Thursday, April 19, 2012

A little spirituality

I am writing to you from one of our quieter evenings here in Barcelona - I have been meaning to write for a while but (as suitably quixotic as it may sound) walking home from the supermarket at dusk along the streets lined with newly green trees really inspired me to sit down and tell you what has been happening for the past couple of weeks.

(On a random bookish note, I am currently reading Emile Zola's Therese Raquin and he describes these springtime trees as covered with "a light, pale-green lace", which I really liked - especially in contrast to the extremely dark nature of the rest of the novel. This is the second Popular Penguin I am reading that was kindly gifted to me by the bookshop when I left - I really love how they feel to pick up and race or meander through. And of course they're light enough to be perfect for travelling, a stance I will old-fashionedly and staunchly maintain in the face of Kindles. For the booklovers I know reading, for example My Green Bookshelves (great up-and-coming blog by the way from a friend and fellow ex-bookshopper, turned publishing student) - I also recently finished Jennifer Egan's Look At Me and Ali Smith's The Accidental. It was interesting to read these one after the other as they are both predecessors to the authors' hugely successful novels A Visit From the Goon Squad and There But For The respectively. They were very good but perhaps inevitably I found them both a little disappointing, partly because I felt they explored similar themes to their younger siblings that I loved so much, only less articulately.)

Right, forgive the foray into works of fiction. I think it is still a hangover from finishing university that I so relish having the time (or lack of guilty conscience) to read novels. For me, reading in our Barcelona bedroom or on the Spanish sun warmed grass is also one of the delights of travelling - I know that coming across these books in years to come will invoke the same feelings and scents, sights that surrounded me at the time.

So back to reality and the present - recently we were enjoying one of our frequent meals at Les Tapes on what happened to be the day before their 30th birthday. We took S and B one of those aluminium models that you can "make" [fold] yourself of a tuatara for their fishtank that sits opposite the bar and is a great source of enjoyment to them and customers alike. (Thank you to my mother for having the wisdom to tell me to put a few of these sorts of things in my suitcase!) Tuatara has since taken up residence there although he's not very sturdy so he seems to spend most of the time lying down after being knocked over by the fish. We were lucky enough also to be gifted 30th anniversary t-shirts and to celebrate with a drink after closing with S and B and a friend of theirs at a bar just down the road. It was wonderful hearing their stories and experiences, about how much has changed in 30 years, and I think we both felt quite privileged.

And just over a week ago we celebrated Easter. On Good Friday we wandered down to La Rambla to see the Easter parade taking place. I was completely overwhelmed by the number of people (particularly older people) who turned out to witness and call out ("guapa, guapa!!" - "beautiful, beautiful!!") to the huge Virgin Mary and Jesus statues on big, lavishly decorated carts being carried through the city. Easter (or Pasqua in Spanish) seems much more religious than commercial here - there were only a few Easter eggs in the supermarket and no posters of Easter bunnies with colourful baskets. Instead, "Easter cakes" (Mona de Pasqua) appeared in the windows of bakeries and cake shops (traditionally given to children by their godparents) and the city seemed to empty out as families travelled out of town to enjoy the long weekend. We stayed and I spent Saturday preparing the same food that my mother makes for Easter, on my own for the first time. This was quite strange for me but ultimately satisfying - seeing the same things take shape at my own hands that my mother made so special throughout my life. Finding all the right ingredients at the supermarket was also a triumph after a number of experiences when we have carried things home only to open them and say "...this is not what I thought it was going to be - but let's eat it anyway"!

Actually this doesn't only happen with supermarket shopping ... a while ago M and I tried a restaurant near our place that came highly recommended by various reviewers. Meson David did not disappoint as they served up a huge, delicious pork leg to M for just 8 euros. It's quite a big place and obviously very popular so we enjoyed sitting and watching tourists and locals alike enjoy the food and wine under the wooden beamed ceiling. When it came time for dessert the waitress bought us a menu in Spanish, as opposed to in English, which as always was a bit of a triumph for us because (we assume) it means our Spanish is half decent or at least we do not scream "tourist" when we open our mouths (generally even when we speak Spanish people are very quick to switch to English as soon as they realise we're not locals). So we ordered and I decided to go with the mysterious "musician's dessert with love" without knowing what it was. Well ... I was served up a four euro plate of nuts and dried fruit. Or what was effectively scroggin. We couldn't help laughing, even as I lamented coming to the other side of the world only to be served scroggin, and as we tried to figure out what nuts and dried fruit have to do with music or love.

Anyway, I suppose the week following Easter was a bit of a "religious" week in general for us (disregarding the numerous non-religious elements, obviously ...). On the Sunday we visited Santa Maria Del Mar, mentioned in my last post, and marvelled at the magnificent stained glass windows and enormous, ancient stone arches inside. A few days later we hopped on an hour long train ride to get to Montserrat - a village built around the religious effigies, symbols and centuries old hermits' dwellings hidden in a spectacular mountain. The name literally means "serrated mountain", a very apt description of the beautiful stony mass that stands to the northwest of Barcelona. Words (indeed pictures) actually feel a bit inadequate to describe the sight of and feeling or energy of the place. First, it is one of those slightly unbelievable and yet completely pure examples of nature at its best. Secondly the energy that this evokes combined with the spiritual nature of the place is undeniable.

We took the steep cable car from the train station - if you can spot it, that yellow speck in the bottom right third of the picture is the car packed with 35 people. This picture was taken by M who made it climbing up the whole mountain to the other side by the dimly visible cross pictured above. I turned back after half an hour of discovering how unfit I am and how ill-chosen my footwear was. Before we started out though we checked out the fantastic Basilica not far from the cable car stop. Unfortunately we missed the famous boys' choir (reputedly the oldest in the world) that normally sings there because they were on holiday but we did spot the Black Virgin statute that the place is known for and were, again, in awe of the church itself. Later, while M was powering up the mountain, I wandered up another path on my way down past sunlight dappled monuments of the Stations of the Cross and discovered, at the top, a carved wooden seat. It looked Hungarian from afar but I told myself to snap out of it because why would it be Hungarian? Sure enough though, it was! I couldn't believe it, in the middle of Spain's one of most magnificent sites...well, what can I say, we're everywhere. I am not ashamed to say I laughed out loud in delight all by myself up on that mountain track.

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