Mon 16 Apr 2007
Tuesday, March 20
Dave and I realized the night before that our week was about to get crowded. Wednesday we were splitting up because he wanted to do a four-hour bike tour and then take a Catalan cooking class. Thursday we were flying to Bilbao, and Friday we were heading to Montserrat. All of that meant that if we wanted to do certain things together, we better get those done on Tuesday. That led to a jam-packed day in which we went to the Museum of Catalan History, the Sagrada Familia and the Picasso Museum. And on top of that we had the tastiest meal of the entire week, or one of the tastiest–it’s so hard to choose.
Anyway, the Catalan history museum isn’t on the map for most tourists, judging from the sparse attendance. In fact, Dave and I were two of the few adults there. There were a number of school groups, though, and the kids looked just as bored as I had been at history museums when I was a child. Fortunately, I’m an adult, and so I found the whole thing much more interesting. The material and dioramas were dry, but the information was still fascinating. And it was helpful to see how Catalonia had developed over the centuries into a distinct culture/region. I’m a sucker for medieval history, so I found that time period particularly fascinating, and learning about the Spanish Civil War helped put that part of the 20th century in a greater context. Afterwards, we followed the advice of the Barcelona guidebook Dave had brought and had lunch at one of the best paella places in town.
Next, we decided to head to the Sagrada Familia by first walking to Citadel Park. The park itself is nothing special, particularly compared to Parc Guell, but it does have the impressive Arc de Triomf. As one guidebook wryly puts it, though, it’s not clear what triumph Spain has to celebrate. Still it made for a fun picture.
And then we tried to find Gaudi’s most impressive structure. But as often happened that week, I got lost. I couldn’t figure out which way was which. And even looking at the sun didn’t seem to help. Finally as the afternoon was winding down, we gave up and hailed a cab. A fortunate choice, as that gave us plenty of time to explore what is simply an incredible cathedral. Gaudi designed it, and they’ve been trying to build it, off and on, for 125 years. As you can see from my pictures, “on” is the current mode, with scaffolding all over the structure. Still, even what we could see was hugely impressive. Dave remarked that when it’s completed (in another 20-30 years), the Sagrada Familia might be the world’s most amazing building.
The Picasso Museum was open later, so we had plenty of time to get there and enjoy. I like Picasso a lot but only certain aspects of his work: his Cubist paintings and the works in which he’s relatively controlled. When he has a wide color palette, I find him less satisfying. The museum itself is a rather dull affair, and the lighting is surprisingly poor. Furthermore, since the work was taken from Picasso’s estate after he died, these are all the paintings that he couldn’t sell. Some of his early works are fun, while others are clearly indebted to various Impressionists he had been studying. And three rooms are given over to dozens of paintings inspired by Velazquez’s “The Maids of Honor.” This last section has a cool multi-media presentation that compares Picasso’s works to Velazquez’s masterpiece, which makes what Picasso was doing much more accessible. Though, as I told Dave later, it doesn’t quite extinguish the smell of fraud.
After three different “museums,” Dave and I are ready to get some food and call it a day. Tapas awaits.
Wednesday, March 21
When Dave and I travel together, we often split up around the fourth day. It’s not that we’ve gotten tired of each other (well maybe a little), we just both need to be alone at times. And it helps because we also have different interests. A four-hour bike tour of Barcelona holds no appeal for me. Going to another art museum and cathedral holds little interest for Dave.
So I spent some time in the morning wandering through the Raval neighborhood west of the Rambla. Then it’s off to Barcelona’s contemporary art museum. The modern building was designed by Richard Meier. It strikes me as arrogantly oblivious of its surroundings, but the plaza is a big hit with the skateboarders. The permanent collection has some nice pieces, particularly of Antonio Tapies. More on him in a separate post. But it was the incredible installations of Janet Cardiff and George Miller that caught my eye. One room felt like I was walking into someone’s subconscious, while “The Killing Machine” was a profoundly creepy meditation on the institutionalization of torture. Best of all, though, was Cardiff’s stunning “The Forty Part Motet,” but I’ll blog about that at greater length.
More wandering led me eventually to Barcelona’s main cathedral, Catedral de la Seu, or the Gothic Cathedral. It’s an impressive building, but it’s so dark inside and so devoted to the Catholic veneration of the saints that I found it rather oppressive. Standing on the roof or in the beautiful cloisters was much more inviting.
With my eyes tired of looking, I decided to settle in for a long but early meal. In fact, I was almost the only person in restaurant at 5pm, but that didn’t make the paella taste any worse. I also had the experience of reading the Herald Tribune in a foreign country. I realize that some of the Herald Tribune’s coverage is taken from the New York Times, but it’s still interesting to see how another part of the world sees the U.S. With irritation and bafflement is a short summary.
After a very relaxing meal, I took to the streets for some more wandering as well as playing with some night photography. I turned in fairly early, as we had an early flight to Bilbao in the morning. Dave came in after his cooking class, and we caught up on our respective days.
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