SUNNY SPAIN II : The Dark Side

July 8, 2001

A friend of mine (Hi, Medge!) used to tell a story that described a mugging as "being made an unwilling participant in a grass-roots movement to redistribute the wealth." Change the word "unwilling" to "unwitting," and you'd be talking about me last Sunday afternoon. Yup, friends and neighbors, yours truly had her pocket (purse, actually) picked on the Rambla de Mar in sunny Barcelona. One minute I had my wallet out to pay for a belgian waffle; five minutes later I looked down and found my purse rifled. I have no clue who or what I encountered in between.

I was about as lucky as anyone can be when having their wallet stolen. My important credit and debit cards were kept in a separate folder along with my social security card; my passport and other important documents were too big to fit in the wallet, and even my driver's license was an old expired one - the new one being still in my bedside table in Lausanne. Even the wallet was getting worn out; all I really lost was cash, though unfortunately enough of it to be rather painful. Dave was very kind and supportive, as I'm sure he would have been even if he hadn't lost his wedding ring two days earlier while playing in heavy surf.

Fortunately, the theft occurred at the end of the afternoon, so we had both had funds for lunch and a tour of the Temple de la Familia Sagrada, which you'll see on every map, book or other tourist publication on Barcelona. None of these photos really convey the reality, though. For one thing, it's only about half finished. We were very surprised when we paid our admission and passed through the huge doors only to be confronted by a construction site - studded with magnificent pillars like stylized trees, to be sure, but a construction site nonetheless. It has no roof. It has no floor. It has Coke and snack machines and rows of hard hats.

It was apparently begin in the late 1800s using funds from private donors, and its projected completion date is around 2021. It was a lifework for the architect Antonio Gaudi, who spent forty years supervising its design and construction before absent-mindedly stepping in front of a streetcar one day. It is grandiose and spectacular, even in its unfinished state, and Dave thought it was really cool. I thought....

....Well, to be honest, it gave me some trouble as a church. The Catholic religion has always had a tendency to worship with grandeur rather than simplicity, but most of the big cathedrals I've seen have had a cool elegance that made them seem otherworldly in spite of their magnificence. I wasn't getting any of that here. One of the facades that have been built so far is a riot of biblical statuary including a Tree of Life complete with doves; the eight towers that have been built each have "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus" written across them in large letters; and some of the lesser pinnacles are crowned with colorful structures that Dave calls "bowls of gumballs". The plans for the completed Temple include a total of eighteen towers: one for each of the apostles, one for each of the Gospels, one for Mary and one for Jesus. The last-named will be (according to drawings in the museum) topped with an enormous cross with searchlights in the arms and top.

Somehow, I can't help thinking more of the Tower of Babel than of a house of God.

However, in spite of any artistic differences I may have with the architect, Sagrada Familia is a great place to spend a couple of hours. We toured the museum, whose exhibits range from a reconstruction of Gaudi's original workroom to a computer-graphic model of the Temple's interior architecture, as well architectural drawings of the finished Temple from several angles. (One of the most interesting displays showed how Gaudi invented some of his unique architectural effects: apparently he would attach weights to loops of string, hang them in elaborate patterns, then turn the resulting design upside-down to get a system of arches and towers.) We climbed nearly to the top of one of the towers by way of a very long, very narrow, tightly winding stone stairway with windows and balconies at intervals all the way up. Dave took pictures. I stared and tried to think of descriptive phrases.

The train ride home was uneventful, although I did get some comic relief out of filling out my customs form: "Amount of currency being carried: 85 centimes*".

Till next time,
-- Lyn

* About 48 cents.

Copyright 2001 Lyn Pierce