Porter slaughter

For residents of Barcelona’s old town an affair way up in Sarrià or Sant Gervasi is probably the best way of surviving the summer. Ensure beforehand that your new friend’s flat is high in a modern block overlooking gardens, and you can enjoy coffee and parrots (barbecued, if you’re lucky) on the balcony before drifting back down Balmes and into the swamp. Your only significant handicap is likely to be the porter.

The last 15 years of the dictatorship constituted a golden age for porters–or rather for their employers–as the middle class grew rapidly in size, wealth and social pretensions while domestic labour remained ridiculously cheap. A key selling point in promotional campaigns for new blocks of flats of that epoch of frenzied urban growth was the porter’s lodge. Lodge is realtor-speak for a hovel from which, in better-financed buildings, a gollum will still emerge, as a snail from its shell (“salió el portero de su cuchitril, como un caracol de su concha”, alliterates Cela in the short story La eterna canción (1945)), and nip, snail-like, at the heels of transients: “Are you lost?”, “If you lived here you’d know you can’t take bicycles in the lift”, “I just washed that floor”.

Underground garage porters in such edifices are of a different race altogether and will be considered separately.

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  1. I once had to try to persuade a Ukrainian babushka to let me put up a small notice in her window for my friend who was supposed to be staying in the flat with me.

    The way she went on made me feel as though I was asking her to look after some plutonium for me and to lie to Customs about it.

    Quite reassuring folk to have around after a while though.

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