In Barcelona II

October 14, 2010

Ah, peace and quiet last night! Today is a “Gaudi” day. We are exploring a few of the sites of the city created by the incomparable Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona’s most famous Modernista artist. Modernism (Catalan Art Nouveau) became popular at the end of the 19th century.

Breaking with tradition, artists experimented with glass, tile, iron and brick. The building decorations are a collage of nature images, exotic Moorish or Chinese themes, and fanciful Gothic crosses and knights to celebrate Catalonia’s medieval glory days. Barcelona is an architectural scrapbook of Gaudi’s galloping gables and organic curves. He immersed himself in each project, often living on-site. (Rick Steves’ Barcelona)

Our first stop is Parc Guell, a 30-acre garden that was to be an up-scale housing project when Gaudi designed it. It is now a beautiful outdoor space with stairways and columns decorated with mosaics of broken glass and ceramics. There are huge mosaic lizards, snakes and other images from nature—many of them bordering comfortable seating areas all over the park. There are terraces and paths surrounded by columns and retaining walls that were built from what looks like clay stones—they look very nearly natural. The “Hall of 100 Columns” is a stunning space that was to house the community’s market.

We visited the Gaudi House and Museum—Gaudi’s residence for 20 years. Among lots of interesting items on exhibit in the house, we were able to see quirky Gaudi furniture including a carved wood “love-seat” of sorts. The two connected seats were just off-set from one another—very interesting.

After a nice coffee and pastry break, we set off for Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church)—an unfinished landmark church that is Gaudi’s most famous and persistent work. He worked on this project from 1883 until his death in 1926 (he was run over by a street car while walking and reading—an early example that multi-tasking does not work). The construction continues today (the Spanish civil war destroyed work already completed and delayed further construction) and is probably going to take another quarter century or more to complete. Since Gaudi’s death the completion of the church has been guided by Guadi’s vision but designed and executed by other artisans and workers.

The church is a must-see! The more recent construction includes a façade illustrating the Passion of Christ. It is very modern-looking and created by Joseph María Subirachs using Gaudi’s original vision. It is in stark contrast to the façade completed in Gaudi’s lifetime, the Nativity façade, which includes Gothic–style symbolism and the Modernista approach.

The inside of the HUGE church is breathtaking!!!! The columns, the ceiling mosaics, the incredibly colorful and modern looking stained glass windows were a surprise. Also a surprise was how much work is in progress. There was large machinery in the church and several cranes above the spires. When Gaudi undertook this lengthy project he said “My client (meaning God) is in no hurry.”

After our amazing visit to the Sagrada Familia, we go to the 3rd Gaudi site of the day, Casa Milà. Rick Steves describes the façade of the building as a “roller coaster of melting-ice-cream eaves” with incredibly elaborate wrought iron balconies. This is Barcelona’s quintessential Modernista building and Gaudi’s last work before dedicating his final years to Sagrada Família. From the street we see people on the roof but from our vantage point at street-level, we never imagine that the roof is so interesting. It is a fanciful, undulating space with 30 chimneys disguised as multi-colored medieval knights. We also visit an apartment that is done up in the style a well-to-do family might have enjoyed in the early 20th century. The attic has a museum where you can see models and videos of Gaudi’s work.

We are ready for lunch and we find a very traditional café, La Bodegueta, which means wine cellar (100 Rambla de Catalunya)). The wait was to be 5 minutes—but this is Spain! So the wait was more like 30 minutes. But this place had character! We had Spanish sparkling wine (cava) and “tomato bread” (sliced fresh bread with the juice and a little pulp from a tasty tomato) while we waited, inhaling the cigarette smoke (this is Spain!). For our 1st course C & S had paella; I had a nice salad with cheese; and H had cooked spinach. For our 2nd course, we all had a very thin, grilled slice of beef and French Spanish fries. The beef was a bit chewy and the fries were a bit soggy but, honestly, it was all good because it fit with the ambience of the place.

We were running out of gas—or I should say that H & I were running out of gas and were ready to head home (it was to be an 8 hour day in the city). But our last stop was the big market to make our purchases for a seafood dinner at home. It was about 6pm by the time we got there and it looked like all the seafood vendors had packed up for the day! But we found one lady who we remembered had the most varied shellfish selection the day before so we felt like we were in luck. We were not so lucky because she was helping a customer that she clearly knew and her customer was buying a lot—a “perfect storm” for her to be engaged for a good long time. The “yacking” went on forever! Interspersed with the gabbing, she is yelling at people who are poking at her seafood. If other vendors had been open we’d have been out of there in a flash. In fact a couple other potential customers walked away.

Finally it’s our turn. Cat orders small razor clams—the shape of a straight-razor (for those who remember straight-razors) and about 4 inches by ¾ inch. The lady tries to weigh the clams on one scale and goes on and on about how it’s broken. So she switches to the other scale. Next are “tellines”—really tiny (less than an inch) clam-like shellfish. Once more this lady, who just likes to hear herself talk, tries to weigh the tellines on the broken scale yakking to herself about how it’s broken (because we aren’t responding to her at all). So lastly Cat selects some small clams. You guessed it! Here we go again with the broken scale. All this time more people are walking away. All I can say is that it’s a good thing the seafood we purchased from her was fantastic—otherwise I would have would have returned another day to poke at her seafood and drive her crazy!

Speaking about poking the seafood—Catherine and I laughed till we drooled poking at the razor clams in the kitchen at home. The living clams droop out of the shell and if you poke them and they snap back into their shells they are alive. A few of our dying razor clams drooped/sagged out of the shell like something I don’t want to further discuss in polite company. But it sure made us laugh like nuts.

So we had a delicious dinner of 3 types of clams—all delicious especially the razor clams. We also had great asparagus with balsamic vinaigrette. And of course very nice Spanish wine.

The club below us was open—we prayed for a quiet night but I was “armed” with silicon earplugs. They worked GREAT for me; I immediately fell asleep in spite of the craziness downstairs and slept like a baby.