Down, Dirty and Real: Christmas and Flamenco. Barcelona Part 2: Barri Gòtic


In Barcelona Part 1, I advised you to go to Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Família. And, I hope you went to church like a good boy or girl. Now that that's out of the way, here are some options to get yourself back on the sinning side again in Barri Gòtic... Skulk about Barri Gòtic at night. Exercise caution, there can be some sketchy characters around Barri Gòtic, AKA the Gothic Quarter. I don’t know if it’s the sheer age of the place, its Roman/medieval architecture, the closed-in buildings or its winding, labyrinth-like streets, but the neighborhood has this haunted quality that I really enjoy.  Pedestrians dominate, but you'll share its narrow corridors with bicycles, scooters, cars or the occasional behemoth garbage truck. Bursts of street art and echoes of its inhabitants punctuate the Barri.

In its plazas, kids play futbol and try their skateboarding tricks. Ever-present buskers perform for their dinner money. People people-watch. Vendors hawk their wares in open-air markets.


One such market is held in late November, a Christmas fair – the Fira de Santa Llúcia - on Avinguda de la Catedral. Last year, they celebrated their 225th anniversary! Here, we first met a traditional holiday fixture named Caga Tió, a log that, at the end of the Christmas season, defecates in the form of candy for children who beat it with sticks while singing. Yeah, you read that right. Here's a clip from the Anthony Bourdain No Reservations holiday episode featuring Norah Jones singing about Uncle Pooping Log. I don't think poop has ever had a sweeter sound than Norah Jones. I'm pretty certain about that, actually.

Keep the party rolling and jam out to Flamenco in El Raval. One night, our friend Steve took us to Robadors 23, a bôite de nuit so named simply for its address. Small and narrow, we sat under the stairs. Patrons might be shoulder-to-shoulder or even copping a squat on the floor.

Of course, many visitors to Barcelona watch flamenco musicians and dancers in their traditional pomp, enjoying a three-course dinner with their show. And I’m sure that is probably a rather enjoyable experience.

What’s cool about listening to flamenco at Robadors 23 is its lack of formality and the proximity you’ll feel to the musicians, the music and your fellow audience members. The musicians improvise and jam out, blending the rhythms, a harmonic fumbling around in the dark, sculpting their sound. The result is not so much a song with a definite beginning, middle and end; it’s more of a sonic experiment: epic, hypnotic and pulsating. And a few lucky souls (hopefully, you!) bear witness to it all, layering on new beats with hand claps and heel pounding, head bopping and hip swaying.

What this place might lack in polish, it makes up for with passion. Robadors 23 is down, it’s dirty and it’s real. And I mean those words in the best sense possible.

Other posts in this series on Barcelona.