Join Date: Oct 2003
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Hi guys, here it goes, sorry it's so long...
The well-equipped hotel train left Granada last night and finally pulls up to Sants Estacio, Barcelona, like a crawling, green insect, cutting across beautiful wetlands and the coastline, slowly I glimpse vertical vestiges of civilization ahead of us. I did not know what to expect, but despite my preconceived reservation towards big cities, my anticipation as the train slows at its tracks seems to embrace Barcelona. Having visited Barcelona, I can now say that it is one of the most complete cities that I know and definitively one of my favorites! I check into Hostel Kabul, one of the most famous hostels in the world, conveniently situated at Placa Reial, smacking in the center of Las Ramblas. I greet my friend, Kelly, whom I’d met earlier during my travels in Verona, Italy, but now works at the Kabul, and set out to meet my Brazilian friend, Paulo, introduced through a mutual friend whom I’d met earlier in Granada. Being health and budget conscious, as backpacking calls for, he takes me for dinner to a full salad bar restaurant that offered the meal plus 30 minutes of free Internet for only 3.60 euros! Nothing could beat that, and having just stepped out of an overnight train ride, I am ready for healthy and hearty food and company! This would become the first of many a pleasurable conversations between us over dinner! We decide to meet the next day and split as he went off to his night shift at Brasil, an authentic restaurant off of the Horta metro. I start to wander around a bit before retiring for the evening.
From streets gleaming with commerce to the aged cobblestoned streets of our old painter, Picasso, I meander through the narrow, antique streets of Ciutat Vella and Barri Gòtic until I arrive at the Cathedral, a magnificent gothic architectural masterpiece, through its back entrance. Unfortunately, however, my neck, shoulders and legs are aching and need rest. The atmosphere of this ancient building is dark, yet, specked with curious tourists and devout pilgrims. I manage to find a spot and rest my head and shoulders against a pillar that seems to rise into the sky, paying my respects to Christ, Mary and the Saints, as a woman looks at me and my state with emphatic smile…
In the spirit of a long lineage of weary backpackers, I lift myself up and step outside through the front doors to be greeted by a large outstretched market full of nativity scene vendors. Christmas carols sounding through badly piped loud speakers shatter through the somber mood I experienced a moment ago inside, but I do not mind! There are flickering Christmas lights everywhere, one stall after another selling the same items, yet locals go from one stand to another, comparing products and prices, a local Christmas tradition. I feel a bit repulsed by the delusion of consumerism packaged in theological display and decide to skip the market.
Walking in the outskirts of the Cathedral, I suddenly I feel my ears itching, or, is it? Is this bluegrass music I hear in the Cathedral placa (square) of Barcelona? I rush my steps toward a crowd forming in front of the Ajuntamento Barcelona City Art Gallery. I am amused to find a fairly comic scene, it was a bluegrass band, but the more I observed, the more hilarious the sight became, a group of 10 or so members, but each drastically different from the other, like fruit picked from different orchards, an Asian male drummer, an American looking female guitarist, a Eastern European looking male banjo player and another Middle Eastern, and several more in the same multi-colored and shaped pattern standing up or sitting down on a wooden box, including an old, gray haired, and frail looking lady alternating between playing the hand drum, selling CD’s, and dancing with the grace of a 13 year old! It is hard not to smile at this comical scene, but the music is great!
Unexpectedly out of nowhere emerges this 70 year old man, who apparently is part of the band too, stretching his arms out towards me, and I’m thinking, “oh, no, why me?,” but my thoughts instantly reply, “why not?”! And I step into the center of the circle to dance with this stranger. At first I think, “ok, I’ll charm the old man,” but I should not underestimate him by his age, for he dances with the delicacy and agility of a young ballet dancer, and as we move in synergy and as I let myself be swirled around and around, this surreal experience, my first evening in Barcelona, my feet and leg circles on this blessed ground, and as my chest lifts towards the moon, and my head drops back I see the crowd around us and their smiles, again and again, the fatigue magically disappears through the tip of my fingers and every breath I take. We look each other in the eye, and give the usual dancers’ nod, “you dance very well,” “so do you…” I’m no longer walking, but floating through Las Ramblas back to Placa Reial, of course, I do not fail to pick up a popular snack - freshly made, steaming hot rectangular crispy waffle covered and dripping in hot fudge – perfect comfort food before retiring from my first day in Barcelona.
* * *
We met just earlier this morning during breakfast at Kabul, a group of three South Korean young men and their high-tech cameras. We start off at Parc Guell. After hiking up more than 500 steps from the city base to the park (escalators were not functioning), with three huffing and puffing men trailing behind me, we finally enter the park. I wonder, “where did I get all this energy?” It is as if energy is flowing from the sun, from ether, through every pore of my body! Granted, wellness and happiness is a state of mind, a state of being, but I had forgotten how much personal travel, as opposed to business travel, which was most of what I’d done for the past 7 years, was an integral part of who I am.
When I was born, in Korea, my father sought a wise Buddhist monk to inquire about my fortune and future. The monk created my name, embedded with the multi-layered secrets and wisdom of ancient Chinese characters, and then said, “she is one to travel the world.” And so it has been, whether for residence or travel, business or pleasure, planned or spontaneous, international or local, physical or metaphysical – travel has been one of my greatest passions. Standing at the top of the city steps, overlooking Barcelona laid out like a pearl necklace before me, I feel refreshing winds stroke the sweat around my body like a lover’s breath.
As we stand in front of the park map trying to secure some general orientation, I have the pleasure of convincing my new friends to let intuition be our sole guide. We wind down the hiking trail, but find our senses totally unprepared as our vista suddenly explodes off a curve to what has become Guell’s trademark, the monumental and vibrantly colored ceramic mosaic towers! We are breath taken! We continue forward and surrender ourselves to the earth colored stone waves that engulf us as we wind around its circular path, noting the detailed gothic, mystical and naturalistic carvings that have been inscribed onto the wave walls.
A step further up a hill we pass a group of young women dressed in what appeared to be prep-school uniforms, well-pressed black skirt suits, with an ivy-league resembling emblem against their left chest and a black wool mantle over their right shoulder. Each of them carried instrument cases and appear to be out on a stroll amidst a tour. Having thought I’d overheard some Portuguese, I start speaking with one of them, and learn that they plan to have an impromptu performance in an hour at the arena below surrounded by colorful Guell ceramic benches.
We mark our watches; an hour seems like no time at all when one travels! It is 1:00 PM in the peak of November, yet the sun shined ardently and we shed our coats, scarves and sweaters down to a t-shirt. I’m not a ‘picture-person’ and much prefer to revisit my own memories, so I try to limit myself to the minimum number of shots possible to appease an awaiting family. It’s thus quite ironic to have found myself spending the day with high-tech photography gadget crazy Korean compatriots! Luckily my camera broke down (it’s scary how quickly the most subtle, unconscious desires come to fruition!), but the idea of becoming their muse did not seem so repugnant after I saw the immediate post-digitalized results of their skillful shots!
We soon hear the sound of chord instruments and hand drums and almost run over each other down the hill and through the crowd until we emerge right in front of the half circle performance. There is nothing like a live performance; there’s nothing like an impromptu live performance; there’s nothing like an impromptu live performance at Barcelona’s Parc Guell, and, there’s nothing like an impromptu live performance by a group of delightful Portuguese young women at Barcelona’s Parc Guell, awakening the Portuguese and Brazilian cultural nostalgia within me like the first strumming of a long-retired harpsichord, as the sound rings through with integrity even after all those years and dust particles fly off in the air.
The pavilion of the Sala Hipostila, inlaid with close to 100 Guell columns, must have been inspired by the ancient Egyptian column-filled royal rooms that were used to receive honorable guests and their homage greetings and gifts. As I whirl around and around the dizzying and seemingly endless pillars, pulled by the intoxicating sound of Vivaldi performed by a musician in the pavilion. Actually, the sound of synthesized electric instruments does not appeal to me, but it the music itself, the music of Vivaldi, which is so often mistakenly shunned for its popularity (i.e. Four Seasons) as being ‘simplistic’ or ‘too pretty,’ draws me. In my humble opinion Vivaldi was a genius. The melodic and at times repetitive pattern of his music may be a sharp contrast to the complexity and at times, unpredictability, of Tchaikovsky’s compositions, for instance; however, it is the very ability to explore the nudity of the music notes, deeply, that impresses me most about Vivaldi. My heart can always attune to the melancholy, solitude, strength and courage of the story and sound, the voice, of the single violin, playing against the grain, or perhaps in harmony with the great orchestration of the masses, of the universe, but maintaining the dignity of its own integrity, pressing forward with its own story, its own background, its own mission, its own identity.
We exit through the great steps down the Sala Hipostila, stopping to commune a bit with the lively ceramic Guell lizards and the fountains that adorn them. As we leave the gates we bump into a fellow Korean traveler whom they had met through the Korean Let’s Go Internet site. She is a mere less than 5 feet and 90 pounds, and has just finished totting her backpack, mini rolling suitcase, and bag of food up the endless stairs to visit Parc Guell before leaving the city this evening. There is no way she can tour the park carrying the luggage. I offer to help her find a place to store her luggage with my limited working Spanish proficiency. However, there is no baggage or coat storage, our inquiries greeted with disappointing modern day principle of mutual non-liability. As she is about to give up, I feel a strong pull towards one of the eateries that I sensed from the beginning but failed to procure as they seemed so busy with crowding patrons, after all, it is siesta time! I decide to follow my intuition and enter the cafeteria, but upon inquiring the waiter, I am met with the same indifference. As I stand there for one second, an older lady behind the counter calls the waiter and asks him what is going on. After he explains, she rebukes him, and orders him to store her luggage away in the back! My little buddy is ecstatic! She asks me, “how could you have sensed such a thing?” I simply say, “I don’t know...,” as we both smile and say our good-byes.
When I rejoin my companions, they each saved me a half a sandwich, an orange and a drink from their own lunches, in gratitude for having helped their friend! It really warms my heart! We head towards Montjuic by funicular in the afternoon. We walk all around and visit the Fundacion Miro and Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. I cannot erase the image of a lonely and bare life size statue of a young woman, her hair cascading down her back, sitting down and hugging her knees, looking so vulnerable, in the garden of Eve (just across and a bit south of the Fundacion Miro). We visit the great Olympic Arena and sunbathe for a while in front of the fountains, reflecting pools and post-modernistic space needle that were built to welcome the Millennium. We chitchat with some Brazilians and Spaniards pic-nic’ing by the reflecting pools, pay our homage to the statue of a Korean athlete who made history during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, and head towards the Montjuic castle. One can say that Montjuic and Tibidado offer the highest scenic panoramas of Barcelona. From the castle fortress we bask in the gentle sun despite the more aggressive winds, absorbing the encompassing city vista to our Northeast and the ocean all around the Southwestern coast. It is marvelous! Our greatest challenge is not to keep the hair away from our faces for photos, but to avoid not being actually swept away by the high altitude or attitude winds!
We now have only 15 minutes to walk, that is run, several kilometers down to the next teleferic station before the last, much anticipated, scenic teleferic ride of the day. We lift from Montjuic, fly diagonally across the Southwestern city part of Barcelona, and land upon the sands of Barceloneta beach. It's late afternoon in Barceloneta, the sun is low and hides behind an overcast sky, filtering silken sheets of regent blue, purple and gold tones across the horizon. The sand feels coarse under our feet, and our footsteps make waves in the sand. We gather stones of all shapes, colors and mosaic. The air feels dense with seasalt. Although together, we walk 5 to 10 feet apart, as if the atmosphere called for the introspection of individual retreat. The young winter winds slap our faces as our scarves fly like airplane wings. One of them, a mechanical engineering student, sits by my side on the boardwalk. He is from a little island off the northeast coast of South Korea. Once a vibrant fishing village, now they catch mainly seaweed. Like those who have learned to be conversant with the elements, he says, "you can measure the tidal rise by the shape of the moon..." When the moon is crescent or full, the tides are violent, but with the nascent moon, the waters calm... I wonder how the cosmic stars may affect the earthly elements... “I am very drawn by water, even more than mountains and deserts… It is perhaps because the human body is made up of mostly water,” I say. He nods truth. We get up as the tide starts to splash against the few fishing poles rooted in the sand...
* * *
Cliché or not, Paulo and I must know each other in another plane or world. Our conversations are so passionate and light and humorous at the same time. Paulo is from Porto Alegre, the city of artists, and I feel that he is the boy next door that I grew up with in the streets of Sao Paulo. He works the night shift at Brazil, takes a few hours nap in the morning, and hangs out with me in the afternoon until we have dinner and split again, he to his job and I to my evening rendezvous. In the mornings, while he sleeps, I tour the “A”wesome Sagrada Familia and Museo Picasso. When visiting the Sagrada Familia, a preliminary tour of the museum to familiarize oneself with its architectural history, and most essential, watching the audiovisual presentation is a must. Taking the elevator ride up one of the towers in the South side of the temple and walking around the structure I feel like a little ant in Gaudi’s gothic-modern-naturalistic paradise. From the spiraling conch shaped stairway exciting an engulfing whirlpool experience, to the gigantic iron entrance doors inlaid with thousands of symbolic images, and the visual journey of the passages of lent in the external sculptural definitions, a continuing project, his works transcend time. Museu Picasso does not fail to impress either. The medieval buildings that house his works attract visitors in their own right. But it is Picasso’s rendition of Velazquez’ “Las Meninas” that, to me, reveal further insight into his artistic and most importantly, technical approach. Next time I shall not fail to visit the new Picasso Museum in Malaga.
Today is Paulo’s day off, we are to meet at Plaza Catalunya at noon. But before that I plan to see some more of Gaudi’s works. I walk towards Passeig de Gracia and ask a pedestrian in a trench coat whether he can direct me to Gaudi’s La Pedrera. He pauses for a moment, first attempts to speak Spanish, but then gives up to a fluent English. He tells me where I can find the structure, plus another lesser known Gaudi building, and walks away, just to return and offer to walk me to La Pedrera. Joseph is a British journalist in town to visit some friends (he actually lived in Barcelona for 2 years in the past). This was his last day in Barcelona. We arrive in La Pedrera and he offers to show me around the structure, and kindly pays for my admission in return for a drink that evening. I concede. He is very familiar with the building and knowledgeable. La Pedrera, a hollow wave structure making a full uneven circle is not only an amazingly modern and simultaneously classic structure, but its architectural design is also fully utilitarian. Each view, whether from the outside in, from the inside up and out, inside and around, outside top and in, or outside top and out, offer a very unique perspective on the building’s composition. We explore like kids on the roof, going up and down the heights of the wave-like structure and go through the various arches until we pause and glimpse a gorgeous view of Barcelona’s skyline all around us and further beyond, Monestir de Montserrat, a dramatic and picturesque Roman Catholic monastery by the Northern mountainside. Joseph and I discuss Gaudi’s works and our own writing aspirations, until I realize I’m running late for my meeting with Paulo! We’ll meet tonight for a drink.
Paulo took me to Plaza de la Ciudadela, el Retiro, we walked along rows of artists and artisans. Sat by the grand, ornate fountain, and talked for hours. Paulo is one of the few men who are able handle what might appear like my spasmic style of conversation; I rather like to think of it as a wave in the ocean, which approaches, builds upon, cascades and spreads out onto the sand, only to be drawn again to it source and repeat the great dance. Actually, he is the first person who actually pointed it out. He said that I move very fluidly through the various charkas. Chakras are the Eastern School of Philosophy’s categorization of astrological and cosmic centers in the human body. For instance the base chakra forms the essence of human reproductive forces (i.e. sexual organ), while the higher chakras reside at the heart and mind/consciousness centers. In that manner, I can speak passionately about a topic as mundane as food, but instantly take it to a higher metaphysical plane without loosing the conversation grounding. It was quite humorous that at times, Paulo would check in with me to be sure we were at the same plane. Of course, I was only able to do this not necessarily because of any coherence on my part, but because of Paulo’s own philosophical sophistication, as he has devoted himself deeply into the practice of self-realization meditation.
Several percussion groups practice throughout the park, we walk by each one until we target the authentic sound of Brazilian samba! This percussion band actually has a conductor! We are impressed! We dance to the nostalgia of our Brazilian upbringing and soul, all the way up the stairs of his old city third floor apartment. I can feel Picasso’s footsteps and shadows in the dark and damp stairway until we arrive in his charming flat. I feel that eerily familiar feeling, that I had only felt twice in my life before, that I had known him in another life or plane. It’s interesting that whenever this feeling is induced, I feel a certain added spiritual responsibility for my actions. Paulo and I have a deep synergy and our energies flow very fluidly, the start of a good friendship...
For the first time, we venture into the Barcelona night life together. We start at a bar near the Museu de Cera, which is designed like several dark caves inside. We then go to the Champagneria; from the outside it looks like any other European butcher house, inside it is jam packed with international people, shouting, rubbing arms, reaching over for their endless supplies of local pink champagne bottles and accompanying tapas of choice! It is no Veuve Cliquot La Grand Dame, but suffice it to say that it is enough to warm the spirits and put a smile in the face of anyone. By the end of our merry accompaniment at the Champagneria, we have several new groups of friends, we have been included in more pictures than we can possibly keep track of, and have planned on meeting our new friends at Ovelha Negra off of Las Ramblas. Paul is feeling so good that he decides to call his mother in Brazil, I give him some privacy, and spot my new French-Canadian friend Patricia, heading over to the Black Sheep to meet us. The three of us embrace and head over to our next stop; Patricia, still sober, seems to be amused at our cheery behavior! Ovelha Negra is a popular hangout where you can get pitcher after pitcher of sweet sangria and bowls of pop corn for very cheap! We meet some of our Brazilian and Portuguese buddies from the Champagneria. It’s 2 AM, I still haven’t had dinner, I sneak out to my usual Falafel joint, and return much happier! Paulo, Patricia, her new friend, Chris, and I head to a tango nightclub in Placa Reial. Tango is one of the sexiest dances in the world, but one of the few Latin dances that does not require the sideway swing of the hips. I think that what makes it so appealing are the vibrations given off by the energy of self-constraint inherent in the diametrically minute interchanged with controlled sweeping movements within a very dramatic mood… A good friend used to say that when dancing in pairs, the less movement the better, feet respecting the boundaries of the small linoleum checkred floor square, two bodies moving in unison, almost unnoticeably... It’s almost 4 o’clock and I plan on being on the 7:30 AM train to Madrid, Paulo wispers in my ears, ‘Gracias,’ before leaving me in the city that never sleeps...