There are cities you visit, cities you check off your list – Barcelona tilled my subconscious soil and planted something inside of me. Its roots started growing and Barcelona claimed me for itself. Nine years later when people ask me why I moved to Tokyo, as if describing a lover betrayed I explain why Barcelona was left at the proverbial altar. Outrageous; how the decisions of a small network of people can direct the course of, for them, completely anonymous individual lives.
My first step off the train in Barcelona, I could tell we had changed directions. We rang the bell of a small hotel under a canopy of flowers several stories thick. A loud monophonic buzzing sound followed and we were admitted . One at a time, we climbed the antique staircase which opened onto a hallway whose centerpiece was a very dusty, ornately carved, couch. Realizing this was the lobby, we set our bags down and waited silently. After a few minutes a small door opened and an equally small woman warmly greeted us as if she were our grandmother, relived to see us safely home. Strangely settled, and returned to the city street and we navigated to the closest plaza anxious to enjoy an afternoon of homemade sangria, conversation, people watching and a general state of well-being.
Later on we made our way to the art museum, which apparently doubled as a decent skate park. A dozen skateboarders were flipping and slapping their decks against the contours of modern architecture, it was somehow a perfect living orchestration of exhilaration, movement and defiance – much of what the art inside was attempting to interpret for its admission-paying viewers. Another few hours and we were exploring the side streets again, this time happening upon a crusades-era stone doorway, dimly lit and offering a free design exhibit inside. Museums have an important role in preserving and cataloguing the work of artists for later generations and some museums are able to display genuinely stunning collections. The problem with museums is that ultimately they are institutions and because of this they are subject to the typical bureaucracy, regulations and agendas of all institutions. As a result it is nearly impossible for them to engage with artists taking risks, those still untested by the market. While I usually enjoy art museums, I must also admit at times it feels more like visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the focus on the incredible celebrity status of the artists instead of their incredibly inspired ideas. A hundred times more interesting, the designers were just starting out – just beginning to be able to express their ideas in public. When an artist is still unknown they work harder to communicate and make a connection with the viewer. The pieces were brave and dramatic – fearless. I had taken part in several art shows, many in places like this…unused and beautifully raw, but this level of sophistication and innovation was something completely new. Nearly every piece inspired me, excited me. I yearned to be a part of it, to be driven and share in the moment of brilliance about to shine on these newly budded creators. But I was just a viewer and it was time to move on.
The next morning on La Rambla, an extensive pedestrian wonderland winding through downtown Barcelona, we grabbed a coffee and started walking. La Rambla was filled with street performers and buskers offering a lot of eye-candy, but I was more impressed with the market. Drawn in by the stained glass sign and the glimpse of a myriad of delicacies, La Boqueria is a market that haunts me still. I remained a stubborn vegetarian at this point, mesmerized and floating between overflowing fruit stands. Never venturing into the visceral legacy held within the market’s core. The humid blood soaked passageways of the inner sanctum retained their treasures. Still now these ghosts tempt me while I sleep, with all that I missed as I made selections from the glossy, recognizable bits – the untold pleasures escaped me and for this I am ever repentant.
Sacrilegiously we left the market with a bag of strawberries, not without irony we aimed for La Famila Sagrada. Antoni Gaudi was an accomplished architect and his iconic style echoes Egyptian design, Gothic architecture and naturalistic themes. The massive church “La Famila Sagrada – The Sacred Family” even now remains uncompleted, years after his death. As a building it brings joy, the facade is covered with all manner of creatures, the central towers stretching up like tree branches. Even the cranes and machinery do nothing to interrupt the sheer glory one feels when gazing skyward. Taking a breath, it was as if the whole city knew there were more important things for us all to do, more for us to contemplate, to dedicate ourselves to – more ways for us all to use the fertilized soils of our past to produce the gorgeous and newly imagined fruits of our future.