Barcelona on the Brain

Bicing Station on Las Ramblas in Barcelona

Barcelona is one of those places that exudes a vibe I haven’t felt so vividly since the first time I stepped off the tour bus in New Orleans almost 20 years ago. New Orleans felt so tangibly thick with death, but so gloriously alive and awake and saturated with humanness at the same time. It’s a vibe that makes me so inexplicably happy to alive in this fragile frame, living the life I am lucky enough (at least in this moment) to be living.

Ultra-quick history lesson, only becuase I find it so strange:  The known history of this place dates back to the Stone Age (35,000 BC) with the discovery of Neolithic human fossils, but that was only the beginning: Barcelona was a Roman settlement that existed in a part of the city known today as “Barrie Gotic;” it’s a place that Caesar gave his own pet name to; it’s a place where wine and olive oil were produced and consumed in abundance, where a Frank named “Wilfred the Hairy” (named for having hair in places where no humans should have hair) conquered, where the Black Death, in the 14th Century decimated half the Catalan (native) population, with most of the remaining Catalan population massacred in a siege in 1713.

By 1900, Catalonian’s were getting so busy that their population of just 115,000 grew to over 1,000,000 by 1930. The city became a swirling vortex of anarchists, bourgeois regionalists, gangsters, police terrorists, and hit men. Rampaging mobs destroyed 70 religious buildings, people were shot in the streets, and no one really knew who was in charge. Anarchists ranged from peaceful idealists to hardliners who drew up death lists, shot priests, held kangaroo courts, and painted trams and taxis black and red (the colors of the anarchists), and Civil War broke out.

By 1940, with WWII at its peak, 35,000 anarchists were massacred, and turmoil continued in even more dramatic swaths. But somehow, Catalan’s managed to survive, defying the both Inquisitions and the missionaries, preserving their language and their culture throughout everything. And this melting pot of peoples and history is the place that Picasso, Dali, Gaudi and others called home, and it’s everything I imagined and more. I’m even writing this at my favorite cafe, just off of Las Ramblas, where Roman tombs were unearthed and preserved.

Part of what I adore about Barcelona is its laid-back vibe and the treasure trove of artistic expression sitting smack-dab in the mainstream. Gaudi, Dali, Picasso, Miro, Hemmingway, and many other artists and writers either lived here, lived near here, or frequented this town, and it’s easy to see why. I’ve been in many places in the world, but Barcelona has some kind, patient people unlike I’ve seen almost anywhere else.

4 Gats Cafe

At Quatro Gato (4 Cats), folks like Picasso, when he was just a pup at 17, hung out there and even had his first exhibition there. Gaudi would often get an Absinthe, and contemplate his work which consumed most of his life, leaving little time for anything else, including a woman. I felt lucky to be sitting in this space just reveling and soaking in the vibe.

Speaking of Absinthe Bars, Barcelona has a quintessential example called Bar Marcella. Smoke streaks the air in hypnotically undulating waves with its diffuse glow, the air is thick with the scent of Wormwood, conversation, and a warm, soft glow from the natural hardwood floors, tables, and bar. Cloudy, smoke-strewn mirrors drape themselves lazily around the edges of the bar, allowing peeks at oneself and those sharing this uniquely ethereal, stuffy space that soothes the soul and heart in ways difficult to explain. And it becomes obvious why Hemingway used to slump over his absinthes late at night, often with a Moleskine propped open with empty glasses on the bar; this place is one of those dives creative minds can’t resist. And, regardless of what one’s personal stance is on drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, coffee, or tobacco (and countless others), absinthe is in the same classification but makes the world take on a creamy, cushiony glow, alluring in its soft, fuzzy sheen that coats absolutely everything, and it’s now legal in the USA as well.  I adore this plant.

Bar Marsella Absinthe Bar Barcelona

I could have spent every one of my nights there, slowly sipping absinthe in an atmosphere so thick I could feel the bar itself sweating, making breathing ever so slightly labored in the process.  And that was another one of those moments where, no matter how much I savored it, there’s no way I could ever explain it. Places like these are saturated in so much energy, so much history, and something that feels absolutely and completely connected to the greater whole, to the divine purpose, to the very reason we are lucky enough to inhabit these fragile human frames for the briefest of moments.  Perhaps that’s the Absinthe speaking.

As happens with a very few places I’ve been; it also makes me realize how short life truly is.  I could easily spend several years of my life here, just enveloping myself in the creative energy that even the corner cafe seems to exude with such non-pretension and small-town warmth.

Anyway, there are more photos in my Barcelona Photo Album, but truly they don’t do this place justice, and worse; so much of my time was spent just soaking in a view or a moment or an energy that I knew may never come again, that I only thought of snapping a shot between those moments.

For example: Gaudi’s places have to be climbed on, walked through, peeked at, and just observed in any way possible to truly see in all their glory. The 2 hour train ride to Dali’s home town to visit the gallery he built for himself; where else can you put a quarter in an old car to make it rain inside the car for a minute, or look at the image of a beautiful woman, only to snap a shot of it an realize it’s a portrait of Abe Lincoln, or see an entire room devoted to a strange arrangement of furniture, that, when looked through a giant magnifying glass at the top of a short staircase, is a portrait of Mae West?

I only hope, in all I do or write or paint or whatever, to inspire others to enjoy their lives to the fullest; to truly soak in every moment you can because although no one ever seems to talk about it; these lives will be gone before we know it, and I feel infinitely blessed to realize this at a young enough age to make my dreams, in the best way I know how, to become real.

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