Seeing as I was stuck inside ill for La Mercè (the annual festival of Barcelona) this weekend, I’m going to pop up a few pictures from my recent goings-on around the city and its nearby surroundings.
Included are some of the photos I took on Onze de Setembre, Catalonia’s Independence Day, in which thousands of people attended a protest, stating they wished to be declared independent from Spain – something people are quite passionate about here. I don’t wish to go into the politics of it all, but it was an interesting thing to see, especially seeing as we don’t hear much about the state of Catalonia in the UK.
A few other things I’ve included are my trip to Begur, a beautiful seaside Catalan village, where a festival was being held, and the dress code was supposed to be white only. I felt very green and conspicuous surrounded by a sea of pale and pristine clothing. The rest of the pictures are just some snapshots of things such as Tapas-ing (it’s a verb now, alright?) at Café Catalana, which has the most amazing selection of food you’ve set your eyes on, and is mouthwateringly good. I’d go every day if I weren’t guaranteed to put on another stone.
Move aside, Twilight. I recently heard a gruesome tale that takes all the romance out of pointy fangs, sparkly chests, and all that drivel. The tale of ‘The Vampyre of Barcelona’, made all the more eerie by knowing that the story is fact, not fiction.
The district of Raval in Barcelona is now becoming quite fashionable, crammed to the brim with students, young people, and all sorts of international cuisine that is a little more difficult to find in other areas of the city. Teenagers skate around the small streets, drink Claras and smoke the night away.
Raval seems to have had much more of a murky past, however. Those mazes of tiny streets are perfect for concealing all manner of sins, and that they did, rather well, in fact. In the late 1800s, a woman named Enriqueta Martí i Ripollés moved to these shady streets, to become a maidservant. This didn’t work out for her, as she looked toward more money and grander aspirations, and she turned to the age-old trade of prostitution to make ends meet. She begged on the street in the day, dressed in rags, targeting known places of charity, and convents. Not anything out of the ordinary, one would imagine, particularly in a busy city.
However, this was simply what the average passer-by would see. A woman, a beggar, a prostitute. What Enriqueta was really doing was altogether more sinister – the begging rags were simply a disguise that enabled her to lure children back to her home, nobody the wiser as she took them by their hand as any a mother would do. Being by no means badly off from the money she earned as a prostitute, she would attend some of the fashionable events that the well-to-do of Barcelona frequented at the time, such as evenings at the Liceu Theatre, or the Casino, dressed in finery and looking quite different from the woman you would see daily on the street. She put herself about as a procurer of children, and not only prostituted herself, but them, too.
She was arrested during this time, for soliciting children between the ages of three and fourteen, but nothing else came of it, as due to her contacts in high society, she was never tried, and the paperwork lay forgotten.
Martí also had a lucrative business selling potions and charms – a self-made witch doctor. Again, her wares were peddled to the wealthy of Barcelona’s society. They paid large amounts of money for salves, rubs, and ointments, particularly for the treatment of tuberculosis, rife at the time.
Hardly any children were reported missing during this time, mostly because they were all beggar-children, of the streets, able to vanish into thin air. Vanish they did. But they did not simply go missing. Little were the wealthy to know that the treatments they were rubbing into their skin were made from the bones, fat, hair, and blood, of the children Martí had been abducting.
Nobody is sure to this day of how many children Enriqueta kidnapped and slaughtered, but it is contested that she is possibly one of the most brutal serial killers to have lived in Spain. When her apartment was searched, jars of human remains were found, along with pitchers and washbowls scattered with congealed blood, and skeletal hands.
A neighbour spotted a young girl playing in the apartment, whom she had never seen before. At the time, there was city-wide dread and fear, as it was recognised widely by the public, yet not so much the authorities, that somebody was making away with the children of the city. There had even been reports of baby-snatching, though it could have been unrelated to Martí’s sinister actions.
The little girl had been snatched along with another, and it was these two girls who, upon being spotted, ended the horror plaguing Raval and its nearby districts. One of the girls, Angelita, reported that she had seen her “mother”, as she was instructed to call Enriqueta, kill a young boy on the kitchen table. He was five years old.
Enriqueta was arrested. Upon searches of her four houses, scattered across the city, and also in Sant Feliu de Llobregat, they found more and more human remains. They were hidden in ceilings, behind false walls, and even in vases. The skulls of children as young as three years old were found.
Enriqueta met a grizzly end herself, befitting her own gruesome tale. There was large public hatred stirring for the woman, even before her trial, and after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, her cellmates did the job for her and lynched her in the prison square.
There is still high mystery surrounding the story, seeming a world away from the cosmopolitan Barcelona we know and love so much today. As she died before trial, there may be many things we will never discover about Raval’s dark past, but will continue to whisper about in rumour, and pass on the story to unsuspecting foreigners who know nothing of the secrets the twisting streets hide…
One of the first news items I heard (and understood) when I was back in Barcelona, after a brief stint soaking up Olympic fever back in the UK, was one of those cutesy, fun stories they tend to stick at the end of the doom and gloom main stories; you know the sort, ‘Squirrel learns to jet ski’, or ‘Man eats paper clips for one year straight’.
The story goes like this: an old painting located in a small church near Zaragoza was becoming rather worse for wear, and ageing just as old portraits tend to. The painting, or rather fresco, was of none other than Jesus (what do you expect, in a church?). I think there’s something to be said for ageing when art is concerned, and occasionally leaving things be adds to the beauty of the original picture. Cecilia Gimenez, a sweet little thing in her 80s, disagreed with this idea, and took it upon herself to restore the original fresco, with somewhat interesting results, which you’ll see below.
You may be forgiven for thinking this is Our Lord in a sort of balaclava attempting to lick some ice-cream from his cheek, or for thinking dear Cecilia had decided to sketch out the costume designs for the next Planet of the Apes film, but just so you know, the picture above is supposed to be a restoration of the picture below…
Hundreds and thousands of people then flocked to the church, just to see the new artwork, which they’d obviously had to say ‘Well…it’ll do’ to, and hung it back up. As relics and frescos go, this one was relatively well-known; at least here in Spain, so they couldn’t very well just take it down when it was already a pilgrimage spot. The priest on the television was commenting that the regular ‘intake’ of pilgrims, however, had suddenly got much larger, and interest was developing in their little church, so perhaps it’s not all so bad. Botched artwork + poor little old lady = media coverage and extra churchgoers.
Poor old Cecilia is indignant that the priest knew about her interest in restoring the fresco, and gave her permission to do so.
“[The] priest knew he did! He did! How could you do something like that without permission? He knew it!”
A committee is now meeting to discuss what to do next with the painting. They think it’s possible that they will probably cover up the fresco with a photographic image of the original. Personally, I’d be quite happy to go see the botched version!
Another sad twist to the tale is that a local Art Gallery had recently received a donation in order to restore the painting professionally, and had plans to do so in the very near future.
Now, it’s probably beyond salvage, but at least it made for a quirky story, and spread knowledge of a parish and the original, beautiful artwork.
I’m posting American TV coverage of the event so you can see what the news made of it (it even made it all the way across the pond!).
If anyone speaks Spanish, below is an interview with Cecilia Gimenez.