Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



June 2008

"That's some serious bling."
Comment made by a young American woman on seeing the jewel-encrusted monstrance on display in the Sacristy Museum of the 14th century Barcelona Cathedral.


Afterglow: Barcelona and Madrid

Dear Reader:

The above comment about "bling" could be applied to the whole city of Barcelona because it is "over the top" in the category of all things visual. What other way can one express this port city's sensuous beauty and natural gifts? Where else can you sit on the longest bench in the world, curvaceous and encrusted with colorful broken pottery tile mosaics (Parc Güell), and ponder the previous day's visit to the Cathedral where you gazed at an 11th century baptismal font? New and old are embraced with passion, grace and energy, making Barcelona a city I won't soon forget.

I could not stop smiling the whole time I was in Gaudí's Parc Güell. The mosaics made me want to go home, smash all of my pottery and cement the pieces onto the stone walls in the back yard. I want a huge, multi-colored mosaic lizard peaking at me from a tree. I want to be drunk with colors and hang upside down from arches plied with mosaic medallions.

Down the street from our hotel was the Parc de Joan Miró, dedicated to one of my favorite artists. The Metro stop was Tarragona, and it was signaled by recorded music that trilled "Tarrrr-a-gon-a." Every time we climbed up into the street, we were greeted by Joan Miró's 72 ft (22m) sculpture, Dona I Ocell (Woman and Bird).

Because of the drought, the sculpture was not standing in the middle of a large reflecting pool. It was surrounded by a swarm of skateboarders taking advantage of the pool's cement floor. As they buzzed around, their colorful clothing complimented the glazed tile surface of Miró's sculpture in a wonderful, crazy way. I couldn't help but hope these kids were appreciating a great piece of art, all the while they were adding to it.

The Barcelona Cathedral is impressive in its grandeur, "over the top" in Baroque side altars and wow-evoking 15th century carved wooden choir stalls. No wonder it wasn't finished until the early 20th century. This is where Christopher Columbus brought six Caribbean natives to be baptized in 1493. To someone born in Buffalo who thought crossing the Peace Bridge into Canada was a big deal, that is a big deal.

Nothing that I read or heard could prepare me for seeing the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. Travel guides tell about its being built in the Middle Ages and taking just 55 years to construct, a feat resulting in the unity of its Gothic style. A highly recommended book, The Cathedral del Mar, was displayed in neighborhood stores. I plan to read it, but the experience could not rival being inside its soaring walls.

My journal entry for the Basilica has hearts and stars drawn all over it. What a childlike way to express my awe, but I couldn't do anything else! I wrote, "The stained glass windows rival Chartres, but they are more in the spirit of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris." I made myself dizzy walking from one end to the other looking at those windows.

Play word association with "Barcelona" and "Antoni Gaudí" will come up quickly. The Sagrada Familia was swarming with construction workers and tourists. When it is completed in twenty to twenty-five years, it will have eighteen spires in all. Now there are eight and they are amazing, especially in the way they are topped with zany, yet reverent religious symbols. Ah, to be as obsessed as the devout Gaudí was and still have people today willing to push his final project to the end.

We visited one of Gaudí's apartment buildings, La Pedrera, named the rock quarry because it appeared to be carved from rock. We took our time walking through the corridors, an apartment, the attic and on the roof. This was the place to live if you were a wealthy Catalonian. Curves and undulations in this building, so present in nature, made me slightly tipsy. I am used to stabilizing right angles when indoors. But tipsy is a good feeling, and I wouldn't mind living in one of these apartments. The odd thing is that no one took up his architectural banner, making a Gaudí-like home more commonplace than it is.

Fundació Joan Miró was sweet, sweet, sweet, or so I wrote in my journal. The permanent collection is a retrospective from his early 1914 charming, folk art style landscapes and rural buildings, through his Fauvist phase, through his Surrealist stage, and, like a shooting star, into his own "you can recognize Miró's work a mile away" style. The museum, designed by Josep Lluís Sert, is sublime in its clean, functional blocks of white. A visit to the roof, with Miró's perfectly arranged sculptures, is worth a visit to Barcelona. Am I exaggerating? No!

In the University of Barcelona district, the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcleona ( is a building worth seeing. Designed by Richard Meier, it is a study in white, sliced and angled, with windows covered in colored gels that mimic stained glass when light falls on its walls and floors. Meier gave huge spaces in the galleries for the exhibits, but his corridors and interlocking walkways are mostly art-free. The building is the art.

Exploring the galleries was another matter: conceptual art is alive and well in this museum, which is not surprising given its name. As off-putting, ugly and thought-provoking as much of the artwork was, I confess I didn't like it very much. If I see a pile of trash on the floor, I can't help wanting to pick it up and throw it away. But NO, the artist has written a long complex dissertation on the meaning of the detritus I am looking at, so I know better and hold that thought.

One cannot live on art alone, and we had lunch at a restaurant that combined both pleasures. The 4Gats is the Art Deco dream of a restaurant where the young Picasso and his friends gathered. Artwork hangs everywhere. I was seated under a pencil portrait by Roberto Matta! The 4Gats is to art history what Sardi's is to theater. To this art groupie, The 4Gats was as an important part of the Barcelona pilgrimage as any museum (

Writing about Barcelona has only stoked the afterglow. I would return in a New York minute. Have you visited a place that has had that effect on you and do you want to share that experience? Contact me: