A special series. Kultura con ‘k’: Discovering a City’s Soul — The North Star Reports – by Katherine LaFleur. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
You can buy the book or take the tour: viewing all of the landmarks everyone wants to visit and taking every photo to capture it for yourself, but when it comes right down to it if you want to get to know a city and its people you’re going to have to leave the beaten path. My dad always taught me to break from the crowd (of tourists) when traveling and follow the music: find the people and be polite, ask them about themselves and actually learn something worth taking home with you. While abroad I’ve certainly hit all of the big tourist-y spots that I could, but in general I try to avoid them to get a better feel for a city’s true personality by searching out the more unaffected parts of the city.
In a previous post (Common Catalonian Cuisine) I mentioned the idea of different kinds of culture: Culture with a capital “C”, culture with a little “c” and culture with a “k”. What my dad always wanted me to look for was culture with a “c”: the everyday living that people do in their home- in which you are a stranger and unaccustomed. What caught my interest from the start of this program, though, is the culture with “k”, the alternative. Kultura in Spain, throughout Europe and the rest of the world, is that which you won’t find in a museum. Often, the meaning is lost on us because we lack the understanding to fully comprehend, or we simply overlook it because it isn’t listed in the pages of our Lonely Planet reader.
[Sometimes I’m really really impressed with what someone has done, like the skulls pictured here, with the words “vida” and “mort” incorporated it shows life and death as two sides of the same coin, er, skull.]
Graffiti has always captured my interest. I really don’t see myself as any sort of artist so I enviously enjoy works of art that others produce. Growing up in Duluth and watching the trains come in and out of the city I would look at the various tags on each car and marvel at the different colors and styles that each boasted. When my friends and I were old enough to drive ourselves around town we explored the Graffiti Graveyard and I was astounded by what people were able to do with little more than spray paint. In Barcelona, from the very first day, I was astounded by how much graffiti there is. The sentiment of many people in Spain is that the city is their property as citizens, one professor explained, so it isn’t at all unusual to see spray painted scribbles or murals that express someone’s views on a bench, a newspaper kiosk, or the side of a building; but for an American coming in with a very different lens, I was a bit surprised at the abundance and normality of it all.
In Barcelona, and all over the world, graffiti is used to tell a story. More than just the individual tags, graffiti is used to relate history, to express political unrest among the people, or to exhibit a chosen aesthetic by creating pieces that play with the façade of their canvas. The sentiment of many people in Spain is that the city is their property as citizens, one professor explained, so it isn’t at all unusual to see spray painted scribbles that express one person’s views on a bench, a newspaper kiosk, or the side of a building- but for an American coming in with a very different lens, I was a bit surprised at the abundance and normality of it all.
It takes a bit of work to get oneself accustomed to any given kultura, but once you have a bit of insight to a place’s history and the story of its people it’s as if you’ve been handed a key and the lights have all been turned on. The scribbles on the park benches and the murals you pass each day are now deciphered through a better understanding, and by gaining this consciousness you add another lens to your collection.
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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing reviews of books, documentaries, and films, projects on historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers.
We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org The NSR is sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact chief editor Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu