The number 73

I did a little customised walk for some people this morning, taking in planned and unplanned (ie gypsy shanty and troglodyte) housing developments at the point where Barcelona crests and breaks on the Collserola ridge, and ending with drinks at my favourite spouse-swapping club. We started amid the tower blocks of airy, light Nou Barris. Nou Barris is one of my favourite districts, but it’s a prison from which Judit is planning to escape at the beginning of Mientras vivimos, a good novel by Maruja Torres:

She moves away down the street as fast as she can, leaving behind blocks of housing she always fears she will be unable to leave, transformed into rust or a stain on the ceiling, one more element in the assymetry of the buildings that crowd together at the top of the slope, seeming to support themselves on one another, guarding against degradation. She passes several graffiti. Her neighbours are always battling: against what they consider unjust, against authority, against wars in far-away countries known only from the television news… Coping with herself is quite enough for Judit.

At the end of the street she twists to the right, passes the market and crosses the street in the direction of the main road. She walks under the palms and plane trees, avoids the metro station, a triumph for neighbourhood unity, as is the metal roof that provides shelter for the elderly, and the children’s play area. Along with the few green spaces and the footbridges that have replaced the dangerous crossings of yesteryear, the main road, full of small businesses, is one of the prides of the district. For Judit, on the other hand, it represents a crude reminder of her limitations. This could be her future, amid the irrelevant hum of a middle class trying to convert the suburb into a poor imitation of the true city.

“True city” refers not to the New York of La Mancha, Albacete, but to the often highly attractive mix of commercial and residential property stretching down Balmes towards the sea from the final stop on the route of the number 73 bus Judit is about to catch, Kennedy Place. (Torres has it terminating on Bonanova Place, which is also nice, and which may indeed have been its final destination when she wrote the book.) Judit’s journey takes her from the halt opposite the Seat dealer near Karl Marx Place past the BMW palace on Alfonso Comín to the heart of bourgeois Barcelona. On days when the bus is empty she imagines herself aboard “a ship, an arrow shot from the void to transport her to the luminous beginnings of her life through what she calls the dead zone”, the motorway, hemmed in by tower blocks and medical facilities, built along the Collserola fringe for the Olympics.

When I am God, one of the first things I will do will be to transport Maruja Torres from Barcelona’s Raval to London and put her on the number 73 bus in grubby, run-down Tottenham. This 73 is, more than Barcelona’s, a bus for those wishing to traverse the greatest social divide with the minimum of inconvenience. However, in London the process is more gradual, so that squatter scum boarding on Stamford Hill in Hackney could easily have forgotten their poverty by the time they had made their way past the School of Oriental and African Studies in Camden and arrived at a gig that should really, really never have happened at the Park Lane Hilton in posh, boring Westminster.

London’s 73 is justly renowned, but as far as I know it has not yet had a novel dedicated to it. After I have been God for a while, I will resign and become a lawyer, and one of the first things I will do will be to draft a proper European constitution which will provide for this and reserve the number 73 for routes congenial to the study of social injustice.


  1. Se aleja calle abajo tan de prisa como puede, dejando atrás bloques de viviendas de los que siempre teme no saber salir, quedarse convertida en herrumbre o en una mancha del techo, un elemento más en la asimetría de los edificios que se apiñan en lo alto de la cuesta y que parecen apoyarse unos en otros para protegerse de la degradación. Pasa ante varias pintadas. Sus vecinos están siempre en combate: contra lo que consideran injusto, contra la autoridad, contra las guerras que se libran en lejanos países que sólo conocen por los telediarios… A Judit le basta consigo misma.

    Al final de la calle tuerce a la derecha, sobrepasa el mercado y cruza la calzada en dirección al paseo. Camina bajo las palmeras y los plátanos, sortea la estación del metro, una conquista de la unidad vecinal, al igual que el techado metálico que sirve de cobijo a los viejos, y el parque infantil. Junto con los escasos espacios verdes y pasos elevados que han sustituido los cruces antaño peligrosos, el paseo, pletórico de pequeños comercios, constituye uno de los orgullos del barrio. Para Judit, en cambio, representa la cruda constatación de sus barreras. Aquí podría desarrollarse su futuro, en el irrelevante hormigueo de una clase media que pretende convertir el suburbio en remedo de la verdadera ciudad.

  2. una nave, una flecha surgida de la nada para conducirla al inicio luminoso de su vida a través de lo que ella llama la zona muerta.

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