Sunday, July 10, 2005

Barcelona - Late Nights, Gaudi, Miro and Machismo.

On Wednesday night we wandered into the Placa De Reial somewhere between 1 and 2 AM. You may not think much of the Placa De Reial if you came across it on a hot sunny day – in fact you may dismiss it as yet another European courtyard scene bordered with Restaurants and Cafés. But given that the square was packed at 2 AM, it definitely painted a very bohemian tableau – like something out of an improbable Bacardi ad. There were groups scattered on the ground, squatting with guitars, practicing street performances, people dancing or just milling and talking, wandering arm in arm, greeting people, stopping for a glass of wine or a mug of beer, all perfectly natural things to do at 2 AM apparently, at the Placa De Reial. I have to point out, that despite 250 people, mostly young and marginally more male than female in composition, never gave the impression of being unsafe, or yobbish or in any way belligerent. In fact this culture of benign drinking and sang-froid is a microcosm of Barcelona – friendly, easy going, extroverted, but gentle, with a heightened sensitivity for art, architecture and design. Very reflective of the artistic influence of Gaudi and Picasso and Miro, the sporting legacy of the Brazillians, (Ronaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho) and the Dutch (Johann Cruyff, Philip Cocu, Ronald Koeman et al) not coincidentally, one suspects, 2 countries known for the art and intelligence of their football.

Tuesday night: we wandered through the Barri Gotic, the old, apparently jewish part of town – an area symbolized by a number of very old buildings, narrow alleys, quaint stores and bars, and an ever open invitation to explore. The place we were looking for, and found, with some effort, was something called a Harlem Jazz Club, where they say you never know just what you’ll find, by way of music. On this given night, we found our way past the bar to a corner table in an L shaped room, facing the corner where there was a performance about to start. The ensemble was a curious one, 2 violinists, a double bass, a couple of hand played percussions and a couple of wind instruments – trombones. The band looked like they would have been perfectly at home performing in a beach shack in Goa, or indeed living there. Their music when it started was very reminiscent of an Indian shaadi band – but freed of playing their rendition of “Didi Tera Dewar…” and allowed instead the freedom of jazz experimentation and egged on by a supportive crowd of 50 or so. To be honest, I was more amused than impressed. Starting with a version of Zorba the Greek, played more with gusto than with finesse, they wandered through a few other less known pieces, sounding more and more like the shaadi bands of India. Then, somewhere just after midnight, a strange thing happened: this guy, who looked more Goan than Pinto or Carvalho, picked up the trombone and suddenly and effortlessly, took the music by the scruff of its neck into a completely different plane. It was as though all that had gone before was a different set of musicians. The band fell in line with him and he blew some incredibly sweet notes and for the next and rather short 45 minues, he transported the crowd to a very happy and heady place and kept us quite enthalled. It was this music, I’m convinced, more than the couple of very stiff Bacardi’s I drank which led to my sudden and utter intoxication, whereupon I had to be guided home by Karuna and the walk while entertaining was far from easy.

Last 4 hours in Barcelona. Sitting at a Starbucks (that amazing symbol of Catalan culture and tradition!) and reflecting on what I’ve seen of Spanish culture. Oh yes, an important quirk that must be noted is the way toilets are organized. In restaurant after restaurant, bars and cafes, the loo is either unisex or has a common area from where the men’s and women’s rooms are branched off. The structure is patently consistent – anybody walking in has direct line of sight to the urinals. Having thought about it at length I can only conclude its intended to be that way. It’s a show. A performance. Perhaps it’s a sign of masculinity! Once you get past the discomfort of knowing that there are women passing by who can see you in an act which I at least have never thought to be a particularly graceful one, you can get into the stride of it. Suddenly your posture changes, you hold your shoulders out, straighten your back hold your stomach in, and in general try to look like a statue of Adonis or Hercules at the alter of the bladder. Let all that power surge through you as you empty your bladder with the masculinity flowing through your veins. If after all that you can still pee, you’ll undoubtedly find the experience an exhilarating one.

I have to learn Spanish and come back here. There’s too much happening and the little conversation that slip past my ears opaquely leave me with a vague sense of superficiality. Lives are quite intricate here. The air is half tropical, which brings a certain density to the air, the society and the culture.

Of course, its not possible to end a story about Barcelona without mention of Gaudi, Picasso or Miro. At the same time, its hard to think of things which haven’t been mentioned already – given the gazillion books published in every conceivable dialect on these guys. Let me therefore keep my comments brief and personal.

Gaudi was to architecture what the Sergeant Peppers album was to rock music. A creative force who was not only ahead of his time, but remains a tour de force to this day. This analogy is a bit unfair to Gaudi since he preceded the Beatles by the better part of a century. Today we’ve just spent 2 hours at his Casa Batlio. To describe it in words will not do justice even if I write for the next 2 whole days (and indeed, you read all of it!). Gaudi took his architectural inspiration from nature, and combined the creativity and unshackled thinking of a Dali with all the clarity and functionality that is the hallmark of a good architect. The Casa Batlio has a marine theme and apart from Gaudi’s usual style of “no corners and no right angles”, also manages to utilize the marine theme through the house. The central courtyard, for example uses darker tiles at the top, with smaller windows, where sunlight is plentiful, and light tiles and big windows on the lower floors to maximize available light. Ventilation and insulation are thought through in detail and every stunning arch or curve is implemented with a vision of utility that is breathtaking. The terrace, the coup de grace of most Gaudi buildings, has his signature fantasy like structures, decorative chimneys, dragons or just parapets, with mosaics of coloured tiles and glass, intended to make the terrace look different by time of day, season or just weather.

The Sagrada Familia and the La Pedrera are 2 of his other well known constructions. I've described the former earlier in this blog (scroll down) and the pictures of the La Pedrera can be found here:

In fact here's a link to all of Gaudi's life and work:

I suspect I'll be writing about Barcelona for a few more days till I can get all these highly charged neural impulses quieted down from their state of extreme excitement.


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