Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Adios Barcelona!

I didn't think I would see the inside of the Sagrada Familia before I left Barcelona, but the art history teacher decided to take the group early Monday morning, before the crowds descended, so Brandon and I tagged along.  I'm so glad I didn't leave without seeing it.  It's unlike any church I have ever been in, and I feel like I went in more churches when Brandon taught in Italy than I can count.  From everything I've read, Gaudi based his design on natural forms - trees, wax honeybee combs, snail shells, crystals, and other naturally mathematical shapes.  But, when I first entered the building, my impression was that I had entered an alien vessel.  And not just any space ship, but what must be the mother ship!  Even the geometric sculptural guy (Christ?) standing on the balcony looks like something out of the 2001 Space Odyssey.    

It's probably because I'm a science fiction fan, and I've watched too much Battlestar Galactica, but the columns looked like something out of this world.  The sensation was enhanced by the deep rumblings of the ongoing construction that sounded just like the deep mechanical purring of a well oiled spaceship.  Even the soft chanting music that was playing on several video displays couldn't mask the faint pulsing roar of the core reactor.  

I realize that it's more likely that the creators of some of my favorite space adventure shows were inspired by Gaudi's work, than it is likely that Guadi was an alien, but who knows, really? 

The walls even glowed green from the light pouring through the stained glass windows.  The widow designs are purely abstract; there are no depictions of biblical scenes, like one would expect in a church.  

The signage said that Gaudi intended for ceiling and columns to give the impression of standing in a forest.  Maybe... but to me the columns looked less like tree trunks holding up a leafy canopy, and more like tendons stretched tight along the spine of an animal.  And cylons could pop out of those strange bottle cap shaped escape pods any minute.  

The columns had oval shaped glass and wire windows, with lights in them.  Do these look like the trimmed branches of a tree?  Or do they look like the tanks the humans floated in while powering the matrix with their brain energy?  Whatever they are, this is a fantastic building, and I'm glad I got to see it before it blasts off for the final frontier.    

How sweet, young love!  Well, it was sweet the first dozen or so times I saw couples making out in public, but it wasn't long before it became such a common sight that we started a running joke about it.  One of Brandon's drawing students was complaining that everywhere she sat to draw there were people sitting behind her kissing.  She said it sounded like they were eating pasta.  Ha!  So for the rest of our trip we would spot people, as Brandon said "trying to eat each others face" and give the warning "pasta eaters - straight ahead" or wherever they happened to be.  I don't know if it's the vacation-like atmosphere of Barcelona, the heat, or the all the exposed and sun tanned skin, but some people in this city just can't keep their lips to their selves.  There seems to be no shame in public displays of affection.   Actually, in general, most city natives are physically close in ways I'm not used to.  They stand close when talking, they touch each other, and not just lovers, but even young men seem to be comfortable walking with their arms around each other, or sitting closer than boys I grew up around would have considered manly behavior.  Fathers hold the hands of their big sons, even.  I've seen a lot of love during my time here.  

Today was our last day in Barcelona.  Tonight we have a group dinner and chilled bottle of champagne to enjoy before we start the long trip home in the morning.  Brandon has been here thirty days, and I have been here seventeen.  At times it feels like even longer, but right now I can't believe it's over.  Today I used the last ride on my fifty trip metro card.  Fifty metro rides!  No wonder I'm tired of the metro.  Our last outing was to the National Art Museum of Catalonia.  You really have to want to see some art to walk up all those steps!

We enjoyed the art, especially the Tapies section.  But, I have been feeling like I'm tired of looking at things.  I mean, we've been all over this city, and even outside the city, looking and looking at some fantastic stuff, but I've started getting excited when we have dirty dishes just so I have something to do with my hands.  I think this means that this trip has totally exhausted any exploration desires I may have had, and I should be able to fully enjoy going back home to all my projects, my day to day chores, and even -gasp!- my job.  Brandon says that lately he finds himself day dreaming about fixing his tractor tire, so I think he's had enough travel to last him awhile too.  

It's been a blog-tastic voyage!  I've tried travel journals before, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the blog more than the paper version.  I really liked culling through my photos the day I took them, and now I have a record of what I saw, that is already matched with the photos.  Plus, I like imagining that I am sharing our adventures as we have them (Hi Mom!  See you soon!).  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Treasure at the Mercantic

Recently, I read an article about distilling fermented fruit to make what the french call eau de vie.  The article claims that distilling fermented fruit is a better way to capture the aroma of fruit, particularly apple and pear, than making wine.  There were photographs in the article of lovely copper pot stills, that are more popular in Europe, especially France, than in the US where home distillation isn't exactly legal.  Spain and France are neighbors!  I wonder...

So, when I got to Barcelona, I tasked Brandon with finding a place to buy a copper pot still.  He searched on the interweb and didn't have any luck.  There were places to order new ones, but he couldn't find any shops that sold them.  

Then, when we took our trip to Val de Nuria, there were cabinets in the little museum with displays of antique goat bells.  The goat farmers in the Pyrenees would attach giant bells to their goats so they could locate them as the foraged on the mountainside.  I thought it would be great to have a Spanish goat bell as a souvenir of our trip, you know, for my non-existent goat.  Best of all, this gives me an excuse to go shopping at a flea market!  The biggest antique market slash junk store that I could find online was the Mercantic, and it was recommended that the best shopping was Sunday mornings, when the outdoor vendors set up.  

The art history teacher, who is a friend of ours, has lived in Barcelona and is very familiar with the city.  She hadn't heard of the Mercantic, so I was a bit worried that I wasn't on the right track, especially since we had to take a train outside the city to a place that seemed deserted of people.  When we came out of the train station we kept saying "can this be right?"  It just didn't seem like a place for a flea market.  But once we found the right place and climbed a set of steps, it was a junk shoppers paradise!  What a shame it is so far from my house.  I wanted one of these old horse carts bad enough to buy a horse!


You can't really tell from the photos, but these round bottomed glass jugs resting in baskets are huge.  Probably fifteen gallons or more.  Are they for wine? 

Racks of fur coats and stands full of walking canes with fancy tops.  I never knew I needed these things. 

Who doesn't want a snow ski scooter? 

The indoor section of the market had everything you could imagine, from sparkly light fixtures to antiques to contemporary furniture, but the outdoor sellers where my favorites.  They had boxes of hinges, old locks with skeleton keys, chess boards made from spark plugs, old farm tools, tacky art, salvaged sinks, faucets - they had it all.  I even found a brass bell for my imaginary goat.  For only five euros, too.  

After we exhausted the outdoor sellers we stepped into the indoor section which is arranged like a peddlers mall, with lots of small booths, and into the first booth to the right, which was so loaded with dusty stuff that there was only a walking path through the center and stuff hanging from the ceiling tickling our heads.  I said to Brandon "oh, I wonder if I could find a pot still while we are here?" and when our friend said "what's a pot still" we started to describe it and then I said "there's one!"  It was on a shelf, tucked behind so much stuff all we could see was the curved copper top.  How weird is that?   Did I see it, and my subconscious made me mention it?  I don't know, but when we started to dig it out of it's nest of junk the seller came over and Brandon attempted to haggle with him and he wouldn't budge.  He said it was "preu de crisi" a crisis price.  I was trying to make sure it had all it's working parts, and he assured me it was "funcional" and that he had used it himself.  I didn't really believe this, but he seemed knowledgeable in it's operation.  

It was priced similar to new ones that I have seen online, but with no shipping costs, and that doesn't even factor in the value of finding it on my trip to Spain.  And this one has character, and a history!  Do you wonder why he wouldn't come down?  But, since he wouldn't take a lower price, wanted only cash, and I had no idea if these things were scattered throughout the market since we had just walked into the first booth, we walked away.  After we searched most of the market, and didn't see another one, Brandon searched out an ATM, but it was out of money.  So, Brandon scrounged up all our cash, borrowed some from our friend, and went back to the seller (without me and my terrible poker face) and told him this was all we got, take or leave it.  I got it!  For thirty euros less than what he was asking, too.  Now I will always remember Catalonia while I enjoy eau de vie made from my pear tree while listening to my Spanish goat bell.  Perfecte!  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Human Persons Like Animal Persons

Saturday at the zoo!  Even though I know it's normally a mistake to visit a zoo in the hottest part of the summer, during the hottest part of the day, and on the busiest day of the week, we braved the heat and the crowded metro to visit the Zoologic de Barcelona.  The entry fee was steep, but the dolphin show and the bear were worth the entry fee alone.  

I haven't seen a dolphin show since I was a kid, so I thought it was strange to find myself watching dolphins perform just days after the government in India announced that dolphins were "non-human persons" with rights, and banned dolphin performances in order to discourage the capture and confinement of these intelligent animals.  Apparently, India is the fourth country to ban dolphin shows and elevate dolphins above animal status.  Outside this zoo were young people, mostly young women, and more than just a few with haired dyed blue or purple, holding signs and protesting the dolphin slavery.  I have to admit that I haven't deeply considered dolphin shows, or where I stand on viewing them, but since I paid to see the show as part of my entry fee, and couldn't glean enough meaningful information from the posters to sway me, we joined the majority of zoo goers and watched the show.  It was fun, the dolphins were beautiful, and the crowd was ooh-ing and ah-ing through the whole show.  

The zoo seemed to have more birds on display than other zoo's I have visited.  Most were in giant outdoor aviaries; Barcelona must have a climate that is bird friendly.  It was strange to see all the different types of parrots on display, and then watch the wild parrots nesting in the palm trees above.  My favorite birds were the peacocks that were roaming free and making their eerie call.  I see peacocks in my future.  

The bear was relaxing in his pool while he held his toes, Winnie the Poo style.  Even though there were signs asking that people not feed the animals, in at least three languages, people were rewarding the bear with snacks.  He was hard to resist.  

Monkeys are silly!

For dinner we met up with the other "adults" in our group, and went out for drinks and tapas at a restaurant reviewed by the New York Times.  It was by far the best tapas we have eaten.  It was the most expensive too.  

We stared with some bread smeared with tomato, fish roe, and cured wagyu beef.  I've heard of wagyu beef before, which is a type of fancy Japanese cattle that is reported to have super tasty flavor and marbling.  Paper thin strips of wagyu jerky is probably the only way I'll ever be able to afford to try it.  

Then we had chicken strips breaded with potato chips, which were actually amazing, and some bombas, which are deep fried mashed potato balls with meat in them.  

Then, to finish the meal, we had rabbit ribs and little fried fishes.  I thought it was appropriate that on zoo day we had a meal that included at least four types of animal meat.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Art is Trash

I have looked at so much art in Barcelona!  Public art, graffiti art, museum art, religious art, ancient art, and even student art.  I may be suffering from art overload because I have started to be underwhelmed by some fantastic stuff.  

For the last field day of the drawing class, the students set up near the Arc de Triomf, which is a giant brick arch built in the late eighteen hundreds.  It is... real big.  It has some sculptural details which feature bat creatures which I enjoyed, but really the best part, in my opinion, was the long rows of sculptural lamp posts and palm trees which flank the walkway leading to the arch.  Also fun to see were the groups of old men shouting, playing cards, and watching some kind of game with hard balls they were throwing in sand pits.  One funny older man was getting a kick out of Brandon's beard, and basically disparaged Brandon's virility when Brandon insisted that his beard was "fantastico" and shouldn't be cut as the man was encouraging.  I won't tell you what hand gestures the man used to get his point across, but he was fluent in dirty old man pantomime and made us laugh.  

At the opposite end of the path of from the Arc de Triomf, was a park featuring a very over the top fountain topped with golden chariot horses and ringed with winged dragons.  Barcelona seems to be a very dog friendly city.  We see dogs on leashes on the streets, outside cafe's, tied to posts outside of shops, and even riding the metro.  Here in this park, the dogs were off leash and chasing each other, which was fun to watch.  Also fun to watch, was a young shirtless and barefooted man, with interesting tattoos and a deep tan, doing some extreme yoga in one of the pavilions.  At one point he was standing on his head and doing the splits in the air.  I told Brandon that he should put a collection cup out because he was putting on a better show that most of the many street performers we have seen.  For some reason Brandon wasn't as impressed as me and didn't think he would make much money.

Who doesn't love zebra graffiti? 

This afternoon Brandon took me to see Parc Guell, which is an elaborate architectural garden designed by Antoni Gaudi in the early nineteen hundreds, and was intended to be a ritzy housing development.  Apparently the housing thing didn't pan out, since there are only two houses, one of which Gaudi lived in, but now the park is owned by the city as is free for all to enjoy.  The grounds are supposed to "bring peace and calm", but we must have visited at a bad time of day because it was packed!  There we so many people that I felt like we were standing in line to see the sights, and the sun was baking everyone.  This was not bringing me peace and calm.  

I think that if I hadn't already seen several of Gaudi's works, hadn't already enjoyed scenic views of the city, and hadn't seen so many other city parks with more elaborate gardens, I would have enjoyed Parc Guell more, despite the crowds and the heat.  Each terrace had street musicians, trinket sellers, and even someone putting on a puppet show.  

I thought one of the best parts of the park was under the terrace, where there are large columns, and the roof was like giant craters with shiny mosaic tiles.  It was cool in the shade, and a great place to watch kids chase pigeons and play hide and seek behind the columns.  It is really like a fantasy land.  

Some of the other collonades were made from earthy stone, and seemed to defy gravity.  

On the walk out of the park this graffiti chicken kept showing up.  What does it mean?  

After fighting the heat in the park, we decided to enjoy the air conditioning in the Antoni Tapies museum, which surprised us both because it was such a good show and the museum was so nice and we practically had the place to ourselves.  Tapies is a Barcelona artist, who has made work since the nineteen forties and is considered one the most famous European artists of his generation, having shows in Paris and New York in the seventies. I don't know how we have never heard of him before but we both liked his work and enjoyed the videos that were made in the sixties of him creating his sculptural mixed media paintings.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lobezno Inmortal

In the photo above you can see the church and abbey of Montserrat, which was built high on a jagged mountain to house the Virgin of Montserrat, a legendary Spanish sculpture reportedly found in a nearby cave.  Or maybe the legend is that shepard children saw Mary in the rocks?  I'm not sure, but something miraculous like that.  The setting is so beautiful, and so isolated, that I can see why it is considered a holy place.  The monastery still houses monks, and people make pilgrimages to Montserrat.  

This was an extremely beautiful place to visit.  Our entire group traveled by train, and then by cable car to the top of the mountain to visit the church and explore some of the hiking trails.  

There are no roads to get to the monastery, so I can't imagine how monks managed to build such an elaborate church.  A cable train makes it easier to get to these days.  We decided to take the cable car instead of the train which was one of the scariest rides I have ever taken.  

I didn't take photos inside the church, but the interior was practically plated in gold and silver.  It was so shiny!  There were stupidly long lines to visit the sculpture of the virgin, so Brandon and  I elected to enjoy the views of the mountain instead of seeing the sculpture up close.  

The trail we selected to hike lead us to the Holy Cave, following the Path of the Rosary.  In the picture above you can see the chapel of the Holy Cave perched on the side of the mountain.  When we first saw the end destination I thought there would be no way we could walk to it.  I thought we would have to sprout wings or strap on climbing gear to get there from the starting point.  

Along the trail there were sculptures by Spanish artists, including Gaudi, to represent stations on the rosary.  The views were spectacular.  

I took the picture above from the trail.  Can you see those two tiny yellow dots near the bottom center of the photo?  That's the cable car!  I can't believe we did that.  Twice!

I enjoyed the chapel at the holy cave more than the famous church because we were the only people there and it was so peaceful.  The chapel is built right into the rock, and a reproduction of the virgin sculpture rests on a stone shelf.  I'm putting our trip to Montserrat on the top of my list of favorite places I've visited in Spain.  

After catching the last train back to Barcelona we decided to catch the metro to the movie theater to see Lobezno Inmortal, which is the Spanish title of the new Wolverine movie.  We've been joking about Lobezno all week because there are advertisements for the movie plastered all over the city and Brandon loves to say "Lobezno Inmortal" in his dramatic movie dubbed Spanish voice.  While we were waiting for the movie to start we walked around a mall and got kick out of the milk vending machine in the photo above.  Is it weird to bring a bottle and buy milk by the liter?  I thought the vending machines full of books were strange too.  

Lobezno was terrible!  Worse even than I expected, which almost made it worth the cost of the tickets just so we could spend the next few hours rehashing all the terrible things about the movie.  We had hours to complain about it, because the movie was out so late that the metro wasn't running so we got the opportunity to figure out the night bus.  Barcelona is a late night town, and most people don't go out for dinner until nine anyway, so by one in the morning there were plenty of characters on the bus with us.  Two drunk ladies got on the bus and refused to pay.  Brandon and I were mostly interpreting from body language and snippets of Spanish we understand, but from what we could tell the driver threatened to call the police if they didn't get off or pay, which they refused to do.  This angered the other passengers and they were very vocal about expressing their anger to the women that wouldn't pay or leave.  Finally one passenger said she would pay their way if they would come to the front of the bus but when they got to the door she shoved them out and the driver slammed the door and we drove off.  Team work!
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