11 May 2009


It's in Spain. I remember 1992, the Olympic Games, and wondering why, with the opportunity to tell the world anything it chose about itself, Barcelona went for the basic geography lesson. Yes, that was their tag-line, "Barcelona... it's in Spain." Now, after less than 48 hours in that gorgeous city, full of art and life and culture, it became as clear to me as "Montreal... it's in Canada." Throughout that summer of '92, Spain was sending a message, not to the world, but to its own citizens: "Barcelona... It's in Spain... Like it or not." And Catalunyans don't like it, not one bit. Sure, they can speak Spanish (after all... they are Spanish), but the menus, street signs, and general mind-set are pure Catalan. Where my western-hemisphere Spanish is loathsome to the rest of the country, in Catalunya I can drop the lisp which never comes out in the right place anyway. Wretched, New World Spanish just means I'm not one of "them." My Colombian friends are more welcome in Barcelona than if they were Sevillanos. In fact, locals are from Catalunya 1st, and Spain only if pressed.

Having abandoned my Spanish phrase book, deciding to get by on what lurks in the recesses of my memory, we set out to take in as much of this place as possible before we had to move on, twice: under 24 hours on the first pass through and less than 12 on the way back. Let me just say, "Gaudi." Not "gaudy," but Antoni Placid Guillem Gaudi y Cornet. Perhaps, in the eyes of some, there might be a connection, but honestly, the man was a genius. Brilliant. Please appreciate with me a few of his architectural gems in Barcelona, bits of Walt Disney's imagination on city streets in the real world.
photo: Craig Lewisphoto: 555-Nase
photo: Charles Curling

His life's work, left unfinished when he was run over by a tram at the age of 73, is the Sagrada Familia. A church of spectacular vision and scale, Gaudi set about "growing" his beloved plane-trees in stone within stone walls. A small but invaluable museum on
site describes and illustrates the geometric processes used to create the soaring, branching columns supporting the roof. Beautiful as it was to see his inspired work, the inspiration itself was more so. Cruising up the Canal du Midi in the south of France, we were flanked nearly the entire way by Gaudi's plane trees. It was easy to understand why he would be moved to recreate these trees to support the soaring roof for a house of God.

photos: Craig Lewis

The Sagrada Familia remains a work in progress. Although the visionary is gone, those who remain to carry on appear to be giving full effort to honor his marvelous vision. However, if you want to see this amazing creation, be warned that it is in peril. A transit tunnel is either under construction at present or at least being fought for and against. As much as I favor public mass transit, it would be a tragedy to undermine this sanctuary's roots and risk its collapse.

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