Friday, October 29, 2010

View of Barcelona from Parc Güell & Other Sites

I can hardly believe that it's been over ten years since I lived in Barcelona. Back in 2000, I stayed there for six months while conducting research for my doctorate. I worked mostly in the the Biblioteca de Catalunya and the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón. At the time, I shared a rented apartment with a colleague and friend, which was only 10 minutes away from Parc Güell. I used go up there regularly in the mornings to enjoy the view with an espresso and croissant, before I headed to the archive. That was definitely a good grad school experience!  Nothing penitential about it!  Perhaps this was the point in my life when I began to lose interest in traveling back in time to experience life in the cloister...  Looking back, I think that this cleavage had something to do with my being confronted by the imaginative splendour of Antoni Gaudi's architecture, and the raw energy and frantic street-life of Barcelona. This is why I was so glad that Gerry and Tim thought Parc Güell to be a perfect place to begin our exploration of the city, and of the central importance of Gaudi's work within it. The park has many wonderful perches that offer unique viewpoints of the city and the beautiful Mediterranean Sea that lies beyond. 

On our first full day in Barcelona, we met at the Gaudi museum, "La Pedrera", which was just a metro ride away from our apartment downtown, and a close walk for the students from their hostel on the Passeig de Gracia.

Several floors of the Pedrera are actually inaccessible because they contain suites that are privately owned. But the building, on the whole, offers a splendid example of Gaudi's architectural style -- curvy halls, doors, & windows in place of straight lines and right angles.  Although the building doesn't look tall from the outside, the inner spiral staircase leading up to the top floor winds around, and around, and around, and around... quite dizzying!  From the rooftop are Gaudi's famous sculptures that must have been a source of inspiration for the creators of Star Wars ...

From the roof of the Pedrera, we also had a panoramic view of the city, and could see in the distance another of Gaudi's famous works, the "Sagrada Familia":

While the students explored the Sagrada Familia from the inside, Dr. Honigsblum (Gerry) and I sat at a cafe across the road, and discussed the compelling scene of the crucifixion on the back facade of the church (see below). For me, the angular shape of the human figures seemed reminiscent of socialist monuments and sculptures of the early 20th century. Gerry pointed out the unusual depiction of the triumphant, fist-clenched Jesus on the cross.  I think that a few of the students did not appreciate our analysis ... are they "against interpretation" ?  Well, who knows... whatever the case, I would like to read their thoughts about this Gaudi creation (their assignment for Gerry's art history class).  

Later that day, I took Kerstin, Melanie & Lauren, on a tour of the old Gothic quarter (Barri Gotic).  I wanted to show them, in particular, the central market, the cathedral, the Jewish quarter ("Call") -- old synagogue and Intepretative Center -- and the neighbourhood known as "Santa Maria del Mar", which has wonderful artisan shops (Melanie did not want to see anymore kitschy gifts!) as well as one of my favourite gothic churches. Unfortunately, bad memory and a crummy map got me lost on the way to Santa Maria del Mar ...  My map looked something like this:

"Ladies, ladies, please take out your maps and help me find the place!  You will be rewarded!"  And so, they did ... indeed, once they got oriented, they found Santa Maria del Mar within minutes!  To celebrate, I bought them a refreshment ... (don't think Lauren enjoyed this, but the others did):

The quarter of Santa Maria del Mar was mostly settled in the Middle Ages by merchants, who used their money to fund the construction of a beautiful Gothic church. This connection is still apparent:  near the altar, a ship stands prominently in front of a sculpture of Virgin & Child (while the cross is off to the side and rather diminutive in size).  As the centerpiece suggests, the merchants worshiped Mary as their intercessor and protector -- she was viewed especially as the protector of merchant-seamen and sailors (Barcelona was an important port-city at this time and, together with Valencia to the south, the center of an expanding Aragonese Mediterranean "empire"):

That night, we met the rest of the group in the Plaça Reial, had dinner, and then were treated by Tim and Gerry to a Flamenco show at "Tarantos".  It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Barcelona. While Flamenco isn't a typical form of Catalan dance, it is, more generally for us, a powerful expression of what we associate with Spanish culture ... and it IS powerful!  I think Gerry summed up my feelings best when he said, after the show, "now, all is right in the world."  It must take a unique blending of peoples and cultures to create such an art form ... if only I could watch Flamenco dance every night!

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