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Archive for October, 2011

So often when I’ve been thinking about something, the universe seems to conspire and that “something” crops up again in another context.

I had been bothered by the realisation that so much  great art and architecture has come at the expense or in the face of great poverty. Not long ago I started reading a biography of Michaelangelo.  He grew up in Florence where the Renaissance was born. Michaelangelo mixed with the scholars, painters, poets and philosophers of the time and admired and respected Lorenzo de’Medici (Lorenzo the Maginificent, the wealthy and influential “ruler” of Florence) who encouraged them. At the same time a Dominican friar, Savonarola, was vehemently preaching against the excesses of Florence and Rome.

The biographer, Bruno Nardini, describes the tension Michaelangelo felt. “As an artist he had no doubts. Art could only be nourished by intelligence and beauty, it could only unfold and flower around the Magnicent (Lorenzo). But as a Christian for whom life is only a moment of trial, he was forced to admit that Savonarola was right, that he was proclaiming against the vanity of all, the sinfulness of any idea that did not lead back to Christ.”

Nardini suggests that Michaelangelo, while continuing to study sculpture, also nurtured his soul through the scriptures and so was able to bridge the beauty of art, and the Christian message.

It had not occurred to me that the gifted creators of superb art might have to reconcile the excesses of their art with their spiritual beliefs.

My awareness of their potential dilemma makes me appreciate their talent and genius all the more.

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Much European art, particularly from earlier centuries, has been created at the behest of the rich and powerful often as propaganda. This raises the question, are we complicit in their manipulations when we admire and glorify these works of art?

Louis fourteenth built his superb palace at Versailles, with the great Hall of Mirrors, the Grand Canal, and the Neptune Statue. He built Triannon for he and his mistress to live in. Marie Antoinette built petit Triannon to was escape the pressures of officialdom, and the hamlet of Austrian style homes, so her children could experience “normal” life, and to assuage her homesickness. These whims were created while the people were starving. Yet we admire the extraordinarily beautiful architecture and the art within without a thought for the historical context, at least not in terms of the ordinary people.

Was it wrong to build these extravagances while the people starved? Would the world be poorer now if we didn’t have the palace of Versailles?

Catherine de Medici had a retrospective of her life created by the great Dutch artist, Rubens. It consists of twenty four huge paintings. It is possibly Ruben’s finest work. Yet Catherine de Medici was guilty of many crimes while she was regent of France. Does this is any way nullify our enjoyment of Ruben’s work? For me it doesn’t. In a perverse way it heightens my appreciation of the allegorical works, and adds another dimension to it. Does that mean I condone her actions?

Florence is a beautiful city, mostly because of the palaces and the buildings. Much of this building took place at the end of the fifteenth century. The government encouraged building by giving tax exemptions for forty years. So who paid the taxes? Probably the poor, who could not afford to build. So the rich were standing on the shoulders of the poor, who were staggering under the weight of their greed. Do we ever stop to think how this great architecture was paid for? How Michaelangelo’s genius work was paid for?

Venice was an egalitarian state at that time. Egalitarian for the rich and noble. The few thousand rich men met to make decisions in the Palace of the Doge. The Doge did not rule, he was a figurehead for these decision makers. But there was no equality for the workers. Who paid for the magnificent palace with it’s superb artwork by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronaze?

The superb art in the churches in both Florence and Venice usually includes figures of the patrons amongst the saints, usually showing the saints’ approval of them. Are we bothered by this propaganda, aimed at the workers?

There is certainly an amorality that can be disturbing. I don’t believe that great art should be nurtured and admired at any cost. But I do believe that knowing the historical context of this great work adds a dimension that increases my appreciation of it. I admire those geniuses.

But let’s not forget the little people.

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More than a week after returning from Europe I still feel as if I’ve lost something, but I’m not sure what.

Perhaps it’s the stimulation of doing something new and interesting every day. Perhaps it’s the company 24/7 of someone who shares my new interests in art history and architecture, who enables me to explore places that I’d otherwise be excluded from, and who is happy to match my pace, fast or slow.

It’s one thing to be aware of fabulous art and colourful history, but another to be immersed in it. To walk into a church not knowing what marvelous artwork I’ll find is to be filled with a sense of anticipation. To walk into a museum knowing I’ll see a famous work of art is to be filled with a sense of excitement. To see an eleventh century frieze i’ve been told i’ll find in a museum i’ve never heard of is to be filled with amazement at its unexpected beauty. To experience a Michaelangelo statue is to fill my senses … To see a Titian or Veronaze or Tintoretto in situ, and know that THIS is the only place I’ll ever see it is to be filled with awe. To have the audacity to rotate a Rodin statue on its plinth is to be filled with joy. To share these breathtaking moments with someone who is equally blown away is priceless.

I’ve combined the mundane with the famed … Had a picnic on the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower as the sun sets and watched the light show begin … People watched beside the Trevi Fountain … Had lunch on the steps of Sacre Coeur looking out across Paris … Bought a scarf from a street hawker in anticipation of a cool evening when we ‘ve decided to watch the magic fountain … Amused taxi drivers with our broken phrases in German, Italian, French, Spanish …

It’s been an experience, not only filled with wonder and awe and fun, but so much learning. Sometimes my head hurt with the amount of history and information I was desperate to process.

So what now?

I can plan weekends away with Peter so we can have more good times together; I can plan how to afford the time and costs of getting back to Europe, hungry for more art and history; I can learn to speak French because that’s somewhere we definitely want to explore more of; I can read more about what we have seen – my daughter has lent me book “Michaelangelo” and its opening pages take me straight to sixteenth century Florence.

We live in a world that has been shaped by the people and events that have gone before us. Learning something of these is almost an overwhelming task. I have touched on just a tiny portion of just one culture.

It’s like nibbling at a giant chocolate cake. Eat too much and I’ll be gorged, have too little and I’ll be unsatisfied, hungry for more. Right now, that’s where I am, unsatisfied. I can’t have it all, but I can have a little more!

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Europe Travel Log – Barcelona to Wellington (via Munich, Hong Kong and Auckland)

My wheelchair is packed away, on its way to the aircraft hold in Barcelona!

No more wheeling … No more gloves … No more filthy gloves … No more dirty hands … Ahhh … Clean hands …

I have a love hate relationship with the wheelchair. I have walked around Venice and Florence where the public transport has literally dropped me where I have needed to go. But to explore bigger cities I have needed the wheelchair. Even the push rims get dirty, my gloves get dirty, my hands get dirty.

My relief at having clean hands is immeasurable!

Goodbye Barcelona, hello Munich (for all of an hour or so!)

At Munich I am met with a golf cart. The driver is much more sedate than the drivers at Singapore and Frankfurt. Much less fun. She only beeps her horn once.

True to the German reputation of efficiency, twenty minutes later we are picked up from the lounge by another golf cart and driven less than one hundred metres so we can wait for nearly an hour with all the plebs, rather than the patricians in the lounge. What the heck?

Oh well, there’s always the lounge at Hong Kong to indulge ourselves!

Where Munich used a golf cart to go fifty metres, Hong Kong uses a wheelchair to go from one end of the terminal to the other!

Now we’re in the Thai lounge and they’re very helpful and friendly. Despite it not being breakfast time they manage to find me the muesli I crave. What a benchmark in customer service!

The flights back to New Zealand are more relaxed than the flights to Europe. When I left New Zealand I had done everything I could think of to manage potential problems with my health. This should have eliminated all anxiety, however, I didn’t want any health issues to interfere with our “grand tour”. It took a little while to relax and focus on having a good time. Also, one of my biggest concerns was how my body would react to sitting confined … No stretching, no walking … No problem – no spasm, no pain!

So knowing that i can tolerate long flights of eleven hours or more is great. It opens the door to more travel! So kids, no inheritance, but come fly with me and Peter!

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Europe Travel Log – Barcelona

Tuesday 27 September

Our hotel is in the gothic district, next to Las Ramblas. It’s vibrant and animated. It’s quirky and I don’t think we’ll be out late at night. I think it could be a little seedy later on … For now, it’s fun.

It’s still warm at 7.30pm when we leave our hotel for the markets about three hundred metres away. We take a diversion through the Placa Reial, a ninetenth century square with a fountain in the centre. Around the edges are cafes and diners, and there are buskers.

But we’re headed for the Mercat de la Boqueria, a fresh food market with everything from fromtages (sliced so thinly), to amazing fruit and vegetables. We are dining on fresh raspberries and strawberries, as well as the usual. And it all costs a pittance.

On our way back we see the usual beggars (they are everywhere we’ve been) as well as homeless people dossing down in doorways and it’s barely 8.30. There is such a mix of shops and people around our hotel it’s hard to know what to make of the area. There’s MacDonalds and KFC on the corner, Subway and Starbucks not far away, as well as swanky cafes. There are pawn brokers and tacky souvenir shops, as well as up-market jewelry and clothing stores. All still open. It’s interesting.

Wednesday 28 September

Our first stop has to be at Sagrada Familia.

The subway system seems straightforward, so we are using public transport rather than the hop on, hop off bus, recommended by the hotelier. Apart from faulty gates and faulty faults reporter, the metro is great.

We come out of the metro, pass the queue (disabled queue jumping freebie again), and, wham, there it is! The entrance to Sagrada Familia is breathtaking. This is the passion facade, with sculptures of Christ’s carrying of the cross, death, and resurrection. The sculptures are somewhat abstract, but the look of pain is vividly etched in my mind. It is hard to move on from these remarkable carvings, so moving and so wonderful.

Gaudi said that this was an opportunity to demonstrate faith through art. This reminds me of the Notre Dame cathedral we visited in Bordeaux. I had been impressed that a “frere” had completed all the paintings in the side chapels. No pride or power, simply an act of worship through art.

Gaudi’s commitment to art is evident in his unique architecture, a style that runs a thin line between wacky and genius.

Inside the Sagrada Familia is fantastic. The vaults rise nearly fifty metres. There is light everywhere. Columns that resemble huge tree trunks seem to disappear upwards. The rows of tiles, resembling flowers in the ceiling, are alight, and walls seem to be on fire with light shining through the stained glass windows.

Entering from the side (the main door will be below the glory facade, yet to be completed), Jesus on the cross seems to be suspended under a canopy or carousel of orange and yellow lights.

I sit in the nave, looking toward the altar. From the altar, to the crucifix, to the wall behind and the ceiling above seems as one, an illusion of light. The ceiling curves above me. Gaudi has built parabola to maximise the acoustics. There is room for a choir of 1000. The basilica will have room for 8000 worshippers. The scales are enormous but do not seem so.

Gaudi said “The intimacy combined with the spaciousness is that of the forest, which will be the interior of the church.” I remember that Gaudi began working on the church in the early 1880s. His concept is extraordinary for the time, and is even more relevant now in the context of world ecology.

His alignment of the church to capture the sunlight at different times of the day and at different times of the year was revolutionary at a time when architects of churches still struggled with the technical difficulties of letting light in.

It is impossible to overlook the more spiritual and fundamental symbolism of the placement of the facades, with the passion facade opposite the nativity facade. Other symbols on the outside are sculptures representing the Eucharist, the bread and wine.

But, overwhelmingly, it is the lightness of this vast structure that I remember.

I am truly fortunate to be able to witness the building of a true temple, at a time when the only temples that are being built are temples to gammon … casinos and shopping malls. This basilica is gift to generations to come.

Peter takes the lift to the nativity tower. For “safety reasons” I cannot. He takes photos of what he sees. The external sculptures symbolizing the Eucharist are amazing.

Now we are on a Gaudi roll. We hope to reach Parc Geull but we understand that once we get off the metro there is a long walk, much of it up a steep hill. We decide to try it. I use the wheelchair but have my crutches too.

Peter pushes me most of the way, I walk part way.

Parc Guell is a complete surprise! The two houses at the entry, and the monumental staircase at first glance look like part of an amusement arcade. The weird shapes, curves, mosaics, colours all look like something out of fairyland.

My first reaction is to think “from sacred to spoof”

However, the mosaics are superb, the buildings and features, works of art. The shapes that Gaudi has covered in mosaics are absolutely fantastic, as in fantasy and fabulous. I look closely at the mosaics. They are perfect in their detail.

Two buildings flank the entry. They seem to curve and sway. The mosaic patterns glisten in the sun. They lead to the monumental staicase, guarded by a dragon made of mosaics, and a waterfall. At the top of the staicase is a covered area. This is consists of a mosaic covered roof suspended on tree like columns. Above this is the Nature Square, edged in mosaics. Unfortunately, these areas are full of hawkers selling tacky souvenirs. I suspect they are not meant to be there because later on we see some of them running with their wares tied in bundles. We have seen illegal street hawkers run like this when the police arrive.

The really brilliant part for me is the area where a viaduct winds around the hill. Columns made of huge stones put together in mosaics and lattices support a ramp that takes us through a wonderful park of indigenous trees. It is quiet and peaceful. We walk near the top and see Casa Trias, which has many of Gaudi’s architectural features. There are magnificent views over Barcelona. We can see the towers of Sagrada Familia and the cranes around it way, way in the distance. Further still is the sea.

Walking down we see Casa Musee Gaudi which also has mosaics and glazed tiles.

This has been a wonderful day. First in the morning seeing Sagrada Familia, then this afternoon seeing Parc Guell. We would like to come back to the park and spend more time looking at Gaudi’s stone walls and infrastructures, and wandering through the trees.

Still, we have time for more Gaudi, so we take the metro and visit the Block of Discord. Here we see Casa Mila at 92 Placa de Gracia, and Casa Batilo at number 43. Both are fantastical buildings by Gaudi. By now I’m really enjoying his architecture. The other buildings on the street that were designed around the same time are much more formal, much less fun! Except for two, one at number 35, Casa Lleo Morera, and one next to Casa Batilo, Casa Amatller designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch 1898 – 1900. They have similar elements to those of Gaudi’s funhouses, with painted patterns, curving shapes, stained glass in unexpected places and in unusual forms. Casa Amatller is being restored by a Barcelona Cultura and shows the value now placed on these amazing buildings. Would I like to live in one? I don’t think so. Would I like architecture like this in my city? Of course, in the right context. They are not just buildings, but works of art, especially those of Gaudi, and need to be placed where they let your heart sing, and fill you with joy.

Now it’s back to the markets for more fresh food. I see a young woman taking a photo of a fresh lobster sitting on ice. I’m tempted to take photos too. The food here, and its presentation, and the hundreds of stalls are amazing!

Thursday 29 September

Opposite our hotel is a church. We can only see the front facade because there are buildings on either side and it opens directly on to the street, which is unusual. Churches usually front onto a square. I am curious to know what it looks like inside because the gothic quarter has always been a very poor area, a ghetto even.

The exterior of St Jaume is not gothic and it has a squared Romanesque bell tower. The inside is of simple construction, stone with reasonably low ribbed vaults.

The decoration within the church is far from simple. Many of the statues are wearing clothes. In the pieta chapel, Mary is wearing full Spanish mourning of what I think is from the nineteenth century – full black dress with mantilla and comb. I suppose there is little difference between dressing Mary in this way than dressing her in Rennaisance clothes. Locked up in a rear chapel is a very ornate cart used for processions. It is covered in garlands of brightly clouded flowers and cloths.

The colour and expansive, loud decorations reflect a Spanish culture that celebrates the noisy and the brash. I hope that La Sagrada Familia is not decorated in the same way – just kidding. Good art and design can walk the fine line between bizarre and inspired. Gaudi did exactly that.

It’s fun walking/wheeling through the narrow alleys that are part of the character of the Gothic Quarter. In some lanes there is barely room to walk two abreast. The shops, and apartments above them, open directly on to the pathway. At times something catches your eye as the lane ends sharply or opens onto a square.

We then see the squared off sides of a church and the bell tower. The Basilica de Maria del Pi, probably built in the late seventeenth century, is an attractive looking Romanesque style church on the outside. Inside it is gloomy and gives me the heeby jeebies. Despite having a Romanesque exterior, inside there are high ribbed vaults. The keystones are elaborate. There is a bare wall behind the altar and has only a statue of Mary where the crucifix would normally be, but under this a cross is carved into a wooden door. Above the bare wall are lovely tall stained glass windows and above where the organ would normally be is a very nice stained glass rose window. Although these walls are bare there are many side chapels all ornately decorated with many statues, some of which are clothed. The side chapels are filthy. One chapel has a fully clothed statue of what appears to be Mary laid out as if dead. If it’s Mary, it’s heresy given that the Church teaches that she was assumed to heaven without dying. Whatever, I can’t get out of there fast enough. Peter tells me he feels the same.

We continue exploring the gothic quarter. We come across a fenced area where kids are playing a fierce game that looks like a modified form of soccer. A plaque nearby tells us that the wall against which they are kicking the ball is an ancient Roman wall built around the fourth century. Much of this area was built on by the Romans. Barcelona was an important trading port on the Mediterranean, and still is, so it makes sense that there would be Roman remains.

We look for the “new” cathedral. This is the Barcelona Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. It is called the new cathedral because, although it is very old, built in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, it was built on the site of a (second) Romanesque church, a chapel built in 1058. All that remains of this chapel is a wall that forms part of the cathedral wall and is a sepulchre for the wealthy man who built the chapel. The site faces what would have been the Roman Forum.

Extensive renovations are underway, but we can walk around the cathedral and see it’s many features. It is very ornate. The keystones, high in the vaults, have elaborate scenes on them, something I have not seen before, and many are painted. The choir stalls are the most decorative and ornate I have seen. In front of the high altar is a wide, big opening and stairs down to a crypt … Surely a bit gruesome to have to look at every time you go to Mass!

There is a lift and steps that go to the roof of the cathedral. Unlike at Sagrada Familia, there are no concerns for my safety, despite it being a fairly open construction site up there! The view over Barcelona is fantastic, from the port to the hills. Everywhere there are towers and spires of churches. Barcelona must have the highest number of churches per capita of any city!

We leave the cathedral so we can visit the Picasso Museum which apparently has more than three thousand works by Picasso. On the way, opposite the Jaume 1 metro station, are Roman walls which formed part of Barcelona’s fortifications and city wall. Part of the original Roman building was adapted for use as a chapel and still stands.

The Picasso museum is down a maze of alleyways and occupies what was once a palace. The area does not look very palatial!

Before looking at the permanent exhibition we want to see the temporary showing of Picasso’s work when he first visited Paris, and the influence and inspiration he took from the masters at the time – van Gogh, Toulouse Loutrec, Matisse, Gaugin. Beside Picasso’s work, is a painting that may have inspired him. Here I see the best Toulouse Leutrec paintings I have ever seen! Van Gogh’s pieta is painted with his vivid colours and strong brush strokes. It is mainly in blues and yellow, but within each colour there are myriads of other colours. It does not move me in the way that Michaelangelo’s pieta moved me, but it is a glorious, memorable painting. I love it. The portrait of the Camille, the son of his landlord(?) is similarly striking.

I have never seen any of Picasso’s early work, not even in print. At fourteen he painted spectacular portraits. His much later work, juxtaposition and cubism are similarly impressive. After having seen so much of his masters’ works I’m in overload and tired.

So it’s off to the beach to re-energize! We go to the beach closest to the city, not far from the old port. It’s windy and 5pm, but the temperature is supposed to still be 30degrees. It feels more like 23 or 24 …. But who can complain! There are still sunbathers and people racing by on surf kites.

On the way back to our hotel we get off the metro near the Block of Discord so we can go to the top of Gaudi’s La Pedrera at sunset. The lift goes up to the top, and when I step out on to the roof I am totally floored. It is Mary Poppins magic! There soft serve ice creams rosy in the setting sun, white mosaic shapes, clay shapes, all sorts of curves and edges. It is a playground! Peter tells me to step over a ledge and not to look up until I am all the way through … I look up … Sagrada Familia is outlined in a white mosaic arch. It is truly magical. Gaudi could not have planned it, surely? We stay on the roof until an attendant tells us it is almost time to close and we should make a point of seeing an apartment that Gaudi designed and has been preserved.

It is a sobering reminder of the period in which Gaudi was working. Not now, not recently, but a century ago when mores and technology and design was so very different. I look to the ceilings to try and work out the shape of a room, but the parabolic curves make this impossible. There is one master bedroom, one child’s bedroom, one bedroom for the maid, and a kitchen that would have had all the mod cons of the time, but … It really brings home how innovative Gaudi was. And also how remarkable Barcelona is to have accepted his ideas for a grand cathedral. This apartment also makes Sagrada Familia seem all the more remarkable. His ideas and concepts of design incorporating nature are genius. So too, is Parc Guell put into context. It failed as a building development, but as a design that brings nature, art and architecture together it is unforgettable.

Once again, I am truly fortunate to have been able to see these things for myself, with Peter’s help.

Friday 30 September

After so many busy days, and such an outstanding evening on Thursday, we want to take it easy. So we take the metro, then the funicular, then the cable car up to the top of Castel Montjuic, Barcelona’s fortress. It has a 360 degree panoramic view over Barcelona, from the ocean to the hills. Enemies could not possibly advance without being seen.Cannon from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are still in place. Every part of the buildings are intact, although the rooms seem to be used for conferences. We walk along the ramparts. It’s easy to imagine the soldiers on the parade ground, or in their lookout positions, or defense positions.

We had spoken to an Australian couple yesterday at breakfast and they recommended seeing the National Museum of Cataluyan Art. Apparently there are outstanding examples of chuch friezes from the eleventh century.

We take the cable car back down. The views are great. They were great views on the way up too, but the morning haze has gone, and the angle of the gondola means we get a better view of the fortress as we leave, and of the NMAC which is an impressive domed building.

Entrance to the museum is again free for us! Barcelona is an extremely accessible city, and although the museum is an old building with limited lift access, stair climbers have been added everywhere.

We follow the museum guide and begin looking at the eleventh and twelfth century works. The friezes and sculptures have been removed from a few churches in the Pyrenees which have been isolated for centuries, and, in the early twentieth century were in danger of being pillaged. Because of the isolation the friezes are in astonishing condition. They are vibrant, some are complete or almost complete. They have been assembled in the way they had been found, ie in side chapels and as altars. The figures are beautifully proportioned, have perspective, depth, emotion … They are forceful works of art.

Columns and tops of columns had also been rescued. There is a beautiful carving in marble of a flower. It looks modern, but was done in the third century.

We spend hours here, expecting to race through the gothic exhibition, and perhaps spend a little time looking at modern art.

The medieval work is not like any work we have seen from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in Italy or France. The Byzantine influence is apparent (Barcelona is a trading port) but the work is carved on wood, then painted. The paint is vibrant and the figures natural, not flat as in the Italian gothic work. It is wonderful.

Apparently the Catalunyans place more emphasis on sculpture. This is why so much work is carved on wood, and why there are many statues. One stands out above all others, and could easily be favorably compared with work by Michaelangelo (at least by me … Haha). That is “head of Christ” attributed to Cascalls. It is superb, and is a different sculpture from every angle. I don’t want to leave it. Once gone, I’ll only be able to see it in my mind and in photo …

I am keen to see the fifteenth and sixteenth century work. This was the renaissance period in Italy. One artist from the fifteenth century stands out – Dalmau. The face of the “Virgin of the Councellors” could be Mona Lisa, but better! I had forgotten about El Greco. There are some superb paintings by him. The Italians didn’t have all the genius at the time, even though they perhaps got all the glory!

Nothing else really impresses, except for a Rubens! It must be one of his best!

I find an artist I have never heard of, and immediately admire, in the works from the eighteenth century … Melendez. It’s simple, still life, bowls of fruit, but rich and wonderful.

Then from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there are some real treasures. I cannot understand why these artists have not received more acclaim. Ramon Casas has a style similar to Toulouse-Letrec and his work has movement and power with just a few strokes. I am going to frame a small print of one that I like particularly. Two men, one the arist, on a bike. It is funny as well as clever.

Then I see some works that just make my heart sing. I don’t know why. They are dark. A figure or a feature or a background piece gradually takes form. They give me goosebumps. The artist is Nonell.

A sculpture “Desolation” is exactly that. I walk around and around it. It’s fantastic. The artist is Josep Llimona.

These Spanish artists need better PR. Picasso may be a genius, but he is a genius in one way, these other artists in other ways. Picasso may have inspired a whole new way of painting but that shouldn’t make the work if his contemporaries any less. Surely you don’t have to be an extreme groundbreaker to be noticed? But then it seems you do, now especially, with weird installations that get shown in world expos …..

There is a magnificent auditorium in the centre of the museum. It is oval with seats rising from a central oval. No idea what it would be used for, but it looks good! Peter says it looks like a sports stadium but how do you explain the cathedral like organ at one end?

Friezes painted under the domes are accompanied by stained glass and we spend time looking up!

We’ve been in the museum for five hours! It’s about to close. There’s a hawker selling scarves, I buy one, and an artist selling water colours. I buy two small pen and washes in blue-black ink. One is of Sagrada Familia, the other, of the Gothic Quarter (surprisingly recognizable).

We’re going to watch the magic fountain display that happens in front of the museum at 9pm every night. It’s about 7 so we head to the shopping centre in front of the fountain … It’s the old bull ring, the Barcelona Arena. Bullfighters would roll in their graves!

We’re going to picnic while we wait for the light show.

Wow! What a show. It’s like the fireworks over Wellington harbor at Guy Fawkes, only it’s water! And you can get a lot closer! It really is magic and it’s hard to leave.

Saturday 1 October

Today we really, really, really are going to go slow …

We know that there are benches and quiet spots at Parc Guell so we head there. But instead of heading straight to a picnic spot, we can’t help ourselves, we walk up to the Hill of Three Crosses. It’s obvious symbolism is Calvary. There’s a busker playing blues on a steel guitar at the base. It seems incongruous.

I climb the narrow steps. People must think I’m crazy, especially when to come down I have to drop onto my bottom to shuffle down the first few steps til I can stand up using the handrail. Gasps! Perhaps they think I’ve been evangelized and I’m on my knees! Perhaps they think I’m going to topple over the side! Perhaps they are shocked! Anyway, I come down no trouble and after a vain search for Peter’s coffee, we finally sit down.

There’s a busker here who’s quite good. (Barcelona must have the worst buskers ever. They seem to always use amplifiers and are very loud and not very good. We usually try to rush past them.) We even put some euros in his cap on the ground. He says he is from Brazil, has been playing in Barcelona for a few months and is leaving for Switzerland. The life of a busker!

It’s 5pm, and still hot, but the shadows are getting longer. I like Barcelona in the evening.

We start making our way down the hill toward the exit. I suggest that we walk down toward the Nature Square and the Monumental Staircase. Instead of going down the staircase we go down a long winding path. Peter is pushing my wheelchair and I am walking. We come to a path with rock columns on one side and a curved parabolic wave of rocks that forms the roof and the other side. I am definitely walking through this! The mathematics that must have been used to engineer this rock formation is mind boggling. The wave continues curving around the hill. Every column is different in some detail. The form of the columns changes until they resemble elongated screws. The rock formations look like part of the hill, as if they are as old as the hill itself. Yet they also look like a wonderful work of art. They also look like a feat of engineering. The viaduct is a remarkable blend of nature and design. Whichever way you look at it, however you see it, this is something of great beauty.

This is a fabulous way of leaving Parc Guell. It has taken an hour and a half to come down the hill, soaking up everything we see, stopping to admire and appreciate Gaudi’s vision of nature.

The sunsets in Barcelona seem to last forever, and are casting a rosy golden glow over everything. The golden light on the rocks, and on the fairyland buildings at the exit is a magical way of saying goodbye.

Sunday 2 October

We are lying on Bogatell beach, about twenty minutes by metro out of central Barcelona.

The water is a clear bright blue, the sand golden. The sun is warm and the sky cloudless.

There are several beaches next to each other. This is the longest at about six hundred metres. We arrive at about 11am. There are two or three dozen people lying on the sand along the water line.

Peter is excited to swim in the Meditteranean. I will paddle later.

I am not surprised to see topless women swimming and sunbathing. I am surprised that they are all middle-aged or “senior”!

By midday the beach is crowded. We use the wheelchair and crutches to spread out. People keep arriving, squeezing in where there is no space … Still, it’s warm and it’s Barcelona, and it’s the Mediterranean!

Starting exactly at noon we are treated to an airshow! Seven fighter jets fly in formations that leave the crowd gasping and clapping. The jets use vapour trails to emphasise their expertise. We are treated to a finale where five jets, in upward formation, each leave five flares bursting into stars. Magic!

Two prop engine planes drop three parachutists who glide in synchronised movements.

A stunt plane does loops and tricks.

The display continues. A parachutist descends holding the Barcelona flag.

The jets are back, this time leaving vapour trails of red, blue and white. They make shapes, a heart with an arrow through it. They corkscrew, blending red and blue to make purple. More formation flying using the colours to maximum effect. It’s clever!

Four biplanes fly over then a world war two vintage fighter plane …

A 737 flies over, so low it looks as if it will fall into the sea. Peter says it’s flying at a height of less than two hundred metres. It dips its wings to salute then flies away.

Something incredibly loud flies over. Peter says that it is flying at just below the speed of sound. It corkscrews, flies upside down, then seems to fly at an angle of forty five degrees. Peter says it is flying just above stall speed. It corkscrews upwards and releases flares that again burst into clusters of stars.

There is more precision flying in formation. More military planes. A pair of biplanes flies over. Someone is standing on the top of each. The planes loop.

An amphibious plane releases a spray of water into the sea, then descends, skimming the surface to collect more water and again sprays it back over the sea.

Military planes in formation release red and yellow vapors. Spain’s colours. The crowd cheers.

The show continues all afternoon. Peter gets a coffee. Finally, he says he gets a decent espresso. Barcelona just doesn’t do decent coffee, he says.

It’s time to read or sleep or both. The electronic sign that reports water temperature says that the water temperature is 24 degrees! I love Summer!

Before we leave I walk to the edge of where the sand suddenly drops steeply into the sea. I walk a few steps down and wait for a surge of water to cover my feet and calves. The water is so warm. It’s not exactly paddling, but for a few seconds I am in the Mediterranean Sea!

Monday 3 October

Peter needs a new pair of shoes. In the last six weeks not only have we walked/wheeled a lot, but the roads and paths have been dusty.

We walk up Las Ramblas toward Place de Catylunya where we can catch the metro. The stalls here are different from the ones near our hotel. I find a Gaudi mug that curves and twists like the walls of his buildings. I buy it.

We also pass a church, Bethlehem, built in 1643. It is different from other churches we have seen. First, it is Romanesque, not gothic, so favoured in Barcelona. Mostly, it is different because the crucifix stands to one side of a “canopied” altar, and above the altar, where the crucifix would normally be, is a statue of Mary holding baby Jesus. Most of the side chapels are in similar ways devoted to Mary and Jesus. The front door has the nativity scene carved in it.

Initially I had thought the building to be a synagogue because it seems that a star of David sits on top of it. I realise now that this is the star of Bethlehem. Barcelona does things its own way!

We find Peter’s new shoes in the Bullfighting arena! Now simply called The Arenas, this shopping mall opened six months ago.

Across the road is “Tapa Tapa”. We can’t come to Barcelona without trying tapas. There something like forty five choices. We stick to a selection. The experience is great … the food a little tasteless …

Place d’Espanya must be one of the busiest roundabouts in Barcelona (it has seven lanes!) yet less than a hundred metres away is a large park with palms and plenty of shade. The sound of bright green parrakeets can be heard over the traffic noise, baffled by the palms.

It’s the Joan Miro park for multi sports. There are areas for playing basketball, table tennis, running, walking dogs, just sitting, and a children’s playground … There’s probably more.

We’re sitting under bourganvillia that trails over stone columns. It’s nice. Mostly the ground is sand. I suppose Barcelona is too dry for grass. I do miss being able to sit or lie on the grass. Still, we’re sitting in the shade, in a park, in Barcelona!

The park is close to the Arenas, the shopping centre. There is also a lift there that takes people to the top for a panoramic view. With nothing better to do, we head there. The views are really interesting. They give us yet another perspective of Barcelona, especially where the fortress, the NMAC and Sagrada Familia and the other churches are in respect to each other.

We head back to Las Ramblas to explore the port end. We pass the artists, some drawing portraits and characatures, some selling original art, but most selling mass produced art they pass off as original.

The Christopher Colombus statue and column at the end is impressive. The port looks interesting and if we have time we will return tomorrow morning before we leave Barcelona … How sad that sounds …

Tuesday 4 October

We have found Amy’s lobster in Barcelona!

But to begin at the beginning … Our flight is not until late afternoon so after we check out we walk down Las Ramblas toward the port. The artists are out again, but an artist we have not seen before is sitting at his table painting. His art is similar to the mass produced pieces we have seen, however, his is clearly original. He tells us that he only comes to Las Ramblas on Sundays and Tuesdays, that he lives in Costa Brava, and that he has been selling his art here for twenty five years. He shows us photos of work he has sold over the years, and shows us a book of Picasso’s art that he uses for inspiration. I like his work very much and one piece in particular. It speaks to me of this vibrant, surprising, loud, energetic, in your face city. It is relatively expensive but I buy it. Peter likes it too, so despite it being quite large, we will fit it in our luggage … by hook or by crook. If space wasn’t a problem, I’d be tempted to buy more. I’ve no idea where we’ll hang it. I don’t really care. Just like we will squeeeeeze it into our luggage, we will squeeeeze it onto our walls. If art makes your heart sing …

We continue down to the Port Vell, cross the suspended bridge (it’s very cool to look at!) see two statues bobbing at either end of the lagoon (they’re also very cool to look at!), watch gazillions of fish, big fish, swim near the surface, then we head to the shops so Peter can get a coffee. On the way I see a shop called “lefties”, draw Peter’s attention to it, thinking that perhaps it has the same meaning as in English. But no, it’s a women’s clothing store! We’re outside again only one cardigan later (how restrained of me – actually I want to get back out into the sun … in a few days I’ll be back in winter).

We sit on a bench near the water and eat lunch, watching statue number two sway in the breeze. I want to walk for a while, we’re going to be sitting on planes and in airports for a long time. We continue walking around the edge of the water. By now we’ve walked three sides of a rectangle and we’re about three hundred metres from the bottom of Las Ramblas where we started. And then we see it! Well, the back of it … I’m so excited … I KNOW this is Amy’s lobster. And sure enough, after walking round the front of it I see the silly face on the lobster and I’m certain. (Ten euros if I’m wrong! I have a photo to compare it with.)

It may sound silly to get excited about something like this, but every time I see a monument or landmark that Amy or Michael has admired, or found funny, or absurd, or informative, or entertaining, or useful, I feel that I am sharing something. And I feel privileged to be sharing it. So thanks to both of you. And perhaps one day, we can tell you about places that might interest you.

I’m sure that every one of us has formed a different picture of a city or place. And none will draw more varying opinions than Barcelona.

For me, Barcelona is loud, colourful, animated and fun. The people are noisy and friendly. Their buildings are colourful, often painted with patterns. They do things in their own way. Architecture and churches are a great way of gaining an insight to the community’s psyche. In Barcelona, the churches are decorated ostentatiously and unselfconsciously way over the top. No idea seems too way out. They embrace Gaudi’s outrageous buildings. I love them too.

When I think of Barcelona I now think of Gaudi. Not just the Sagrada Familia, but his crazy buildings that are wondrous, creative works of art. Especially I think of his Parc Guell that combines wild, magical architecture with art and with nature.

Like Parc Guell, the roof top of La Pedrera, and the alleyways of the Gothic Quarter, in Barcelona there is a surprise round every corner. Going to the beach or down to the port is a relief from the intensity of experiences Barcelona offers just walking through her streets.

But I shan’t miss this vibrancy because I have a small piece of it to hang on my wall!

Notes On Accessibilty

Barcelona is very wheelchair friendly.

The metro is easy to access with lifts to most stations (avoid Place d’Espanya, there are no lifts). All trains have a wheelchair accessible carriage, it’s the first carriage. The station has a ramp at the end so the carriage can be accessed. It’s a little steep, and help to push up may be needed. Everything is well signposted – the lifts can be easily found both above and below ground.

I didn’t use buses, but I noticed that they all have symbols for wheelchair access.

As in France and Italy entry to national galleries and museums is free for the disabled person and guest. There are lifts and stairclimbers for access everywhere.

Beaches have ramps and boardwalks. There are special wheelchairs available to take those with reduced mobility into the water

Roads in central Barcelona have smooth kerb crossings that can be negotiated using momentum.

Public toilets have facilities for the disabled. If they are locked, either an attendant is nearby to unlock them or there are reliable instructions for finding the key holder.

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