As you reach for that second mince pie, the crumbs of the first barely wiped away from your mouth, spare a thought for Barcelona, for she too has been indulgent.
Her once quaint streets brimming with authentic Catalonian shops have become bloated with excess visitors, bringing with them hordes of H&Ms, Zaras and Topshops and a wave of vacant apartments ready for Airbnb. For some, tourism has sullied the charm of the second largest city in Spain. It’s certainly made it hard for long-standing residents to keep living there, with housing prices inflating at an unmanageable rate.
Just as the Christmas fiend has January – a promise of Yoga, cabbage soup and alcohol bans – Barcelona also has a contingency plan.
Meet Ada Colau.
I first heard about her whilst preparing for a short stay in Barcelona (Yes. There you have it. I too have been a tourist). She was featured in a Guardian Long Read (or podcast as I prefer to inhale them), and she’s quite a character.
Since 13 June 2015, Colau has been the Mayor of Barcelona, the first woman to hold this title. In Dan Huncox’s article for the Guardian, he says:
“I was stuck by much of Colau’s personality and protests, including her ask to have her salary reduced upon entering office. She wanted to swap €140,000 for €28,600, but political opponents blocked her from going any lower than €100,000. She’s promised to donate the excess to local groups.”
This month, Politico named her the fifth most influential person in Europe. Ada has recently become a more visible force for good, but with great power comes great responsibility. One of the difficulties of receiving world wide attention is that your past can be exhumed and used to the detriment of your newly formed public persona.We’ve all heard the Trump tapes where he claims to use his star quality to attract beautiful women and can ‘grab ’em by the pussy’. To be fair, by that stage there had been so many dents to his public record that he could be played like a steel drum. Luckily, he was still able to become President.
In 2007, Ada Colau was photographed dressed as a particularly garish superhero, clad in luminous gold with a zoro-like mask adorning her face.
The difference between the ludicrous public actions is that Ada was doing something good. She was attending a campaign rally in Barcelona, speaking out against irresponsible development in her city, now fourth most visited in Europe. She claimed that residents needed to be superheroes in order to conquer the crisis.
The villain? Banks.
She became a national figure in the fight against them and the austerity policies that emerged in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis shook Barcelona’s already fragile housing structure. Since 2008, 400,000 homes had been foreclosed and a further 3.4m properties lay empty. As more and more tourists take Ryan Air flights over to the Catalan city, its residents are being pushed out to the borders.
Colau is not a silent protester. She definitely called out the criminal actions of the banks in 2013. She publically damned Javier Rodriguez Pellitero, the deputy general secretary of the Spanish Banking Association:
“This man is a criminal, and should be treated as such. He is not an expert. The representatives of financial institutions have caused this problem; they are the same people who have caused the problem that has ruined the entire economy of this country – and you keep calling them experts.”
She was told she’d spluttered serious offense, and when asked to withdraw those comments she shook her head.
If only Christmas gluttons could show the same iron willpower.