Two weeks in Barcelona! It feels like summer is going by too quickly, and yet it’s also been sort of sleepy and uneventful. I did, however, inaugurate the season by spending my first weekend here in the beach town of Sitges, the “Gay Capital of Spain.” This wasn’t so great for my bollycao hunting–certainly already under way–but it was fabulously relaxing because of this
The wonderful pool was at the Hotel Terramar, which I did not research or choose (I was with a group of friends), but was very clean, wonderfully air-conditioned, and relatively inexpensive despite the bountiful breakfast buffet. It also had fantastic views, such as in the picture above–which was not, sadly, from my own room. I had a “single” room, which means that you get no balcony, no view, deafening noise from the elevator, and the tiniest bed in the universe, to ensure you stay single while you’re there.
Sitges can get very crowded in July and August, but is just perfect in June. In fact, the only people crowding it were the twenty-plus friends (me included) of the debonair Mr. S, who were there for the 50th-birthday weekend bash lovingly arranged for him by his partner Mr. A. On Saturday, we had a delightful picnic lunch with more than fifty guests in a sort of summer camp site on the Garraf, and it was a beautiful occasion that at times felt like a wedding,
down to the two delectable Black Forest cakes with romantic messages from popular songs (which people sassier than me also performed–there were many performances throughout the weekend!).
People other than me also did healthy, mindful things like get up in the morning to do Pilates on the beach,
but that is more esprit de corps than I can muster while still afflicted with jet lag (or at least that was my excuse). A wonderful time was had by all, and after the horrible winter of 2015, my summer has officially begun.
Back in Barcelona, and always the conscientious academic, my first order of business was to make my way to that old haunt, the Biblioteca de Catalunya, where I promptly booked myself a private carrel (or cabin, as they call it), which for the modest sum of 23.95€ a week enables you to work in blissful isolation from The People.
Cabina 4 is several miles away from the bathroom, a lucky circumstance that allowed me to stumble onto a beautiful little art exhibit scattered throughout the cavernous reading room: Memòria Llarga, Memòria Curta, a series of artworks made by students of the Escola Llotja’s Conservatory for Book Arts, most of which manipulate books and book-related objects as a reflection “on the relationship between the book and human cultural memory.” The description doesn’t sound too exciting, but I do love the artworks themselves and their fit into the beautiful BC environment. Definitely drop by if you’re in town before September 25, at least if you can get past the airport-type security at the library entrance.
Other than working I’ve been trying to make myself at home, which mostly involves the purchase of large numbers of candles to avoid turning on those ghastly fluorescent ceiling lamps hung too high for me to change the lightbulbs.
But, alas, the photo above suggests I spend my time relaxing, whereas it is mostly devoted to household chores. After considerable effort, I figured out (without the benefit of an instruction manual) the three different steps it takes to turn the oven on, and made oven fries! (To eat with eggs and luscious txistorra, both of which were fried so I should have just gone all the way with the flow.) I also chase–or rather, am chased by–a superbionic mosquito that won’t quit biting huge chunks off me. And I do a lot of ironing, mainly because the ninety-minute wash/dry cycle (which takes four hours if you choose “fully dry” in step #4 of the settings–and why the hell WOULDN’T YOU choose “fully dry”) results in this:
I never thought I’d say this, but it makes me nostalgic for the apparatus-for-hanging-clothes-out-to-dry I had last year in Bilbao…
Of course, if you live in my neighborhood, the Barri Gòtic, household chores can acquire their own unique character. After days of unsuccessful inquiries as to where on earth I’m supposed to drop my recyclables, a neighbor finally revealed I should walk all the way around the block to the Plaça de la Vila de Madrid. When I ventured there, I kept looking for the usual yellow, green, and blue containers, and actually wondered if these structures were the new receptacles:
But, no, they are not the new receptacles; they are just 2nd to 3rd-century AD Roman sarcophagi to which I somehow never paid attention on the way to the Athenaeum next door, a private institution with frequent interesting cultural events (check out their calendar if you speak Catalan!) in whose gorgeous little library I have sometimes worked. Naturally, it makes all the sense in the world for the necropolis to be right there, as my street was the city wall in Roman times.
Running errands in the Barri Gòtic, there is no end to the possible surprises. You can decide to emerge from home to get some groceries (as I did yesterday, June 13), and step right onto this outside your building’s gate:
Gegant and casteller parades in the middle of the street might conceivably happen any weekend, but yesterday there was a particular city celebration I had forgotten all about, and which I accidentally stumbled into just a few minutes later: the new Mayor’s inaugural.
On this particular occasion people at Plaça de Sant Jaume, the square where the Catalan Governmental Palace and Barcelona’s City Hall face each other, seemed particularly excited. The election of Ada Colau was part of a widespread turn to the left in the most recent Spanish municipal elections that drove the right-wing party in national power (the Partido Popular) and other traditional majority parties out of a good number of local governments. Rather than a career politician, she is a long-time social activist, and her message has struck a chord with the many Catalans who have long felt economically and socially disenfranchised while the main political parties take turns doing little for their plight.
So waddayaknow–ever the accidental tourist, I just keep chancing upon history in the making!
My flâneuse walks around the city have had a much more frivolous side. I’ve browsed at several of the markets that pop up around town in summer, like the weekend handicraft bazaar on Carrer de l’Argenteria, where I just had to buy a darling little felt bag.
And at my favorite Barcelona clothing store, Anna Povo,
where I already eyed a few items for July’s rebaixes (everything is on sale, everywhere in Spain, in July).
On Passeig de Gràcia, however, I also had to face true tragedy: the imminent closing (at the end of June) of the Vinçon store, founded in 1941.
Vinçon’s history, as detailed on its web site, doesn’t convey what this place meant to me and to Barcelona’s development. Much more than a home goods/furniture store, it was one of those shops that become so associated with a city that they turn into tourist attractions in their own right. It helped of course that it was located in the Casa Casas-Carbó, a modernist jewel on the same street as the famous Mansana de la Discòrdia and steps away from Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Milà. Its beautiful interiors were as much of an attraction as the exquisite furniture they showcased, featuring the best of Barcelona, Spanish, and European design. And even if you couldn’t afford the high-ticket items (or couldn’t well fly a gorgeous bookshelf back home), you could go every year for their summer red or black fans, or the new calendar, or original little gifts that you could carry out of the store in their latest bag. The store “took off” in the early nineties, just as I began my almost-yearly trips to Barcelona, and it was always one of the first stops on my itinerary, a sign that I was finally here. Seeing its empty shelves broke my heart:
I hope it doesn’t just become another chain store, or global luxury franchise.
The only possible consolation for the loss of Vinçon, of course, is the Barça store, whose many outposts outside the Camp Nou Megastore I don’t seem able to just walk past. I wonder what the subliminal pull is…
Really, do they have beefcake dummies in U. S. stores??? I think I’m falling in love! I know, they are not human, don’t even have a face and my lusting after them is a little insane. But what’s a girl to do when there are no more Puyol posters around, and she’s in withdrawal from… the Rúa!!!!
Because last Sunday (June 7) I did make it back in time for Barça’s parade through the city on their way back from Germany, where they won the Champions League title against Juventus. Still in Sitges, I had missed the crazy celebrations at Canaletes on the actual night of the game (not that I’m sure I would have survived them; I did try that once). However, I was there in spirit lending them my (arm) strength.
This was, of course, Barcelona’s third title this year (in addition to the Spanish Liga and Copa del Rey)–the second treble in their history. And I made it to their welcome!
As usual, I ended up on the friggin’ wrong side of the street and missed both Messi and my new hearthrob beau Suárez, but if you scan the pictures carefully you can see Luis Enrique, Pedro, Mascherano, Jordi Alba and, decked in the Catalan flag, dreamy Sergi Roberto. Of course (and thankfully) my best view was of Xavi, in his last couple of days with Barça:
It was very sad and very moving and I can’t face his having gone to Qatar (mourning and withdrawal again). I am, nevertheless, a bit heartened by Puyol’s diligent efforts to learn English (unfortunately at Berlitz), which I’m taking to mean I’ll soon have him WITH ME in New York.
On the culinary side, no big adventures yet but going up and down Passeig de Gràcia I discovered a place where you should NEVER eat (I only even tried it because it’s new and didn’t seem to be the same kind of establishment as all the horrid tapas chains around there, plus I was going to drop dead if I didn’t have a meal IMMEDIATELY). I also went back to an old favorite, Sushi Shop–for when you just have to take a break from the jamón and absolutely need a place with BITCHIN’ AIR CONDITIONING (a recurring need of mine in Europe). Miss L and the Blacksongs will be imminently landing in Barcelona, at which point I will be hitting the restaurants and night spots more often and will have interesting tidbits to share.
But that will be in two or three weeks. Before that (this Wednesday), I am taking off for an actual one-week vacation in GREECE. And I’ll have plenty to report about that!