Editor’s note: This is guest piece written by Becca Thomas. I’ve been thinking that something special may well come out of the Spain, Catalonia and the Basque Country, given the current economic conditions and thee deep routed alternative cultures that exist there . When I heard that Becca was in Barcelona I asked her to capture a sense of what was happening, and that she did with interviews of some fascinating people, revealing some intriguing insights into money, our precariousness and the way we live our lives.
I arrived in Barcelona vaguely aware that an election was about to happen, and that Spain as a whole had suffered greatly as a result ofthe financial crisis. However when a friend suggested that it might be interesting to chat to some people about the economic situation in the city, my travelling companion and I gained an unexpected glimpse into a modern city where more and more people are struggling to get by, and some big questions are being asked about the way we live our lives.
The first person I talked to wanted to be known as Potato. I spotted him parading through a busy street in the Old Town. I couldn’t miss him, really. He was wearing a black top hat bearing a sign offering ‘Free Money’. He was also calling out in English and Catalan – ‘Free money, ask me why?’ At first I just watched him walk past. If I’m entirely honest, I thought he was a bit… well… odd, and I wasn’t sure about approaching him. But as I watched him for a while I could see he was harmless and I eventually ran down the street to catch up with him.
He certainly had a lot to talk about. He had built a contraption which he carried like a sandwich board over his shoulders. As I talked to him he pulled out different cards from the devise, which was a bit like a children’s pop-up book. The cards were written in English, Spanish and Catalan. He clearly had something he wanted to communicate with the world. I forget the exact text on the cards, but his message was clear. We need to value people above material goods, basic access to food and water above money. He was inviting not just a new economics, but a new philosophy, which he called ‘socialics’ whereby people are valued above financial wealth.
And then, true to his word, he announced with gravitas that the time had come to give me some money. He then presented me and my friend with a small laminated card each. On one was written ‘LIBERAR UNA MENTE’ (‘Free a mind’) and on the other ‘SORTIR D’UNA DEPRESSIO’ (Get out of a drepression’). He explained that I had earned this money because I had given him the time and space to express his opinion and share his ideas. He was certainly a very striking and colourful character, but he got me thinking – who is entitled to produce money anyway? And what does the money really stand for? What is it’s true purpose?
Shortly afterwards, we came across a young man sitting on the floor in front of a coffee shop. The sign he had propped up in front of him caught my eye – ‘In need of a rich wife or 1 euro’. He seemed like a smiley, friendly fella, so we went over and said hello. He introduced himself as Casper.
Casper told us that he had been travelling without any real need for money for two years. He explained that he was generally able to collect enough loose change from passers-by to find a hostel for the night, and that he could easily find enough food to eat from what others throw away. He spoke very simply, saying ‘I don’t have a lot of stuff, some people have too much’. He seemed very accepting and upbeat about his situation. I’m not sure that I would be such pleasant company if I was in the same boat.
As darkness began to close in that evening, we found ourselves down by the seafront. There, we noticed a couple had written ‘Lost Souls’ in chalk on the floor and were asking for people to donate some change in exchange for sweets or drawing a picture. I asked them what they were doing, and was pretty shocked to hear their story. Patrick and his girlfriend are German citizens, living in France. They had travelled to Spain to offer solidarity to protests about ‘social conditions’. However, one night their money, passports and phones were stolen.
The German Consulate had as yet been unable to help them. At this point they had been sleeping in their car for five days. They were exhausted, disheartened and terrified. They had no one they could turn to for help.
I had heard of a squatted hospital on the outskirts of the city, and hastily gave them the address in the hope that they may find shelter there. We gave them some money for food and petrol, and wished them luck. The next day, we decided to go and look for the squat ourselves – they had an open day on Sundays and we wanted to get out of the city a little bit.
The building was fantastic with extensive allotments – people growing their own food and living an alternative lifestyle very happily. I chatted to the guy who was serving food at the café. He had been living there for over ten years, and seemed very nonchalant about his lifestyle. He explained that the children who live in the building attend the local school and live very ‘normal’ lives. It made me think about how we can feel like we have to do things a certain way, live a certain life, adhere to society’s expectations. But there are in fact many ways to live. I was pleased when we found Patrick and his girlfriend there too. I don’t know if the people at the squat were able to help them or not but they’d definitely made it there, which was great.
The people I met in Barcelona got me thinking – the systems that we have in place are not working……
Many people are living a precarious lifestyle, where the smallest change in circumstances or stroke of bad luck can leave them stranded, helpless and literally out in the cold. And that’s the case in the UK, Spain and just about everywhere. As ‘Potato’ said, we need to rethink our values system, reconstruct our philosophy, make the safety and security of all human beings a priority. The accumulation of money and material wealth belongs much further down the list. As Casper, Potato and the people at the squat showed, another world is possible. For many people, it’s already here.
Credits: All photos: Becca Thomas
The squatted hospital: