¿Qué es esto? | Barcelona, Spain

I saw these on Passeig de Gràcia during my last short trip to Barcelona, but can’t seem to find out any information about what they are.

Anyone know?

This time, even though I’ve photographed and written about them many times before, I couldn’t resist taking *yet another* picture of the beautiful, green-grey, Gaudí-designed tiles that line the boulevard’s sidewalks. I just can’t seem to get enough of them.

… and these tiles!


Northbound | Barcelona, Spain

In just four days, I passed through Barcelona’s Estacio Nord bus station no less than three times. The usually boring lingering and waiting around that automatically comes with being at such places of transit, where you are either waiting to get somewhere or are just passing through upon arrival was unexpectedly pleasant, as the station’s grounds are filled with ornamentation – from the mosaic with the giant sun, surrounded by tiny moon phases, in the central lobby, the sole brass letter N (no S, E or W) – both indicating the direction of North and the name of the station, to the hilariously (and perplexedly) labelled trash can in the loo (featured in this week’s Wordless Wednesday post).

For me, the Nord station also had the additional charm of being located within easy walking distance (or a cheap cab ride, as the case may be) from the flat of my dear, endlessly hospitable and gracious friends Slavka and Mina, which has lately become my home away from my home away from home.

The letter F is for… | Barcelona, Spain

… fabulous friends, fun frolicking, fresh fish and fantastic gin tonics. The weekend was filled with all four, in abundance.

***This post is part of the alphabet series, which contains photos and stories about letters from various alphabets. For a more systematic and organized run-down of all the letters in the English alphabet, also check out the Woman of Letters page, which is updated continuously with new letters as I stumble upon them.***

Bits and pieces, in pairs | Barcelona, Spain

My days in Barcelona, in the company of my lovely, fun, spirited, generous and all-around amazing friend Slavka (same one responsible for my visit to the city last spring) and another couple of glee-inducing and wonderful friends, passed as a whirlwind. Perhaps because of the manner in which the whole trip took place – fortuitously, with neither a set plan or agenda nor a precise ending point, every moment and every glimpse felt like an unexpected accident of grace.

I often gazed down and took pictures of different grounds, without thinking of a system in which to arrange or write about them. Now it turns out that they all, somehow, go in pairs – some are straight-forward couples, and other are twosomes of the odder kind, but twosome nevertheless.

So, in no particular order, they were:

Urban plagues

On Plaça de Catalunya, one of the city’s most touristy areas, where the pickpockets are as numerous as the pigeons and, in turn, the “rats with wings” are just as fearless as the pickpockets…

… or in Gracia, at the end of the one of the nights of the neighborhood week-long fiesta, when the trash-covered streets are the only reminder of the reckless abandon with which Barcelonites celebrate.

H2O and  H2eeeew

The water fountain in La Barceloneta, to rinse the sand from the nearby beach off one’s feet…

… and the stale, cigarette-butt-filled puddle – a testimony to the summer rain that fell the night before.

Keep walking

My interest in all things pedestrian has been well-document on this site (here specifically). I am always fascinated by how public space is shared, divided and claimed, especially though the delineation of ground surfaces and Barcelona was especially interesting in that respect. In an effort to reduce pedestrian-related incidents, which apparently constitute one third of all traffic accidents in the city, this long and detailed written warning calls for walkers’ attention at almost every crossing before they set foot on the road and exclaims that “We are all pedestrians!”

There are also enormous markings for the tramways, in case one failed to notice their tracks buried deep in the lush green grass:

Initialed, signed and stamped

Whether it was the enormous ‘E’ from the beginning my first name, inlaid into the sidewalk by La Barceloneta’s harbor…

… or the rain-water filled initials of my first and last names, seemingly hand-carved onto a sidewalk manhole cover.

Red circles and scarlet hearts

Throughout the center of the city, if you gaze down at all, you are bound to see red circles set into the pavement, which indicate the Route of Modernism – an itinerary through a total of 115 modernist works by Gaudí, Domènech i Montaner and Puig i Cadafalch – from palatial residences, impressive museum buildings, a hospital, school, music house and an entire park to more everyday buildings and city objects such as chemists’, shops, lampposts and benches (here is a full list of the works, marked on a map of Barcelona).

… while the stenciled, half-scratched red heart, which wasn’t part of any particular route but which I nevertheless took as a flirtatious wink at me by the city.

Botany lessons in passing

In addition to guiding people around its modernist landmarks, Barcelona seems intent on informing its residents and visitors of its rich plant life, with labels featuring not only the botanical binominal names of various tree species and their genus, but also their common names and places of origin and even a little stylized drawing of its leaves. In this case, what is commonly known in English as Southern Catalpa, Cigartree, or Indian Bean Tree, the Catalpa bignonioides from the Catapla genus is known in Spanish as arbol de las trompetas and originates from North America.

… or the Koelreuteria paniculata, which in English is known as the pride-of-India, China tree or varnish tree and in Catalan as sapindo de china and which comes from…. as you may have already guessed, China and Japan.

Speaking of trees…

I was startled to see so many fallen brown leaves on the ground in August, when it was still possible to more or less successfully banish thoughts of the impending autumn to the back of one’s mind and bask in the glory and carelessness of summer…

… though it must be said that the leaves looked especially beautiful on Gaudí’s ornate pavement tiles as a background.

Mirror images

in reverse

… and backward forward in Catalan, which itself seemed to me kind of like a language you’d get if you tried to read Spanish or French in a mirror, without knowing either of them particularly well.

Gaudí’s Un-Gaudy Tiles | Barcelona, Spain

Of course, I always associated Barcelona with Gaudí’s creations: the whimsical buildings, the sculptures and mosaics covered in colorful of pieces of tiles and glass, and – without question, the Sagrada Família. Being a sucker for quirky architecture (Hundertwasser is another favorite), when I finally made it to Barcelona, I made sure to put aside some time (not an easy task, amidst all the going out to bars, restaurants and clubs), so that I could go take a look around Park Güell.

Sure enough, the whimsical buildings, the multicolored mosaic dragon/lizard fountain and the slanted colonnaded tunnel under the viaduct were all there. But what surprised me was the discovery that Gaudi even designed some of the outside floor tiles himself.

Replicas of those tiles are also sold in the souvenir stores, along with the gaudy magnets of the Sagrada Família, the postcards with images of La Pedrera and the lizard/dragon-shaped ashtrays. Because they weren’t so obvious and seemed like they needed some additional explanation, the tile replicas seemed like a nice souvenir to take away from Barcelona. So, I got two.

According to the little note that accompanied them, they are “hydraulic mosaic designed by Gaudí for the “Escofet, 1886 S.A” Company. Gaudí’s original composition is made up of hexagonal pieces, each containing three thirds of three different designs representing marine elements. Gaudí chose a marine theme since the mosaic was meant to be set in Casa Batlló, where the feeling of the sea and the water are omnipresent. Nevertheless, the mosaic was not laid there, but in La Pedrera.”

Both houses – Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, are located on Passeig de Gràcia – one of Barcelona’s major avenues and most important shopping and business areas. Although I did not see their interiors, I was surprised to find that large parts of the sidewalk along the avenue were actually paved in those original tiles. According to my friend Slavka, whom I was visiting in Barcelona, the tiles are often torn out by rabid collectors or simple vandals, and indeed, one could see many of them were either missing or replaced with much simpler ones.

I liked discovering that Gaudí also created such a basic and earthly thing as sidewalk tiles – in addition to the fantastical structures at Park Güell and to the divine in an out-of-this-world-kind-of-way, almost hallucinatory, Sagrada Família, while at the same time still managing to keep it ornate and fill it with meaning. In a way, the idea made the mad architect more earthly and sane in my mind.