Strolling down The Ramblas in Barcelona, the leafy pedestrian thoroughfare that slices through this great city, we can’t help but fall into the traps that have been laid for the unwary tourist. Passing by the many living statues, we toss coins liberally into their collection boxes.
The statues are spectacular and imaginative, ranging from all-white classical Romans in togas to space-age superheroes. There is a diminutive Charlie Chaplin, a giant baby in a pram, a man with two heads and another with no head at all, employing the same clever technique as the invisible man that we (didn’t) see in the Park Guell. A particular favourite is what seems at first to be an abandoned fruit stall. As soon as we look at it, a fruit-covered man emerges from the display where he has been effectively camouflaged, holding out a fruit-bedecked hat for Laura to wear for a photo.
Laura is entranced, if a little wary. The more experienced statues know how to overcome children’s shyness and proffer coloured glass beads and marbles to encourage them. I find the marble policy particularly pleasing as Laura is diabetic. In any case, if they were offering sweets, the whole proposition would seem rather seedy.
We also encounter musicians on the Metro, to which Laura obligingly dances. She is hoping for a Spanish flamenco dress as a souvenir and is certainly meriting one on her performance. The quality of the music is very high – a delicate rendition of Bach on a mandolin, cocktail lounge favourites courtesy of duetting guitarists, soothing Sinatra from a trumpeter. Again, I’m easily parted from my money.
Soon I am slipping any coins I receive as change into my trouser pocket, for ease of access whenever we pass another street performer. When we encounter any plain common-or-garden beggars, of which there are plenty, I am hardened to their entreaties.
“Can’t you put a little more effort into your act?” I want to say to them. “Show a little creativity, won’t you? The competition is pretty stiff, you know.”
The sun comes out and we head for the beach, happy to pass a couple of hours making sandcastles for Laura’s Polly Pocket dolls. We gather tiny pebbles, driftwood and sea-smoothed glass to make Gaudi-inspired mosaics as decoration.
Finally, after dipping our toes in the Mediterranean – still quite cold, despite the 20 degree heat of the day – we head back along the promenade, passing magnificent sand sculptures, each the work of a young African man lurking nearby. There is a wonderful castle with high arches.
“How does he get sand to levitate?” I wonder. And a waterfall.
“A concealed pump,” my husband surmises.
The sculptor has clearly come well prepared. A giant dog, very simple but vast, pleases my daughter, though she gives a basking sand crocodile a wide berth. Cue for more redistribution of my wealth. I’m all out of coins by the time we leave the beach.
Laura has fallen into a quiet, pensive state.
“Perhaps I won’t be an artist or an inventor when I grow up,” she confides eventually. “I think I know what I want to be now. I’ll be a person who makes a model and people have to put money in their tin.”
Relaxing in the late afternoon sunshine, as we stroll back to our hotel, I decide that she is definitely on to something.