I can’t help but see the world through a New Zealander’s eyes. There I was in Barcelona, the Spanish city known for the spectacular, organically shaped buildings of Antoni Gaudi and I was having flashbacks of my childhood summers at Piha.
It was at Gaudi’s Casa Battllo that my formative West Auckland years came rushing back.
It is one of the architect’s most celebrated buildings; the exterior looks like it’s made of skulls and bones, functioning as balconies and support pillars. Such organic form and function.
I was completely charmed by the way Gaudi evoked a sense of the sea in the design. The wave-like shapes of the walls and the dappled light that poured through the extensive skylight had a familiar aesthetic that took me all the way back to Piha. It’s lovely to think of such pleasures being universal.
Casa Battllo is a museum, which gives a rich history of the designer,
illustrating how his work influenced rationalist architecture, which followed some years after the erection of Casa Battllo.
There are clever 3D viewing devices to show how the building would have looked furnished with his specially designed furniture.
So, to the sea itself. As I wandered towards La Barceloneta, a beachside neighbourhood, it became apparent the sea is a huge part of the physical lives of Barceloneses just as it is for many New Zealanders. Beach towels hung from every second balcony and people strolled around eateries and chiringuitos (beach bars) in bikinis and board shorts. I immediately felt at home.
The beachfront was packed. Gorgeous locals sunbathed topless alongside a group of ruddy-faced football fans from England who sang pub songs while they steadily burned off the top layer of their skin. All part of the charm, and I enjoyed taking it all in, wrapped up in a sarong and hat and absolutely drenched in sunscreen. The bright pink boys were a cautionary tale that, without Mediterranean skin, I was not destined for the glowing tan I may have imagined.
By day I strolled around the narrow streets — a happy accident that I couldn’t find a taxi.
It’s the perfect city in which to wander and people-watch. It made me realise how differently we engage with our surroundings when we aren’t following maps on our phones, eyes downcast.
In the evenings, I ate tapas in alleyways surrounded by the hubbub of the main street La Rambla as locals and tourists alike promenaded. It was easy to enjoy local musicians and buzzing city streets. In Auckland, my only memory of busking was myself at the Kelston mall, playing a fairly horrendous rendition of Silent Night on the recorder. Watching the street performers in Barcelona, I realised that here busking is a very serious business.
One of the most remarkable examples I saw was a tower of men, flipping from great heights on to concrete. Safe to say I was ashamed to have only a couple of euros in change to give them.
I’d really like to take my mum and dad to Barcelona. They are both artists and would be so enthralled with this bohemian city that celebrates the alternative. I promise not to pack my recorder.