Buddy, Can You Spare a Euro?
All over Barcelona and other Catalan cities there are now practically more supermarket trolleys on the streets than in the supermarkets themselves, pushed along by men and occasionally women who have piled them high with ditched electrical equipment, scrap metal and other sundry bric-a-brac, which they deliver to squatted warehouses for repair and resale. Not infrequently, the trolley pushers' faces wear the permanently dazed look of people who can still remember when they had a car to drive and a mortgage to pay. But nobody looks much at their faces anymore, they being now as common a street sight as public benches or zebra crossings. Indeed, most people sidestep these walking poor with a casual callousness that I for one still find extraordinary, notwithstanding the multifarious medley of justifications people come up with for not shelling out even the tiniest of mites. These paupers, it is said, either belong to a highly organised mafia (as if this – supposing it were true - in any way invalidated their obviously abject poverty); or they have a lot more money than they let on (for decades a story has circulated about a perennially nameless Barcelonan vagrant who was found dead with a small fortune stitched into his rags); or they live the way they do because they want to (an unlikely story if told to anyone who has ever had to beg themselves, as I did for one evening in London when I realised I wasn't going to eat otherwise: after about ten pitches, I got enough coins for a Mars bar and enough humiliation to last me for the rest of that autumn). The other day, a (youngish) man came into the Barcelona metro and prostrated himself frantically on hands and knees, half-shouting, half-whimpering that he had paper hankies for sale. I couldn't remember the last time I saw anyone so miserably desperate, and yet even now people managed to pretend convincingly that they hadn't seen him, though an elephant waltzing with an 800 pound gorilla would have been less noticeable. It helped, of course, that everybody could stare at their smartphones. Why not just give? After all, what's a euro, when it comes down to it? One call you don't make, one coffee you don't drink, one newspaper you don't buy. So I gave the man a euro and asked for a pack of handkerchiefs. He insisted on giving me two.
Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, gener de 2014.