Barcelona, City of Art
By Sue Gazell
I have been so fortunate to visit Barcelona twice in my life. The first time, in 2009, my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary by spending a month in this enchanting city. We rented an apartment in the gothic section off the lower Rambla, the main boulevard that runs from the ocean for about a mile to Placa Catalunya, the central hub of the city. This wide boulevard, where tourists stroll, is a wonder of artwork, food, performance artists, souvenir stalls, and bird and flower vendors.
The gothic section of Barcelona is a medieval maze of narrow streets. I never tired of wandering through those crooked streets of small shops and tiny family run restaurants, discovering something new every time.
Spain observes siestas from about 2-5 pm. All commerce, including restaurants, shuts down. Street level storefronts have metal doors that roll down during siestas and at night, and they are all decorated. This is the front of a vegetarian restaurant. A carrot appears to be attacking – what, a bell pepper?
Perhaps the most interesting and unusual thing about Barcelona is it’s unique architecture, most famous for hometown architect Antoni Gaudi. This genius of modernism created some of the most astounding buildings. He is most noted for his parabolic arches and incorporating patterns from nature in his designs.
It is inconceivable that he created any one of these buildings in his lifetime, much less all the residences, churches, a park (Parc Guell), and even an entire industrial city, Colonia Guell. He designed every detail: every doorknob, every tile, every cornice and window frame. His magnum opus is the Sagrada Familia, an immense cathedral that he was never able to complete. After 100 years, it is still under construction. Looming over the city at 394 feet, it will eventually reach 560 feet when it’s finished in approximately 2041. It will have 18 towers.
My husband, harmonicist PT Gazell, performed with the local jazz group Shine in 2009, and we returned in 2011 for another month of music and eating. This time we stayed for the first week with people we had met on the previous trip. Barcelona is beginning to feel like home! After that, so that our stay would not get tedious for them, we moved into an apartment in the fashionable neighborhood of Gracia, where you can buy feather dresses!
Spaniards love their cigarettes, and on our first visit, the smoke was thick in nightclubs and restaurants. Since then, Spain has prohibited smoking in all public places. What a different experience this was in 2011! One place where PT, on the right, performed is called the Pipa (Pipe) Club, where you can no longer smoke.
It is on the second story of Placa Reial, just off the Rambla. The Placa was once a fashionable residence, but has transformed into restaurants, pensions and hostels. The locked Pipa Club entrance is hidden in a corner of the plaza, and one must press the door buzzer to be admitted. Then, it’s a climb up several flights of dark stairs to the club. Tall windows overlook the plaza below. It is a lively place to sit and people watch.
Language was an interesting problem. I knew a tiny bit of Spanish, our hosts knew a tiny bit of English. The Spanish spoken here is Castilian, so the “s”es sound like “th”. I would try to speak correctly, but I always felt like I was mocking a person with a speech impediment. However, many people here speak Catalan, which sounds nothing like Spanish. And there, I was totally lost.
Barcelona is dotted with farmers markets, where we bought much of our food. The most famous, the Boqueria, is just off the Rambla. You can feast on Spanish cheeses, olives, nuts, seafood – que bueno! Wines are generally inexpensive, and this region is noted for its riojas, or reds, and the sparkling cava, Spain’s “champaigne”.
Barcelona was home to Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, and a bit further out in the city of Figuera, Salvador Dali. There is a museum devoted exclusively to each of these artists. How incredible it is to walk the same streets and eat in the same establishments as Picasso, Miro, Dali, and Gaudi. It is indeed a city rich in some of the finest art in the world.