One of our first views upon coming into Barcelona from the airport was a bright red skyscraper shaped like a squiggle. This was our first introduction to the city that prides itself on its quirkiness. I was pleasantly surprised to find our destination to be a clean, bright metropolis bubbling with happy activity and the lightheartedness of modern artists Picasso, Gaudi, Miro, and others less famous.
The language commonly spoken is Catalan, a hybrid of Spanish and French. Since the death of Franco, the Fascist dictator who ruled that the province of Catalunya should be part of Spain and that its people speak Spanish, Barcelona and the rest of the province have reverted to speaking Catalan. However, Spanish is easily understood as most people are bi-lingual.
On our first day there, we found ourselves lost among a maze of charming old streets in the Cathedral district as we looked for the Picasso museum. Plane trees towered in small plazas presided over by five story apartment buildings that had stood for hundreds of years. Wrought iron balconies, attached to neo-classical facades, boasted flowers, shrubs, and vivid bougainvillea. Some of the streets between these buildings were so narrow that pedestrians could only walk two abreast. Barcelonans were busy walking their dogs through the byways or shopping in the tiny grocery stores for their daily bread.
We finally came upon the large and airy Picasso museum. Though he grew up in Barcelona, Picasso relocated to Paris in his thirties, and vowed never to return as long as Franco was in power. However, he sent “home” a collection of paintings for the museum. They are his early representational works, and are quite a surprise. At the age of twelve, Pablo Picasso was painting portraits that compare favorably with the Old Masters. Those of us who cannot see genius in his abstract work will be pleasantly surprised to find this evidence of a bona fide prodigy. Picasso is to have said, “When I was young, I painted as an old man. When I was old, I painted as a child.”
Our second day in Barcelona was spent taking an art tour. A very knowledgeable guide took us first to see “The Sagrada Familia,” a modern cathedral by the fanciful architect Antoni Gaudi. A massive structure, still under construction, it was begun in the early twentieth century and is slated for completion by 1226. It is nothing less than a modernist’s version of a gothic cathedral. Three facades are currently under construction, with only those depicting the Holy Family at Christ’s birth and the agony of his death completed to a satisfactory extent. The sight of this magnificent cathedral is breathtaking. Though uncompleted, its spectacular concept is evident. As with a Gothic cathedral, one can spend a very long time gazing at its complexities and making new discoveries, such as Gaudi’s own face overlooking a Pieta of Christ and Mary.
Others of Gaudi’s projects we saw that day were the upscale Guell Parc built on a hillside with its fanciful mosaic wall (said to have been constructed of smashed china pieces), and the art nouveau façade of Casa Mila. Barcelona brims over with works by this architect ranging from lampposts to bridges.
Cheek by jowl with the city’s modern works, there is the magnificent Gothic quarter with its own glorious cathedral. The older and newer sections of the city are surprisingly compatible, making it an adventure to explore and photograph. It is full of serendipities—you never know what you are going to find around the next corner of this innovative, energizing city.