Getting back on the horse

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It’s been a rough few days on the trail here at Go See Run Eat Drink. In fact, it’s been more like Sit Stew Mope Eat Drink. I wasn’t in a good mood when I arrived in Barcelona. I wasn’t happy about leaving France, and I wasn’t really feeling up to the challenge of another new city and language and map and metro system and on and on. Add to that the whole wallet fiasco, and you may understand why I holed up in a private hotel room for most of the weekend. By about mid-afternoon on Sunday, though, I was getting a bit restless, so I took the opportunity to wander by the hostel I’d originally been aiming when I arrived (before I realized I really really needed my own space for a while). It seemed nice, so I decided it was time to kick myself out of the nest and return to the backpacker fray of an 8-bed hostel room. The longer I spend by myself, the harder it becomes to reach out and connect with anyone around me, and that’s no fun at all. In fact, it may have been a little hit of Rick Steves that got me going again: “Extroverts have more fun. If your trip is low on magic moments, kick yourself and make things happen.” Either that, or the Spirit of Rob Hamilton is with me.

Whatever it was, I reserved three nights at Hostel Itaca, and I made plans for the rest of my time in Spain and Portugal. I booked a walking tour. I went for an 11km run in the rain. I “chatted” with a few people on my email list. And on Monday morning, bright and early, I packed up and moved to the hostel, and then headed out for a day of proper tourist business.

The walking tour I did was a disappointment. Perhaps I was still distracted by my lingering self-pity, but I just couldn’t get into it. I did get some good errands done afterwards, though. I got a fresh roll of clear tape for abbreviating guide books and laminating paper wallets. I got new copies of my passports made, since I realized I was walking around with no ID other than bank and credit cards. And I made train reservations to Granada, Madrid and Lisbon. With that done, and feeling pretty good about things, I headed for my big destination of the day, Sagrada Familia – the famous unfinished church by Anton Gaudi.

I arrived, but I was starting to feel that creeping “meh, so what” feeling again, especially when I realized that I had almost no cash on me. The revived only-carry-one-day-of-cash plan is in effect, but the train reservations were pricier than I expected, so I wandered around looking for a bank machine. This lead to a long series of episodes wherein I would ineffectually sticking my bank card into machine after machine and be rejected by each one, growing more and more annoyed by the minute. By the time I gave up and sat in the park across from the church the attitude I had to the whole thing was, and I’m quoting directly from my thoughts here so this is not G-rated (sensitive readers, avert your eyes), “I don’t give a flying fuck about this fucking church.”

So of course I went up and forked over my (almost) last €11.00 for the admission and €4.00 for the audioguide. Because that’s what we go here at Go See Run Eat Drink. We see things.

Well I have to tell you that I owe Anton Gaudi a big thank you because as soon as I stopped and really looked, and listened to the excellent audio commentary, I was hooked. Sagrada Familia is at once impressive and whimsical, imposing and inviting, overdone and restrained, and really just simply fantastic. I’m sorry York Minster, Sagrada Familia isn’t even finished yet, but it may still be my new favourite church.

In fact, it’s only about 50% complete even though they’ve been working on it since 1882, and that might be one of my favourite things about it. I think it’s wonderful that it’s taking as long to build this church as it used to take when they really knew how to build churches. Again, to quote Rick Steves:

“There’s something powerful about an opportunity to feel a community of committed people with a vision working on a church that will not be finished in their lifetime.”

I knew somewhere in the back of my head that the church wasn’t finished, but I really had no notion of exactly how not finished it is. It is really really not done. There are gigantic towers and facades that haven’t even been started. And the whole inside of the nave is full of scaffolding and construction materials and scissor-lifts and guys in hard hats and steel toes. It’s a freakin’ construction site. It was great. There they were, going about the business of building this amazing thing, and all around them tourists were filing through taking pictures.

Worker, watched over by a statue of St. Jordi, Barcelona’s patron saint.

Despite the unfinished nature of the place, it’s easy to see the absolute genius of the design. It’s bloody great. The columns in the nave were my favourite bit I think. Everyone talks about them being like trees which is true of course, but I really liked hearing about the geometry of the shapes. Gaudi wasn’t just mimicking nature – he was using those forms as a springboard to create these brilliant twisted helicoidal shapes that start out 8-sided at the bottom and get more and more circular the farther up they go. And where they break into more smaller columns – like the limbs of a tree – the meeting point is a big parabolic* shape, with other small parabolas taken out or added on like knots in a tree, but geometrically perfect at the same time. It was fantastic, and though I understood about 1/100th of it all, it was right up my alley. It was art and engineering at the same time.

Nowadays they test the viability of these shapes with computer models, but back in the day Gaudi used to build (or have built) complex plaster models to test different shapes. These models became important insights into Gaudi’s original plans after his death, and there’s still a thriving model-building workshop in the basement of the church. That was my other favourite part.

The model shop

When he started the project, Gaudi knew he wouldn’t be alive to see it completed. He knew other artists and architects would have to carry on and he accepted that they weren’t just going to dig out his drawings and treat them like gospel. He knew that every person along the way would put their own stamp on the design. I think that’s cool too. Not just practical, but generous.

I could go on and on. There’s actually a lot more to see outside the church than there is inside. I like the controversial Passion Facade (only completed in 1970s) by Josep Maria Subirachs.

It took a while, but I really warmed to this style.

Other might prefer the “cake-in-the-rain”** effect and over-the-top ornamentation of the Nativity Facade.

Not my style, but it had the donations pouring in when it was completed before Gaudi died.

Once I’d finished the audioguide (which was supposed to last 70 minutes) two hours had passed. I had another quick look around and convinced myself I was well and truly done with Sagrada Familia. Better still, I was starting to feel like my old self. I wandered*** back to the hostel via a small grocery store and picked up the makings of a nice omelet, and a bottle of wine (I’m continuing to break in the corkscrew). And I made myself supper, and sat and wrote and felt pretty good.

I may not be all the way back on the horse yet, but at least I have a vague notion of where the horse, and I’m heading in his direction.

* I think they’re parabolas. Then again, they might be ellipsoids or hyperbolas or tetrabolicoloidinaldecathromodons. Or something like that.

** That’s a Rick Steves phrase. Credit where credit is due… It’s been really nice having Rick around again, I must say. The LP is still the gospel, but RS has an infectious enthusiasm that I’ve been lacking lately.

*** Ok, I’ll admit that I tried to go see the “Block of Discord”, a series of Modernista buildings near Place Catalunya that looked like it would be a quick and pleasant detour, given my new-found love of all things Gaudi. Astute GSRED readers will be able to predict what happened next. Yes, that’s right, upon emerging from the Metro station I went the wrong way. Again. Oh, and then when I realized I was going the wrong way I stopped to figure things out and set off again in a new and different wrong way. God, it’s a wonder I can make it from my bed to the door most days.


Unknown said...

Glad you're back in the saddle. I am honoured to be mentioned in the same sentence as RS. No one guide book is right for all occaisions - one must range around for variety.

As for the daily money resupply battle: When you do get a bank machine that works, put 100E in each shoe under the insole. That will carry you for a while if the machines are uncooperative or if anything happens. And you cannot even feel it.

I am so jealous now you are in Spain. "they say Spain is pretty, though I've never been". Enjoy it and take lots of people pictures.

Cheers, Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Glad you found something to like. I figured out my day trips from Madrid were Toledo and Segovia - enjoyed both. Especially the 'Mazipan" from Toledo. Yum!

I remember walking around a palace in Madrid across from the opera house.
Sending good travelling wishes!!!

Unknown said...

Pam- may the spirit of RH sustain you... I enjoyed the photostream of that fantastic church construction project a great deal, a place I've always wanted to visit.
Good luck to you on your travels, I have no useful advice, but I do think this blog would make a great coffee table book, can't wait for the next chapter...

Best wishes,

Jeff Scollon

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