A few days ago I visited the lovely city of Barcelona in my first ever visit to Spain. As with most “business” trips, the primary raison-de-etre and focus of the travel was work but I was determined to carve aside a few hours and imbibe in the flavors of a new city and new country. The European cities, in particular, make for delightful exploration when armed with a god map and some stubborn wanderlust. Stumbling on to new and different sights, sounds and smells mixed with the latent possibility of getting lost and not finding your way back to the hotel makes for a heady dose of travel thrill. I used the few hours I had, as such, exploring Barcelona by foot, bus and train.
Which is where the rain comes in.
It pretty much poured during the entire few disposable hours I had. If I can be permitted to make a contextual shift, one of my most vivid memories of growing up in Ahmedabad is how the rain instantly changed the way in which the city presented itself. The instant puddles that made simply biking to school an adventure sport, the roasted makai-wallahs that seemed to come almost out of nowhere minutes after the rain began, cars stalling and riskshaws sputtering… it seemed that almost immediately the entire city slowed down at a relaxed, almost romantic, pace where one truly had time to “stand and stare as long as sheep and cows” (pardon the WH Davies reference, my fellow Xavierites will undoubtedly relate). Ergo, if someone visited Ahmedabad on a wet rainy afternoon and then came back in the middle of a hot summer day, they would swear that they mistakenly came back to a different city.
So I don’t know if it was the rain, or that Barcelona is simply just a beautiful city, but I left feeling like I had not given the city the time, space and respect it deserves. While the city boasts an impressive number of parks and museums, it is clear that two people, long departed, make their mark on the city: silent, towering influences even amongst Barcelona’s rich and varied citizenry through the ages. The first being Pablo Picasso, who spent his adolescent and coming-of-age (and arguably formative) years here. Even after moving to Paris and flourishing there, Picasso would always keep his ties with Barcelona, visiting frequently. The Picasso Museum was actually set up at his own request, and is perhaps the best testament to his strong links and fondness to the city. By the way, trivia fact for the day: did you know that Picasso’s “official” birth name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso ? (Yep, neither did I !)
The other is the architect Antoni Gaudi. The accompanying photograph is that of the Sagrada Familia, a stunning monolith that towers over Barcelona, the most visible and perhaps defining part of the Barcelona skyline. Gaudi studied architecture as a student in Barcelona, and his early works were designed in classical Gothic architecture. However, he soon developed his own distinct style borrowing heavily and deriving inspiration from nature and incorporating natural styles into his sculptural themes. He worked on the Sagrada Familia from 1882 until his death in 1926, the last fifteen years almost exclusively, and his grandiose vision for the church guaranteed that he would not be around to see it completed. In fact, legend has it that when he was asked why he was designing something that he so clearly would not have the time to finish, Gaudi is said to have replied words to the effect: “My client (God) is in no hurry – he has all the time in the world”. Construction on the Sagrada Familia continues to this day, funded entirely by voluntary and often anonymous donations, and is expected to continue for at least another fifteen years.
Of course a few paragraphs will not suffice (nor do justice) to the varied and numerous charms of this wonderful city. The La Rambla is an elegant pedestrian walkway that stretches through the heart of the city, not quite The Champs Elysees but delightful in its own way. And of course there are the countless little places that serve endless options of the famed tapas, bite sized mini-meals. Or the entire network of buildings, stadiums and parks that hosted the 1992 Olympic Games, all now an integral part of the city’s daily life. There are plazas, parks, walkways, markets, neighborhoods, eateries – too many to list and discuss (which is why there are guidebooks :-).
But any trip, no matter how long or short, comes to an end. And the end is always the beginning. As the aphorism goes: today is the first day of the rest of your life. Each end is a new beginning, and with a new beginning comes hope. So here is hoping for peace, love and joy in your life. And before you begin to wonder if I am going all new-age on you, let me hasten to add, that it is merely my way of saying “thanks” for taking time out of your own busy day and dropping by…