Barcelona: Garden Recalled

Posted by in Architecture, Transport, Travel

Time waits for no-one, even in Barcelona.

BACK TO THE GARDEN

The clock ticks forward; complex and constant, friend and foe. Andorra is caught between two countries and two towns. France and Spain, Toulouse and Barcelona. As the latter is my first international city I swing round for my third visit and after my night of purgatory at El Prat’s T2, knew just where to go. The metro journey was inexorably arduous yet simultaneously exciting. My last visit in 2010 would birth the poem, BCN from Terminal Wanderlust…

I don’t remember our first date
Age became me then

Now I am older and so are you
Although your terminal shines eternal youth

Its gleaming floor welcomes me
Reflecting a host of possibilities

But where is the train, catering for the low cost crowd?
It really shouldn’t be allowed

I breeze into town, a balmy spring evening
Two days; one of sufficient heat and one of rain in Spain (or is it Catalonia?)

Then I’m back with you
In a shimmering haze – the exotic Avianca stands beside Egyptian

I’m heading home, north
Climbing into blue, a Briton abroad

The Med sparkles beneath me
As ash clouds cast uncertainty

I’m pleased we met again
You ask for my return in less than 30 years

I like the sound of it
But it’s a game of chance, wait and see…

Relax and Swing.

And so it was a mere eight years later that I returned to the Garden and my favourite part of Barcelona, Horta. The person who smiled and asked for my return in less than 30 years’ had long gone. A completely new crew tended the Garden helmed by Felipe who aside from being very nice is from Uruguay. I have an affinity of sorts with Uruguayans as they have a similar population to Wales. A tenuous link? Definitely.

Tiles in the Neighbourhood.

My previous visit was mirrored in the weather and other factors; sunshine and rain, euphoria and pain. The parrots still squawked their way, though for me this was an extended holiday without pay. Eight years ago I was not a teacher so had no need to seek out ‘idiomas’ (language schools).

It’s hard to believe how much ground I covered in those few days. Everything is updated except Montjuic and Parc Guell (the latter of which I don’t recall having to pay to enter). Most of my time though is reserved for Horta, which apart from its dog toilet streets is as captivating as ever (see the panorama video over on my You Tube channel).

Protests in the city; big bubbles, no troubles.

DEMOCRACY, INDEPENDENCE AND HOT CHOX!

Aspects of nostalgia and beauty collide with that of politics seen first hand, not just in the pages of La Vanguardia. In Pamplona and Bilbao I had sampled the independent aspirations of the Basque and now those of the Catalans.

Not only were there flags waving but also unwarranted aggression towards tourists found in graffiti, odd for Horta as it’s not really a touristic part of town. I toy with the idea of settling but know it’s pie in the sky or at the very least won’t be easy and with my finger in so many pies was settling wise?

I believe in miracles, hot chocolate at La Nena!

New feeds come courtesy of Bonamassa – fresh pizza just off Plaça D’Eivissa – Horta Square (they also do Nutella cakes and coffee). Cafe 365 is where I spend a few breakfasts. The Spanish or Catalan speaking Chinese are present if you look hard enough and are a little bewildered when I speak to them in Chinese.

Cerveceria Balouta sell a blend of western Chinese, English (e.g. egg and chips), German sausages (in hot dog rolls) and pastries as well as slot machines and beer, wine and olives for those that may want them.

I eat there a few times during my tenure. Next up is the one and only La Nena for thick hot chocolate and melindros. Finally I chance on another cafe La Vitaminica just short of 365 for some apple cake.

My return for their orange juice which looked as good as it probably tasted were dashed by events at the hostel. A night of rampant teenagers and maintenance; cue a stubborn door which needed hammering into place secured a free breakfast though some still weren’t happy.

A-ha! New vinyl, can you remember the first time?

JUNK CULTURE: RECORDS AND TRAVEL BOOKS

Just wandering around the gorgeous and very cultural Gracia district and they have two cool record stores as well as a travel bookstore. The first store is called SURCO, which has been in existence 44 years and they had some nice new vinyl in stock from among others A-ha and David Sylvian.

You know you’re getting old when you see a sticker saying ‘back on vinyl for the first time in 25 years’ and you can remember the bloody thing coming out and new on the shelves!

A different kind of Barcelona opera!

The second store VINIL VANTAGE on the same street as La Nena (so you can grab a hot chocolate before or after if need be) and they specialise mainly in second hand. There I saw the first Boom Crash Opera album, Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger or as I call it Indiana LeBon and the Temple of Doom! Or Seven and the Rancid Budgie, anyways you get the idea. Also in attendance one hagged copy of HUMAN LEAGUE’S Hysteria.

Nothing much in the way of ICEHOUSE, or INXS (at either store) – the only other Aussie contingent was The Models and a Roo Art sampler from ’88. No Cock Robin, John Foxx or Wang Chung either. Perhaps more surprising was no Steven Wilson or No-Man vinyl and I know Burning Shed are making some beautiful product available.

Horray, someone likes us, Wales and the world!

The travel bookstore is called Guia (no English) and is everything you’d expect from a travel bookstore save the absence of Merrell shoes and Osprey backpacks! There are globes and accessories and I spy the latest Wales edition of Lonely Planet – strange they always pick a photo that looks nothing like Wales or not very representative. It’s a case of the age old problem, how do you represent a country in one image?

Lostracks found in Gracia.

Now comes the oddity of writing in real time, someone on social media tips me off about another store which is also in Gracia so I go and check it out. This one is called Lostracks Records and covers just about anything in a fairly small space.

I spot Duran Duran’s Big Thing, Simple Minds and INXS (albeit their abysmal X album). More so there’s David Sylvian, Cocteau Twins and Fra Lippo Lippi. The catch here is finding the place open, like the other stores mentioned the opening hours may vary from advertised.

A Barcelona not seen.

TRANSPORT NOSTALGIA

Back in Horta to find its library running an exhibition of Barcelona transport from 1920 to 1975 (oddly no shots of Horta itself from what I could see). Going back to the Helsinki blog, taking a city as you find it, photography offers essential documentation to a cities past in a time some of its residents may remember but for us, global travellers, digital nomads or neo-nomads, they are so revealing.

Note the IBERIA Barcelona to New York and TWA Madrid to Latin and North America advertisements on the buses. In the timeframe of those two photographs (the late 50s and early 60s) flying long haul would have been very new, more luxurious and much more dangerous than today yet the beginnings of commercial travel were in the offing. 

By contrast an adult of that time’s vision of the future was probably something along the lines of what Donald Fagen was singing about on IGY ’90 Minutes from New York to Paris’ albeit undersea by rail. The closest we have gotten in terms of speed, is Concorde.

More nostalgia.

There’s a great shot from 1987 but it could easily be from the early-mid seventies, such is its evocation. In addition is what for me is the ubiquitous and evergreen symbol of nostalgia, the CINZANO ad.

One of the shots stems from 1943 and I’ve given my own subtitle (the year of Joni) in reference to the one and only Joni Mitchell so it wouldn’t be right having a playlist without something by her in it and that song Shades of Scarlett Conquering stems from 1975, the very last year covered by this exhibition.

BACK TO THE GARDEN ii

The Garden has a 10 day maximum stay and while most hostels use this as a deterrent for the more undesirable travellers or rather characters, in the Garden it’s mandatory for all. If anything the hostel was slipping from its perch as a tranquil refuge for discerning travellers by attracting riff raff (e.g. kids whose sole diet consists of weed) unable to defend itself and doing little to deter them. *I don’t object to its usage but for the stench it leaves behind, more so for the other guests. 

Having said all that I was beginning to tire of the monotony, the same TV visuals daily, the same songs which were not made for working. Could something other than teaching be found? Barcelona is after all a creative hotspot.

One walk around Gracia and Diagonal assembles a load of potentials only to conclude each one unsuitable one way or another. Accommodation? That’s pretty much been hijacked by the realtors. Barcelona is popular for a reason, it’s nice and everyone wants a slice.

I see the beauty but this time more than any other the darker underbelly of the city rises to the surface of my peripheral vision, this is quite common with cities that are visited more than once, you go beyond  ‘tourist eyes’ to the reality but I still love the European aspect of Barcelona, a simple cafe con leche (pr. lechay) and croissant to start the day so there is beauty in the darkness. Big bubbles, no troubles.

The Architecture of Glories.

GLORIOUS GLORIES

Reluctantly I give up the ghost. In the last rays of brilliant blue sky and sunlight I’m lead towards a building that has become a prominent feature of the Barcelona skyline and as it’s close to Nord station I make the short walk to it and in turn discover Glories. An architecturally rich area featuring shimmering markets (Encants), the Design museum and said tower which goes by the name Torre Glories.

My one regret is not getting to see the W Hotel as I’ve made a point of checking out these extraordinary hotels in cities they have properties. In Barcelona this is right on the shore of a peninsular I was unable to reach. There it is again; time like a straight jacket constrains us all. The clock ticks forward; complex and constant, friend and foe. *I’ve since seen and visited the W.

There’s a blend of frustration, intrigue and curiosity at play. This time no one at the Garden is telling me to return. A business is a business, a smile given only as a temporary gift. Is there a way back? Who knows. For me the signs were pointing to the one place I’ve been running away from… my own country.

No rainbows for me, the last of Horta.

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

• Joni Mitchell

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

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PLAYLIST
Oranges on Appletrees – a-ha (not my fave but present because of all the orange and lemon trees in the area)
Stolen Dance – Milky Chance (yes, I know it’s a weed song but it’s a nice track even if the words make little sense)
Again – Lenny Kravitz (self explanatory this one)
Thinking of You – Lenny Kravitz (very poppy for him but nice in the afternoon)
Bueno Vista Social Club OST
La Vuelta al Mundo (Round the World) – Calle 13 (apparently this song is about travelling to escape the routine of office work so again very apt even if inadvertently so)
El Alma y el Cuerpo (The Soul and the Body) – Bomba Estereo
Thalheim – David Sylvian
The Blue Sky – A-ha
Here I Stand and Face the Rain – A-ha
Caught Between Two Towns – Boom Crash Opera
Life on Your Own – Human League
Shouldn’t Have to be Like That – Fra Lippo Lippi
IGY – Donald Fagen
Anything from Getz/Giberto’s iconic 1963 album
Hazy Jane ii – Nick Drake
The Road – Everything But the Girl feat. Stan Getz
Shades of Scarlett Conquering – Joni Mitchell
Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian (an overhang from Bilbao but still very relevant)
Waterfront – David Sylvian (purely for the fact he mentions ‘Catalonian bars’ in its lyrics)
Big Bubbles, No Troubles – Ellis, Beggs and Howard (video shot in Barcelona, late eighties)

Photo Credits: KH