These two energetic logos are on one of my favourite day-off wanders: from the Plaça d'Espanya through the old backstreets of working class Sants up to Collblanc, then a slalom down through the drab poverty of l'Hospitalet, finishing up with wander down the ceramic-ridden old road back to the Plaça d'Espanya.

The first logo adorns what is now a garage, just behind one of industrial Barcelona's most famous monuments. The second belongs to the notoriously incompetent local electricity company, the Fecsa, now part of the Endesa group.

The Fecsa occupies a special niche in the voodoo shrine I have dedicated to Spanish bureaucracy. The previous owner of my flat - in common with many others here - had had free electricity for years, but I thought I'd do the honest thing and register my connection. "Sorry sir," said the Fecsa suit, who had obviously spent the 70s studying Plato as well as Playboy, "your flat isn't in our systems, which means it doesn't exist, which means you can't pay for your electricity." "Fine," I said, "so now all I need you to do is sign this piece of paper confirming that your company doesn't want me to pay for my power." "Wait," he said, "let me go and talk to my manager to see if we can't fix up something."

It seems, however, that I'm not the only person with a grudge. Someone has scrawled Boicot als nuclears i cables on the Fecsa building in the photo. Atomic power belongs to the classical demonology of nice middle class boys and girls with spray cans, but what have they got against cables and, by implication, TV shows featuring fat ex-bullfighters and intimate revelations concerning one David Beckan?

Here, from a less atavistic age, is an excerpt from Josep Maria de Sagarra's memoirs:

When the nineteenth century was entering into a comatose state, and at the time of my scholarly debut, electric lighting was installed in our house. The individual who conducted the exercise was a certain Mr Torner. I can see him before me now, skinny for his height, smug but solicitous, with his sordid unpawned colonial jacket, with his bald patch concealed by some black hairs like a horse's tale, with his grubby, ingrown nails like those of a wild owl, and with his affected, anarchist moustache! It was he who realised the most prodigious sleight of hand in my life when, in the two big lights in the green room, he placed a labrynthine [laberístic] cat's cradle of mysterious wires and when he replaced the gas nozzles with some fifty multicoloured tulips that hid the diabolical light bulb and, flipping the button on the interrupter, illuminated everything suddenly with a light that I could never have imagined.

Literary critics get a bit snooty about De Sagarra (1894-1961) because, instead of devoting himself to creating more dusty shelves of national literary heritage, he wrote a string of theatrical hits, popular novels and poetry. Here's the first part of one of his best verses:

Gentlemen of certain age
Swear this man is all the rage:
Mr Dutrem wins the cup
Now look how we get it up!

Inventor of the Erotyl
That projects on high le membre virile,
It was a very windy day
When he blew our doubt away.

Mixing threads of cassocks holy
With a salamander's ravioli,
Two sweet ounces of afterbirth,
Nice warm water, a pennysworth,
To verify it wasn't chund'ry
He tried it out on all and sundry.

Mr Dutrem's guinea pigs - all the names belong to genuine members of the pre-1936 political and literary elite - get up to some scandalous business that suggests that Sagarra either had a very good lawyer or had lunch regularly with the local judiciary. The only victim of his satire who you are likely to have heard of is the disastrous would-be Catalan statesman, Francesc Macià, who Sagarra allows to rush off to a popular brothel, La Mamà, under the influence of Mr Dutrem's wonder cure. If only he had stayed there.

Buy Josep Maria de Sagarra, Memòries I:

Categories: Chronic diseases, Lightning, Of metres, Splog, Theatre

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  1. piero brigneti dutrem
    October 10th 2003 12:29

    I´m very glad to see your mention about my grand father, Dr. Dutrem.
    Thank you.
    Piero Brigneti Dutrem
    Barcelona/Spain

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