A prayer for the commercial soul of Barcelona

Summarized in 33 words, the photographer Richard Avedon He met Marylin Monroe in 1957, but not to portray the actress, but Norma Jean, the fragile and brittle woman who was hiding behind that beautiful interpreter. He did it. Is a bright photograph and sad at the same time, without exaggeration, like the magnificent book that Esteve Vilarrúbies (Banyoles, 1974) has just published with wonderful portraits of 110 shops in Barcelona, ​​in its own way, the tip of the iceberg of the shops that for decades, centuries in some cases, have made this city an actress also of international fame. Sometimes, for lack of a better adjective, they call them emblematic, although one day we will rename them as shops in danger of extinction and no one will be able to dispute it.

‘Comerços embleàtics de Barcelona’. This is the name of the book. It bears the seal of the Editorial Efadós, known, glups !, for a long and successful collection of works that recall how some towns, cities and neighborhoods of Catalonia were in the past and are no longer. ‘Calella disappeared’, ‘Cadaqués disappeared’, ‘Sarrià disappeared’ … In the middle of a catalog with this approach, the book of Vilarrúbies It might seem like a dire premonition, but it is the opposite, it is a review, rigorous as never before to date, on what is left in Barcelona and, above all, what is really possible to do to preserve it, given that the competent authority, when asked Because of his plans in this regard, he has been doing something for years that is defined by a verb unfortunately little used in Spanish and that has no equal, cantinflear.

Esteve Vilarrúbies, camera in hand, in the central corridor of Casa Beethoven, born in 1883, while Jaume Doncós plays the establishment’s piano.

/ Jordi Cotrina

A VilarrúbiesAn architect by profession, the crisis of 2008, which shook his union greatly, gave him the opportunity to explore a hobby he inherited from his grandfather’s trade, Rafael Vilarrubias, photographic correspondent for ‘La Vanguardia’ in Girona during the civil war. So with a Leica around his neck, he began that patient search for the most unique commercial fabric in Barcelona, ​​but he did so at a time when unrepeatable establishments were dying, often from the tenant pandemic of which so much has been talked about. So much so that a long dozen of the 110 establishments referenced in the book are no longer with us, and among them there are almost irreplaceable deceased, such as the Millà bookstore, to name a case, founded by an actor, Lluís Millà, in 1901, who during the Franco regime hid literature in Catalan in a hideout as if from a Ana Frank it was and that, in the 70s, it was a site to which theater companies went in search of unpublished or forgotten texts to represent on stage.

Every business, little or a lot, is a character in this novel called Barcelona. Some are for the elderly, such as the Zoila Agramonte pharmacy, which took root in the Plaza de Llana in 1710, little joke. Others, because of them you can tell adventures that not even taken from a script by Rafael Azcona, like the ones at Bar del Pi. In 1927, Pepita and Enric, the couple that founded the business, went to the port on the opening day and threw the keys into the sea, because they said they would open and never close. Hell if they did, because until 1936 the bar was open 24 hours a day. The point is that the aerial bombardments began and when it was necessary for the first time to rush to a shelter they remembered not only that they did not have keys, but they discovered that the blinds did not drop.

El Rei de la Màgia vvv, a store founded in 1893, although it says 1881 on the façade, a number perhaps chosen then by capicúa and thus more mysterious. /

Vilarrúbies He is the author of the photos, which are to take off his hat (bought, if possible, at the Barreteria Mil, on Fontanella street), but he is also responsible for a task that no one had carried out so far with such meticulousness and patience , the meticulous and documentary verification of all the data, until discovering important errors in the opening dates that until now were taken for certain.

That, in any case, is the least of it. The crucial thing is that after years of funerals for Musical Emporium, for The Indian, by the Foyé toy store or by the transfer of the magnificent Casa Calicó fishing tackle shop (By the way, he moved because the rent was going up and the place has been closed for three years), the book of Vilarrúbies It is an optimistic look at last, almost a photographic manifesto just waiting to see if once and for all a Francisco Toledo that he rebels against so much resignation.

The most famous heroism of Francisco Toledo, ‘the witcher of Juchitán‘, is little known on this side of the Atlantic. In 2002, McDonalds wanted to open one of its franchises right in front of the zocalo in Oaxaca (Mexico). The Oaxaqueños, that threat felt as bad as the Barcelonans, it is assumed, the sentimental loss of the Rambla. ToledoA respected artist in his country and abroad, he organized and led such a huge protest that the multinational company went with its hamburgers to another street.

The book of Vilarrúbies It does not go so far, but it has some very timely reflections from Lluís Permanyer, lighthouse of the Barcelona chroniclers. “On a visit to East Berlin, I saw very clearly that it was a practically dead city: the lack of shops had condemned it to show a dark and lifeless panorama. Globalization and franchises have caused another perversion: the main storefront streets in the world are almost all the same, since they have been flooded by the same big luxury brands ”. What a great sarcasm that capitalism was ultimately the engine of an almost Soviet uniformity.

Forn Sarret, the same today as in 1882, when he baked the first loaves.

/ Esteve Vilarrúbies

The back room of the Forn Sarret, which preserves its stone rotary kiln.

/ Esteve Vilarrúbies

In one of those reflections, Permanyer proposes a simple remedy like an aspirin to that trickle of deaths from emblematic stores. It is not about declaring them cultural heritage of the city. Nor is it necessary for the city council to go out and buy the farms to be an equitable landlord. It is easier. “We Barcelona have to go into them and buy, which is the most effective attitude to ensure that these beloved emblems can continue at the foot of the canyon.” Only the mechanism of a jug is simpler than that.

The first of the list of establishments compiled in the book, Colmado Múrria, has a handwritten sign next to its door in which it apologizes to its customers because these disastrous 2020 and January 2021 have had to shorten their hours. “We are few and we continue thanks to you,” says the sign. The owner, Joan Murria, second what it says Permanyer, but thinks that a little institutional help would not be badly received. He knows that the regulation of rents will not come soon, he doubts that the city council will one day become the biggest and kind landlord in the city, he also distrusts that patrimonial protection is a really effective method to stop the closure of emblematic stores, but it has a simple and apparently easy proposition. It demands that at least the maintenance of the century-old carpentry, windows and marbles that make these stores a unique place and a common heritage of the city be subject to some type of subsidy when necessary.

Touch, already portrayed Norma Jean, an epilogue. Is it worth all the effort? The natural answer is yes, but it falls short, because it might seem like it’s just for aesthetic and sentimental reasons. In the book, Vilarrúbies and Permanyer go further and recommend the rereading of a famous article by George Steiner, ‘Coffees are a characteristic feature of Europe‘, a very serious reflection on what would have happened to this old continent without its coffee shops, a roof capable of sheltering intellectual debate and gossip, culture and politics. By extension, any establishment where you are known and treated well has, depending on how you look at it, the soul of a café. The Nadal prize was awarded in the Glacier in 1949. The PSUC was founded in the Bar del Pi. In the 1872 Farm, sadly closed for months, it was possible to talk about the future with your back leaning on the Roman wall of the old Barcino. In Foix de Sarrià, their meetings were sweetened not only by the poet Josep Vicençbut also your friends Salvador Dali and Joan Miro. On more than one occasion, at Bar Marsella he lost the verticality of his more than 1.82 Ernest Hemingway. In the Viader Farm the food of several generations was born, the Cacaolat. In short, does the soul of Barcelona deserve to be saved or not?


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