Buscando Barcelona

While waiting to board the plane back to Barcelona after an incredible six days in Italy, I stopped dead in my tracks. After doing a little mental math I realized that I had 10 days left in Europe. The next time I stood in line for a plane would be in the Barcelona airport for a flight back to the United States. Wait a second….where did this semester go?? Wasn’t I just unpacking in my new apartment and exploring my new home? Didn’t I just get back from a weekend at Oktoberfest? Didn’t I just celebrate my birthday in November? I don’t want to leave, but I don’t want to stay much longer. I’m in the middle of a thrilling ride, wind in my hair, sun on my face, with 8 of my best friends behind me. I can see the last dip, we’re rounding the last turn, and I’m not quite ready for it to be over. I feel the need for one more loop that sends your stomach flipping like a dolphin, one more adventure in a country I never dreamed I’d get to see. I feel the need to stay in Barcelona forever, come good or bad. But at the same time, I see the station nearing and I know that all good things must come to an end. And I begin to understand that the rollercoaster isn’t going anywhere. Barcelona isn’t going anywhere, Europe isn’t going anywhere. Actually, its me that’s going somewhere. Back to the simple things like consistently hot showers (our water heater is very temperamental), back to a full sized bed, back to a washing machine that actually cleans my clothes, back to unlimited condiments (Europe is a little stingy on the ketchup), back to a car that takes me from point A to B without switching at various metro stops, back to my family, my boyfriend, my home at Miami. I am so glad that I got to spend this time in Barcelona and wouldn’t change any aspect of it. I am already dreaming of the day I get to come back to my home away from home.

My  visit to one of Gaudi’s most famous buildings was incredibly interesting. The rooftop terrace, attic, stairwells, and overall design of the building are a perfect showcase of his revolutionary Modernist ideas for architecture. I also found it incredibly interesting how his devotion to his faith played a role in his design.

            For example, on each side of the roof top terraces are arches that serve as frames for 2 of the cathedrals in the city of Barcelona, one being another of his own works, La Sagrada Familia. He also attempted to add a sculpture of the Virgin Mary flanked by two angels to the façade of the building. However, due to political and religious unrest during the time of construction, the commissioner forbid this addition. In the end, I think that this was a good decision. The façade of the building is already so interesting that anything more would be too much. The stone and iron are a stark contrast to his other works such as Casa Batllo and Parc Guell, but it is the beauty in the simplicity of the building’s exterior that makes it such a work of art.

            Its important to note that Gaudi does not completely forego his love for embellishment in this building. On the rooftop terrace, his signature trencadis covers the two large air vents that are visible from the street. This shows both his attention to detail and his practicality. It would have been a waste of money to cover all of the vents because half cannot be seen from the street. Another interesting way of saving money while still adding decoration is using broken bottles of Cava, a popular Catalan wine, for trencadis on one set of vents.

            Another incredible part of the building was the attic just below the terrace. His ability to create such an open, free flowing space was only possible through the use of the Catanary arch. This was also a frugal means of construction. It uses less bricks and creates more space. This was also a way to see how he was inspired by nature. The vault created by the rows of arches resembles the spine and ribs of a skeleton. Also, the façade of the building is inspired by nature in that it curves like the waves of the Mediterranean, and the wrought iron balconies are twisted and curved to resemble the surf as it crashes to shore.

            I really liked seeing in person all of Gaudi’s trademark techniques and inspirations. Its incredible how all the different styles come together to make one incredible work of art. Gaudi was truly ahead of his time and Casa Mila is one of the best testaments to his architectural genius. Gaudi will always be associated with Barcelona. He adored his city and gave back in one of the most immortal ways. His architecture has become the hallmark of Barcelona and is part of what makes it such a culturally and artistically progressive city.

Yesterday, La Vanguardia ran a story about the increase in the price of Barcelona public transportation by almost 2% in January. Right now, a T-10 card will set you back 7.70 Euro and a one way ticket costs 1.35 Euro. Starting in January, the price will now be 7.85 and 1.40 respectively. While this doesn’t seem like too much of a change, Barcelona’s citizens are understandably outraged. Given the fact that with the lack of parking and already busy traffic situation, public transportation is often the easiest and fastest way to get around the city. Increasing the prices of these tickets will take more out of the pockets of the citizens who already pay high taxes for other public services. In an effort to soften this blow, the Metropolitan Transport Authority is in the process of creating a T-12 which will give you 2 extra rides, a range of titles for large families to use the same metro plan with a 20-50% discount, and the extension of the T-Jove to 25 years of age. Despite these efforts, Jordi Portabella, President of the ERC criticized the rise in the prices and argued for a freeze on tariffs in light of the economic crisis. Hopefully the ATM will listen to them and put a stop to further increase in public transportation prices.

            Also in the December 14th  issue of La Vanguardia is the article regarding the ban of smoking in enclosed public spaces, entertainment venues, and restaurants in 2010. The article is very short, just a quick summary of the talks that have been going on between different political groups and Minister Trinidad Jiminez. He says “to the extent that we get political consensus, we will achieve social consensus. We’re culturally ready to adopt now, and we are in this final phase of negotiation.” I have never been in a city where you are allowed to smoke inside restaurants and bars, but this is because the US has taken strong strides to promote overall public health and to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking and second hand smoke. I’m glad to see that Barcelona is making the effort to do the same and hope that other European cities follow suit!

Another article I found interesting was the article discussing the Barcelona Institute of Architecture. As I have both learned in class and seen firsthand, Barcelona is incredibly eclectic when it comes to its local architecture. One of the most well known architects in the world, Antoni Gaudi, lived and worked here and left behind some of the greatest contributions to architecture known to man. Along with that beautiful modernisme architecture is the stark contrast of the modernity of the MACBA museum and the twin towers on the beach. So it is no surprise that architecture as an industry is an important part of the Barcelona economy. The article discusses how the institute will make an effort to meet the challenges brought about by the economic crisis. Bursting the housing bubble, new technologies and a mixing of academic research and specialty practices is their goal in their postgrad and professional debates. It is no surprise that their headquarters is in La Pedrera, a famous Gaudi creation and because of this it also enjoys public-private funding through the Caixa Catalunya which also has offices there. Because of their extensive funding, I have no doubts that their goal of turning Barcelona into a reference point between local professionals and the rest of the world will come true. Through new digital studios, open reading workshops, improved Masters plans, and conferences, the BIArch hopes to make the most of their initial 1million euro budget over the next couple of years.

One article I found online in regards to the region of Catalunya is not directly about it but rather a comparison to another separatist region. A correspondent reader writing from London discusses the similarities and differences between Catalan separatism and Scottish separatism. The introduction of the article put my thoughts on the matter best, “From the US perspective, Europe is arguably the only part of the world where the maps have to touch it up every 15 to 20 years because of the fickleness of the borders.” Political rivalries have caused the original European nations to change borders, evolving like an amoeba. I first experienced this separatist sentiment of Catalunya (something I knew nothing about when I came to Barcelona) on September 11, the state’s holiday. I could not understand why CAtalunya would want to become its own nation away from Spain until I began this class. With Barcelona as its capital, CAtalunya easily became a political, cultural and economic hub outside of Madrid. The threat to this strong power is a classic issue of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer. The article discusses the similar situation going on in Scotland. Nationalists want to withdraw from the UK and while they are technically their own country, they want to be completely separate of England, much the way Catalunya is its own state but wants complete freedom. While I am of the opinion that this will never happen because Spain would be stupid to lose such a lucrative area of their country, its certain that the proud Catalans will continue the fight no matter what.

            The next article I found was a little bit surprising to me. I have become incredibly accustomed to the beautiful weather of Barcelona and tend to forget (ok maybe neglect…) the fact that cold even exists anymore. Especially in the Mediterranean. It seems that the great weather can’t last forever and that winter does in fact come around this time of year. In the smaller towns outside of Barcelona, several small crashes and other incidents have occurred on the roadways because  of a snow storm in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Thirty seven trucks and nine cars were caught in the weather between Reus and Falset  and were forced to wait in Reus overnight waiting the arrival of the snow plows. The storm has also left 1,634 school children advised to stay at home in Tarragona, Girona, Horta d’Ebre, and Lleida because of the high winds and the cold. Fortunately, this wind has not caused any structural damage like it has in the past. Meteorologist are predicting that the storm will be over by Wednesday and are hoping for no more crashes and school cancelations.

On the same line of thought in regards to school, an article yesterday outlined the plans by the Minister of Education, Angel Gabilondo, and Regional Minister for Education of the Generalitat Ernest Maragall. They signed the Convention School 2.0 plan which aims to digitize the classrooms of Catalunya through installation of more computers and software in both Catalan and Castilian, along with other more advanced technologies. Both the central and regional governments will invest a combined total of 30.8 million euro. However, parents in Catalunya will pay half the cost of the computers as an initial contribution. The  Ministry has an agreement with Microsoft and hopes to get free software, or at least discounted software. The program will be implemented through Educat 1×1 which is for secondary school aged kids and will distribute 60,000 laptops. This program also includes teacher training, WIFI in classrooms, and installation of other necessities and will begin this September.

      Every couple of weeks, my friends and I would go to the Consum, buy a couple bottles of wine and head to the Font Magica. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. You get off at the Espanya stop on and walk up Carrer de Reina Cristina which is lined with brightly lit pillars of water.  There in the center, framed by the rows of fountains and the stunning National Catalan Museum of Art is a massive fountain shining like a jewel as it spouts water into the sky. Surrounding the vivid sapphires, emeralds, rubies, golds, topazes, and amethysts of the fountain’s lights are hundreds of spectators, both tourists and locals alike. All ages come out to see the fountain, from the little girl twirling like a ballerina to the music, to the elderly couple holding hands and watching quietly. Music booms into the plaza surrounding the fountain as the spectators enjoy drinks and tapas from the three café’s in the area. The music ranges from classical favorites that I find myself swaying to, to 80s hits which my friends and I sing along with.

            The Magic Fountain gives you an unexpected glimpse into the culture of Barcelona. Time is not as strictly observed. The fountain show is scheduled to begin at 7, but the crowd does not really thicken for about another half hour. And while it is after dinner time for most of the tourists visiting the show, the locals are casually sipping drinks and snacking on tapas as an appetizer to their dinners which they will go home to after the show around 9.People are much more laid back and take the time to go to events like this that their city offers. This is very different from where I live in the US.  My town does not have a fountain show, or anything remotely like it. And you really cannot beat the views the steps up to the MNAC provide of Barcelona at night. Theirs is truly nothing more beautiful.

 This also lets you have a glimpse into the pride that the people of Barcelona have for their city. At the end of the show, the theme song to the 1992 summer Olympics plays, obviously called Barcelona. If you turn your back to the fountain and look up past the 9 beams of white light (one for each letter of the city) that crown the MNAC, you can catch a glimpse of the white modern sculpture that marks the site of the Olympic Village. The Olympics were a huge economic and social turning point in the history of Barcelona that turned them from a Catalan capital, to a tourist and economic capital of Europe. The number of locals who still come out to view this beautiful display is a testament to the pride they feel in these events.

I can honestly say that I’ve never been anywhere that’s as crazy at night as Barcelona. Even before arriving in the country, club promoters and groups were extending friend requests and event invitations on facebook to VIP lists and unreal clubs.  I really had no idea what I was getting myself into and some of the best times I can remember (or maybe not remember….) are at some of Barcelona’s crazy clubs. 

One of the best things about the night life in this city is that there is something for everyone. If you want to go out at 1 am and stay out until the sun rises, theres always a club for you. If you want to hit up local concerts and live music venues, theres a club for you. If youre looking for a certain kind of music to dance the night away to, you can almost always find that on different floors of the same club. Whether you want to be rocking out deep within the city, or sipping a martini on a chaise lounge overlooking the beach, you’ll most definitely find what you’re looking for in Barcelona.

While it would take an entire blog in itself to talk about my nights out on the town in Barcelona, a couple stick out in my mind as the best. The first would be the night we discovered that The Fray, an American Band was playing at Sala Razzmatazz one Wednesday night and for only 25euro!! Obviously not wanting to miss out on this incredible chance, we bought our tickets and headed to the concert. Theres nothing like seeing one of your favorite bands live, but theres REALLY nothing like seeing it in one of the biggest clubs in one of the most incredible cities on the planet.  Razzmatazz is one of the best clubs in the city for live music so the show was of course, nothing short of amazing. The room it was in was big enough for a crowd, but small enough that you were practically standing onstage with the band. It was one of my favorite nights in Barcelona.

My other favorite night in Barcelona was my  21st birthday celebration. Considering I had been legal for over 2 years according to Barcelona’s laws, I’ll admit I was a little upset that I didn’t get to celebrate this big milestone in the US where I was finally of legal drinking age. But how many people can say that they turned 21 in Barcelona at one of the hottest clubs with VIP treatment all night? My friends and I started the night at our apartment with birthday cookie cake and cocktails and headed out to CDLC, one ofthe clubs on the beach. We met up with several kids from our CEA program. After mistaking the kitchen counter for the bar (the waiters were great and still gave me a drink!) we decided I needed some fresh air and we moved on to Shoko, where one of the guys was promoting for De Lis Group. We walked into a fairly empty club (it was only 1am) and were stopped by the ever present photographer who takes pictures for the website. My friend encouraged him to take lots of pictures because it was my birthday. Upon hearing this he took us up into VIP, set us up with a table and brought out a bottle of chapagne with a huge sparkler. It was more than I ever could have asked for and he was so nice for keeping the drinks coming all night! Unfortunately, I didn’t thnink quite so highly of him the next morning as my head pounded, but it was definitely a birthday I will always remember!

My trip to the Museu Picasso was incredibly interesting.  Picasso came to live in Barcelona when he was 14 years old and became one of the city’s most influential artists. Here he studied at the Lloja Art school which was discussed earlier. His father was an art teacher there and while he learned alot from him, he was a true child prodigy in the arts.  Picasso loved Barcelona because he spent his key years as an artists apprentice in this city. Because of this, his last wish was to have a museum established there. In 1963 with the help of  his personal friend Jaume Sabartes, the museum opened its doors at 15 Carrer de Montcada, and is now one of the many museums in the modern guild along this street. The setting of the museum is almost as stunning as the collection itself. Set inside a series of 4 connected palaces, mainly the Palau Berenguer d’Aguilar, the contrast created between the medieval architecture and the modern art is beautiful.

            The collection within is much of Sabarte’s personal collection, along with several lithographs, posters, drawings and pottery from the artist’s home. While most of the works are relatively unknown, it is not to say they aren’t as important as those shown in the Louvre or in Madrid. In fact, they give more information about the development of Picasso as an artist. One of my favorites was Science and Charity. It depicts a person sick in bed with a doctor on one side representing medicine, and a nun on the other representing religion. Picasso was conflicted at this time with his father because his father was of the academic style of painting but Picasso favored the freer styles. In the painting Picasso manages to create the illusion of the shortening and lengthening of the plane of the bed as you walk from one side of the painting to the other. This incredible knack for perspective is often imitated but has rarely been duplicated so perfectly by any other artist.

Another one of the most interesting paintings I saw was The Madman.  It is of an irrationally tall man who has a crazed expression on his face. I learned in my architecture class that this painting was the transition between the sadness he felt in the blue period and the rejection of his sad reality in the rose period. He had come to terms with the fact that he could not change his circumstances at the time and rather than actually go crazy, he left his feelings behind on paper.

Author’s Note: Because I was not allowed to take pictures inside the museum because of possible damage to the artworks with the flash, all the pictures displayed are from the internet!