Wide Angle View: Antoni Gaudi’s Basilica Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Awesome. Inspiring. Surreal. Transformational. Meditative. Astonishing. Captivating. Beyond imagination. Crazy. No words can adequately describe the Basilica Sagrada Familia in Eixample, Barcelona, Spain.

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You can learn more about this architectural wonder by reading works of art historians, cultural pundits and architects than you can from me. So, I won’t say much more than this is Gaudi’s interpretation of God’s majesty and homage to the sacred family of living beings who inhabit his kingdom.

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Smack dab in the middle of this astonishing sculptural masterpiece is the Christ figure, arms outstretched, body on the cross, suspended under a canopy of lights. Is the architect asking us to suspend all disbelief?  He floats above us, naked, exposed, soaring and protected under an umbrella or cloud of gold. Color dazzles the interior through stained glass windows.

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The supporting columns are like tree trucks with limbs holding up the cavernous ceiling. It is a phantasmagorical dreamscape that can only conjure up what the imagination beholds.

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I arch backward, look up, see the bones of dinosaurs, the hull of a ship, the backbone of man, the spines of sea coral, cut glass, anemones, the eye of god.

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Gaudi lived and worked during the Art Nouveau-Modernism, Impressionism and Cubism eras. Once a strong supporter of the Anticleric movement in Spain, he embraced his renewed Catholicism with a fervor. The Basilica, unfinished, is his testimony to unwavering belief.

Sidebar: At about the same time that 19th Century anticlericalism gained a more solid footing in Europe, in Mexico, anticlericalism became the rallying cry of Mexican reformists with the confiscation of church property in 1824.Sagrada FamiliaBest21-13

Before we left the USA, I put out a call for advice about which lens (or lenses) to take. I was inclined to take only the lighter weight 50mm prime for my Nikon D7000 camera. I am trying to learn how to travel lighter. Thanks to advice from Lynn Nichols and Steve Zavodny (who is a pro pho), I relented and brought along the Tamron 11-16mm and the 17-55mm. Thankfully!

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Most of the photos on this post were taken with the wide angle Tamron lens so I could capture the magnitude of the space.

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We bought tickets in advance from the USA in order to avoid lengthy waits in line and chose to visit the Passion Tower, one of two that is open to visitors. After spending about 45 minutes in the sanctuary we rode an elevator to the top of the tower (at our appointed time), then returned to spend another two hours inside for reflection and photographs.

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By the time we left it was after 2 p.m. and time for tapas at La Catalana, just two blocks away.

Two Photo Workshops Coming Up in Southern Mexico!

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There is a lot of construction going on now. Huge cranes towering above are moving man and machinery as another tower is under construction. Many of the facade mosaic ornaments are covered in protective gauze. Heights are dizzying. Views from the tower top are magnificent. It’s like being in the turret of a medieval castle.

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Compare and contrast with Mexico? The art nouveau movement spawned the European romanticism of Mexico City’s renaissance during the Porfiriata. Catalan architects designed and built here. Examples include stained glass ceilings and construction techniques in the Palacio de Hierro and the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. Rivera brought his classical European training back to Mexico and adapted it to begin the Mexican muralism movement along with Siqueiros and Orozco.

Contact me if you are interested in a Mexico City art history tour:

Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

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Critics Sidebar: Our taxi driver had an opinion. He said the Sagrada Familia is a commercial tourism venture and not authentic to the original ideals of Gaudi. Since the building was unfinished when Gaudi died at age 74, it’s completion has been left to architectural interpretation of Gaudi’s original drawings which were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. He recommended we go to Montjuic to see the real Barcelona.

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Barcelona, Spain: Tapas at Midnight

We are still jet-lagged after two full days here in Barcelona and can’t seem to get the rhythm of sleep down. But, we have discovered the tap-tap-tap of tapas with a great orientation to Bilbao Berria tapas bar right down at the corner from where we are staying across from the Barcelona Cathedral.

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What’s the procedure, I asked our bar keep Alfre (muy guapo). It’s buffet, he said. Pick up what you like then put the wood stick in the container at your table. That’s how we charge you. I tell my sister, this is like eating dim sum.

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New dishes keep coming out of the kitchen to tempt you. I’m especially loving the anchovies and grilled cod. Oh, and then there is the aged jamon Iberico. Oh, and the deep friend camembert rolled in chopped pecans.

This is definitely not Mexico and it is too early for me to find any but the most superficial similarities. Compare and contrast. Can we drink the water? I asked the hotel staff. Madame, he replied, you are in Europe now. Well, we might be able to drink it but it doesn’t taste very good. Paper in the commode is okay.

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Here, it is tapas and pintxos, not tacos and tamales. Tipping is optional. Leave a euro (now valued at a little more than a dollar) on a twenty-dollar check, its sufficient.

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At many of the bars and at the stalls at the Boqueria market, a glass of wine or sangria or a beer on tap is included in the food cost, as is tax.  Try El Quim or Bar Central. Along the periphery are amazing seafood comedors with huge platters of grilled fish and shellfish. More about that to come.

Yesterday, I took over 400 photos at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. It will take me a while to edit and post these. We ended the day today with gelato equal to any offered in Italy. The city is swollen with tourists who speak languages I cannot name.

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I’m getting used to this Old World version of Spanish, with its tildes, cedillas and x’s that sound like sh. Some of the words are familiar, like digame, tell me, when I start to ask a question. Gracias is pronounced grathias as in Barthelona. Think Mexican Spanish with a lisp.

I’ll say goodnight now. We are nine hours ahead of you if you live in California, USA. It was two-days in the getting here. Food and art are great salves.

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Sunday in Santa Cruz, California. Next, Spain

On Tuesday, my sister and I are leaving for a three-week trip to Spain, postponed from last October because of my knee replacement surgery. The knee is not totally back to normal but I’m bringing my beautiful hand-crafted North Carolina walking stick procured from the Pittsboro Roadhouse to help traverse ancient cobblestones.

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Yesterday, I spent the evening with my 99 year-old mother. I’ve photographed her for publication in Minerva Rising,  Mothers issue and on my Facebook page. She still looks great. Though, from moment to moment, she may not remember our relationship, asks Are you Norma? and I reassure her that it’s okay to forget as we hold hands. Santa Cruz is a long way from Oaxaca. I try to get here several times a year.

This morning it’s foggy on the northern California coast. It’s errand and laundry day. Deciding what to pack for someone who always takes too much is daunting. I promised myself to take only one medium size suitcase. Same clothes with several different Oaxaca quechquemitls and rebozos. Layers. Learn to wash out underwear and socks on the road. Travel light. Hard for a collector.

Then, there’s the camera equipment. The internal debate. Should I bring only the prime 50mm lens, lightweight and easy to carry? In the old days before digital and zoom, the greats only used this lens to capture everything.

Or should I haul the 11-17mm wide angle and the 17-55mm pro, very heavy 27 ounces, photojournalism-style lens? Any advice out there? I will not give up my Nikon D7000 camera body, so please don’t suggest a point-and-shoot or my iPhone!

I will blog from Spain. The connection between Spain and Mexico is deep and long. This fascinates me. Mexican syncretism, her identity and her culture is rooted in both New and Old World.

So come along with us — to Barcelona, Bilbao and Granada — over the next few weeks. Who knows what or who will turn up? Maybe even Brigitte Huet and her husband Ivan Campant, Oaxaca’s silversmiths who returned to France last year.

P.S. I’ve started a Facebook Group: Mexico Travel Photography. Join and post your photos. Tell us what camera you use, lens type and settings. Let’s learn together!

P.P.S. Day of the Dead Photography Workshop in Oaxaca coming up in October.

 

 

Around the Zocalo, Sunday in Mexico City

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-138Sunday is family day in Mexico. Most people work a long six-day week often until eight or nine at night, so this is the only time they have together for an entire day. On this particular Sunday, the Zocalo is filled with families flying kites across the great expanse that looks as huge as Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

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I love to stay in the historic center of Mexico City to walk the cobbled streets, take in the murals and enjoy the street life. There is a deep sense of ancient history here reflecting Aztec roots. The Templo Mayor is nearby with an impressive archeological dig going on to uncover more of Tenochtitlan.

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For art glass lovers, two buildings boast art nouveau glass domed ceilings. The central atrium of the upscale department store Palacio de Hierro has a fine example. The other adorns the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. The hotel is at the corner of the Zocalo (entrance on Av. 16 de Septiembre) and the store is a block away.

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On this particular Sunday, the last before Easter vacation ends and Mexican school children must return to the classroom, we are approached by youngsters needing to complete their school assignments: interview a foreigner who speaks English and record the interview. It is almost dusk. Time is running out. Parents are at hand with tablets and hand-held devices to help get this done.

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We finish off the Zocalo stroll at the rooftop restaurant of Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico with a mango mezcal margarita rimmed with worm salt and a magnificent Zocalo view as the sun sets.

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Then, it’s off to Calle Isabel la Catolica #30 for a grand finale dinner at Azul Historico.

Be sure to catch the indigenous clothing gallery, Remigio, on the second floor of Isabel la Catolica #30 featuring hand-woven garments with natural dyes.  Right next door, avant clothing designer Carla Fernandez offers hand-carved wood bracelets from molinillo parts. Both shops close at 6 p.m. on Sunday, 8 p.m. other nights.

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In the same building, behind the central stairway, is a mural by artist Manuel Rodriguez Lozano called the Holocaust — not to be missed!

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Lots to do in just a few square blocks.

Some of the highlights of our Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Tour of Mexico City. Contact me if you want to join in winter/spring 2015-2016. MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-136

 

Peacocks and Xoloitzcuintle: Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum Garden

It’s not very common to get up close and personal with a peacock. Nor is it usual to come within a foot or two of the pre-Hispanic indigenous, Mexican hairless dog the Aztecs called xoloitzcuintle.

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Both are an integral part of the landscape at the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Mexico City that houses the largest private collection in the world of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paintings.

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The collection is exhibited in an ex-hacienda that Olmedo purchased in the 1960’s, then on the outskirts of Mexico City in Xochimilco near the last remaining Aztec floating gardens, accessible via gondolas that traverse the canals.  Today, thePeacocks-33

neighborhood of La Noria has been absorbed by the city sprawl of almost 25 million people. Sunday is the best day to visit when traffic is light.

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Olmedo was a long-time friend and patroness of Rivera, and a Kahlo classmate at the National Preparatory School. An astute and independent business woman, Dolores Olmedo not only purchased many of Rivera’s paintings but also those of Frida at Diego’s request.

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Rivera asked her to be executor of his estate and to preserve the contents of Casa Azul. She agreed not to open the bathroom/closet doors for fifteen years after his death.  Today her Foundation operates both the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum and Casa Azul.

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It wasn’t until after Olmedo died in 2002 that the closet contents were revealed. There is no clear explanation for why she kept the contents secreted away. Letters, drawings and the wardrobe that is now on display in the Casa Azul Museo Frida Kahlo annex exhibit area were uncovered revising the history of the Kahlo-Rivera relationship.

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The park-like grounds of the Olmedo museum attracts families and school children most weekends. There is a small restaurant with good, reasonably priced and basic Mexican food. The outdoor stage brings musicians and dancers from all over Mexico to entertain the crowds. Last weekend a band of musicians from Veracruz and Oaxaca played jarocho music accompanied by a versatile dancer.

Peacocks-10 Mostly, it’s the peacocks and the dogs who thrill the children. It’s mating season and there is full display of plumage and a lot of tail feather shaking going on.

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Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Tour with a knowledgeable art historian, coming winter 2015-2016. Let me know if you are interested in joining us.