Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gypsies Watching A Political Rally At 2AM In Barcelona

It was Halloween night in Barcelona, almost 2AM, and my second to last night in Spain. Tired from wandering up and down La Ramblas, and many other Barcelona streets that night, I found a quiet square to rest on a bench for awhile. Carrying a small backpack with my camera equipment in it and a money belt under my pants, I was keenly aware of the many warnings about pick pockets and muggings in Barcelona I had received. Just then a group of rag tag Gypsies and street urchin types wandered into the square talking and laughing loudly. They headed straight across the square towards the bench I was seated on. We were the only ones present in that dimly lit back street of the old city. Tensing up slightly and instinctively gathering my things to me, I noticed that one scraggly fellow with a guitar on his back had singled me out and headed straight for me. I waited for his pitch as he approached, already convinced he was about to hit me up for money. He rattled something off in Spanish I didn't understand. Proceeding with my now familiar response I muttered "no habla..." "Ah! American!" he said. "Uh oh" I thought, remembering the war my country had started that year. He repeated in English, "Can I play you a song?" "Ah, there it is" I thought to myself. I'd dealt with these types on the streets of San Francisco, LA, Seattle, or Washington D.C. The same anywhere I thought to myself. I replied, "Well sure you can, but I can't pay you anything for it." Almost indignant, but chuckling as well, he responded "No no no! I don't want any money! I just want to sing for you a song that I love!" Somewhat cautious I replied "Oh, ok. Ya go ahead." He sat down and proceeded to play and sing the most beautiful Spanish folk song. I didn't know the words, but it made no difference. It was the kind of music that speaks for itself. Speaks to your soul, and comes from the soul. By the time he finished I had let my guard down, although still aware of the group of young rag tags who had pretty much surrounded that area by now, albeit not paying much attention to us. Some skateboarding, others playing hackey sack or talking amongst themsleves. I knew these young people. They were the same as many youths in my own country, except descended from generations of wandering folk like themselves, living off their wits and resourcefulness. And of course talents.

This talented new friend and I proceeded to have the best conversation I had with anyone I met during my time in Spain. We talked of his country, my country, politics, war, religion... pretty much covered the bases of intellectual discussion. He told me of his youth in Portugal, and his travels roaming Spain, France and Portugal. I asked if he had ever traveled or studied in the U.S., because his English and even American sounding accent was more understandable than anyone I had met in Spain, including some highly educated folk. He informed me that he had only gone as far as the third grade in school, and had taught himself English by watching subtitled American movies, thus explaining his almost American accent. But he dreamt of seeing the U.S. someday. He also warned me to be careful with my camera and valuables, as even some of the people he was with would rob me given the chance. It wasn't long after that I noticed a young fellow drifting closer to us, almost listening in to our conversation. Watching him I caught him staring at the camera around my neck. I waited until he looked up and noticed me watching him, and he looked away almost shamefully. When he looked back I caught his eye again and asked him if he liked my camera? He shook his head and looked down, mumbling something in Spanish. I told him that my camera was like my wife, and wherever I went, she went, and visa versa. My fate tied to hers. He seemed to get the gist, and turned to wander off. My new friend also informed me to be careful if I took any pictures of these people, as some of them would be very upset, and may even attack me. Taking that to heart, I left my camera down. Then suddenly a loud political rally came marching through the square (at two in the morning no less) chanting, waving signs, and wearing funny masks. Confused I asked my friend what was going on, and he explained to me how politically active people are in Spain. Especially in Catalan country. And that political rallies will happen at all hours, particularly during election season, which it was. Taking advantage of the distraction, I quickly fired off three hand held silhouette exposures of the Gypsies and the rally, and then bade farewell to my new friend. I wandered off into the night feeling blessed with this brief connection I had made with a kindred spirit. Although we lived worlds apart, we seemed to recognize ourselves in each other during that unexpected late night meeting in the back streets of Barcelona. What a nice experience to top off a fantastic and soul awakening journey!

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