There was a demonstration outside the town hall last Friday evening. A gathering of people waving Spanish flags and making noise whilst a couple of older, wider police chaps watched on. It wasn’t a large demonstration, but nor was it a mere handful of people. Furthermore, each individual carried a passionate, joyous, voice that lifted high over the spray of the fountains.
We were drinking summer wine in the seats in front of a nearby café. My arms were bare, and I wore only a light scarf over my shoulders. Here, although early in the morning the weather knows autumn is coming, by midday the season has forgotten it-s changing and our evenings belong to a pleasant summer dream. Nights here begin warm. Despite the noise, my companions and I were still able to hear ourselves, and for the most part we ignored the commotion going on around us. We were busy in gossip. Each of us wanted to compare our schools, classes and living arrangements to everyone else’s.
However, from time to time we paused to take an intrigued glance towards the gathered crowd. Even if I had spoken fluent Spanish, then that unintelligible sound of someone forcing words though a tired speaker that wasn’t up to the job would still have confused me. From their flags and posters, I understood that they wanted a united Spain. Was this some sort of nationalist rally going on? A backlash against some Catalonians trying to break from the country? Or what?
To me, the flag-wavers seemed a peaceful jolly bunch, singing their songs and enjoying themselves in the roar of passionate belief. A delighted roar, like the synchronized breathing at a football match which leaves goose bumps on my skin. Crowd behaviour can be exhilarating, terrifying or alienating depending on where you stand.
At a table in the restaurant, just beyond ours, sat a solitary man drinking a glass of white wine. His tense, hunched-up body language suggested an equal intensity of passion, but for differing beliefs. As time went on he got more and more agitated. At first, I pitied him, having his evening interrupted. Then, I began to suspect that he might have chosen his location, in front of the town hall on Spain-s national day, because of its proximity to the protesters.
He seemed, to me at least, to be wanting a fight.
As the protestors began to disperse, angry shouts erupted between the chap and those who passed his table. They were on the verge of heading off for dinner. Young, gun wielding, riot police turned up to calm the situation down. The waiter scowled at everyone and if I were to guess (I can only guess), told them to take their arguments out of his restaurant.
A flag pole was struck against the angry chap, who in return raised his chair above his head. For a moment, our table was speechless. Our chairs no more than a couple of metres away. Within seconds there was a wall of riot police dividing the street. The protestors moved back towards the cathedral heading towards the inner city, taking a different route for dinner. The angry chap sat down and took another sip of his wine.
I returned to my wine and the conversation that myself and friends had been enjoying. We had got around to complaining about the immigration process we are all undergoing. This is another blog post yet to be edited and amended with politeness. When I looked up again from our ranting, the angry man was chasing some protestor across the square wielding a chair like a mace. The older police chaps had to intervene this time, the riot police having wandered off. Again, calm was restored, and the angry chap returned to his glass of wine.
We returned to ours, but with an increased awareness of the tensions that live here, under the surface, all around us.