Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Check out this article from today's El Periodico, Barcelona's working-class paper. It's titled "Three million innocents", and it's about the Parque Guell, the park designed by Antoni Gaudi up the hill above Gracia, half a mile or so from our place. The Parque Guell is a major tourist attraction, and well it should be.

Something strange is happening at the Parque Guell, comments Carlos, one of the regulars at Gaudi's oasis. His opinion counts, he says, because he's been coming here every day for years, above all in the morning. He stays here until about three in the afternoon, he says, because that's when the tourists begin to disappear. It would be better not to reveal why he loves strolling through the park, spending so much time among the mosaics, with the sun beating down on the central plaza where there are no trees. We can't take a photo, either, in order to conserve his anonymity, his secret, and his business.

That is, Carlos is a thief. There are plenty up there.

He doesn't believe in plots or conspiracies, but he knows all about what's happening in the park, where three million visitors came last year during the Gaudi Year. Some days more Japanese come, some days more Europeans, and there are a few days when there is suddenly an American invasion. He doesn't know whether it's because a cruise ship just docked in the port, or whether there is a convention that attracts a lot of Yanquis (sic).

And then, the days that the Americans are wandering around among the magic of Gaudi, the clothing of the policemen in the park changes. The Municipal Police
(who are good for nothing except giving out parking tickets) practically disappear and in their place members of the National Police (real cops) multiply.

That is, says Carlos, some Big Brother is watching, though there are barely a few police videocameras in the Parque Guell. It angers him, this is true, that apparently George Bush's citizens deserve more protection than the rest. But protection against what?

The pickpockets and other unscrupulous crooks aren't afraid of uniforms, whether they belong to the National Police or the Municipal Police. To them, those three million visitors are an appetizing market, because they mean a million bags and backpacks, two million cameras, almost three million wallets, and several million tons of innocence and absent-mindedness.

Their favorite places to work are among the crowds around the interminable mosaic bench and at the few outdoor cafes selling drinks and food that the park has. But the worst place, for tourists, is around the back gate, where those who have chosen the Metro arrive. (Those who use the Bus Turistic go in through the front gate and tour buses park near a side gate at the Carretera del Carmel.) Those who use the metro get off at Lesseps or Vallcarca and, after climbing the Bajada de La Gloria, what they find is the misery of a threatening knife.

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