Casa Batlló

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:

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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 impressedPhoto Jun 05, 3 04 20 PM 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.

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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 Photo Jun 05, 7 51 20 PMgirls) 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!

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Sagrada Familia

One thing I’ve been doing here is acquainting myself with Gaudí, the Catalonian architect. You may not know who Gaudí is, but you’ve probably seen his stuff. I even learned about him in high school without knowing it, because I had no idea who Uge (an architect major) was talking about until I googled him and the content from my arts principles class appeared before my eyes. On Sunday we went to mass at Sagrada Familia, this huge, absolutely stunning cathedral—the last thing he never built, because he died before its completion. Using the plans he left behind, the city has taken it upon itself to bring his designs to fruition. I’ll post a couple of pictures here:

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So, yes; his style is rather different. But it’s absolutely incredible to see. He was motivated by nature and tried to capture its essence in all of his work, that’s why the façade of the cathedral looks kind of like a drip sand-castle. The cathedral itself has a theme: it’s supposed to emulate the forest. There are enormous columns inside that, like trees, support the canopy above. At thePhoto Jun 01, 4 32 24 PM top, they part and stretch across the ceiling until they’re difficult to separate from one another, like branches subdividing until they’re nothing but an indistinguishable thicket. The stained-glass windows are rainbow, and they’re beautiful at all hours. But if you’re standing there at the right time of day, they color everything inside. Absolutely beautiful. There is detail in everything; Nuria and I were standing outside, talking, and behind Nuria was this rock, approximately up to my knees. It wasn’t important; it was just a rock, built into the corner of one of the maintenance cottages so that the corner wasn’t so painfully angular (which Gaudí hated!). But I noticed after I looked over her shoulder a few times that a very, very subtle cross was visible on its face, formed by the strategic placement of slightly discolored stone (I’m not crazy or reading too much into things, like English majors are prone to do—Nuria saw it, too!).

On all sides, hundreds of figures are carved into the stone, and they all have meaning. Agustín showed me one that was of two men kissing. Resting very unnoticeably under the robe of the man on the right was a snake. Agustín explained to me how the men were Judas and Jesus, and how the snake was a foreshadowing of Judas’ betrayal. It was fun because Agustín, Nuria, Benja and I just stood outside for five minutes interpreting everything on the walls. (Rather, they interpreted everything on the walls, while I did my best to interpret what they were saying. It’s been a bit of a problem for me.) There are little puzzles everywhere. For instance, everywhere you turn, you run into the same thing, this:

Picture not mine; click to be redirected to the site I took it from
Picture not mine; click to be redirected to the site I took it from

It’s a magic square. In every direction—horizontal, vertical, or diagonal—the numbers add up to the same thing. In this case, thirty-three (which, according to Christian tradition, is how old Christ was when he was crucified . . . don’t ask me, read this site). It appears in thirty-three places in the cathedral. I didn’t even know that. I literally (and I can indeed use that word here) just found that out after a very thorough Google search.

I should really end it here. We’re actually going back to Sagrada Familia, so I don’t even know what I don’t know about it yet. But I will try very hard to restrain myself from writing eight more posts of this length about it. If nobody reads this, that’s fine with me. I can at least pat myself on the back for having written a blog! And while I do promise (to try) not to write about Sagrada Familia again, I haven’t even gotten started on Casa Batlló! Expect an entry on that, next.

Greetings from España!

Hello, family and friends!

Tonight I start the blog that I promised myself and others I would create and update weekly, but never did.

To start, the family is wonderful. There are eight of them: Agustín and María Eugenia, the mother and father, and their six children, Agus, Uge, Mateo, Nuria, Nacho, and Benja. It’s been so wonderful getting to know them all, and even though there are already eight people in the house, they’re nothing but happy to share their home with me. Agustín has graciously given me the opportunity to work in the office for the summer, where I’m combing through the company website and making sure that the English translation sounds natural and is free of errors.

We’ve been doing some sight-seeing, but all of the kids are still in exams, so mostly I’ve just been acclimating to the environment (particularly the eating schedule and the daily challenge of living in a house with more high-quality bread than I’ve ever seen in one place and not eating it all). It’s been good though, I think, to get used to the country before I sign up for the double-decker tour bus. It gives you a little bit more appreciation.

Obviously, I’m here to speak Spanish, and I’m finding it difficult. I’ve had a lot of instances of grammatical error, so many that when I make only one mistake in a complex sentence, I actually physically fist-pump the air and Nuria tells me that she will give me a medal. I’ve been taking Spanish tests and memorizing conjugation formulas for so long that I think it actually came as a surprise to me that this is a living, breathing language that normal people who talk and laugh and gossip and fight use every day. I’m loving the learning experience, but as I said the other night, sometimes I just want to be able to talk. Because these people are nice, and funny, and interesting, and I really want to get to know them! But it takes forever for me to spit out a sentence, and when I do, half the time I get lots of confused looks. But, as almost everybody here has told me, “poco a poco.”

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