Catalonia – many returns

The evening train deposited me at Barcelona Sant at 2120h so I thought that, with my newfound confidence in the Google locator app, I’d be able to find my way to the Hola Hostel with no trouble at all. I duly tightened my bootlaces, shouldered my rucksack followed the compass icon out into the city night. Fortunately it was a fine evening and I seem to be getting fitter because, no matter how far I walked, the little blue dot (me) didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the little red arrow (hostel). After about half an hour I managed to get the bloody thing to spit out a phone number and got through to a friendly girl on the front desk; she could find no trace of my booking but assured me that they were open 24/7 and would be able to find me a bed “whatever”.

Eventually I reached my destination to discover that I’d schlepped three miles across the city from West to East and ended up at the other branch of the Hola Hostel: a mistake I might have avoided if I’d been able to read more of those tiny little numbers on the screen. Oh well, at least there was a dorm with only women in it (the socks don’t smell nearly so bad) and we were located a short walk from the Sagreda Familia for which I had a timed ticket already booked for the following morning. And there would be a free breakfast.

This is my third or fourth visit to Barcelona and I’m grateful for having already “done” most of the galleries and tourist sights. It may be a city of art but I can’t say I warm to either of Messrs Dali or Picasso and I’m afraid I’m coming to share my mother’s view of the rainbow exuberance of Senor Gaudi: “It’s all a bit much”. After nearly a hundred years the great basilica is not yet finished but I’d promised to keep checking back on its progress and so here I was. The baptistery has been completed but work continues on the central towers and I’d be surprised if they were finished in time for the centenary in 2026. I guess one of grandchildren will be pushing me back here in a wheelchair in another twenty years or so.

Some of the stone carving such as the gentle family scene above the east portico and the little animal and plant details are undeniably charming but the overall impression is of a sconce of partially melted wax candles. There is a reason why this fanciful and highly organic style of architecture never really took off: the engineering challenges are absolutely immense and the cost is the only thing that spirals rapidly upwards.. Never mind. It has become a symbol of Catalan individuality and its uniqueness means that the visitors will continue to flock in and cough up the considerable entrance fees. This was my first time inside but I was more impressed to have made it in before the crowds than with anything I encountered in the interior. Once upon a time I suppose it would have impressed but nowadays that “futuristic” look is decidedly dated.

A bit of quick thinking and a smooth change of plan had me booked into onto a return trip to Girona for that afternoon and another night at the same hostel before a prompt start on the 09.25h Barcelona –> Paris express on the following morning. Girona is a medieval city about 100k to the North East and I’ve long wanted to see the Creation Tapestry which, at nearly a thousand years old, is one of the most important textiles in Europe. The only problem being that I could not be absolutely sure that the museum would be open on a Sunday. The normally so helpful internet was unclear on this point but I decided to travel in hope.

Sometime during my walk across the bridge into the old town I looked up at the huge, blocky form of the cathedral with the widest Romanesque nave in Europe and realised that I had been here before. Dredging my memory of family holidays, it must have been on an excursion from Cap de’Agde, just over the border in France but whatever had brought me here, I can’t have been particularly aware of what I was looking at or I would have remembered. Most of the shops were closed on a Sunday afternoon and the narrow, quiet streets were festooned with Catalan Flags and pro-independence posters; the bright yellow and red stripes particularly striking against the grey stone walls. I would have liked to find someone to discuss the movement with but I has here with a mission and so I climbed the hill, passing the many bookshops (closed), the Jewish museum (closed) and a few high quality ceramic and clothing shops (open for a sprinkling of well-heeled visitors).

You are allowed into the cathedral for free if you just want to pray, of course, but to go through to the treasury means entering through a payment booth at a side door. I nearly cried with relief when I discovered that not only was it open but that the tapestry was on display at the far end. I’ve studied it detail since I’ve been embroidering a reproduction (well more of an interpretation actually) for my Creation series these last few years but this was my first sight of the real thing. That I remembered. It certainly didn’t disappoint: far from it, the workmanship was even more impressive from close up and the gently faded colours harmonised beautifully in the dim lighting.

Notwithstanding its great age and unbelievable state of preservation, I find the real charm of this Romanesque depiction of the Creation in its naïve and frank interpretation of the gospels. A young, beardless Christ smiles down upon all sorts of creepy-crawly creatures, Eve’s upper body literally emerges from Adam’s torso and both the sun and moon have innocent smiley faces. A few words of vulgate Latin are sprinkle captions onto the background and the central circular panel is surrounded by distinctly pre-Christian images of four winds, each blowing two trumpets and riding a sack of storms.

There were no conservators on duty today but the custodian staff appeared delighted with my enthusiasm. Perhaps they were just being polite or maybe it had been a quiet day but four or five youngsters crowded around Grahame’s hastily messaged photos of my work in progress and expressed the hope of seeing the finished article some day. People come from all over the world to see the tapestry, I was told, but few on such a mission as mine. I Suppose I’d better get on and finish it so the aforementioned grandchild can bring me back with it one day.

There are countless other treasures in the City of Girona and in the cathedral in particular, a surprising number of which have survived the countless battles and sieges of its turbulent history. I should have made more time for the exquisite early medieval statuary, manuscripts, and silver but there was not much room left in my attention by this stage, especially once I’d enjoyed some of the wonderful local legends. High up on the facade you can see a witch turned into a human gargoyle for throwing stones at the worshippers as they went to church. A falcon adorns the sacristy door in memory of the bird that flew in after her master’s coffin calling out the name of his murderer and a lioness coils herself around a low column beside the entrance, proffering her smooth bottom for a good-luck stroke.

Not the worst way to finish up my travels through Spain.

Categories: Europe

Leave a Reply