Plot the story of my life through the places I’ve lived, and you can see a theme. Textile towns.
I went to university in Manchester, sometimes known as Cottonopolis because of the cotton industry that thrived there throughout the 19th century.
One of the cities at the forefront of the cloth-making industrial revolution – wool and flax in this case – was Leeds. I’ve lived there too.
Then in France, we lived in Laroque d’Olmes, a town whose prosperity depended on the woollen textile trade, snatched from it in the twentieth century as wool lost out to more modern fibres which were in any case increasingly manufactured in Asia.
And last week, in Barcelona, we stayed in Sants. In the 19th century this area, like so many others in Catalonia, turned out the cotton-printed calicoes so popular in Paris at the time. It was a busy industrial town that only became part of Barcelona towards the end of the 19th century. Now much of its industrial past has been re-purposed or flattened. Here’s the Parc de l’España Industrial – once an enormous textile mill.
We loved being here. Though so near one of Barcelona’s main stations it’s assertively non-touristy. People live, work, shop and enjoy themselves without having to tussle for space with a whole lot of trippers rubbernecking their way along the crowded thoroughfares.
Our street had everything from a fish restaurant (choose your own fish from the marble slab), an alternative book shop, a handy mini-mart, a design studio to – inevitably – several bars.
Every morning we did as the Catalans do before they set off for office, market or shop and had breakfast in one of them. I developed a passion for wholewheat croissants, which are light, flaky and utterly delicious.
Neighbourhood restaurants made few concessions to Spaniards, let alone foreigners, displaying their menus in Catalan: this is a separatist area.
We shopped in the independent shops (the only surrender to globalisation that we could find in the entire area was a solitary Burger King: it was refreshingly under-populated) and sauntered round its two thriving markets. We’ll be back.
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