If ever there was a city that needed to seriously reconsider its chosen time zone, it’s Barcelona. Countries like China make a conscious decision to only use a single zone but that’s more about administration and power. Barcelona has chosen to be an hour off of GMT when they would be far better off being aligned with Greenwich. At least it would be better for me since I just don’t like to be still waiting on dawn at 8:15 AM. I know this is twice I’ve complained, but lying in a dark room at 8:30 AM is just plain unnatural for me.
Our plan for Sunday was to take in the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece on the northern side of town. We set off on foot after a hearty breakfast of fresh orange juice, fried eggs, chorizo and French fries (!) served by a second depressed Catalan making our way across the Barri Gotic towards Passeig de Saint Joan which would take us to our destination. In one little square we came across a group of people in orange shirts trying to lead a person wearing a 20 foot tall costume of a woman in medieval dress down the narrow lanes. It apparently took some doing as the person inside the giant doll had limited vision and no ability to see above where all manner of wires and snags were impeding their forward progress.
When we came out in a square near the main cathedral we found a small crowd milling about amid other people in big costumes. What appeared to be Herod and his consort, a pair of serfs, apparently this was some sort of Sunday morning festival. Our errant friend had not yet appeared when we went on.
On the far side of the Barri the neighborhoods become less exotic and perhaps more characteristic of how people actually live here. Neat little blocks with small parks and playgrounds finally gave way to a broad palm lined plaza bordered on one side by the Palau de Justica and on the far end by the Arc de Triomfe which nicely framed the hills at the northern edge of the city. Whimsically baroque lamp posts, far fancier that what would be needed to do the job lined both sides of a broad promenade.
A flock of noisy birds in the palms above the busy bowling courts drew my attention so I wandered over to have a look. I was thinking Magpies, and sure enough one flew over. But these turned out to be a little community of bright green parrots busily building nests in the top of the palms. Another first for me.
The area along Saint Joan was quite different than where we had been wandering during the past day. Far less cafes and stores, this was regular life in Barcelona and it was clear to me why this is such a desirable city. The streets were neat and easy on the eyes with people coming and going about their early Sunday morning business.
Turning off we began to see the cranes associated with Sagrada Familia poking above the apartment blocks. This complex has been under construction for more than 100 years, even now being only partially complete. Rounding the corner it became obvious as to why – it was enormous, taking several full city blocks and soaring hundreds of feet in the air.
I had genuinely anticipated visiting this place and I have to admit I was immediately let down. While I respect the vision of Gaudi and the artists that have carried on his work, I have to say it was so bizarre a sight that I simply could not appreciate it for whatever significance it has. It brought to mind my feelings about Harbin – I was glad to have gone and also glad that I never have to go again.
The design is an interesting combination of very modern depictions of the Passion of Christ – stark, chiseled, almost scary looking people and hallucinogenic representations of fruits and vegetables. Disney came to mind as did that oddball quarter across the street from my hotel in Dalian – Five Color Town. The design so challenged my sensibilities about form and beauty that it immediately brought to mind 20th century classical music – certainly technically challenging and perhaps groundbreaking but so dense as to be impossible to be appreciated by regular listeners.
We paid our admission and went inside. The interior space was more of the same, an ultra-modern representation of the baroque splendor of the main Cathedral we’d visited the day before. There were nice touches like the colored light from the modern stained glass windows casting tiny pools of soft light on the supporting columns. But overall the highlights were diminished by the fact that it’s still a construction site and a modern one at that and not a place that makes your spirit soar in the traditional sense.
We went downstairs to the construction museum which was pretty interesting in its depictions of the creative means Gaudi and the subsequent architects utilized in order to design the models and methodologies necessary to master something this grand. The history of the project was very interesting, making it doubly amazing that something this modern could have been conceived of in the late 19th century.
Heading towards the door we passed a young couple up to some sort of no good, you could tell by the way the young woman kept looking from side to side and smiling sheepishly. I sort of watched over my shoulder as we went to the exit and when she thought she was no longer being observed, she pulled down her pants so that her boyfriend could take a picture of her bare bottom in front of one of the displays. Her lime green underpants provided a cheerful spot of color in this otherwise sandy brown stone room.
The far side of the complex is the older part and it shows, being a mix of designs from the period and others that must have been quite shocking for the day. In looked to me like a modernized version of the older church across town and I suspect that was Gaudi’s intent.
Having had enough of this place we headed back towards the Parc del la Ciutadella and the Barri, taking a short detour to get a picture of the Tore Agbar, the multi-colored modern skyscraper that dominates the skyline in this district. It wasn’t much by day, but the night time pictures I’ve seen are pretty amazing.
We reached the Parc and took a walk around the drained lake, row boats sat tied up in a squadron, sitting on the dry lake bed. There was quite a bit of destruction from the previous day’s winds, many trees were down or snapped off at their middle. The park was filled with parents and children out enjoying the bright January sunshine.
It had been a goal to visit the Picasso Museum but we changed our minds when it simply took to long to get through the ticket line. Instead we walked back towards the Cathedral, stopping to watch some old folks dancing a traditional Catalan circular dance to the music of a brass band playing from the stairs in front of the church. It was wonderful to stand there and watch them moving around, each doing the intricate yet very simple steps, a look of contentment on their faces. They ended and the crowd applauded and we went on, stopping to watch some young men break dancing to loud hip hop music. Side by side, the contrast was instant and while these young guys were very talented and athletic, one couldn’t help feeling that the prior dancing was just so much better for the soul.
And that’s pretty much how the day wound down. We went later for dinner, choosing a small side street café where I had a nice piece of duck and My Lovely Wife had a challenging piece of beef, diced in cubes each firmly attached to a sheet of unremorseful gristle. One plus and one minus, the day was over.