Over the last weeks we have settled down to a good travel pace, with time visiting friends and time by ourselves to absorb what we’ve learned and of course to keep up our Spanish practice. When I drive long distances, we usually have a Spanish lesson for Laura and Conor. Giving Spanish lessons while driving is particularly useful for me to take my mind off the inevitable anxiety I feel driving narrow mountain roads. They are learning the tenses and vocabulary pretty quickly, and our verb book is our constant companion. I’m really pleased at how interested they are to learn Spanish and understand what our hosts are saying. They remember a phrase they didn’t understand and ask me hours later. I wish I had a memory like that!
We spent last week in Barcelona with our friends Nuria and Pep and their three children. Though they speak Catalan at home, they were kind enough to limit themselves to Castilian Spanish with us so that we were not totally at sea. They had a long weekend off work and were able to take time to tour around with us. Last weekend Spain celebrated the “Fiesta de la Hispanidad”, or celebration of Hispanic unity, pretty interesting to celebrate in Catalunya with its strong regional culture. Though the celebration is marked by military parades in other parts of Spain, there was very little of that in Catalunya. We did see some motorcyclists waving an oversized Spanish flag at one intersection. Other than that it was a typical long weekend for Barcelonans, with tapas, strolling on the Ramblas, and hanging out at museums. At least that’s what we did. The MNAC, Catalunyan National Art Museum, has the most incredible collection of Romanesque frescoes anywhere in the world. They have been removed from various churches throughout the province in order to protect them. There must be 40 different church naves in the museum, and they are gorgeous.
Although delving into the art of 12th century churches was fascinating, the most interesting aspect of Barcelona for me was the Gaudí architecture. His work seems so modern and outlandish that it’s hard to fit it into 19th century European notions. It came out of the Catalan Modernisme movement, related to Art Nouveau, but it seems so much more colorful and playful than most Art Nouveau I have seen. It looks like Matisse gone 3D, with his Mediterranean colors and fantastical shapes. There are 20-foot lizards and rooflines that drip as if they are melting.
One of my favorite Gaudí works was the Park Guell, where he designed an entire neighborhood. It was never finished, but was to include parks, housing and community spaces. What was built was a residence (a pink house complete with steeple) and a large park which overlooks Barcelona. It has wonderful curving benches, decorated with pieces of ceramic tiles and old bottles. People flock to the Park Guell, not just tourists but Barcelona residents. It is quirky, fun, and Mediterranean.
Gaudí ‘s piece de resistance is the design of a new modern cathedral, the Sagrada Familia. In the last decade of his life, he applied his gift for modern interpretation of traditional spaces (apartment buildings, parks etc.) to a huge cathedral, complete with many huge spires, statues with Biblical stories, and a tremendous nave. Though he died in 1926, the work on the project continues today, with cranes and construction workshops throughout the church. Barcelonans are helping to pay for the construction of this huge community project. Though I found the oversized Biblical figures a bit gaudy, the idea of building a new cathedral for modern times is a very striking one.