‘Barcelona Freak Show’, the perverted soul of the city, by Carles Cols

Enric H. March has dedicated ten years to documenting the ‘voyeur’ and morbid soul of Barcelona, ​​a city of which he is one of its best chroniclers, and he has done so through an exhaustive investigation of the fairgrounds and the traveling shows that from the 18th century until 1939 passed through this sort of western Babylon which likes to boast, for example, of its two great exhibitions, the 1888 and the 1929, and ignores that those international events were held at the same time that tickets were sold to visit human zoos. The title of the book, with 615 dizzying pages, was inspired by ‘Freaks’, a mythical film shot by Tod Browning in 1932 and which, due to its crude content, was not released in Spain until 1997. That almost pornographic look at daily life of what Back then it was considered a real monster parade and it was screened 65 years late, which may seem like a long time, but even more so is the time Barcelona has taken to recapitulate its love of ruggedness. It has been chronologically almost until now, when March has just published ‘Barcelona Freak Show’. Come and see.

Come and see at number 76 de la Rambla a the cow with six legs and divinatory powers, in the Modern theater, a few streets down, to Radica and Doodica, the first Siamese women on the Barcelona scene, be impressed with Jean Baptiste François Bidel, a tamer without equal, who one day walked, also along the Rambla, with a lioness, without a leash or muzzle!, which is said soon, and let yourself be fooled by the feigned hermaphroditism of Josep Vallés, who even enticed Josep Maria de Sagarra, who dedicated a few offended lines to her in ‘Private life’, but did not entangle the forensics of the Hospital Clínic, who photographed her to certify that she was a woman.

What to say about Teresa Montenegro, who back in 1833 was accredited in Barcelona as the first sword swallower in Spain, a number for which not all fakirs have enough slot machines, although they do have flats for other nonsense, such as Daja Tarto’s (which in reality his name was Tortajada and he was from Cuenca), able to eat cement, even if one day he made the mistake of gobbling it up quickly and he lost several fillings when they had to be descaled from the grinding wheels with a chisel and hammer.

It is impossible here, even at the cost of adding excessive paragraphs, to probe the almost encyclopedic depth of this latest book by March, a work only available to a Hercules of the newspaper archives, but it is feasible, on the contrary, to draw some conclusions . Let’s see.

Jim Thompson, a reference to the crime novel and, presumably, who would have loved this infinite saints of secondary characters that March portrays, said that there are only 32 ways to write a story and that there is only one plot: “Things are not as they seem & rdquor;.

How good is this aphorism to repeat, for example, what was said at the beginning, that in Barcelona it is customary to remember how much this city liked itself on the occasion of the exhibitions of 1888 and 1929 and how well shore it what happened behind the scenes between one event and another. In 1897, at the 35th round of the University round, various asants were exhibited in balls, with what this African ethnic group became throughout the 19th century, which declared war on the British Empire up to four times. In 1898, a group of Sudanese had the same fate, who showed themselves more or less where today the Caffe di Francesco on Passeig de Gràcia serves alone and cut. In 1900 an Eskimo family suffered from the heats of Barcelona on Diputació Street, on the corner of Rambla de Catalunya, and the Himalayans who were taught in Turó Park in 1915 suffered the same fate.

Even more. The often remembered exhibition of 1929, that is, that of the German zeppelins that flew over Barcelona, ​​that of the Mies Van der Rohe Pavilion, that of the architectural pinocchio, that is, the Poble Espanyol, also had a very little mentioned eastern town that, without becoming a human zoo, still exuded that way of understanding the world. Although nothing to do, of course, with the gap that Belgium maintained in this matter, which the book reveals with a terrifying photograph in which a group of ladies observe an African girl behind a fence, in 1958.

Human zoos, however, are only an infinitesimal part of everything that March found, whose first interest was to tackle a small book on the use of anatomical venus in medicine as fair shows and, which began to pull the thread of other substitutes ‘freaks’, it was found that he had in his hands a work of 900 pages (he had to prune it to be published) and, furthermore, he found himself contemplating a city that, very Thompsonly, is not what it seems.

We must make a stop here, before continuing, in the legend of Mithridates the Great, monarch of Pinto, an Asian kingdom that is now extinct. Worried that someone wanted to end his life with a drink, every day he ingested a little poison, very little, but perseverance immunized him, so much, however, that when Pompey defeated him on the battlefield he wanted to commit suicide in a great way. He swallowed and failed. In a way, March, after 10 years of research and, therefore, exposed to what Barcelona really was, is a living example of Mitridatism. Has seen face to face for a decade the sickest Barcelona, ​​the one that exhibited, upon payment of a ticket, deformities in private flats or shops, the one who laughed at the different, the one who turned the disease into a spectacle. Barcelona had its own John Merrick, the local equivalent of the elephant man, ridiculed on stage and ridiculed here, as General Thousand Men. His real name was Pedro Lerma, he was born in 1831 and simply suffered from the disfiguring Proteus syndrome.

What cannot be denied to Barcelona is its capital capacity to say yesterday I say and tomorrow Diego, to rewrite its present at the cost of forgetting its past. About this issue, ‘Barcelona Freak Show’ reveals a very little remembered story and, in this sense, paradigmatic. As a result of the fact that in 2004 and through a municipal plenary session, Barcelona declared itself anti-bullfighting, bullfighting fans have never missed the opportunity to remember that there was no city with more fans than this one if the yardstick was the number of seats , since it got to have three simultaneously. That is not the revelation.

What is bleeding and, at the same time, forgotten is what happened in the Barceloneta bullring after the noise that broke out there in 1835 and which gave rise to an incendiary anticlerical fury that had its climax when the mob launched from a balcony to General Bassa, the highest authority in the city, and dragged his corpse through the streets, indeed, like a bull. Historians have researched and written at length about the consequences of the revolt, but no one, except now March, cared about what happened from then on to that square in Barceloneta, where bullfighting was prudently prohibited.

The point is that that bullpen was reborn as a Roman circus. Animal fights were scheduled, but not minutiae, not roosters, which barely lift two feet off the ground, but bears against packs of dogs and elephants against fighting bulls. They say that it was Augustus who in the year 10 dazzled the public of the Coliseum with the first tiger that the Romans saw, and something of that, often cruel, was in that Barcelona in the antipodes of its current respect for animals, that when not it was a boa that came to port, it was a tapir or an alligator.

Bearded women, wild men, cabarets of death and, of course, too Joseph Pujols, the famous and also reckless Le Pétomane, who was expelled from Spain thinking that it was not offensive to interpret the royal march with wind & mldr; Oh, if Judge Marchena caught him today! The list of characters that parade through March’s barrack is extraordinary. There are even those who did not obtain the necessary permission to go on stage, such as Nicomedes Méndez, the executioner who perfected the vile stick and who, unlike Pepe Isbert, when he retired, did not want to transfer his bag of stocks and screws to his son-in-law, but to mount a fair to commemorate his best known executions.

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That ‘show’ of Nicomedes did not see the light. Yes, on the contrary, one without a doubt more original – weakness of the one who writes this among everything that is told in the book – which consisted of a perfect pairing between two initially unrelated shows. It was a number that showed the effectiveness of the guillotine as an instrument. Life-size dolls were used for this, suitably dressed according to the canons of the French Revolution. But it was also a spectacle of ventriloquism, and thus the heads, already separated from the body, could still say their last words addressed to the public.

‘Barcelona Freak Show’ is already in bookstores. Come and see.


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