El Classico

If the Grinch turned up in Barcelona he’d be allowed to steal Christmas. But they’d lynch him if he touched el Classico.

It takes a while to realise that every cliché is reflexively trotted out in service of this match because it would take a literary deity to capture the fervour that descends on the city.

A group of men stood in a circle and set off fireworks outside of a café. Three main protagonists then pulled their shirts off and threw them into the crowd.

One produced a megaphone. Another lit flares, measurably more eye-stinging and smokey than the last set. Still partially undressed, he raised them above his head then moved his arms down till he stood in a crucifix. His hypeman began a call-and-response through the megaphone.

Thirty yards away, a pair of old women made their way into the stadium. As I watched this, a tout offered me a ticket. “How much is it?” “That’s not important.” He was either trying to tell me that the historical importance of this match couldn’t be reduced to a price tag, or soften the blow of the €400 asking price.

I found a harshly lit bar that had a spare stool. The strip lighting reflected in the TV, so every time Barcelona played a searching cross-pitch pass or stretched the Madrid defence with a through-ball (this happened often) the whole bar had to lean to one side to see around the screen glare. The bar had a massive back room, solely filled with intense looking locals, and a small front chamber populated by me, an elderly couple, a variety of debonair Catalans and four Real Madrid fans. One of the Catalans cautiously waved a flag that read ‘AntiMadridista’ in the direction of the Castillians.

Each room had its own TV, but there was a two second delay between the feeds. The other room would initially know of a goal through the wailing of the elderly couple in the small front chamber.

The commentators seemed to be having an ‘r’-rolling contest, particularly with the name ‘Sergio Ramos’. The cameras frequently cut to shots of Real Madrid’s President looking as if his puppy had committed suicide. The aspect ratio of the screen frequently changed to accommodate mid-game adverts, causing me to feel slightly more drunk than I legitimately was.

Barcelona demolished Madrid. Only screaming and the honking of horns could be heard across Barcelona. The most crafted comment wasn’t made till the next day, in Castillian not Catalan. Ramón Besa noticed that “Goals fall at Camp Nou like autumn leaves: naturally, beautifully and serenely.”

It is the season to string Christmas decorations from every available structure on Barcelona’s main boulevards, if not yet the season to turn them all on.

An alternative religious festival visited here last week. I live close enough to the Nou Camp to see first hand the public sacrifices, the protestations of faith, and the mass prayers that are delivered up to the God(s) that decide el Classico.

It takes a while to realise that every cliché is reflexively trotted out in service of this match because it would take a literary deity to capture the fervour that descends on the city.

The Nou Camp is situated just far enough outside of the Exiample to allow for one way streets and curved alleyways. Neither of these is tolerated within the hyper-rational octagons that make up my neighbourhood. The Exiample was Barcelona’s attempt to expand out of its oldest neighbourhoods in a consistent and attractive way. The final design was decided upon by (whisper it) Madrid, but has grown into a living metaphor for middle class Catalans: impressive and uniform façades complimented by unexpected quirkiness. For example, my part of town is the most desirable gay neighbourhood in Barcelona. So innocuous are the surroundings, I didn’t know this till I stopped outside of a shop called ‘Boxing BCN’. Thinking that boxing would be a good way of keeping fit and meeting new people, I popped in. I was greeted by sex toys and mannequins with oversized genitals.

Freed from the confines of the Exiample, a group of men stood in a circle and set off fireworks outside of a café. Three main protagonists then pulled their shirts off and lit flares. Their audience distinguished themselves through positioning – the most rabid fans, for whom these performers could do no wrong, sang and chanted in an inner circle; a second group, formed of boys in their late teens, fought each other for positioning on the periphery of this; a sparser selection of older and noticeably better dressed Catalans (female as well as male) formed another grouping outside of this. The last group regarded the goings on of the two tighter formations with a relaxed detachment. They occasionally joined in with the singing, but mostly drank beer and chatted in small clusters. Almost every conversation was conducted in Catalan.

One of the three main protagonists produced a megaphone. Another lit flares, measurably more eye-stinging and smokey than the last set. Still partially undressed, he raised them above his head then moved his arms down till he stood in a crucifix. His hypeman began a call-and-response through the megaphone and it began to rain. The inner crowd went wild, the second crowd yelped with pleasure, the third crowd gently applauded.

Thirty yards away, a pair of old women made their way into the stadium. As I watched this, a tout offered me a ticket. “How much is it?” “That’s not important.” He was either trying to tell me that the historical importance of this match couldn’t be reduced to a price tag, or soften the blow of the €400 asking price.

I found a harshly lit bar that had a spare stool. The strip lighting reflected in the TV, so every time Barcelona played a searching cross-pitch pass or stretched the Madrid defence with a through-ball (this happened often) the whole bar had to lean to one side to see around the screen glare. The bar had a massive back room, solely filled with intense looking locals, and a small front chamber populated by me, an elderly couple, a variety of debonair Catalans and four Real Madrid fans. One of the Catalans cautiously waved a flag that read ‘AntiMadridista’ in the direction of the Castillians.

Each room had its own TV, but there was a two second delay between the feeds. The other room would initially know of a goal through the wailing of the elderly couple in the small front chamber.

The commentators seemed to be having an ‘r’-rolling contest, particularly with the name ‘Sergio Ramos’. The cameras frequently cut to shots of Real Madrid’s President looking as if his puppy had committed suicide. The aspect ratio of the screen frequently changed to accommodate mid-game adverts, causing me to feel slightly more drunk than I legitimately was.

Barcelona demolished Madrid. Only screaming and the honking of horns could be heard across Barcelona. The most crafted comment wasn’t made till the next day, in Castillian not Catalan. Ramón Besa noticed that “Goals fall at Camp Nou like autumn leaves: naturally, beautifully and serenely.”

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