"By Boxing Day, the E. R. will have collapsed"
The city is full of Barcelonians doing their Christmas shopping
BarcelonaPortal de l'Àngel is the empire of the franchise, it is all devastated, razed to the ground with shops. The street is, in itself, a photocopy of streets that we find in all the big cities of today. To walk around these days is to feel part of a great paradox. The covid-19 has killed off the tourists but it is bursting with people from Barcelona who are doing their Christmas shopping in spite of the recommendations to avoid crowds. It's exciting that people want to take to the streets and also that commerce is being reactivated, but are we paying enough attention to the recommendations? Is this the model of commerce we want to reactivate and prioritize?
"I come to the centre out of habit. I used to come when there was only one Zara surrounded by small shops and, before that, when Galerias Preciados was a reference point", explains Vicenç, who is queuing the Planelles Donat torroneria and will then go to the Corte Inglés. At number 25 of Portal de l'Àngel there is still that great street exception. It was set up in 1929. Along with the irreducible kiosk, they are the Gaelic villages. Well, in the kiosk what they sell are mostly caps, scarves, and crystal balls where it snows inside. There is also the intimacy of the artisan's fair, next to Plaça Catalunya: soaps, decorated glasses, jewellery, scented candles, masks, notebooks, leather goods, and small Soria trunks. There is no queue, neither at the Aerobus nor at the taxi rank. However, the Zara on Passeig de Gràcia opened at twelve o'clock and the queue reached the corner of the square.
It's sweet that the longest queue in the street is the one of the Disney shop. Just in front, three photocopies: Oysho, Bershka and Stradivarius. And the immense Zara where the beautiful old Paris cinema was. "If we're forbidden to leave Barcelona for the weekend, we don't want to stay at home. And where do you think we can go, if Christmas is coming? Well, shopping", Filo is clear about that. She's out with her daughter and granddaughters on a must-see shopping trip. And the crowds? "If the shops are open and there are precautions, it must be because it's safe, right?"
Lídia, Hugo and their daughter Rita are going to buy a manger at the Santa Llúcia Fair. There's also a long line there. At the access control they ask for your name and phone number. It's to control contagion and track people, if necessary. Is this very useful outdoors? Daniel, who's waiting patiently in line, asks. "Wouldn't it be better to do this kind of tracking at the department store?" That's an interesting question. A while ago I wrote down the Corte Inglés' maximum capacity: 11,779 people.
A brass band entertains the walk with a recital of Christmassy songs. If instead of the virus you want to track human heat signatures, and you look closely, some spark can be rescued. "Masks are safe, huh? Well, that's it. Let's live a little because if not, we'll go crazy!" exclaims Virtu, who is carrying three bags and a stroller. "In this country we are Latinos, we don't like to obey or follow orders. You'll see, by Boxing Day the emergency rooms will have collapsed", Marc says, whilst he walks fast and tries not to look sideways too much, he lives in Ronda Universitat and has to cross the centre every day to go to work. His expeditious diagnosis responds once again to the famous dilemma of what to do, how to behave, transcendent questions, whether it is better to save Christmas or to save as many lives as possible.
We are trapped in this dilemma, cruelly demagogic but also very descriptive of the situation in which we live. You can't let go, not even when you are secretly glad that the Rambla has regained some activity. The Apple has reopened, you no longer see the central walkway deserted, you want life to beat again.