Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Marzo é Pazzo or March Madness

As we planned for mid-semester break in early March we agonized over where, when, and how to go. We had long planned to go to Barcelona. I had a fantasy of renting a car and driving along the Mediterranean coast visiting the Cinque Terra, Genova, Nice and the French Riviera at the western end and then through Provence to Barcelona. It sounds pretty good, but the prospect of so much driving, especially the return trip, was too much. So we decided to break up the week: We flew to Barcelona for a few days of fantastic weather and flew back to Italy for a return to cold and dreary rain. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Where ya goin’? Barcelona!”

Barcelona is a beautiful city, as everyone knows, with wide streets and late nights, where people speak Catalan (Hola!) and eat tapas (Patatas bravas!) The trip was great. Here are the highlights: We walked down the Ramblas – big wide avenues with a center mall filled with stalls, buskers and people -- to the coast and back up to the Picasso Museum. On the way we passed a bunch of guys doing Capoeira -- a 16th century combination of martial arts, breakdancing and acrobatics from Brazil. See for yourself.


Picasso spent his student years in Barcelona, and this Museum included a lot of early stuff that you might not associate with his
more famous later work. Among these early works, was a painting called “Ciència I caritat” or Science and Charity. It was his second exhibited work (1897), and won several awards, but it doesn’t look like anything you’d associate with the later work of Picasso.

(S T.) A N T O N I O G A U D I

The architecture of Antoni Gaudi is all over Barcelona and there is nothing anywhere to compare with it. This is a guy who hated straight lines and right angles. We spent a day tracking down all the Gaudi we could find: several apartment buildings, a private park and his unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familia.
(shown on the left)
I don’t know too much about Gaudi: I hear he was a religious and political fanatic, but I don’t know if that’s good or bad. He supported autonomy for Catalonia and sought a revival of traditional Catholicism.

I do know that despite the incredible work he left behind, he died poor and unknown. Run over by a street car in 1927, he was taken to a pauper’s hospital. By the time someone finally recognized him, it was already too late and he died three days later, and was buried beneath the Sagrada Familia. The good news is that in 2003, Gaudi was proposed for sainthood, and today the Gaudi Beatification Society comprises 80,000 people worldwide who pray to Gaudi and beseech him to perform miracles.

Another interesting thing I learned was that Gaudi had intended to build a skyscraper “The Attraction Hotel” in New York City, way downtown where the World Trade Center was eventually built. In fact a group of architects resurrected his drawings and proposed it for the rebuilding ground zero!

Queen Judy and the Fabulous Taiwanese Girls! (and the Flamenco King)!!

But no tour of Gaudi’s Barcelona would be complete without a visit to the park he designed for Count Eusebi Güell. Parco Guell is a hillside in a remote section of Barcelona. And it was here that we met the fabulous and delightful Taiwanese girls, Joyce, Zuan and Yi-Shan. The girls took Judy by the arm so that she wouldn’t fall as we climbed up and down the challenging terrain, dubbing her “Queen Judy.”
As if this weren’t enough,we were treated to a display of Flamenco street dancing as we left the park.
I posted a little movie of his act. The girls called it "Flamingo dancing."

We went to a small town about an hour north of Bacelona, named Girona. Our purpose in going was not only that we heard it was a beautiful town with the best Catalan food in the area, but also that there was a Museum of Jewish History there. It turned out to be a fascinating place. There had been a small but very active Jewish community here but all signs of it had disappeared after the Inquisition. The actual physical relics were discovered about 100 years ago. Among the relics were depositions by the leading Rabbi, Nachmanides, who debated with a leading apostate Jew, Pablo Christiani in the Disputation of Barcelona, 1263. The question put forth was whether the the Messiah had already come. But Nachman asked, if the Messiah has come, then why are humans constantly at war? Good question! We purchased a transcript of his testimony. (Nachman was banished for publishing the transcript and spent his last years helping to rebuild Jerusalem.) The museum was great, but greater still (my opinion) was the seafood paella and Catalan wine we had for lunch.

Towards the end of our stay the weather turned cold and wet. The town filled with crazy soccer fans from Glasgow drinking and singing. This was followed by busloads of very intimidating Barcelona police. I heard somewhere about soccer violence, but we left just in time. Barca won the game!

Yes we can – Liguria!

We returned from Barcelona with a few days left on our break and no dog to keep us home bound. The weather was lousy –rainy and chilly. We had planned to visit Cinque Terra – but that’s no fun in the rain. It’s mostly a place of spectacular landscapes and hiking trails. But could we find another place to spend a couple of rainy days? Yes we can! We hopped a train for Genova (Genoa).

I found Genova to be a very strange place. It was architecturally and artistically unlike other Italian cities. More neoclassical ? It’s a port city and we stayed at a hotel near the waterfront. Everywhere were dark and narrow alleys. We found a great cheap restaurant, where the used tablecloths were thrown into a pile in the corner of the dining room. The food was excellent of course, but the atmosphere was straight out of a pirate flick!

Genova has the feel of a city trying to revitalize itself -- we know about that sort of thing.
But I should say, to be fair, that away from the port we found a high level of culture, although long past, including a street of old palazzos filled with wonderful art and a university (a relative newcomer having been founded in 1471.)

The University of Genova was just down the street, and of course, I had to check it out. We entered the very impressive courtyard of the very impressive university library

Here I found a wall plastered with posters for an upcoming student election. Check out old Vigo … who sports a CBGB T shirt, goatee and “yes we can!” (We’ll talk politics in a later blog.) One final highlight of the visit to Genova was the plaque on the wall marking the birthplace of Gottfredo Mameli, patriot-poet of Italy’s Risorgimento and, of course, lyricist for the Italian national anthem, Inno di Mameli (The Hymn of Mameli).

Torna a Cinque Terra!

We ended our March Madness at the truly magnificant Cinque Terra. Here on the coast below Genova we find five little towns accessible by trails and a little railroad. We could see much -- the weather was a little chilly -- but what we did see made us resolve to return. Here a statue Francis and the wolf of Gubbio overlooking the mediteranean! (Notice the little settlement clinging to the hillside.) And my favorite, a two dimensional modern sculpture along the "lovers' walk."

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