Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Barcelona. Part 1.

We have to trust the author of a hilarious book Stuff Parisians Like. Olivier Magny is a Parisian after all, a witty word sharp shooter and an insider. Who would know better about the QUOI in Je ne Sais Quoi?

Barcelona, according to Magny, is the only city in the world Parisians don’t feel like look down. The one they love unconditionally, seeing much in common, and consider as equal: “ They can certainly recognize its impressive accomplishments, fantastic energy, and apparent wealth. This knowledge that the city is populated with overachievers makes the Parisian feel very much at ease there….
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia. Its population vastly looks down on the rest of the country that in return generously dislikes them. The city is probably the country’s most appealing metropolis yet fails to charm other Spaniards, who see in it nothing but arrogance. Parisians can relate to that” *. Magny certainly has la raison.
View from Sagrada Familia tower.

This is probably the only place beyond Paris city walls, better to say Boulevard Peripherique,  where Parisians enjoy Fraternite and Egalite to the fullest and look up with respect and admiration.
Creative energy and vibe are alluring, architectural beauty is unimaginable, people are friendly, live with dignity and care about their beloved city proudly. 
Add to that lots of sun, a sea breeze and a mild weather – dream city, favorite week-end escape for Parisians.

So to feel like we belong to the tribe I’d like to take you to the series of escapes to Barcelona with which I fell in love instantly, once and for all.

While getting ready for the journey and searching for images I realized that though it’s a popular tourist destination there actually very few imagery available. Mostly are panoramic views, Sagrada Familia and other masterpieces of Antoni Gaudi, which are definitely better to see in person or in special books about this architect genius as his creations are so difficult to photograph. But what about city?

Catalonians, a multi talented nation of about 8 500 000, and Barcelonans in particular are very proud of who they are and what they’ve accomplished. They are not selfishly sporting their superiority. Cultural identity is a paramount but they are not imposing it on others just build it up patiently for centuries and persevere.

Barcelona and Madrid are long stand rivalries. Barcelonans invariably consider Madrid a parvenu and refer to it as Vila de Madrid, that means town. And they always address Barcelona as ciutad – city, with more than 4 000 000 population city it is.
And of course there are Placa Catalunya, prospects and avengudas named to the Glory Catalan.
And they don’t speak Spanish, which largely means Castilian. They speak their own language which was so much oppressed for ages especially during Franco regime, they proudly speak Catalan. And proudly display the legacy of prominent Catalonians like Dali, Picasso, Miro and Gaudi.
They turn every tiny piece of their legacy into souvenirs, inventively made with taste and style.

Friends appreciating their cultural identity are welcome to share company and the fruits of their labor. Dignity, self-respect and respect to others are a comer stone.

At any ticket desk they would mostly politely ask what country you are  from for statistics. And they will do whatever it takes to make guests feel welcome.

You won’t see many cheese smiles from locals, a hint of a friendly smile and willingness to help will do.
Once in a tiny supermarket across from our apart-hotel the sales clerk at cash asked me something.  I always learn language basics like I did before trip to Italy or this time to Spain. This is a survival kit I find sometimes very helpful. I probably would have a clue if the lady wouldn’t have spoken Catalan. My smile was helpless. She instantly asked ladies in a short line behind me who can translate Ingles. One of them kindly translated. It appears to be that clerk saw me looking at a huge watermelon in hesitation. It was too big for just two of us and very heavy. So she suggested to cut it in half for me. Also she didn’t mind if I buy a mid day baguette, but if I could wait another five minutes there will be  freshly baked right from the oven behind her. Wasn’t it nice of her?  She could just simply let it go.
Fruits were so the most delicious, by the way the watermelon was the juiciest and the sweetest we ever tried, it turned into our home saying, to describe or compare the taste we can just mention: it’s far from Barcelona peaches, or it’s great like that vine in Barcelona. I’d rather stop…

The small nice things kept happening and left us with very warm feelings towards Barcelonans and the city itself.

When little people are growing up on playgrounds like this one, they probably turn into quite special adults. What a backdrop!
 This cute Cupid aimed perfectly well and got the couple on images below.
 They kissed before putting on helmets. Then before taking off they kissed again clinking with plastic shields: zinnng, and off they rushed.

 This little girl stayed behind her father who carried her younger brother. She definitely enjoyed Marilyn Monroe subway stunt.

People don’t look stressed out like most in big cities do. They aren't in a hurry and look happy and content.

And what says a lot about Catalan character is 130 year (!) ongoing construction of Antoni Gaudi’s majestic cathedral Sagrada Familia. There will be later a post dedicated to this out-of-worldly creation. The funding comes entirely from private donations and in last decades from millions of visitors and ticket sales.

Most European cities developed in circles, growing gradually bigger and wider. Barcelona wasn’t exactly growing, it exploded, sprang out from Barri Gothic- medieval part of the city, in 1890-s -1915-s. After World Exposition in Barcelona in 1888 the word modernisme defined the rapid change in architecture and design, crowned with Gaudi’s masterpieces. It was Barcelonian Renaissance and it never ended since.
The area called Eixample planned in a grid and built in unique and flamboyant Modernista style was blown like a beautiful  colorful hot air balloon, which caught the wind and set to flight. It’s been more than a hundred years but not only facades on Placa’s but side walls and backstreets look amazingly neat and meticulously maintained.
(a propos, in Bruxelle, a birth place of Art Nouveau where I had a long list of buildings I’d like to see it was a frustrating trip actually, as majority of them, if it wasn’t Victor Horta Museum or some diplomatic residences, were in very neglected condition, fading, peeling off, windows backed with paper, including Saint Cyr House’s tiny iconic façade hidden behind crumbled scaffolding. Sadly sad.) 

Restoration in progress.
In Paris, Bruxelle and elsewhere in Europe singled out Art Nouveau building are scattered and numbered. In Barcelona they mostly gathered in a particular part of the city and for Art Nouveau lovers it's a paradise.

Barcelona looks and feels fabulously fresh and not aging at all. Lively and invigorating city is well balanced and proportioned. It’s a metropolis but, thanks God, not  a mega polis. Walking wondering the streets is a pleasure, strolling Rambla or Passaig Gracia is a journey. Green, shady, spacious.

Love the reflection in the window.
Many elegant women in bright summer colors, many beautiful tan girls dressed in something unnoticeable. They probably were wearing only iPod headphones. Though I recall layered bracelets…Hm, what else? Perhaps sandals and bags.

It’s a moveable never ending feast. If I would have been asked to name instantly 3 cities to revisit that would be Paris-Barcelona-Florence (immediate follow Venice and London).

Please subscribe by e-mail at the right side of the page.
See you soon.

* Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in Je ne Sais Quoi. Olivier Magny here

**All images copyright Natalie Rapoport


  1. Great post Natalie. I must have turned into a Parisian after all these years, because Barcelona is a favorite city of mine, too. My family has vacationed in Northern Spain since I started to walk ;-) I like to tell people Barcelona is "like Paris, with the beach" (and much better weather of course.) As for the Catalan language, forget it. I was just in Mexico and was able to communicate with most locals, but if a Spaniard throws their Catalan at me, well... By the way, if you like that city, you must have seen the excellent French movie "l'Auberge Espagnole." (2002) Audrey Tautou - of Amelie Poulain fame - has a small part in it. Sorry for the long post. Your story does this wonderful, vibrant city justice! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

    1. Thank you Veronique. I'm grateful for your comment, the longer - the better. This is the only way to reach out and stay in touch.
      Thanks for advice, I'll try to find this movie, so far the trailer is funny.
      Happy you liked my post. Stay tuned, I have hundreds of beautiful images and planning new posts.

  2. Oh what a trip you took us on today! I love your photographs and I can see why Parisians feel at home here. It reminds me of Paris in many ways. I hope you will take us back very soon.
    PS Now I"m off to buy the book. It's been in my Amazon "cart" for a while!

    1. I'm sure you'll have a good laugh with this book. Such a mood lifter. Enjoy and see you soon.


Thank you for visiting Jewel Yet to Find. I'd love to read your comments and make new friends. Please come again soon.