Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Barcelona, Sunday


Barcelona looks and feels like the definition of variety – people, vehicles, food, architecture. It doesn’t have the polish of Madrid or the endless sea of ornate buildings of Prague or the charming tiny metro of Budapest but it does have the work of Antoni Gaudi and for mind-boggling architecture Gaudi is the winner.

We strolled on Sunday looking at buildings, taking photos of doors, finding fresh vegetables and exotic fruit at a market, snacking at restaurants joining Barcelonans in what feels like a spontaneous and endless parade on La Rambla.

We’ve seen so much here that it’s hard to remember it all. In the old days, before digital, we’d have used three or four rolls of film in a week and hoped to remember something when we got it developed later. Now we take photos by the hundreds each day and hope to identify them when we download in the evening. For me, the review helps to set the memories.

We went to one of many of Barcelona’s (free) cultural museums to see the ruins of the prior Roman city. The excavations under a 14th and 15th century building are extensive and the museum offers video programs to show how the area was uncovered and what it would have looked like in Roman times. Drainage ditches defined the textile dye shop and the bottoms of large, round, clay vats used for wine making were intact in the winery area. Like many museums there is a free audio tour in a choice of several languages.

The port seems an enormous see urchin with its spiny coating of sailboats side by side and end to end almost totally coating the water, locked inside a bay where a pedestrian bridge swings open to allow boat traffic. (After a warning alarm the bridge moves. People stop at the edge – no guard rail, no security person – and the crowds back up along both sides of the bridge filling the space so that when the bridge goes back into line again it takes a while for the traffic to unplug and flow again.)

At the far end of the bridge is a shopping center with Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, restaurants, clothing stores of enormous prices and lots of places to sit and wonder. At the shore is a huge monument to Christopher Columbus surrounded by lions whose backs frequently have tourists sitting for a photo.

On Monday we had a Gaudi day starting with Cassa Calvet. We couldn’t actually go inside of Cassa Calvet. Surprisingly, the building has straight lines – rounded corners but straight lines. The balconies glide out from the windows and doors and the building wears a stately crown.

The sandstone blocks are of different sizes and the balconies are supported by curvy and intricate carved stone. Inside, they say, all the wooden furniture and walls are individual sculptures.

Then we found Cassa Batllo. Holy Cow.

The building is nick-named “Bones” because of the organic pillars on the outside. Rick seemed taken by the windows with large, circular glass pendants seeming to hang from filaments of lead within a free structure of glass. I think they represent air bubbles in the water. The building was created on an aquatic theme with dark blue tiles inside the courtyard at the top and lighter blue toward the bottom so that deep into the courtyard the colors would be more reflective.

The doors were flowing panels of wood and the ceilings had the curves of water-moved sand. The walls were painted in fish scales and the air moved through channels in the walls as if currents of water. On the terrace were ceramic gardens and on the roof the chimneys came together to form a small coral reef. Fish scale tiles defined the roof’s wave-contour – or is it the shape of a fish’s back? Whatever it is, I see why Gaudi was thought to be either a maniac or a genius. His imagination was enormous, his skill undeniable. The building felt good from the inside. I want to be able to think that that in many materials. Wow.

We stayed in a Spanish apartment (less expensive than a hotel). Our apartment entrance was a marble hall with marble stairs and a lift in the central courtyard. Our kitchen window opened into another courtyard and all kitchen conversations in the building blended together there with aroma of dinners (often involving garlic).

There were other windows that opened into other internal courtyards and at the rear was a little balcony looking out into a huge courtyard along with 500 close neighbors. In the center of the area was a school and a play area. Sometimes there were a few people out on their balconies but generally outdoor time seems to be spent in the streets or in the squares.

Our apartment had a kitchen, bathroom, central hall, 4 bedrooms (2 quite small) and the living/dining area that opened to the balcony. I don’t mean to give the impression that the balcony was large. It was little more than a place to hang clothes, sit on a small stool and balance the computer on an ironing board, our makeshift table. Voices carried there also floating with the sound of a distant TV, an opening window and silverware finding those garlic-filled dinners.

1 comment:

Angela said...

From my experience Barcelona has an exponential number of cool things about it: laid back locals, white sand beaches with hotels in Barcelona around, tree lined 'Ramblas,' interesting cuisine, Picasso, 350+ days of sun per year, an amazing soccer team -- heck, this is where that guy shot the flaming arrow over the torch to light the Olympic Flame (back in '92!) However, if there is one thing that really sets this town apart, its a single man: GAUDI.