Photo Credit: Jennie
"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
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
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?
In the University of Barcelona district, the Museu d'Art Contemporani
de Barcleona (www.macba.es)
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 (www.4gats.com).
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: email@example.com