115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Model or Whore? The Role of the City in Pau Miro's Lueve en Barcelona

Nicole Altamirano, Claremont McKenna College

A prostitute fueled by McDonalds and Italian bon-bons with quotes by the likes of Nietzsche and Dante on its wrappers, picks up her clients at art museums. In Pau Miró’s Llueve en Barcelona, traditional boundaries of high and low disintegrate in the neighborhood of El Raval, destabilizing the pedestal on which art and literature are so often placed. 

Proposal: 

A prostitute fueled by McDonalds and Italian bon-bons with quotes by the likes of Nietzsche and Dante on its wrappers, picks up her clients at art museums. In Pau Miró’s Llueve en Barcelona, traditional boundaries of high and low disintegrate in the neighborhood of El Raval, destabilizing the pedestal on which art and literature are so often placed.

Miró situates his play, he reveals, “en ese límte donde se encuentran los espacios de la cultura oficial y los espacios de la marginalidad,” (8) in the neighborhood of El Raval in the old city of Barcelona.  Long known for its drugs, crime, and poverty, lately the Raval quarter has seen an influx of North African and Pakistani immigrants as well as a wealth of revitalization efforts that began in the 90’s, which include the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art.  Donald McNeill sums up the traditional aura and exoticism surrounding the area formerly known as the Barrio Chino as: “so much beauty and culture, yet…, so unpredictable, so other. Politically rebellious, bohemian, bacchanalian, and sexually immoral.” City officials sought to combat the negative associations by cleaning up the neighborhood and giving it and the city as a whole a face lift of sorts for the ’92 Olympics and beyond. And the results have been with mixed, according to some who see “replicat[tion] and naturaliz[ation of] the sleek surface of a newly sanitized, increasingly homogenized, hyper-commercialized, quasi-Disneyfied, globalized place.” (194) as McNeill explains, in danger of ending up as what Thomas Bender refers to as a “city lite,” i.e. a tourist-friendly innocuous image of a characterless urban center, whose vulgarity is swept under the rug.

Llueve en Barcelona centers on 3 characters: Lali, a prostitute and a dreamer who aspires to more, Carlos, her junkie boyfriend and pimp whom she meets at McDonald’s and who fails to comprehend the changes she begins to undergo, and David, a pseudo-intellectual bookstore owner and special client who exposes Lali to literature while waiting for his wife to die. The play, whose title lets us know right away where we are, takes us deep within El Raval, with its tensions between the local and the global, and its identities in flux, eluding facile definition, where, as Montserrat Grubernau attests, “processes of cultural integration and disintegration take place” (275). At the same time it could take place any urban center in the Western World, where high culture ends up as a gimmick, a trick, an illusion, an ad, where art and artifice are one and the same, and it is this uneasy liminality that has made the play successful both at home and abroad, now having been translated into multiple languages for a global and globalized audience.