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Showing posts with label Barcelona. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barcelona. Show all posts

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sunday's Sardana

We finished our week in the Torrevieja area, where we used to live, and rode the train to Barcelona from Alicante yesterday afternoon. We could have flown back home to the U.S. this morning, but instead we delayed our departure by a day just to see the sardanas in front of the Cathedral in the old part of the city of Barcelona.

I first wrote about the sardanas in 2009, I've just discovered by searching this blog. We were in Barcelona for our first visit, centered around a meeting of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators. On Sunday morning we happened upon what seemed like an impromptu folk dance in the plaza in front of the old cathedral not far from our hotel. It is, in fact, anything but impromptu. It happens every Sunday, from 11:15 to 1:00 PM, we have learned, and it is a celebration particular to the Catalunya autonomous community of Spain.

We arrived early at the plaza, in time for a café con leche, and when we made our way around the cathedral, we came to the front, where sixteen or so chairs were set up and roped off on the steps in front of the cathedral. Slowly, musicians appeared within the roped-off area and took their seats. They unpacked instruments: a piccolo, clarinet, other woodwinds, but we were standing right behind the man who lugged in a bass, and we watched him place bandages on his fingers, then he sanded the strings of the bass, ran a lit pocket lighter along them ("Don't try this at home," he told us), and then rosin. No director appeared, but at precisely 11:15 (and this the morning of the change from summer to winter time in Europe) the piccolo lead with a couple bars and then the rest of the instruments joined in, and then one, then two, and three circles of dancers formed on the pavement below, and the slow, ritualistic melody and movements combined in the weekly celebration of the old Catalunyan tradition.

The Catalunyan flag was waving behind the dancers and in front of the musicians, not the Spanish flag. Some may look upon this as a weekly political protest, and there is surely some truth in that description. You can also see it as a hallowed, weekly acknowledgement of a culture, and of the idea of vibrant individual cultures within states. We spied an old man dancing who could barely keep up with the movements and during a break asked him how long he had been dancing sardana in the square. Thirty years, he said. We made a date to come back and see him ten years from now, at which point we know he will either be on the square in front of the cathedral, or he will have danced his way into paradise.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Angel's Game

This Sunday my body is not in Spain, but my mind is. I am catching up on reading The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, the July title for my book club. I started it more than a week ago, on the plane from Madrid to Chicago, and I figured then that if I read 25 pages per day I would be able to finish it before the discussion day. It's a long book--500 pages--and that fact, plus the fact that we are discussing it in English, means that I am reading it in English. I beat my goal on the flight over, reading three days' worth. But then I laid it aside and didn't pick it up again until yesterday. As of Sunday mid-day I have made it to page 204.

Like Zafón's previous Shadow of the Wind, which I have also read, this book takes place in Barcelona. There is lots of description of the city, with so many street names named that I feel I should be reading it with a city map open next to the book.  Thanks to our mini-vacation in Barcelona last Christmas, I am familiar with more of the city landmarks than I was when I read Shadow of the Wind. The Angel's Game starts in December of 1917, and it was particularly interesting to read of David Martín's excursion to the building site of Sagrada Familia cathedral, then apparently a deserted building site, before more recent construction, which had been on-going in fits and starts since 1882, was begun anew and continued more regularly. He also spends time near the architect Antonio Gaudi's Park Güell,  which I visited for the first time last December, and I understand perfectly what the cab driver meant when he dropped David off late one night and asked if he was sure he wanted to be dropped off there.

I am not now making notes of all the addresses in The Angel's Game, but I am making a note to keep the book. I think on my next trip to Barcelona I'd like to take one of those historic tours that point out sites from Shadow of the Wind, and presumably now also, The Angel's Game. Or at least find the tower house in which our protagonist lives in the Borne district near the Rambla. To say nothing of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy Books

Inside Happy Books, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
One of the unexpected pleasures we had in Barcelona was stumbling upon a store called Happy Books. Given the name and the bright colors of children's books and cookbooks on display in bins out front, I thought at first that it was a bookstore for light reading only. The store was crowded (this was the Sunday before Christmas) but we made our way in to browse, and then we went farther and farther in. True, I found a good share of light reading (pizza cookbooks in a circular shape, for example) and young adult books (YA classic editions of literature from around the world, including Lazarillo de Tormes, a Spanish classic that I had read part of). As I got farther in, however, through room after room leading to the next, I found many forms of enlightenment. The clean, modern architecture gave way to older, more historic, and beautifully restored stone and brick arches--but still with excellent lighting. We browsed for a long time, and we stood in line to make a purchase. As we left I asked if the store was open tomorrow (Christmas Eve day). We were happy to hear that it was.

But we never got back to Happy Books, because later that evening we discovered Casa del Libro just a few steps down from our hostal on the Rambla. Another large bookstore, with sections for English and French and German books, in addition to Spanish. By this time it was ready to close, so we went back there the next day. Twice, as I recall--once early in the morning and then again later at night. We are obviously starved for the ambiance of large, well-equipped bookstores, and I am glad that by now in my stay in Spain I have gotten to the point where I can browse and buy comfortably in Spanish. We left eventually without all the books we wanted--size of luggage being one consideration, but also the realization that while some things look compelling when on holiday with loads of time looming, they too often lie languishing when you return to everyday life and have lots of other things to do.

Yesterday, however, we were suddenly "in need" of a travel book, or at least in need of browsing some travel books. Lo and behold, and thanks to the Web, we found that Casa del Libro has many casas, and one of them is in Alicante city. It was a beautiful, warm day for a drive, so off we went. As we approached our destination we found a parking lot with no difficulty and dived in--the rule in Alicante being to "park first, then walk."  We set off on foot for the store and found it with only a little backtracking. We browsed for an hour, and limited ourselves to one selection. "Should it be wrapped?" I was asked at the cashiers, because everyone else was buying gifts for the Reyes Magos to deliver that evening. The Three Kings bypassed our house last night, and that's just as well, because we have already had a very full holiday season, planned and unplanned. One of the unexpected pleasures of the new year is the discovery of a good multilingual bookstore within an hour's drive of our house. And close to a fine little restaurant we had seen during the walk from the garage, where we treated ourselves to the menu del dia, a larger-than-normal luncheon for us, which made the day all the more enjoyable.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

The two cities are Copenhagen and Barcelona. We visited both in December--each just for a long weekend--and both were fantastic.


I have lost track of the number of times I have been in Copenhagen, but for most of the past 45 years I have spent a few days or a week each year in Denmark. Most of those trips involved some time in its capital city. Through the years I have observed many changes but also watched with wonder that some things remain constant, or renew themselves to keep up with the times--and quite often that is done in an agreeable manner. In many ways, Copenhagen has become my barometer of change and constancy.

Lyngby Storcenter - a shopping center's Christmas village. ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
Surgery and rehabilitation kept us from travel earlier this year, so we decided to do the Denmark trip in early December, to celebrate a birthday and get into the Christmas spirit. It was a very quick trip. We took an early Friday morning flight from Alicante and were in Copenhagen before lunchtime, and we were scheduled to return late Sunday evening. There was a time--and not too many years ago--when all the stores would have been closed Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. That would have left us precious little time to scour the shops for books and DVDs and Christmas decorations and pass through the department stores to catch up with the trends. Fortunately times have changed and we had no trouble finding places to spend our money every hour that we were able to be out of our hotel.

Tivoli at Christmas, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012.
It was cold, and it snowed on Sunday, but that didn't stop us. We came back with suitcases filled with 30 or more DVDs in the original English or Danish--something we cannot find in Spain, where films are routinely dubbed into Spanish in the cinemas, on TV, and on DVD. We went to at least four big bookstores and even waited in line for almost an hour for an author signing at one. We saw two current films in the theater--something we never do in Spain. We ate in our long-time favorite restaurant where we almost always  enjoy a meal--usually the same kro-platte selection of open-faced sandwiches, though the sandwiches change over the years and are as good a barometer of fiscal conditions as the McDonald's index. And of course we went to Tivoli. There it was frightfully cold, and the masses of people (we really should not have left this until Saturday evening) made us realize that we have turned into country bumpkins, unused to throngs of humanity in one place.


I don't have enough years left to get to know Barcelona the way I know Copenhagen. This--three days over Christmas--was my second trip and I recognized some of the places from my first trip to Barcelona. That had been for a professional conference, however, and this trip was purely for pleasure.

Christmas Lights at Plaza Catalunya, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
Did we think that we had left Christmas decorations behind us in Copenhagen? Not on your life! There may not be as many pine trees in Spain as there are in Scandinavia, but nowhere can there be more lights. We sat in the restaurant at the top of El Cortes Inglés department store Christmas Eve as the day turned to dusk and saw the colorful street lights coming on all over Plaza Catalunya at the top of the Rambla. We also spied the fairly new Apple store on the other side of the plaza, so of course we had to walk in that direction when we moved on our way. On Christmas Eve at 8:00 PM the place was jumping. Though there were people playing at all 20 of the large tables with various devices arranged in the room, we had no trouble finding a geek to answer a few questions we had.

Looking Up at Sagrada Familia, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
Earlier on Christmas Eve day we had made the pilgrimage to Sagrada Familia cathedral, which we had first seen in 2009. At that time there was scaffolding in the sanctuary and construction dust all around. Since then, the Pope has been to Barcelona to consecrate the cathedral and while it is not done--and will not be done in my lifetime, probably--the scaffolding is gone and during the Christmas season, at least, there were no signs of construction. Work on the Sagrada Familia began in 1882. There is something very nice about now having seen it twice, with construction workers, and with signs of progress. It provides a connection with the millions of people who, over the centuries, built other mammoth cathedrals in Europe. This one is extraordinarily beautiful and inspiring, regardless of your faith or lack of it.

Gaudi Tiled Bench in Park Guëll, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
Christmas Day itself we had reserved for the Park Guëll, since most everything else would be closed on a public holiday, but, we reasoned, a park would not. The artist Gaudi lived in a house in the park for 20 years while he was designing the public park space; Guëll was his employer-benefactor. The weather had turned hazy and so we did not have the spectacular views of Barcelona that this high-elevation park normally provides, but we still enjoyed the walk through its winding and climbing pathways and the varied vegetation. We entered from a back entrance, we discovered (we had followed the directions of the information person at the Metro and Metro is not the best way to go, we now know) and we had to walk all the way to the front entrance before finding the famed fountains and buildings and park benches with Gaudi's colored tiles.

We enjoyed many other things in Barcelona: the gorgeous displays of food at La Boqueria market, just across from where we stayed on the Rambla, and the best steak that I have had in nine years in Spain at Restaurante Ferran, which is better known for tapas and Spanish cuisine--so we shared an appetizer of tomato bread with  jamón ibérico de bellota (which means that the contributing pigs have eaten only chestnuts). I walked to the end of the Rambla and saw the Columbus statue and some Christmas market stalls, but I didn't buy anything, because enough is enough. We had a delightful interchange with a young Danish woman of Afghan-Indian heritage and her Indian novio, who happened to be our host at the hostal in which we stayed. They are going to India once her exams are over for this season--her first time in India--and we gave them Danish Christmas decorations we had brought with us and wish them the best of luck in their future life.

©Johannes Bjorner 2012
And all this was made easier because we had a hostal in a very central position on the Rambla--just opposite the Liceu Metro exit. I had never stayed in an hostal before, wary that it was a little too basic for my mature tastes, and thinking of bunk beds in dormitories. Our hostal, however, was less than a year old and was quite modern, with comfortable beds and northern European comforters, a clean and functional toilet and shower, with the usual amenities, and the best lighting on both sides of the double bed that I have experienced in awhile. Yes, it was in an old building with a very narrow stairway that you had to go up even to get to the tiny elevator, certainly the smallest I have ever seen, and remember--I have been in Denmark. The elevator (which required a key) was limited to 150 kg., so balancing two pieces of luggage (even carry-on) and two people meant that inevitably one (or more) got left out. But most of the time, there were just two of us going up and down in the elevator, and all we had to remember to do in the tiny space was, as Johannes said, "Assume intimate position" and up (or down) we would go. All this was quite appropriate since we shared a building (but not the same entrance) with the Erotic Museum.

Hans Christian Andersen Slept Here

Photo by Johannes Bjorner ©2012
Most people don't know that fairy tales were only a small part of the literary works of the world-famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen is referred to in Danish by his initials and therefore becomes H.C. Andersen. Since the letter H is pronounced "ho" and the letter C sounds rather like "say" in Danish, oral references to H.C. Andersen sound like one is talking about José Andersen, which is rather amusing and confusing when discussing Andersen in Spain. But I digress. H.C. Andersen was first interested in the theater, and he wrote drama, poetry, journals, and travel pieces, for he was an inveterate traveler during his lifetime (1805-1875). In 1862 he came to Spain, over the Pyrenees from France; he entered Barcelona by coach on September 6 and spent several days based at the Fonda del Oriente hotel.

I took my copy of I Spanien (In Spain) with me to Barcelona on my Christmas trip, 150 years and a couple months after his adventure. One of my goals was to find the hotel where Andersen had stayed, because I had happened upon a notice some time ago that a commemorative plaque had been placed at the hotel, acknowledging Andersen's visit.

It turned out that the hotel, now named the Husa Oriente, was only a few blocks down the Rambla from where we were staying. I should have guessed that, because one of the sites Andersen mentioned was the Liceu theater (no performances during the time Andersen was in Barcelona, though he was able to see the theater stage itself during a rehearsal) and that was just across the street and down one block from our hostal. The Liceu wasn't hosting any performances on the Christmas days that we were there, either, and we didn't get beyond the lobby and guard desk. 

Photo by Johannes Bjorner ©2012
The plaque at the hotel was placed by the Ayuntamiento (City Hall) of Barcelona and roughly translated from Catalan, it reads:

Hans Christian
(Odense 1805-Copenhagen 1875)
Danish Author
Observed from this hotel
the flooding of the Rambla
of September 15, 1862 

I had read Andersen's account of the heavy storms and flooding that occurred toward the end of his stay in Barcelona. It was historic, obviously, as that was the sole site or event indicated on the plaque, though Andersen's account  mentions several other areas of the city that exist to this day: Barceloneta, Monjuic fort, and the Plaza de Toros (though I don't know how that is being used now that Barcelona has outlawed bullfighting). In addition to the Rambla itself, of course, which Andersen loved for its shops and fruit stalls and trees and cafes full of people all assembling to eat regardless of class, he noted. People still love the Rambla to this day and it is a hive of activity at all hours. We even saw a whole parade of Santa Clauses motorcycling up the street at breakneck speed on Christmas morning when we were having our breakfast.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sagrada Familia

Probably the most famous attraction in Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia, the unfinished modern cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí, the architect whose name is practically synonymous with Barcelona. Even though I had read about the site, and seen pictures, I was not prepared for the experience of walking through this building.

For me, the fact that it is still under construction is one of its most interesting aspects. Sagrada Familia was begun in 1882 and has a projected finish date of 2030. Gaudí became associated with the site in 1883 and continued work on it until his death in 1926.
We spent an entire morning at Sagrada Familia. We walked through the construction site, which covers most of the interior of the cathedral. Since it was a weekday, we observed some of the 300 workmen who are engaged in the construction going about their business. I have seen many old cathedrals in Europe--all of them "finished" or in various stages of reconstruction-- and nothing made me appreciate how large they are until I saw this one with huge building apparatus site in its interior.

We also toured a small but informative exhibit showing how plans and designs of Gaudí were influenced by nature. Finally we road an elevator up about 500 feet to the towers, heard the clock strike 11:00, and then walked down and around and down some more, observing glorious views of the building and the surrounding city area.

Credit for these and most of the photographs in Sundays in Spain goes to my constant companion, Johannes Bjørner.

All Saints Day in Barcelona

It seems as though every day is associated with a saint in Spain, but November 1 is All Saints Day, Todos los Santos. Indeed, Halloween, increasingly celebrated here on October 31 with costumes and trick-or-treating for children, started as the hallowed evening before the day of all saints. As in the U.S. for most people, now there is a disconnect between Halloween and any religious observance.

But El Día de Todos los Santos is an important holiday. One of the first signs is in the sales promotions on memorial flower arrangements in the week leading up to the festival. People do remember those in their family who have passed on. Another sign is the number of red prayer candles lit in church alcoves in honor of the dead.

I do not normally go to church on All Saints Day, but that just happened to be the day that I was able to see the Cathedral in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter. The Cathedral, officially known as Cathedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia (after the patron saint of Barcelona) and also known as La Seu, dates from 1298. Like many churches in Spain, it replaced an earlier Roman temple and a mosque, which had both been built on the same site. Many people were streaming in to visit during the early Sunday afternoon, and so many were coming out from a mass that we didn't even venture into the cathedral proper--we just wandered through the large cloister area between the street and the cathedral.

Immediately to my right upon entering the cloister was an alcove for St.Rita; of all the alcoves with their lighted prayer candles, this one had the most. The saints' stations surrounded a large tropical courtyard entirely within the cloister, and in the middle of the courtyard was a large pond with geese swimming nonchalantly, seemingly unaware of the significance of the day. But I've done some homework since returning home, and now I've learned that there probably were thirteen geese in the cloister, each representing one year in the life of Santa Eulalia, a young martyr to Christianity during Roman times.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to Avoid the Pickpockets in Barcelona

Photo: © 2009 Johannes Bjørner
Whenever we told people that we were going to Barcelona, the second--if not the first--thing they said was, "Be careful of the pickpockets." We even read a newspaper article (source now lost) that said that Barcelona had more pickpockets than any other place in the world. (How does one measure that?)

Sunday morning, tired of being extra careful of where we carried money, cards and papers, we found the perfect solution not far from our hotel in the plaza in front of the old cathedral. We were there at the right time, for a brass orchestra had assembled and lots of people were milling about on this sunny and warm first day of November. At some signal that I missed, the music began and several women standing in front of us suddenly dropped their bags in one pile on the pavement, formed a circle with joined raised hands, and started dancing. They were dancing the sardana, a traditional folk dance of Catalonia, more properly called Catalunya.

The dancing went on for a long time--whenever it seemed as though it was coming to a close, the music would take another turn, and dancing would recommence. The sardana is a slow dance, with deceptively simple toe steps. We watched an older woman who could barely move, feeling out the steps as she stood with her daughter, perhaps, on the outer rim of the circle. Her daughter and several other women and men joined the circle, simply by ducking under the upheld hands, depositing their bags in the center, and then clasping the upheld hand of each of their two neighbors in the circle.

Eventually a woman came with a collections tin; she explained that this was the sardana dance, we dropped a few coins in the can, and she gave us a sticker so we would not be disturbed again. But we continued watching for a long time, then went on to visit the cathedral. And when we returned an hour or so later, they were still dancing, and the old woman who had been moving hesitantly had joined the dancing. Bags were still safely piled in the center of the circle.

Other people have captured short clips of the sounds and sights of the sardana on YouTube, though it's not quite as magical as being there and seeing it begin spontaneously.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A World in Barcelona

As I rode comfortably in the Renfe EuroMed train from Alicante north toward Barcelona last Wednesday morning, I had a sudden moment of panic that I had forgotten to bring my passport. I was off to a meeting of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET), which brought together about one hundred skilled language professionals from many countries around the Mediterranean Sea and further inland in Europe, so I was naturally thinking of international travel. Then, too, usually when I travel professionally, I am going abroad. This would be the first professional conference that I have attended in Spain.

And then I remembered that Barcelona was indeed in Spain and I didn't need a passport. Until I got to the meeting, that is, and started talking with the other attendees. "Ah, so you also live in Spain," I remarked to one with whom I had struck up a conversation. "No," she answered, "I live in Barcelona."

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, one of the 17 autonomous regions that comprise modern Spain. Catalonia has special historic status within Spain's 1978 Constitution. Both Catalan and Spanish are official languages. Signs and public announcements appear most often in Catalan first, then Spanish, and then English, though the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona usually defaults to English as the first language of speaking to tourists and unknown persons--the gentleman who received us in our hotel declined to speak Spanish with us, preferring English.

We had a delightful four days mixed with sight-seeing, professional presentations, delicious food, and fascinating conversations, and returned from the big city by train late Sunday evening full of impressions. I did indeed feel as though I had traveled the world in Barcelona.