He who has not smelled the tar cannot understand the sea

The sky was blue, clear, cloudless.

After several days of Levante, the streets were covered by a thin layer of humidity that the Mistral would absorb.

The swallows were tweeting as they flew over the roofs and rooftops looking for holes in the attic of the houses where they could build their nest.

That uproar with which they flooded the streets of the neighborhood heralded the arrival of spring.

First the Mistral, later the Garbí accompanied the good weather after a winter of storms in which we had hardly seen the sun. The balconies shone with white sheets that reflected the light and also with all kinds of flowers that seemed to come to life, waking up from ‘a long winter sleep.

I was euphoric, walking down “Almirante Cervera” street greeting everyone, pedestrians and shopkeepers.

When I passed in front of the Miró pharmacy I went in to greet the pharmacist -Toni Miró-, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, his father ran that “apothecary” since before the war, and he continued his work modernizing it with his personal touch of sympathy and professionalism.

Then I turned the corner of Almirante Churruca Street and entered one of the oldest stores in the neighborhood. Whenever I could, I would stick my head in and smell those smells that took me back to a time when la Barceloneta was a real seafaring neighborhood.

“Sniffing the air inside that temple of cotton nets, heads and esparto grass ropes impregnated with tar of all sizes and qualities, was a pleasure for the senses.

Who has not smelled the tar cannot understand the sea and the thousand trades that depend on it, a smell that we, the inhabitants of this neighborhood identify as ours, the port and the beach.

“Hilados Donado”. This is the name of the store in question.

On the opposite sidewalk, Pito Gurrea, from the door of his watchmaker’s shop -where he works with his brother Vicens- makes a sign indicating -something that I can’t quite understand. I continue up the street towards Sant Carles. I stop in front of the Miralles stationery store. A couple of construction workers with a pick and shovel are knocking down the window, surely they will open another bar, in this neighborhood bookstores, stationers and printers have always been sentenced, time has constantly shown us up to today. Everything related to culture is not business.

In the middle of “a cloud of dust” from the work, and to my surprise, I distinguish a boy of my age -32 years old- who looks familiar to me. “Jaume Blanch”, we had gone together to the school of the Virgen del Mar.

Blanch was a freak of nature; I had a very special affection to him. I think the affection was mutual. He was stout, quite intelligent, but all that didn’t matter due to his weakness, he had some oddities, for example, when he spoke, he stuttered, and also spat, if you chatted for a while with him you ended up salivated from head to toe. He had a deviated eye from birth, you never knew if he was looking at you or the person next to you, he also had one leg longer than the other, which caused him to walk jumping with the consequent hip movement that provoked the anger of all the “machitos”, who interpreted it as a mockery or a provocation. The sum of all these little defects made him the target of all the “abusa chavales” of the Virgen del Mar.

I made the mistake of stopping in front of him.

– Hello! You are Jaume Blanch, you studied at the Virgen del Mar, right?

– Yes, do you know me?

-Of course I used to go there too.

-Man that’s great, so maybe you can help me. You see, I’m looking for a very good friend of mine that when we were “kids” we went to class together, his name was Vicens Forner Puig, I’d like to find him, it’s been 25 years since I heard from him. He helped me a lot. My mother has died recently, she had an apartment here in this street, now it is empty, I have thought about coming to live in Barceloneta. Do you know where I could find him? El Gurrea told me that he always walks around the street with his camera hanging from his neck.

I was petrified, 5 minutes talking to him, and he was soaked with saliva, he stuttered more than before, and every movement he made showed a limp that had become worse. Luckily, I had left the camera at home.

I looked in the direction of the watch shop and saw Pito waving at us from the other sidewalk with a satisfied smile, he must have thought that we had already identified each other, I went back to the conversation with that old schoolmate and asked him.

– Why do you want to see him?

– I would like to do the “Astral Chart”, that’s what I do now.

I was stuck like a statue, all the experiences I’d had with that fool throughout the five years we went to school together flashing before me like a horror movie. I didn’t want to restart any kind of relationship with that weird guy, so taking the reins of my future I let him down point-blank: -Okay, “mate”, if I see him, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him.

-Oh, what’s your name?

I shot off, without answering or looking back. Poor Blanch, he stood there like a stunned man watching me run away. Poor Blanch didn’t understand a thing, I guess my friend Gurrea must have filled him in, because I never heard from him again.

So were the streets of my neighborhood, all the same, but at the same time very different, they were full of surprises, situations and characters that trapped you with that spider web that we neighbors had woven, as the good menders extended the fishing gear in the street.

You run into people you don’t want to see on every corner, but when you are looking for someone, there is no way someone can tell you where to find them. Jaume Blanch is a good example, that’s how he understood it.

I never heard anything about JB again, today I do not know if he is alive or dead, I know he lives in Barceloneta, but he will never go out to the street, I think that the astral charts and the lack of friends keep him confined in that apartment in ‘Almirante Churruca, a boulevard where the first floor has always been destined to commerce. Apart from La Caixa de Catalunya, there were several shoe shops, a couple of bars, a bakery -Tarrés-, a tricycle rental house -Alfredo Arias-, and a shoe repairer – Maño-. At present, new businesses have been added, a hairdresser, a dentist, an optician and a couple of real estate agencies.

The apartments were houses for the workers of the Born and the central fish market. Strangely enough, they also had an elevator.

Barceloneta can be ruthless. Once a neighborhood of solidarity, with a great burden of humanity, has lost the values that we always boasted and has become a coliseum in which we give free rein to the baser instincts. Greed, and above all, envy, makes every stick hold its candle. We consent to closing the stores of all life and we move to buy to neighboring neighborhoods – Santa Caterina, Born or Boqueria -, or what is worse, we do it through Amazon on the Internet, causing the death of our trade, and consequently, the death of our neighborhood.

Today tourism and foreign trade impose a new way of life, new customs, religion, language ….

People like Jaume Blanch have stopped searching.

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