16 March 2009

Barcelona -- Day 3

Quick breakfast at a local café, which provides Michael with excellent coffee and me with the obligatory fresh-squeezed orange juice. Stroll up Paseo de Gracia to check out the multi-star Omm Hotel, where we'll celebrating my birthday in the evening at the Roca Brothers' restaurant Moo. Then it's on to the first of our two Gaudi stops of the day, Casa Milà or La Pedrera (The Quarry), a limestone, concrete, and iron fantasy. One of the apartments there has been furnished with fittings circa its 1906-1911 construction period; the occupants of the others must be fed up with all of us tourists tramping to and fro. Photographs below. For more complete coverage, see http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Casa_Mila.html

Façade. The wrought iron balconies, all different, were designed by one of Gaudi's frequent collaborators.

Entry door.


Attic (NB catenary arches).

Rooftop. Twisting forms disguise ventilator shafts and chimneys.

View of La Sagrada Familia through rooftop arch:

We didn't take any photos of the apartment, which was nowhere near as striking as the one we saw at Emily's Casa Batlló in the afternoon. I do recall, though, that the tiles in the kitchen were the same beautiful Gaudi pattern as those on many Barcelona sidewalks. The kitchen tiles were the turquoise color, and I'm pretty sure that these are the originals on the pavement, the plain gray being modern copies. There is only one tile design; the larger pattern with spiral appears via shifting the orientation of each individual tile.

Once again, we return south of Plaza Catalunya, where the northern new town meets the old. The herbolisteria I had wanted to check out was closed until the afternoon, so we return to the mineral shop to discover where the meteorite piece is from (Namibia) and then descend beneath Barcelona's streets to peer at excavated Roman ruins in the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat. Unfortunately, no photography was permitted of Barcino (as Roman Barcelona was known, allegedly in honor of the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca, the father of Hannibal, who may have founded the city circa 230 BC), but this was a fascinating glimpse of daily life: it was like walking along a winding street and peering into the foundations of premises belonging to dyers, launderers, oil and salted fish manufacturers, and wine makers from the first few centuries AD.

Emily had urged us to see the Picasso Museum, but I'm afraid we failed her. That and the Miró will have to wait until we return. We tried to see the textile and costume museum, free via our metro-museum pass, but the only section open was a bizarre modern installation, of which I remember only a cityscape with buildings from all over the world (interesting, but what did it have to do with textiles?) and strange, bright-colored plastic hangings. I've now read that the main collection is closed for months at a time; February was obviously one of those months.

Next on the rubbernecking itinerary was the geology museum, but first we had lunch at a small restaurant nearby. I wasn't all that hungry after gobbling a SUPERB double-scoop mandarin sorbet cone earlier in the morning (Michael's few licks didn't even count), but I still did fair justice to our three-course meal (peas--a Catalan specialty--then rice and sausage for Michael, mussels and white fish barbecued à la plancha for me, lemon sorbet) with mineral water and red wine, all for a total of 27 euros. For both of us. The pound may be sinking against the euro, but you'd never eat so well in London at that price.

The geology museum was charmingly old-fashioned, lots of remarkable specimens in glass cases. Michael was disappointed that the minerals and fossils and a tired-looking list of geological periods were pretty well it. There was no attempt to convey any sense of earth processes or why geology might be an exciting and relevant subject to explore.

Moving on. Several more photographs of sandstone walls were taken for possible inclusion in his throughthesandglass blog, including huge blocks used by the Romans that were reincorporated into later construction. Here's a whimsical display in one of the shop windows we passed:

The "food" above is all constructed from various toweling items, but below is the real thing in a very good bakery where I bought, amongst other goodies, some chocolate-covered cornflakes for Emily. During the winter to make extra money, she had developed a special recipe and sold these at the weekend market. Someone recognized her just the other day and cried out, "Oh--the Chocolate Girl!! May I order some more?"

Next we hit one of the foodie meccas recommended in Frommer's, all old wood and glass jars. Stocked up on risotto, Marcona almonds, and chocolate-dipped orange slices.

The herbolisteria was now open now and we entered to find the most charming white-haired man doling out assorted tisanes and infusions. I picked up a simple fruit tea for myself and a customized blend of verbena, hibiscus, and licorice, promised to be a restorative for Emily after a hard day in the sculpture studio. The transaction was conducted via a mixture of Spanish (clearly a no-go given our command of about ten words), English, and French. A challenge, but the shopkeeper couldn't have been more patient.

The fountain in the foreground has a Latin inscription in honor of Linnaeus, which I noticed immediately since my consciousness was raised after reading Richard Fortey's book with several chapters on taxonomy.

Exterior of the shop, one of the oldest in Barcelona. Even the window glass was vintage, with that distinctive wavy, rippled effect so unlike modern panes. I suppose the heavy shutters that had barred the windows earlier in the day must have protected them during the rampages of the Civil War. The glass was clearly a point of pride: the shopkeeper made sure that we didn't miss this feature.

Outside the front door, this plate with symbols of all the city guilds was set in the sidewalk. We had seen another outside a suitably venerable hardware store.

We drop off our purchases at the hotel, with the exception of those for Emily, and take off for our rendezvous at Casa Batlló. We link up after our tour, when we get to marvel at her ability to switch effortlessly from Spanish to English to German and back again as she hands out the audio guides. Her French is far better than mine (you can imagine the difference in accent, for a start) and she can even ask "What language would you like?" in Japanese. She has brought us a bottle of the limoncello she made from lemons carted back to Barcelona from our lemon tree in Laroque (delicious--we sampled it right before we left for France), plus specialty tea, sugar swizzle sticks, and cookies for my birthday. Many hugs since this is the last time we'll see her. She'll be manhandling metal in the sculpture studio when we drop off my birthday bouquet at the museum the next morning.

I'll close this entry with a series of photos from what we think of as Emily's Gaudi house. It was here that I realized how truly lovely and comfortable an apartment that he created could be. He's not just about grand statements.

The exterior, with what Cheri pointed out are dragon scales on the tiled roof. Gaudi drew no plans for the renovation of Casa Batlló (both this and La Pedrera existed as very conventional residential buildings before he redesigned them), but relied exclusively on models to convey to the contractors what he wanted them to do.

The central stairwell:

The laundry and attic, light and airy in a way that was unheard of when the building was constructed during 1904-1906. Note, once again, the catenary arches.

Details of patio mosaics. Gaudi was one of the original ethical as well as pragmatic recyclers. No broken tile, for example, was thrown out.

The roof. Again, the sculptures are actually vents and chimneys, but very different in effect from those at La Pedrera. Gaudi is said never to have repeated himself.

Details of the Batlló apartment, designed by Gaudi right down to the doorknobs. As in La Pedrera, there are still residents living on other floors.

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