Barcelona makes London look like Luton

On a visit to the Catalan capital, Julie Burchill is reminded why she hates punk

Travel

17 Oct 2016

I love Barcelona – it has such a rough, rollicking beauty it makes Paris look like a ponce and London look like Luton, being both oxymoronically rococo and utilitarian. Even the industrial suburbs can look lovely as the taxi takes you from airport to city centre – ‘I’d like to lick that building,’ my usually reserved husband observed impartially of a factory on the outskirts. (The Estrella Damm brewery, which perhaps adds an unwelcome touch of Homer Simpson.)

I’ve thoroughly loathed the English capital since I left it twenty years ago – my line about Brighton is that I only leave it via Gatwick – but I would willingly live in Barcelona. There’s none of that feeling of the underclass serving the overclass while those in the middle stand by muttering mulishly that London has. And though I’ve come to admire the rigorous stand of France against the Islamist menace, no one can deny that they are the smuggest people on earth. There are currently books called French Children Don’t Throw Food, French Women Don’t Get Fat, French Parents Don’t Give In, French Women Don’t Sleep Alone and French Women Don’t Get Facelifts; there are no equivalent books about Spanish children, women or parents, but as a casual observer I must say they seem far perkier.

While Paris says ‘Look, but don’t touch!’ Barcelona seems to urge ‘See me, touch me, feel me!’ The ever-present ghost of Gaudi in the streets and parks makes the old idea that true art should be an everyday miracle, not something stuck behind glass, seem fresh and new.

The eternal paradox of Barcelona, to me, is HOW DO YOU GET TO BE THIS BEAUTIFUL AND NOT BE UP YOURSELF? And the jammy cherry on top of the tart is that we’re staying in a vast suite at the top of the W hotel, chief watering hole of the Beautiful People of this barrio, overlooking the two shimmering miles of Barceloneta beach.

I am not one of the Beautiful People in anyone’s language, but in my opinion, people often travel so that they can have a bash at being different characters just as much as they do to see different things. In Barcelona, I become a whole nother human; things I’d want to kill people for back in Brighton (though I love my adopted hometown, it IS Ponce Central) I am absolutely delighted by here. Here’s a few…

Public calisthenics
Street theatre
People riding bikes on the bloody pavements
Getting lost
Blue wine
Pink hair
Arguing about Maoism in bars
*People-watching* at pavement cafes while having ONE DRINK then walking away like a normal person!

In theory, *hopping* on the *metro* to *catch* a *curation* about *punk* – a thing I’d never dream of in my homeland lest I be taken for an aged hipster – seemed the ultimate in trying on a new identity. The metro bit was fine – the buskers were so good, I thought it was actual piped music – and I felt well cosmopolitan mingling with the locals, my pleasure increased by the thought that somehow I was getting away with something vaguely shady as I am such a full-on Brexiteer. In fact, I booked the trip on Victory Morning – free at last of the EU yoke, I was ready to revel in the glorious diversity of Europe, and give this cheese-paring, cake-perving little island the slip for a bit.

The Barcelona Museum Of Contemporary Art (Getty)

The Barcelona Museum Of Contemporary Art (Getty)

But pride comes before a fall. My husband is far keener on culture than me, whose idea of an ideal holiday is swimming a mile straight after a champagne breakfast (limitless Veuve Cliquot in this case, not the usual local white put through a Sodastream that far too many hotels serve up), putting away the cocktails by the pool all day and blacking out before sundown. He’s also far younger, and genuinely interested in punk, unlike me who was actually there. So in the spirit of changing face in a foreign place, I gamely suggested we go to the MACBA, Barcelona’s leading modern art museum, and see the exhibition, PUNK: Its Traces In Contemporary Art.

What a rude awakening from our Catalonian idyll! Ironically, my loathing for the enterprise made me feel far more like a *punk* than I had when I was one – I can honestly say I’ve never felt so destructive, hopeless and nihilistic in my whole life, or at least not since the Spice Girls broke up. In particular, thinking about the poncing, noncing, self-adoring bell-ends who *curated* this bourgeoise abomination made me want to *gob* on them, a habit I always regarded with Austen-like repulsion when an actual teenager.

The high point (and this says a lot about the overall quality of the thing) was a film of a pair of kiddies re-enacting scenes from the lives of Sid and Nancy – not much THEMATIC weight but at least it was mildly amusing. Low points: the man who wrote things in excrement on dinner plates, the film of a woman urinating into a public fountain, and the endless pointless collages that seemed to be saying precisely sod-all about anything. The people there were well-dressed and apparently mature, and they generally looked bewildered and/or disappointed. By the time I got to the final exhibit – a life-size Pinnochio in a bed – I was considerably irate, and couldn’t resist giving it a sharp kick. Ha – PUNK’S NOT DEAD! But of course it is, and it’s just not a suitable case – unlike other modes of expression, which didn’t have destruction as their central motif – for revival. There’s always some pop-culture swot – London’s full of them – determined to rouge the nipples of some youth cults still-warm corpse and wheel it out one more time for pleasure and/or profit, and it’s a low, loathsome habit. The Way We Were – let it go!

It was a relief to get back to our hotel’s infinity pool and knock back a soothing Cruel Summer (vodka, falernum and hibiscus liquer) while, with typical hip perversity, the sound of Jimi Hendrix playing ‘All Along The Watchtower’ soundtracked the antics of myself and my fellow cash-flashing Euro-trash playmates. It’s always meant to make one feel solemn and regretful, that question ‘If your young self could meet yourself now, what would Junior say to you?’ Well, as I lay there soaking up the five-star sun, I sincerely wished that the humourless little horror I was as a punk pretender would sidle up to me and hiss ‘Look at you, you fat cow, lying around a swimming pool and drinking twenty quid cocktails!’ Because I’d have come back quick as a flash ‘O, go and drink some snakebite and be sick down yourself, you po-faced poltroon – that punk stuff you loved was WORSE THAN THE HIPPIES!’  Then I might have added spitefully ‘PRETENDED to love, rather, in order to get that NME job – whereas I honestly enjoy lying round swimming pools getting drunk.’ Finally, I’d have raised my twenty quid cocktail in a triumphant toast to the scowling, skinny hypocrite as she slunk off: ‘Top of the world, Ma – and even better, top of the W!’


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