Crazy and endearing

A chilling scream sounds.

-My friend Esteban, who has come to the neighborhood from Sant Feliu de Llobregat with his partner to pay me a visit and to get to know the Barceloneta I have told him so much about, asks startled. 

Holding on to his arm, overwhelmed by the shouting, and also by the fact that it is difficult for her to keep her balance walking on that cobblestone pavement that seems primitive, Nuria mutters to herself in a low voice with the intention of not offending me:

-I shouldn’t have worn heels. And these screams, it seems like they are killing someone.

-Calm down, it’s nothing. 

The shriek is repeated long and deep, this time it is more similar to the siren of an ambulance, or of the firemen, but it is emitted by a human being, there is no doubt.

Suddenly, around the corner, a boy of about fourteen appears running as if it were his life, chased by a pack of children between 7 and 13 years old, shouting “cigarette butts, cigarette butts, cigarette butts”.

An elderly woman, who turns out to be the victim’s mother, pops her head out of the ground floor of 24 Pescadores Street and, terrified and screaming, rushes into the house while the angry woman berates the harassers. 

The rest of the people in the neighborhood ignore everything, as if they were already accustomed to the fact that this situation is repeated on a daily basis.

-Who is this boy, why are they chasing him?

-He’s Pedrito, he’s crazy, he picks up cigarette butts from the ground and smokes them. They are a very humble family, the father is sick, the brother is involved in politics and does not work. The mother is desperate.

A horn sound behind us, my companions, engrossed in the Colillero’s story, have not noticed the arrival of a Pegasus truck that has to slow down to avoid running over them, I had already moved aside. Suddenly the group of kids who were chasing Pedrito, forget about their prey, and rush to the back of the truck that has already resumed the march. “Pitu loco, Pitu loco, Pitu el loco”. They chase the truck screaming like demons.

From the truck bed -open at the back and covered with a tarpaulin-, a muscular man of about 24 years of age with a face uncracked from birth, picks up pieces of ice from the floor of the box in which he is carrying bars to distribute among the restaurants and throws them at the children with force, but without forcing the aim; it is not about hurting anyone, but to provoke the crowd that this situation – which he finds amusing- will continue until the next stop.

Pitu the Madman of Can Ganassa is a strong muscular guy thanks to the physical work he does. The Ganassa family gives him work, keeps him busy, and takes care of him. He loads and unloads the ice and Damm beer delivery trucks. He’s also crazy.

A crack, like a bomb, has just gone off in Plaça Sant Miquel.

“The cannon, the cannon.” The troop of gnomes do not give to the scope, to the disenchantment of Pitu el Loco, leave the truck of Can Ganassa and rush down the street towards the church of Sant Miquel del Port. There, a crowd of children and not-so-children shout. “Mr. Rector, we want the cannon, Mr. Rector, we want the cannon.” 

A man dressed in the uniform of a French general, brandishing a saber orders the porter who handles the cannon: “fire!”, the crack of the firecracker echoes throughout the neighborhood, shaking the windows of houses and stores. Hundreds of candies fly towards the children who dive through the smoke to collect the sweetened shrapnel. 

“General Lagarto” raises his saber again and the cannon resumes the march followed by the crowd.

My friend Esteban -who can’t stand my amazement- asks me: 

-Who is the military man?

-Paco el Tonto”. He has been taking out the cannon for years on the day of Sant Miquel, marking the beginning of the neighborhood festivities, he is quite a character, he has a lot of children, half of them are not his own, he boasts of not having worked all his life, in fact the cannon is the only activity he is known for. He lives in Sant Miquel street.

The cannon is lost on the corner of Sant Carles street. Father Pau greets me from the door of the church, I return the greeting with my hand, but he no longer sees me, he is looking at a woman of about 55 years old who is approaching the church.

-Hello Mary.

-Hello Father.

The woman enters the church, and Father Pau is still at the door saying goodbye to the stragglers in the canyon.

-Who is this woman, she is a bit strange, isn’t she?

-La sietecoños”. Her name is María, she is a lifelong Barceloneta resident, in her youth she was a prostitute, maybe despite her age she still is, she used to attend the fishermen who came to do the purse seine fishing season, but above all she is an endearing neighbor of the neighborhood. 

We decided to have a few wines and a bomba in the Cova Fumada, first we passed by the Caixa de Cataluña on Churruca street. The bars only charge cash.

There is a long queue in front of the “human” cashier’s window, -the automatic one does not exist yet- it is the end of the month, the poor employee cannot pay the pensions. We get in line. Shortly after, the door of the store opens with a great roar, all the customers of the cashier turn their heads in the direction of the entrance, a man of about 22 years old who looks like something out of a novel by Marcial La Fuente Estefanía, covered with a duster like those used by western cowboys, and a wide-brimmed hat, wielding a 2-barrel shotgun shouts with all his strength “freeze, this is a robbery, I’ll kill anyone who moves”. 3 out of the 10 or 12 people queuing at the window faint, some who were seated rush to lift them up and seat them in the chairs they were occupying, the rest, including the teller and employees, ignore the intrusion of the alleged bank robber.

“El Metralleta”. If we had to evaluate all the madmen of Barceloneta, the Metralleta would be the king. Hundreds of books could be written about his propellers in the neighborhood and beyond. 

Xavi, which is how the aforementioned was called, received daily beatings from people he confronted and who did not have the patience or humanity to play along. 

He would get punched, get up bleeding and go back to berate his target, usually policemen, shopkeepers and especially bar owners who were fed up with him drinking without paying. He did not relate the pain with the blows received, therefore the stores and bars lowered the shutters until he left, and thus avoided having to kill him and end up in prison. 

As time went by, he would often sneak into the Camp Nou, forcing the match to be stopped.

Finally a cab driver -which he had already used other times to go down to the neighborhood after the match – without paying him the fare-, put him in the cab and took him to the road to the cemetery of Montjuic, and beat him almost to death, smashed his face with a stone, and lost an eye, he was between life and death for a while, but soon returned to his old ways.

The police paid no attention to him, even though every time they came across him they had to endure insults that you can’t even imagine, he hit their car, and followed them without giving them a break until they fled to avoid complications.

As for the cab driver, there were a thousand versions. All of them ended in a funeral. 

We came out unscathed from the simulation of the Caixa de Cataluña, although my friend and his partner were a heart attack away. 

Arriving at the Cova we found the “Bulto” sleeping on a bench, an usual beggar, he went from bar to bar, he was invited to a drink as long as he took it outside the establishment, so after a few drinks, he hit the hay on a bench near his last invitation.

We had to drink standing at the bar, the bar was overflowing. As we left, we heard another round of shouting, a woman with an alcoholic’s comb, shaking the “Bulto” as if she was reprimanding him for his selfishness in view of the empty beer bottles at his feet.

Juanita Banana “La Loca”. Due to the fact that only a few years ago she had appeared in Barceloneta, the Vox populi of the neighborhood spread the rumor that she was the daughter of a rich family of Barcelona and because of her drinking she had been locked up in Sant Boi (mental sanatorium), she had escaped, and now lived between the port and the beach, making a group with the drunks who appeared and disappeared in our neighborhood. She screamed as if she was possessed, some said she was.

We crossed the market towards the Jai-ca bar, where our friend Jaume would provide us with a table.

As we crossed Maquinista street we met a guy wearing a striped schoolboy’s smock and carrying a notebook in his hand.

“El Chiquitín.” He is a man of about 60 years old, Catalan, he was not born in the neighborhood, he just appeared one day and did not move from here; he is a cultured person, who reasons, exposes and argues his opinions, he searches all the garbage containers looking for pieces that he can wear the current day, so in the morning you come across him dressed as a schoolboy, and in the afternoon he goes as a bishop. It is curious how he has gained the respect of the neighbors who see him as one more despite the fact that every night he goes back to sleep in the Borne neighborhood. You can see him walking with a cassock and a crucifix, or disguised as a baby with a pacifier, or with a wheelchair cutting the way even to the car of the Urbana. Nothing happens.

-I can’t take it anymore, what’s wrong with this neighborhood? Are they all crazy? There are no normal people. Let’s get out of here.

-Calm down, these people that you have seen, they are part of our community, we consider them neighbors, a little bit peculiar, that if; in any other neighborhood of the city, they would be marginalized or the homologated families would have them confined in some asylum. You may think that Barceloneta is this, a huge asylum governed by the inmates. But the real madmen are not: Paco lo Tonto, Pitu el Loco, La Loca, el Bulto, Pedrito el Colillero, el Chiquitin, el Metralleta…. These are the “endearing” locos. But there are the “execrable” locos who dress very elegantly and make little noise.

-Esteban, we have to go, it’s late.

We are at the door of the Jai-can, there is no madman in sight, our friend Jaume Tomillero warns us to be careful, I pull Nuria and Esteban by the arm, the three of us jump up to the sidewalk, with the noise of the Jai-can we have not heard the cart of Felipe the garbage man arrive, another peculiar character, who since the most tender childhood occupies the davit of the garbage cart, he is not crazy at all. All his life he has been a garbage man, at 23 years old the only words he has been heard to utter were addressed to the old percheron horse that pulls the cart “Arre y sooo!”. 

Poor couple, this has been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The atmosphere is beyond them.

I say goodbye to Esteban and Nuria, we give each other a hug, strong, the last one for sure.

-We will come back another day with more time.

I know they won’t come back, they’re heading towards Paseo Nacional, they’ll take the suburban train and forget about Barceloneta, or not. Jaume says to me:

-What’s wrong with your friends, don’t they want to have a cañita? I invite.

-We have ran into all the crazy people in the neighborhood. They were overwhelmed.

-What crazy people?

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