They were born far from Barcelona, but they know everything about this city and even earn money telling tourists about it. We wondered what attracted them to the Catalonian capital and how it was that they came to settle here. Two sought-after Barcelona tour guides, holders of Russian and Irish passports, agreed to share their personal stories with us
EVGENIY FATIANOV, RUSSIA
“Barcelona is a place where people are happy. My job is to walk the streets of this city, admire it and tell stories. Although I am not an emotional man myself, I like to provoke emotions of all sorts.” Evgeniy Fatianov moved to Spain four years ago. Back in Russia he graduated from Voronezh University, worked at a well-known newspaper and on the TV. “Once I was coming home by taxi and the driver let slip: ‘One should leave before 40. After that you won’t get accustomed to anywhere else.’ I was 38 at the time. I got scared by the thought that I had just two years to find my ‘desert island’.” After visiting a number of southern cities with his family, Evgeniy opted for Barcelona. For a while after moving here, Evgeniy kept working as a journalist, writing articles, but there were fewer and fewer jobs, so he had to find a way to earn money locally. He managed to get a position as a teacher in a Russian school. The classes took place only once a week, so all his spare time he dedicated to Barcelona. “I fell in love with this city from the start. I enjoyed touching its walls and breathing its air. Although quite a few people say it smells, I felt it was the aroma of freedom and happiness.” I spent hours on end in a library, reading about the city, and when I felt that I’d collected enough stories, I realised that I wanted to share them with others.”
Before conducting his own tours, Evgeniy went to see the work of his future colleagues. He was disappointed by what he saw. “A monotonous tale stuffed with dates and names that are to be forgotten immediately would put anyone to sleep. I couldn’t share the guide’s attitude towards the city and realised that I should be telling people’s stories. My work at NTV (editor’s note — a popular Russian TV channel) was a useful experience. I understood that the highest rating was secured by programs about private lives and relationships. I try to avoid filth, but blood, love, intrigues — my tours have it all.”
“I don’t care if it’s a millionaire by my side or a truck driver. I always pay attention to the eyes of people who are listening. All of them have different reactions and this is so interesting to observe”
Six months passed between Evgeniy’s move to Spain and the time he published his first advert on the internet offering Montjuïc cemetery walks. According to him, at the time there were no Russian- speaking guides to accompany tourists to the “nether world” of Barcelona. His first client didn’t turn up until a couple months later. “I was about to despair,” he recalls. “And then a letter came. I got very excited, checked three times if all the graves were still there, worried all through the tour, and felt it didn’t go well. But the client was pleased and left a good review on the web-site. Not long after another order came. And so things got rolling.” In our conversation, Fatianov emphasises that he is not a professional tour guide but a journalist telling stories about Barcelona. “I know all the information that the official guides possess. I can tell you about any architect or building, relate the chronology of things. But it is not particularly interesting to me. I don’t invent my stories, I retell them, leaving all the historical facts intact, adding minor changes and details, so that I can be interested myself and feel like a creator, not just an audioguide.” Evgeniy calls all his clients “special” and assures me that he remembers every one of them, although his rule is not to ask them about their personal lives. “I don’t care if it’s a millionaire by my side or a truck driver. I always pay attention to the eyes of people who are listening. All of them have different reactions and this is so interesting to observe.”
During our conversation Fatianov’s phone keeps ringing. “Tourists,” he explains. “I don’t have time to answer the calls.” He works 14 hours a day, walks 25–30 km around the city, and assures us that he always feels upbeat, thanks to the way he feels about his work. Although he is in high demand, Evgeniy doesn’t feel he is famous. “I am not a confident man, I constantly doubt myself. I don’t even have a mirror at home. Fortunately my hair doesn’t require much grooming. Sometimes I feel embarrassed reading reviews on the internet. It feels it’s not about me — I couldn’t tell stories like that.” The Russian tour guide also confesses he enjoys his flexible work, and depending on the season he finds benefits in it. “I can’t stand routine, grey life. Last year I bought tickets on offer to seven different European countries. Every Wednesday I would fly to a new country. Other cities are beautiful, but there is none like Barcelona. I am magnetically attracted here. I must have lived here in a former life.”
ANN-MARIE BRANNIGAN, IRLAND
“In Ireland I was a ceramics artist, but after moving I’ve changed my field completely. I even tried teaching English to children. The only thing I know — all the grey hairs I have appeared then,” Ann-Marie jokes. She moved to Barcelona at the end of the 1990s with her Basque husband, Gorka. They didn’t have a plan. They liked Barcelona and wanted to try and live in this city. Their first year in Spain wasn’t the easiest. “My Spanish wasn’t going well. Generally I tend to have problems with languages due to slight dyslexia (editor’s note — inability to recognise words quickly and correctly) even in English…” After complaining a bit about the hardships of learning Castilian, Ann-Marie soon returns to the positive side: the language was successfully mastered and the Catalonian capital fulfilled all expectations. Ann-Marie generally laughs a lot and happily reacts to jokes.
The idea to become a tour guide occurred in her fiery-red head quite spontaneously. “It was summer. I was teaching and there wasn’t really any work due to the holidays. Gorka had found a job as a tour guide by that time. Getting back home from work, he would tell me really inspiring stories. So I decided to test my luck too. And you know, it all came together somehow.” Starting off with daily tours around Antoni Gaudí’s buildings, she realised that she enjoyed this occupation a lot more than giving classes to local lazy-bones, so she went on to get an official certificate. Later, she and her husband founded their own company Runner Beans, which offers daily English-language tours around Barcelona. Topics are the usual: masterpieces of Gaudí, the Old Town, Barcelona by night, family outings. The unusual part is that this Irish- Spanish company works on a “free walking” principle: at the end of each walk the satisfied tourists pay the amount they consider appropriate. Nowadays the team consists not only of Ann-Marie and Gorka, but a couple of other people of different nationalities. The groups they show around are also quite remarkable. The main condition is knowing English, so Runner Beans usually attracts tourists from Great Britain, the US, Canada and Australia.
“I can’t go away in August either, as it is the busiest season, and I don’t like this time of year in Spain: most of my favorite restaurants, bars and shops are closed, and the area where I live becomes a sort of a ghost town”
“I enjoyed this work seven years ago and I still love it!” admits the former artist. “First of all, you get a chance to grow accustomed to the environment. Secondly, you meet new people every day. I have to say that people who come to our excursions are very interesting, they have a vivid sense of curiosity. I like to observe how their understanding of history, architecture, culture, and traditions grows deeper. Working outdoors is also a bonus. I am not locked between four walls and see the city every day!” According to Ann-Marie, tour guiding has its downsides as well. For example, when friends are planning a BBQ on a Saturday and it is her busiest day, because the majority of British and Irish tourists come to Barcelona for weekends. “I can’t go away in August either, as it is the busiest season, and I don’t like this time of year in Spain: most of my favorite restaurants, bars and shops are closed, and the area where I live becomes a sort of a ghost town.”
Ann-Marie and Gorka live in Poblenou. “When we first arrived in Barcelona, renting a flat was complicated. At last we managed to find a home close to Port Olympic. We used to walk from there to Poblenou to do our shopping or sit at a restaurant terrace. We grew to love it, so when the time came to find a new place, we came straight to this area. Poblenou used to have its special charm of a ‘secret neighborhood’ — it has its own Rambla, everyone knows each other…” The changes happening on its streets worry Ann-Marie: Poblenou is becoming ever more popular and as a result, more expensive. The option to leave Barcelona is not even on the table. “I’ve got used to a relaxed lifestyle. I go shopping at 7.30–8 pm. In Ireland everything is closed by then and people stay home having dinner”. When I fly over there, I think it’s OK, I am on vacation, everything is cool, but by the end I am happy to come home, to Barcelona, where we have a dog and are planning to buy a flat. We are happy here!”