BARCELONA PART 2
The city is full of interesting buildings, has large lunch and dinner crowds, has a vibrant night life, with various types of performances in many beautiful venues. The province of Cataluña is fiercely nationalistic and residents like to see themselves as Catalonians first, and secondly as Spaniards. All public signs have the Catalonian language first, then Spanish and third English.
In recent times, the bullfights have ended in Cataluña, the province where Barcelona is located. Bullfighting and the debate about its abolishment was arguably used by political factions as an issue of Catalan’s striving for independence. That is for me a plus, because now I do not have to agonize over whether to condemn it or go see it.
Bullfighting has been an inherent part of the culture and was so much part of the Spanish identity that it was called “fiesta nacional”. The opera Carmen has a toreador in a main role. It also was exported to other Spanish speaking parts of the world in different forms, with or without the bull’s death as end goal: Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and parts of Southern France, and also is practised in Portugal. Public outcry about the cruel nature of the game with the bull (corrida de toros) has finally led to the game’s death in Cataluña. In other parts of the world sparring with the bull or with baby cows (calf roping) is also seen in rodeos and western events all over the world (e.g. Calgary stampede).
The stance of the toreros (charros in Mexico) and the matador (who kills the bull) and their specific costumes were carried on elsewhere, as I recognized it in the costumes of the Mariachi bands in Mexico; the pattern of embroidery along the seams of the very tight pants accentuate the powerful muscles in the legs and buttocks, much to my delight as I watched the Mariachi. The term machismo also is obviously related to Spanish culture; no need to explain.
Now back to modern day Barcelona. We saw a flamenco performance in a beautiful medieval building (16th century), called Palau Dalmases. The group was called Esai Barroc. Two female dancers, a guitarist and a percussionist gave a performance of about an hour and a half, with a glass of something included in the ticket price. It was much different from previous Flamenco performers I have seen, more modern and with improved fluency, accessible for foreigners, but not less dramatic. The dancers were very young.
After the performance having drinks, while people watching on one of the many patios seemed mandatory, and very enjoyable in the warm evening. We ended up, I suspect, in a largely gay neighbourhood, on Placa de Palau, as all we saw were gay couples and groups, apart from the pub crawl guided tour of a mixed gender group that loudly went through the area called El Born. A local resident had hung a display from her balcony that read: “SILENCIO, please show respect!”
Barcelona has many squares and unsuspected openings in a street where a patio is created, a true paradise for people watchers and imbibers. I am describing the Barre la Barceloneta and Barre Gotic (neighbourhoods) and El Born where you can stroll for hours and enjoy what you encounter. We stumbled on the opening of an archaeological museum with an exposed dig right in the middle of the talking heads giving their two cents worth, or rather, two reals worth. This was a 20th century fruit market and when they abandoned the market to dig it up for new construction, they found a much older site beneath it from the 18th century.
We discovered a large park with a boulevard (Parc de la Ciutadella) where on an early evening we saw the locals parading, strolling and recreating – see and be seen – before the evening meal. It reminded me of days gone by in small town Spain where all freshly washed young people went around in circles with under the watchful eyes of their aunt and mothers, and the fathers as well, boys going one way, the girls the other way. That’s where I first smelled that delicious fragrance of the lilies of the valley and Maja soap. The small bright green parakeets were very noisy overhead in the trees, but hard to spot between the greenery.
In the middle of the park sat a deserted fountain, of which the water had been shut off. Behind it was a building with some rooms that could have been converted to a lovely park retreat. Anyway, it was quiet and nice to see.
Of course, with the beach right there a five minute walk, we had to spend some time relaxing, swimming and enjoying yet another glass of Cava with patatas bravas, that dish of delicious, crisply fried potatoes with soft insides covered with a very garlicky aioli sauce, ummmmmmm. We wondered what that golden fish in the distance could be. It changed colour from just a metal grey-ish structure to a softly gleaming gold, beautiful, and we did find out later. The bulky guys were the haulers of the lounge beds and parasols, we found out, not very friendly, and ripping us off for the fee that suddenly changed from the quoted 1 Euro to 8 Euro when it was time to pay up.
Walking towards the casino along a main artery, Calle del Doctor Aiguader, we passed another important venue: Barcelona is also the home of the Barcelona Futbal Club, an important part of the Catalan identity. We happened to walk by one evening on our discovery trip to the casino.
Barcelona has many modern buildings many of which were built when the World Expo was here. The gas building is a miracle of steel and glass that we liked. Surprisingly an old turret with a Moorish flavour sat next to it.
We found out that the fish we saw from the downtown beach was part of the casino and its hotel and is located in the Olympic port, created in 1992 for the Olympic Games. The fish is a whale and consists of a metal grate as it where over a metal pole structure, and is completely open to rain and wind.
That area of the city away from the downtown by a 15 minute walk was completely full with local visitors and contained many entertaining ventures, clubs and bars, marvelous beaches with amenities, change rooms and showers, and restaurants, along a very long promenade all along the beach until one reaches the more touristic areas of the city. A poker tournament was happening that weekend. I played the roulette and lost my few Euros in a hurry, as they had no .50 ct chips and I had to play with 5 Euro chips per bet!
Another day we walked quite aimlessly and always discovered something worthwhile to see.
We spent one day on visiting Park Guell, pronounce: [gway], with a very soft g and no l. The double ll in Spanish is pronounced as the English y, as in yoke. This park was the creation of Gaudi as well. It was meant to be a modern development out of town for those who wanted peace and quiet and more space in a natural environment. This project completely failed in its goal: only two houses were built of which only one house was sold; eventually, Gaudi moved into the show home with his mother and cousin where she died, looked after in her last years by nuns. Gaudi moved into the workshop of the Sagrada Familia where he spent the last year of his life.
The next post will be about Park Guell, which deserves its own blog posts.
I hope you like the Barcelona you see here in this post, as my travel panion and I went by it and enjoyed it. What you are missing are the sounds, and especially the smells of Barcelona as fish is plenty and sewers too, which are not the greatest smells on earth, to be frank..