By Ronnie Smith
Barcelona, the invasion
I’ve been reading about the recent protests against excessive tourism that are taking place in Barcelona, one of my favourite places in the world. It is a city of 1.6 million people but it is estimated that over 32 million people visit it as tourists each year. Many of them are day trippers and don’t stay more than a few hours but some of the locals are getting fed up with all these feckless holiday-makers clogging the place up and ruining their quality of life. I must confess that the last time I was on the Ramblas it was like being in a small elevator with too many large people. In fact there was simply no room for the Ramblas to be what it once was, excessive tourism has indeed ruined it for everyone.
Some locals are so angry that they have taken to acts of vandalism to make their point. One of the ubiquitous red tour buses was set upon outside the Camp Nou, its tyres were slashed and it was sprayed with anti-tourist graffiti by a group of chanting youths. Not even supporters of Real Madrid get that treatment but then not many of them travel for ‘El Classico’. In another incident, tourist bicycles had their tyres slashed in protest at their taking up too much space in neighbourhoods where locals are not allowed to park their bikes on the street.
My own experience of the great crush of humanity around the Sagrada Familia has led me to stay away in the hope that I will live long enough to see it open as a church instead of it being just another ‘attraction’, as at present. And in that other cathedral, the Camp Nou, many in the crowd for each match are there simply to say that they’ve been there and take selfies without exhibiting any profound love of the institution that is the Blaugrana.
Tensions have been rising for the past two years with the business community, happy to see so much money pouring into the city, at loggerheads with a large section of the long-suffering citizenry while the growing horde of tourists gradually takes over. The mayor, Ada Colau, was elected to do something about the situation and has introduced moratoria on the building of new tourist accommodation, amongst other things.
It’s an interesting story of a city that could be swallowed up by the success of its own marketing, the artistic achievements of Antonio Gaudi and the global fame of its football team.
Pezenas, the traditional family holiday
I found myself walking along Cours Jean Jaurès on Monday last week at around 2:45 pm and came across a traditional family holiday. It was hot, many of the small shops were closed and the parents had obviously completely run out of ideas. What had started out as a pleasant walk through ‘this charming medieval town full of surprises’ had turned excruciatingly into Mao’s Long March for survival with tempers frayed and paranoia rife. They had come to a complete standstill outside one of the estate agents, gaunt statues unable to move even to one side to let people past.
The forlorn children, 8 and 12, clearly roasting like pigs on a spit, waited hollow-eyed in the hope that someone would come and take them straight back to the airport. Oh how well I remember those family holidays in the sun when cold beer was forbidden either because I was too young or because I could not set a bad example to the youngsters. It amazes me that some family members are still beguiled by the notion of being “charmed” by what, in July and August, is simply nothing but a medieval oven. The beach is the only thing that makes sense to children and reasonable adults. Yes, the beach and ice-cream are the only things that have ever made sense to all but the determined archeologists among us.
It has become apparent to me that the shape of the average European human being has undergone a fundamental realignment in the past 25 years. Without wishing to offend anyone, and I certainly include myself in these remarks, I think it’s fair to say that with the exception of professional athletes we are all a little rounder and take up a little more space than might have been the case in the immediate post war period.
It has also been a feature of the modern era that, before getting on the plane, many people invest in new wardrobes solely for use on their holidays. This is a good thing. Writing as someone who has always had to be dragged under protest to the shops to buy new clothes, I commend those who understand that what is suitable for a good soaking on Sauchiehall Street may not be appropriate attire for the Greek Islands in July, for example.
However, I am puzzled by the number of times I see that someone’s new wardrobe simply and very obviously doesn’t fit them and am genuinely concerned by the apparent growth in the incidence of colour blindness amongst the general holiday-making population.
This leads me to another question. Who exactly do many of us buy our holiday wardrobe for? Is it for ourselves as we are in our daily lives or is it for the person we would secretly like to be in different circumstances? Has our vacation become such an escapist fantasy, reflected in our often quite shocking choice of holiday clothes, or has it always been like that and I just missed it?
Palma de Mallorca, it’s a serious business
I was at DisneyLand Europe a long time ago and witnessed two men almost get into a fight over whose child should be first in the queue for a ‘Character Breakfast’ with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. One of the fathers was an average man of about 35 with issues that were very apparent. The other happened to be Chris Eubank who at that time was a professional boxer and the reigning middleweight champion of the world.
I learned from this rather surprising and disturbing experience that family holidays have become more stressful than I had imagined and that the need to prove oneself, to the point of humiliating self-destruction in front of the kids, has become rather important to many young adults. Or rather, that the kids can be used as the excuse to prove oneself to oneself.
I saw it again recently, at Marineland on the outskirts of Palma de Mallorca, where parents were desperate to pose, pout and square up to each other in front of their children, for the sake of one place in the queue to meet the perfectly affable dolphins.
In light of this I have decided to create my own holiday business which I plan to franchise on a global scale. My company will be called ‘Ego Holidays’ (see picture 1) and will provide, in addition to the usually prefered 3 star accommodation, a standard boxing ring for parental squaring up and a 100 metre running track where parents can race each other pushing buggies with optional children. The track’s initial six lanes will merge into one to provide additional tension and an almost guaranteed violent climax.
Collioure, the final ride on Le Petit Train
I recently had lunch on a beautiful restaurant terrace in Collioure. The food and wine was almost as excellent as the company and I was facing the mountains that provide a most spectacular backdrop to the port. As I was shovelling foie gras into my face I noticed one of those petit trains that tourists ride all the time to see the sites of the town that they have invaded.
In this case, however, the train was not trundling through the streets of Collioure with it’s bell ringing. Instead, it was silently disappearing over a ridge high above the town. “What”, I wondered, “is it doing up there?”
Then I realised that the tourists on board had been selected for their final trip and were being driven to a secluded wood, deep in the mountains, never to return. I’m sure you are all familiar with that scene near the end of ‘The Great Escape’ where Big X (Richard Attenborough) and his mates get theirs.
Perhaps the Mayor of Barcelona should visit Collioure on a fact-finding mission.