Saturday, November 13, 2010

Handcuffed in Barcelona

Ever been handcuffed? I never had been either.

We had checked in to our modest hotel, Flor Park, right on La Rambla, the most famous street in Barcelona. A short distance away was a square, La Placa Reial. There, in the mid-afternoon sunshine, was the perfect location for a leisurely lunch. After 20 hours in transit, from Vancouver, through Seattle and Amsterdam, we were exhausted and hungry. Hungry both for the sights and sounds of this vibrant Catalunyan (not really Spanish) city perched on the Mediterranean, and some good food. We found both at Les Quinze Nits, where we spent the next three hours watching the jugglers, gymnastic troupes of young men of African descent, the elderly Flamenco dancer complete with castanets and his 1 foot square piece of plywood to dance on, and people of every description. Like the Chinese Canadian family on vacation from Qatar where they had been working in oil and gas the past 10 years. Then there was the young American couple with 14-month-old Elena, which left us missing our grandson, PJ, on this his 2nd birthday. And the mass of well-dressed Europeans laughing and enjoying the atmosphere of the palm-tree-lined streets with their eclectic architecture.

We realized after savouring a pitcher of wonderful Sangria that we were in no shape to see the tourist sights, like the Gaudi cathedral, some 100 years of peculiar architecture in the making and still unfinished. We decided instead to stroll Las Ramblas, the activity and pickpocket centre of the city. The boulevard is lined with shops and restaurants of all descriptions, more like a market. But of particular interest to the crowds are the human statues, remaining perfectly still in a variety of poses, unless someone puts money in the receptacle set out for that purpose, at which the statute winks, waves or utilizes some trademark move of acknowledgement.

And it was in the crowd watching (if one “watches” a statue) a particular performer that I noticed the disturbance. Two men dressed roughly and looking like most any other local were handcuffing two other men who were dressed equally roughly. It was hard to distinguish the perpetrators from the policemen, which I assumed was the reason the thieves had been caught, obviously trying to steal a purse from a woman standing nearby who watched near the crooks with a look of combined relief and anger as she clutched her designer handbag.

I found myself thinking of the idea of handcuffs. They are designed to limit movement, thereby restricting one’s freedom. Sometimes a person is handcuffed to something, preventing the ability to leave detention. Other times a captive is handcuffed to another person, meaning that movement is directed by one of them. But often, the handcuffs simply limit the ability of those wearing the manacles to freely move their arms and hands. These “bracelets” constrain freedom in one way or another, as does Parkinson’s disease.

So while I have never been handcuffed in the criminal sense, I was able to relate to those two men with their hands bound behind their backs. Freedom for us was limited. In my case it was not due to any crime or wrongdoing (at least not that I am aware of) but simply by genetic predisposition or being in the wrong contaminated place at the wrong time.

But are we not all handcuffed to some degree? Perhaps by our upbringing, or our bodies, or our memories or circumstances. But we are all limited in our ability to be totally free.


  1. I almost had a heart-attack skimming through this to see if you had actually been hand-cuffed, seriously don't write "I never had been either," unless you want your daughter to die of heart failure!

  2. Bob, i love your writing, i love how you are allowing your thinking to spill out into the public square so we can all learn from your journey. Truly it was for freedom that Christ set us free...and we all indeed are handcuffed to some degree.
    Greg Leith

  3. You choose well...have heard told Barcelona is a spectacular spectator city, some day...with Sangria yum.

    Connie & Erwin

  4. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Jocelyn, gotcha!

    Now in Tangers, Morocco. Try typing this on an Arabic keyboard!!!!

  5. Hi Bob: Enjoy the vacation. Barcelona is great and I think we ate at the restaurant you reference when we were there in August. Very much enjoyed your speech at the PD conference the other week.