Thursday, April 30, 2015

Traveling: Barcelona Redux - A Photo Tribute

(Drivebycuriosity) - Recently my wife and I visited Barcelona. We both fell in love with the Catalonian metropolis. The city on the northern mediterrean coast of Spain is such a beauty. The regional capital  (with 1.6 million residents wikipedia) stretches between the mediterranean sea in the east and the mountains. Walking the streets up and down the hills or along the beach front is a lot of fun and gives plenty of awsome sights. According to Wikipedia the Spanish beauty, wich had hosted the Olympics in the year 1992, attracts 8 million tourists a year and counting.

Maybe because of the tourist boom the city has a modern, clean & fast subway network. The trains come in 4-minute-intervalls in bring you to all important places in the city, but beware on weekdays the subway closes around midnight; the claims that the Spanish are very nocturnal seem to be an urban legend. But even when the subway doesn`t run, there are no problems to go anywhere. Barcelona is a very walkable city and it is entertaining to hike her streets because there is so much change on the way. And: The city has a long beach, how can you go wrong with that?

                                                            Properly Managed

I enjoyed the southern flair of the city who is apparently shaped by an ambitious history and the "joie de vivre" (groove) of its residents. I got the impression that the Catalonian region blends Spain with the nearby France. Barcelona is full with places which maybe best described with the Italian term "Grandezza", meaning greatness, nobility of soul. My American wife also praised that the city is properly managed, everything looks nice and clean and there is a lot of green.

                                                             Southern Light

I was impressed by the vibrant life on the streets and ubiquitous placas (places). Barcelona refutes all the reports about an economic crisis in Spain. The Catalonian metropolis looks rather like a boom town. The people there seemed affluent and happy to me. Maybe the good impression is also caused by the the mild mediterranean climate (mostly sunny, temperatures in the recent days 55-70 F/ 12-22 C).  Grown up in Germany, which is often dark and rainy, I  really enjoyed the southern light which seems to lift the general mood.

The streets are often very narrow, especially in the medieval (gothic) parts of the city, which gives them an interesting attitude, amplified by the habit to air colorful laundry on the balconies. In the old parts of the city the streets form a labyrinth. Often we lost our way and didn´t find the place, we saw the day before, but otherwise we discovered something new, which made the place more interesting.

                                                         Energy For The Hike

Part of the fun was the the tapas-hopping. There are hundreds of cafes, bars & restauranst who offer small snacks (tapas) which are cheap and attract lots of the locals. The popular American travel author Rick Steves writes: "I can't resist stopping in local bars to munch on these small portions of seafood, salads, meat-filled pastries, deep-fried tasties, and on and on" (ricksteves). A small portion of tapas with a glas of wine (usually just €2) lends enough energy to continue a long walk through the fascinating city, which is really recommended.

                                                               A Praise On Beauty

Barcelona is not just a beauty,  it seems their residents (and artists & architects) love beauty and are worshipping her. At least, almost everywhere you can find  some sculptures of beautiful women. Barcelona looks like a musem of handsome statues.

Barcelona´s architecture is is partly grand and partly fanciful, maybe influenced by a powerful history and the southern flair. You also can see a lot of influences by Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) , an architect with a kind of flamboyant style, who lived in Barcelona and designed many buildings there.

Even the residental buildings haven often a special beauty, as you can see below.

                                                          Catalonian Silicon Valley?

Barcelona has still some parts from the Middle Ages, including a gothic cathedral (domicil of bishops) and a basilica (no bishop). And the gothic churches got competition. Since the late 19th century a private foundation has been constructing the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (image with the cranes above), designed by Gaudi. The construction works got rekindled in the recent years thanks to a growing flood of money (rising number of tourists who pay admission fees) and the technological progress, which has been reducing the construction costs. The model designers, who are in the construction process involved,  even use 3D-printers, which reminds to the fact, that Barcelona also became a technology center. The city is attracting a growing number of IT-companies, parts of the metropolis are becoming a kind of Catalonian Sillicon Valley.

The new developments are reflected in some modern elements like Frank Gehry’s 52m long golden fish sculpture “El Peix” (or is it a whale?), which was built for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

When you are in Barcelona you shouldn´t miss the museums.

The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) has surpising & provoking exhibtions, displayed in a fascinating building, created by the American architect Richard Meier (driveby).

The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya offers a foray to different epochs of art with a focal point of medieval paintings. I enjoyed the huge spectrum of styles which give an impression of the evolution of European art. Visiting the museum was like taking an academic course in art history (driveby). Above this paragraph you can see some of my favorites.

I also enjoyed the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, a cultural center and museum, which shows Tàpies´s works and also exhibitions of others (driveby).

And there is much more to see and to discover in Barcerlona.


Movies: The Clouds Of Sils Maria

(Drivebycuriosity) - Watching movies & stage plays is fun. But sometimes it is even more fun to look behind the curtain and spot the actors at work. The movie "The Clouds Of Sils Maria" by Olivier Assayas (writer & director) gives such an opportunity (imdb).

Maria Enders, an international movie star around 50, accepts again a role in a prestigious stage play, where she had kickstarted her career in her youth. Then she played the seductive assistant and lover of a ripe woman, who drove the other one to suicide, now she is cast in the role of the elder. The switch causes her a lot of doubts & and inner turmoils of course. The frequent & intense rehearsals together with her young & attractive female assistant seem to be a screen for her inner conflcits and a mirror for the play (this is a spoiler-free blog. If you want a synopsys you can find it here wikipedia).

The German-French-Swiss co-production continues very slow and focuses on the dialogues between 2 smart women. Psychological & philosophical conversations and musings about aging, relationships (between women), life strategies, theater business and much more replace action. The movie is partly  set in the awsome mountain region of the Swiss Alps. The name giving "clouds of Sils Maria" is a special weather phenomena which is awesomely photographed.

Juliette Binoche, as Maria, is the center of the movie. She is still one of the most beautiful and elegant actresses of today´s cinema. Again she displayed her thoughtful fragility covered with charm and I couldn´t get enough watching her. The gorgeous Kristen Stewart convinced as the perfect assistant, combining a kind of early wisdom with allure. Chloë Grace Moretz in the role of Maria´s casted stage partner brings some freshness into the sene.

"The Clouds Of Sils Maria" is a little cinema gem and not just for adorers of Binoche, Stewart and Moretz.