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Barcelona Blog: Barcelona, can you fix it? Yes we can!

Clothes repaired here, Barcelona

I’m the sort of person that doesn’t function too well of a morning. Ideally in my world, there should be sort of central locking device on all hot, sharp or dangerous household objects that doesn’t spring open until I’ve had at least three cups of strong coffee.

Last week I attempted to iron a delicate shirt before work and failed to notice in my befuddled state that I had the iron on the linen setting and that the shirt was literally melting before my very eyes.

Back in England I would have had a slight tantrum and thrown it in the bin. In an age of £5 supermarket toasters and clothes that cost less than a cappuccino, nobody bothers to get anything fixed, darned or fiddled about with anymore but here in Barcelona, the city is full of tiny hidden shops that do just that.

A few years ago the strap on my leather bag broke and after chatting to a helpful pensioner in the street in Gràcia, I was directed to a secret doorway I’d walked past a million times before and never noticed. From a handwritten sign on the door I learnt that it was open for a grand total of 2 hours a day (closed all day on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, throughout August and on national holidays) and even then they only opened if they really felt like it.

Once I’d squeezed myself past an army of old ladies buying buttons and oddments, I found a dusty old shop that looked as if it hadn’t changed for hundreds of years. Ikea it was not. From behind a long wooden counter, the staff delved about in row upon row of drawers, filled with buckles, fasteners and other bits and bobs. For the old-fashioned price of €2.50, my bag was returned to its former glory by a man who must have been getting on a bit when the Spanish Civil War kicked off. It was a delight.

Sant Pere, Barcelona

With this in mind, last week I scoured my new neighbourhood for someone who could resurrect my shirt. I found Teresa, a plump lady with a wicked smile who works out of the back of a dishevelled shop in Sant Pere. Without so much as a raised eyebrow at my ironing capabilities, she produced pins from a little pin cushion worn on a Velcro strap around her wrist, devised a couple of clever tucks and promised to have it back to me the next day in exchange for €3. True to her word, there it was the following day, good as new. Clearly having deduced that I was a woman prone to pre-noon calamities, she gave me a wink and told me to pop in whenever I needed her.

Call me old-fashioned but I love these quirky little shops that lurk in Barcelona’s backstreets. I like a good counter and parcels tied with string. I feel exotic wandering past the tobacconists with a bread stick tucked under my arm. I think more men should wear aprons. And if you’re interesting in learning a language, there’s really nothing better than a good morning’s haggle at the market.

We sell hats, but only for uniforms mind

Thanks to rent control, Barcelona’s property developers will have a long wait to get rid of some these antiquated old ‘ma and pa’ stores. Primark may have opened its first shop here but for now the Catalans seem quite content with fixing what they already have rather than getting their hands on mountains more stuff. Happy as I am to have somewhere to buy cheap socks, I hope Teresa and those like her stay in business for many years to come. I fear I may need them.

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Barcelona blog: Benvinguts!

Barcelona modernista chemist

Barcelona: It’s been a while, but I’m back. I spent 4 years in this great city before an aching heart and itchy feet took me to the big mountain ranges and red wine of Chile. After a year in the shadow of the Andes, I returned to European shores in January to be met by a gregarious Scottish customs official, heavy snow and comforting roast dinners. I dallied for a while in Windsor (living round the corner from the Queen) before fate and a temporary contract at a magazine brought me back to the Catalan capital. Barcelona sure is one hell of a magnet.

Not much has changed. The streets and houses are still being noisily drilled. Old ladies still dye their hair burgundy. Little shops that sell nothing but coat hangers, door knockers or shower curtains are holding their own against the giant shopping malls. People are still smoking like chimneys and wearing too cool for school specs. Kids eat giant croissants in the street at 6pm. Women clean the same rectangular shaped patches of pavement in front of their buildings, swivelling their mops dry between two hands as if trying to start a fire. And tourists, prostitutes and bag-snatchers still rule the roost on La Rambla, with not a Catalan in sight until the clubs chuck out at 6am.

Barcelona

Barcelona’s streets are just as filthy as they once were, despite being washed day and night by an army of cleaners who wilfully hose you down when you’re wearing flip-flops. And that’s all some people wear. I’d forgotten about the naked men. I caught a glimpse of one them taking a stroll by the marina the other day, but sadly it wasn’t the guy with the tattooed speedos.

Nothing has changed on the beach either. Women whip their tops off without a moment’s hesitation, while South American men, unused to such pleasures at home, can be easily recognised by their propensity for wearing dark glasses and lying on their fronts.

Prices have shot up while I’ve been away but the bars and restaurants are still full and somehow people seem to manage. Unlike in Chile, there’s a large middle class here. The rich aren’t as well off as the wealthiest Chileans but there’s not the grinding poverty either. No one can afford to buy a flat so the theory goes that you might as well accept it and go out and have fun.

Barceloneta beach, Barcelona

One thing I never liked about Barcelona was that people didn’t smile much. It took me ages to get this, but people here just don’t feel the need to grin like fools at strangers. It can smart when you smile at someone’s cute baby or happy dog and the owner scowls back, but that’s just the way it is here and you best get used to it if you’re going to stick around. It’s simply too darn hot to be warm and fuzzy all the time and Catalans don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves – at least not unless FC Barça are playing.

As a city, Barcelona shows you affection in the same way my dad does. It doesn’t scoop you up into a big, slightly suffocating bear hug like South America would. There’s no firm English handshake and a fight to buy a round. In Barcelona you just get the equivalent of one of my dad’s shoulder squeezes and a self-consciously mumbled “aye, yer not so bad lass”.

I’ve missed it.

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Filed under barcelona, blog, Travel blog