Friday, November 11, 2011

Barcelona with Bonnie

Bonnie's recent visit brought up the usual questions of where to go, what to see, where to eat.  I’ve been a tour guide for friends before, but I think that in the past I was in a better, livelier frame of mind.  I was also feeling more positive about Barcelona and Catalunya.  Now, after the divorce and trying unsuccessfully to sell my house, I feel fairly negative, low energy, and trapped.

But I love Bonnie dearly – she’s been a very good friend to me over the years and I did my best to show her and Forrest what I thought would interest them, even though it seemed at times that I was leading them around in circles.  Well, in fact, at times I was leading them around in circles.

Two blocks up from their Passeig de Gracia apartment was Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Milà, also called La Pedrera.  This is a unique apartment block, all sinuous art nouveau curves and other-wordly shapes.  One of the apartments is furnished for the period and open for viewing and there is also a museum explaining Gaudí’s work in the attic.  The roofscape resembles something from Star Wars.  We didn’t go in because the line wrapped around the block, but it would have been worth seeing.

Although we didn’t visit La Pedrera, Bonnie and Forrest did go on their own one day to see La Sagrada Familia, the large unfinished Gaudí church recently consecrated as a basilica by the Pope.  Bonnie said she thought, judging from the overly decorative façade that she wouldn’t like it, but she found it wonderful inside.  Gaudí was a genius who followed no one’s style, although the sinuous lines of art nouveau (modernism in Catalunya) are evident in his work.  Both the Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera contain museums where some of his innovations are demonstrated and his work is explained.

Bonnie and Forrest also went on their own to visit the Museum Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) on Montjuïc (Jewish mountain).  The MNAC houses one of the most important collections of Romanesque art in the world.  In the early 20th century, many murals were removed from the small, decaying 10th-12th century churches scattered throughout the Pyrenees and brought to Barcelona for safekeeping.  The exhibit has recently been redesigned.  I haven’t seen the new installations, but Bonnie said it was fantastic, with many interactive components.  They spent half a day in that exhibit alone.

Mostly we wandered up and down the small streets of the Barri Gòtic and the Born.  That’s my part of town, where I used to live, and the part I know and like best.  We had wonderful fruit juice smoothies at the Boqueria market.  Many stands have these fruit drinks; there wasn’t a single one when I first moved here.  They are obviously provided with tourists in mind, but that doesn’t make them any less yummy.  The problem, however, is that there are so many tourists in the market, that you can hardly walk down the aisles.  And to think I used to do most of my shopping there just eight years ago when it functioned primarily as a market and barely as a tourist attraction.

We passed through the lovely arcaded and slightly seedy Placa Reial which figures in the story told in The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron.  That’s a good thriller along the lines of Da Vinci Code but set in Barcelona and much better written, in my opinion.

From the Placa Reial we squeezed through the very narrow street under the balcony of my old apartment where luckily there was no odor of urine that day.  I have fond memories of the apartment and the music I would hear coming from the street musicians who played in the Placa Reial.  The drunks who would pee on the wall as they passed below seem more colorful now than they did at the time.  Interestingly enough, some of them would whistle or sing opera arias as they passed.

We visited Casa Gispert, one of the older culinary establishments in the city located on a small street just alongside the impressive Gothic church of Santa Maria del Mar.  Founded in the 1850s, they continue to sell the nuts and coffee they roast on the premises in the original wood-burning stove.  Entering provides a very pleasant experience of traveling back in time.

We had a disappointing lunch at Agut, what used to be my favorite restaurant.  The food was so-so and the service came with an attitude, although to be fair, my fideua was excellent.  But on our second day we had a wonderful meal at Orio, a new, elegant Basque tapas bar/restaurant on Carrer Ferran that I had never eaten at before.  We stopped to look at the menu because the fresh oysters in the window had called to me.  But we didn’t order oysters. 

We ordered three starters and one main plate and shared it all, washed down with Basque cider and Basque white wine.  The starters were acorn-fed ham with pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato), an assortment of four Basque cheeses, and a salad.  The main plate was red beans with blood sausage.  We had ice cream and fried milk for dessert.  Everything was excellent, although the fried milk was a bit weird.  The service was good, with our waiter explaining why it is that they pour both the cider and the white wine from a considerable height.  I assumed it was for theatrical effect, but our waiter assured us that it was for aeration, to cut the acid.  It worked for us.  We were three happy campers with aerated alcohol in our veins and well filled tummies.

After the tasty Basque lunch we visited Gaudí’s Parc Güell, up on the hill (what Catalans call a mountain) behind Barcelona.  The bus ride was an adventure in itself; starts and stops, curves and turns all being experiences to endure.  I don’t know how the driver passed the professional driving test.  Once there, another adventure unfolded. 

There were thousands of people everywhere.  What for me has always been a place of peace and quiet and magic, was more like midtown Manhattan but with unusual rock constructions instead of concrete.  Originally planned as a garden city with scattered villas, only one or two houses were ever built and the grounds now serve as a park.  It’s a unique park and one of my favorite places in Barcelona, or used to be.  The columns and arcades built from natural rocks have always given me the sense of entering into one of the fairy tales my mom used to read to me as a child.  I vaguely remember images of toadstools which have somehow evolved in my imagination to be the rock columns of Gaudí’s arcades.

Besides that good lunch, the highlight of our second day together – at least for me – was watching people dance sardanes in front of the cathedral.  Although it isn’t part of my background or culture, for about two years I used to go every Sunday to dance at the cathedral with a group of Catalan friends.  So for me it was nostalgic to watch people dance and to listen to the music, which, as strange as it may sound to some, sounds wonderful to me.  Unfortunately I didn’t see any of the friends I used to dance with, but I didn’t really expect to.  When the couple who was the driving force of the group broke up, around the time that Manel and I moved to Tarragona, the group drifted apart.  Bonnie said she liked the fact that people were dancing right out in the street.  I’ll bet if she had stayed longer, Bonnie would have started dancing sardanes in the street too.

When we set out the first day, the only thing Bonnie knew she wanted to do during her visit was eat a paella.  She never did.  But then, surely that means, just as the legend that says that if you drink from the Font de Canaletes on La Rambla, she’ll return to Barcelona someday.


  1. as usual, interestingly written...and makes me want to come, visit you, stay at the villa, and pay you vast sums of money to be our guide!

  2. I keep thinking I will sell and move soon. But who knows when it will happen. So hey, come and visit!

  3. Makes me home sick for Catalunya. Nice job, Dvora.