The Olympic Games of 1992 showed Barcelona as a city resurgent: new infrastructure, the local economy growing rapidly, and the recently gained autonomy of the Catalan region from rule by Madrid. And the construction work has gone on since, with extensions to the Metro, two new tram networks, the arrival of high speed rail links, and lots more roads.
But the downturn in Spain has hit here too. Unemployment is around 20%, and despite the continuation of infrastructure projects like the cross city high speed rail tunnel (part of the new line to the French border) and an all automatic Metro line which will eventually run around the north and west side of the city to the Airport, times are hard for many locals.
So it’s no surprise that there are a lot of folks out on the streets, and on an increasing number of Metro trains, trying to scrape a few Euro together by whatever means they can muster. On street corners, beggars hold out cups or hats, often displaying signs telling of their plight and their needs. On one Metro journey, I witnessed the sorry sight of one woman falling to her knees and pitifully regaling passengers with her story.
Some are more enterprising, but their lack of polish does not do them any good. Travelling on the FGC (a commuter railway system run by the Catalan Government), one journey was accompanied by a man playing what can only be described as an odd wind instrument. He attempted a selection of Abba songs, and all of them he did badly.
On my return journey, I just missed one train, only to hear the sound of the bloke with the pipe attempting Abba as it sped off. My relief was short lived: another man boarded, this time with an accordion, attempting a number of tunes, but was so bad that, well, he was bad. What they were I couldn’t tell. Neither he, nor the Abba copier with the pipe, secured a cent from their audience – and both trains were busy.
What is certain is that, like the tat sellers in the parks, they will be back, because right now, that is how they try to make ends meet.