Romance is immortal. Industry in the machine age can only become a machine without it… Without Romance the essential joy of living as distinguished from pleasure is not alive… – Frank Lloyd Wright’s words in regards to being a romantic architect. “The Creative Professions” as they are sometimes called (a title I will use only temporarily as to not deny the creativity inherent to all professions) are very fond of using the term Romantic. Much the same way popular culture uses the term to signify a magnetism which leads to some sort of seductive process, Romantic for The Creatives are acutely aware of the natural world – the world outside of our control – seducing us to duplicate its engineering, describe its colors, represent its systems and pay homage to its power.
We passed the morning drinking arabic-style tea from delicately painted glass cups, at home on the table of any little girls tea party, and enjoying the slow pace of the small plaza. Nestled into a corner of metal folding tables, the dozen or so patrons of the cafe were all afforded a wonderful perch from which to observe the activity on the plaza pass by undisturbed. After we had finished our tea and paid the bill we started out for the bus station, looking for a bus that would take us to Seville. My brother had the Puente del Alamillo in his sights. Designed in 1992 by Spanish structural engineer/architect Santiago Calatrava the bridge, like many of his larger projects, clearly echoes the Modernist themes present in contemporaries such as Gaudi or Candela. He managed to do so while simultaneously presenting the viewer with his unique personal affinity for combining elements of human anatomy and those of the natural world.
The several hours it took to reach Seville were spent comfortably enjoying the endless fields of vibrant yellow flowers and a shared picnic lunch as we sped along the open highway. Seville is a relatively small city embraced by the Guadalquivir River and after a short walk we were at its banks. To view the bridge with my brother recalled countless family dinners eating out. Even now, our father is an interior designer for restaurants and it is not unusual for him to turn a chair over in the middle of dinner, to see who the manufacturer is. I may have seen it as a rather nice chair or maybe not even noticed it at all until he was already startling the other diners. But he was seduced by a future with the chair; he could imagine a potential relationship, the perfect solution to the patio space he was currently designing or one to buy as a sample to show clients, whatever the vision- everything else stopped for a second. It was like this with my brother and the Puente del Alamillo. The bridge had engaged him in a secret dialogue that none of us could hear, it was whispering things to him that made him smile, without even knowing it. And this, in turn, made me smile and appreciate the bridge through him.
After a very brief stay in Seville we took the train to Lisbon, crossing the Spanish/Portuguese border in the south of the country. Portugal was not at all as I expected. Somehow I had a sense it would be more latin, more vibrant and “in your face”. I have no idea where I picked up this conception, but as a result I needed to do some adjusting as we walked around the city. The people were stoic, quiet, and they looked at us as if there was some kind of code we had failed to interpret. The next morning we decided to take a day trip out of the city and headed west on a quaint rural train to a small area called Sintra. We had read that Sintra had a very unusual castle well worth the excursion.
Pena National Palace is surprising example of Romantic architecture, said to be one of the best from the 19th century in the world. Segments of the building complex are painted bright yellow, some a contrasting pale red and some the deep bluish grey of the original stone. Fantastical creatures carved from the walls, whimsical tiled-mosaics, gargoyles and towers that begged for locked-away princesses, it was clear to see we were walking inside of a vision come to life. The palace was surrounded by a forest of equally surprising components. Apparently the same seduction that had directed the architecture also made its way into the landscaping, there were trees and ferns from all over the world; China, The Americas, many of the distant corners of Europe… The thick imaginative nature of the entire experience left us all floating slightly as we boarded the train back to Lisbon that evening.
We spent several days in Lisbon, disquieted by the ghost of our expectations. What we discovered is that Lisbon is filled with stairways and has one really great vegetarian restaurant. My self-imposed dietary restrictions were especially difficult to meet in Lisbon and it was beginning to wear on my fellow travelers. As a vegetarian you not only need to find a “non dead animal” option on the menu, but one you have not already eaten that day, one that looks appetizing in that moment, one that gives as close to a balanced meal as possible and one you can afford. In a word…quasi-impossible. Fortunately on one of our treks up one the numerous staircases in the city we discovered an excellent vegetarian restaurant which quickly became my solution for at least one meal a day.
When I was 10 years old I developed my own secret dialogue, with food. I formed a romantic view of myself as a vegetarian and for the substantial majority of the next 11 years of my life the discussion dominated the way I thought about eating. I had grown accustomed to explaining why I chose to eat differently than almost everyone around me and as I grew older my explanations became more sophisticated, but never ceased in creating serious logistical problems. Regardless of the relative suffering of my comrades, I refused to make exceptions to my vegetarian life-style… the whispering seduction of my own essential vision was holding fast.