barcelona, day four

After breakfast in our room with our own goodies, we went into the old city - Ciutat Vella in Catalan - to the Museu Picasso. There are Picasso museums in many cities and I'd love to see them all. He is among my very favourite artists. The Barcelona Picasso museum was planned by the man himself, a gift to the city of his birth, and focuses on his earliest work - when he was a child, and then an unknown artist developing his own styles - and on a collection of later works he left to his friend and secretary, Jaume Sabart├ęs.

Seeing the young Pablo's work was so interesting. He was clearly very talented at a very young age, winning admission to prestigious art academies, then quickly realizing that formal art training had nothing left to teach him. He spent time copying the styles of famous painters to understand their techniques... and then he went to Paris. It was also cool to see him toying with different signatures, until he developed what would become one of the most famous signatures in art.

The best part of this collection, for me, was the small cubist section - maybe 6 or 7 wonderful cubist paintings - and Picasso's Las Meninas cycle. Picasso took Las Meninas, a very famous painting by the Spanish master Velasquez (see here), and riffed on it, creating 45 new versions, many focusing on one or two details, and none of them looking anything like the original. You can see some of them here.

This was really a marvel. However, the museum gets huge points off for not having a single reproduction of the original Velasquez painting for reference. Could it be that The Prado (the museum in Madrid where Las Meninas lives) won't let them? It was a terrible omission. But a terrific small museum.

After leaving the Picasso museum, we wandered a big more in the Barri Gotic, and found a tiny cafe for lunch. I think I now understand the difference between pintxos and tapas. Traditional tapas is a small plate of something - sausages, cheeses, fish, olives, whatever. The tall creations of combinations of food, on a piece of bread with a toothpick through the whole thing, displayed at the bar or on counters, is pintxos. But when the host or server is adding up your bill, they will say "tres tapas" for the three pintxos you ordered, using the terms interchangeably.

Pintxos look very appealing, all piled up the counter. The server will point and explain each one. You can't necessarily tell what they are, as the combinations are unusual, and some things are made into croquets or otherwise disguised. We had these: a croquette of octopus and shrimp, a piece of breaded chicken cutlet with a fried egg on top, and smoked salmon topped with brie. Plus a cafe con leche for me and a vino tinto for A.

After lunch we walked around the old area looking for Roman remains, both through our guidebook and historic markers posted around town. There is a section of Roman wall, some arches now built into the cathedral but originally part of an aqueduct, and some amazing intact columns, now hidden in an alley, but once incorporated into the meeting room of a local hiking club! A huge Roman excavation is now part of the museum of the history of Barcelona - a giant room of pieces of columns and arches and such. We didn't go in, but it looks very nice.

We also passed a small but spirited demo, in front of a bank. The demonstrators were all middle aged or older, and they looked very organized and very angry. The object of their anger: the ladrones banqueros - bank thieves.

We then walked further down into the Born district, adjacent to the Barri Gotic. It's a very old part of town that's been gentrified and upscaled. Allan wanted to see Santa Maria del Mar, a church from the 1300s. (I just peeked in, then rested on the entrance steps.) The neighbourhood is full of very upscaled tapas and pintxos bars, with huge plates of inventive pintxos piled up on the bars. We did go into this very clever and silly candy store: Happy Pills.

We walked across town to the Palau de La Musica Catalana, a crazy modernist concert hall, right near El Bixto, the wonderful place where we had dinner the other night. I took a lot of pictures of the exterior, but we had missed the last interior tour for the day.

Then it was back to the room to rest, then back to the Barri Gotic for dinner. First, we ducked into a store we had seen in our first hour here, Vaho, which sells all sorts of bags, backpacks, wallets, totes, and such, made from recycled vinyl posters that were hung in Barcelona. I absolutely loved them, and we had a mental note to come back and shop. For a cute visual story of how these "trashion" bags are made, go here.

The restaurant we picked out for dinner was - of course - not there, but the search for it took us down many tiny, narrow, out-of-the-way streets in the Barri Gotic. And by narrow, I mean pedestrian or cycle only. Historic markers said we were in the Jewish Quarter from the 12th and 13th centuries, near the central synagogue. That can only be up to the 13th century, before Jews were expelled from Spain, one way or another.

We finally gave up on our restaurant search and chose another place we had seen in the book, La Vinateria del Call. (The Call was the old Jewish quarter.) This one served traditional tapas, where you choose plates from a menu. We had a plate of incredibly delicious smoked fish (salmon, cod, herring, eel), jamon de pavo (ham made of duck), traditional catalan sausage called bull, and a potato fritata, and of course plenty of wine. Then we made a mistake: we ordered dessert paired with more wine. I only tasted the Catalan creme caramel - somewhere between creme brulee and flan - but I did drink the sweet vino de naraja (oranges). Remind me not to do that again!

After dinner, which began around 10:30 p.m., Allan whisked us to the subway and up to La Sagrada Familia, as he wanted to see it at night, lit up. (This is amusing, as I usually eat dinner very early and am getting ready for bed at 10:00 or 10:30.) When we exited the metro, part of La Sagrada was lit. Allan took a couple of pictures and... the lights turned out. Damn, too late! While we were there, a group of young men arrived by taxi, jumped out, took their picture in front of the dark church, and jumped back into the cab and sped away.

Then we had a bit of a mad race home, as the subways were about to close for the night. We took the very last train. The station master was waiting til we left to close the Tetuan station. Whew.

Photos of the Bari Gotic and Roman ruins are here.

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