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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Bouncing About Barcelona - Page 4

Written by Eric D. Goodman
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      Where Barcelona’s Old Town is like a twisted confusion of intertwining streets, Eixample is on an easy-to-follow grid. That is exemplified by Quadrat d’Or, or “Golden Square.”  The grid holds some of the city’s best modernista architecture, including the works of Gaudi and his contemporaries.

      The gem of them all is Gaudi’s Casa Mila, or La Pedera. This “stone quarry,” an apartment building with some eight stories, was the last project of Gaudi before he devoted his later years to Sagrada Familia. 

      The wavy walls of stone are accented by balconies with intricate ironwork and the effect is unreal. When it was built in the early 1900s, it was unlike anything seen before—and therefore was both praised and criticized (One critical cartoon mocks the building as an airplane hangar).

      The top floor of Casa Mila (once home to the Mila family) now houses the Gaudi Museum, and a tour of the roof showcases an array of chimneys, chimney pots, and air ducts that are unusual and, in some cases, unnerving. Whether you’re standing inside the courtyard or looking at an aerial shot, one of the most striking features of Casa Mila is the empty space in the middle of the building.  Massive as the Casa Mila looks from the outside, much of the inner space is taken by two large courtyards, visible when walking in on the ground floor. From above, the gaping holes have an organic appearance, almost as though they are large open mouths. A short visit to Casa Mila just might leave unprepared visitors gasping for air.

      Casa Terrades, also part of the Golden Square, is a great example of a melding of gothic and modernista styles. The six-sided apartment building boasts six modernista spires, which inspired the nickname “Casa de les Punxes” or House of the Points. The corner spires are shaped like pointed hats and lavishly decorated.

      Another highlight of Quadrat d’Or is the Illa de la discardia, or the block of discard. The name is given due to the surprising range of unique styles showcased on the small city block. Three highlights compete for the attention of passers, but each deserves more than a glance—if not a full tour. All three of them can be seen while strolling along Passeig de racia.

      The first of these is Casa Lleo Morera, crowned with an ornate tower. Casa Amatller has a façade that blends Gothic and Moorish and includes a tile encrusted gable and stairs that welcome visitors from the street. 

      It may be predictable, but the most impressive of these houses of discard is the one designed by Gaudi: Casa Batllo.

House of Bones

      If Gaudi’s most impressive work is Familia Sagrada and his most elaborate work is Park Guell and his most stately work is Palau Guell, then Casa Batllo must be his most surreal. Even up close, one can see why this house is nicknamed the House of Bones; the pillars—especially those on the second and third floor balconies—evoke leg and arm bones. But step back; cross the street to take in the house from afar, and the large masks covering the lower parts of the fourth, fifth and sixth floor balconies clearly resemble skulls with drooping eyes and nose holes. From the front façade, the house may well have fallen into the nick name “fish house,” for the surface of the house is covered in broken and circular tiles that give it a scaled look. Those scales may be more fish than dragon; the wavy, ceramic roof resembles the back of a scaly beast. 

Casa Batllo

      Casa Batllo is even more impressive inside. Don’t be deterred by what may seem a high price for the tour of a house—this is unlike any other house you will see. Earlier, I remarked that stepping into a building designed by Gaudi was like stepping into a Dali painting. At the time I made the comparison, I didn’t realize Dali was actually a fan of Gaudi’s. In fact, this is the house he remarked on. Dali praised Gaudi’s “soft, calf-skin doors.” 

      The entire house is soft and supple, with no lines to be found, no corners. Rooms seem to be pushed out of dough. Even the color schemes are soft and organic: the courtyard resembling water, other rooms resembling stone and dirt and sand and air. Light fixtures seem to bloom naturally out of the ceiling and columns seem to sprout from the floor and blossom into ceilings of clouds. Even the polished wood stairs and banisters and doors look like they come from nature, not from design. It proves to be the perfect last sight for our time in Barcelona.

      We walk from Casa Batllo back to Las Ramblas, fully realizing for the first time just how close these different places are. In fact, the tower from Casa Lleo Morera is visible from the bus stop we’ve used to and from Las Rambles a few times, but was never noticed in the distance because we’ve been focused on other things. As with life itself, sometimes we’re so busy focusing on one thing that we miss the beauty just beyond our noses.

Catalonian Transformation

      Guide books are curious things. They begin as coffee table books that slide off once in a while so you can flip through the pages and glance at the pictures and captions. Only after an impending visit looms on the horizon do they seem to become interesting enough to actually read. A guide book is a marvelous thing then, full of mystery and wonder, unlocking treasures to be discovered with maps leading the way.

      A guide book changes as the reader does. The same guide books that helped us discover Barcelona took on a whole new meaning as we sat on the plane returning home.  All of the wonder and anticipation, as I looked at the same pages and passages, had changed to familiarity and comfort. It’s sort of like the first day at a new school compared to the last day at an old one. It’s always nice to leave home for an adventure. It’s usually nice to be back in your own bed.

      I won’t pretend to be an expert on Barcelona, having spent less than a week there. But those limited days were packed full, from pre-dawn to post-dusk, with exciting visits and enjoyable experiences. Whether we were talking to locals or expats, seeing palaces or the surreal wonders of Gaudi, the adventures did not cease. Our visit lasted long enough to let me know that I need to return when I have more time to invest. More time to get lost in the twisted side streets of a village or be mesmerized in a museum or to relax in a street side café with a pinch of Spanish brandy and a plate of Spanish omelets.

      Rain or shine, I’ll be knock-knock-knocking on Gaudi’s soft, calf-skin door again one day.

Tracks Reading In Madrid©Eric D. Goodman is a full-time writer and editor who loves to travel.  His novel in stories, Tracks, was published by Atticus Books (Summer 2011) and won the 2012 Gold Medal for Best Fiction in the Mid-Atlantic Region from the Independent Publishers Book Awards. It follows a passenger train full of travelers as these strangers touch one another in unexpected ways. He’s also the author of the children’s' book, Flightless Goose.  Eric's work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, Pedestal Magazine, Writers Weekly, The Potomac, Barrelhouse, JMWW, Scribble, Slow Trains, and New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers, among others. His second novel, Womb, is currently with his agent. Visit Eric on Facebook, Twitter, and at his literary blog, Writeful. Learn more about Eric and his writing at

Illustrations by Nataliya A. Goodman

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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