Los Indignatos y un Visitante

Today Josselyn and I visited one of the Los Indignatos protests scheduled across Spain in protest of the planned cuts to Government social spending. These types of events have been happening with regularity since we arrived, but the difference between this one and that one was that the ones today were tied to other “manifestacios” happening worldwide. Despite the fact that the politician in me is quick to find fault recoils with the Los Indignatos protestors and their offspring, Occupy Wall Street, the spectator in me enjoys such events.

On the subway ride to Placa Catalunya there were already people clearly dressed for the event. There were also two people wearing stylized Guy Fawkes masks, symbolic of the hacktivist group Anonymous, and the train was unusually full of people for that time period. As the doors opened, a majority of the people got off and went up to enter the already overflowing plaza. Josselyn and I walked around for a while, snaking our way in between the throng of people took us quite some time but we got to get a good view at most of the groups there. The news reports I read immediately after indicated that there were some 60,000 people, which seems accurate.

Odd Collection of Flags

One of the reasons for derision in the American media is that post-Left political movements, which Los Indignatos and Occupy Wall Street, are characterized by their lack of coherence. If I was to judge this based upon not just the uniformity of dress of those attending but the placards that people chose to hold you could see that this was indeed true. If one were judging the gravity of the moment based upon the seriousness of posters slogans and level of handwriting clarity I would estimate that this was all just a farcical carnival. True, there were several pictures of Che Guevara displayed, but I don’t think that any of those actually holding them were advocating his position as they were individuals and not tied to a party. Despite the hegemonic individualness of the protest, there were several groups of partisans distinguished by printed placards and flags. There were several groups of anarchists, including the CNT-FAI. There was, however, no union presence and no political parties encouraging some sort of participation in Spanish politics other than the current protest.

After a while of meandering our way through the people, the march itself started. As we walked with the group down Gran Via, we saw that all of the banks on this street had been vandalized with graffiti and trash. One of the stores that had decided to stay open along the street, Zara, had security officers outside of it that were handling some protestors who had broken off from the main section in order to enter. I’m not sure what they were attempting to do as at the moment that we got closer the people there left.

There is a particular sort of satisfaction to be had in the presence of others, whether it be had seeing and being seen in streets concentrated with shops of conspicuous consumption or in the cultural particularities on display in McCarren Park, Williamsburg. The Hegelian struggle for recognition has a variety of ways of manifesting itself and impacts individuals and groups differently. Yet in this context, though such a manifestacio reaffirms that one is not unique in their distaste of the current, precarious economic state of affairs and the politicians that are handling it – the end result cannot but be dissatisfying for those attending. While it is entirely possible to say that the historical embeddedness of this and other like events could have ramifications that are beyond our ken to prognosticate on and therefore making any sort of valuation on it is premature.

However, we can say thus far the political impact of the Los Indignatos protests across Spain have been negligible policy wise and in fact been a point helping create a center-right coalition. Law and order are powerful mobilizing forces and in a country such as Spain, which is just one generation removed from a military dictatorship, such words bear large loads. While I can’t comment on the whole of Spanish politics, I can talk about the ultra-radicals as I’ve spoken with one of their reluctant to define themselves as such leaders while returning home from a day of writing at CCCB.

Anarchist groups headquartered in the University of Barcelona and run by the students have been propounding a policy of voting abstentionism for the general election. If you are interested in their views of how to alter national problems, such as the enormous unemployment rate of youth, then be prepared for sound and fury against capitalism. This lack is repeated on the international level as well. That such, this lack of platforms illustrates that as a class these students and those they claim to advocate for they are not yet ripe for any major government influence, be it in office or via the adoption of their policies by institutional parties. The anarchic appeals to direct democracy are simply howls of displeasure and helplessness that, seems to be respectable to them as it is argued with the same presumptions that the Spanish and Catalan radicals used in the era of the second republic. That they are unable to recognize this shows just how behind the times they are. With a Socialist Party in power, which in the American context is akin to the Democratic Party, it would be in their interest to act as a leftist influence as then they would be better able to hold said political regime accountable for the ideals they claim to embody. Simply refuting them, and the party itself, leads to political suicide. Such a suicide, of course, will be seen by them as glorious as they did so based upon their virtue.

Altogether, the ramifications of this policy is that in the Spanish General elections the Socialist Party will leave and a center-right or straight rightist party will assume power (Update – the election happened and this is exactly what did occur). This group will speed up the spending cuts and other neoliberal policies now seen as being necessary to bolster the Merkozy’s European Union.

It is through this lens that should lead one to see this sort of global day of protest as simultaneously laudable and laughable. Recognizing that the economic issues affecting so many people requires international co-operation is a key insight, however the sort of co-ordination required is still far off from one that will achieve the aspirations they desire to attain.

While it is only tangentially related, I am amused to report that the day following said protest I attended an “event” that was the polar opposite of such a manifestacio.

A friend of mine, Mark Parolisi, came to visit my fiancé and I in Barcelona on a whim and decided to take us out to dinner to celebrate our recent engagement. Wanting to make it a true culinary extravaganza, we decided to go to Lasarte, the only two Michelin star Spanish restaurant in Barcelona.

Before I go into detail about our experience at this fine restaurant, let me just say that my experiences with Spanish cuisine prior to this meal has not been the most enjoyable. My fiancé and I had gone out to perhaps a dozen other restaurants and each time found that the food was on the whole lacking in quality ingredients or was overly seasoned in such a way that made it lack an all around flavor indicative of a quality restaurants. In our conversations with other ex-pats since moving to Barcelona, I’ve discovered that we don’t simply have bad luck to keep picking places that are fundamentally lacking in some avenue but that this is the case of many of the restaurants in Barcelona. From what I’ve gathered in my observations many of the upper end Spanish restaurants simply rely upon the cache of restaurants like Il Bulli to rub off on them and they know very well the large number of tourists which descend upon the city’s center will not be return customers so don’t feel compelled to have food which matches their prices.

With this fact in mind, I’ll start my review by saying that this meal single handedly made up for the series of less than ideal meals that my fiancé and I had endured.

The meal began when three waiters placed in front of us on large golden plates four single fork sized pieces of food arranged in an eating order so as to maximize the play of flavors on our tongue.

The first portion was a truffle, which brought an earthy, woody taste to my palette that was stronger and more fleeting than usual as the truffles had been ground and compacted together so as to make it quickly disappear upon hitting my tongue.

The next tasting porting made me feel if the chef was inviting us to not only pay attention to flavors of the delicious foods we were eating but to the order as well for following the truffle was the very animal trained to find it – pig. Smiling at this culinary pun, I sipped the delicious cava my fiancé had chose and then put the marble sized Iberian ham croquette in my mouth. I was not able to bite into the croquette as upon putting it into my mouth and putting the slightest amount of pressure on the fried brown breading, the ham quite literally melted and washed over my tongue bringing with it the nutty taste of the Iberian ham.

Follow this was a thin slice of candied watermelon rind. After the sweetness of the rind we each opened individually wrapped coffee beans to cleanse the palette before out next course.

Gazpacho was then served. I was reluctant at first as my previous encounters with the quintessential Spanish dish less had been either too salty or too watery. However this gazpacho had neither of these excesses and also had in it some fresh peach juice, which gave it an exceptionally refreshing flavor. I believe that it also had a few drops of rose water, but whether this came from that or the edible flower in the center of the soup was impossible for me to tell.

Edible Leaf Art

Following these preparatory dishes, our ordered appetizers started to arrive. There are few words that I can use to describe the visually and olfactory beauty of the fresh leaves salad that I had. Its appearance made me think that it was made by the same mad and magical mind that designed Neuschwanstein. However rather than making a magical castle for a king and his bride, this dish was a magical park for their children to play in. The fresh flowers were in a semi-gelatinous base that accented their colors and had a light taste. Mixed in all of this were small pieces of lobster. I ate with some reluctance as destroying such beauty seemed criminal, but the taste was so good that such feelings quickly subsided.

Josselyn ordered the roasted, chopped scallops topped with Iranian caviar and a small side of artichokes, raw and creamy celery salad puree. I managed to obtain a small bite of such a delicacy, then watched it disappear with the only interruption being several sips of cava.

The slices of Iberian ham cured for 36 months Mark ordered covered a large plate and was too much and too heavy for him to eat alone. Josselyn and I happily helped him in this and paired it with fresh bread the wait staff offered.

At this point a second bottle of cava came to the table. We had several minutes to discuss the delicious food and our upcoming wedding plans when our entrée’s arrived. Mark, like myself, orders food based on what is typical to the region or generally unavailable in the United States. As such, he ordered the breast of pigeon with durum gravy, mashed potatoes accented with truffles and a surprise addition of baby carrots. The meat was dark in color from flash roasting that kept in all the succulent juices. It was without any of the gaminess that we thought it would have and a topic for discussion as to the general silliness of food discrimination based upon inherited notions of what is appropriate.

My fiancé, lover of steaks that she is, ordered a filet, potato and bacon mille-feuille with foie gras sauce. I find it hard to go into detail when describing a steak that is cooked to perfection and accompanied with perfectly paired foods as I find that only the taste itself is a sufficient indicator of superb quality. Saying that the center was reddish pink just as she ordered is no substitute for a bite of it. All I shall say is that after three months of living in Barcelona, she finally gave me the notice that she had a steak that was worthy of the name.

I ordered pigs trotters stuffed with Catalan black pudding and a side of mushroom and cheese toast. I thought it a little pricey considering the cut of meat, but I wanted to try a traditional Catalan dish and soon discovered that my adventurous choice well rewarded. At this point in my life there are very few things that I can eat and say the taste, texture or flavor are completely novel to me. My parents served me a wide variety of international cuisine since a baby and I’ve kept this habit since leaving their nest when cooking at home as well as when traveling to the two dozen or so countries that I’ve been. That said, the flavor and taste of these trotters was a completely new to me and something that I enjoyed immensely.

Inside the pork trotters was the “pudding”, a thick gelatanious sauce of a consistency slightly thicker than marrow and filled with pieces of pork. It was somewhat thick, being basically a flavored gelatin shell filled with metal filled gelatin, but the smallest dab of the sauce garnishing the plate cut through it without overwhelming it. It was precisely what I had hoped to get from going to the restaurant, a modern take on classic Catalan cuisine, and I was richly rewarded for my choice.

By this time each of us were so full by the appetizers, the cava and main courses that we foreswore dessert. Yet sure enough shortly after the amazingly prompt and courteous wait staff cleared our plates they placed a tray down in the center of our table that was made from silver forks arranged in such a way as to hold small shot glasses of four different types of deserts. At the sight of this presentation and hearing their description our initial reluctance and treated ourselves to yet another round of delicious indulgences.

Stuffed and awed after such a spectacular meal, we all left feeling as if we had finally had some delicious Spanish cuisine that was worthy of writing about.

Branguli at C.C.C.B

I had never heard of the name Josep Branguli before moving to Barcelona and going to his exhibit at C.C.C.B. This is understandable for as a documentary photographer capturing the urban metamorphosis and social transformations at the beginning of the 20th century he is a single person amongst many. His pictures of small factories employing a handful of people, and the large ones replacing them are done as artfully as the pictures of workers in social setting. Yet these are not unique. What distinguishes Branguli from others is his collection of Spanish Civil War photography.

Branguli was born in 1879 and worked as a photographer in Barcelona from 1909 until his death in 1945. Unlike Capa, Chim and Taro, the photographers most associated with documenting the conflict, Branguli did not have to flee before Franquist troops. This meant that he was not moving around from front to front and was able to document most of the important events of Barcelona. As a well-known resident documenting the conflict but not a member of any of the groups later banned by Franco, Branguli was able to remain in Barcelona and take photos after the Second Republic finally collapsed. In these years Branguli focus shifted from the social and material changes imposed by capitalist logic to the topography of a repressive police state.

One of the events that Branguli captured on cellulose included images from the Tragic Week of 1909. It was during this week that Republicans, Socialists and Anarchists fought against clergy and the army following unrest against pay, working conditions and anti-militarism. It was during this period that many overstated stories that had the intention of delegitimizing the secular parties purportedly initiating the fighting were circulated in the press. One of the news stories circulated to discredit the Republic was that their anarchist allies were digging up the corpses of nuns and priests throughout the region and dancing with them. Branguli’s picture shows that bodies were indeed de-interred, yet subsequent historiography show how this only happened in a few places and was not at all a systematic desecration as was spoken of in Catholic.

This particular picture is interesting not just as it gave validity to the King and Catholic Church’s claims of moral authority but in a way also undermines it. The influence of the Catholic Church in Spain was and still is profound. The peasants at that time, if literate at all, were so only in the teaching of the Bible and the catechism unless they’d been able to be educated in one of Fransisco Ferrer’s handful of modern schools. One of the Catholic articles of faith at the time was that those that who had lived a holy life would decay slower, as evident by the use of holy relics, and thus the picture of the body presents a paradox. To the viewer, the holy body is indeed removed from it’s grave and the body is also not as holy as claimed by the authorities on holiness. What is indeed presented is the same sort of problem as the stinking body of Zosima, something that I doubt would have been lost by Branguli.

Buenaventura Durruti's Funeral Procession

Another important event that Branguli was able to visually preserve for posterity was the funeral procession of Buenavetta Durruti, an Italian anarchist activist and writer inspired like many others to leave their homelands and come to Spain in order to assist the Second Republic from a fascist military coup. He was, however, shot and killed after only a week in Spain. Despite his marginal role in the war, the numbers of people clearly show that he was someone that gave voice to many of those fighting for their lives.

Also captured by Branguli was the arrival of Heinrich Himmler in October in 1940. His presence is not only evidence of the collusion between Fascist Spain and Nazi Germany, but hints at the deeper collaboration between these two nations. This shouldn’t be too surprising considering that Spain did in 1492 part of what Germany was then attempting to accomplish. Thus, with the lessons of the Peninsular War surely at the back of their minds, the Gestapo and Spanish secret police sought to root out the Catalan nationalists and other classes that might rupture their organicist ideals.

While Branguli’s work was published in several Spanish revistas I’ve yet to find evidence that he was published outside of it. After the war in Spain, it was a taboo issue inside the country and the rest of the world now shifted their attention to the conflict building up into a fever pitch around Germany. Thus that he is still somewhat of a hometown secret becomes more understandable, though perhaps with a little bit of luck some sixty plus years after his death he’ll be getting the recognition that he deserves.