February 2003- Barcelona Museums.
Our life in Barcelona has settled into some
We take Spanish
(whoops, Castilian) lessons through the city's Adult Education program,
5 hours a week for just 7 euros (about $7.60) -- quite the bargain!
The classes meet in the evenings, and since we're in different classes,
one or both of us are in school for an hour or 2 each weekday evening.
We've finally got to the point where we can hold some everyday conversations
in Spanish, so we try to do that as much as possible. But for both
of us, speaking is a one - word - at - a - time proposition.
weekend, we're racing on a 25' Beneteau that reminds us a lot of
our old J/24. Our skipper is Irish and his fiancée is Dutch-American
but is not sailing because she's pregnant. Rob does jib and spinnaker
trim, the two Dutch crew members handle backstays and pit, and the
Frenchman does foredeck. (Last weekend he couldn't race because
he was going to Paris to get married, so Andi did foredeck.) English
is the language on board, but sometimes Spanish or Dutch creeps
in, and other times we have to explain or point at something that
is missing from a crew member's English-sailing vocabulary. We've
also done some boat work with them and enjoy the post-race socializing.
Many of the
cruisers here seem surprisingly insulated from Barcelona life, and
Andi has taken on a little crusade to get them "into" this fascinating
place. She reads in the weekly 'Guia del Ocio' (Guide to Leisure)
about special events in Barcelona, translates the descriptions from
Spanish into English, and announces them to the cruisers on the
daily VHF radio net. There are also social events within the marina:
a Thursday morning coffee get-together, BYO barbecues on most Sunday
afternoons, and occasional "special events," such as a trivia quiz
at Miguel's, our local watering hole. In between these routine activities,
we've been doing some work on the boat, with which we will not bore
you; suffice it to say that the "to-do" list never seems to get
much under 100 items, no matter how hard we work.
With all this
going on, it's surprising that we've found the time to visit some
of the many museums in the city. Different museums have free admissions
on various days of the week or month, so we've been timing our visits
to these. As with the strange opening hours typical of Spain, these
free days are unpredictable. Some are the first Saturday of the
month, or the first Sunday, or the first Thursday. Others are for
special fiesta days, and some (we suspect) are random.
they do or don't do, the Spanish do know how to do museums. Here
are some that we've particularly enjoyed:
The Museu National
de Art de Catalunya (MNAC) is housed in the Palau National, a huge
and grand edifice built for the 1929 international Exposition on
the side of Montjuic, one of Barcelona's hills. The incredible building
is matched by its remarkable art displays. Apparently in the early
20th century, some Catalan art historians realized that numerous
small churches and chapels in the mountainous areas of Catalonia
near Andorra were abandoned and/or in really bad disrepair. These
churches and chapels had frescos dating from the 11th to 13th centuries.
Somehow the historians managed to remove the frescoes and bring
them to MNAC, where they constructed columns, arches and apses in
the exact size and shape of the original buildings, then mounted
the fresco fragments in place. Each chapel includes a small scale
model of the original, a photograph of how it looks now (i.e., falling
down), and a map of Catalonia showing its location, along with a
scholarly explanation of the significance of the work. There are
over 15 of these little chapels. It's way cool.
The Museu Frederic
Marès is the private library, studio and art collection of an eccentric
and apparently really rich sculptor. It's housed in a lovely old
building that was once part of the royal palace (see below). The
courtyard, with fountain and orange trees, dates from the 13th century
and the entryway still bears the 16th century royal coat of arms.
Marès had wide interests in collecting, and when he hit on something
to collect, he got lots of them. There are room after room of medieval
wooden Catalan crucifixes and "Mother of God" carvings (about which,
more later). More curious though, was his interest in "everyday
life" objects from the early 20th century (he lived from 1893-1991).
His "Sentimental Museum" contains rooms full of hair combs, fans,
keys, playing cards, eyeglasses, shoe buckles, etc. Quite weird.
But what we really enjoyed was a temporary display explaining the
restoration of a 16th century Flemish multi-paneled painting (polytych),
featuring religious scenes/themes painted in oils on wood. The partially
restored painting is accompanied by a very scholarly explanation
of the techniques used to determine its origins, the paints used,
the original colors, and the way to restore it without further damaging
it. One reason we (or at least Rob) liked it was that one of the
analytic methods mentioned was a mathematical process called Fourier
transforms. (We realize that Fourier transforms will be a mystery
to most of you, and in fact their precise use in this context was
a mystery to Rob, but it was neat to see anyway.)
two museums above, we've now seen over a hundred "Mother of God"
statues (and paintings). The statues are generally smaller than
full-size, and depict the Virgin Mary seated with a little male
figure, obviously representing Christ, on her lap inside the crook
of her left arm. She frequently holds a fruit in her hand -- an
apple or pomegranate -- and he faces the viewer and holds his hand
up in blessing, with two fingers raised. He sometimes but not always
has an orb or book in his other hand. Of course, there are variations
(sometimes he holds the fruit and she holds the orb), but the striking
thing about these sculptures is that the Christ figure is almost
always too mature to be a baby. Sometimes he appears as a boy of
some 8-10 years, sometimes as a little grown man. In a very few
of the Mother of God sculptures, Mary has her left breast exposed
and is proffering it to this little man. In all but one of these,
he stares steadfastly at the viewer, spurning the offered breast;
but Andi claims to have noticed one in which he has her nipple in
his mouth. Rob must have missed that one -- it's easy to sort of
glaze over when confronted with dozens of almost identical figures
in the same room. We assume the discordant age/maturity of the Christ
figure has something to do with the Trinity, but beyond that, it's
of the History of the City is the former palace of the Catalan-Aragon
monarchs, who lived in it from the 10th to 15th centuries. You enter
up the same stairs that Columbus took when he returned from his
voyage of discovery, into the throne room where Ferdinand and Isabella
received him. This impressive room had been totally hidden under
(behind?) a Baroque chapel when the palace was converted to a convent
in the 18th century, and was rediscovered intact in the 20th century.
But the best part of the museum is entirely underground: an entire
section of the Roman town of Barcino. You walk through and over
(on see-through floors) the original pathways, shops (the vats in
the dyer's still show blue dye, and some of the wine merchants terra-cotta
casks are intact), walls, and drainage systems. It's the largest
underground excavation of any ancient city in Europe, and very well
displayed and explained.
this report at least) is the Maritime Museum. Again, the building
is as much an attraction as its contents. It is the Royal Shipyards
of Barcelona, which began building ships for the Catalan-Aragon
empire in the 13th century. The Shipyards are considered the world's
greatest standing example of civil (non-religious) Gothic architecture,
and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally right on the waterfront
with slipways, but now about a block inland, the building consists
of a series of huge arched bays where over 20 ships (galleys) could
be constructed simultaneously. To illustrate this, the museum features
a life-size reconstruction of a 16th century galley -- some 80 meters
(200') long. It's an awesome sight. The commentary says that the
oarsmen (over 300) were chained to their seats, where they ate,
slept, and defecated in addition to rowing, and contemporary accounts
say that galleys could be smelled for miles before they were seen.
Definitely believable. The Museum also has both models and examples
of many watercraft (especially Mediterranean) and historical maps,
including those used by Magellan and Vespucci. As fond as we are
of our own maritime Museum in Newport News, we were awed by this
And those museums
barely get us out of the Middle Ages! We have yet to explore the
Modernista buildings, the Miro, or the many other weird little other
museums (Chocolate, Shoes, Funeral Coaches, Sewer, Perfume, Bulls),
but we're working on 'em!.