Saturday, November 28, 2015

Cable Company Art versus the Prado

I thought a visit to the Prada was obligatory since I was in Madrid. I shuffled through galleries crowded with ancient art for about an hour until I couldn't stand it. How many old Greek statues can a person enjoy? really? 

I much preferred the art I found on the streets of Spain. In Granada, the walkways were sometimes made of smooth river rocks laid on their edges to give the walker a little foot massage. And they frequently created patterns of leaves, or flowers, or in one case, an islamic scimitar.

Even the cable company left a little humor behind, rather than just pave over their ditch. 

In Barcelona, the sidewalks used a Gaudi design found years after his death for contemporary pavers. The hexagons had portions of three designs that came together as sea creatures when laid correctly. What can you see in these two?

Art celebrated more art! The first, a flamenco dancer. The second, cellist Pablo Casals. 

The giraffe rests languidly on her side, hedonistically inviting you to enjoy her on a fine day in the plaza.

We saw some graffiti, the kind that scribbles a quick name or symbol on a foundation corner. We verified with the cab driver that it was "tagging" of territory for drug sales.

These wall sized "pieces" expand names with shape and color, to declare love, or express pride. ( I hope there aren't hidden evil messages that I missed. )

 This one is in a nice neighborhood, I wonder if it's just tolerated, or appreciated.

This lower one is at the edge of Parc Guell (pronounced "way")  Gaudi's planned residential community built on what was the edge of Barcelona. Now you can enter for free. But you must purchase tickets ahead of time to get in and see the homes.  It's caused some dissension, apparently.

All of the examples were delightful and inspiring in their own way. Better than the Prado, in my opinion.   

Next time you see public art in a downtown street, stop and tell the closest retailer how much you appreciate it. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Spanish Serenades

I loved being serenaded in Spain. And I don't mean a violinist strolling between restaurant tables. 

In Barcelona that meant the subway stations where an elderly violinist played to a track of greatest abbreviated classical hits; and a woman strummed acoustic guitar while singing in a clear voice. The tile walls magnified the sound like a really big shower. No thanks to rolling carts and portable karaoke machines, mediocre vocalists accompanied us as we traveled under the city. Then they passed the hat hoping for donations. 

The best ensembles were around the main cathedral. A dixieland jazz duo-trumpet and piano staked out the main entrance. Now that took some major effort! The piano had been rolled onto the plaza from who knows where. A nearby apartment lobby? A truck?

They drew a good crowd, and their donations were more than a drop in their bucket. I was happy to add my euros to it. And to the open music case of the group around the corner. 

There, an Indian-jazz fusion group set up. They had a mellow sound, the oboe player coming in with short improvisation. Usually I can't guess where a jazz melody line is going to go, but I could almost hum along with these guys. I wish there had been benches, I'd have listened for a lot longer. 

In Grenada a couple of scruffy young guys played hot-tub-for-the-mind music. I gave them B+ for the interesting miniature steel drum, only C for their sound.

The violinist in Madrid was clearly trained as a serious musician. We took an outside table at a little bar across the alley  and ordered a beverage so I could listen until he finished his set--about twenty minutes. He not only played beautifully, he engaged the children who came by. If they tarried, he got down to their level so they could clearly see how he created his magical sound.  One young dad danced with his infant. A passing toddler in a stroller turned his whole body to stay focused until he couldn't turn any further. 

I was reminded that there are many talented people in the world. Not all of them find spots on the stage. This man exuded joy, and I thanked him for sharing his disciplined skill and love of music with us that day.

These encounters are among the reasons I won't travel with a tour. They speed walk from "must-see" to "don't miss". And while doing so, they hurry by the very heart of a place.

Where has incidental music captured your attention?  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, where the visitors miss the point

Thirty years ago a friend went to Europe and came home with photos of undulating, fantastical buildings. That's how I was introduced to the work of Antoni Gaudi.

His buildings were outrageous when he began designing them in the late 1800's, and they still feel futuristic. He began the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in 1886, and it's scheduled to be completed in 2026. I don't think I'll get to see the finished work, but I'm glad I got to tour it in October. 

I've been in several famous churches in the US, other nations of Europe, and now Spain.  I love the majestic sweep of the eye up pillars to ceilings. Stained glass teaches history and was the only Bible the original attendees could read.  Sometimes the statuary moves beyond the familiar birth, death and resurrection of Christ to illustrate more obscure Bible accounts.

 Like the medieval cathedrals built over centuries and supervised by generations of craftsmen, La Sagrada Familia displays the varied styles of its different artists. Some of the depictions of Christ are three dimensional, cubist-like figures, all angular as if shaped with a wide flat blade. Others are intricately decorative and more life-like. Every part of the building departs from earlier styles.


There is also a certain symbolic whimsey to the decorative details outside.
Huge clusters of grapes are covered in  broken pieces of colored glass, as are the wheat sheaves, representing the bread and wine of communion, the blood and body of Christ

 Words urge the observer to worship: gloria, sanctus. Large doors have the Lord's prayer embossed in fifty languages.  

Inside, each pillar was different. The number of ribs carved in each decreases as it goes higher. Each capital (head of each column) is unique. You can see the ornamental medallions  glow as if they're electric!  

The windows are more impressionistic than realistic. In other cathedrals we spent time identifying the stories they tell, but here I was drawn to the overall color scheme. Each panel  seems to slide from one hue to the next, like a giant color wheel. 

  At one point the sun hit a wall of glass and the colors reflected onto the  sculpted walls and ceiling. I could imagine swimming in an underwater polychromatic cave.

Gaudi said that God was his client, and the work was done to His glory. 

It's our habit to sit down in every church we visit to pray for a moment. Unfortunately, here the crush of visitors snapping selfies, chatting and giggling, made the interior feel more like a concert hall just before a pop concert. The energy was high, but irreverent, ignoring the sacred nature of the building. 

I imagine for a person who does not know the gospel narrative, it's easy to overlook Who is supposed to get the glory in this magnificent church. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Barcelona: high density and high intensity

Barcelona has a high population density and a high intensity lifestyle. 41,000 people live in a square mile there! 

Each apartment building is attached to the next like a siamese twin. Gracious hundred year old buildings have balconies just big enough for a few flower pots. On sunny days the floor to ceiling french doors open to let in fresh air, sheer curtains shifting with the breezes. At night I saw rows of lights and imagined the people inside reading newspapers or washing dishes in narrow kitchens.

Of course, those many people need all of the services we do. I wondered why every other person on the sidewalk was pulling a wheeled suitcase, then figured out they were shopping carts. No Costco for them. 

Traffic was relentless. Motorcycles squeezed between the lanes of moving cars. Buses were full. Underneath us, the subways carried more passengers. I asked a taxi driver if it was hard to drive there. He said the cars were careful and obeyed the law. But the motorcycles did as they wished, and they endangered everyone.

Every generation from 20's to 60's rode them. I saw stylish business women in skirts and high heels climb on, tighten their coats, and adjust their helmets. Cars seemed reserved for families with kids.

Because of apartment living the common space was very important. The plazas where streets intersected had planters and sometimes small lawns. The major roads had trees planted in strips on either side. Public parks were small, but well used. And every little restaurant had at least two tables outside.

The food was terrific. We'd heard about meals made of appetizers--tapas.

And we loved them. We quickly found two restaurants close to the hotel that we liked.  Catalonians eat lots of olives, green and red peppers, and everything is cooked in olive oil. I'm going to scour seed catalogs to find these tiny  (about 2" diameter) red peppers which were marinated in oil and vinegar before being stuffed with herbed cheese. Many of our salads included fresh asparagus, a real treat for us this time of the year. 

We could have chosen Barcelona just for the food but really came for the architecture. Next blog I will share a few photos of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia church, and a "modernismo" (1900) musical performance hall. 

Get in the mood--go munch olives!