Alibi V.13 No.12 • March 18-24, 2004 

News Feature

Night of the Pots

Silence turns to despair in the streets of Spain.

Millions of Spaniards gathered in the rain last weekend, just before ousting their political leaders who supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

On the way to visit my friends in Barcelona this evening I took the red and white Cercanías train, line one, the line that goes up the coast, the line that has become so much a part of my life since I moved out of the city. This is the same kind—the exact same kind—of well-built, efficient electric train that was blown up in Madrid only two days ago. I, along with thousands of others who live in outlying towns, take these trains every day. Old, young, rich, poor—everyone moves in these trains. They are the long legs of urban Spain.

At certain hours of the day the trains are so full of people and their newspapers, jackets, baby strollers, backpacks, briefcases, grocery bags and other accessories (sometimes even little dogs travel with them) that it seems impossible to fit anyone else on, as every available space in every aisle is claimed by some annoyed or resigned, uncomfortable passenger trying not to fall over too much as the train jostles around on its clean and efficient trajectory. Everyone uses these trains, everyday, in every major urban area of the country. This is perhaps why the slogan caught on so well of "en ese tren/íbamos todos." Because, really, everyone feels it could have been any of us in those cars on Thursday.

I took the red and white Cercanías train into Barcelona. A white piece of paper with a black ribbon drawn on it hung from the first car where the conductor sits. Other than that, there was no tangible sign of the tragedy. Children were laughing. Teenage couples were nestling into each other, whispering. Old men were reading the paper. People talked on their cell phones. I wondered if this quick return to normalcy was because people didn't care that much, or because they were allowed, encouraged and joined by everyone in expressing their pain, and at the same time encouraged to continue to live their lives.

My friend Margaret met me outside her door in the Grácia district. We said our hellos and she paused a moment. "What's that?" she said. It looked like someone was on the roof of an apartment building across the narrow street, but it was dark and we could only see shadows. From the darkness, high up in the damp night, came a dull clanging, unsteady yet constant, not loud but fast; an eerie, agitated rhythm. "It's the pots," she said. "They're doing the pots again."

Ten minutes later from inside her apartment, we heard horns honking in the streets, to a beat, steadily, like they do in parades and demonstrations. We listened then ("What's that?"), and surely, there was an insistent, quiet belly beneath the noise of the cars. It was a churning noise, like the rumble of the sea. We went to the window and opened it up, and it had begun.

Most of the houses stayed dark where the noise was coming from. The neighbors were banging anonymously in the night, with nothing but what pots they had in their kitchens. It was like the clanging of homemade bells, sounding the alarm for all the people to hear. A distress call. The noise of the pots swelled up, minute by minute, as one by one all the neighbors said, "What's that?" and came to their widows to listen, then went to their kitchens to add their own sound.

No human voice was heard. The drumming was fast and frantic. It was happening above and below, left and right, all the way along the Avenida Francolí. It spread like a wave from house to house, and soon the noise was deafening, echoing off the walls of each apartment, which were so close together. It was like a woman wailing. And other women, one by one, joining her. Not seeing her. Not touching her. But wailing with her.

A few people passed on the street below, carrying loaves of bread wrapped in paper, walking dogs. They moved along silently as ghosts. Not stopping, not looking up to see where this huge, roaring, silent sound was coming from. They already knew. They knew it came from the deepest grief of a country of victims, thrown in the midst of a war they did not want and tried to prevent. They knew it came from mothers, grandparents, students, bachelors, widows and groups of friends. They already knew, they knew why we sounded, and inside they took up their pot and joined us.

A young girl drove by on her Vespa, beeping the length of Francolí. Then a car passed, and did the same. The noise was immense. It overflowed the barrio. Taka taka taka taka ... the noise didn't stop. Everyone knew. It was smoke signals. "We are all in pain, we are all in pain, we are angry and in pain, just like you, just like you ..." came the message without words. Only darkness, and an overwhelming clamor coming from the most private places into the most public. We are all in pain. We are all suffering tonight, on this street.

And then, slowly, the windows began to close. The noise continued for a while, lessening naturally, as when each person exhausts his or herself individually from crying. The darkness and the silence crept in again. The neighbors, one by one, returned inward to their private evenings. But not alone.

Margaret and I listened until the first shadow we saw on the roof finally put down her dark pot and opened shadow doors in silence. The night was indescribably still. We breathed in the moist air for a moment and then took a step, bringing the wide wooden framed panes together.

We sat and talked, after the pots, about our impressions of Spain. Margaret's girlfriend Jenny said the demonstration they went to was the best she'd ever seen. That, like me, she had wondered why they were doing it, and if she should go or if her going would serve any purpose. "But then I saw that everybody was there," she said, "young, old, whole families, people who could barely walk were hobbling along, trying to get there." They all stood in silence, with their hands raised high. I asked Margaret why.

"They told me it was for peace. And you wouldn't believe the sensation. Your hands are up, you know, not down by your money, your side. You are completely vulnerable, standing with thousands of other people ... it is like peace. It is like surrender."

Spain is hurting today. On the way home from Margaret and Jenny's I saw a sheet hung off of someone's balcony with a Catalan flag and a huge black ribbon, and handwritten underneath were the words, "¡Barcelona está triste!" They can speak for Barcelona. Because in moments like these, in societies like this one, the city is every citizen and every citizen, the city.

"Yo soy Madrid." "Y yo," said two men on the back of their coats yesterday at the demonstration. And here, now, it is true. We are all one people. With different stories, but the same heart. And the same hope for peace in our world.

Aja Oishi, a 22-year-old UNM graduate temporarily living in Barcelona, Spain, sent the following story to her mother in Albuquerque, requesting that she submit it to the Alibi.