Lovely Cadiz

Lovely Cadiz
Cadiz - my favorite place so far in the trip to Southern Spain

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dottore Gianni's Sojourn to Spain: Days 5 through 8 in Barcelona

Barcelona's Placa de Espanya - buildings of the 1920 World Exposition at the foot of Montjuic
Day 5:

I got to Atocha Station in plenty of time for my rail trip to Barcelona, which was quite nice – halfway across Spain in 2 hours 40 minutes! The seats in second class are not nearly as
Desert-like landscape from the window of the train
heading to Barcelona from Madrid
comfy as those on the Eurostar, but otherwise no complaints! I did some more reading up on the city, and listened to Mozart piano sonatas played by the great Spanish artist Alicia de la Rocha and then got even more Spanish listening to the same pianist playing Granados as the train sped through fairly barren country, which turned mountainous, and finally as we neared the coast a good bit more green than I’d seen as yet in Spain. Barcelona Sants Station is large and a bit confusing, but I was able to pick up my 5-day travel card, and to get a taxi to my hotel.

The Park Hotel in Barcelona is hardly the Europa in Madrid. Barcelona is a very expensive city (at least compared to 
My hotel - you can see the letters
P-A-R-K vertically if you look hard
Madrid) and you get a lot more bang for your hotel buck in Madrid. But that said, while my room is basic, it’s quite nice. I even have a tiny balcony. The front desk was helpful in directing me to the Metro station, only a few blocks away, and to the nearest tour bus stop, which is even nearer. I am also very close to Barcelona’s lovely harbor and beaches, and less than a ten minute walk from the center of the Barri Gotic, the old town. Breakfast is better than the Europa, as there is a buffet. I had cereal, eggs and bacon, a sweet roll and packed myself a lunch: ham, cheese and salami sandwich and an apple. There is a dispute over whether packing a lunch from the breakfast bar is ethical, but when I see the amount of food some tourists pack away at breakfast it seems to me that whether you eat it now or later…what the hell!?

But to my touring! I hopped on the sightseeing bus only about 5 minutes after I found the stop. Barcelona has quite the tour system. There are three routes, all of which you can 
The Miro Museum on Montjuic
do in one day, or as I chose, in two days. The red line takes you through the old city briefly, and up to the fabulous Montjuic, where there are spectacular views over the city, plus the Olympic Park (1929 and 1992) Olympics bases there), a Miro Museum, a Catalan Art Museum, a castle, on and on. It then takes you down into the port area, where I must have seafood before I leave here, that’s certain. The blue line stops at Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, both famous Gaudi sites. I may give the third line (green) a miss, as it covers more area around the harbor, which is fine, but which holds little of immediate interest to me.
One of the tour buses just like the one I was on - in front
of the Miro Museum on Montjuic
After I did a complete circuit of the red line I decided to walk around my neighborhood. My hotel is in El Born, what 
A pretty little square in El Born
European tour guru Rick Steves has called a Bohemian-chic paradise. I’m not certain it’s paradise, but it is filled of quirky charm. It’s near the water, and in fact seafarers built the church Santa Maria del Mar, near my hotel. The Picasso Museum is only a few blocks from me, and I certainly hope to get to that before I leave here. Picasso grew up here and this museum focuses on his early work. Also, as I noted above, without being IN the warren of tiny streets that make up the Barri Gotic, that area too is only a few minutes’ walk away. True to the descriptions by Rick Steves and writers of the Rough Guide to Spain, there are cafes, some charming and some gritty, all over the place here. If one came to Barcelona only for the harbor, beaches and cool places to down some grub, El Born would be perfect.

In fact, as I was rather tired after the great tour bus ride and the longer than expected walk, I remained in my neighborhood almost longer than I wanted, as my hotel room felt VERY comfortable. I had to force myself up at about 7 pm to get out and about and face the pleasures of the old town. I was not disappointed! First, as I noted above, it’s very close by. I turned off the traffic-heavy street called Laietana into a pedestrian zone and found myself almost immediately
I arrived at the sathedral jusst before
sunset, when the sun was hitting it
perfectly with its las rays
in the vicinity of the cathedral. While it may not be one of the masterpieces to be found throughout Europe, it’s a beautiful church, on the outside and in, and just when I thought I missed it, as I entered the plaza where the cathedral is located, strains of a folk band (a rather large one, at least 15 pieces) could be heard, and I realized that the sardana was being danced. This slow folk dance in a circle is, I have read, somewhat mocked in the rest of Spain, but here it is taken seriously. And it’s wonderful. Tourists love it of course but these people are doing it for themselves and each other - the Catalans 

Dancing the Sardana in Cathedral Square
apparently enjoy building human pyramids as well. They have competitions for those, but the very nature of the human pyramid and dances to folk music is political as well as social, in that they act as unifiers. There is a strong movement afoot for Catalunya, the center of which is Barcelona, to secede from Spain and become its own country.
The boys in the band at the Sardana dance
Tiny street in the Barri Gotic
I strolled through the tiny streets and found a suitable place for a bite to eat – I ordered a delicious cold soup that is gazpacho at base, but with excellent Iberian jamon (ham) and 
My light repast, first night Barcelona
eggs added – very tasty light dinner, especially with the Rioja they poured me to accompany it. As I was dining, a demonstration or rally of sorts came marching down the small street and passed in front of the café. I had a good view but could not make out what the subject of the rally could be. When I left the café I walked in the direction from which I had come, and returned to the square near the cathedral that houses the
Rally at City Hall
 Palace of the Generalitat, which for more than 6 centuries has been a political center for Catalunya, and opposite which is City Hall. Well, all the agitators had stopped here and it looked as if some speakers were getting ready to whip up the crowd, It was a peaceful bunch, it seemed to me, but there were a LOT of police ready in case anything might happen. Political animal that I am (not) I left, and made my way back to a Metro that would whisk me back to my hotel. Great first day! But a knockout and I slept very soundly.

Day 6: 
Block of Discord 1: Casa Lleo-Morera by
 Lluis Domenech i Montaner
This morning (Sunday) I managed to find my way to the center of Barcelona the Placa Catalunya just in time to catch 
Block of Discord 2: Casa Amatller
Josep Puig i Cadafalch
the first hop-on hop-off tour bus. Yesterday I had seen the
south of the city, today I would see the north. We started off in the same direction that had been taken yesterday, passing Gaudi’s Casa Battlo and the two houses next to it, built by rival modernistas. These three fairly spectacular exteriors make up what has come to be known as the Block of Discord, as, while all three are in the same basic style, each contrasts starkly with the others.

Block of Discord 3: Antoni Gaudi's Casa Battlo
When you see how close they are to each other, you'll get a better
sense of the "discord"
Just up the block from them is one of Gaudi’s most famous houses, La Pedrera, or Casa Mila. That rather amazing 

Gaudi's Casa Mila, aka La Pedrera
structure, celebrating the wave (as the audio guide on the tour bus put it, in very proper British), we had also seen yesterday, but then the tour moved into new territory towards perhaps the most famous Barcelona landmark,
Sagrada Familia - monument of
construction site?
Gaudi’s still unfinished celebration to Christianity (particularly the Roman Catholic strain) the church of La Sagrada Familia. This outrageous shrine has been in the works for many, many years, and is still a long way from completion. The goal is to have it all finished in 2026, when Dottore Gianni will, true to his name, be a “dottor”-ing old man! Ah yes, thirteen years hence the good doctor will be rapidly approaching octogenarian-ism, if he gets that far! I doubt a visit to the completed church, impressive in its own strange way as it is, will be high on his list of priorities.

But that’s the subject for another post! Sagrada Familia has been called by some surrealist, but Robert Hughes, outspoken art critic and Barcelona enthusiast, begs to differ. This is a perhaps naïve but deeply religious work, and has nothing to do with surrealism, per Hughes, and at first sight I’d agree. Whatever it is, it has garnered enough attention over the many decades of building that, despite Gaudi’s 
more of the finished and not so finished
Dagrad Familia
unexpected and fairly early death (run down by a tram at age 74 – shades of Cyrano de Bergerac?) it has kept on being funded by the faithful. The funders are either Catholics who want to see it finished, or Gaudi/modernista enthusiasts, who insist it must be finished, or those tourists among us interested or foolish enough to put out nearly 15 Euros to see its interior. In fact there’s a debate raging in modernista land that the number of people working on it since Gaudi’s rundown, if you will – and you’d better – has ruined the purity of Gaudi’s design. Who knows? Right now it’s a mish-mash of religion and cranes (the constructing kind, not the birds).

Looking down on the entrance to Gaudi's Park Guell
From Gaudi’s monument to Christianity we drove as near as a bus is allowed to a failed visionary housing project, the Park Guell. What has failed as housing has succeeded wildly
Park Guell
as a fabulous city park, though I understand admission will begin to be charged just later this month. I hoofed it uphill from the tour bus and entered what I can only call Gaudi-land: wild mosaic tiles on just about everything you see, a long swerving bench decorated in a non-realistic, joyous manner, and paths through beautiful woods, all seeming to come together in a not in the least gawdy, but quintessentially Gaudi experience. It was great fun, and even if you’re one of those who dislikes modernista excess, it has terrific views of the 

Park Guell, with its long wavy bench
city! I enjoyed my brief stay immensely, though fairly early Sunday am it was already being overrun by tourists and all sorts of people laying out sheets of exactly the same tacky souvenirs.

Some of the detail work on the bench in Park Guell

Which leads to a tiny sidebar: I have not yet bought a single souvenir this trip, and I’m wondering if I shall?

Park Guell and the fabulous view
I caught a waiting tour bus (thank you!) immediately after I descended from the park and proceeded onto the rest of the blue tour, which featured wealthy neighborhoods, a 
FC Barcelona - soccer/football
shopper's delight (or nightmare) of five kilometers of upscale stores, and the stadium of the team at or near the pinnacle of football/soccer, FC Barcelona. The stadium is gigantic, and all around it are other sporting options. A great number of people left the bus at this point, to take the very expensive tour which includes locker rooms (oh, yes, I’d pay the big bucks for that), but certainly the German frauleins behind me seemed to get very excited at that prospect.

But I rode on, as I wanted to get to the transfer point back to the red line so I could once again be taken to near the top of the beautiful Montjuic for a visit to the Miro Museum. That’s where the bus took me, and that’s exactly what I did.

View of the city from the Miro Museum
Ah Miro! So much packed into that hour and a half…lovely, colorful, abstract paintings, sculptures and such, a fine audio guide, more great views of the city, so that now I know all things Miro, but have already forgotten almost every last one of them…such is the diminishing memory of Dottore Gianni, alas and alack!
No photos allowed inside, but there are outdoor sculptures on a terrace at the museum
On leaving the museum I headed for the funicular that takes you down to a Metro station, where a train of your choice whisks you back to the center of the city. It was already after 2 pm and I was feeling decidedly hungry, so I sped off from the Placa de Catalunya to a place I was very excited to visit.
Interior of Els Cuatro Gats
You know the Chat Noir in Paris, the first ever Cabaret, opened 1887? (If you don't you certainly should, gently scolds Dottore Gianni) .Well, not too many years after that Barcelona opened its first cabaret, Els Cuatro Gats, where Picasso and others hung out. Four Cats? Well, it models upon the "Black Cat" of
outdoor menu stand at 4 Cats
Paris, but apparently it’s also a way of saying “only a few 

guys.” That’s what friends of the enterprising fellow who opened it thought would be the limit of his clientele. It's obviously been much more successful than anyone imagined, but from hub of the artistic avant-garde in Barcelona, where just about anything might happen, it’s now, sad to say, turned snooty, Picasso et al would hate it I'm sure, but I used to talk about it in my Avant-Garde Theatre senior seminar, I was determined to enjoy it, and all in all I’m glad I 
my light lunch 
went. I had a platter of Manchego cheese and a small dish of delicious tiny olives, and potato chips, all washed down with cava, which was on special. Not much food for just under 20 Euros (pricey as well as snooty now, alas), but it seemed just the right-sized nibble for a hot Barcelona afternoon.

I walked back to my hotel, finding a new route that took me by Santa Maria del Mar, which I will probably visit today, so more about that if I’ll have got to it. Exhausted, as I set out at 9 am, returned at 4 pm!

I had a short nap, a shower, and then went downstairs, ordered a beer and nibbles, from the hotel bar, sat outside and enjoyed it, to a point. A strange and somewhat nasty event occurred at the table next to mine. Just to give an idea, 
To counteract the effect
of the strange encounter I'm
describing, the elegant
interior of the cathedral
the hotel is located on a large thoroughfare and just in front of it on the sidewalk there’s a small, covered seating area of three tables. Next to the hotel bar’s tables there are two more outdoor seating arrangements set up by the small cafes adjacent to my hotel. There are more tables of the hotel bar on the side of it, but I wanted to watch the people stroll by. I was rewarded as many pretty women were strolling the paseo, but the two old men at the table I mentioned were chain-smoking and it seemed as if they’d been nursing a single beer for hours in order to have a chance to smoke and pollute the air before catching a train (they had suitcases with them and there’s a large rail station a block away). So I got some unpleasant whiffs of tobacco, and was calling up silent curses upon them, when a young seedy guy dressed in black and carrying a few souvenirs for sale began aggressively
And a look at some of the remains of
Roman Barcelona (Barcino) adjacent to
the cathedral
 trying to sell them to the two men, pushing the items (couldn’t quite tell what the items were) in their faces. One of the old men told him to shove off (I only guess, not knowing the language) and the young man/thug stared aggressively at him, as if to taunt him to fight. The old man just laughed, the young guy, a big fellow, crowded closer to him, then he turned and passed me (whew!) and tried to sell the souvenirs to the two young women seated at the table on the other side of mine. Finally he abruptly turned back and stood just next to the old man who’d laughed at him, waved his hand twice just above the old guy’s head 
menacingly, turned away and walked down the street. At this 
point, the fellow who ran the bar, a tiny young guy, came out
Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein
created this Barcelona Head as a
sort of tribute to Barcelona,
incorporating Miro, Gaudi, Picasso
and other visual essences of the city
on the street and watched to see if the young tough was coming back. He did not, as he’d passed down the road to make trouble at the next bar. I don’t think that he was in souvenir sales at all, possibly a drug addict who’d stolen some to try to get some money for his next connection.

Troubling, but the neighborhood, while becoming rather gentrified, is still a bit seedy. I thought on it all as the two old men left, cleansing the air of stale tobacco smell, and I ordered a second beer before going upstairs and turning in…

Day 7

I write at the end of my seventh day in Spain, and my penultimate in Barcelona. Before embarking on the trip to Spain I had made a plan that today would be my day to explore the area around the city, and there were many options: Montserrat, the monastery high up in the 
mountains; the Dali Museum in Figueres, beach towns on the 
not on subject, but here's
some public art in
Barcelona - Miro's
Woman and Bird
Costa Brava, even a three-country-in-one-day trip (Andorra…yes…France and of course Spain. I was most tempted by one that would take me to Girona, as I had it on good word of two trusted former students, Lucy Gram and Kathryn McCumber, that it was a highlight of their visit. In younger, more energetic days I would have – and nearly did – take the last-mentioned trip on my own. But my courage abandoned me (see Medieval morality plays. One is abandoned by courage, strength, everything except good deeds on the increasingly arduous journey through life) and the only options available were 11-hour guided bus tours that combined, for example, Girona and Figueres, or Girona and the Costa Brava. Having just been through a nine hour tour to Avila and Segovia, and having another of about the same duration to Toledo to look forward to on my return to Madrid, I knew that, discretion being the better part of valor, I had better not attempt any of those combos.

So! While many museums are closed on Mondays in Barcelona, I created a plan that, if all worked well, would allow me a decent day in the city. The plan hinged on my 
being able to book a ticket at the Palau de la Musica Catalana for a tour. I’d been warned that one must book in advance for this architectual highlight of anyone’s stay in Barcelona, designed by the modernista architect many judge as more than Gaudi's equal, Lluis Domenech i Montaner. But a check or three on line told me that I might just be able to show up a bit early and get in on the tour – lo and behold, I was right!

The gorgeous auditorium of the Palace of Catalan Music
The "muses" on the wall of the stage at the palace - note
that while the bottom half of each is on the wall, the top
portions are coming through the be near and
inspire the musicians playing in the palace
Now, I’ve yet to see the interior of La Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila (I’ll see them both tomorrow), but the visit to the extraordinary Palace of Catalan Music was, is and probably shall remain one of my favorite hours on my trip to Spain. It was built by funds collected locally for a revered group of singers, the Orfeo Catala, who had no proper venue in which to perform. Dottore Gianni regards it as the pinnacle of modernista architecture in Barcelona, and Dottore Gianni is seldome wrong in these matters.

I don’t have proper words to express my feelings for the place now, but I WILL do so when I’m less sleepy and less tipsy. 

Sidebar: I write this tiny portion of the post several days after returning to the U.S. from Spain, and I find that I still don't have words that can do justice to this building, but I will attempt to paraphrase what the guide said to us on the tour. She noted (and others greater than her noted it as well in the 
the bar in the Palace of Catalan Music
excellent short film that begins the tour) that the building unites the art of architecture with the performing arts in too many ways to count or relate. It also unites in a unique manner science with the arts, as the complex technique it took to design and build the palace seem apparent and essential when you're inside it. This is perhaps not apparent in photos but in person I can attest to it. The 
The chandelier as sun
building seems to have a music of its own, in other words, that harmonizes with and supports the music being played in it. A highlight of the tour is the "playing" of the organ. I don't understand the technical aspects, but a fine organist played several pieces on the organ that can be re-played electronically, and one was as we sat in the auditorium. I've never heard organ music like it, and this was so in part because of the organic connection/relationship between hall and music.

As you read from the sidebar, I still don't have the proper words, so I'll stop. If you are ever near Barcelona, this visit is a must!

Interior of the Gothic church Santa Maria del Mar
The first portion of the plan complete, as I took the 10 am tour, my next goals were to visit the Santa Caterina Market, 
Fun exterior of the Stanta Caterina Market
and to look into Santa Maria del Mar for the first time, and into the Cathedral in a tad more detail. All three of those tasks (tasks? Pleasures for certain) were completed by a bit after noon. 
The mushroom selection in Santa Caterina is astonishing
The seafood is not too shabby either
And how many kinds of eggs can you hope for in a market/
The next part of the plan was to have a seafood lunch near the sea, but I was a tad too early for Spanish lunch hour, so I thought I’d move towards getting my money’s worth out of my travel card by heading via Metro to Placa d’Espanya and
What does one do with a bullring when the sport
has been banned (as wisely has in Catalan land) -
you make a mall of it!
 take myself up to the top of Las Arenas, the former bull ring that, after the Catalans had voted that the sport be forbidden, was made into an upscale shopping mall. I’m not at all a fan of bullfighting, and I’m not much of a fan of shopping malls, but the transformation from bull ring to shopping mall seemed a fairly smart solution, and also provides visitors who care to take the escalators to the top of the ring/mall with great views of the city. If you happen to get hungry or thirsty while you’re up there, the circular area near the center of the upper mall is packed with restaurants/cafes/bars! I had a look around, snapped some
Top of the bullring mall!
photos, looked at a few menus, and then headed back to the Metro, to take the number 1 (red) line back to the center and to transfer to the 4 (yellow) line to get myself to Barceloneta, which is where there are several seafood restaurants.

with restaurants and great views from the top
Having treated myself to the views from Las Arenas, and having come closer to mastering Barcelona’s Metro, I went in search of a proper lunch. And I soon found one…actually 
My tasty if expensive seafood lunch
several, but I happened on one because it featured monkfish at a fairly reasonable price. No price on the waterfront is completely reasonable, but to enjoy the lovely afternoon dining al fresco, one relaxes one’s definition of reason. I had very poor service but delicious food, along with a nice view, so I counted the approximately 30 Euro lunch well worth it.
The view from my table

By the time I had finished my food it was about three pm. Barceloneta is not at all far from my hotel, so I returned there for a siesta!

My restaurant and the paseo passing by it
After the much needed nap I continued to work on photos, to write about the trip, but I knew I had another trip to make, and that was to buy a few souvenirs – not for me, but for my nephew Cameron, who became excited about Messi, star of the all-star Barca soccer team. I found several tacky looking shirts, that didn’t really look like they’d be used on the field, but one really nice one jumped out at me – 35 Euros later…but the guy who sold it to me showed me that it was “official” 
As I babble about souvenirs
an unrelated photo - a back street
in hte El Born district
Barca wear, so I jumped at it, along with a Barca scarf for one of his parents – the other will get a Real Madrid scarf which I'l pick up when I return to Madrid tomorrow. Interestingly, while I’m usually desperate to find the right memento for myself, this trip not a lot has jumped out at me. There was a t-shirt at the Miro Museum, but that was also $30-plus Euros. Yesterday I did buy a colorful tiny bowl in which to place olives (that will serve as a daily reminder of the trip, as Dottore Giani cannot live without his daily does of olives), and was talked into a t-shirt. I really hate pushy sales people and even more I hate haggling, but I went into one shop, picked up a t-shirt for a look, and a guy nearly jumped on me, coaxing me to buy it. I didn’t really want it, but it wasn’t bad. He told me the price 15 Euros – and I said no thanks, then almost immediately he moved the price to 12…still no thanks from me, then he knocked it down to 10 Euros – and I thought to myself “I’ve not even been haggling here, but that price seems OK,” and I bought it for that. Of course the damned thing is probably worth no more than TWO Euros, but now I have my souvenir(s)!

Then back to my hotel, where I had a beer at the terrazza, then in for the evening. I hate to say it, but my energy level is just not what it once was, and by the evening I am shot, so at a little after 7 pm my day out in Barcelona ended. And today is my last day in this beautiful city. Tomorrow, back to Madrid, and tomorrow evening I WILL be out, watching flamenco!

Day 8

My last day was in Barcelona was a success, I’d say. I had pre-booked a ticket to Gaudi’s now (and forever?) unfinished 
Sagrada Familia interior
gigantic Sagrada Familia, also to what many call his masterpiece, La Pedrera, and that’s how I spent the morning. I made good use of the Metro to get to both places quickly, and in fact had to wait 20 minutes until the proper time for my timed visit at Gaudi’s church. There is no question that Sagrada Familia is…something. But I’ll also confess that as dazzled as I am by the visuals, and as understanding as I am of the organic connection Gaudi is making…isn’t it all just a wee bit over the top? After the first few minutes being boggled by the work, I ended up sitting in a pew wondering why, exactly!? After about fifteen minutes of this puzzlement, I got myself up and did some more exploring. But my doubts about the project remained, and the morning after remain 
Christ on a yellow umbrella?
still. After all, doesn’t it look just a tad as if the crucified Christ is actually parachuting in under a yellow umbrella? This project has been going on and on for over 100 years, and if it’s to be completed on deadline (2026), with…well every time I read it I get more confused…something like nine more towers, one nearly as high as the highest peak in Barcelona – Gaudi politely decided that his human-built spire should not exceed the highest point that nature had placed in the area – people are going to have to be displaced from apartment blocks put up in the 1950s when a rightly frustrated mayor became convinced that the church would never be finished. Why not just stop now, take away the scaffolding and cranes, and say here it is…unfinished but unusual, a tribute to a man that some want to make a saint, fine. Finito!
The Nativity Facade is the only part of
the church finished during Gaudi's lifetime
If that seemed a bit of a tirade it wasn’t really meant as such. Sagrada Familia is really something. I just don’t know what that something is, exactly, and really don’t care that much, but there it is. For people who like that sort of thing...that is the sort of thing they like.

The rooftop of Casa Mila
Casa Mila/La Pedrera is certainly more interesting, though many of my reservations apply. One of my clever former 
The rooftop of Casa Mila
students responded to my cover photo of the roof on Facebook, “Makes me want to get a Dairy Queen!” You start at the top…the really overwhelming roof with all of its hillocks and crazy figures (did I dream about them last night? Possibly), then you head down into the attic, which is pretty cool looking and stuffed with tributes to Gaudi, then into the apartment 
The attic (and museum), Casa Mila
which looks all too normal to be stuffed into a really abnormal building (that’s not to condemn it but it IS different from the others around it…or anywhere, except three blocks down in the “Block of Discord, where Gaudi and two other modernistas battled it out in three separate buildings).

Glad I saw the Gaudis, but I’ll go back to the Palace of Catalan Music – same style, but this was built in three years, not the three hundred it may take Sagrada Familia, and in my very humble and non-expert opinion it is a much more interesting place, and one that makes SO much more sense in terms of a confluence between performing art and architecture and science…and beauty. Well! There you have it!

The cool beach at Barcelona - that large, sail-affair in the background is a hotel
I confess that while I very much enjoyed all the Gaudi-ness I’ve been offered, I’m somewhat Gaudi-ed out. So I left the 
city proper behind and went to the beach! It was a very 
Cool public sculpture on the beach
beautiful way to begin the month of October in Barcelona. Mid-80s and gloriously sunny, and the beaches were packed. There are more restaurants in the beach area than I had any idea there would be, and it’s difficult to choose between them, as all offer daily menus that seemed like good deals. I picked one whose outdoor seating was very near the beach, and that offered about ten different kinds of fish, along with chips and salad, for about 12 Euros. I was very happily surprised to get a tasty sea 
My yummy beach lunch
bream, yummy fries (this variation on British fish ‘n’ chips is pan fried in oil and butter – but no batter – so a much healthier choice) and a very tasty salad – yummy huge tomatoes over here! The service was sullen, as I am realizing is the norm, at least for English-only travelers, but so what – the sand the sun, the food…bravi!

view from my table
THEN, as I was pretty tired and a bit flushed from the heat of the day, I decided to TRY the Picasso Museum, and very happily found it not with a line around the block, as I’d been
The very modern Picasso Museum
is housed in an old building - no
photos of the paintings allowed,
but here's a bit of the space
warned but with a 5 to 8 minute wait – so I saw the Picasso! This museum features many of his early works, as he grew up in the area. My introduction to Picasso was with those black and white sketches of Don Quixote and bullfights. Then, when I started attending the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC I became fascinated by his blue period. So I was not unfamiliar with the early promise of this, the man some have called the greatest artist of the twentieth century, but Barcelona’s Picasso collection digs still deeper into his past, and as a result it is a wonderful and unique collection that anyone who enjoys modern art should see.

The real highlight for me was the great exception on display here to Picasso’s early work. Late in his life Picasso did all sorts of "riffs" on the famous Velasquez painting Las Meniñas
Picasso on Velasquez
and in a separate wing they have placed all of his variations on that theme, I think about 50 paintings in all. While Picasso is more than a bit outrageous, you can tell that it’s a tribute to the old master, and it also reflects well on the mission of the museum. Early on Picasso copied many old paintings as part of his training. To place the very late variations on Las Meniñas in this collection reminds of the early days but also shows us how far this arguably finest painter of the twentieth century moved in his constant experimentation. That's how the tour ends and it's terrific, especially having seen the Velasquez painting in the Prado only a few days before Picasso visual meditations on it. 

Okay, and now for some gossip Dottore Gianni picked up from guidebooks. Do you know Picasso's early famous and shocking painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon? Well if we can believe what we read, it seems that Picasso was not thinking of Avignon in the Provence region of France, he was thinking of something much closer to this area in which he spent some of his youth. Picasso ate and drank at Els Cuatro Gats, as I noted above, but he also frequented brothels in the Barri Gotic, the old town, of Barcelona. One street in particular was inviting. It's not far from the Cathedral (tsk, tsk) and is called Carrer d'Avinyo. Avinyo is Avignon...and that's where Picasso found the aggressive young women he used, conceptually at least, for this painting.

I returned to the hotel room, shut my eyes for a while, worked on my photos, then took a final stroll in El Born, my
neighborhood but only one of many fascinating areas of this 
The elegant Placa Real
fascinating city. Before turning in I had a last beer at the hotel bar. I developed a very slight relationship with the fellow that runs it. At least he's friendly and knows what I want to drink and how much! Dottore Gianni/Dr Jack/I will admit that no matter how well I get to know a place I will always be a bit of a "stranger in a strange land," but stranger or not, I very much enjoyed my time in Barcelona. I hope all of you enjoyed reading about it. And now I look forward to a few more days in Madrid, which I look forward to getting to know a bit better...

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