Barcelona August 17, 2017

 

I thought that I’d share my experience of last Thursday’s terrorist attack on Catalunya, the 2nd in the history of Barcelona.

 

August 17, 2017 17.42 CCCB

It was around 14.30 and I was seated at the Arxiu at the CCCB, the Center for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. Before that, I was at the library, another favourite hangout of mine, but I left as they close for the lunch hour. CCCB is in Raval, right next to Las Ramblas.

After doing some correspondence, I watched the Vice documentary Charlottesville: Race & Terror. Prior to this I had not read up much on what had happened, and needless to say, I was shocked.

Afterwards, I popped into fb and this was the first notification I saw:

Confused, I then opened the La Vanguardia website. And that’s when I realised what was going on. It was unreal, to first see video of a car ramming into the demonstrators in Charlottesville from a few days ago, to reading that a van had rammed into people, seeing the grotesque images that were taken not more than a few minutes ago, and not even a kilometre away.

Across from me, a girl who turned out to be an Italian architect doing her traineeship in Barcelona, asked me if I knew what was going on. I said I literally just read about it. She had gotten the news from her friends and family all the way in Italy. They were telling her so many details, and told her to stay put. She lived on a street perpendicular to Las Ramblas, not more than a minute away by foot, right on the street where the van struck some people and she was at a loss about what to do.

Being in the Arxiu, we were safe at least. Then security showed up and said that we all had evacuate, they were locking down the CCCB.

Considering she had nowhere to go, I said she was welcome to stay at my flat. She readily accepted, and we started walking, making sure to keep as far away from Ramblas as possible. All around, it was eerily quiet, and we could see people walking with their bags, like they were leaving the city.

 

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At Ronda Universitat, people were fixated on the television, and I saw one woman in tears on the phone.

19.30 Avinguda Diagonal

We walked past a crowd of people watching the news from the televisions in an appliance store window. I started to worry about the people I knew who were living and working in the area, which has a very large Filipino population.

We walked on for about 30 minutes until we reached Avinguda Diagonal, one of the main roads that cuts through Barcelona, and were met by this sight:

Cars were bumper to bumper. We wondered if they were all leaving the city. 

Then I saw something that made me stop. Four men who looked middle Eastern had their hands behind their heads, and in front of them was a man wearing what appeared to be a kevlar vest and holding a gun out and pointing it at them. My companion freaked out and said, let’s pass somewhere else. I wanted to snap a photo but they had led them away, I don’t know if they arrested them or saw that they were innocent bystanders.

We later learned that there was a second attack, and that the attackers had made it Sant Just, a neighbourhood just next to mine.

She looks happy but appearances can be deceiving.

We got to my flat as it was getting dark. A few hours later, my flatmates, who had been driving to Barcelona during the attack after spending a few days in France, arrived. We had been communicating and I had told them it would probably be best if they didn’t come back tonight. Fortunately, they were able to drive into the city, keeping to the outskirts, without incident.

I don’t think any of us slept well that night. I certainly didn’t.

August 18 11.00 Les Corts

The next morning, I woke up and took the dog for a walk. Around 13.00, the Italian said that her flatmates said that Ramblas was no longer locked down, and that they were able to get home. We took the bus to Plaza Universitat, and walked to her flat. We were both still shaken up from the day before, and it was surreal to be back in that area and to see people walking around like nothing had changed. We stopped at the corner, just to look out on the Ramblas. We saw police, media, signs and police cordons.

We bid each other goodbye, and I decided to walk on Las Ramblas.

20.30 Las Ramblas

There were crowds huddled here and there, candles had been placed, some flowers, stuffed toys, and someone had left some paper and pens for people to write notes. Some had written on post it notes. There was a young man with his head bowed, staring at the candles with tears in his eyes. Seeing the stuffed toys, I figured that this was a place where one of the casualties, perhaps a child, had lost his or her life. 

The tragedy, the injustice, of a life extinguished before its time, under such senseless circumstances began to hit me.

That’s when I started to feel the grief arise in me. I left a note, and decided to walk home.

August 19, 2017 16.00 Plaza Catalunya

The next morning, I began to make some signs. I had been thinking about the other attacks in Europe, such as the one in Paris, Belgium, Manchester, and I knew I wanted to make something to show solidarity with this tragedy.

I came up with the following design:

‘Amar’ means ‘to love’ in spanish. The letters form the towers of the Sagrada Familia and the flower pattern from the tiles of Barcelona’s streets have the letters ‘BCN’

I wrapped the signs in plastic, then biked down to Plaza Catalunya. This was what I saw:

Free hugs given on Plaza Catalunya. The next day there was a muslim man with a sign, giving out hugs as well on Las Ramblas

Free 🤗 🖤 #notengomiedo #abrazosgratis #amar #barcelona #freehugs

A post shared by Jose Gamboa (@pinoyartista) on

It was a beautiful sight and a wonderful feeling. In highly developed societies, one of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of physical contact, and in a touristic place like Plaza Catalunya and Las Ramblas, you would very rarely speak to a stranger unless it was to ask them to take a picture or refuse a “cervesa beer.” And here, men and women, young and old, of different racial backgrounds were hugging each other. The antidote to terror, to fear, is love.

Yesterday there were just a few candles, flowers, and notes. Two days later, here is what the shrines looked like:

The shrine at Liceu, where the van finally came to a stop

It showed how much love and solidarity people felt for the victims of this senseless tragedy. Indeed, it could have been any one of us. I left my signs in different shrines and biked home.

Managed to snap some Mossos (the special forces of Barcelona) stopping and searching a car on Ramblas. I tried to be discreet but they shooed me away.

I saw photos and videos from that morning where thousands upon thousands had descended upon Plaza Catalunya, clapping and chanting, ‘No tengo miedo!’ (We are not afraid), and the the mimes and other buskers who lined Las Ramblas everyd, also paid tribute to the victims by joining the procession as the crowd made its way down the most famous boulevard in Barcelona. The Mayor of Barce, Ada Colau, posted this.

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August 20, 2017 17.00 Las Ramblas

On the third day after the attack, Ramblas was seemingly back to normal. It was more crowded than usual, or so it seemed. People took photos of the shrines, selfies even, and there was a procession of Muslims, then later, Christians.

Free 🤗 🖤 #notengomiedo #abrazosgratis #amar #barcelona #freehugs

A post shared by Jose Gamboa (@pinoyartista) on

“We are Muslims! We are not terrorists!”

 

Las Ramblas: 3 days later

 

As I write this, it’s been five days since the multiple terrorist attacks in Catalunya. Things have seemingly gone back to normal. But there are still people in the hospitals, not all the perpetrators have been accounted for, and there are many more whose lives will never be the same again. And that includes the families of the attackers.

And the authorities are left with the question, how do we keep our cities safe from this type of extremism? This level of viciousness? Especially since the attackers were not foreign, they were young men who were part of Spanish society, who were integrated into Catalan culture, what makes people become this way? 

These questions need an answer. And soon.

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Scar

 

This is one of my earliest memories of my father. Even though it didn’t happen to me personally, my mind’s eye created the scene when I first heard the story, and seeing that scar all the time growing up, engraved this anecdote into my memory.

In anticipation of Father’s Day, I’d like to hear your most memorable story of your father. Share it in the comments and I’ll choose one (or two) to illustrate.

The Year of Living With Urgency

Yesterday, the 29th of February 2016 marks 1 year, 4 months, 24 days since I moved from Manila to Barcelona.

Today is the leap day of a leap year. Every four years–for reasons that I do not think are all that important–we have chosen to add a day to the 365 we already have. Like birthdays and other holidays, marking time has its purpose.

Like anyone who likes to write, I have a penchant for reminiscing, of counting things, of finding and maintaining connections, and noticing patterns.

So since moving to Barcelona I have moved flats three times. First in Les Corts, then Eixample, now in Poble Nou. Next month I will be moving again. In order to renew my visa I enrolled in my second course, this time in Graphic Design at Bau. My spanish has significantly improved, I am happy to report, thanks to studying and working with Spanish people. Most importantly, during the past year I have had the good fortune of meeting some interesting people, some who I am happy to call friends.

The past 511 days have not all been fun and games, of course, and I have made mistakes and at times have not been as kind as I should be to others. I have been robbed. Twice. My heart has been let down and broken more than that. I have spent more than I have earned, and worked for less than I should.

So why the year of urgency? Three months into 2016 there have been several high-profile deaths, all of them from unnatural causes if I’m not mistaken. Cancer, suicide, overdose. Today something gruesome happened in Moscow. It probably is not the first time it has happened but this is the first time it has been widely publicised. My grandmother is 96 years old, bedridden, feeding through a tube. I have an uncle who has been comatose for the past two months. It will not be long before it is my turn.

And so, there is only that which we cannot see, feel, taste, touch or hear, but to which we must bow to: Time. If today is just like any other day in the year, then why does it feel…different? The prevailing theme of the leap day is to do something different; something new. But what is the point? Nothing is original. And like New Year’s Resolutions, trying to change things simply because of some arbitrary day of the year is not enough reason for me.

As I wrote previously, it has been a surreal start to this year and because of this, perhaps more than any other reason, is why I feel a sense of urgency. Specifically about what, I am not sure. Just like the year before, I wrote my annual review but I am opting not to publish it this time. I did make a pretty good joke about it though:

As before, I have the same categories of goals, with creation and production as the priority. But this time I want to do things faster,  smarter, and to do exactly what I want as well as what needs to be done with expediency and to full effect.

Time is short. Get moving.

Jim Benton

Suggested reading: Chris Guillebeau’s manifesto The Tower (free download)

 

The Hermit of Binay Street

Felix Sarmiento used to be in the movies.

 

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On the right is his Original Thunder Stuntmen identification card.

 

He has appeared alongside Fernando Poe, Jr, the “Philippine Box Office King,” in such films as Sambahin Ang Ngalan Mo (Praise Be Your Name), Ang Maestro, and Tatak ng Alipin (Mark of a Slave). He had screen time in Sunugin Ang Samar (Burn Samar) with Ken Metcalfe, Tigre ng Mindanao (Tiger of Mindanao), Urban Ranger, Maderaso with Ian Veneracion, Diego with Jestoni Alarcon, and Di Pwede ang Hindi Pwede (Not Allowed is Not Allowed) along with Robin Padilla and Vina Morales.

As a stuntman and extra he has starred in well over fifty films (as Alex Sarmiento when credited).

 

 

 

 

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He claims he has even appeared (very briefly) in Chuck Norris’ Delta Force, Hamburger Hill, Missing in Action, and Crossborn Territory.

Today, Felix lives in a shack beside a canal. He is sixty four years old, balding with long white hair and a long white beard.

 

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He ties both in a knot and wears a cap to shield him from the sun when he pushes his cart around the neighbourhood, selling rings, bracelets, and other trinkets. At nearly six feet, he is gaunt, but stands straight, and his eyes twinkle when he talks of his glory days. If you came across him dressed in finer clothes in a more decent environment, one would assume him to be some kind of artist, perhaps a musician or painter.


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However Felix, who the people in the neighbourhood have taken to calling Brother Alex, or Balbas (Tagalog for ‘beard’), lives by a canal that is green with slime and dense with shit and garbage. He has been living here since 1967, with the leave of his neighbour, whose boundary wall serves as the sturdiest part of his makeshift shelter. In 2000 he cohabited with Rita Aguirre (59), who also used to work in the film industry.

 

To get to his shack, one must go down P. Binay street until one reaches the canal bridge.

 

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One must then descend into the canal, cross step a narrow ledge spanning no more than 20 centimetres running along the right side of the canal for a few meters, then step quickly to one’s left onto a bridge that Felix constructed himself from scavenged wood, careful not to fall into the green water below.

 

The bridge is cluttered with various buckets and receptacles for water. These are for washing and must be hauled everyday from a NAWASA water source a few blocks away.

 

His other companions are two dogs that are excellent for keeping possible bucket thieves away, and some cats who apparently fear neither dogs nor water, or are too starved to care. Inside, the shack measures no more than two metres across, and about two feet wide. There is a second floor which can be accessed through a ladder, and it here that they sleep. There is no electricity or running water.

 

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For 37 years Felix has lived this way. And even that is stretching the definition of the word. He makes enough money from selling his trinkets and giving reflexology massages (he took a TESDA vocational course he says). Who would want a massage from a toothless hermit who could be harbouring all sorts of diseases, is the question.

 

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Back in the day, when Barangay Pio del Pilar was nothing more than jungle, it was considerably less safe than it is today. Felix said you could hear the sound of guns and panas ringing out throughout the street as the gangs warred, and he had to get a gun to defend himself.

 

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When the canal overflowed, as it regularly does during rainy season–but especially during Ondoy, his shack filled with the sewers’ refuse and was almost swept away by the waters. When he burns with fever, going to a doctor–who will write him a prescription he cannot pay for for medicine he cannot afford–is out of the question.

 

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Felix is not the only squatter in the neighbourhood. There are communities of them in adjacent streets, teeming with naked children and bursting with noise. But Felix and Rita have no children. They are educated, can speak good English, and have a quiet dignity about them, despite living in the most deplorable conditions. They put money away in a card bank, a micro lending setup, which will give Rita something should he die suddenly. Their only misfortune, and Felix says this himself, is that he was born poor.

 

But things are changing for Felix. The kagawad, the local government of Barangay Pio Del Pilar, is giving them a house in Trece Martires, Cavite. All the squatters in the area are being offered this, along with relocation assistance and an allowance of P5,000 (about 100USD) plus a bag of groceries. He said that the Makati Social Welfare Development Fund of the National Housing Authority has even promised them P18,000 (about USD 400) to get them on their feet. They visited the place a few weeks ago, and they said it was legitimate, and that the houses were there. They had already begun to move their few belongings.

 

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A few weeks later he had dismantled most of his shack. They sound excited. Felix said that if ever this article should get published that I must express his gratitude to Vice President Binay. And P-Noy as well, he begrudgingly added after some thought. A few days later, Rita had already relocated.

 

Two weeks later, Felix was still in his shack. I asked him why he hadn’t gone yet. “There isn’t any livelihood there,” he said. “My customers are here, the ones who need my reflex massage. And I sell my goods at the nearby public school. There, there is no one. I have no customers.”

 

Felix says he will construct another shelter elsewhere, once he has dismantled his shack and sold off most of the wood and roofing material for scrap. He will join Rita in Trece Martires eventually, he says, when the time comes and he no longer has the strength to keep living this way.

 

A month later, Felix’s shack was gone, although oddly enough, he was still there. He had started to camp in a 2 x 2 metre guard house where he cooked during the day, and he disappeared at night. A few days later Rita had returned. He said his nephew had moved into the house in Trece Martires. All day he would sit on a stool in the shade in front of my building. I began to detest his presence. Some of the neighbours had started to tell him off for having the remnants of his shanty–wood he claimed was valuable and that someone was coming to buy–lying on the sidewalk, and that he had occupied public property without any permission. At one point I stopped saying hello.

 

Author’s note: By coincidence, after interviewing Felix I ran into the Vice President having breakfast in a hole in the wall eatery a few blocks away. I passed on Felix’s message to him, but I think he didn’t hear me.

 

A Whole New Meaning to Shark Attack

 

On July 19, pro surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark during a competition heat at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa. Here’s what happened:

 

 

It hasn’t been the first time a surfer has survived a shark attack–as one-armed surfer Bethany Hamilton who had her arm bit off by a tiger shark, and Shannon Ainslie, who after being attacked by TWO great whites simultaneously, has got to be one of the luckiest people alive–but it is the first time it has happened in full view of thousands, maybe millions of viewers.