I'm sitting in our hotel room on the second floor of an apartment building on Calle Gran Vía de Colón in Granada, a city in the Andalusia region of southern Spain. I have a bandana wrapped around my head à la David Foster Wallace and I'm listening as the putters of scooters at the streetlight below morph into screaming whines the moment the light turns green. It's noisy—almost overwhelmingly noisy—but the cool breeze floats through our open window and it feels good after a day of traveling through the scorching mid-May sun. The hot days are a not-so-subtle reminder that we are only 300 kilometers away from North Africa. I lean back in my chair, take a sip of Fanta limón, close my eyes, and let the traffic noise slowly wash over me until my mind vibrates at the same rate as a 50cc Vespa.
Granada seems like a lifetime ago. From my vantage point on the sixth floor of the Hotel Europark in Barcelona—awaiting the free champagne offered to us by the front desk attendant—I feel as though I am not even in the same country. I thrust open the door to our balcony and gaze over the six-lane intersection of Carrer d'Aragó and Carrer de Girona wondering where all the political graffiti went. Is Catalonia not known, historically, for its revolutionary fervor; and its city of Barcelona even more so? Why was I pleasantly assaulted with far-left propaganda as we closed in on Granada but now only see the familiarity of neoliberal, globalized capitalism as we enter the former seat of Revolutionary Catalonia?
George Orwell wrote of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War in his Homage to Catalonia:
"It was the first time I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and café had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal."
Interestingly, this description of Barcelona in the past was more accurate of modern Granada.
Amadeu Casellas Ramón was a political prisoner and militant anarchist who robbed several banks in order to finance labor and social struggles—as well as individuals who he deems as "in need"—throughout Spain. Because of this, the Spanish press nicknamed him "el Robin Hood español" (the Spanish Robin Hood). After being arrested and placed in prison, he staged multiple hunger strikes in a bid to gain freedom. He was released on March 9, 2010.
However, Barcelona—at least from this traveller's perspective—has become an occupied specter of its former revolutionary self. For example, this is a photo of the Hotel Colón in 1936, occupied by the Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (PSUC)—in English, the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia.
Here is a photo of the same building that I took on May 25, 2016.
Yes. That's what it looks like. The images of Lenin and Stalin have been replaced with the symbol of our new oppressive and hegemonic overlord: Apple Inc. Revolutionary communism has been replaced with reactionary capitalism in the Plaça de Catalunya; the former PSUC headquarters has been converted into Barcelona's newest Apple store. Tourists and Catalans swipe and tap the latest iProduct, probably unaware that one of the most famous photos from the Spanish Civil War—a portrait of 17-year old revolutionary Marinà Ginesta—was taken on the roof above their heads in 1936.
I reflect on these modern truths as we walk through Las Ramblas, past the Hotel Continental, where George Orwell and countless other foreign leftists lived when they decided to travel to Spain to fight the Fascists. I reflect on these modern truths as we walk through Maremagnum, an enormous shopping mall off of the Playa Barceloneta. I reflect on these modern truths has I run my fingers gently across the shrapnel-scarred walls of the Plaça De Sant Felip Neri, where fascist Italian bombs fell, killing over 40 children. I reflect on all of these modern truths while walking through the narrow streets of Barcelona, smelling the sea air, and I can't help but feel...nostalgic.
The Late Latin word for nostalgia was taken from the Ancient Greek νοσταλγία (nostalgia). This word is the combination of two different Greek words: νόστος (nóstos, “a return home”) and ἄλγος (álgos, “pain, suffering”). It is from this original word combination that I title this post. Traveling through Spain felt like a return home—in the political sense—as I have never felt more electrified by the amount of socially-minded, far-left propaganda covering the walls of every governmental and financial institution. But I also feel pain as I watch revolutionary cities like Barcelona tumble into the neoliberal rabbit hole—looking, feeling, acting more and more like any other major capitalist city in the world.
Perhaps soon, the bellowing of revolutionary anthems will again wake the cities of Europe—and the rest of the world. Until then--¡A las Barricadas!
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