Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Searching for Barcelona:From Bourbon Street to Las Rambles Part Seven

Top pablo-picasso-las-meninas, bottom poster for barcelona

My friend James and I went to see the opening of the Whit Stillman movie Barcelona when we loved in San Francsco.  Set among ex pats living, going out dancing, and finding their way in Barcelona during the cold war, the film captured a sentiment about the world and what our lives could be.

Today, James is one of those ex pats, having lived in Europe for well over a dozen years, maybe 13.  We’ve staying in touch for weekends in Italy, Manchester, Berlin, New York, Chicago, Canterbury, etc.   One of my friends from the post college years in San Francisco now two decades ago, I was delighted to hear he was going to come join us in Barcelona.  So, we grabbed an afternoon train out of Madrid toward Barcelona.

He met us as soon as we arrived from Madrid.  Caroline’s college friend was letting us stay at her place, a lovely old world apartment across from an old church.  Full of art and books screaming to be read, the apartment is a work of art in itself.

We get drinks and enjoyed a late dinner at home our first night. James and I had had to run find a market still open at 10 PM.  But we found one and stayed up for hours chatting. 
James and the gals and I set out on a romp through the city the next day, wondering down to Las Ramples, talking about Spain and the ways we are adjusting to a country which seems to shut for a six hour break just as things are getting started, among an empty continent in August.

After romping some four k, we enjoyed a little lunch and made our way to the lovely beach, stumbling into a medieval city among the roman ruins.  The streets were lively and beautiful, the beach reminding me of  Miami, the ruins of Rome, the promenades of Paris.  Barcelona has everything.  We'd spend the next week looking for it.

Buzzing, James and I talked about the city, what we'd seen, the streets, and ways the continent has weathered the storms of history.  He has a friend whose mom was off getting surgery in Stockholm when the Soviets moved into Prague.  Without knowing a word of Swedish, she stayed, starting a new life for herself and leaving her family to cope with the reverberations of her defection.  You ask others about their families or their grandparents and many, many just report they were shot during the war.  That is perhaps the most common refrain.  The continent seems to have little appetite for any more war.

But the violence of history never seems to go away, the riots, the screams over police brutality, the hopes for something better.  These are the cries reverberating from Ferguson to the streets of Barcelona.  Its been a lot hot summer in the states.  But the cries of history are everywhere.

I see these through my daily strolls through the streets of Barcelona, so much beauty and so many secrets.

Saturday, we walked 5.1 k on  our walk down Ave Diagonales to the Picasso museum, stopping along the way for treats and things, admiring the shops along Las Ramblas, where the city meets, protests, shops, eats, and generally hangs out.   

By the time, we got there, it was closed. So we wondered through the old Gothic Quarter.  This is the Space where Picasso grew up.  His view of the world was born here.  Today, you can see a bit of this sensibility in the vibrant street art connecting pop and protest, low and high culture, decals and spray paint.   The street art is what really inspires me.  But so does the mix of bodies and shops, the libraries and  corner markets planned for every neighborhood by the socialists who took over here after Franco.

These streets are full of secrets.  As number two and I shared ice cream, ran between the streets and the stores, up and down the allays, we found a street corner full of vines and some graffiti.  I pulled it back and found a wall of graffiti.  Words such as “queer” adorned the ornate walls, now covered in vines. 

“Do you want to see something funny” number two explained as we walked home looking at cameras and bike shops and a replica of the stars from Barcelona on the can.  The streets are full of everything.

Outside one of a bike shop, the owner had a sign declaring:  “If you are racist, sexist, or a general asshole, you are not welcome here.”

We ate ice cream, looked at the streets, chased each other down the alleys, and reflected on the day.
“Why do you have tissue paper by you?” I asked her later on as she wrote about the day.
“I need tissues when I write,” she confessed. 

Travel always reminds us of what we have and what is missing, how desperately alone we sometimes become, how isolated we can be from our communities, cities, removed from history and friends, even while connected on facebook.  

Over the next few days, we strolled about, subwayed it out to the beach, getting lost at every turn, not always good lost, either.  Cities of the world  have their subways.  Entering into this labyrinth of bodies and congestion reminds me why I ride a bike.  Your life can pass you by sitting here.

Relieved.we finally emerge from this subterranean world, to find out way out for some tapas.

And then off to the beach.  There is a chapter in my book book, “Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past” by Giles Tremlett, titled “How the Bikini Saved Spain.”  Walking through hoards of bodies, many topless, speaking Italian, Spanish, and countless other languages, dipping in and out of the water, posing for photos, taking in the sun, it’s hard not to think Tremlett is right.   There is something lovely and outrageous about these bodies on the Mediterranean, challenging prudes and sex phobes the world over and most certainly in Spain’s past as they lay there flaunting their stuff.

Its hard to walk away but eventually I make my way out to the Bari Gotic, the Gotic Quarter again to try to take in the Picasso show and its story about Picasso and his life in and out of the old quarter of Barcelona and its relationship to Spain and the world.

  I adore his early portraits as well as Les Meninas, his homage to Velasquez and Spanish art, his portrait of Phillip the IVth, a riffing on the work and monuments of the collection at the Prada.   He loved this work, as all the world does.  Being here, it reminds you you are part of the bigger messy world of history and art connecting us all. Of course, there is the grotesque under side of the colonialism of Spain’s past which we seem to have inherited steamrolling everything in its past.  But for today, the streets of Barcelona are lovely.

Top pablo-picasso-las-meninas series barcelona.

Over the next few day, we walk up and down the Ramblas, strolling into stores, connecting the sensibilities of the red lights, shops, art, the old quarter, the Gothic with the modern, the Gaudis jumping up out of the graffiti from the streets.

The colors from the paint on the walls jumped out at me, day after day, spray pant after graffiti after sticker after decal, alley after medieval corridor, day after day, all day long. 

“We have to see some Gaudi while we’re here,” explained Caroline, even though she missed missed home.

And thats what we saw all afternoon, starting with the Sagrada Familia.

“After I saw that big church that I I will never forget,” number two promised to go back when it is completed.  “It isn’t finished but I will go see it again.  It wasn’t like other churches.  It was like the door to fairyland.  I think the people who made the Wizard of Oz based the Emerald City on it.  The artis who made it was Antoni Gaudi.  He understood things nobody else understood.”

Strolling through the Parc Grell, its hard not to imagine what kind of person Gaudi was.  He really saw thngs as no one else did.  This space, a combination of Hunterwasser and Joshua Tree, the desert and new, the park’s birds and cacti looking looking out the world.  The city has brought so many together, the Moore and Visigoths, touching the world as the world touches it back.


One of the the peaks of the whole trip was walking through the curling stairs up to the roof of La Pedrera, or Mila House.   Between art nouveau and surreal, gothic and modern, like the vertebrae of an animal, the building winds opening up light, up to the sky dropping into the courtyard, its views stretching out between the Roman, Gothic, Medieval and Modern Barcelona.

The vistas from Passig de Garcia just continued and continued, with Casa Batillo, another Gaudi master piece just down the way.

Down through the Gothic Quarter and West, we made our way through the city, past Joan Miro Park.

And further west, we journeyed, past Olympic Stadium, the train station, up to the soccer stadium, Camp Nou, where the Barcelona Football Club with stars from the Argentina and Brazil national teams who battled throughout the summer world cup,  were starting a new season.  Legions poured in for the match, starring a football club, which in their rivalry with Madrid
, has long given the people of Barcelona a reason to flip Franco the finger.

The people of Barcelona seem to love their city, its vibrant streets and history.

Finishing our long days stroll, we’d sit out for a glass of cava.  The sun was still out for everyone to enjoy. 

That night we'd talk over it all over, between dinner, risotto, and my vino tinto and lemonade delight.
After risotto and sangria, we watched the sun finally set on another timeless day, with 17 hours of sunlight and dreams.

Most mornings we read to start the day.  i picked up an old profile with Hemmingway, who seemed to have been with us in one way or another since Pamploma.

Caroline snapped a shot of me reading.  Not sure who took the shot of Papa H below. 

The streets, the squats, the graffiti, the churches, the community gardens, such as Can Masdeu – its all a work of art.  The interplay between Roman walls, relics, streets, cafes, churches, topas, sangrilla, and soccer t shirts, it makes every afternoon between the beach a synagogue, we stumbled into after lunch, lovely.

Gradually, we are findng Barcelona.  its streets and corners becoming more famlar with every loop, every stroll, every mssed turn, lost and found.

The history revealng tself is heartbreaking, just as the colors and heartbreaks teemng from the streets.  The Jews here were blamed for the plague, but kept on practicing their religion after the Inquisition.  One sees very little record of their lives here. 

But artists who made their way here changed history.  Our last day, we swam at the beach and wondered the Gothic Quarter, walking back up Las Ramblas for a final bite in town.

We wandered and ate and looked at art all day long.
Later that night, we wandered to Flash Flash, a restaurant where Marquez used to dine during his stay here in the late 1960's. Over our last meal, we talked about Marquez and the boom writers and the way history has change here.

Scenes from Flash Flash, Marquez and family 1969 Barcelona

We’ve journeyed a lot this summer from Bourban Street in New Orleans to Catalon Barcelona, where its been three hundred years now that Spain has controlled this territory.  September 11th, 1714 Catalon was exorbed into Spain.  Memory of the anniversary  is everywhere..  Lookng at the world, it looks like wars looming again.  Another 9/11 another war.

Oddly, the image of Global Brooklyn is everywhere.  it was time for us to get back there,  time to go home from our journey.

leaving barcelona


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