Can Masdeu is a squatted community and social centre on the outskirts of Barcelona. It’s home to around 25 people, including some children. I visited it on my way back from Ecodharma – a while ago now but I have been meaning to write about it.
A friend lives at Can Masdeu and it was he who said I could come. Unfortunately he neglected to tell anyone else I was coming. I arrived late one night and shouted both mine and his names up at the person in the window above to discover I had missed him by an hour. He was out for the night and nobody had heard of me. I felt a little… well, not unwelcome because people were very nice about it, but it was explained to me that there are alternative on and off months for visitors and I had inadvertantly picked an off month to appear on. Oops.
Places like Can Masdeu inspire me with hope. The building was once a lepper colony. It’s a listed building but had been left to fall down by the council. Since the squatters moved in they have been working hard to repair it. There is one workday a week on the house and one on the garden when everyone pitches in. I was there for the garden day. They have a huge community garden and people from all around Barcelona come to help out. The gardens provide most of the vegetables for the community. They buy organic grains and pulses from co-operatives and also get some ‘recycled food’ from skips and from donations from shops. It’s not just food that gets donated. A local bike shop regularly donates bike parts that people don’t want after they have upgraded. Apparently it’s quite a top quality bike shop so the donations are often really good stuff. The bike workshop space is huge and includes the old confessional booths in the lower part of the building. There is also a ‘quiet space’ for yoga and meditation, a social centre open to the public on Sundays, a free shop and internet room. The shower block is outside and uses spring water heated with solar panels and there’s a bike-powered washing machine. The toilets are composting ones outside and the classiest women’s pisser I have ever seen – a sort of bidet contraption that flushes with spring water!
Can Masdeu obviously has a lot of strong links with the local community and shops, the bike shop being one example. They also do environmental stuff with local kids and while I was there they got a van load of unsold televisions delivered from Ikea! Seven years ago, a few months after it was first squatted, the police came to evict them – but the community resisted. During the eviction attempt there was a huge amount of local support and hundreds of people came to show solidarity and to try to get food to the people resisting inside. The police were stopping supplies from going in and food and morale was low. Eventually the police left. They still haven’t been back, but the community is aware that there could still be an eviction attempt at any time.
Can Masdeu is not as vegan as most of the communities and social centres I have visited. The communal meals while I was there were all vegan but the community keeps chickens and bees and my friend hunts the local wild boar. Fortunately he managed not to kill anything while I was there – just. We found a sick blind rabbit with myxomatosis sitting on the road. It let us pick it up, which turned out not to be a good idea given that it was crawling with fleas. Fortunately the fleas much preferred soft rabbit fur to my hands. Martin suggested we kill it but I was sure there must be another way. I later found out the disease is treatable and the rabbit should have been taken to a vet. Now we’ll know for next time. We didn’t kill it but it was probably in a lot of pain. Maybe we should have?
I made oat milk with one of the guys who lives there. He has inspired me to refine my recipe: it now includes tahini, vanilla and a little sugar or honey. I have been debating about honey a lot lately. I had a few sips of mead one night which was made from the honey they collect at Can Masdeu. I asked a few questions and ascertained that they do not kill any of the bees on purpose, they do not feed them any substitutes and only take (what they consider to be) excess honey. I am starting to think that super local honey collected under these conditions is possibly slightly more ethical than sugar. The long-term aim is of course to un-develop my sweet tooth.
On the garden day I was delightfully surprised to bump into somebody familiar – a girl who knows me from Brighton and shares some of my friends. We got on really well, digging through the rotting compost, almost slicing a rat in half with my spade and discussing vegan dilemmas, Buddhism, paganism and the strange and wonderful places we have come across. It turns out she lives at Escanda, another radical community in Spain I have been meaning to visit – so now I have a contact there and renewed excitement about visiting.
Unfortunately I didn’t stay long enough to see the social centre while it was open, but I did have a look at it and donated one of my jumpers to the free shop. Can Masdeu is definitely on the itinerary for my next adventure: “The Big Trip”. I am starting to plan the trip now. It’s all very exciting. I am inviting suggestions of places for me to visit and I’m also looking for travel companions for parts of the trip. Where would you like to go? I basically want to go everywhere: the world by thumb!