Gaudi, Picasso and FC Barcelona

Barcelona - The skylights and skyline at sunset

Eighteen years ago I did what I have always done every four years. From the obscurity of my lounge room (or someone else’s) I sit and indulge myself in as much television coverage of the Olympic games as I can physically permit to. I am always inspired, uplifted and more as I watch the spirit of life take individuals, teams and countries to places they have never been before. From overcoming adversity to personal bests, world records, olympic records, semi-finals, finals and medals struck in athlete’s three, favourite colours. 
1992 was a memorable olympics for me. The lighting of the Olympic flame by flaming arrow. That picture of para-Olympian Antonio Rebollo will forever be traced onto the fabric of my mind, searing the October night sky to a billion plus cheers around the world. Australia only picked up one gold medal in the swimming that year. Good onya Keiran Perkins. And what about the Sunshine Coast’s own Clint Robinson? Gold in the K1. Remember how spectacular the diving was from high up on Montjuic, the world according to Barcelona plying  its trade behind every slow motion replay?
And that was how Barcelona won me over. It lifted a flagging Olympics celebration out of the dust onto the rooftops of our hearts to a flamenco rhythm that has endured. When Jo and I did a top twenty of places we must see when living in Europe, Barcelona took the number one spot for me. I couldn’t even tell you why that was. It was more a feeling held onto over the years, connecting me to the spirit of that event, the generosity of the people, the vivid colours and shapes of architecture and textile.
I have never known how I might end up in Barcelona. But I knew that one day I would. That I would stand on the edge of the Olympic tower and having left the shackles of life far behind me plunge into the poetry of the Mediterranean skyline before executing a near perfect ten entry some five metres below.
When we drove past the Olympic diving site that awesome view was still there, though severely masked by a winter rain squall that had pushed its way down from somewhere north of Scotland. I’d packed my Speedos but alas the bus didn’t stop and it was way too wet to walk back from the Miro exhibition. Thankfully there can be a next time and an even better summer’s day not too far away to complete another piece of the puzzle.
So with that reality too easily satisfied we got down to the business of what else there was to do. Our hotel, San Agustin, was a short walk off La Rambla. You can’t imagine La Rambla. You have to walk it. Bodies in constant motion east and west, city to beach. Love lights it up and a myriad of the weirdest street performers you could ever see keeps it lit. Into the night, the endless parade going who knows where, slipping into side streets that open and swallow like paella and tapas, into streets that send narrow lanes into open squares of cafes and old bricks and fire dancers where you can sit for hours and know that time is not watching.
We decided early next morning that a blue bus Gaudi day was the way to soak up the stunning sunshine that greeted us as we cruised La Rambla towards Placa de Catalunya. The idea also came that we should ignore everything on route until Sagrada Familia. And that idea proved a winner. You can use all the superlatives you like about Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, but no combination of words will fulfill your personal discovery and transcendency as you lay eyes on and then touch what is one of the eight wonders of the modern world. It is not a natural wonder like Uluru, The Great Barrier Reef, The Grand Canyon or The Himalayan Mountains. No Sagrada Familia is much more than that. It is a man’s solitary vision, an expression of universal Mind that was so expansive and breathtaking that he could not complete its construction in the human time frame that he was granted. Construction was commenced around 1880 and will not be completed before 2026. Over two thirds completed, it is a very individual experience to walk through, to sit in, to climb a tower in the lift and walk across to an adjoining tower and wind your way back to the main chamber. Despite all the people visiting this visionary space there is a real sense of peace and solitude, a feeling of art dissecting religion so profound that you know inwardly the good expressed right where you are at that moment is a part of the new world yet to come. Well, at least that is what I found.
Next stop, Park Guell. Three kilometres of Gaudi sculpted walkways, porticos, a plaza and two gatehouses. Not forgetting amazing views of Barcelona from the lookout at the top of the park and the finest ceramic mosaic bench seat that this world has to offer (Banc de Trencadis). You will delight in the hours you can spend here in simplicity and wonder. Using art in such a practical way offers so much more than just being able to look at it on a wall. There are never enough opportunities to feel the texture and form of art where it nestles perfectly along your spine and thighs, a transforming experience that can be leisurely shared with hundreds of other bodies at the same time, knowing you can soak it up for as long as you like without being greedy. Gaudi must find it hard to wipe the smile off his face most days.
Jo and I finished the day off at Casa Battlo This is an apartment block renovated by Gaudi in the early twentieth century. Known locally as the ‘House of the Dragon’ or the ‘House of the Bones’, it is a stand out in a street of very interesting and unusual architecture. You can waft you way through the dreamy lower floors and balconies and then climb the internal staircase and experience the beauty of a sunset over the skylights and skyline of downtown Barcelona.
The next day was a washout on the red bus tour but the magic that the Picasso Museum and gallery works is not subject to the fickleness of isobars. Hidden away where it belongs in five Gothic-baroque mansions of Carrer de Montcard I found images and stories about Picasso that I never knew existed. There was so much more to this man than Cubist masterpieces he was so famous for and there is a clear absence of the Cubist period in this timeline trail of artwork over his lifetime. As early as sixteen Picasso was completing full-sized portraits and featuring in national art competitions with recognition. My favourite piece was a portrait completed in 1917 titled ‘Dona amb mantellina (La Salchichona). Almost a mosaic dot painting, I found it stunningly captivating and beautiful, a definitive canvas that took my breath away.
Picasso also intrigued me with his Las Meninas series from 1957. To look at the photos he worked from and then compare them to the end result of oil on canvas, gave me a small snapshot of what a creative genius he indeed was.
I am told you cannot come to Barcelona without going to see the best club football team in the world in action. Okay they were only fifteen euro nosebleed seats and it was against Bilbao Athletic not Real Madrid but we scaled the dizzying heights and saw FC Barcelona in action. Well there was plenty of action but the 0 - 0 scoreboard at full time did not fully reflect what took part during the ninety minutes of playing time. The main point is we sat in Camp Nou stadium that has a capacity for 100,000 fans, we listened to the Barca chants and I wore my number 10 FC Barcelona shirt with pride when superstar Lionel Messi made an appearance on the pitch in the second half. The skill of the Barca players was unbelievable, mesmeric, but the defense of the Bilbao goalkeeper was up to the task on the night.
I am sure that Barcelona offers many experiences neatly packaged individually for each one of us. And summer would bring a complete new experience. So that is why Jo and I are open to going back  there to show our friends from home what southern France and northern Spain has to offer with an Alfa driving holiday in 2011. Book now!

Sagrada Familia

SG inside

SG - from the tower

GF - under construction

Down one of the towers

Stained glass columns

Guell Park

Guell Park gatehouse

Guell Park lookout

Inside Casa Battlo

On top of Casa Battlo

Picasso Musee

Man and his dog in cafe

Gothic street window

Kitchen art

Window art

Jodie and her favourite painting
La Rambla Christmas morning

La Rambla shadows

Street performers
Casa Battlo

View from Guell Park Lookout

Those great Gaudi benchseats

FC barcelona v Bilbao
Bilbao goalkeeper in action

An hour before the game


  1. Hi Rob, I am Elsie's daughter. She told me today about your book and your blog. So here I am visiting your blog. Love the Barcelona descriptions and photos. I have not been there, but it is on the list of places I will visit. I have been to Madrid though.


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