Where’s Gaudí gone?

Mention Barcelona and the first person to come to mind, if you’re not a football fan, is most likely Antoni Gaudí. Any fridge magnet collection is bound to include one inspired by the architect. He’s synonymous with the city. But we walked miles in search of his work and came up short.

Born back in 1852 to a coppersmith, young Gaudí knew he what he wanted to be when he grew up. Part of the Catalan Modernista movement, his distinctive style wasn’t long in coming to the fore. He set geometric shapes in pattern brick and stone and rather fancied both flowers and reptiles. [His salamander in Park Güell, is probably his best-selling fridge magnet.]

Showcasing his work at the Paris World’s Fair in 1878 brought him some attention and a commission to work on the Güell Estate and Güell Palace in Barcelona. We tried to visit but they had sold out for the day. A park. Selling out. Madness. We had to content ourselves walking the free space and looking down on those who’d been better prepared, catching only glimpses  of the great man’s work. Be warned. Book in advance.

In 1893, Gaudí was tasked with building a cathedral – Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family). The plans had already been drawn up and construction had begun when he took over, but he managed to make it his own. It’s still a work in progress – more than 120 years later. But it’s coming along. It’s another venue that needs advance booking, though.

Gaudí died when hit by a trolley in June of  1926. He was nearly 74. It is hoped that the Sagrada Familia will be finished by 2026, to mark the 100th anniversary of his death. We can but wait and see.

We went in search of  Casa Vincens, what’s billed as his most famous and best ever. And we found it. Under renovation. And I really wanted to see Casa Mila but the La Pedrera Google gave us wasn’t quite what we had set out to find. We did stumble across Casa Batlló. Mind you, it’d have been hard to miss, with the hordes of picture-snapping tourists queuing up outside. Pretty spectacular though.

 I’d looked to see if any other architect of note was hiding in Gaudí’s shadow and a Josep Puig i Cadafalch popped up. Turns out, he designed the Casa Amattler right next door to Casa Batlló. We found this out after we’d traipsed the back streets hitting various shops and such by the same name but they never quite measured up. I wonder if Josep’s rocking around heaven wondering what life might have been like had he been born a century earlier … or later.

We gave it time – the best part of a day. But we hadn’t done our homework. We hadn’t plotted our route or signed up for a tour. I didn’t want to be constrained by someone else’s timetable. So we wandered the streets and happened across many other equally stunning buildings that would require time to research. I contented myself with a look.

And we found the smallest theatre in the world, El Teatre més Petits del Món. Set in the home of pianist Luis de Arquer [carrer de l’Encarnació 25], a gig here is now top of my list of things to do, should a return visit to the city be on the cards. It would be, according to the New York Times, the most enchanting musical evening the city has to offer. 

Gaudí’s work is world famous. He’s quite the ambassador for Spain. His style has influenced many artists from all over (Fuster in Havana, Cuba, is an example). But I wonder if you can get too much of a good thing. He’s been hijacked by the tourist board and the souvenir industry and is on the verge of being tatted. Which is a shame. Entrance fees to see his work are extortionate. And yet the masses come. And pay. Too many of them.

Earlier this year, the city of Barcelona approved a new law to limit the number of tourists coming to the city.  People took to the streets in protest over the collateral damage of too many tourists – soaring rents and property prices, increasing numbers of evictions, lack of parking facilities, etc. Add these to the rising costs of eating out and the low salaries paid in the tourist sector, the locals have a gripe or three.



2014 Grateful 33

Voltaire reckoned that originality is nothing but judicious imitation. I wondered a little at that when I looked up to see something rather odd in the distance. A roof that stood out amongst the roofs of Skopje. Closer investigation revealed something that would be at home in Gaudí’s Barcelona but with an address on Luj Paster Str in Skopje.

IMG_1801 (800x600)IMG_1809 (800x600)The architect, who is known in Skopje simply as Roger, seems a tad eccentric. He has a fondness for vintage cars and likes a little bling – at least in his decor. Apparently he inherited the family home and he lives in the top floor flat while his sister lives underneath. An outside lift gets him home. A inscription above the door asserts his creative rights and claims responsibility and ownership for all the work involved. Quite amazing.

IMG_2101 (800x600)Then I heard that he also had a restaurant outside the city and that, of course, had to be seen as well. It stands in a field by the side of the road, its isolation adding to its oddness. The security guard was kind enough to show us around. And though the outside should well have prepared me for what lay inside, it didn’t. Mad garish colours, Swaroksvi crystals, intricate wrought iron, black and white marble all meshed together in a riot of something that brought a whole new meaning to the word fantastic.

IMG_2105 (800x582)IMG_2113 (800x600)IMG_2114 (800x600)The top table was set up for a wedding. A massive chandelier with individual crystals set the cash register in my mind into overdrive. Everywhere I looked shapes and colours and forms vied for attention. I wavered between hating it and loving it. I started to wonder what type of people got married here – those who were flash to the point of being ostentatious? Perhaps brides who belonged in a Disney movie? Or those who favoured the Catalan artists Gaudí and Dalí? I wasn’t quite sure.

IMG_2112 (800x600)IMG_2138 (600x800)The outside is just as curious. Statues pops their heads out of the hedgerow at measured intervals. The walls are set with mosaic portraits of famous musicians, presumably those for whom Roger has a fondness. It’s all quite strange, quite peculiar, and in an odd way, quite refreshing. In a world where sameness has become the norm, where mass production and globalisation ensure that our high street shops are the faithfully reproduced no matter what city in Europe we’re in,  where conformity is the password to survival, I’m grateful that there are people like Roger who insist on leaving their individual mark on the world. I’m grateful that some people still dare to be different, regardless of what Joe Public has to say. And that confident in their own likes and taste, they stay true to who they are.

English poet, Dame Edith Sitwell, put it so: ‘Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of an uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.’

Here’s to you, Roger. ви благодариме.

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Flushing the loo is a godless deed – a wanton act of death

One must live as though one were at war and everything rationed.

With a name like Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser, is it any wonder that this Austrian artist believed that the colourful, the abundant, the manifold, is always better than mediocre grey and uniformity. I’ve long since given up any pretensions about knowing my Art and have resolved to like what I like without trying to justify or explain. Until taken to the Hundertwasser museum in Vienna last week, I’d never heard of this chap. My museum preferences lean more towards death, resistance and the Holocaust rather than ecological or environmental but he was sold to me as Austria’s answer to Gaudi.

I’m glad I went. Not least because his paintings are mad (some of his pencil sketches could have been done by a child of seven and once again I wonder if art is more about appreciation than ability) – but his titles are fascinating. Forget the obvious – woman staring at sea or cow standing in field – and instead be prepared for something like The beard is the grass of the bald-headed man.

He talks of living a vegative life: One reason why other people do not want […] to take to a vegetative way of life is because it begins too unpretentiously, it does not have great eclat or drum roll; on the contrary it grows quite slowly and simply, and that does not appeal to our social order, people want instant results based on the slash and burn principle. Throughout this space on a side street in Vienna, colour and disorder reign supreme. Nothing matches – colours and shapes clash, floors dip and dive. Yet there is a stillness and a magic that makes it special. Despite the heaving numbers of visitors, you can still lose yourself in the space and marvel at the man with the mind behind the madness.

Life with Mr H must have been exciting.  In the Mouldiness Manifesto he first claimed the Window Right: A person in a rented apartment must be able to lean out of his window and scrape off the masonry within arm’s reach. And he must be allowed to take a long brush and paint everything outside within arm’s reach. So that it will be visible from afar to everyone in the street that someone lives there who is different from the imprisoned, enslaved, standardised man who lives next door. Am I imprisoned? Enslaved? Standardised? mmmmmm

Perhaps most interesting of all his work though, are his plans to build towns that are in tune with nature. The kindergarten in Heddernheim is one example that was actually built. Imagine being able to walk on the grass of your roof. The Quixote vineyard in Napa Valley, California, is another sublime structure – one that makes me want to find some land and get to it. In 1972, he published the manifesto Your window right — your tree duty. According to H, if man walks in nature’s midst, then he is nature’s guest and must learn to behave as a well-brought-up guest. It is our obligation to plant trees in urban spaces. And a new word was born: vegitecture.

And just when I think I’ve read it all, I come across  link to his Holy Shit manifesto whereby he says that each time we flush the loo thinking we’re being hygienic, we’re actually violating cosmic law and committing murder. Food for thought.