The Dragon House and Gaudi’s Spain

Today marked the official beginning of my journey with my family to Barcelona, Spain. I travelled thirteen hours into the future, from Thursday afternoon until Friday morning, and managed, somehow, to still have energy enough to explore. After getting off the plane we were met with an overly enthusiastic driver named Toni: a nearly indistinguishable Spaniard with olive skin, short, brown hair, flattering stubble and prominent, bony facial features. As he drove us the half hour from the Barcelona Airport to our destination, Hotel Majestic on Passeig de Gracias, he excitedly discussed with us the happenings of his city, and the recent ups and downs in terms of Barcelona’s economy and tourism.

On our drive, I was immediately struck by the mixture of classical and modernist architecture both inside and outside of the city. From Gaudi to graffiti, every building glittered with humanity and creative ingenuity, not to mention a plethora of multicolored, divinely inspired mosaics. On leaving Toni and the world of Barcelonan automotive transportation (most of which is run by Mercedez Benz, Volkswagon and Audi, a fine example of the comparatively blasé sense of American quality… but that’s another story), my senses overloaded with the vibrancy of my settings. If nothing else, Spain is sexy. It’s well groomed, it’s generous, it’s exciting. It stays up late, and it knows how to make you smile.

After a much-needed espresso and selection of tapas, we checked into Majestic and unpacked our luggage to join the rest of the city in their mid-morning siesta.

Our hotel is on the Park Avenue of Barcelona. It shares a building with Chanel, and a block with Hermes and Louis Vuitton. Sitting on the balcony outside of my room (almost every room or apartment in central Barcelona has a balcony; as Toni described it, “They chop off the corners of buildings for all those beaaaautiful terraces… who wants a window?! No one wants a window. You must go outside and be a part of the street”), my vision was overwhelmed by the constant whirring of motorcyclists and picture-snapping tourists, leggy-models and Armani-clad homes.

We reconvened after our early morning siesta on the roof of Majestic, where my sister was dying to visit the swimming pool. To our surprise, the roof was a thousand times as splendid as our little rooms and balconies; the azure pool glimmered in the sunlight, reflecting the mountainous, city-wide view that circumnavigated it. A bartender brought us snacks and drinks as we leaned over the latticed railways towards  La Sagrada Familia, Montjuic and the Mediterranian, breathing deeply the smell of lilacs, orange trees and palm growing on a terrace beneath us.

As the sun peaked in the sky and the locals rolled out of their beds, we jostled our way across the street, weaving between bicyclists on community-loaned bikes, subcompact cars, motorcycles, and all of the endless picture-taking tourists. Like many of the tourists, we headed for the line into La Casa Battlo, a private home designed and renovated by Antoni Gaudi, the riotously popular local architect and designer of La Sagrada Familia (as yet unfinished), and the controversial La Casa Mila (also known as La Padrera), both of which I hope desperately to tour before my time here is through.

I like to call La Casa Battlo ‘the dragon house.’ It was built as a testament to St. George who slayed the dragon (the patron saint of Barcelona) and the multilevel house serves as a functional shrine, encapsulating their infamous battle. The dragon’s spine curves its way up the banisters and walls of the curvaceous, asymmetrical house to the roof, where it dips and peaks under George’s cross-shaped sword as it’s ultimately defeated. On either side of the main stairway, which circles around a beautiful, blue mosaic atrium, are hallways and smaller stairways that are indistinguishably bony and rib-like in their curved, white arches and spirals, which are meant to depict the bones of the dragon’s previous victims.

Antoni Gaudi; La Casa Batallo

As is many other masterpieces of Spanish architecture, La Casa Battlo is naturally lit, with its atrium and windows gushing with Barcelona’s clear sunlight. When approaching the outdoors, though, the brilliancy of light is almost overwhelming. In taking photographs and making quick sketches, I was entranced by the interesting shapes Gaudi used in his windows and towers, which cast brilliant highlights and shadows across the space, as if the spaces themselves were imposing their voices upon the viewers and the floors and walls around them. I remember standing on the roof, watching as the shadows of an iron-barred window slowly cast themselves over a tourist photographing the terrace below. He snapped the picture and walked away.

I walked away, too, but not before capturing the little circle of shadowy black on the clay floor. I think that Gaudi’s magic reflects, and even promotes the magic I see in Barcelona. It is as though even the mundane is brought to life, reflecting the everyday as if in a funhouse mirror. Everything is slightly distorted, and looking makes you think.

I was telling my father, in a little bagueteria, about the power that South American and Spanish writers have had on me, about the reality I’ve found in their unbelievable stories. Barcelona is like that; Gaudi is like that. It wouldn’t be quite as magical if it followed any standards; it wouldn’t be as real if it made any sense.

With love from Barcelona,

Emily

2/18/2011

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