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Michelle: Barcelona

April 16, 2011

Only a three-hour bus ride and the sister city of Montpellier, I would have been really sad if I didn’t take the opportunity to go to Barcelona during my stay here. With only six weekends left, last weekend was practically my last chances to finally see beautiful Catalonia. Unfortunately, I could only spend one full day there because I had already bought a ticket to see Mozart l’Opera Rock that same weekend in Lyon…but Lyon will be a different post. If ever I have the chance to come back to Europe, I will definitely be returning to Barcelona.

Getting dripped on the entire trip by Euroline’s overhead air-conditioning and being roasted by the heat coming out of the vents underneath was a bit of a downer, but even that didn’t dampen the rest of the visit (I tried to find contact information on their website so I could complain, but no such luck).

One of the first things I noticed about the people of Barcelona is they are much more colorful than those in Montpellier. People walk down the street wearing colors other than black, navy blue, tan, or white! In all, it makes for a more festive atmosphere.

Another thing about crossing the boarder is suddenly I either had to be able to understand Spanish or accept feeling like an idiot. Since I speak no Spanish, I had to settle for the second option. It is kind of amazing how much you can do with English, hand gestures, and a few Spanish words. For example, I had a little difficulty finding the hostel after arriving at the train station. The road I ended up wandering onto was not on my map. So I stopped the first nice looking person I saw and said, “Senora por favor,” pointed to the map and just generally looked confused. She said what I assumed was “you are here” in Spanish, pointed at the map, pointed down the street and up on the map. “Sagrada Familia?” I asked, because my hostel was at that metro stop. She held up 5 fingers for tram line five, then pointed me toward the nearest metro stop. “Gracias,” I said and found my way to the hostel. With all the Spanish names of places , I’m pretty sure I murdered the language. So Mom, Dad, this is me being humbled. When you come, I will not make fun of your French (in front of you).

To understand Barcelona you have to understand a bit of the history of the region of Catalonia. Like Alsace on the border of France and Germany, Catalonia benefits from both French and Spanish influences: they have their own language, customs, and culture.  Though technically in Spain, the Catalonians do not consider themselves Spanish.  To the left you can see the Catalan flag and the Spanish flag flying side by side. The Catalan flag is kind of folded so you can’t really see it, but is four red stripes on a gold background. The story goes, while fighting off the Moorish invasion, the Count of Barcelona, Wilfred the Hairy was wounded. Charles the Bald of the Holy Roman Empire pressed his hand against the wound to stop the bleeding. After it had stopped, he wiped his hand across Wilfred’s golden shield. The flag recreates this act in gratitude for King Charles.

Wilfred the Hairy, as well as being the Count of Barcelona, is known for his dragon slaying. Unlike the typical knights we think of using a sword to kill the beasts, Wilfred used a club.

Due to the influence of Catholicism, Barcelona adopted Wilfred’s Catholic counterpart as their patron saint: St. George. With his white shield and red cross, he killed dragons the way we normally picture such adventurers, with a sword.

In addition to St. George, Barcelona has a second patron saint, St. Eulalia. Eulalia was a 13-year-old girl when Christianity was still in its infancy in Spain. She was not only a believer in Christianity but she tried to spread the word of God. The Roman emperor did not like this bratty little girl challenging his authority and thus subjected her to public humiliation. Stripped naked in a public square, God produced a light snowfall around her to cover her and preserve her purity. This miracle, of course did not sit well with the townspeople who wanted to prove that her god did not exist so they put her in a barrel of knives and rolled her down the street. Here, she was martyred for her beliefs and became a saint. Today, Barcelona’s women still keep a shrine devoted to her on a street called Baixada de Santa Eulalia, “Eulalia’s Descent.”

Below is the former Roman limit of the city. There used to be a drawbridge and water, but those two features are long gone. You can still see one of the Roman arches on the left of the photo.

During the Age of Exploration, Spain commissioned an adventurous young explorer to find a faster route to the Orient. This statue is in honor of that man and he points toward the Americas, the land he discovered.

Upon Columbus’ return, be brought with him all the riches of the New World including foods, animals, and people. It was in the Placa del Rei where he was received. Here is where the Old World met the New.

In addition to their rich history, Barcelona is also known for their art. The two pictures below have a bit of a funny story attached. First of all, that building is the city’s school of architecture. That probably wasn’t your first guess; moi non plus. A couple decades ago, they decided they wanted their building to be less of an eyesore so they created a new facade. According to the story, Picasso and Miro were rivals. One night after a Miro exhibition, Picasso was sitting in his favorite pub, Els Quatro Gats, probably getting a little bit drunk/trippy off absinthe. Everyone in the bar was going on about how great Miro is. Finally, Picasso had had enough and says ”Miro’s work looks like child’s work, anyone can do a Miro.”  He then proceeds to get out a marker draws the first sketch on the bar’s tablecloth to prove it. The people in the bar have to admit, his sketch could be a Miro.  Someone at the bar that night was smart enough to save the tablecloth

Some days later, Miro hears about Picasso’s slight against him and retaliates with his rendition of a Picasso. Today, the products of this artist’s quarrel serve to mask possibly the ugliest building in Barcelona.

As you may have guessed, Picasso studied and worked in Barcelona. At the age of 14, the Picasso family moved to Barcelona where Pablo was enrolled in La Llotja, the local art school (pictured below). Unbeknown to his father, La Llotja is in the middle of what was then, Barcelona’s red light district. There are those who say that it is from this early exposure to sexuality that Picasso became quite the ladies’ man. Being a world renowned artist probably didn’t hurt either. This street, the Career d’Avinyo, is where Picasso drew his inspiration for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Next to the La Llotja is the Placa George Orwell. Somewhat poetically, this was the first square in Barcelona to be put under 24 hour video surveillance.

Along with Picasso, one of Barcelona’s most famous artists is without a doubt Antoni Gaudi. Like Picasso, Gaudi enjoyed the company of the Green Fairy.  This is reflected in many of his works through their curves and details of his pieces. He is widely considered one of the pioneers of the modernist movement. Below, is one of Gaudi’s first works for the city in the Placa Real. On a side note, those palm trees were imported from Hawai’i when Barcelona hosted the Olympics in 1992.

O

ne of Gaudi’s most extensive works is the Park Guell. On the top of a hill overlooking the city, it is a bit like a page out of Hansel and Gretel’s candy house. With all the colors, textures, and irregular shapes, it feels like the park was designed while Gaudi was tripping on something.

This section is called the room of 100 columns. In reality there are only 86 columns.

The mosaics on the ceiling here are made out of recycled porcelain or ceramic products. Gaudi collected dishes, dolls, and whatever else he could, broke them up, and made these works of art.

Barcelona is breathtaking from this park.

The Casa Batllo is another of Gaudi’s works. It pops out of the city’s walls set against the more traditional architecture of the period.

Perhaps though, Gaudi’s most famous work is the Sagrada Familia. We actually didn’t have enough time to go inside, but it’s nice to admire it from afar.

Although work started in 1882, it is not expected to be finished until 2026 making this possibly one of the longest construction project in modern times.

Paella is the signature dish of Barcelona and tells a story that capture’s the city’s personality. One night, a young man in love invited a beautiful young woman over for dinner. To impress her, he decided to cook her dinner. Unfortunately, his first attempt didn’t turn out, so in a panic, he grabbed his leftovers and anything else he had on hand and threw it over the stove to cook. This happened to be mussels, shrimp, rice, lemons, tomatoes, squid, and peppers. When the girl arrived, she loved it and asked what it was called. With true Catalan charm, he called it para ella, “for her.” Out of a hint of desperation, a dash of creativity, and a whole lot of love, Paella was born.

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One comment

  1. Sorry to say that Saint George is Saint Patron of Catalonia, not Barcelona. The city has Santa Eulalia, and the city’s parish is “La Mercè”, holy Mary

    Thank you



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