Frederick Abrams

The Underground Cathedral


Q. Could you comment on “Paquito?”

A. The second time I visited Barcelona, which was when I ended up staying there in early 1990, I saw him for the first time. I saw him again in the same station, when I visited Barcelona in the summer of 1996 and I saw him many, many times in between, not only in the same station but the very same spot on the platform next to a bar that’s in the underground where the train stops.

This is also the station that’s next to the opera house in Barcelona, both named, “Liceu.” I always found it an irony that there was this man who’s half blind always chanting for money adjacent to the opera. I don’t know for how many years he did this but when I first went there he sang, “Una limosna para un companero” (A little spare change for a companion), and later he replaced the last word with, “Paquito,” which is his own name.

After awhile, I suppose he realized that he was part of the landscape, a permanent fixture in this space in Barcelona, always singing underground beside the opera house. Over time I became fascinated by him and first took some still photos of him in 1991. Four years later I videotaped him with my new video camera, this being over one year after the opera house had been destroyed by a fire.

The irony became even more noteworthy to me, when there was a big publicity campaign to raise money to rebuild the opera house, and here was this half blind man, who for years was singing to raise money next to it but in the underground. This made me think of Paquito as “The Phantom of the Liceu.” In the film you see an image of the interior of the opera house after it had been completely destroyed by fire and you see his face superimposed over it as well as the metro train passing through it.

Such scenes are interspersed with others of him in the metro station. So, once again, above and below ground are seen simultaneously as the contrast is made between an imaginary vision and reality. Each time there is a return to a scene of the opera’s interior, there is also a change in the picture.

In one you see a photo of Paquito inserted so that it appears as if he is standing among the ruins. Then in another Paquito is joined by a still image of Antenna Man playing his saxophone. In still another they are accompanied by a man photographed inside of the Brussels Metro who is sitting with a little portable synthesizer in his lap, and an old man from the Paris Metro who was creating eerie acoustic sound waves by bending a wood cutting saw and hitting it with a little mallet. So, I created a little band of gypsies inside of the ruins of the opera house from different cities who came together playing a strange combination of instruments, which, other than Paquito’s voice are not directly connected to the music that I composed to accompany him. You just see this formation of musicians as the train repeatedly passes through the opera’s interior.

There’s also a silhouette of Sagrada Familia inside of the ruins. Then towards the end of the segment a train passes through a black and white image of the opera house before it was destroyed, which actually is what the renovated opera house looks like. So throughout these sequences Paquito returns and he repeatedly sings the same line that he had sung for years. Again, this is about passage both in terms of time and movement. Trains come and go, many people come and go, countless tourists come and go as time changes and everything changes but it’s still the same.

Previous Part Next Part