Mosaics and Madness – A Day at Park Guell

This is great. They have escalators running uphill to the park gate. No huffing, puffing, gasping for air, as I make my way up. Instead, I lean back against the handrail and look towards the city. The roofs, windows, cars, all grow smaller and smaller, while the city fans out, growing bigger and bigger.

One word to describe the park: crazy! Crazy, but in a good way. Crazy in the design-genius kind of way. Walking around, I can’t help thinking this is how life should play out – colourful, vibrant, and full of whimsy; incredibly beautiful in its chaos.

For a ‘failed project’ this place is pretty spectacular. In 1900 Gaudi was commissioned to create a garden village for the city’s wealthy. The plan included 60 residential structures, a market place, a palace of worship and recreational spaces spread over 42 acres of land overlooking the city. But by 1914 the idea ran out of money and the project was abandoned.

Gaudi lived here, in one of the two villas that were completed. His home is now a museum. The villa is a soothing pastel shade with some very Gaudi elements of design – the chimney, the tower, the wrought iron work, the boundary wall. It’s cosy with just the right amount of crazy to it.

There’s music, there’s ice cream, there are chirping birds. There are giant soap bubbles that you can run through, and dreadlocked vendors creating them. The bubbles, despite their massive form, float upwards, past the stalactite arches, over the fairytale roof tops. Their journey is followed by the hundreds of visitors here, and for those few seconds, eyes are pulled away from the park and focused above it.

But at the end of the day, all you remember is the mosaics that make this place – mosaics along the sweeping stairways, along the slithering benches, mosaics dressing up the gingerbread structures, along the park walls, mosaics that finally make lizards pretty, and mosaics that you’ll later buy at the souvenir store in forms of coaster sets and picture frames. Mosaics that promise an escape when the walls close in, that create a magical world with simple bits of broken tile.

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Welcoming 2011 in Barcelona

Along La Ramblas

Between dinner and the New Year the heart of Barcelona has been barricaded. Cops in yellow vests stand in pairs, checking bags, behaviour and drunken mishaps. The shift has just kicked in; the cops still have a sense of humour. They laugh and joke. “Happy New Year,” I call out, zipping my bag shut. “Same to you!” he answers like he means it, before turning away to argue with a man who doesn’t understand him.

On Placa Catalunya
They sit with many others along the edge of the fountain. She has salt and pepper shoulder length hair. He has a short silver crop. They are dressed in that simple but effortless manner of the rich. I wonder why they are out on the square and not in an ornate, warm room. Like the others, they too hold plastic glasses, filled with a dark liquid – maybe wine, maybe something stronger. They sit quietly, sipping their drink and people watching; when they catch the other’s eye, they smile.

Off Placa Catalunya
A drunken girl, American by accent, is dressed in an off-shoulder dress and nothing warm. She stops at a crossing and leans into the man she is with. Her movements are as slurred as her words, “I so love it that we are here right now!” The man, not American, and not very interested, answers her glossy puckered lips with an impassive, “uhuh.”

Near Barri Gotić
“Go vomit, and then come back and I take you.” He looks like an old hippie forced into ´regular´ clothes. “If you vomit,” he goes on, “you pay me 200 Euros.” 200 Euros for a 7 Euro cab ride. “200 Euros or I call police.” Still unsure if this is a joke, we agree. On the way to the apartment he tells us about his colleagues driving cabs stained by thrown-up bits around the city. “I’m sorry, but I hope you understand why I demand this.” We roll down the window, take gulps of fresh winter air. We don’t throw up. It’s a good start to 2011.