The Plazas of Barcelona

In Barcelona the words Before and After automatically fix the 1992 Olympics as the point in between. From that date on, American fast food chains sprouted on Catalan concrete and Spanish tapas bars became uniformly bright and bland. Bit by bit, package deals and discount airfares, luxury liners and charter buses transformed much of the city into an amusement park for tourists. One of the world's great streets, Las Ramblas, is now a carnival sideshow, and the boulevard of Passeig de Gràcia an interminable boutique.

However, stroll a few blocks onward, turn down a cobbled lane and enter the neighborhood plaza. Here, in the heart of the barrio, old women still argue tomato prices while old men argue their remaining days. A monument or statue presides over daily life like a protective deity. A palm tree shades the blind lottery seller and an ancient fountain spills cool water into Eternity's cracked cup. Imagine who has paused here for a drink: Gaudí, Lorca, Miró, Pau Casals, Picasso and Señora Paquita, the local beautician.

Every plaza contains an indwelling spirit, which distinguishes it from all other plazas. There are no twins. Many plazas were once village squares, at least until Barcelona's urban sprawl engulfed them. A century later they retain provincial charm. In one, Civil War bullets riddle stone walls; in another, Modernist architecture swirls on building facades like master brushstrokes on canvas.

A plaza is the classic setting for the sardana, the Catalan national dance. It also provides a stage for the ballet of waiters, the chorus of courting couples, a toddler's first steps and an elder's last. Above café tables, ferns overflow balconies, catching the day's final rays. Then teenage laughter heralds nightfall and the promise of annihilation in sex and fiesta. Street cleaners sweep up bottles and bodies at dawn.

Mornings in the Old Quarter are precious. Mediterranean sunlight rains down past centuries-old gargoyles and a plaza awakens like a forest pond. Somehow silence defeats time. There are no ripples, no before or after, only the moment, here and now.

--Patrick Pfister

Contributor's Notes

Patrick Pfister is the author of the books "Pilgrimage: Tales from the Open Road" and "Over Sand & Sea." His stories and poems have appeared in various literary magazines and "Travelers' Tales" anthologies, including "Best Travel Writing 2007." Jerseyworks nominated his poem "Nevada" for "Best of the Web 2007." Visit him at

The Poets:

Pilar Benito is the author of two novels, hundreds of poems, dozens of short stories and articles. She has won the "XV Valladolid International Award for Short Stories," the "First Narrative Award of Puerta de la Cruz City Council" and was short-listed for the "Benito Pérez Armas Novel Prize of Santa Cruz de Tenerife." Her poems appear in several anthologies.

Javi Ingles is an award-winning creative director at an international ad agency and the lead singer/songwriter of a Heavy Metal band. These are his first published poems.

Elena Vilallonga was born in Barcelona in 1966. She is a translator of novels, essays, film scripts, plays and poetry from English or French into Spanish. As well as poetry, she writes and directs documentaries and short films, including "Red Card," an official selection of the Venice Film Festival.

The Photographers:

Carlos Catalán is a graduate of both ESCAC Film School in Barcelona and the National Film and Television School in London. The recipient of numerous awards, he has served as the Director of Photography for a feature length film in England and, most recently, a Bollywood epic shot in India.

Ignasi Ferrer is the Chief Financial Officer of a multinational company and a Professor of Economics at Ramon Llull University in Barcelona. He studied portrait photography with Humberto Rivas and was a recipient of the "2001 Su Mejor Foto" La Vanguardia Photography Prize.

Alex Llopis is a graduate of both ESCAC Film School and Massana School of Art & Design. In the "TransArt" competition his photographs were awarded "First Prize" and "Special Jury Prize." He currently works as a freelance photographer, designer and video-clip director.

                  Poetry and photography, THE PLAZAS OF BARCELONA