Yesterday I had the privilege to see another Gaudí building, only this experience was more once-in-a-lifetime than I can truly appreciate. This house—Casa Batlló—was only recently opened to the public, and it is very, very expensive to tour. Agustín very kindly invited me to go with him to a conference located at—guess where—Casa Batlló, which is pictured below:
This house was built for a patron family in 1906. As you can see, it’s pretty “out-there” in terms of taste, so I’m very impressed that a family of the early twentieth century had the audacity to commission it. It’s got some crazy style (particularly the roof!), but, like Sagrada Familia, there is method to the madness. Rather than harness the spirit of the forest, in Casa Batlló, Gaudí went for an under-the-sea feel. And the way he achieved it is remarkable. It’s a very tall building, so of course, they needed an elevator. The staircase wraps around the elevator shaft, following it all the way to the windowed ceiling, which allows all of the sunlight to fill the room. The walls around this enclosed space are blue-tiled: lighter at the bottom, and subtly fading into a darker blue towards the top. He did this so that everything would look evenly blue in compensation for the fact that the primary source of light was coming from above. I know this because Gaudí, himself, gave us the tour.
But this stairway really did mimic the atmosphere of being underwater. Anyone who has been swimming in natural water can relate to the feeling of being enveloped by an even blue, but at the same time, totally aware of which way is “up”.
Another treat was the casteller. It’s an old tradition in Catalunya where a large group of people (who are trained to do this . . . it doesn’t quite work on a volunteer basis) make a human tower six or seven levels high. And that’s considered small. They gather into a tight circle, in this case one of perhaps thirty people, and hoist three or four people (usually petite women and girls) up onto the shoulders of those in the center (normally women that can handle the weight). Then another layer develops from beneath and pushes that layer up. This process is repeated until the bottom circle (strong, strapping young men) is holding all the levels of the tower. After that, one—sometimes two—tiny children literally climb the bodies of their co-human-castle-builders and scale the entire thing. It is terrifying. I have an enormous amount of respect for the parents who let their children do that, because that’s faith. Of course the children wear helmets, but that doesn’t stop those in the crowd from unconsciously putting out their hands and stepping into the sprinter’s position. It’s all put to a very specific, festive Catalonian song, and it’s really just amazing to see.
I feel really lucky to have been able to attend this conference and see Gaudí’s masterpiece and this little aspect of Catalunya. What a day it was. I imagine I’ll be seeing more of Gaudí as I see more of Barcelona, as well as some more castellers. More to follow!