THE BIG-CITY COMMUNES OF BARCA
BY Andy Capper
Photo by Malú Rodríguez Arnedo
The Barcelona district of Nou Barris is downright beautiful in January. The weather is unseasonably warm, and at sunset the surrounding hills and valleys are mottled with soft light as the sky turns from purple to black. Up close, however, the streets reek of piss, shit, and garbage, and the residents exude palpable desperation, as if sweating misery.
Nou Barris’s man-made problems started in 2008, when the banks collapsed and ridiculous mortgage deals handed out to poor families began to destroy the people they were originally meant to help. Many residents worked in construction and lost their jobs when, overnight, the market for cheap housing fell apart.
Unlike in other markets around the world, defaulting on a mortgage in Spain doesn’t mean that your debt is forgiven. The result is homeless families who owe up to 200,000 euros. Nowhere in Barcelona have government-enforced evictions of families been more intense than Nou Barris.
Since social services are scant, it’s been left to an ever-growing group of anarchists, hippies and punk rockers to provide necessities to the swelling population of homeless working-class residents. A few times a week, these young people relocate families to buildings closed down by the banks and teach them to cook with food salvaged from garbage cans. Within the squats are piles of rotting vegetables and prawn shells taken from the dumpsters of downtown restaurants frequented by affluent tourists.
Last month, we met a 15-year-old named Tete Delgado, who seemed well-off, dressed in baggy tracksuit bottoms, white sneakers and a hoody. But Tete has been so inspired by the Barca anarchist punk scene that he now sports a gothic lip piercing and paints his nails black from the same bottle of cheap nail varnish used by his new friends Vero, a skinhead girl, and Pol, a long-haired hippie. The two 20-somethings are extremely active in seizing homes and rehousing families.
While atop a five-story squat, Pol and Vero showed us the kit they use to equip foreclosed buildings with lights, running water, and locks.
A collection of bolt cutters, chains, torches, saws and DIY electrical devices glinted in the sun. It was just another beautiful Barcelona day.
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