Today marks 1172 days since cancer came into our family. 1168 days since my husband and I walked through the doors of this hospital, hand in hand, for the very first time.
Those doors were the last thing my husband saw of the outside world, before being wheeled into an ambulance and brought home to die. He said, at that point, that a bag for life would probably be an unwise investment.
Today, 463 days since my husband died, and 343 days since my own diagnosis, I walk out of the same doors once again, on my own, to the outside world, for what we all hope will be the very last time. To freedom. To our children. To countless more days.
Here, they’ve given me the most precious gift – my life, wrapped up in a metaphorical box with a bow, when my husband couldn’t even begin to pick…
It’s a story that goes back to the 15th century, when Barcelona already had six hospitals. In 1401 these merged onto a new site in Raval, to offer improved care to the sick.
By the 19th century, these facilities were too small, too outdated, no longer really fit for purpose. A Catalan Banker, Pau Gil, put up the money to fund a truly enormous and visionary project: a whole community of buildings offering state-of-the-art care to the poor of the city. The plan was for facilities of the highest quality, designed in cutting-edge modernist style by cutting-edge Modernista architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
Modernism? Think of it as Art Nouveau, Catalan style. You’ll recognise it in the works of Antoni Gaudi. Montaner found inspiration from Moorish architecture. Playful looking mosaics and the light-flooded areas are the special feature of his buildings. What we noticed straight away was bold colour, bold decoration: rich-hued tiled roofs: and within, tiles and mosaics in sunny yellow, grass green, sky blue.
Sun, grass, sky. Why not remind the sick inmates of a cheerful world outside the hospital? Why not have light, airy, high-ceilinged rooms, tiled throughout for ease of cleaning, and because they would never become dingy and faded? Why not build underground tunnels, tiled in cream, so that patients could be moved round the site without being exposed to the elements? Why not build a decent well-lit operating theatre, well-stocked libraries for doctors to consult, and set all these buildings among gardens which patients and staff alike could enjoy?
This was a Christian foundation. Nuns provided nursing care until the 1990s, as they had done since the hospital’s earliest years Mosaics in the building told stories from the Christian tradition, such as that of Saint George slaying the dragon. Other carvings and statues relied on ancient legends. This frog nursing a baby frog, for example, is an old symbol of caring love.
Originally, men and women were separated, but later, the hospital was organised by specialism. Now, although research continues here, modern buildings behind continue the work of the hospital.
The foundation stone was laid in 1902, and facilities were developed until about 1930. Large parts of the site were never built at all, from lack of funds. This isn’t surprising. There is nothing of the workhouse about this place. It’s a beautiful, special site, fully deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage status, acquired in 1997. It only opened its doors to visitors a few years ago, and it’s not yet truly on the tourist trail, despite being just up the road from then Sagrada Familia which is always surrounded by hordes of tourists. Visit it now, while it’s still an oasis of calm. It’ll be somewhere you’ll remember forever.
I’d intended to go into the story of this place in more detail. But a fellow blogger, Restless Jo, whom I ‘met’ only recently, introduced me to a series of posts by a blogging friend of hers, Jude. Here’s a link to the first one, from which you can reach all the rest. She tells and illustrates the history of this place so well that, quite simply, I don’t have to.
Yesterday, we left Barcelona. As we walked from our hotel to the metro station down a quiet calle, we noticed these accidental collages: walls whose damaged plaster work revealed the original brick beneath; damaged multi-surfaced walls where graffiti had been added; brick walls juxtaposed with stonework, with decorated tile work, or with handsome brick decoration; a nursery school whose facade had been decorated with a festive collage of coloured streamers and children’s drawings.
We’ve just snuck over to Barcelona. Just for two and a bit days. Just to see Emily, because the last time we were together was in South Korea last autumn.
This morning was sightseeing. I’ll just show you a single photo of the Hospital de Sant Pau, a truly wonderful complex of modernist buildings, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll get the full tour once we’re back home.
This afternoon was hot. No better way to spend it than catching up with Emily over a leisurely lunch sitting in a tree lined square. It’s what the Spanish do best.
We were in Seville two years ago. Just like every other tourist, we wanted history, the sights, tapas.
Torre del Oro
The gardens of Alcazar Palace.
On our walk from the station to our hotel, down narrow back streets, we discovered Seville has other less publicised art works. Almost every garage door that we passed had been decorated: graffiti style, country scenes, market scenes and cars, especially cars…..
A few however, bridged the gap between the narrow back streets of our first walk just beyond the city centre, and the discoveries we’d make in the next few days, by depicting views of a city we came to love in our short visit.
I spoke to a friend the other day. A friend who was deeply upset, because one of his friends had left it too late to check himself out… and now has a cancer which can’t be cured. We don’t yet know how long he has. It’s heartbreaking, and more so because it could have been avoided.
In the meantime, I’ve been receiving – for two bloody years – requests to put a heart on my wall, or an eight ball as my status, or to accept the challenge of posting a black and white picture, or a no make-up selfie, to raise awareness for cancer. Well, challenge accepted. Here’s my black and white, no make-up selfie, no hair selfie, no boob selfie, and no husband selfie. Our most recent portrait together, a few weeks ahead of our fifteenth wedding anniversary. ❤️
You don’t raise awareness of cancer by putting little…