Crime, scene, investigation: women, detection and the city
Crime, scene, investigation: women, detection and the city
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter deals with the theme of crime and a specific group of people who take it upon themselves to restore order: female detectives. It considers women's relation to space and place and the way they look at them. It specifically takes the series of detective novels by Alicia Giménez Bartlett featuring police detective Petra Delicado. It then moves to a discussion of Icíar Bollaín's Mataharis, addressing three women who work as private detectives. It argues that the female characters in Giménez Bartlett's novels and Bollaín's film speak to the position of women in Spain.
Following on from the arguments of the previous chapter, this chapter continues the consideration of the link between landscape, space and place and the law, but now focuses more squarely on the city and the presence of the female detective within texts on the city and crime. One of the key theories concerning moving through city space is that of the flâneur, a theory derived specifically from nineteenth-century Paris, theorised first by Charles Baudelaire and later by Walter Benjamin: the flâneur moves without specific purpose through the public and through public spaces but is not himself (and the gender here is specifically masculine as we shall see) of the public. Rather, he observes it. As Keith Tester says of Baudelaire's original theory, ‘The flâneur is the secret spectator of the spectacle of the spaces and places of the city’ Tester 1994: 7). He is a man ‘driven out of the private and into the public by his own search for meaning’ (ibid.: 1) and ‘is the individual sovereign of the order of things who, as the poet or as the artist, is able to transform faces and things so that for him they have only that meaning which he attributes to them’ (ibid.: 6).
Therefore the flâneur is someone who seeks meaning from city spaces but also bestows on them individual meaning. This implies that the spaces can be read in more than one way, but what is important is this particular meaning that the flâneur produces. The ability to spectate and derive meaning from the act is, however, intrinsically masculine: in this original theorisation there can be no flâneuse. As Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson argues, in the original theorisation of flânerie a woman cannot adopt the role of flâneur because she can never achieve the necessary detachment to observe, intricately connected as she is to consumerism (the nineteenth century seeing the rise of the department store), and subject as she is to her desires (Ferguson 1994: 27–8). A woman is in any case an object and not a subject of observation (ibid.: 28): there is a link here to prostitution, the notion that women did not belong in public spaces and therefore those who were to be found in public spaces were likely to be prostitutes. And prostitutes are objects of observation and pursuit on the street (ibid.).
(p.102) If a woman, according to the original theory, cannot be a flâneur, nonetheless there is a role very akin that has become open to her, that of the detective. Ferguson observes that ‘the flâneur, like the narrator and like the detective, is associated with knowledge’ (ibid.: 31), while Rob Shields posits that ‘The flâneur is like a detective seeking clues who reads people's characters not only from the physiognomy of their faces but via a social physiognomy of the streets’ (Shields 1994, 63). Walter Benjamin himself, in his interpretation of Baudelaire's idea, argued that
behind this indolence there is the watchfulness of an observer who does not take his eyes off the miscreant. Thus the detective sees rather wide areas opening up to his self-esteem. He develops forms of reaction that are in keeping with the pace of a big city. He catches things in flight; this enables him to dream that he is an artist. (Benjamin, quoted in Frisby 1994: 92)
It is not simply in observation of people but in deciphering and extracting specific meaning that the detective resembles the flâneur. David Frisby talks of the detective as ‘the decipherer of urban and visual texts’ (Frisby 1994: 82) and observes further that
The flâneur as marginal figure, collecting clues to the metropolis, like the ragpicker assembling the refuse, like the detective seeking to bring insignificant details and seemingly fortuitous events into a meaningful constellation – they are all seeking to read the traces from the details. (Frisby 1994: 99)
Detection is a role that women have increasingly adopted in real life but also in textual form: female detectives even pre-date the ‘classic’ examples such as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple (see Knight 2010: 77–9), but there is also an increase in women detecting professionally. Today's detecting flâneuse is likely to be part of institutionalised detection (public – the police – or private). Lorraine Gamman suggests that
The attraction of law enforcement as a site for positive representations of women derives, not from any great love of the police force or a consensus that women are more ethical or less aggressive and destructive than men, but from the fact that such scenarios permit focus on female activity rather than on female sexuality. (Gamman 1988: 19)
While the emphasis here on activity seems to oppose the indolence originally attributed to the flâneur, the opposition between activity and sexuality allows women to become the subject rather than the object of the city gaze.
Various scholars have drawn attention to the ways in which interpretation of space and place can be gendered – both positively and negatively. Rosalind Galt argues that ‘Landscape, like woman, is imagined to be immediate, to communicate directly to those who above all want to see’, the latter, of course, being male (Galt 2006: 58). Gillian Rose in particular has seminally identified (p.103) the gaze on the landscape as male and straight, drawing on the theories of the inevitably straight male audience gaze of Laura Mulvey, including the latter's ‘Afterthoughts’ in which she tries to account for female spectatorship. When Mulvey talks of the female spectator as ‘restless in its transvestite clothes’ (quoted in Rose 1993: 110), she opens the way to some possibilities for resistance (ibid.: 101–12). Rather irritatingly, Rose herself draws on a near equation between woman and her maternal role in her effort to posit feminine gazes on the landscape (ibid.: 111), which seems to me not only dangerously close to reducing women to biology (and not all women are mothers or have a maternal role) but also rather reductive of women's relationship to the city. The examples I will draw on below in considering women's relation to space and place and the way they look at them suggest there is more than one way of acquiring female agency. Rose's link between landscape and house and garden (ibid.: 112) seems too tame and domestic, precluding the potential excitement of women looking at cityscapes to make meaning and restore order in their role as detectives. Detection does not in itself preclude a concern with house and garden, for, as we shall see, some of the detectives discussed here show an interest in these spaces on some level; but women's experience of space and place is various (and the motif of gender will return on our consideration of the landscapes of tourism in the next chapter). The confinement of women to house and garden (so that any woman on the street must be a prostitute) gives an edge to the notion of place as home. As Doreen Massey has commented,
It is interesting to note how frequently the characterization of place as home comes from those who have left, and it would be fascinating to explore how often this characterization is framed around those who – perforce – stayed behind; and how often the former was male, setting out to discover and change the world, and the latter female, most particularly a mother, assigned the role of personifying a place which did not change. (Massey 1994: 166–7)
The city space of flânerie is, according to Elizabeth Wilson, not easily gendered, however: ‘The city is “masculine” in its triumphal scale, its towers and vistas and arid industrial regions; it is “feminine” in its enclosing embrace, in its indeterminacy and labyrinthine uncentredness’ (Wilson 1991: 7). Indeed, Wilson argues that women may be better able than men to negotiate the city: ‘Perhaps the “disorder” of urban life does not so much disturb women. If this is so, it may be because they have not internalised as rigidly as men a need for over-rationalistic control and authoritarian order’ (ibid.: 8).
As theorists express concern about the disorientation caused by time–space compression, women seem better able to cope with this than men. This links to the condemnation by urban commentators of women as uncontrollable consumers when they move through city spaces, the indiscriminate consumption implying they do not have the rationality to make sense of city (p.104) space (Swanson 1995: 81). The condemnation may well arise from the fear that masculine rationality – imposing order – is not what is needed to make sense of the city: discrimination is not the best tool when urban reality can be experienced on levels that are not only different from each other but may conflict. Consumption can be a liberating approach from rationality. Nonetheless the continual preclusion of women from rational thought becomes tedious: the female detective raises the possibility of rationality combined with the ability to negotiate city spaces on a variety of levels. What I wish to consider here is the ways in which city spaces and landscapes allow us to perceive women acting as subjects and agents in ways that include the rational (strongly implied in the act of detecting) but also other approaches to negotiating the city that gives value to experience commonly coded as feminine. To do this I will first take the series of detective novels by Alicia Giménez Bartlett featuring police detective Petra Delicado, and then move to a discussion of the film Mataharis (Icíar Bollaín, 2007), about three women who work as private detectives. Their activities in Barcelona and Madrid, respectively, demonstrate the commitment to restoring law that is always potentially being broken, and thus their call to care for Spain is manifested, and Spain itself is shown to be in a process of always already becoming but never completed. This chapter, however, gives greater emphasis to the question of the call to care for Spain as inherently bound up with more personal desire: in other words, it gives greater emphasis to the importance of the subject.
Petra Delicado is a police inspector working in Barcelona, the site of all bar one of her investigations to date. Jimena Ugaz presents Petra as a noir hero, verging on the masculine: hard-drinking, violent and handy with a gun (Ugaz 2005: 41), but Petra is not self-consciously feminist in her role as a female detective, and indeed her career has taken a different and more family-orientated turn since Ugaz was writing, as in the recent El silencio de los claustros (The Silence of the Cloisters, 2010). The admittedly copious copas that Petra appears to consume in the series of novels form part of a process of case discussion, bonding and sociability, above all with her subinspector Garzón, rather than a gesture towards masculinist values. Petra is, nonetheless, clearly a flâneuse. The first novel in the series, Ritos de muerte (1996) (Death Rites), sees Petra's move away from Documentación (an administrative space and thus traditionally marked as feminine) to the street spaces of real policing (Giménez Bartlett 2007: 10). The latter spaces clearly suit her. After the case has been solved Petra goes back to the documentation section and finds work piled up. ‘Me di cuenta de que había perdido la costumbre de aplicar un método por culpa de haber pasado tanto (p.105) tiempo siguiendo el zigzag de los hechos’ (I realised that I had lost the habit of working methodically as a result of having spent so much time following the zigzag of the facts; ibid.: 260). In order to function well as a detective Petra has adopted the guise of a flâneuse, moving about the city not by means of a logically plotted path but randomly as the facts and events of detection take her. Petra's future fortunately lies with detection rather than documentation – fortunately because it is clear detection both suits and stimulates her. And the suitability and stimulation comes from her adoption of the role of observer and spectator linked with the flâneuse: she muses,
Había un componente enormemente excitante en el trabajo de investigar, hubiera sido tonto haberlo negado. Era como viajar sentado en un tren, aunque tu cuerpo permaneciera tranquilo, las cosas avanzaban a tu alrededor, todos los implicados seguían actuando. Tú te quedabas allí, pensando, ordenando los hechos, con los ojos bien abiertos para no pasarte de estación. También era emocionante aquel contacto a tumba abierta con la realidad, ser testigo de la miseria moral, la podredumbre, el horror. En ningún momento anterior de mi vida me hubiera creído capaz de soportarlo, pero era condenadamente fácil, no juzgabas, no te mezclabas, embotabas tu sensibilidad y acababas por creer que te había puesto allí la Providencia para deshacer entuertos y luchar por la justicia. (Bartlett 2007: 101)
There was something enormously exciting about the work of detection, it would have been silly to deny it. It was like travelling by train: although your body stayed still, things moved around you, everyone implicated carried on doing things. You stayed there thinking, putting facts in order, with your eyes fully open so as not to miss your station. It was also exciting to be openly in contact with reality, to witness moral misery, poverty, horror. In no previous moment of my life would I have thought myself capable of bearing it, but it was damn easy, you didn't judge, you didn't get involved, you dulled your senses and ended up believing that providence had sent you there to right wrongs and fight for justice.
While there is a discernible note of cynicism in her thoughts, she relishes the chance to observe without judgement – the gaze of the detective or flâneur. A similar principle underlies the admiration she expresses to Garzón in Un barco cargado de arroz (2004) (A Boat Full of Rice), arguing that someone who lives on the streets has a certain nobility: such a person has achieved wisdom and lives freely (Giménez Bartlett 2005b: 8). Día de perros (1997) (Dog Day; Giménez Bartlett 2006a) offers the potential flânerie of the dog walker: the first time Petra takes her new dog Espanto (meaning horror or fright) for a walk, we have an equation of flânerie and detection as she uses the dog in the first steps to track down the murderer of its former master. It is not incidental that this first walk actually serves as a link to one of the perpetrators of the crime (the murder of a dog thief), although Petra does not know it at the time:
Espanto no sintió nada especial en el sitio donde su amo fue hallado. Se movió en redondo, levantó la nariz y olió el aire. Entonces, sin excesivo ímpetu, escogió un (p.106) camino y se puso en marcha. Yo lo llevaba cogido por la correa, sin estirar de ella ni corregir su rumbo. (Giménez Bartlett 2006a: 52)
Espanto did not sense anything special at the site where his master was found. He circled round, lifted his nose and sniffed the air. Then, without too much haste, he selected a path and set off. I held him on the lead, without tightening it or correcting his path.
This walk does indeed have a purpose but it is neither immediately clear nor accessible to human reason (and is interrupted by vignettes such as the dog lifting his leg to a tree). But both Petra and Espanto are observing city space and drawing conclusions from their observations: they are in fact detecting. A further observation made by Petra in Mensajeros en la oscuridad (1999) (Messengers in the Dark; Giménez Bartlett 2006b) reinforces the link between the flâneuse and the detective once more as she and Garzón walk through the streets: ‘Aquel estado peripatético y sin rumbo traslucía muy bien nuestra auténtica situación policial: vagábamos de un dato a otro sin encontrar un punto en el que valiera la pena recalar’ (This peripatetic, purposeless state clearly revealed the reality of our situation as police: we drifted from one fact to another without discovering any fixed point worth aiming for; Giménez Bartlett 2006b: 110–11). And the distinction she makes between herself and the purposeful people around her as they occupy the street together underscores still further her status as flâneuse:
Fui cruzándome con gente que se movía impetuosamente, como si todos supieran adónde se dirigían. Gente de diverso aspecto y pelaje que sin duda tendría un cometido profesional concreto en la vida, una ocupación que conllevaría una ecuación lógica entre esfuerzo y resultados. (Giménez Bartlett 2006b: 266)
As I went I passed people moving impetuously, as if everyone knew where they were going. People with different appearances who doubtless had a specific professional mission in life, a job that included a logical equation between effort and results.
If Petra functions as a flâneuse in the streets of Barcelona, it is clear that the more traditional space for a woman – at home – does not suit her so well. Her attempts to manage her home spaces are not always successful, from her failure to settle in her supposedly safe haven, her new home in Poblenou, to her efforts to grow healthy geraniums in Ritos de muerte (until Garzón comes to her aid). In Muertos de papel (2000) (Prime Time Suspect) she observes the use of suburban space in Barcelona's San Cugat by women as one of a purposeless, routine domestic boredom totally alien to her, filled by nothing but coffee, television and children (Giménez Bartlet 2005a: 26). Later in the same novel, flicking through a copy of the women's magazine Mujer moderna (Modern Woman) and the tips for self-improvement in all areas of a woman's life (the body, the home, cooking etc.), Petra tries to get Garzón to question whether women really are able to think about all these things and whether it can leave (p.107) them time for personal pleasure (ibid.: 66), suggesting that she finds these ideas alien and unpleasurable. In Serpientes en el paraíso (2002) (Serpents in Paradise; Giménez Bartlett 2006c) it becomes clear that flânerie can even be a retreat from specifically female desires such as the child and nice house that is an integral part of the residential area where the crime takes place. When she realises that the killer is Malena, the friend she envied with the perfect child, Petra cannot face going home where her thoughts will close in on her: ‘La solución era andar, una larga caminata a la luz de una luna que no se ve en la ciudad. Y así lo hice, caminé y caminé hasta que las piernas me dolieron y la espalda me crujió’ (The solution was to walk, a long walk by the light of a moon that you don't see in the city. And that's what I did: I walked and walked until my legs hurt and my back creaked; ibid.: 321).
Petra's role ensures that she moves through a variety of city spaces. Nancy Vosberg has written of Petra's circulation through different areas of social class, notably in Día de perros, moving from dog kennels to dog fights to spaces for down and outs to chic animal salons. In Mensajeros en la oscuridad, on the other hand, her detection ‘will lead her into a space, far removed from the sun-drenched Mediterranean light of tourist brochures, where these two shadowy worlds [Mafia and real estate] converge’ (Vosberg 2005: 25). In Serpientes en el paraíso Petra encounters immigrant women who have been displaced and marginalised from their support systems that operate in the centre of Barcelona. The novel highlights the diversity of the inner city in contrast to the suburbs (ibid.: 26). Shelley Godsland describes Muertos de papel, where the action oscillates between Barcelona and Madrid, as ‘a frenetic race through all strata of the capital's multifaceted society’ (Godsland 2007: 36). She further observes that many different classes and social groups are implicated in the course of Petra's narratives but the guilty person is always an individual motivated by money, power or revenge (ibid.: 50). But within the criss-crossing of social strata there is nonetheless a distinct sense of Petra (who aims to uphold the law) observing a murky world of people unlike her: she is distinct from the people who occupy these spaces. In talking of Día de perros Godsland points out that Petra explores areas of crime and poverty hitherto unknown to her – ‘trawls’ is the word Godsland uses (ibid.: 36). Thus the world Petra observes is for the most part alien to her: she is not of it. Petra's own comments, as well as those of commentators, suggest a descent to an underworld. Godsland observes that ‘vast swathes of Barcelona society – and specifically its less than salubrious underbelly – are uncovered as Petra peels back the veneer of gentility that covers the unpleasant side of the Catalan capital’ (ibid.: 50). These spaces are not perceived as suitable for a woman, as Petra's first ex-husband reproaches her in Ritos de muerte ‘“Andar todo el día junto a un policía gordo, entrando y saliendo de bares de mala muerte y puticlubs. Te estás jugando tu dignidad”’ (Going around all day with (p.108) a fat policeman, in and out of low-rent bars and strip clubs. You're playing with your dignity; Giménez Bartlett 2007: 79). He urges her to ‘enderezar de nuevo tu vida’ (straighten your life out) by going back to the law, her earlier profession, asking if she has not yet had enough of change and adventure (ibid.: 79). This is advice that Petra ignores.
But if the underworld and the Barcelona of the marginalised seems alien to her, so do the suburbs and middle-class residences. Serpientes en el paraíso explicitly focuses on middle-class residential estates as suffocating, conformist and detached from reality. Petra observes the sameness in the El Paradís residential area where she investigates a murder, where everyone has the same attitudes and ideas. ‘Sería como permanecer en un gueto concebido para obtener un determinado tipo de felicidad basada en la negación de otros mundos' (It would be like living in a ghetto designed to achieve a certain type of happiness based on the denial of other worlds’; Giménez Bartlett 2006c: 19). Petra could never fit in, even though she toys with the idea, because she knows of other and less pleasant worlds. When meeting a friend in an elegant café she observes the difference from the bars that she and Garzón frequent, full of people, noise and the smell of cooking oil (ibid.: 167). The suburb is just as alien to Petra as the marginalised areas of Barcelona (indeed, El Paradís is marginalised too, in its own way), and in the end she begins to detest returning to the suburb: it is too claustrophobic and not the ideal she originally thought (ibid.: 286). And yet alienation is not the crucial factor in her rejection of certain lifestyles, since she takes pleasure in the very strangeness (to her) of Madrid in Muertos de papel, where she enjoys the feel of the capital as only someone from Barcelona can (Giménez Bartlett 2005a: 106).
In these differing city spaces she acts and deduces as a detective would, but also derives her own social meaning from the places she sees, offering her own social commentary. (For this reason, the fact that these novels are in the first person reinforces the notion that hers is an individual, flâneur-like interpretation.) Her role as detective enables her commentary: ‘because the police officer has perforce to move among all sectors of society, the lives and penuries of those living on the socio-economic margins of Barcelona are also uncovered and commented on’ (Godsland 2007: 75). Her career is thus what bestows the role of observer and thus of flâneuse on her. The interpretation she draws from the streets is not, according to her, a feminist one. In Muertos de papel she informs Garzón, ‘no soy feminista. Si lo fuera no trabajaría como policía, ni viviría aún en este país, ni me hubiera casado dos veces, ni siquiera saldría a la calle’ (I'm not a feminist. If I were I wouldn't be working for the police, nor would I be living in this country, nor would I have married twice, nor would I even go out into the street; Giménez Bartlett 2005a: 138). In terms of space and place, two elements of this statement are immediately intriguing: first, that (p.109) Spain is no place for a feminist, but also that the street is not such a place either. By adopting her position as flâneuse Petra is not explicitly seeking to assert a form of gender equality, but, given her position as flâneuse it does not mean an acceptance of traditional patriarchy either, since that entails a subordination or exclusion of women from public spaces.
As flâneuse she also separates herself from another function of women in city streets, that of the consumer. I noted above Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson's comment that a woman could not adopt the role of flâneur because her role as consumer did not allow her the necessary detachment. But precisely because of her role as detective Petra can and must detach herself from the world of shopping, as she observes while walking around the centre of Barcelona in Mensajeros,
Visitamos el barrio peatonal emplazado en el centro antiguo de la ciudad. Eran apenas las once de la mañana, pero las calles bullían de vida. Se veían muchas mujeres que iban de compras, miraban escaparates y se detenían para tomar café en algún bar. Lucía un solecillo espléndido que se colaba por entre los viejos edificios muy juntos unos de otros. Un músico ambulante soltaba al aire una hermosa tonada de flauta. Todo me pareció armónico y tranquilo. En efecto, mientras nosotros estábamos cada mañana hundidos en nuestros lúgubres despachos, había gente libre que podía verle a la vida el lado luminoso. (Giménez Bartlett 2006b: 94)
We went to the pedestrian zone in the old quarter of the city. It was only eleven in the morning, but the streets were brimming with life. There were many women out shopping, looking at shop windows and stopping for a coffee in some bar. The sun shone magnificently, slipping between the old buildings tightly packed together. A wandering musician released a beautiful flute melody on to the air. To me everything seemed harmonious and calm. Indeed, while every morning we were buried in our dismal offices there were people who could freely look on the bright side of life.
The distinction made here between carefree shopping and Petra's own flânerie not only suggests the mutual exclusion of the two activities but Petra's own constant habitation of a semi-permanent underworld. But Petra's later experience of a shopping mall in Nido vacío (Empty Nest, 2007) suggests the alien nature of the environment that implies her flânerie is the better position: for instance, she notes with cynicism the fake paradise suggested by a café appearing to be laid out in the open air instead of where it actually is, an enclosed shopping mall (Giménez Bartlett 2009: 7). Her ability to analyse a consumer environment underscores her detachment from it; the fact that her purse is stolen before she has even embarked on any shopping short-circuits any chance of participating in consumption.
When Gillian Rose concludes that ‘Pleasure in landscape, it appears, is for straight men's eyes' only’ (Rose 1993: 99), Petra's example both does and does (p.110) not confirm Rose's idea. To begin with, Petra does not always find pleasure in the cityscape she observes. Her job of necessity takes her to some of the bleaker city spaces, and yet the more well-to-do places do not always bring her pleasure either: the middle-class suburb and shopping mall are (sooner or later) seen as alien to her. And yet at other times she does enjoy not only the place she is looking at and experiencing (as with Madrid, for example) but, more particularly, the actual act of looking, as her observations on detection, quoted earlier, go to suggest. Her pleasure in this act could arguably come from her adoption of a ‘straight male gaze’ that goes with the act of flânerie and thus would conform to Rose's concept. Nonetheless, Petra's role as both detective and flâneur does not automatically preclude knowledge and experience potentially tagged as feminine. For example, it is her awareness of home furnishings in Muertos de papel that helps her make a connection of complicity between the murder victim and his apparently ex-wife. In Nido vacío it is another oasis of calm, a garden outside the children's home (where Petra has a soothing conversation with an old lady), that eventually leads her to solve the crime – the same tulips are to be found in this garden that are also found in the window box of an associate of one of the victims, who was both a gardener and involved in a child porn ring. (Petra's awareness of plants has clearly improved since her attempt to grow geraniums in Ritos de muerte). Petra demonstrates an awareness of a space that Rose herself has described as specific to women (as mentioned above). It is, however, noticeable that the more she encounters the different spaces of Barcelona the more she tries to create a home space separate from it: her home becomes a necessary retreat from her world of crime, so that by the time of Nido vacío her marriage to Marcos at the end of the novel suggests the need for this virtually compartmentalised normality, an oasis to go back to at the end of the working day. She makes a sharp divide between the sordid world of crime (and, in this case, child pornography and the possibility that children can kill) and the lives of ‘respectable’ people in Barcelona who remain unaware of such a world. Petra's fear in this novel is of being submerged in the underworld of crime, a fear where she cannot escape and, significantly, will get marked, dirtied, by it, intimated when she comments of her concern to avoid falling in the ‘lodazal’ or mire (Giménez Bartlett 2009: 62). Inevitably, however, she takes her work home with her: not only does she continue to socialise with her subinspector outside the office, she cannot free herself from the curiosity of her new stepchildren about her work, as evidenced in El silencio de los claustros where they quiz her on the progress of the case.
When Wilson argues (1995: 75) that ‘The heroism – for both sexes – is in surviving the disorientating space, both labyrinthine and agoraphobic, of the metropolis. It lies in the ability to discern among the massed ranks of anonymity the outline of forms of beauty and individuality appropriate to urban life. The (p.111) act of creating meaning, seemingly so arbitrary, becomes heroic in itself’, she is describing a position that prefigures Petra's own, and suggests Petra's own call to care for the people of Barcelona that she observes. If, as in the previous chapter, the desire to restore the law allows the nation to trace itself across space and place, then Petra's concern for the victims of crime, for the inhabitants of Barcelona under her care, links, law, nation and city space. As with La voz de su amo in the previous chapter the identity of the nation is itself precarious: are we talking of Spain or of Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital? We can of course be talking of both: Petra does not specify any allegiance. Yet as flâneuse Petra observes the city, enters all quarters of it and knows it and its people thoroughly, although her status as observer is mitigated by the sympathy she feels for the people she encounters in her wanderings. Godsland notes that in Un barco cargado de arroz, for example, Petra visits a series of places – ‘psychiatric hospitals, homeless encampments, derelict buildings, and social welfare centres’ – where she shows ‘an intimate and sympathetic understanding of the Barcelona of the marginalized, the delinquent, and the dispossessed – among whom Petra Delicado has, inevitably, to carry out her investigations’ (Godsland 2007: 37). Petra does not separate herself from the city and the people she observes, as the essential masculine flâneur would. Petra creates meaning out of the confusion, and in doing so she also bestows a certain amount of order even as the chaos continues. City spaces are manageable even as they seep into each other. And the home space is a vital part of city space rather than separate from it as the traditional flâneur would have it: Petra may try to keep the two separate but it is her experiences and observations that in fact join them together to form a city of layers of which such as Petra can interpret and thus ‘care’ for.
We now turn to a different manifestation of flânerie in the film Mataharis (Icíar Bollaín, 2007), with a plot based around the lives of three women who work as private detectives: Carmen (Nuria González), a middle-aged married woman with a grown-up daughter in London, Eva (Najwa Nimri), a young mother and Inés (María Vázquez), a single woman. The fact that we are now considering a film rather than a series of novels has its own impact on our understanding of the flâneuse. According to Giuliana Bruno, film offers a reinforcement of the notion of flânerie, including the possibility that the latter can be carried out by women. Bruno observes that ‘What turned into cinema was an imaginative trajectory that required physical habitation and liminal traversal of the sites of display. As wandering was incorporated into the cinema, film viewing became an imaginary form of flânerie. By way of the cinema, new horizons of urban “street-walking” opened to women’ (Bruno 2007: 16). This form of flânerie is, (p.112) however, confined to the female spectator. By the time of Mataharis, film is not simply an opportunity for women to carry out a form of virtual flânerie, but also an opportunity to see other women practise it. Mataharis is saturated with passing shots of the women as they occupy city space, with the opening credit sequence consisting entirely of their movements around Madrid (with a shot of the Puerta de Alcalá to demonstrate where we actually are). At this point there are no storylines: the opening credits underscore quite simply the movement of women through city space, observing the spaces they move through. Carmen takes photos, Eva takes notes, while Inés follows someone in her car. They are clearly detectives, and they are also clearly flâneuses from the very beginning of the film.
Wilson's argument mentioned above, that women are better able to cope with the disorder of the city, has manifested itself already in Petra's ability to move through different, neighbouring but conflicting, spaces; but its relevance to the women of Mataharis who use city space for multi-tasking is also clear, and one of those tasks is precisely the role of detection. If detection is in once sense restoring order through the closing of a case, then the profession of detective implies the ever-present disorder that needs sorting out, the fact that detection is a constant observation and not a one-off act. In this respect the character of Eva is crucial. The emphasis in both the opening and closing sequences of the film is the women occupying city space, but Eva is the one who is actively detecting in the closing as well as the opening sequences. On both occasions she is simultaneously looking after her son in his pushchair, who accompanies his mother while she works (an accompaniment not always to the liking of her boss Valverde). Although Carmen is on surveillance in the opening sequence she is back in the office as the film closes, while Inés is roaming around the streets of Madrid but apparently as an act of questioning her allegiance to her profession rather than actively carrying it out. Eva – ironically the character who would appear to be the most tied to one place given the young age of her children – is the character who travels most widely in the film, to Zaragoza and Guadalajara as well as a remote graveyard outside Segovia.
If the detective's role is attempting to bring some order out of the chaos of the city, this applies at home as well; and Mataharis, like the Petra Delicado novels, shows the detectives at home as well as at work. But, for Eva – and for Carmen too, as we shall see – the home space needs as much order and control as the city space. Both city space and home space become places for detection and observation, as Eva begins to detect the suspected infidelity of her partner Iñaki (Tristán Ulloa). Just as she can change a nappy while keeping someone under observation, so she can talk to her daughter, discussing the nature of waves and the sea, while noting clues down as to Iñaki's behaviour. Although her home and work life appear chaotic as she juggles roles, nonetheless she (p.113)
If Petra avowedly professes herself not to be a feminist, nor do the women of Mataharis profess any commitment one way or the other. The raison d'être for both novels and film is precisely the fact that these are women who are fulfilling a role previously tagged as masculine (explicitly that of detective and implicitly that of flâneur). However, in the Petra Delicado novels the emphasis and the storyline revolve around Petra's professional life as a police detective, and the chief relationship explored in the process – at least until the recent El silencio de (p.114) los claustros – has been with her subordinate Garzón. Romantic relationships are for the most part incidental vignettes that allow for an exploration of Petra's situation as a woman doing the job she does. In Mataharis, however, much more emphasis is given to personal relationships, which potentially threaten the ability to act as flâneuse, since the capacity for objective observation is much diminished. This is particularly the case for Inés, who becomes emotionally involved with Manuel (Diego Martín), the person she is investigating. Her involvement interferes with the detachment she needs to detect, and ultimately brings into question her whole professional commitment. The matter is not definitively resolved. While Inés reveals to Manuel that she has been investigating him (and in doing so acknowledges with a farewell kiss the end of their involvement), her subsequent course of action remains unclear as the film abandons her to a walk of indecisiveness. While Eva is still detecting (with baby) in the closing sequence of the film (Fig. 12), our final glimpse of Inés is as she walks in an aimless fashion around the streets of Madrid. This contrasts to earlier shots of Inés as she moved through Madrid, where she can clearly be seen not simply detecting but also observing the city, from the bus or from her flat (Fig. 13). But in the closing sequence she does not observe the city in the same way: her crisis of conscience has impeded her desire to see and observe the city. Whereas both Carmen and Eva resolve their domestic crises – the disorder they find at home as well as in the street (and it is worth noting that they have to go outside the home in order to resolve the crisis within), Inés is unable to achieve such a resolution and thus her role as detective/flâneuse is in doubt.
Such an ending raises doubt more generally about women's fitness for detection/flânerie given the film's strong emphasis on emotional relations.
In calling the film Mataharis Bollaín implicitly alludes not only to the women as detectives and in particular their ability to spy – it is noticeable that much of their work as detectives involves looking and surveillance – but also to the women as seductresses. At first blush this might seem like an unlikely connection: none of the women explicitly seduces anyone, and Inés' initial contact with Manuel is prompted by the needs of detection and not desire. Nonetheless, the suggestion of seduction hints back to the initial role of the woman on the street in flânerie – as prostitute. This suggests that while women can appropriate the gaze to act as flâneuse, their gender is still a complicating factor that renders their observation and movement through space as tenuous, a factor also to be seen in the Petra Delicado novels in which Petra's musing on her position as woman and as detective is constant, a questioning of self to which her male colleagues are not prone. On the other hand, we can also deduce from the example of Petra and the Mataharis that the flâneuse allows the notion of what is city space to be expanded beyond the original conception of the streets. While the home space and the street space do not necessarily join seamlessly – it is clear that Petra, at least, attempts to ensure a distinction between them even if her attempt regularly fails (many case conferences are conducted with Garzón in her living room) – they expand the women's powers of observation, so that, like Eva, the woman can detect in the personal or professional spheres, or, like Carmen, she can make deductions from her professional life which she can apply to her personal life. So that when Jonathan Raban comments, ‘For each citizen, the city (p.116) is a unique and private reality; and the novelist, planner or sociologist (whose aims have more in common than each is often willing to admit) finds himself dealing with an impossibly intricate tessellation of personal routes, spoors and histories within the labyrinth of the city’ (Raban 1988: 238), he implicitly points to the possibility of home becoming a part of that patchwork of city spaces, and becoming likewise part of the spaces of observation and detection. This in turn points to the dissolution of the separation of home as idealised by (male) travellers and wanderers (including flâneurs) elsewhere, and the spaces those travellers and wanderers moved through. Raban's own assumption that novelists, planners and sociologists are male by default does not detract from the fact that his notion of the soft city – the city that forms around one's own personal trajectory – allows for the inclusion of women. Unlike Petra, the Mataharis do not explicitly reflect on the city spaces through which they move (although we are encouraged to reflect on them as observers, since Bollaín so frequently captures them in the act of observation), nor do they reflect on their own status as observers of what is going on in those spaces. They are, in their function as detectives, nonetheless flâneuses in their observation of and movement through the spaces of Madrid, which allow them to make rational deductions that solve problems. But also, unlike Petra, they push the notion of city space into the home, refusing to make a neat distinction or separation between public and private spaces; and they apply the deductions they make in the public spaces of Madrid to the private ones as well. If Petra finds it difficult to keep work and home separate, the Mataharis do not even try. For them, the home space is a city space like any other; and the emotions and personal concerns interweave with professional ones to form a seamless trajectory around the city.
The call to care for these city spaces is not an overtly nationalistic or patriotic one: if anything, we could consider it as an extension of what is perceived as a woman's duty to clean house. If home and outside spaces are blurred in the city, then detection becomes another domestic duty to ensure order is kept and nurture is given. However, the extension of the duty of care nonetheless takes women into city spaces to ensure order and care there: it is notable that many of the cases they take on involve the resolution of personal relationships. Thus a traditional female responsibility – for personal relationships – becomes, when combined with the profession of detective, another form of Billig's banal nationalism, in that they care for and resolve personal difficulties for people in Madrid and thus restore order – an order that, as always when it comes to law and wrongdoing, can always be broken.
If the discussion so far suggests that women are able to move about city spaces as subjects that gaze, observe and draw conclusions, then how Spanish are these spaces? Does it make a difference that these cities are not simply generic city space (if, indeed, there is anything than can ever be called generic, rather than a space belonging to a specific city) but are clearly identifiable as Madrid and Barcelona? To answer this we can summon once again the notion of banal nationalism conceived by Billig (1995) in which the nation is implicitly invoked, as we saw in the previous chapter where the trace of the nation appears as the law is repeatedly broken and restored: the nation is always questioned but is nonetheless there to be questioned. This trace is further inflected, however, by the notion of city space. The cities in question, Madrid and more problematically Barcelona (since Barcelona also invokes Catalanism), are to a large extent iconic of Spain. Their iconic features are, however, rarely if ever invoked. While Petra names specific places and locations of Barcelona, only the actual label suggests Barcelona (the Diagonal, for instance): the detail oddly enough serves to render these spaces initially rather generic, areas of marginality in which live the poor and down-and-outs, sophisticated shopping streets, malls with an artificial atmosphere, suburban developments. The convents and churches of El silencio de los claustros might suggest a Catholic city but it does not suggest which particular one. Mataharis demonstrates that women can occupy and move through different spaces in different ways that speak to their multi-tasking ability (including the stress that it causes); but the specificity of the places seems not to matter beyond the quick location shot of the Puerta de Alcalá. Colin McArthur's overly simple comment that ‘there must hardly be a major city in the world which … is not known primarily by way of Hollywood’ (McArthur 1997: 34) is readily disproved in the case of Madrid (like many other major cities, not the subject of a great deal of attention by Hollywood film-makers): the Gaudí architecture of Barcelona has recently gained worldwide visibility in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2008), but it is hardly Hollywood that has created the prior association between the city and the architect. Spanish film and television may have made the two cities more familiar to Spanish audiences, but neither Giménez Bartlett's novels nor Bollaín's film set out explicitly to invoke iconic landmarks in any profound way. So how is Spain invoked as a trace across these spaces?
We could argue that the female characters in these texts speak to the position of women in Spain, as Godsland posits for Giménez Bartlett's novels, claiming that they articulate an ambiguity at the heart of contemporary women's status in Spain, and express a post-feminist position (Godsland 2007: 8). She suggests that the use of a series of novels featuring the same detective allows (p.118) for the elaboration of a particular approach towards gender, and also notes that Giménez Bartlett deliberately uses a woman detective to illustrate her ideas on the position of women in Spain (ibid.: 13). The appearance of women as detectives coincided with better opportunities for more sympathetic police once democracy was consolidated (ibid.: 35): thus women have become an integral part of the democratisation of detection and the police procedural. We could contrast this position with David R. George Jr.'s consideration of women ‘seeing’ in Benito Pérez Galdós' Episodios nacionales of the nineteenth century, an explicit invocation of Spanish national history. George sums up his observations: ‘The conclusion, if seen strictly through the optic of nineteenth-century liberalism, is disheartening: if the men in the series need to start seeing like men, then for the women to be considered as citizens they too must see like men’ (George 2005: 62). Things seem to have changed from that era on two counts. First, seeing like men – adopting the identity of the flâneuse – is not necessarily disheartening. Secondly, it does not preclude women seeing like women. Petra Delicado may be increasingly in love with her gun (Godsland 2007: 55) but her observations (occasionally even drawing on ‘feminine’ knowledge and expertise) prove positive, allowing her to get the job done. Keith Tester (1994: 16) argues that although the flâneur was originally specific to a time and place, the figure can be used as a prism through which to look at other cities in other times; so the flâneuses we encounter in these texts can reflect social tensions specific to Spain. However, such tensions are not specific to Spain: in other countries women still do not have as ready an acceptance as men as detectives despite their increasing presence in film, literature and real life. Precisely because of their gender, female control over city space is always provisional and open to constant renegotiation. Furthermore, because of the precarious nature of the link between the law and the land, the interaction between women and specifically Spanish space is always already tenuous – but nonetheless it allows for a more positive understanding of women vis-à-vis the city and the nation than is sometimes posited.
There is no essential Spain lurking underneath the surface of these texts and these issues, and the female detectives do not serve to essentialise it, even though we can clearly be nowhere else. Petra explicitly invokes the spaces she moves through as specific to Barcelona, and the Mataharis clearly work in Madrid, but the texts concerned do not work towards a reiteration of iconic ideas that identify these cities as distinct. But, in acting to restore order in both public and private spaces, these women contribute to the dream of presence of these cities, always in the act of becoming. They extend the definition of what these cities are by breaking down the divide between public and private and acting to restore order in both, although this order is precarious, always likely to be broken, and thus these cities can never fully be present but must always be in the act of becoming. But, furthermore, by acting in this way, the women themselves (p.119) become an essential part of these cities through their agency: women become citizens. In the process, they act as the good citizens of the previous chapter, restoring the order of the Spanish law and in so doing perpetuating across these city spaces a trace of Spanishness through the law (that can even take into account the nuances of Catalan versus Spanish law, since both can coexist across the same space, as suggested by Catalan and Spanish police bodies operating in Petra's Barcelona). But they also extend Spanish space into the home, which is no longer a private space separate from the public sphere. The home is now an integral part of these city spaces across which the desire to maintain the law and thus implicitly the nation traces itself. If flânerie allows for the observation of a city, detection facilitates the assignment of personal meaning to city spaces as spaces of citizenship; and the movement of female detectives through different city spaces allows for the creation of a multi-layered sense of the city unified by the detective's gaze. Women as detectives make city spaces home spaces: the city becomes home, ‘our’ city, the site of care and of restoration of domestic order, in public space as well as private. Personal commitment – female desires and female subjectivities – become intricately bound up with public commitment – a flânerie of citizenship: this intricacy offers multiple meanings of both ‘home’ and ‘city’. Within this, Spain traces itself once again in the corner of the eye through the invocation of active citizenship, a specific allegiance to city space precisely as home space.