Friday, September 28, 2007

Road Sense and Serpentine Sensibilities

Every global city should have a landmark street they should be proud of.

The reason I write the following piece is the fact that for 2 days in a row Brigade Road has been hogging the front-page of this very newspaper. The first one was an article on how selfish, unscrupulous, ‘snake-like’ shop owners were transforming Bangalore’s favourite walkthrough (or so they said) into a serpentine footpath, by illegal encroachments, thereby constrictoring passage.
The next morning’s Mirror had images of that very road with frenzied brigades brandishing the tricolour, car stereos locking horns, delirious dancers, spraying beers, wiping the sweetshops out, and going completely berserk after Sreesanth held onto that catch (phew!) and had the Pakis Misbah a real whisker.
Which made me want to draw parallels (or antiparallels) to a landmark street in Barcelona, where we were on holiday, just last week.
La Rambla is arguably Spain’s most famous street and it is here that the local Herbies go bananas every time Ronaldinho or Messi take the home side FC Barcelona to a win or the La Liga premiership.
But I guess that’s where the parallels will have to be hemmed. Other than the fact that all the souvenir stores on the street belonged to some sort of Indian mafia and if you looked closely, most of the ‘I love Barcelona’ bags and tees (that sell upwards of 15 euros) were proudly ‘made in India’.
But let’s get back on the road again. I’m going to try and recreate (‘try’ being the very ambitious operative here) the magic and the vibrancy of that 1.2 km stretch (the walk between the two extremities could take anything from under 10 minutes to well over half a day) in the space allotted to me.
An inconspicuous drinking fount marked the top of the walkthrough and legend has it that anyone who drank from it would revisit Barcelona. No guessing then, that I drank a bladderful. A Mexican mariachi 10-piece band was doing their stuff, passing their sombreros around after having got a large crowd singing along. Musicians of all genres demarcated areas as their stage; from flamenco to Latin jazz to even someone who played Bach on soprano sax. One stopped by, listened to a couple of tunes, dropped a coin or two (or, if you really, really liked them, bought one of their CDs) and moved on.
The elaborate human statues that allowed the tourists photo-ops were most amusing. From spitting images of Ronaldinho and Caesar, to over-the-top, bizarre ones like someone who resembled big mama’s house (complete with 54DDs in an inflatable bodysuit) to flamenco dancers, to mewing Mr. Mistoffelees hiding in a garbage can, to another, that took that Eiffel 65 song a little too seriously and painted himself head to toe in blue paint. A tad better and way more imaginative than our shoddy-bandage-daubed-with-red-paint-groping-beggars that we find this side of the Mediterranean.
One then passed La Rambla dels ocells and La Rambla de les flors (the twittering bird and the gorgeous flower market) before stopping at the Mercat Boqueria, arguably one of the best-stocked and most colourful produce markets in Europe.
The Gran Teatre del Liceu, the city’s monumental opera house (built in 1847 but still maintained in all its splendour) came next and we were really fortunate to catch a flamenco rendition of the opera Carmen. But I’m digressing and la rambling again.
Getting back on La Rambla, you could take your Picasso from an endless range of artists that lined the walkway, to have your caricature / portrait done, or you could step into the Museu de l’Erotica out of curiosity like I did (only to curse that 80% of what they had on display were works from the Kamasutra) or one could reach the bottom end of La Rambla near the waterfront where it got seedier with the strip clubs and peep shows.
But my favorite part of this street (and we were really lucky to have found a room that overlooked all this buzz) was the fact that you could just sit by at any of the street cafes order a jug of sangria and some tapas and watch the world go by.
I can only fantasize (one of the few fantasies of mine that actually can go into print) that there will come a day when Brigade Road and Church Street will become iconic like this. Till then we will just have to put up with everybody’s snake-like ways.

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