Friday, June 09, 2006

An exploration of an artist: Barcelona

Our last stop in Spain was one of the most eagerly awaited, for me at least. I have been waiting to see a city that was built on a fascinating and unique cultural and social identity. Unplanned though it was, each day our journey focused on a different artist... Day three was Miro, day two was Dali, but...

Day One: Gaudi

Early in the day we left our hostel and boarded a metro tram to the Temple de la Sagrada Familia. A truly epic work that reflects the time, monetary investment, and community involvement of all important European Churches from the Medieval period, yet all of this was transplanted into the twenty-first century. When I entered, I was surprised by the amount of work already completed - the inner sanctuary is almost completely enclosed. If thousands of people crowed into a church that is not yet complete, you know that you are walking into something truly amazing (sometimes the masses can lead you to the truth). Gaudi can take a hard material and make it soft as clay - making them natural. The ceiling (?firmament?) of massive heavenly stars melt into the tree-like forms of the pillars which seem to be a natural extension themselves from the earth of the church (as if they had always been there waiting for someone to build a roof to connect them).

After an exhaustive exploration, we headed to another one of Gaudi's masterpieces: the Parc Guell. This is where his skill really shined! The sculptural elements, from a distance, appear to be soft as clay, but a quick touch will reveal that they are really created out of stone pieces. In the garden stood the casa that Gaudi once lived in. At first it does not seem to mesh well with the mosaic and organic theme of the rest of the park - with straight lines and commonly pink walls, but after a while the gentle plaster details blurred the line between natural and man-made even further. All around the landscaping seems to be an extension of Gaudi's works and visa versa.

Our final Gaudi stop almost did not happen, but it proved to be the most interesting of all! When I saw that entry to the Casa Batllo cost 16Euro50, I said "No Way!" With some gentle advice from Jennifer (and some hair pulling), I consented and entered a magnificent multi-tenant building with character and passion. The whole theme of the Casa Batllo is the sea - wavy lines and a palate of blue. The facade, in my opinion, looks like Gaudi wanted to represent every aspect of the sea at once - from the placid seafoam on the beach and the deep navy of a stormy night, to the glowing masks of the deep-sea creatures. And this is only the facade. Inside each room has a character all its own. Bringing natural light into every room, ingenious window mechanisms, and multifaceted stained glass doorways complete the seemingly simple casa.

Gaudi is one of those artists who is known, but rarely experienced. He is Barcelona, he is what really pulls this city together. Yet, there could not be a Gaudi (someone so beloved in his own time and given free license to redesign the landscape of the city as he did) without an amazingly driven, yet beautifully relaxed city to be his muse.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I´ll be the first to admit that I am a well traveled person and that I know the best ways to get it done. Nevertheless, sometimes there are things that blind side me and convincee me once and for all that I really have no idea what I am doing...Here are two perfect examples:

Granada - former land of Muslim glory, whose beautiful castles (Alcazars) can still be seen today. On this particular day, Jennifer (my travel companion on this trip) and I went to see the famous Alhambra. Words cannot do this castle justice. As you are hiking up the steep, forested path, the trees part revealing an awe-inspiring red brick fortress. Once inside the Islamic influence is immediately revealed in the intricate geometrical plaster work and the amazing onion style arch-ways. On this particular journey we met one of the most unfriendly person I have ever met. As we were waiting in line for an audio guide (being next in line), we approached the available window but she was closed so we returned to the front of the line. That is when we heard the voice... "Excuse me, but you have to go to the end of the line!" (think of this as the voice of evil). "We were next, but she closed her window." "You will have to go to the END of the line." "But we were next." This is when the friendly Germans vouched for us and the woman reluctantly consented. After a while it was our turn, and, just as luck would have it, guess who was our "helper"? "Can we have an Englishh audio guide?" "Ticket!!" (Remember the voice of death) replied the scary-guide-lady. I placed my ticket on the counter along with a 5 Euro bill. Before even acknowledging our presence, scary-guide-lady turns to the people behind us (remember the Germans) and says, "I am really sorry. They said that they were in line. I have to take them first." She continues on in this way until the people behind us (the Germans who vouched for us) convinced her that they were not mad. "Passport!!!" "We don't have one with us." "You cant have an audio guide without one!" Jennifer pulls out a copy of her passport, but the woman refuses with a humph. Eventually, through a bit of trial and error we discover a credit card would do. "3 Euro." I slightly nudge the 5 Euro on the counter. "3 Euro." I push the bill closer to her. "Not 5 Euro, 3 Euros." "That is the smallest bill I have. Here see," and I open my wallet and show her the two Euros I have. Meanwhile, Jennifer had torn apart her wallet looking for one Euro which she finds and gives to scary-guide-lady. As I grab the audio guide she yells with a sharp "NOT NOW!" and rips it from my hands. Why? She feels it is necessary to explain to us (stupid people) how the map and ticket work. As if we had not used one before - and - the ticket lady told us to do - and - was not written on the ticket in four different languages in red. Finally, with the biggest fake grin, she hands us the audio guide with a "Have a nice visit."

The second story happened today while we were boarding the train to Barcelona. On the EURail pass there are ten blanks that you need to fill in with the date of you ten journeys before you go through the ticket check. On mine I had written 02/06 instead of 04/06, but I had crossed out the two and replaced it with the correct four. Unbeknownst to me, this is not allowed. When I gave my ticket and the pass to the ticket lady, she refused to let me board the train. Jennifer had already gone through the line but asked, in Spanish, what the problem was. They explained that they could not let me in unless their supervisor okayed it. So I stood beside the ticket counter with my ticket, pass and passport laying on the desk getting dirty or inquisitive looks from the many passengers as they boarded the train. Ten minutes until the train leaves. Five minutes. Three minutes and the supervisor was still not there. My heart was racing. Finally, with two minutes left, the supervisor approached the counter, took a quick look at the pass and handed it all back to me. That was it, I could board the train with only a minute left to spare. Infact, even before we sat down the train was well on its way.

What have these experiences taught me. For one, always expect the unexpected. The scary-guide-lady was mean without any provocation and I did not expect, as I was passing through security, that I may not make the train because of a writing error. And secondly, part of the excitement around this noble pursuit (travel that is) is the understanding that not everything is understandable - most things are lost in translation, even in Western Europe.