking lot outside of the town centre.

So that was Carnival in Platja d’Aro.

The Monday was horrendous weather wise, cold, windy and wet. Fortunately that had held off for the big parade, it would have been very unpleasant indeed if the weather had turned nasty then. The town returned to its sleepy and quiet winter normality. Most apartments closed down, the car parks emptied and the restaurants closed. Easter is late this year so they’ll be hoping that the weather picks up. Until then the owners will have to make do with counting the money made over the Carnival weekend.

El Glop – Taverna del Teatre – Barcelona

El Glop - Taverna del Teatre

El Glop – Taverna del Teatre

I had just walked around L’Eixample for three hours or so, following a route that took in various Modernist buildings, and finished down by Plaça Catalunya. I had originally planned to head off to a restaurant recommended in one of the guide books but couldn’t find it on my map and, anyway, it would have been another 10 minute or so walk so decided on one that I passed just before the end of my itinerary El Glop – Taverna del Teatre (the theatre in question being Tivoli cinema house).

The problem with eating anywhere in Spain is that there are so many places to choose from. A good few years ago I read that there were more eating/drinking venues in Spain than in all of the rest of the EU combined. That might not still be the case as the EU has got so big but the choice is still huge (TripAdvisor lists 5,514 eating places in Barcelona!) and you don’t know what sort of risk you might be taking, especially so close to the centre of the tourist area.

Here I think I should say something about the walk I had been following. Way back in the 90s when I first started coming to Barcelona I happened on a book of 5 walks around the centre of the city. These walks were so devised as to not only take you to a different part of the city centre but also in a way so you could concentrate on a particular style of architecture or historical period. I’d done the other four so this day I did the final one. The book is called BarcelonaWalks by George Semler, Henry Holt, New York, 1992. Don’t think it’s still in print but it will be available on the internet and is a good introduction to what the city has to offer. I’ve come across a few mistakes, minor errors in street numbers, for example, but that doesn’t detract from the value of the book in general.

El Glob – which means ‘gulp’, ‘swig’, ‘mouthful’ or something along those lines – was offering a midday menu for €10.70. The restaurant has a very narrow frontage with a handful of tables out on the street. These were full (although it was just at the start of the Catalan lunchtime) so I went inside and was surprised to see that it went way back, getting much wider after the long bar and cooking area. Perhaps I was lucky the outside was not available. Although it had been quite warm in the sunshine walking around I think it might have gotten a little uncomfortable sitting still for an hour or so, the air temperature still being relatively low.

There were 5 options for the first two courses. It will not come as a surprise that paella was one of them. I thought that this always appeared on a Menu to pander to the tourists but talking to a Catalan friend he said that he would, from time to time go for the paella, and that on Thursdays all places in Catalonia offering a Menu would have paella on the list – that was something I hadn’t realised before. One thing to remember about this particular dish is that it often is only available for a minimum of two people.

For the starter I chose the Escalivata with anchovy. This was something new to me. It consists of onions, sweet red pepper, aubergine and tomato, all having been previously cooked but served cold. They are presented in a line across the plate and an anchovy placed on top. Being a cold dish it was quite refreshing. I had cause to stop and think when I tried the tomato. Why is it not possible to get decent tomatoes in Britain?

I can’t remember the last time I bought a tomato that had any taste, even during the tomato ‘season’ in the summer. I don’t go chasing around so-called farmers markets to find the sweetest (shopping for me is a necessity not a life choice). Perhaps I’m expecting too much from the nearest large supermarket but if they don’t have them who does? If I can eat a decent, tasty tomato in Barcelona in February why can’t I do so in Liverpool?

I hope that changes taking place in Spanish shopping habits don’t lead to the same ‘lowest common denominator’ approach. I always used to say to people I took around Spanish cities to have a look in the markets in order to see the quality of the food on sale as compared to Britain but even those places, like the Boqueria off the Rambla in Barcelona, are being turned into tourist gastro traps rather than markets. The same happened with the Mercado Sant Miquel next to the Plaza Major in Madrid so perhaps blandness could be on the way for the Catalans/Spanish in the not too distant future as more shopping is done in supermarkets.

To drink I again opted for the red wine. This came in a half litre carafe, so I have no idea of where it came from (probably a keg) but thought it was quite good, full-bodied and fruity. Better than the wine served at Le Nou, although there quantity made up for quality. One thing that I’d forgotten about drinking red wine in Catalonia is that it’s always served cold, not just in the summer. Some might find this a bit odd, in fact I still do. Once you learn about wines and then think you know a little about them it’s likely that you come to the understanding that reds should be served at room temperature. Not is Spain. The trouble is I’ve never let the wine stand long enough on the table to test whether it improves as the temperature increases.

Sitting not too far from the entrance I was able to get an idea of the customers. Obviously a problem that all tourists face when they travel is lack of local knowledge. I was staying with friends on the outskirts of the city and could get recommendations there but for the centre of Barcelona I was like most other visitors. Having chosen ‘blind’ it was good to see that the majority of those who came in after me where obviously locals who returned on a regular basis.

How am I so sure that these were Catalans as they entered? Their form of dress. Although I had been walking around allowing the sun to caress my bare arms on Montjuic (a few days before) and L’Eixample this particular morning the overwhelming majority of locals still considered it was winter. The standard winter clothing for Catalan women is the padded, quilted jacket, together with a scarf. For the men similar long scarves with leather bomber jackets. I had confirmation of their status as they passed me. I was sitting with my jacket on the back of my chair and could read their thoughts through their looks of astonishment. To a Catalan I must have only recently escaped from an asylum which would not have been the reaction of most other foreign visitors.

Before my order had been taken I had noticed a number of plates of ‘albondigas’ – meatballs – going passed and thought to try them. They are normally a good standby on the menu. When they arrived they were in a thickish tomato sauce, in which were strips of carrot, sweet red pepper, onion and peas. The sauce was tasty but I’ve still to decide on the meat balls themselves. In consistency and taste they seemed like spam to me. I haven’t come across that before and still don’t know if I would choose again if it was on offer.

It might be worth mentioning here that you don’t normally get vegetables with the main, apart from possibly chips, so if you insist on some sort of balance think about this when ordering.

The dessert is normally quite simple and I chose the ‘macedonia’, the mixed fruit salad that came served in a small wine glass.

I thought this was quite a good place. The service was efficient and I was not hurried. The place got busier the closer it got to 15.00 but it was big enough so it didn’t seem like a crush. One touch I quite liked was the waiter asking a lone man who left to use the services whether he had left ‘alguna cosa importante’ (anything of value) in his bag at the table.

I later realised that this restaurant was part of a small local chain in the city, something that’s still quite unusual, but would have no problems trying any of the others if they were nearby at lunch time.

It was a pleasant environment – the jamones serrano were hanging from the ceiling lower down the restaurant and there were some interesting, large, Modernist-looking lamps from the ceiling

The last thing to note is you don’t pay the waiter. Take the bill that would have been left on the table to the till.

Practical Information:

El Glop – Taverna del Teatre

Casp 21

Just off the bottom of Passeig de Gràcia, near to Plaça Catalunya.

Nearest Metro: Catalunya

 

Arenas de Barcelona – Placa de Espanya

Arenas Bull Ring - Placa de Espanya - Barcelona

Arenas Bull Ring – Placa de Espanya – Barcelona

Arenas de Barcelona, the bull ring right next to one of Barcelona’s busiest roundabouts at the Plaça de Espanya, had been closed for years. Bull fighting has its supporters throughout the Iberian Peninsular but it never had such a fan base in Catalonia as it did, and still has, in the likes of Andalusia and Extremadura. Come the 1970s and it’s owners considered it wasn’t a viable concern. For bull fighting fans that wasn’t such a total disaster as there was another large ring only a few kilometres east along the Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes at Monumental.

In some ways that was a pity. The building was completed in and opened as a fully functioning bull ring in 1900. For more than 70 years it provided those with a thirst for blood the opportunity to see a fine young animal fight a losing battle for its life. No doubt Hemingway would have been one of the paying or, perhaps because of his fame, not paying guests. In 1977 the place closed for good.

From the outside it’s a beautiful structure. Catalonia was the first region of what became Spain to have defeated the Moors so there are few examples of Moorish, or the later Mudejar architecture, in Barcelona. The architect for the original building was the Modernist August Font i Carreras, not one of the more radical of the architects of the time, such as Gaudí (of Park Güell and Sagrada Familia fame) or Domenech i Montaner (designer of Hospital de La Santa Creu i Sant Pau and the Palau de la Música Orfeó Català), but one who looked to those architectural devices of the Moorish past that are common, even ubiquitous, in cities like Granada, Cordoba and Seville.

The exterior of the structure takes on the same geometric design as what is to take place inside, that is it is circular. I mention that because that’s fairly unusual for a bull ring, at least most of the ones I’ve seen in different parts of Spain. Most have square walls at entrances or where the bulls might be corralled before facing slaughter. This is the situation at the other Barcelona bull ring at Monumental. However, Font i Carreras opted to put all these services inside the shell and so it makes for a very pleasing sight for the eyes.

The Arabic arches over the doors and windows are all around the circular building, following the normal pattern of getting smaller as they are reproduced higher up the structure. The crenellations over the entrances, the alternating stripes of brown/ocre and white, the use of blue and white tiles will not surprise anyone who had visited the south-western part of Spain.

Over the principal entrances, together with an homage to the Spanish crown there’s the red and orange stripes representing Catalonia. Although I haven’t seen pictures of it I would have assumed that these would have been blanked out during the Fascist period under Franco. This happened in those iconic buildings of Catalan Modernism, such as the Palau de Musica, so I see no reason to believe that they would have disappeared on this bull ring.

The Arenas de Barcelona was just left to rot after the last bull fight in 1977 and must have been a bit of an embarrassment for the City Council and Regional Government located as it is at one of the most important traffic junctions in the western part of the city. Not only that the Plaça de Espanya is the entry point to the city’s exhibition area and the highest point in the city, Montjuic. It was there the 1992 Olympics were staged, with the main stadium, swimming/diving pool and indoor sports hall all being found there. It is also the location of the Joan Miro Foundation.

In 2000 the contract for the project was given to Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (that’s Richard Rogers of Lloyd’s bank in the City of London – among many others – fame). Fortunately it was decided to keep the original structure, or at least the façade, but create within the space originally occupied by the bull ring a new shopping, leisure and entertainment complex. It opened in March 2011.

I knew what the plan had been but it was only last month I was able to see for myself. So it was with a certain level of apprehension that I approached the structure on a sunny day in late February – shopping is not really my thing.

First impressions were good. The exterior was as I remembered it but now cleaned up and repaired. The huge roof that appeared like an unturned saucer looked strange from street level and the lift shaft just to the left of the main entrance looked out of place.

If you visit the building don’t do as I do. I went immediately towards this lift shaft and as they were only charging €1 for the return trip I decided to go up on to the roof before entering the building itself. I just assumed that if there was a lift that was the only way to get on to the top of the building, it was only when I was walking around on the upper pavement that I realised that access was available from the inside.

Now a euro is not going to break most banks but I now wonder if it might not have been better to have first experienced the interior of the building from below. The lift only takes a few seconds and is only of interest to those who might have a penchant for glass lifts on the outside of buildings – perhaps to be avoided by those who suffer from any level of vertigo.

However you get to the top it’s worth it in the end. You’re able to walk the full 360º, one side looking towards Montjuic and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (the museum which houses one of the biggest collections of Romanesque murals in the world as well as artefacts from late 18th and early 19th century Modernism), together with the steps that go on both sides of the fountains where there are sound and light shows on occasions, especially later in the year.

A walk of 180º from the lift and you can look down on to the small Parc Joan Miro, with its large bowling pin-like sculpture or up to the hills to the north, towards Tibidabo, where the silhouette of the Modernist Church of the Sacred Heart breaks the horizon. To the left of that is the spindly Torre de Collserola, the telecommunications tower, designed by another progressive British architect (or at least his partnership) and contemporary of Rogers, Norman Foster.

An attractive building on the outside it’s when you enter it that you see how vast has been the transformation from its original use. I came in from the top but would think you’d get a better impression of scale from entering at street level and then looking up.

What has been created is a huge engineering masterpiece that just uses the old structure created by Font i Carreras as a cloak to hide the intricacies of 21st engineering skills. There’s no way that the circular brick structure holds any of the weight that’s inside. This is carried by huge tubes, at the cardinal points of the compass, that hold up the five levels above the basement.

All the shops, cafés and the multiplex cinema are around the edges and there’s a circular space free of anything at all in the centre at street level. This is much smaller than the bull ring would have been but refers back to that past. This looks tiny from the very top of the building but is quite significant in size when you actually walk across it. It’s a pleasant surprise to me that nobody has appropriated this space and set up some kind of stall. This circle was clear of any obstruction when I visited but I’m sure would have been used as a performance space, for example, on occasions.

Linking the different levels are long escalators through the centre of the building which don’t call at all floors. Shorter escalators on two sides connect each floor so you could well find yourself walking the long way around to find what you want. I’m sure this was part of the plan – if you pass more shops you might be encouraged to buy – the sole reason for the existence of this 21st century structure. On one side there’s a lift with glass walls that goes from the very bottom to the very top of the building, all the workings being on show.

I thought it was a marvellous piece of engineering work in action and found myself going up and down escalators and lifts just for the fun of it – taking me back to the days of my childhood when we used to play on the first escalators to have arrived in one of the department stores in Plymouth.

I needed a reason to be there as there was nothing on sale – and everything was in a sale – that held any interest for me. All the shops were from a national or an international chain of some kind, really the only companies that could afford to be based in such a centre where more people shop with their eyes than their credit cards. One level was devoted to a multiplex cinema but even that’s no attraction as the overwhelming majority of cinemas in Spain/Catalonia show films which are dubbed and, as is the case in many countries, even ‘national’ films are confined to art house cinemas.

The whole of the basement level is devoted to a series of fast food outlets but then again mainly from chains or franchises. This increasing presence and dominance of such stores and outlets is something that is starting to take a greater hold in the peninsular. Going back 20 years or so there were few names that you would have recognised in the Barcelona shopping streets as most were one-off businesses. As the years go by they fall by the wayside as the bigger players chip away at the customers and soon walking down a Barcelona shopping street will be just like anywhere in Britain where the same names are above the doors whether you are in Brighton or Aberdeen. This has already happened with accommodation where the basic Pensiones are fast becoming a thing of the past.

Even if you’re like me and shopping provides as much joy as sticking a sharp sick in your eye the Arenas de Barcelona is definitely worth a look in if you are at this part of town for the exhibition centre, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or on the way up to Montjuic.

Practical Information:

Getting there: The quickest way is on the Metro, Line 1 – the red one and getting off at Plaça de Espanya, though many buses also pass through this junction on the way to Sants Railway station.