A two and a half hour hike up the mountain from Parc Guell brings you to La Experimental, a well known squat that focuses on music. La Experimental hosts weekly open jams every Friday night and frequent community teach-ins surrounding current political issues – primarily veganism, anticapitalism and feminism. The house is a four story estate nestled right on the edge of the mountain and under the pulsating lights of the ferris wheel by the church at the top of the mountain.
The views of Barcelona and the sea are breathtaking. In contrast to Parc Guell, this is a community space for the people by the people and was created with no sponsor or funding. The attention to detail is also there but in a more democratic way – works of different artists fill the space freely.
Squat culture in Spain is well known and generally supported. Essentially if you enter a space and can prove you have slept there for at least one night, that space is now your home and you are protected under housing regulations. These protections can be overturned if the person who owns the space challenges them, but this would take several months and a lot of work on the owners part so squatters are generally safe for at least a few months.
It was midnight by the time I arrived at La Experimental for the Friday night music jam. Two men greeted me at the gate cloaked in shadows, they appeared to have just come out and were a bit startled by my presence. They live in the squat and tell me to go inside to the second floor. It is dark but the darkness serves the space well.
Wow. The view.
All of Barcelona is visible, removed but seemingly at your fingertips. The only sound is the rustling of leaves and a soft beating of bass from inside the house. Three dogs, two welcoming and one skittish, greet you from their pillow beds before the door. They are clearly free and not domesticated. I go in and up the stairwell, already riddled with art and writings. Up one flight of stairs I enter what appears to be a dining room. Off to the left is a library full of books and again a most breathtaking view.
Just off the library are some couches, walking back past the dining table I am called over by a girl with short hair, tattoo sleeves, piercings, and seeking eyes. She wants to know everything about me. The table is full of first timers. 6 guys from barcelona, the girl and her friend. The girl appears to know the space. Is from Manchester, on mushrooms, and appears to be escaping something intangible. A cat hops up and greets me rubbing her neck against my arm, purring. This is apparently mama cat. Manchester takes me to a room off to the opposite side of the library. It appears to be a bedroom. Mattress on the floor, dirty but lovely – decorated with little trinkets and, most importantly, a puff ball puddle of kittens on a mound of red fabric on the floor. Purring, sleeping, wide eyed and interested in saying hello.
Next to the kitten room is a workspace that appears to be locked (I didn’t check) with a sign on the door saying to be quiet this is a work area, the kitchen where vegan dinner was prepared and available for a the public, and the bathroom.
I head back out and go up the second flight of stairs to find the music jam. A woman who I later learn manages the space with the tall man I met outside is singing beautifully with a jazz beat. The space is beautiful. I spent the rest of my night singing, dancing here and heading downstairs to play more acoustic sounds.
The crowd is eclectic and largely dreaded. I appreciate that the space is raw, welcoming. Allows a free smudging of different types of people. I jam for a while with a guitarist that turns out to be a special needs teacher, am approached by a man who asks me why I am not famous yet and proceeds to follow me around telling me when to sing and all the different things I need to see and do, sing with a banjo player from South Carolina, am given shot after shot of sweet rum by what appears to be a group of underage party people, one of which eventually becomes a slow fountain of vomit, and dance with Manchester. Manchester had put her friend to bed in the room off the dance floor specifically for people who get to drunk or need to sleep there.
Manchester hops from man to man, stringing seemingly everyone along. It reminds me a lot of myself, only more flirtatious. We have fun. She confides in me that she has been going through a lot of shit. Seems a bit put off when I say I have been really lucky and privileged, led a really wonderful life. I am impressed when these assured words saunter out of my mouth. I even convince myself. There is a lot of Manchester in me. I am insecure, I am objectified by men, but I am growing, I am learning and with each step I am more solidly, independently my own.
I am not dressed attractively – intentionally. Barcelona has been rather cold and I have found the men here to be particularly aggressive and the women particularly defensive. Besides, I knew I was going to climb a mountain in the dark by myself. I am wearing my green bomber Peanuts jumper. Manchester rips off the top half every chance she gets – so I am only wearing a shirt and have to wrap the top of the jumper around my waist. She also takes my backpack off and hides it telling me I look better without it on. She tells me she has never seen someone who looks more like an elf than I do and that I should be seen. I am used to girls like this. I actually kind of really enjoy girls like this. Most of my best friends sort of “adopt” me and dress me, put make up on me, make me something beautiful. It makes me feel special but it also objectifies me. Objectifies us as women. In times like these, I specifically dress down, am my raw, unfiltered aesthetic. I prefer it this way as I get less unwanted attention and am seen more for my mind or creative gifts, can be more of an observer. It’s 4 am and I slip out without saying goodbye.
La Experimental is definitely a party, communal space. It smells and feels a lot like the space I was making upstate. One could easily get lost here for a few years.
What we learned from La Experimental:
- You are still shy and run away from attractive men that show an interest in you.
- Squat culture is important to allow for community and artistic spaces. Protecting housing rights for all can play a major role is shifting perspective of property and value of life independent of economics.
- It is possible to create a space for artistic, underserved communities without a sponsor.
- Spaces like this will attract people going through difficulties and addicts. Never be truly clean, but this in itself is beautiful and necessary. Space, community is a form of therapy.
- Interspecies spaces are possible when animals live in the space out of their own free will.