Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tom, the Coolest Dog You'll Ever Meet.

This is Tom.
¡Hola! He probably understands Spanish better than you do.

Tom is a golden labrador, living The Dream. He runs, he hunts ducks, he gets his stomach petted. Life is good. 
Tom is also the coolest dog I've ever met. He's extraordinarily friendly, tolerant, and caring. He never lets the children roam away alone--he's always there, making sure they're safe. And even the adults, when he decides to walk with a group, he takes care to assure himself that every one is accounted for.

"Eso perro es santo."

I met Tom today in my adventure to the country. About a month ago, I had mentioned to one of the directors of my study abroad program that I loved horses. Coincidentally, she told me that she had a friend whose family owned a giant farm about an hour outside of Sevilla and that someday we could go out and visit it. With a bit of luck and a lot of sun, we set off to a farm on the outskirts of the famous Doñana National Park. The cityscapes of Seville gave way to the rolling countryside, filled with rows and rows of gnarled olive trees. The Seville province is actually the world's greatest producer of table olives, and Jaen (another province in Andalucía) is one of the greatest producers of olive oil. 
Eventually, we turned down a winding and unpaved road onto the farm. 

The farm is a family event. There are seven houses; a center one where the matriarch and patriarch live, and six others for their children which in turn house their children's spouses and children. You can basically kiss privacy goodbye. 

From the houses, we walked to the stables and saw beautiful Anglo-Arab horses, which are supposed to be the "perfect" breed of horse. When we walked into the courtyard, the dogs chasing after us, the horses stuck their heads curiously out of the stalls to observe the new visitors.

After our trip to the stables, we walked back to the house and got lunch ready. Well, actually just Maria got lunch ready; the rest of us contributed by eating pieces of incredible half goat-half sheep cheese. 
We were in the kitchen and they were trying to explain to me what made Iberian ham "pure," but I didn't know any of the vocabulary. We finally figured it out, but afterward, the mother turns to me and says, "Necesitas campo." 

I couldn't agree more. I love the city and its chaotic atmosphere, but there is nothing like an open field and the shade of a tree to ease your soul. Add in some sunshine, and suddenly even the most severe pessimist starts to see the other half of the glass. Sitting at the green picnic table, soaking up the rays and breathing in fresh air, I was content. Relaxed. Zen. Well, as zen as you could be at a table of four children.  
Lunch was nearly a religious experience. Nearly everything we ate was grown on the farm; meat, vegetables, potatoes, the most divine fresh olives, tortilla of asparagus picked that morning. The sun was shining, the food was delicious--I was in heaven! 

Sadly my hopes of horseback riding were dashed because of a little detail called liability, so instead of galloping through a flowered field, I drove a coach lead my a team of majestic steeds.

Ok, so maybe that was exaggerating a little...
It was an ornery Shetland pony hitched up to a cart. Ponies, as it turns out, are not as cute as they appear. I guess I understand...if someone tied me up to a wagon and expected me to drag around lazy humans, I wouldn't exactly be compliant. But Pony (who was quickly named "Hippy" due to his long and luscious locks), trotted through the farm after a stern talking to and I learned how to drive a cart. While we went, the children and Maria sang a little song: 

Corre, corre caballito
Trota por la carretera
Corre, corre caballito
El cuadro te ya espera 

These aren't exactly the lyrics, but this is what I remember them's the real song: 

I asked Maria how life was like here, in this idyllic swath of paradise. She told me that she loved it, at least until her parents wouldn't let her go out at night to Sevilla, which is an hour away. I tried to imagine what it could have been like with all of your cousins around you, surrounded by flowers and animals. When they were growing up, she said, they weren't allowed to watch TV or play videogames. They had to entertain themselves outside on the fruits of the land. With a backyard like this, I can't imagine it was too difficult. I have to say that agree with their parents' decision. It would have been a shame to waste all of this by staying inside. 

After perfecting my driving skills, we tied up the pony for a snack of chocolate and bread. This was literally a sandwich of bread and a bar of chocolate.
"The snack of the country," Maria assured us. I could get used to this. 

Eventually, the shadows began to lengthen and the children grew tired, signally the day's final stages. We returned Hippy to his stall, closely escaped being trampled by young mules, and pet Tom one last time. 

In a busy life of running around, it was nice to get away for the city, out to the rolling fields that I love; for a wonderful day spent entirely in Spanish. 


Monday, April 1, 2013

Me and Gaudí

When Antoni Gaudí graduated from the School of Architecture in Barcelona, the principal Elies Rogent said, "I don't know whether we have given the qualification to a madman or a genius."
When looking at Gaudí's work, one can understand the sentiment. It is colorful, passionate, and bizarre. It holds no reason, yet makes perfect sense.

I fell in love with Gaudí in the fading sunlight of a clear day, when the triumphant chariot glowed golden atop La Cascada in Parque de la Cuidadela. The park is pretty, wide, and interesting, but La Cascada is by far its best feature. It is a giant fountain that Gaudí helped to design for the Universal Exhibition in 1888. La Cascada is a delight to the eyes, a harmonious tribute to the ocean, complete with dragons, seahorses, and Aphrodite rising from a seashell. It was the most beautiful fountain I've ever seen in my life. My love only grew from there.

La Cascada
The root of Gaudí's genius lies in the blending of three key elements: the classics, fantasy, and nature. Gaudí studied everything, from the shapes of a leaf to the composition of a molecule. To me, Gaudí's work represents unlimited possibilities. He tackled a subject often tried by many, and made one key change: he didn't try to imitate it. He celebrated it. His art is weird, colorful, and intricate, because nature is weird, colorful and intricate. His buildings are unexpected and beautiful, rampant with organic lines waving and curling around. In Gaudí's world, straight lines don't exist.

Casa Milò, aka La Pedrera

La Sagrada Familia (which means "Sacred Family") was my favorite. In my time in Europe, I have been fortunate enough to see many beautiful churches. But as I have discussed before, the truth is that once you've seen one overwhelming, intricate cathedral, you've seen them all. I know, its a horrible thing to say that these behemoths have become passé, but they look awfully similar. With the exception of La Sagrada Familia. Gaudí started his pièce de résistance 1882 and even now, in 2013, it is not finished. Like a never ending story, it seems fitting that this temple of creativity and faith should carry on with a complex life of its own. 

La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí's most famous work
The Basilica, which looks like a wet-sand-dribbled castle, towers over you, overwhelming you with intricate details of the Bible etched into its facades. When you enter, you don't enter into a sanctuary. You enter a forest.

The ceiling of La Sagrada Familia 
Tall columns soar up into the high rafters of the Basilica, meant to imitate trunks of trees. Overhead, huge stone palms interlock to form a canopy to shelter the congregation. But the best part is the windows and windows of stained glass. Instead of having images in the windows, there are just millions of fragments of colors, all chromatically arranged to blend into the different hues of the rainbow. When the light shines threw, the Basilica is bathed in multi-colored light that can only be described as magical. It was so overwhelming--I can safely say that it is the only church that has ever rendered me speechless.

The stained glass in the Basilica. I know.

We traversed away from the city center to the Park Güell, which is built into the side of a hill. From a wide terrace, you can see all of Barcelona and the blue blanket of the sea. Here you can find the best example of trencadís, Gaudí's invention of using the broken scraps of azulejos (colored tiles) and creating mosaic-like surfaces. Just another example of his brilliance; instead of wasting a perfectly good tile, he incorporated it into his artwork.

Needless to say, my enthusiasm for Gaudí knows no bounds. Give me a good cup of coffee and about two hours, and I could talk about Gaudí until the mosaic salamanders came home. It's difficult to describe my passion; I just get him. His objectives, his weirdness, his colors--they all "speak to me" in that cheesy artsy way.

So maybe I'm a little biased, but before you write him off as a madman, consider his genius first.

Great example of trencadís

Antoni Gaudí and I met on March 16th, 2013, and I'll never stop falling in love. 
Me and Gaudí in Park Güell