November 2005

From the terrace off my room, looking down Diagonal; the trees below are plane trees (sycamores, to us) and date palms, hiding many lanes of traffic.

The building across the street was a full block long; it was painted pale yellow with cream trim on either end, and red with white trim in the middle; the roof color was actually a deep blue-green.

From street level, Diagonal is a very pedestrian friendly main street. Note the two lanes of one-way traffic on the left, the pedestrian walkway with parking for bikes and motorbikes, the narrow bicycle lane, the grass...and then six lanes of traffic--three each way, the curbside one for buses and taxis only. One row of rees is planted in the pavement, and one in the grass. Across that is another pedestrian/bicycle area, with its own grassy strip and double row of trees, then two more lanes one-way the other way. The traffic lights are set up so that you can walk across the entire wide street on one light cycle, or if you prefer to walk along either of the pedestrian walkways, you can cross the intersecting streets on special pedestrian lights.

Ramblas de Catalunya is an important street that intersects Diagonal and goes down to the Placa de Catalunya, where at an angle the very old street Las Ramblas takes you down into the oldest part of the city. At this level, it has a broad central median--wide enough for outdoor cafe seating, though in winter it's not used as much. There are two lanes of one-way traffic on either side, then wide sidewalks and shops and apartments. It's a very pleasant walking environment, and you can just barely make out a vague lavender smudge between the last of the trees--in real life, that was clearly visible as a lovely mountain, Tibidabo, with a church on top, which was golden in the afternoon sunlight. It seemed to float above the trees, its base cut off by their foliage so that it looked magical.

Barcelona architecture combines intricate, even lavish, detail with a lightness, an airiness, that goes with its climate. These lacy iron balconies with their complex curves decorate without overwhelming two facades interesting in themselves. I can't remember if this was on Ramblas de Catalunya or Passaig de Gracia, the next street beyond Ramblas de Catalunya (from where I was staying, almost at the corner of Carre de Muntaner). But any street you walk in this area is likely to have something as interesting. I could have taken hundreds, even thousands, of pictures of equally beautiful buildings.

On Friday, my host took me to lunch at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, which is far from the city (for political reasons important when it was founded)--actually on the far side of a mountain from Barcelona. Nearby is St. Cugat, an old town now in the process of rapid development. This is the courtyard and facade of the monastery church of St. Cugat. Picture taking here was limited because something was being filmed just outside this courtyard and I couldn't get back further without interfering. Dr. Barcelo wasn't sure if it was a movie, a TV show episode, or a commercial. (It involved a stretch limo with some kind of giant sausage on top, actors in costume, and a crowd of extras--actors or not I don't know--in ordinary clothes, plus trucks with generators, huge light arrays, and people with bullhorns.) For scale, look at the two truncated columns just to the left of center: the little blips at the base of the near one are men working in an excavation. You can see that those columns once supported a round arch, an entrance of some sort. The building on the left is a clergy residence and the funny-looking something hanging from the balcony is palm fronds.

Unfortunately, my throwaway camera insisted on flashing, and thus bleached out the near columns and the details of their carving (fantastic faces and beasts)...but the cloister is a wonderfully peaceful place even now. It dates from the 11th century, and recent excavations suggest that it may be on the site of a Roman army camp. The museum here is beautifully designed and very informative, with models of the monastery at different stages of its history. The models have roofs, but sit on glass...with a mirror underneath, angled so you can see how the rooms were laid out.

On the other side of the clergy-housing building is this curious affair...there's a stone basin with steps up to it, but the basin (and the wall above it) are covered with ferns. When I went closer, I found that the fine-textured fern 'flowing" down the wall is maidenhair fern, just like ours in Texas. I don't know the source of the water--it could be a gray-water outlet, or overflow from a rainwater cistern or...perhaps it's best not to know. Anyway, it's very beautiful.

One of the most beautiful store buildings I saw was this one, Loewe. I rested on a bench in front of it, munching a pastry from a nearby shop, and enjoyed staring at one detail after another. The main entrance is on the corner, under that round "thing."

For instance: these fantastic heads above the flower capitals of the columns--no two alike and all delightful.

And above, this window ornamented with twisted columns linked by a floral garland, and then the lacy little iron "balconies".

Above the entrance was this sort of hanging turret, crowned by a bit of iron lacework, and with smaller half-rounds above it. I could have spent hours photographing just this one building...and there are so many!

For instance, this movie theater (showing the new Harry Potter movie) has a splendid St. George and dragon beneath that noble arch...and a nice frieze in relief above it.

In a courtyard between buildings, just off La Ramblas, I found this charming little fountain with four dolphins and a lady on top. I was just too slow to capture the pigeon perched on the fan in her left hand. Surprising delights like this show up almost everywhere you look. The center of this courtyard had a little grass and some benches.

On Rambla de Catalunya, I had stopped for another pastry...and across from me was this gorgeous building. The entrance doors are set behind a circular opening; above, the projecting section has huge stained glass windows. On either side and above the balconies have trefoil bases, and the grills have three-fold bulgy curves, rather like a garlic bulb. This was the last shot in the camera, on the last day of my trip...and it makes a fine farewell to Barcelona. I had taken some scenic views from an overlook west of the city (on the way back from St. Cugat) but between the weather (hazy and windy) and the camera's limitations, I didn't think any of those would work well in this setting. As for pictures of the Gaudi buildings I saw--you really need a professional setup to capture the charm and the detail.

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