A Short History of Prominent Barcelona Guiris
During his time as an Erasmus student in Barcelona, Dr. Olaf Jordbear-Knutssen (b. Aarhus, 1959) dedicated himself to an exhaustive statistical survey, documented in the groundbreaking work, Barcelona: A Statistical Review.
In this book Knutssen made many startling discoveries. Measuring the frequency with which Catalans end phrases with a querulous 'eh?' the young Danish student counted 47,322 of them in one 10-hour stint in an Eixample cafeteria, afterwards attributing the tendency to ‘severe ODD (Opinion Decisiveness Deficit)’.
In one passage he wrote, ‘73% of adult Spanish males sound like women, whereas only 7% of Spanish females do. 81% of Catalans do not suffer from myopia despite spectacle usage. The average width of a Catalan spectacle frame is 2 centimetres, meaning a staggering total of 13% of longitudinal face-flesh is concealed (in 67% of cases) by black plastic and metal wire.’
The passages were accompanied by pornographic images photographed by Jordbaer-Knutssen himself during his own sexual experiences. The work created quite a stir in his native Scandinavia and Knutssen returned to settle in Copenhagen in 2004. Each year he gives a lecture at the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona.
A favourite haunt of Dr. Jordbaer-Knutssen’s was a little café on Carrer Ataulf. Carrer Ataulf was named after the 9th Century Visigothic King, one of the earliest and most prominent guiris in Barcelona. In 809, Ataulf went on a European tour. In Ravenna, he kidnapped Galla Placidia, the Holy Roman Emperor’s daughter, tied her by the hair to his horse’s tail and dragged her to Barcelona, dispoiling her honour repeatedly along the way. When he reached Catalonia, he and Galla- in what seems an early case of Stockholm Syndrome- got over their initial differences and married, living happily ever after. Ataulf was in the Don Simon/Los Cubos vein of guiri-ness, with a rousing beard, violent eyebrows and a penchant for destroying public property, as proved in recklessly destructive campaigns in the Mediterranean.
Atawulf’s only biographer to date was the infamous guiri writer, Ponche Caballero (a pseudonym, inspired by his favourite drink). A New Yorker, Caballero arrived as a young down-at-heel in the summer of 2000. In Letters From Plaza Reality, all about that first heady summer of 2000, Caballero begins:
I stayed in a hostal and met a ballerina from Brussels. The ballerina was on holiday with her sister and a Mexican bullfighter. We ended up in Macarena, an Andalucian bar with ivy-like floral tiles creeping around the walls and framed photographs of Camaron, the famous flamenco-shrieker. There was a peroxide-blonde cleaning lady who was always there, day or night. She was not only a cleaning lady of some charm, but a flamenco singer of incredible range. Her band was made up of an old man with a ponytail and an anguished look and a guitar…a young man with a quiff and an anguished look and a guitar… and an old man with an anguished look, no guitar and only one tooth. I loved it all. I clapped my hands and shouted ‘olé’. Shit goddam, I was a real guiri. The best kind. The ignorant kind. These days, Macarena is no longer an Andalucian bar, but, despite still living here, I’m still a guiri. Oh yeah. Always will be. And now I’m the post-modern guiri. The knowing, self-deprecating guiri. These days I beat Catalans to the joke. ‘Hey, what the fuck do I know,’ I say, ‘I’m a guiri.’ Cue raucous laughter.
Caballero was inspired by the tatty hostels and dog shit streets, he lived and breathed the putrid underbelly of the Gothic District, befriending the whores, the punk-urchins and their hollow eyes, the tin-whistlers and the carcasses of their pets, and Argentinians. He was a notorious carouser, a buffoon intellectual. A hungry idea-muncher, he bit into Barcelona and came away with a mouthful of dirty gristle.
One of Caballero’s chief inspirations was George Orwell, whose Homage to Catalonia was a guiri masterpiece. Caballero had deep suspicions about Orwell’s political leanings. 'Now everyone knows about Plaça George Orwell and the security cameras there beside the plaque commemmorating him and ‘isn’t it ironic because of Big Brother etc.’ But few people know the real story behind it. The truth is the Guardia Urbana placed the cameras there at Orwell’s insistence.'
Caballero was convinced that, following his brief stint fighting on the side of the Socialist international brigades in the mid-thirtes, Orwell returned to Britain and underwent a radical political overhaul in his mind. 1984, Caballero reasoned, was intended to be a celebration of an all-seeing, all-knowing, high-security police state, which Orwell dearly wished to be installed in power throughout Europe. Caballero was so engrossed in this vision of Orwell he wrote a novella imagining the British writer’s secret political life. In one scene he imagined Orwell writing to his Aunt Fanny:
'During my time working for the BBC in the years following World War II, I had secret meetings with Falangist representatives, who proposed the naming of a Barcelona square in my honour. I insisted that such a square should be equipped with 24-hour surveillance equipment to keep an eye on the lowlife and human garbage collecting there to concoct socialist reform.’
1984 also played a key role in the mental deterioration of one Agnes Woerfallen. More commonly known as ‘the Muntaner Murderess’, and undoubtedly one of the most infamous guiris ever to set foot in Barcelona, Woerfallen was a cleaning lady from Rotterdam. In the early 1980s she fell in love with a Catalan waiter by the name of Enric Balcells and soon followed him back to his native Catalonia.
Bored and increasingly depressed during her lover’s work hours, Woerfallen would spend the afternoon at home in their Muntaner apartment reading the works of Orwell, her favourite writer. Orwell’s fiction had such an effect on her she became severely depressed about mankind’s prospects. One day she found herself helping an elderly lady home with her shopping bags. Once inside the pensioner’s flat, Woerfallen murdered her. Señora Almudena Marquez Pons was the first victim of some 79 murders throughout the early 1980s. All of the victims were elderly ladies, strangled or stabbed in their homes, and then brutally raped.
Woerfallen’s psychosexual obsession with octagenarians was superbly captured in a bestselling biography by the Dutch criminal investigative journalist, Dirk van Konkersplitten. In Woerfallen: Diary of a Serial Cleaner, van Konkersplitten wrote:
By the slight glimmer of lamps in the dark, S. Nuria painstakingly led Woerfallen through the pasillo and into a salon, which drew dust-spilled sunlight through a white plastic blind. The table, chairs and furnishings were all expensive relics of a bygone era. On a great pine cabinet stood a framed black and white photograph, faded around the edges, of a man with beautiful dark eyes, a narrow moustache and slightly malevolent curl to his smile.
In smaller frames on either side were colour portraits of a middle-aged woman, with the same dark eyes, and three different children; two girls and one boy. Woerfallen’s eyes paid no attention to these details. Her attention was consumed by something else. To the right of the cabinet hung a bright canvas of thick strokes depicting a riverside scene in the city of Girona. Gripping the railing of the bridge a man was staring into the water, captivated by something invisible. In the windows of the houses loomed shadowy forms and figures looking down at the man.
‘Excuse me, miss, but I must sit down. I am quite worn out.’ The old lady’s breathing was heavy and contracted in her armchair, its original green colour worn away and the hide shining through.
‘The shopping you might put away in the kitchen there.’ She pointed feebly at a door of frosted glass.
‘Of course, Señora,’ said Woerfallen, though the milk, the biscuits, the tins, they all seemed of minor relevance now. She carried the bags through to the kitchen, where she turned on a gloomy striplight and slowly and absent-mindedly removed each item one by one and placed them on the marble chopping surface beside the gas rings of an ancient cooker.
In a yellow plastic tub was the dull glint of an assortment of chopping knives, in many of which she saw a demented reflection of her face, each one round and pumped-up and eyeless. It was an unpleasant collage, a collection of eyeless round heads, moving in pink synchronicity on the blades. ‘How can this be me?’ she cried inwardly, and felt her skull shrinking in fear at the idea of it.
As a calling card, Woerfallen would leave strands of rotten cabbage in her victim’s mouths, an allusion to Orwell’s use of cabbage as a symbol for the decay of civilisation. The police staked out every grocery in the Muntaner area, and were alerted to all cabbage transactions by shop assistants.
On May 8, 1987, they hit the jackpot in a Caprabo store. A plump lady who had just brought a damaged cabbage, was seen offering to help an elderly lady with her shopping. Plainclothes policemen followed Woerfallen and her intended victim home. Once they were sure the murder had been committed, the police broke down the door and made an arrest.
Woerfallen was convicted of all 79 murders, and sent to a top-security women’s prison in Sant Feliu de Llobregat, where she would still be languishing in the middle of a life sentence, had she not entered into correspondence with the British conceptual artist, James Falcon.
Falcon (b. Kinver, Staffordshire, 1965) was the darling of the burgeoning Poble Nou school of art, centred on an okupa studio-commune on Carrer Badajoz. During his Barcelona period Falcon honed his peculiarly personal brand of suicide installation art. Falcon desperately wanted to use Woerfallen in his next piece. She gave her consent, the prison viewed it as a great public relations exercise and so a one-off exhibition was held within its walls. The piece showed Woerfallen with her wrists slit, bleeding into a bath full of cabbage leaves. It wowed the critics, propelling the artist into the ranks of the greatest ever guiris.