Saturday, October 5, 2013

Dia Dali

I became frightened when I realized that I have not written more about the Spain trip yet. What frightened me is that today is the fifth day in a new month and September is over as though it never existed and if I sit on this any longer, I'll forget all the things I want to remember. Memory: nature's Etch-A-Sketch. (In fairness to me, I have been occupied with the marathon watching of Breaking Bad and therefore have forfeited all of my time to the endeavor of absorbing someone else's creativity. So, yeah. Go me.) These blogs are, aside from towering magnum opuses for posterity's bemusement, my own personal filing system for documents that I want to reread when I'm 97.

Day 4 in Barcelona was September 11. Please see my Paris, September 11 post for an explanation on why I'm usually either out of the country (or on jury duty) during the anniversary of the attacks. From the nascent stages of planning this trip, Lorraine had made it clear that she wanted to visit Figueres on September 11. Figueres is a town that is about an hour outside of Barcelona and is the hometown and location of Salvador Dali's museum. Dali is Lorraine's favorite artist. I admit to not knowing a whole lot about him, apart from his associations with Luis Bunuel and of course the famous paintings and, after Adrian Brody's depiction of him in "Midnight in Paris" I had a general idea of him in my mind and one really only has to look at his paintings to become either enraged, titillated, the very least, intrigued.

We had gotten in late the night before but needed to get up early to catch the train to Figueres. Another train. It wasn't AS confusing as the day before but there was still the standard moment of confusion when we were buying the tickets but compared with the day before, it all went relatively smoothly. The train rides to both Montserrat and to Figueres were some of my favorite parts of the trip thanks to the great conversations we had. I think at one point we started talking about schizophrenia and the nature of reality and perception. Lest you think it all too serious, we also spent a good portion of the trip talking about cake farting. So, uh, yeah don't ask. Just know it was discussed. A lot.

We got to Figueres and to my memory we basically just followed a massive crowd and ended up getting to where we were going. Like most of what I would come to know as "suburban Spain" the streets were narrow and the towns reminded me of small town America but even smaller. We had to single file it down certain streets because of how narrow the sidewalks were and how many people were on them. To the credit of Spanish drivers, everywhere we visited, in all cities and towns, the drivers yielded to pedestrians with the utmost patience. It was almost unnerving, the lack of horn blowing and yelling and the generally understood animosity between drivers and pedestrians. I remember always pausing carefully before crossing any intersection, not knowing that drivers were so damn conscientious. Bonus points for Spain.

For part of the walk from the train station we were walking behind a group of students on a field trip. I am always envious of Europeans for various reasons but mostly for the physical proximity to entirely different countries and the ability to sit on a plane for a scant two hours and end up a world away. These high schoolers were on a trip to the DALI museum. It prompted a conversation about where we went on school field trips. We had some good memories but none as cool as what these kids were doing. 

It was the first chilly day of our trip and I was not properly dressed for it, since the Spain of my imagination is always dry and sunny. I actually welcomed the cool down. There was a line to get into the museum since it was still pretty early and, as I would come to learn over the next few hours, this museum is a hot spot.

Apparently on the day we were in Figueres, it was the National Day of Catalonia. There were parades throughout the town and people walking around draped in the Catalonian flag everywhere and I suspect that accounted for the crowded streets on top of the museum entrance. I scarcely believe it, but I didn't get any photos of people in Catalonian flags. I sure hope Lorraine got some snaps. Anyway, here's a shot of what the streets around the museum looked like:

Notice sweaters and scarves and only parts of people I know.
Dali's church, that is the church he was baptized in, is located right near the museum. While we stood in line to get inside the museum, we each took a turn inside the church. It was your standard intricately beautiful, deceptively small on the outside but massive on the inside. Again, no photos from my lameness but here's someone from the internet's photo:

Actually it doesn't look small on the outside either.

If I were a religious person, Spain would be a wonderful place to tour Catholic churches; they exist in spades.

Anyway, as we approached the entrance to a church I could actually relate to, an art museum, we were greeted with the sight of this fantastic sculpture:

Looking at the photo now, I again marvel at the white robe of the figure. I had mistaken it for a draped over fabric covering something being worked on or something but up close it was such a beautiful and integral part of the sculpture. It was in fact my entree into what to really appreciate about surrealism: everything appears to be one thing but upon closer consideration is something else entirely. In other words, nothing was as it seemed. This is often a point of contention for people when they shrug off surrealism as random or nonsensical. But when I looked more closely, I had the feeling that anything was possible and that, in turn, made me feel optimistic for some odd reason. I had that reaction so many times throughout the day with different works and I wanted to devour all the art inside and live with it so I could figure out whatever he had hidden or disguised in plain sight. Nothing made sense yet everything made complete sense when you sat still and let it marinate for awhile. This kind of art needs to be ingested and to run its course. Which brings me to a point of complaint. (It had to happen sooner or later.)

The Fundacio Dali is a museum dedicated to one artist. It houses several floors of artwork in many rooms and, in my humble opinion unfortunately, photography is allowed throughout the museum. I say this because, aside from the museum being a very popular destination and crammed wall to wall with people not unlike the Met in NYC, the world has become such that instead of taking the time to really appreciate life's experiences, we are now overcome with a compulsion to document life's experiences (she said in her blog about her travels). Gone are the days when we can visit an artwork and feel everything we are going to feel and think, even boredom at times. Now we have PHOTOGRAPH it. We have to photograph ourselves in front of it. Don't mistake me, as evidenced above, I took photographs in the museum of pieces that struck me or spoke to me. I just counted them, I took six. I don't have a problem with snapping a shot or two or even six of things (with NO FLASH for the love of God). But what I experienced at this museum, and others I would come to find out later in the trip, is that people will indiscriminately take photo after photo after photo without bothering to look at the real thing first. People were literally walking down hallways in the museum just taking pictures, telling their children to stand in front of paintings to pose, blocking out parts of the paintings. That was probably the weirdest thing of all to me. Why would someone want their photo taken in front of a painting? Are you going to get all meta and frame a photo of you standing in front of a framed work of art? I sincerely pine for the days when no photographs were allowed at all. I think we lose a little something when we can't experience a moment without the filter of our cameras. I have no doubt that many, many people left that museum completely unaffected by what they saw, mostly because they didn't see anything. Ok, no more complaining.

In defiance of what I just finished saying, here are a couple of photos I did take:

Those are golden French baguettes.
This room greets you as  you enter.

A smaller version of "Persistence of Memory" which, oddly, is at the MOMA.

Like a lot Dali's work, this could have come right from one of my nightmares. Or a Tool video.

All of those pieces were amazing but the one that struck me the most, of which I did not get my own photograph of was a painting in part of a collection of lithographs about the Holocaust and is called "Aliyah, the Rebirth of Israel". Here's a picture of it that does not do the image justice:

I don't know if this painting qualifies as surreal but when you see it up close, there are several images inside the beard of the rabbi, all symbolizing a rebirth after the Holocaust. In fact, all the lithographs in this series, which took up a whole floor of the museum were striking and beautiful. 
The entire museum is something everyone should experience at least once and I am so glad we got to see it.

After leaving, we were all famished and found a local place to eat. The waiter, when I asked if he spoke English, listed no less than eight different languages that he was fluent in but English was not one of them. Yet another reason to admire Europeans, the language skills. How many waiters do you know that are fluent in so many languages? Anyway, we had a delicious meal (pimentos de padron part one million) and when we left we walked straight into the Catalonian Pride parade. Distracted by this for a bit, we missed our train. And, this will come as no surprise, the schedule was impossible to understand. So we had to wait about an hour for the next one....maybe. It could have been an hour or it might have been 15 minutes. It turned out to be about an hour. But the schedule was so confusing and the answers from the ticket agents didn't really translate either so it was a bit like sitting in limbo. I asked a (hot, of course) police officer and he showed me how to read the schedule. The only problem with that is that while he was explaining it to me, I was focusing on trying to come up with the right word to describe the particular shade of blue of his eye color. I think I settled on azure. Anyway, I left the conversation with the impression that the next train would arrive in 30 minutes. But that was conjecture. The train confusion I experience in Europe is really just absurd.

Anyway, we boarded the train at last and made our way back to Barcelona and to the apartment where Nancy and Jon were staying. It was lovely in there and equipped with a bidet. I did not use it but I appreciated that I had the option. We had some wine and cheese on the terrace that overlooked the color blocked windows of neighboring apartments and rooftops. Barcelonians really know how to use outdoor space. We decided that we were going out to drink heavily and left in search of a happening neighborhood. Working on a tip from either the landlord of Nancy and Jon's apartment or the inimitable Rick Steves, we decided to try the Gracia neighborhood. 

We took the metro there and nothing seemed doing at first glance so I approached a young woman on the sidewalk. She was very informative and friendly and even walked us to the street where all the happening spots were. Her name was Chiara and she was actually Italian but had lived in Barcelona for several years. She walked us right to the end of the street where all the cool places were. We ended up going here to a small place called Chatelet. You will have to forgive me because everything is quite a blur from that point forward. I know for certain that Jason and I had a conversation during which I laughed so hard that I almost fell off the stool. I know we left at some point to go elsewhere and on the way to that 2nd place this photo of me was taken by Nancy:

which was apparently another bar that we did not enter. (Btw, what a stupid name for a bar.) We ended up sitting outdoors in a plaza being loud Americans. I remember laughing hysterically and the waiter, who was hot. (Are you sensing a theme?) We wandered home on foot around 4am-ish I think and only made it there because Rashish has an internal compass rivaled by none that works even while he is tipsy. I envy that. 

And so day 4 bled spilled drunkenly into day 5 which I can hopefully write about in six weeks or so. Hey in this way, my vacation NEVER ENDS.

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