Only a few days in, and I am already overwhelmed with sights and sounds, tastes and experiences! I can certainly understand how people get hooked on Barcelona, and never want to leave. As a way of trying to catch up, I’ll just try to encapsulate some of the events of the last few days. I am going to wait to write more about Gaudi, since I have already been pilloried for expressing dismay about Sagrada Familia before seeing the interior; once I have seen all the Gaudi buildings, I’ll comment further!
We are staying in an apartment in Poble Nou, a section of town that used to be working-class industrial (my friend Judy Sobre, who lived and studied in Barcelona in the 1960s, says her Barcelonan ex-husband was from this district, and that it is now unrecognizable), but is now very trendy and gentrified. We found the apartment through SabbaticalHomes.com. While the apartment is not our style–all Ikea and hard stone floors, and ELECTRIC COOKING, which we hate–the location is ideal: 4 blocks from the beach, and 2 blocks from the Metro. I’m pretty sure this was built and/or renovated for the 1992 Olympics, when everything in Barcelona changed. The beds are comfortable and the view out the back window looks onto charming old backyards, which I always love seeing. It also includes an interesting vision of the most reviled building in Barcelona, Jean Novel’s Torre Agbar, known by many scatalogical terms, including more tamely ”The Blue Cigar” or ”The Suppository.”
It’s no surprise that one of the first places we went was the fabulous Boqueria market, about which I have already written. We have now found our own local market, which is also splendid, if not as grand. On Saturday, when we discovered the place, the shopkeepers were all dressed like pirates. We had already noticed that children were in costumes on the street. Why pirates, we asked? Because it’s Carnaval Week!
Called Carnestoltes in Catalan, Carnaval in Barcelona is geared largely toward the children and is celebrated locally. Each barri (district) has its own celebrations. In the 1980s and into the mid-90s, Barcelona had a grand Rio-style decadent parade down the Rambla, but decided to end that, and encouraged each neighborhood to return to more traditional festivities. Our neighborhood of Poblenou had a small parade on Saturday down the main pedestrian street, with groups of kids in costumes, playing drums and other instruments, walking past a jury who playfully graded them, and awarded prizes. It was delightful.
On Sunday in La Ribera, or El Born, one of the oldest parts of town, the city puts on La Tronjada, the Festival of the Oranges, another old tradition in which oranges used to be tossed into the crowds. Now it’s orange balloons and confetti and entertainment, but the crowds are just as big and lively. We also found costumed families at the restaurant where we ate on Sunday. Big, joyous, raucous doings!
Going to La Tronjada allowed us to visit what many describe as their favorite church in Barcelona, Santa Maria del Mar. I can see why: an absolutely magnificent Gothic church of
the Catalan style. Robert Hughes writes that the Catalonians were masters of the WIDE Gothic church rather than HIGH. The interior space of this structure, which has always been the church of the working classes, was simply stunning. So inviting that one wanted to sit down and stay there. We will go back for a tour to the rooftop, which my new-found friend Annie Graul–one of my former students who has lived in Barcelona for nearly 30 years–says is an enlightening experience.
And on that note, alth ough there is already so much more I could write about, we are off for some more enlightening experiences in this amazing city. I do wish that I could have known Barcleona back before it was discovered by shiploads of tourists, and things were a little more casual in terms of visiting (everything involves a ticket now and standing in long queues), but life goes on. And it’s still one of the most accessible places we have been. One final single shot of Santa Maria del Mar, because it is so wonderful.