10 March 2007

sun and sea

On Saturday morning, I left mum at the Tarragona train station, and she left in a taxi for Camp de Tarragona, with the intention of getting an AVE train to Madrid. I'm still not sure exactly what happened, so maybe I'll ask her to guest blog, because it seems like what happened after we left each other was a very complicated ordeal.

Nonetheless, I went back to Barcelona to fly to London, to fly back to Newark on Sunday morning. I got back to Barcelona before noon, my flight was not until 8:55pm. What was I to do? Go to the Museum of Contemporary Art, perhaps? No! I did not want to engage my brain and be inside on a gorgeous day (though I did take a detour to the Setmana del Llibre en Català and El Corte Inglés, both at Plaça de Catalunya)!

Instead, I walked down La Rambla to the Mirador de Colom, and I rented a bike! It was a Monty folding bike, and my experience with it was great. It's a great city bike.

I wish I had brought the GPS with me, because rode from the Mirador along the beach all along Barceloneta to the end of the boardwalk along the Passeig Maritim de la Mar Bella. Then along the way back, I grabbed a lunch from a grocery store and then rode back through the streets of the Barri Gotic and hit the Parc de la Ciutadella, which is where all of the spiritual seekers/travelers hang out. The zoo is also there, and evidently they used to have an albino gorilla.

This was such a cool living statue on La Rambla. If you gave him a coin, he rapped!

I had been biking along the inner harbor, and all of a sudden,
there's waves and the smell of sea rather than sewage!

There had been surfers in Tarragona, too.

Self, very content.

I loved my rental bike. It was so cute and so nice to ride!

Along the Passeig de Lluís Companys. I think, although I could be wrong, that these street lamps were designed by a young Gaudí.

09 March 2007

Ponte del Diable

This was by far the coolest thing ever. I still can't believe I walked on a Roman aqueduct. When we went there, I didn't know it was possible, and it was the most amazing thing ever.

Of course, getting there was not without adventure. We got on a city bus at the market, and above is where we got dropped off. That overpass is actually the Spanish autostrada, and the road where this photo is was a divided highway. It was also noon, so we were playing "mad dogs and Englishmen" tourists. Secretly, inside, I was freaking out a little and I was glad we didn't have to wait long for the bus on the way back. However, since we were in Spain, where the people aren't as nice as Italy but the buses run on schedule, I didn't have to worry.

Evidently, this is the international sign for aqueduct.

Traveler: Don't forget that the most cultured villages
are those that treat the ancients, the sick, the trees,
and the birds with feverous respect. Don't forget, traveler!

-Mariano Puig i Valls, whose family owned the land where the aqueduct is. Now it's a public park.

This structure is, visibly, huge and awe-inspiring.
217m long, 128 arches, 27m high at its highest point.
And I touched it.

!!! I still can't believe this.

08 March 2007

ancient Tarragona

Of all of the places that exist and are completely unknown to Americans (but found by the British and so already reasonably anglophone), Tarragona has to take the cake. Tarragona has great Roman ruins, and as Herculaneum was quite possibly the single most exciting thing I did last summer, the ruins of Tarragona were another triumph of the resilience, survival power and class of Roman arts and architecture.

For example, before we got there, I had no idea that Tarragona was the capital of most of Iberia during the Roman period: Hispania Tarraconensis. That's kind of a big deal, because Hispania is where the "civilized" Romans came from (see also Gladiator).

When we got there on Wednesday afternoon, I mostly slept. I also mostly slept on the hour-long, 100km train ride south. When I woke up, it was time to get off, so I got my suitcase off of the rack and started getting ready to get off the train. As I was on my way out of the car, a woman informed me in perfect Català that Kennywood was open.

Our hotel was the Hotel Husa Imperial Tarraco, which was affordable only because we were traveling during the off-season. This trip confirmed for me that early March really is the time to travel -- few tourists, great Mediterranean weather, and affordable beyond belief.

The big modern building was our hotel -- Mediterranean view. Right along the water next to the Roman circus and ampitheatre. The only drawback is that the walk to the beach was kind of down the side of a cliff of sorts, and across train tracks. Tarragona's tagline is "Balcony of the Mediterranean," which is pretty accurate -- everything is well above the sea.

The picture above illustrates how much of the Roman circus was taken into later buildings. The middle house is the exact width of the gallery of the Roman circus. A guide at the site also told us that the ATM in one of the banks is also part of the circus... Amazing.

This picture further illustrates the Roman foundations of a lot of Tarragona
-- like, "hi, my basement is Roman."

I was kind of suprised to see this photo, which documents the visit to Tarragona by Count Galeazzo Ciano, who, if such a thing is possible, is my favorite fascist (it's not really possible). He, besides being Mussolini's son-in-law and one of the first to suggest to the Fascist Council that they take the side of the Allies, also fathered an aborted child of Wallis Simpson in Shanghai in the early 30s. Overall, I think he was much smarter than Mussolini (and Hitler), and he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps if had he survived the war he probably could have resurrected his reputation a bit because he was a pretty intelligent statesman -- though his personal reputation as a playboy would have caused trouble, so he maybe would have ended up like the Savoia. Hah.

This was actually nothing during the Roman period.
It was a subterranean gallery then, as it is now, and mostly provided support for the bleachers above.
However, it is like 90 meters long or something like that, which makes it unbelievable.

Here I am between the Roman archeological sites and the archeological museum, which is to the left. Mum said I finally started to smile here, which is true to the extent that I really felt relaxed and on vacation at Tarragona -- in Barcelona I was still wound up from being busy at school. Plus, who can not smile with the Mediterranean in the background? And gorgeous, bright sun.

Oh yeah, and Roma caput mundi, even in Spain.

This little bronze was spectacular. The Romans (although I'm not sure exactly where this came from, it could have been imported from Greece, knowing the Romans) knew what they were doing with bronzes.
So delicate.

I thought these urns (more like ossuaries maybe) were so cool, because the bones were still inside them!
The lower one is made of glass.

I like peacocks, mostly because they are the most sophisticated symbol of eternal life.

The sculpting on this was so delicate as well -- look at the teeth.

07 March 2007

Tarragona street art

I think I'll start with public art and move progressively more radical. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I present it because I think it's important to see trends in other places in the world that are usually invisible in mainstream American culture.

I think we must have been in the wrong places in Barcelona (not near enough to the university?), because I didn't see much interesting street art there. But in Tarragona, the city is small, the university is in the historical center, and there was a rich street art vibe.

The big deal in Tarragona is the castells, which they do a few times a year, mostly towards the end of summer. It seems that the city breaks up into 4 teams, similar to the contrade of Siena during the Palio, and they make human towers. This immense sculptural group captures what I'd imagine it's like, although it's without the crowds and crowds of people. This is what they do in Catalunya instead of being interested in bullfights.

Menu boards are so cool. This one is not particularly unique, but it's old school and that's why I like it.

Flying pigs are another of my favorite motifs; they're right up there with peacocks.

Catalan separatist graffiti. Also in Tarragona, although we did not see it, is some leftover graffiti from the Spanish Civil War period. When it comes down to it, the SCW was all of the cool people with a real, viable economy (the Basques, Catalans and Andalusians) versus those who did not have the same and were jealous (Castillians).

The following series was really powerful. At the very least, it's a happy reminder to moderate television watching and read or blog, for example, instead. Although let's be honest with ourselves, the mind-numbing nature of TV is so pleasurable a lot of the time.

"This is your god €"

"Works 8 hours"

"Destroys you, don't you think?"

"Get married and have babies."

"Buy and shut up." (or rather, shut up and buy)

We were in Tarragona for 8 March, International Women's Day. Because the Spanish are not the Italians, there were, unfortunately, no mimosas in sight.

"The patriarchy oppresses you, break the chains."

"What is the patriarchy? In a neo-liberal society it is actually the manifestation of the following: the canon of imposed beauty, rape, plastic surgery, advertisments that compromise the dignity of women, religious fundamentalism, gender violence, homophobia, prostitution, salary discrimination...
What are you waiting for? Move to the side of dissidence!"

"On 8 March the day of the working woman, destroy the patriarchy! Combat capitalism!"

Again, the issue of affordable housing.

Tarragona cathedral

Tarragona, because of it's importance in the Roman period, was one of the first centers of Christianity on the Iberian peninsula. The Cathedral complex was pretty Gothic, which usually doesn't turn me on too much, and at some points inside I got kind of bored, but there were some neat details that I'll share in this post.

a very toothy lion rainspout

These reminded me a lot of the work of Peter Rockwell (Norman's son) who does fanciful, but very good sculpture -- these are nice precedents, because they're playful and historically minded, like his work also is -- except that these are much older!

The interior of the cloister. Orange and cypress trees. Ahhh, the Mediterranean.

the forthrightness of saintly attributes: Saint Lucy

One of the patrons of Catalunya is Saint George (Sant Jordi) -- this was in the sacristy.
The grin on the saint's face is rather smug: take that, devil.

This was so fascinating to me, not so much for the subject, which is not so unique, but rather the materials. These are polychromatic stone sculptures, and of course the sarcophagus Jesus is lying on prominently features a Pagan motif, and is in fact Roman. I also found the two Medievally-dressed male figures kind of out of place -- I'd assume they are Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, just dressed 1000 years into the future.