We were hanging out on our balcony in Barcelona, taking in the nighttime view, when we heard chanting from the streets below, and not the kind that comes from monks. So of course we threw on our shoes and went downstairs to see what was up.
Around the corner, a protest was in full swing.
A crowd of students marched the streets and stopped in front of a Barcelona city government building, at which they threw eggs and detonated explosive canisters. The mood was angry at the center of the protest, but social and congenial on the fringes. Many of the protesters walked their bikes as they marched.
At nearby street cafes, Catalonians went on with their coffee conversations, affecting blase glances at the commotion in the street. We asked a man sitting on a park bench right next to the protest, "What's going on?"
He shrugged. "They're students."
"Do you know what they're protesting?" we asked.
He shrugged again. "Who knows? They're students."
La policia was in full force but seemed to be providing protection for the protesters as much as they were making sure they didn't get out of hand.
They were several SWAT-style vans in the troupe.
The next day, we discovered that the students had left graffiti behind. They're written in Catalan, which most certainly is not just a dialect of Spanish, but some of the sentiments should be crystal clear even to the uninitiated.
This symbol, which we found out later is tied to the anarchist "occupy" movement internationally, was common.
It turns out the students were protesting policies that make it harder for squatters to occupy vacant buildings and public spaces. You can see by the related articles below that this was a pretty tame protest, compared to the violence that occurred in Barcelona back in May of this year, when a building that had been occupied by leftists for 17 years was cleared out for redevelopment.
So for us, it was a moment of honeymoon adventure. For some Catalonians, it's a matter of liberty.
A few days later, we saw this apartment graffiti in what looks like an activists' flat punctuating the city view at Park Guell. The "okupa" for "occupy" is a strong message across the top of the roof on the lower left: