I think you learn more walking around the streets of a strange city than you do in its museums. I decided to plough deeper into the Barcelona backstreets today; a city ordnance prevents shops from opening on Sundays, so they built a mall on the water beyond city limits, and it’s predictably horrible, a summary of everything that’s wrong with the West, bland chain stores punctuated with McDonalds and Starbucks.
But the good thing is, the city is still filled with independent shops, although some displays take explaining. Here’s a local toy store, most of its window taken up with handcrafted dolls and skateboards, the rest with Kalashnikovs and pistols that fire rubber pellets.
When you find a shop that sells knives, you’d usually assume it was a kitchen store. This one gives the game away by including a hand grenade in the display. The rest of the window was filled with giant axes, cleavers and the kind of breadknives mercenaries stick down their combat trousers in bad movies.
I wish I could explain why this phone booth was completely covered in stamps, whether it was some strange tradition or perhaps a mad stamp collector has suffered a fit.
Finally another bakery – remember the bread shop where all the buns and rolls were sunbathing? How about this one? If you’re buying books and meringues wouldn’t you be happier knowing that they’d been blessed by the Madonna in her meringue grotto?
People are messy, chaotic, naive, strange and generally unpredictable, which is why, for me, mass production and identical consumer outlets don’t have any appeal. My attitude is; buying your clothes in markets and independent shops, never eating in chains or shopping in malls is more time-consuming but helps to define you as individual. There’ll be enough mass-produced stuff you have no choice about in your life anyway.