Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I've been in Barcelona.  Not a long trip - just five days or so, over Christmas.  Here are some of the things that happened there.
  • The architecture is amazing.  It seems to be divided into two broad categories, "gothic" and "modernista," but there are clear subdivisions.  Like, there is the gothic architecture in the Barri Gotic and then there is the architecture in the rest of the old city, which is subtly different.  And there is modernista architecture proper, which looks basically like a gingerbread house that has thrown up on itself, and then there is less-famous modernista architecture, which I think is related to American Art Nouveau.  And then there is La Sagrada Familia, which is like all the gingerbread houses in the would got together and spent a hundred and twenty years throwing up in a giant twelve-towered pile.
  • The food, also, is amazing.  I did get a bit sick of ham, because I'm just not used to eating much of it, and also of everything being so rich and buttery, but this was really just an issue of too much of a good thing.  The food I had was all fairly simple; many of their dishes seem to have only a few ingredients.  Common tapas include sausage (all by itself), calamari (which is thousands of times better than the calamari in New York), another kind of sausage, ham, fried potatoes, a vegetable (usually olives or sauteed mushrooms), anchovies on toast or cheese, or still more sausage.  So - simple foods, quality ingredients, well-prepared.
  • The desserts.  Again, simple.  Ice cream with hot fudge.  Hot chocolate.  Truffles.  (those were the desserts I had, that I can remember... there were also profiteroles, which I'm not super-fond of.)  The chocolate is very dark and very good.  I'm not generally a chocolate snob, but I can see where they're coming from now.
  • It rained a lot.  Like, all the time.  Also, we were ridiculous jet-lagged - we couldn't sleep at night and were debilitatingly tired during the day.  Later, a friend told me his best victory over jet lag resulted from taking an early morning flight, not sleeping the night before, and going to bed immediately on arrival.  Something to try next time.
  • Museums.  We saw about half of those I'd hoped to see: The Museum of History of the City (excellent - most of it is in an actual archeological site), the Maritime Museum (worthwhile), the Museum of Contemporary Art (not my bag), and the Picasso Museum (very good).  We missed out on the Museum of Catalonian Art, the  Chocolate Museum, the Joan Miro gallery, and of course all the other museums that we never planned to go to.  
  • Cathedrals.  Definitely a highlight.  There are three main ones and many small ones that I only saw from the outside.  They are pretty amazing, especially when you consider how long ago they were built.  That kind of glorious, single-minded profligacy just doesn't exist anymore. 
  • Also, while La Sagrada Familia is a hideous nightmare-bee-honeycomb on the outside, from inside and underneath it is a cathedral, and a monumentally impressive one.  They say it will be done in twenty years but I don't really see the point in ever finishing; wouldn't it be better, and also more modernist, to leave it half-constructed, a testament to the impossibility of constructing a proper monument to the divine projection of the human ego?
  • The best part of the trip - maybe this is true for most foreign travel - was the surprises.  Like, we'd be walking in the Barri Gotic and all of a sudden there'd be something sleek and modern and unexpected, like an electronics emporium named Orange or a sex shop.  Or we'd be walking somewhere seemingly modern, a block of depressing apartment buildings from the 70's, and all of a sudden there'd be a six thousand year old wall or arch, just standing there.  Or the way they had Dunkin Donuts, but it was called Dunkin Coffee.  The Christmas lights strung up in the streets.  How Christmas Eve was just a regular day, and stores were open on Christmas night, but Boxing Day was a real holiday.  Table service even at casual coffee shops, and how they'd never rush you through your meal even if they were full or trying to close.  The birds and chickens and roosters being sold in the street.
  • Other things we saw: A castle overlooking the city and the Mediterranean, accessed by the subway and then a funicular (another trainlike transit mode involving a cable on the underneath) and a cable car.  The Parc Guell, which is half a conserve of semi-arid flora and half a modernista display, and the Park de la Ciutadella, which is full of museums and dogs.  Two artistic neighborhoods, one "bohemian" (the word the guidebook used instead of "sketchy") and one wealthy.  The market, which is like Fairway except much better and slightly less cutthroat.  The outsides of several very attractive performance art venues from various architectural periods.  
  • Also, on the way back, they wouldn't let us watch movies on the plane.  
So, good trip.  Next I want to bike through Italy or take a cruise to Alaska.

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