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