Scenes from San Francisco I

Barrio San FranciscoThere has been a noticeably sharp uptick in rabble-rousing these last two weeks in our beloved Barrio San Francisco in Bilbao. Seems like Aska, Reme, and I have been on our balcony every other day gawking without shame at the mediocre examples of society that our street offers up to us.

We consider ourselves to be above it all, of course…and this consideration is based solely on the fact that from our balcony, we literally are above it all. In every other sense of the word, we are just another bunch of mudslingers and gossips looking for the next smear.

“I’d say he’s overreacting a bit,” Aska remarks dryly on the scene that plays out below us.

Es que…es que la gente es tonta o qué?” Reme complains in her Murcian chatter. She sounds like a little songbird gasping for air.

(I think about setting that little songbird free sometimes, but I never know how. Is it stuck in her throat? Would I have to cut it out? Am I capable of such a complex surgery while avoiding the carotid artery? Probably not…and besides, Reme wouldn’t be Reme without that little songbird stuck in her throat. I must remember to tell her that one day.)

In today’s theatrical street performance, a young man has ripped off a supporting pole from a scaffolding and is now wielding it menacingly in the direction of another man. He is shouting something, possibly in Arabic, but I have a hunch that it is incoherent even to the Arabic speakers as no one seems to be able to reason with him. It’s times like these when I like to make painfully obvious observations such as “I think he’s angry” or “I can’t believe this is happening” when he is clearly angry and this is exactly the kind of thing that happens in our neighborhood. Reme simply smokes her cigarette in bored fascination while Aska cups a dainty hand over her perfectly O-shaped mouth.

The other man, the target of the impending attack, looks a bit perplexed by the sudden escalation of events, but he doesn’t show any signs of fear. The muscular Rottweiler puppy adorning his right arm is enough to calm even the agonized meth addicts who normally bleat like a herd of goats from the street curb when the smell of a fight is in the air.

The police are nowhere to be found and this is perhaps the most unusual aspect of the whole scene. The police are a constant presence in our neighborhood and in particular, on our street. They even have a special parking area where they are stationed each day, polishing their batons and patting down delinquents.

Yet lately, they’ve got bigger fish to fry. It’s Aste Nagusia or the Fiestas of Bilbao and they have their hands full just trying to keep the entire city from turning into a public latrine. Once a year in August, people from all over come to Bilbao to brazenly pee everywhere for an entire week at all hours, and that cumulative stench is a lot more violent than any young punk waving a metal pole on a Wednesday night.

It took the hooligans about a day to realize that the police had suddenly closed up shop for awhile and then another day to really inaugurate their reign of mayhem, which mostly arrived in the form of street fights and broken bottles.

This one turns out to be rather anti-climatic as the young man never ends up hitting anything with his scaffolding sword. He runs up and down the street with it, hollering like a washed-up pole vaulter whose been stripped of his medals. He stops to threaten a few shop windows, trips over his own feet, and growls at the pavement. During this process, his rival takes pains to fade into the shadows with his Rottweiler, not giving us any inclination as to what this beef was really about. I had secretly hoped that our pole vaulter would go to get a few more friends and then we’d finally get to witness a knockout or at least a Rottweiler puppy attack, but no such thing occurred. From the look on Reme’s face, I could tell she was feeling guilty about thinking the same thing.

Pole Vaulter takes on a few cars and a bus (which has to be terrifying from a driver’s point of view), but he eventually grows bored or unsure of his own strength and lets them pass. The blaring of car horns subsides and the children stop crying. Our protagonist disappears out of view, dragging the pole behind him like a severed limb, and just like that – the show is over. Calle San Francisco begins to swish and sway with people and cars and bicycles and pets like a river bursting out from a temporary log jam. The current pushes on.

The three of us scatter back from the balcony, worried that the wave of routine will rise up and drag us in again before we are done savoring the tiny morsels of temporary madness that make up our diverse neighborhood. We grin at each other, we shake our heads, and we chew, chew, chew the fat.

– Ashley

Barrio Life

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