It’s not a true adventure until you’ve been taken to the police station.
An explanation. Ever since Anders told Hans that he could play his ukulele on the Ramblas in Barcelona and perhaps make some spending money, Hans has been incessant about asking when that could happen. The conversation started way back in France, because the weather was so cold that gloves were mandatory, and that made playing outside impossible. Driving down into the south of France, Hans starting practicing, but it was often rainy. In Bilbao, he played a couple times for a few minutes if we popped into a store, but often it was on a side street with nobody around.
“Wait until you see the Ramblas,” Anders said. We counseled Hans about the 4 P’s of marketing (Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement), and that for him, placement on this very busy street known as a spot for busking would be perfect. We would find an outdoor café, get a coffee, and Hans could be nearby.
The Ramblas has sections. At the top is the animal section, where cages filled with strawberry red canaries compete for attention with bunnys and the world’s smallest hampsters. There is the flower section. The postcard section. The artist sketching section. After having put Hans off of playing because of rain or cold or because we wanted to go and see the Picasso Museum or some other sight, we found a café right in the middle of the Ramblas and Hans set himself up across from us on the other side of the walkway. Two cappuchinos were delivered to Ma and Pa, Hans started strumming his best “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and all was right in the world. One guy dropped in a euro into his open uke case, Hans looked up at me and smiled, and a group of African young men stopped to listen.
Then the cops came.
As Barcelona is known as a pick-pocket hotspot, the bright yellow vested walking police in Barcelona are a welcome sight. They are everywhere, in pairs. As with everyplace we’ve traveled, the sight of a lot of police does one of two things: A) either you feel very protected, and at ease or B) you’re freaked out.
So there’s Hans. Playing his little heart out, and I notice out of the corner of my eye that the police are talking to him. He is pointing at us at our table, and the two offices (a man and a woman) look our direction. Anders goes over to explain that we are just nearby, having a coffee, and that Hans isn’t alone.
Some conversation ensues. One officer waves me over. As I approach and Hans is packing up his uke, Anders says simply to me, “I have to go to the police station,” which of course reduces Hans to tears. “I don’t want Daddy to go to jail,” he says, and so it goes.
Seems we have a few problems. One, our allowing Hans to play for money is seen as exploiting a child. This is a crime in Spain. Two, Anders does not have his passport on him, only a credit card. So he can’t prove who he is. It takes some to figure all this out, because a lot of this talking is done while I am paying for our coffee. When I realize this, I offer that I have my identification in the form of a driver’s license. They like this, but we still have to go to the police station “to fill out some paperwork.”
Hans is convinced someone is going to jail, although both officers tell him nothing bad is going to happen.
In the end we sit for a few minutes in the station, the female officer brings Hans some hard candy and offers a smile, and we eventually go into an interior office where we sit before a non-uniformed surly man who speaks in English to us that Hans playing for money is exploiting a child, and that is not allowed in Spain. He then says that we both need to have our passports on us at all times. Anders mentions that he didn’t bring his wallet and instead left it in the safe in the hotel because Barcelona is known for pickpockets. “You can put it inside your pants,” he is told.
So somewhere in a file in Barcelona is my California driver’s license and a report about Hans and the Ramblas.