Saturday, May 22, 2010

Greetings from Barcelona--Bon Dia!

No, it isn't just that my Spanish is bad--that is 'good day' in Catalan, the regional language, a source of great local pride, and once great political danger. More on that later.

Friday was our first full day here in Barcelona. It started early, and just kept going. A walk to our tour bus (which can’t fit on the windy, hilly streets where our hotel is located), past fruit markets and flower shops, where Suzy can identify everything!, then we drove a bit to Parc Guell. Once, this was a real estate development, intended to be divided into 40 lots for splendorous houses. But Liz informs us this failed, because in 1900, when the development began, it was too far from the city center, and without cars, no one was interested in the impossible commute. Only one show house was built, in which the Parc’s main architect, Gaudi, lived for 20 years. By 1914, the project was abandoned, and the land donated to the city.

We’ll need pictures to really see this place—the massive iron gates, the flowers, palm trees; what look like Roman arches—almost, strung together like an aqueduct; gathering places, ceramic benches, fountains; and a market place among the huge stone and fractured tile columns, which reminds me of the murky Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Perhaps on purpose—we learn that the flat top surface of this market is used to catch rainwater, to use through the long dry seasons here. Today, there were a few vendors, but also a class of very young children sitting on the floor with bright crayons, learning to draw.

Then back on the bus. We see buildings and pavilions from the 1929 World’s Fair, from the grand “castle” of the Spanish exhibit, now a vast museum, to the squat green marble German exhibit, a sample of the Bauhaus movement. We zip by bits of Barcelona we’ll never return to—parks and immodest homes, the Restaurante Tibet, a “telepizza” business, an ad for a Zen meditation center, green neon crosses marking each farmacia, the Miro sculpture, Woman and Bird, a strange 3-D collage of red and blue and yellow ceramics. All this on the way to see La Sagrada Familia—the masterwork cathedral.

Again, pictures will be necessary, and other people’s reactions. We caught glimpses of the cathedral as we passed side streets. Kristina’s jaw dropped. People got cameras ready for the next side street, even though we were on our way there. I heard the whispers up and down the bus aisle, “it’s like the Emerald City.”

And it is, in its excess and grandeur. Started in 1882, with private donations, the cathedral is still unfinished. They say at least another 25 years, depending on those same donations, though they will hurry to finish the interior, since the Pope will visit in a little over a year. So long in construction, we can easily see where the old stone is weathered (smogged) dark. Despite all the construction cranes, La Sagrada Familia offers the imagination rich material to work with.

Back on the bus, we see more of Gaudi’s work on private residences downtown, including the Casa Miller, with its irregular wavy walls and the equally irregular cast iron grillwork balconies.
We zoom to the top of ‘the Mount of the Jews’ (named for the long ago Jewish cemetery), where much of the 1992 Olympic city had been built. We passed the seafront statue of Columbus, and shortly after, the naked man on the bicycle—not at all a statue, and more of a sensation...perhaps not a picture this time.

Back at Catalunya Plaza, the center of town, we split up for the afternoon. Many went to the Picasso Museum, many went shopping. I wandered La Rambla Avenue with John and Tayler. We had gelati on one corner, found a bottle of local sangria at a tent booth and shared that on the steps in a small plaza. We zoomed here and there on the Metro (a 10-trip pass for about 7 euro), sometimes going the right direction, and got to the beach. We waded, touched the Mediterranean, then stopped for a late lunch, trying to satisfy John’s need for fresh seafood. We wound up with a platter of steamed mussels, two cross-sections of grilled fish, a large steamed squid (I ate the tentacles), prawns, and a sad crispy minnow that wasn’t supposed to be there. We also had a small plate of deep fried chipparones, not quite identifiable, except for being some slip of sea creature with two enormous black eyes in each crunch. (Tiny squid, I find out now.) Tayler had doubts about all these sea critters, but managed to not starve. And we found the cable car that arches over the city, from the beach back up to the Olympic city—but alas, it was closed due to high wind.

That night, the whole group met for a dinner of traditional paella—quite good, as is most everything with rice. Liz, our guide, was horrified that John wants coffee before, rather than European-proper after the meal. This struggle continues.

At dinner, we did decide that several in the group will attend a bullfight, though we won’t have open time until we reach Portugal.

And there is nightlife. I leave that for other storytellers.

Folks at home: I’ve been cautioning people on the tour about some cellphone use, especially texting, phone-based email, and web apps on the phone. Perhaps your plans cover these web/data plans internationally, but if not, these can cost a fortune in a few minutes. Someone there do some research for us...

0 Responses

Post a Comment

Subscribe to our feed