Dog eat dog world

Life can be raw on the mean streets of Barcelona. Down La Rambla, in spite of the police presence, teams of pickpockets roam, taking advantage of the tourists’ distraction to coax valuables out of pockets and purses from handbags. ‘Three-cup-where’s-the-ball?’ hoodwinks naïve player and unwitting audience alike (not all are audience). Along the pavements, with heads and shoulders bent into four-wheeled municipal refuse bins, scavengers of everything from metal to cardboard sift and sort the unwanted detritus of urban life and load it into supermarket trolleys, selling it on later at street corners where, next level up, men with vans pay only low denominations in return. Beggars with appealing canine companions or a pair of crutches play to the emotions of passers-by. Buskers in teams work the subway trains, as does the ‘poet’ with his single learned verse. Tuneless extroverts invade bars and restaurants to serenade diners, prodding shoulders with a nudge and placing an empty bowl on the table. The homeless sleep in parks.
A separate economy is operating beneath the tourist world and it is hard-bitten and single-minded; it has its own hierarchy and its own rules. Though the casual observer may see nothing much of it, careful scrutiny of just a small portion of a street or a tube station unveils the surreptitious transfer of illicit packages, information or cash; eyes that are everywhere and nowhere, looking for gain or Guardia with equal determination. There is a quality in shiftiness that singles out its owner from the rest of the urban swirl and it’s always interesting to use the invisibility of a café vantage point to sift out bad from good. Crowds down the ages have been the haven of criminals, cutpurses and vagabonds, the noise and crush and apparently innocent jostle enabling skilful sleight of hand and surreptitious, instant disappearance.
Too much mistrust springing from too much reading of crime? Not so: watch the hands and eyes and see for yourself. It’s a dog-eat-dog dogfight on the streets.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Barcelona, its lovely Catalan people and its edge. I’m just playing with reality…