Between the last paragraph and this came news that 13 people had been murdered and over 100 injured by a van on La Rambla, Barcelona. Since the street was cordoned off, Jonathan Revusky and I waited until the next morning to go there. Arriving, we found a media circus that ranged from the BBC to citizen journalists recording themselves on cellphones. A Japanese reporter sat cross-legged on the ground, typing, with a spread of Spanish newspapers and a cup of coffee in front of him. A Latvian TV crew interviewed a Restaurante Cuines barista, while Spanish station got a long statement from an employee of Cafe' de l'Opera. Wearing a Rolling Stones North America Tour tank top, an unshaved dude recorded his impressions and insights into a cellphone. Just flown in from London, the CNN anchor, Becky Anderson, looked quite severe and dramatic as she read from her Autoscript teleprompter.
"She probably doesn't even speak Spanish," Jon said as we walked away, "so what is she reporting? They're all just repeating the same story, man. It's just story telling."
There were more cops than usual, including some heavily armed ones, but they didn't constitute an ominous presence. At the Joan Miro mosaic, an impromptu and quickly growing memorial of candles and flowers was spreading, but the overall mood on La Rambla was not solemn but relaxed and even festive, as usual. People talked and laughed.
The term "rambla" is the Catalanized form of the Arabic "ramla," which means a sandy patch or beach. Ancient with blood, indeed.
La Rambla has only two lanes of traffic, but with a very wide promenade down the middle. On both sides are five or six-story buildings, with many of these garlanded with balconies, so many eyes are likely to look down at all time, especially in the heart of summer. The homicidal van is reported to have bowled people over from Placa de Catalunya to the Maccabi kosher restaurant, roughly a third of a mile. Retracing its path, Jon observed halfway, "They did a pretty job cleaning it all up, huh?"
Wanting coffee and conversation, overheard or direct, we entered the Cafe' de l'Opera. Around since 1929, it's an Art Nouveau gem. Bypassing all the tables, we seized two spots at the bar. Sure enough, people were talking about the van attack.
The 50-ish, balding cashier, Raul, was working when it happened. He saw people running in panic. "I walk up and down that street so many times. It could have been me being hit."
About half of the staff appeared to be Arabs. One, a man in his 40's, declared quite openly that he thought it was a false flag, "It's like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, you know. They stage these things so they can do what they want. There is no Muslim group in the Middle East that wants to stage terror attacks in Europe. They make up this scenario so they can continue to steal oil from Arabs."
When asked what he had seen, the man answered, "I saw many people running, and a few bodies on the ground. I saw blood."
Moving along, we asked several shopkeepers if they had witnessed the van barreling down La Rambla, but all said no, then we ducked into an ice cream parlor to find a middle-aged lady talking quite animatedly about the attack.
Jon, "We've been trying to find people who actually saw the attack, but so far, nothing."
"That's because they're in shock. If you want to know what happened, you should watch the news!"
Seeing a Filipino woman opening her giftshop, we made small talk, then asked what she had seen. "I was inside the store, so I saw nothing. People came running in, and they hid here until midnight."