In a nutshell, it's this: When living in a city, it's not the city itself that causes you to gradually close down and carve out a private psychic space for yourself, inside your sunglasses and headphones... it's the people. It's the damn people.
Its the sideways glances (sometimes worse than sideways, but hey.. sorry you're such an unhappy person!), the offensive behavior (which is sometimes "universally" offensive, and other times it just points to a cultural difference), the traffic and the noise and the bustle. All because of people.
Now, don't get me wrong... Barcelona is what I would call an extremely "livable" city. These "people factors" I'm pointing out are really NOT all that bad here. Certainly not bad when compared to other cities in which I've spent time. And, I'm sure that these observations I'm having are not new, not even to me, but... one forgets after living in the desert for over a decade.
Something from Wikipedia caught my attention, something from the Spanish Language page "Arte Público de Barcelona" (Public Art of Barcelona). Here's the quote:
En el ámbito de convivencia urbana intervienen asimismo diversos factores, como los fisiológicos, los sociológicos y los psicológicos. En estos últimos cabría englobar las necesidades estéticas del individuo, la existencia en un entorno que procure una dimensión de retiro y descanso, de evasión de los problemas cotidianos, de un cierto componente de belleza que amortigüe la dureza de un entorno hostil como es a veces el ámbito urbano.
On the topic of urban living, several other factors are involved, such as physiological, sociological and psychological. In the latter it would be necessary to include the aesthetic needs of the individual, the existence in an environment that seeks a dimension of withdrawal and rest, evasion of everyday problems, a certain component of beauty that softens the harshness of a hostile environment, as the urban environment sometimes is.
So, the urban environment, if it is beautiful and carefully curated, can have the capacity to act as a foil, a balance, to the stresses of urban life. (Maybe this is why places like Los Angeles, in which the interpersonal factors are significantly reduced by dint of the fact there is so very little urbanized interaction with actual people, can get away with being so ugly.) But Barcelona is people-dense. And luckily, also very beautiful.
So this points us in the direction of a certain balance that needs to be struck. How to protect oneself from the psychic onslaught of people, while remaining open to the city, AND to those (thankfully quite plentiful) interactions with people which actually turn out to be lovely, and rejuvenating? I think that finding that balance is probably one of the key ingredients to successfully living in a city. You know those people who "had to leave the city because it was getting too intense"? They couldn't find the balance. And I'm not saying it's easy, or that I have found it. Some cities are undoubtedly harder than others, and some people are more sensitive than others, which is not a bad thing.
Jumping backwards a few paragraphs, to the idea that a beautiful urban environment can help mitigate the difficulties of city living, seems as good a segue as any to get into some pictures of sculpture, and of Barcelona.
The "monumental nude", or "desnudo monumental", is quite popular here. These are all from Plaça Cataluña, Barcelona's de facto central square.
These three are also from Plaça Cataluña.
Mermaid in Sitges
While we're on the topic of boobs... This is somewhat typical fare on "regular" buildings...
(But don't be blinded by the boobs, this is fantastic first-rate relief sculpture, and it's everywhere!)
But the prize for the strangest boobs really must go to the caryatids on this Poseidon sculpture!
Or wait, maybe this one gets the prize....
The Palau de la Musica Catalana, an amazingly ornate building in the Born neighborhood. It was hard to get a decent picture of this building as the streets are all very narrow. I am sure there are better pix on Google.
This is fairly standard stuff, I guess, for European cities. But it's beautiful, there is clearly a dramatic narrative being played out with the figures, and it obviously serves to connect the populace with the history of the place (if anyone ever stops to notice it, that is...)
Josep Granyer's "Meditación", or "Thinker Bull." A parody of Rodin's "The Thinker." Personally, I love it.
Another one by Granyer, "Coqueta", the flirty Giraffe.
Still outside, in the public realm... The outsides of churches are obviously full of sculpture, some of it quite spectacular. I'm not sure who this angel is supposed to be, but he looks serious.
And speaking of churches, Barcelona's most famous church, La Sagrada Familia, is a bonanza of outdoor sculpture. The entire place is basically one huge sculpture, festooned liberally with smaller sculptures. I could write a whole blog post on it (which I may or may not do; I am sure the topic has been covered ad nauseum). I will post only this one picture for now, of this figure which I personally like because of the rough, blocky treatment he's received.
Now let's go inside some churches...
For the most part, the churches and cathedrals of Barcelona seem to be open to the public, and as such are also part of the public realm.
A seated bronze guy, who is also a chair? Love it.
Wow. Very baroque.
OK, let's visit some galleries and museums. Here is Jaume Plensa's new work. He's a pretty famous Catalan sculptor. I must say, I do love it that I can just go to a gallery and see work like this in person, whenever I feel like it.
These two are the work of Gerard Mas, another super-talented Catalan sculptor. I happen to really love his work. Whenever it makes sense, I try to expose Kodiak to some of this culture which is so abundant here.
One of my favorite places in the city, so far, is the Frederic Mares Museum. Mares was a Catalan sculptor who was associated with Barcelona his whole life. Several of his sculptures grace the streets and squares of the city. He was also, however, a prodigious collector of anything sculptural or beautiful, and in the 1940's he donated his enormous collection to the city. It is now a huge and fantastic sculpture museum in the heart of the Gotico, just behind the central cathedral. The photo above shows two of many marble sculptures from ancient times. I guess people have been doing this sculpting thing for a while now.
Stone tomb from the Mares Museum.
Woman with Ermine, Mares Museum.
Adam and Eve and... wait, isn't there supposed to be a snake in the tree? I guess this is a slightly different take on the "temptation" theme.... Mares Museum.
Juan de Juni, Mares Museum. This piece is quite small, about two feet across the base. But look at the dynamism and emotion packed into this small package!
And wow... talk about emotion and dynamism! Mares Museum.
This is a panorama of just one room among maybe 60 or 70 rooms in the Mares Museum. I think you'll have to click on this one to see anything.
The museum also houses a nice collection of Mares' own work...
Which includes all sorts of work, from portraits....
To monumental nudes.
Let's allow Mr. Mares to take us back out onto the streets. Here is one of his, on Gran Via. (I must say, either boobs themselves were different back then, or some of these guys just never looked at them. Because they are not sculpted right. Leonardo Da Vinci was even worse. Look here if you don't believe me.)
OK, believe it or not I still have MORE pictures of sculptures that I would like to share with you, but I think this has gone on long enough. To bring things back around, I offer you one final picture on the theme of monumental sculpture improving the lives of city-folk....
Doesn't she look happy?
(Oh, and for those of you who are wondering what the hell we are doing over here... Christina is learning Spanish and Cello, I am brushing up on my Spanish, I'm working on a new clay portrait sculpture, we are finalizing some new ideas for proposals to European festivals, and nailing down new gigs for the summer months for some of the existing work. So there!)