Sunday, May 9, 2010

Street mimes of Barcelona

Mimes, Ramblas, Barcelona, April 2010.

Las Ramblas is a tree-lined promenade that is the beating heart of Barcelona. Stretching 1.2 kilometers long across several districts of the city, Las Ramblas at any given time is an ocean of people, both tourists and locals, that amble merrily in a space that is part market, part sidewalk cafe, and part carnival.

The carnival spirit of the Ramblas comes courtesy of its street mimes, human statues of fantasy and whimsy that transform the promenade into a demented person's idea of a sculpture garden. The mimes hold their stillness with unblinking precision but come to life at the drop of a coin in carefully choreographed routines. A pair of demons that could have ascended from the world of H.R. Giger unfold their metallic wings and snarl at the crowd. A golden Chinese emperor coils a snake around his glittering torso. An angel hands out heavenly favors. San Francisco has its share of street mimes in its tourist hubs, but few are as witty or as elaborately garbed as these Barcelona mimes. My favorite is the bronze cowboy, whose charisma and camera-ready poses would have easily made him a star in a John Ford movie.

At Park Güell, a mime dressed as one of Gaudi's mosaic tile dragons echoes the serpent that guards Gaudi's playful water fountain at the entrance to the park. Inside the park's sandy square, an invisible man charms the crowd with the antics of a decapitated Chaplin while a two-headed man in a white burka double-duties as a ventriloquist.

The southermost end of Las Ramblas will lead you to the monument of Christopher Columbus at Placa de la Porta de Pau. Atop the 197 foot monument, Columbus stands frozen with one arm outstretched pointing to the sea. After spending an afternoon with the street mimes of Barcelona, one is tempted to drop a coin at the foot of the monument, and wait for Columbus to do The Hustle.

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