Bobby K does Barcelona

Barcelona.  I’m not sure if it’s due to being brought up with the suburban tones of Radio 2 in the background or just plain misfortune, but whenever I hear the word – Barcelona – uttered I can’t help but think of that catastrophic duet between Freddie Mercury and that wailing opera diva whose name I have forgotten, or perhaps never knew.  The song was suitable I suppose for the Olympic spirit, in much the same way as synthesised renditions of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy seem, whilst irritating, somehow appropriate to the EU.  However, I digress, my point is this fireworks and Asti anthem is to Barcelona what chalk is to cheese.  Barcelona is achingly cool, understated and never seems to date, unlike the song named in its honour. 


Take La Sagrada Familia for example: it is Barcelona old, new, dated, contemporary and everything in between.  Nothing could be more dazzlingly different from the late Victorian architecture of Britain, or indeed pretty much anywhere else I can think of, than this monumental Gaudi structure.  I say structure, because I’m not quite sure what one should call it.  It’s not Barcelona’s cathedral, it calls itself a temple, and it was commissioned as a basilica, although it seems to bare no relation to any principle of basilica construction I know of.  I always think one can read a city by reference to its religious architecture, and I certainly think this is the case in Barcelona.  Not only did Gaudi’s structure laugh at convention and shatter boundaries at its inception in the 1880s, but it continues to do so now.  As I say, like the city itself, it has uncanny gift of staying cool - not ‘impressive’, nor ‘historic’, and certainly not ‘stately’ – just plain cool.  And how did the city build this bloody great thing? Answer: in its own sweet time.  Gaudi once quipped that his client was not in a hurry.  I suspect he was referring to God, but he could equally be talking about Barcelona.  Nearly 130 years on, it’s still under construction.  The folks of Barcelona don’t like to rush.  Go there before it’s finished and witness an unique architectural project in progress.  Oh, and the design’s all based around trees, which is pretty appropriate to this particular website I guess. 

I shan’t blabber on any more about the delights of the Sagrada Familia: hopefully I’ve persuaded you that it’s one bit of the tourist trail that shouldn’t be missed.  And afterwards you should jump in a cab or onto the metro and head to the other tourist epicentre, La Rambla.  La Rambla, is one of those convenient streets that seems to link everything together and try as I might I couldn’t find a way between Plaza Royal and Plaza Catalunya without using it.  Fortunately beyond the Burger Kings and amusement arcades there is one of Barcelona’s absolute treats – the covered market.  As the Sagrada Familia is to God, this place is to food.  During my stay in the city a leisurely shopping trip round the market became an every day activity – and I normally hate shopping.  We don’t get good ingredients in Britain usually, and when you can get them they are far from cheap.  It’s one of the reasons I often choose to pass on meals in this country and just go for a Chianti salad or similar instead. I don’t need to bore you with the pleasures of tapas and the cheapness of eating out in the city, but it’s a whole new pleasure to rent yourself an apartment, grab the bestest ingredients and cook for yourself one night.  They do pretty good wine as well, not to mention fantastic cava. 


Like the song made for the Olympics, there is little to link the city to the Olympic village with its bars and Eurotrance clubs.  Go there if you feel like it but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t.  Instead head to the Barri Gotic with its winding narrow streets of small bars and clubs and gargoyles.

For very few Euros we got ourselves a great little apartment in one of those self same streets of the Barri Gotic, the dark gap between the buildings opening to a sea view at the end and a stone’s throw from the Plaza Royal with its bars and palm trees at the other.  It turns out that our landlady was a delightful American lesbian called Roxanne, so we enjoyed the added advantage of a CD collection consisting of the Spice Girls, Elton John, Gloria Gaynor… you get the picture.  While others return tapping their feet to romantic caiperhinia soaked salsa melodies, I strutted back through Luton airport humming a medley of Rocket Man and I Will Survive. 

Go to Barcelona in June and you can also take advantage of Sonar: Barcelona’s dance-cum-contemporary media festival.  The festival takes over its own quarter of the city, with indoor record fairs sat alongside strange electronic ‘art’ exhibitions and all manner of clever oddities.  It’s all high drama stuff, if a little low on substance.  My tip is to leave the main ‘Sonar by Day’ site and head round the corner to a small disused Romanesque basilica which, with flagrant disregard to catholic sensibilities, has been turned into a temple to gabba techno; its inhabitants dancing manically mechanically in the gloom while the sun shines outside.  It’s truly wonderful.  And if this is your thing then head to the night time event for a big sound system playing big name DJs housed in some big, nay enormous, aircraft hanger construction about a twenty minute drive outside the city.  Supposedly the main room has a 40,000 capacity, and it certainly has the feeling of being a festival within a room.  It’s certainly not any old club that can have dodgems on the dance floor!  Don’t get there early, do get a taxi (it’s cheap, and whilst the bus is free it is slow, packed, you’ll have to queue and it’s just generally unpleasant).  I don’t know how to get back, I don’t know if anyone leaving the event ever works out how they got back, but a combination of walking and cabbing seems to ring a bell.  Oh, and if you get back and decide that you’ll dry off the stale sweat by relaxing on a lounger on the beach for a bit, careful not to fall asleep.  Like I did.  Felt a bit burnt. 


And once you’ve done all the ‘cool stuff’ and the Gaudi gardens and Catalan-Cuban fusion tapas yada yada, complete your cultural experience with a slow wander round the city cathedral.  This is ‘cool’ and ‘spiritual’ only in their literal meanings, removed from the inane clubber chat of Sonar.  Remember what I said about reading a city through its religious architecture?  Call my theory a load of old bollocks if you like, but do me a favour and check out the cathedral before you do.  It’s certainly a better place to start than that damned song.

words by Bobby K

Posted on Friday, July 7, 2006 at 15:57 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference