From our Hacktreks archives: Spain
|When Good Parades Go Bad
slowly evident to me that it was a signal for the mob of people to storm
I come from a city
of parades. Several times a year, the mayor of New York transforms city
streets into conveyor belts that run about three miles an hour, so that
regular citizens can watch the spectacle of other regular citizens go
by with big balloons in their hands or riding on the roof of a truck.
Fun, huh? New York City hosts many parades, from the mainstream commercial
Macys Thanksgiving Parade, to the rhythmic and energetic Puerto
Rican Day Parade, to the colorful and rambunctious Greenwich Village Halloween
Parade. Dont get me wrong; I love a parade. Theres something
about the energy and happiness that it generates that is infectious. So
when I encountered a parade in Barcelona during a backpacking trip around
Europe, I was eager to see just how they did parades on the other side
of the Atlantic.
I was with my shutterbug best friend Terence and my girlfriend-at-the-time
Risa. We had just secured a night in a two-star hotel by the Plaza de
Espanya, the beautiful rotunda where the classically designed government
buildings all congregated. It was an overcast day, but the good kind of
overcast day where it doesnt rain and the layer of clouds shield
away the sun just enough so you dont have to wear sunglasses. There
was a whole hullabaloo near the plaza where people were gathering on the
sides of the street. Police had barricaded the curbs, just like they do
on Fifth Avenue in New York on St. Patricks Day. "Hey, lets
check out this parade," I suggested to my traveling companions. I
was wondering what kind of balloons they would carry and what kind of
floats they would ride on, and so we curiously stood on the curb behind
the crowd of Spaniards. A lot of them were cheering, holding signs of
which I had no idea what they meant. In the distance, people started clapping,
but not like applause on a game show; it was more like the clapping in
a cheerleader routine. Wow, they really get into the spirit here, I thought.
The crowds were getting louder and it was sure to be a time for celebration.
Terence was shooting his camera left and right to capture the moment.
Soon, the marching began. The first group to march down the street was
a troop of policemen. With perfect precision, they marched down the Calle
de Tarragona, proud and dignified. The cheerleading clap started up again,
and even I was caught up on the moment and wanted to clap along. But soon
I realized this was no pep rally. The clapping was not a cheer. It was
slowly evident to me that it was a signal for the mob of people to storm
the police. Hundreds of people rushed the streets and suddenly more police
appeared in full riot gear. These werent people in celebration.
Those signs didnt deliver words of encouragement. This was no parade.
Protestors started storming towards the government buildings and
soon the police pulled out their nightsticks and performed violent
attempts to keep the peace. In no time, what we thought was a parade
abruptly turned into a full-scale riot, and we were caught in the
middle. The provocative clapping continued. People ran every which
way. Punches were thrown. Tear gas grenades were fired. Nightsticks
were twirled. Smoke filled the air. Cars busted through barricades.
Chaos was born.
We managed to refuge
in the nearby forecourt of an office building on the corner of the main
"parade route" and a side street. It served as a temporary refuge
for the radicalsand three innocent American bystanders. Risa was
freaking out with our limited options. We didnt know what to do.
Which way would we go? Would we: (A) to go out into the street with the
tear gas fog and people getting struck left and right; or (B) to go out
on the side street where there was a burning dumpster in the center of
the road, filling the area with scorching flames and a black smoke that
reeked of refuse? Needless to say, it was a hard enough question worthy
of the SATs. We attempted (C), to get inside the office building in hopes
of escaping on the other side, but the doormen kept on shoving people
out like third-class passengers on the Titanic, and locked their doors.
Amidst the chaos, we befriended a young woman in the forecourt with us.
She wasnt alarmed at all. She was wearing torn up jeans and a bandana,
smoking a cigarette like it was just a regular day for her. "Zeyre
doing it all wrong," she told us. "Zey shouldnt be provoking
the policemen like zat. Zats not how you stage a revolution."
Throughout our subsequent conversation with her, we learned that she was
from Berlin and was a part of the alliance of young German hippies who
supported the fall of the Berlin Wall. A scuffle between the secession-hungry
revolutionaries of the Catalunya province protesting their mother country
was a cakewalk for her. She just stood there and watched the riot like
an unimpressed teenager after hearing a corny joke from a parent.
As much as we wanted to share her apathy, there was no ignoring the fact
that we were in the middle of a mêlée and that we should
try and find someway to get the hell out of there. Since Dantes
level of garbage was blocking the side street exit, we attempted to make
our way into the main street in hopes of running around the corner to
the next block to safety. The three of us gathered at the edge of the
building. Terence took point to peek behind the building. Slowly he moved
his head out to see if the coast was clear. Risa and I eagerly anticipated
his status report.
"Oh shit! Go back! Go back!" he cried. He rushed over to the
other side. Confused, I looked to see what was the matter: a policeman
had his trigger finger on a tear gas grenade gun and was headed right
for our temporary bunker. "Oh my God!" Risa nervously screamed.
We fled back to the other side of the forecourt where our German friend
was still apathetically smoking her cigarette. (Perhaps she was French?)
"Ze police should just let zem protest, and leave zem alone,"
she said as smoke slowly escaped through her lips.
We ignored her ennui and contemplated our escape. "Fuck it, lets
run down the side street," Terence said. It was true: the safest
way out was to run through the black smoke passed the burning fire. "Alright,
lets do it," I nervously said, realizing we had no better option.
Risa took pole position and one by one we made a break for it, running
the thin line between a rock and a hot place. I followed Risas lead
and Terence followed mine. The flames were intense and I felt the heat
on my skin. I held my breath the whole time as to not inhale the disgusting
odor of barbecued garbage. We made it to the other side and there was
no looking backuntil Risa briefly glanced behind and realized Terence
wasnt behind us. "What the hell is he doing?!" she asked.
"Wait! Wait! I gotta get a picture of this!" Terence answered.
He actually ran back towards the chaos to get a shot of the flames. Once
a shutterbug, always a shutterbug. (Well, we were tourists, remember?)
Terence shot a quick photo and then ran like hell back towards us. Other
protesters were running away from the riot squad down the same block.
Yes, this was Spain, but no bull; it was the running of the cops. Hemingway
didnt have this in mind. We ran for our lives for about two blocks
looking anywhere for shelter, but every shop and café had wisely
"Why dont we just walk calmly so the cops dont think
were protestors?" Risa suggested as we ran down the block.
It wasnt a bad idea, especially since I really needed a break; my
heart was racing like a NASCAR vehicle. We slowed down to a normal pace
and walked as calmly as one could with Spaniards around, still running
for their lives. The provocative clapping chant started up again in our
area. "I really wish they wouldnt do that," I said. Soon
a policeman, nightstick in hand, was closing in on one protestor and we
realized Risas idea could only be short-lived. We scurried away
for about ten more blocks like fugitives, until we were way in another
part of town where regular Barcelonian citizens were oblivious to any
sort of brutal activity at the Plaza de Espanya. We found an open subway
entrance to flee underground and took a train to the famous La Sagrada
Familia Cathedral, in a safe zone amongst our own kind: tourists.
The rest of our stay in Barcelona wasnt nearly as violent, even
though that provocative cheerleading clap still haunted me. Later that
day we went back the forecourt of the building on the way back to our
hotel. There was no trace of any sort of insurrection. There was no evidence
of police brutality or burning garbage. Its a good thing Terence
took that photo or else no one would have believed us.
So do I still love a parade? Sure, I dothat is, until the tear gas
© Erik R Trinidad August 2002
the Inca Trail: Breathing hard
sickness feels a lot like the morning after a wild college drinking party
Tread On Me, Ararggentina
'I didnt know exactly what people were yelling to the woman, but
I assumed it was pretty nasty'.
Journeys in Hacktreks
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