This past Sunday I walked to the Sagrada Familia and back, ten kilometers. After a morning of threatening clouds, the streets glowed with sun. People were out, couples walking together, fathers with strollers, mothers with boys on scooters, most with masks, including the children. I had not realized that at noon, perhaps only on Sunday, there is a small concert given by the carillon bells of the Sagrada, a melodious pealing to listen to as I stood beneath the moving green shelter of the street trees. Why should the shadows of leaves on a Barcelona street seem more emphatic to me than those in other cities?
Having read Clara Laughlin’s commentary, I was happy to go to see the church again. There’s lots I am not happy with in what has gone up over the last ten years but what I do like, even when I disapprove of other things, is the piece-meal effect of the building. That is in the spirit of the great medieval cathedrals built over a hundred or hundreds of years as people changed their minds about what they wanted in their building, as architectural ideas altered. I have never cared, for instance, for the finials on the steeples, although I appreciate the touch of color they give to the immense greyness of the building. They look like plastic geegaws to me. Now there is a white, bar like thing that I think is an aesthetic error.
But the Sagrada is a unique expression as Arthur Stanley Riggs, whoever he was, said. The Catalan architectural outburst, and I think it is an outburst of voices clamoring joyously in their own language, in the late 19th early 20th century is an outrageous singular occurrence whether by Gaudi or another architect of that time. I took an American architect friend to see the Hospital de Sant Pau y Santa Cru designed by Lluis Domènech i Montaner. As we wandered through the buildings while I told him about it. He turned to me and commented, “This is astonishing. He was either crazy or on drugs.” A very contemporary compliment.
People were walking in a desultory way, enjoying the sun, the air, looking in shop windows just being alive under the balconies where geraniums bloom in fierce reds. There were cars but not many. I am not looking forward to the return of traffic.
And Monday the traffic was much greater as I walked up to my trainer’s studio. His wife was there with their baby who found me much less interesting than the spoon her mother was wielding. I had Alberto video me doing some exercises my grandson and I have discussed which help you keep your back straight. Alberto, since there is a distance problem, no longer stretches me. He has acquired a thing that looks like a sci-fi ray gun that massages you. It vibrated me furiously until I wondered if my vertebrae were going to be in their usual alignment when he finished. It also made me feel I was being reduced to the condition of tomato aspic in a violent earthquake.
Having worked out I had a thoroughly self-indulgent half hour at the basement grocery in Corte Inglés. I bought a Japanese steak, some of the biggest blue berries I have ever seen, the size of large red grapes, and two exquisite figs—I felt I should hire a Dutch painter to do their portraits, they were so beautiful—and other things, such as chocolate, before happily walking home in the sun.
Coming home down La Rambla I passed my florist’s little glass box. I keep hoping all those glass boxes will open up and pour their colors out onto the pavement in a panoply of bloom around potted orange trees, avocados and other ambitious tall, but usually gangly trunks available for purchase. Last week I saw her sweeping her box out, rearranging the orchids which seem to do well living there alone, and had a surge of hope that she would be open that week, but no. I am still waiting for her.
This morning I was startled to see an I-beam go swaying by my front window. When I went down to shop, I found the street was cordoned off and I-beams were being raised by a winch on the roof of the convent. Repairs are going along. My day is punctuated by the sound of pounding, drills and saws. The deconstruction part seems to be over. I am intensely curious to see what they are going to do with the part of the building I look down on.
On my route to the Boqueria I pass one of my favorite restaurants, Bacaro, an Italian place, small and boisterous with excellent food. I was first tempted through their doors by a menu that offered liver Venetian style, actually liver with onions. They do it well. I saw the steel door was raised and poked my head in. They are cooking for doctors in the hospitals while waiting to reopen. I touched elbows with one of the owners. His news is that he is thinking of opening another venue in Sariá.
There was something in the air today. The contacts with people sparkled, an intrepid warmth slipped out from masks that hid smiles, eyes above masks shone. We seemed in the beautiful day, customer and seller, to be so happy to see and be with each other. There was a strong sense of camaraderie, of here we are after months still selling and buying carrots, still asking each other how we are, how the family is. There was a sensation of strength, of congratulation so far at mutual survival.
Coming home with my purchases I looked in my mailbox. One of my kvetches about living in Spain is that the mail service is terrible, particularly for things coming from overseas. I now tell people not to send me any package from abroad because I get yards and yards of forms on line from the customs office that never have anything to do with the book or gift I am receiving. This time I found the box stuffed with six issues of the TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT which has been arriving two months late, and that is if I am lucky. Now I have lunchtime reading material for over a month.
I went up stairs, cooked, plugged in the fountain on the terrace; this is a green ceramic snake who wriggles down the wall, sticks his head out and sends a liquid chime of water into the bowl beneath him. I will read a TLS over my omelet.