Ave Stella Maris: Barcelona
Christmas is coming to Barcelona.
In the pedestrian mall of Portal de l'Angel, neon blazes through the drizzle. Artificial stars shed five-pointed light and electric angels gaze down from on high. Only twenty-five shopping days till Jesus' birthday! Jewels, delicacies, rare scents, fine garments; all the gifts of the Magi, plus Japanese cameras and American computers tempt the cell-phone toting crowds from the windows of the fancy shops.
And although Barcelona's Christmas won't be white, there is definitely a north wind blowing: a dozen guerrilla Santas armed with grappling hooks scale the face of the Cottet Building; holly wreathes the Corte Inglés department store; from a movie marquee, the Grinch grins down. Even City Hall is merrily walled-in with conifer branches from God-knows-where. One expects at any moment to see city employees appearing with hoses to flood the plaça in the deluded hope that it will freeze over.
Of course, I feel quite at home with this "American-style" Christmas: a dash of North Pole, a splash of Bethlehem. It's just not what I had expected of Barcelona, ancient capital of Latin Mediterranean culture, where until recently Saint Nicholas was still better known as a saint.
« next chapter »
See also: All the Good Pilgrims