Today we went to Cosmo Caixa. It is, quite simply the best science museum we have ever been to. Interactive, engaging, visually stimulating, informative. Even Anaïs, at 16 months old was kept interested.
I’m sending you some postcards with no attempt to explain anything,but in hopes that one day, you to will have the chance to visit.
And that’s it… tomorrow night we’ll be in England, and on Tuesday, home. It’s been quite an adventure. We’re not really ready for it to end …
We’re having a quiet day. We’re exploring Premià’s change from fishing village to dormitory town via its skirmish with industrialisation in the 19th century. Few signs are left of its days as a textile town, like many in Catalonia.
But here’s something we can’t get our heads round. The textile and gas industries depended on coal. And the coal was transported from Barcelona by rail, on the very first trainline in Spain, opened in 1848.
But where did the coal come from? Asturias, some of it. But most of it came by sea from England. Just think: England, all the way down the coast of France to the Iberian peninsula which had to be skirted virtually in its entirety. It seems economic madness, but it can’t have been.
The station still exists. The nearby docks hardly at all. One man and his dog play in the shallows of la Descàrrega. I’m sure they don’t give a thought either of this area’s industrial past, nor of its more recent role in the Spanish Civil War. Bunkers were erected here to protect the railway signals from attack by Francoist troops, and you can see their remains in the featured photo..
Daughter Emily has lived in and around Barcelona for ten years now, so we feel well-versed in its tourist destinations. It’s fun for a change to get to know different neighbourhoods.
Today, we explored Sant Andreu, which was until the later 19th century an entirely separate town, a textile town, the home of Fabra i Coats (surely you or your mum had a sewing box full of brightly coloured Coats threads, though they won’t have come via Spain?). This factory complex is now an arts centre, not very busy this rainy day. And at Christmas time, it’s transformed into a toy factory for the Three Kings to collect the gifts they’ll deliver to the children of Barcelona at Epiphanytide. It’s a popular family destination at that time of year.
Our explorations began and ended with churches. First the church of Saint Andreu de Palomar of course, which gives the area its name …
… and then Sant Pacià, which we were keen to see, as its mosaic floor was created by Gaudí in his early days. Irritatingly, both buildings were shut.
Never mind. Mooch about with us and enjoy the cobbled streets of the old town, its Modernista buildings and independent shops: orange tree lined and bougainvillea bedecked. The area has a great feeling of community. We’d cheerfully live here.
Saint George is patron saint of England, Catalonia, Portugal, Ethiopia, and probably a few others besides. And today is Saint George’s Day. We tend not to celebrate him much here in England, perhaps partly because the flag of Saint George has largely been appropriated by the EDL and similar extremist political groups, and drunken football fans.
That’s not the case in Catalonia though. No! It’s a national holiday (Catalonia clings fiercely to its independence). Men will give a single red rose to the women they love – not just sweethearts and wives, but their sister, their aunt or their friend and colleague at work. Women will respond by offering a book. That’s because in 1995, UNESCO declared 23rd April as a world-wide day to celebrate books and reading, choosing this day because it’s the one on which both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died in 1616. England has to be different, and celebrate the day in March.
Here’s a short video catching something of the party atmosphere in Barcelona, in happier times before That Pandemic. I’ll bet it’s a bit quieter this year.
And why offer a red rose? Well, that’s all down to the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. Here’s an explanation in Spanish. You don’t speak Spanish? Don’t worry. I think you’ll understand almost every word.
For this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge, Ann-Christine asks us to think about curves. What a big subject! Flicking through my photos, almost every one has a curve in it somewhere or another. How to limit it? In the end, I decided to go with curves-as-frames.
There are deliberate curves as framing devices, as here in Studley Royal, where the estate gates are placed to emphasise the view straight down towards Ripon Cathedral.
Or here where the band on a bookshop barge on the Regent’s Canal in London has organised an arch above the musicians.
Or here, where a metal arch has provided an impromptu frame, so long as you choose your point-of-view. This is Harlow Carr Gardens, Harrogate ….
… or here, where a handy metal arch can be encouraged to frame the Maritime Museum in Barcelona.
Bridges may be arched, and garden entrances, even if not curved themselves, are often softened by climbing plants.
Let’s go to more serendipitous framing in the natural world. Here’s my grandson at Brimham Rocks.
And finally, we’ll go to Fountains Abbey, where I spend so much time. I’ve chosen two different views of the Abbey, one taken in high summer, then the other, shown as the featured image, in autumn. In each case, Huby Tower has been framed by leaves cascading in gentle curves.
Civic statues. The great. The good. The bad. The politicians, the soldiers, the rulers and poets. Women? Not so many. But the overwhelming number of civic statues are of people.
Oddly, in Barcelona there’s a lobster, a ten metre long fibreglass lobster by Spanish artist Javier Mariscal. Originally, it fronted a seafood restaurant, but when the place closed down, the city council in Barcelona bought and restored it, and installed it on Passeig Colom in Port Vell.
One of my favourite places in Barcelona is the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, which I’ve written about, here and here. It’s a hospital ahead of its time, begun in the late 19th century, set in gardens for the patients to enjoy. Gardens containing odd little delights to spot such as this frog, crouched above a window.
Walking down a street in Barcelona, we spotted this papier-mâché guitar suspended from a drainpipe.
Clever stuff. You take your time to go and look. And there, can you see? There’s the name of a guitar teacher and his phone number. Just get in touch, and you’ll have taken your first steps towards mastering playing the guitar.
We’re still in Barcelona you see. But we could be anywhere in Catalonia or Aragon. And we’re still with the scatological. Caga Tió is a log. A log with special powers. He’s a poo log, who excretes presents. Children must look after him well before Christmas, feeding him with dried beans, bread or orange peel. But when the festival arrives, they must beat him, hard, until he produces their presents. Whilst beating him they might sing this song:
We’re leaving Christmas behind now. In Barcelona, and Spain generally, things are just hotting up. Tonight, the Three Kings will progress into town, and tomorrow, extended families will get together to exchange presents, in memory of those Wise Men who toiled over field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star to bring gifts to the infant Jesus. (Well. It’s Covid Time. No more than 10 in a family group this year)
I only planned to tell you about the tenth day of Christmas, but Susan of London Senior took the view that I’d started, so I ought to finish too. So here we go: it’s a little rude, but don’t blame me …
If you visit Catalonia at Christmas time and take a look at any crib scene, there at the back, somewhere behind the infant Jesus will be a figurine – a caganer – squatting down doing A Big Job, a Number Two: choose your own euphemism. The message seems to be that we are all sisters and brothers under the skin: mighty or humble, rich or poor, old or young, we all have the same kinds of body – and bodily functions, so get over yourself and don’t give yourself airs and graces. All are Equal in the Sight of God.
These photos were taken a few years ago. The roll call of Those in Charge seems to have changed a bit – can you spot Gordon Brown here? But you’ll see someone you recognise, I’m sure.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me