Barcelona: The History

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

If you like places that wear its history on its sleeve, you’ll adore Barcelona. It’s a perfect mix of Roman, medieval, and modern and you can find traces of era all over the city.

For example, in the main square, we stumbled upon some traditional fall festivals that included large “giant” figurines that are paraded in the streets on holy and fest days (and seem to have some Celtic or pagan origins, at least according to some historians) and acrobats which seem to a Catalan tradition.

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For those into conquest, trade, and epidemiology, the court where Isabella of Spain supposedly received Columbus in audience before his voyage is a nice check in.

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And the architecture everywhere is fantastical…until you start to learn how much of it is a lie!

What I loved best about visiting Barcelona and hearing about its history is that the people of this city seem to have been amazingly inventive and innovative with their town. No precious nonsense about accuracy here, what they want is good show. So for instance, when there was a grand exhibition being held in Spain, they thought their cathedral was a bit drab. Romanesque architecture is by definition bulky, angular, and squat. This simply would not do. The enterprising populace decided to commission a faux gothic facade to the entrance in stead. It looks like it’s from the late medieval period, but in fact dates from the 19th century.

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Glance down the side streets and you can see the original, rather less impressive and unadorned walls.

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This triumphal arch is a great might-have-been because it was the original site for an edifice deemed so ugly that the people refused to allow it to be built. And so the Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris instead. Oops.

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The sand was perhaps my favorite story. The Spanish coast on the Mediterranean is rocky and not particularly good for holiday postcards and so when the Olympics were held here and a great influx of tourists expected, our proactive natives again rose to the challenge. Tons of sand was imported from the Middle East and palm trees from Hawaii–none of the tropical foliage you see in the city is native to the area, according to our guides. Marine sand is also different from desert sand, with a different texture and feel due to the polishing of waves rather than wind–meaning the beaches are rather rough to walk on. Doesn’t deter people, though.

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And finally, the iconic Sagrada Familia is an absolute hodge podge because the original plans by Gaudi were lost in a fire. Rather than give up, dozens of architects and artists have been involved with the project and instead of trying to replicate the style of the master, they each have left a different and unique stamp on the area of the basilica they were assigned to. Far from Gaudi’s entrance opposite to this which commemorates the birth of Christ, this doorway memorializes his death in a darkly modernist style. My impious observation was that the statues of Roman guards looked like Cylons from Battlestar Gallatica…but I stand by this observation.

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A completely mad and constantly evolving city!

Weekend Links

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
― Allen Saunders

Hi kittens, it’s been a busier than initially anticipated week–although a pretty good one all things considered. And yet I owe you a links post and so, behold. This weekend is about getting some holiday shopping sorted and cleaning. Grown up stuff. Pray for us.

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Beyonce and Hamilton mix–SDS catnip!

More catnip, old maps found in amazing places.

This tweet made the political realm bearable for me for me this week. That micro expression of pain… Not to cause a comment war, kittens, but what are your thoughts on Governor Romney’s hat being in the ring for a Cabinet pick? Genuinely curious. I range from, “Mitt, back away! I didn’t like or vote for you, but for gods sake, keep your integrity!” to, “Thank goodness, an adult in the room…”

Resident journalist and Friend of the Blog Caitlin weighs in for some tips on how to avoid fake news and intelligently consume investigative and informative media. Facts, not opinions.

Noooo!

A little holiday travel fashion inspiration for you.

Coming to America.

Powerful read.

“Millennial pink” is a shade. And it’s powerful.

Preach.

 

Five Things I Loved in November

“It is good people who make good places.”
― Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

Time to run down the things that brought me joy this month in spite of some pretty crushing political and social disappointment, and not a little anxiety about the state of the world. But there are a lot of small pleasures and a lot of good art and creativity to be had. What got you through the month, kittens, and what’s worth sharing? Let me know in the comments.

Image via IMP Awards.
Image via IMP Awards.

Arrival. I’m not an aficionada but I do love smart science fiction and this film was nothing if not intelligent. So many sci fi films are silly or devolve into smashy smashy slugfests that aren’t actually very interesting to watch–not so this one. Arrival starts with a basic set of assumptions, that most scientists would likely cheer for, that rather than being humanoid, able to live in our atmosphere, and have similar social and communication structures to human beings any alien life we come into contact with is likely to be so fundamentally different from us as to make connection near impossible. So, how do we connect in that case? More I cannot say, since the plot and the theme are one and the same, but if you enjoy really thinking about movies, give this one a shot.

 

Image via Nars
Image via Nars

NARSissist Amour, Toujour L’Amour palette by Nars. This was a late summer beauty indulgence that I didn’t give a proper trial to until this month but this thing is gorgeous and is going to get some serious use this holiday season.

 

Image via Netflix.
Image via Netflix.

The Crown. Yep, another Netflix binge happened. The costumes are stunning, the set pieces grand, and the topic one of the most documented and simultaneously private families in the world. I have a few quibbles about some aspects of historicity but have mostly sucked down this gorgeous series in gulps.

 

Image via Heist Studios.
Image via Heist Studios.

Heist tights. Black tights are de rigeur in London this time of year and I inevitably run through a couple of pairs a season as snags and laddering regularly claims sacrificial victims. However I came across this brand through their (clever and excellent) brand campaign, read some reviews, and decided to give them a try. The options for higher waistbands sold me as there’s nothing more uncomfortable than than a waistband that either digs into your skin or, worse, goes wandering throughout the course of the day… Nope, I’m not being paid to rave about these tights, I just love them. Take advantage of the coupon code I got with my order to get 20% off if you are so inclined! They ship worldwide when last I checked.

 

rulers

Rules for Rulers, by CGP Grey. Another win for this YouTube creator, this video is a nice little primer for anyone thinking about politics right now (and we should all be thinking about it right now). The section around minute 10 is particularly cringe inducing at this moment in history. You want to rule? Are you sure? No man rules alone…

Required Eating: Cal Ticus, Sant Sadurni d’Anoia

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

If you’re feeling peckish but tired of the main city of Barcelona, how about–and I seldom suggest this–heading for the suburbs? Hop on a train and ride it to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia–the heart of cava country–and take the short walk into town. It’s not a large village and there are signs everywhere leading you to the most prominent sites. The fact that this restaurant is included among those sites is not an accident.

The lunch we had at Cal Ticus was easily one of the best of my life and at about 15 euro a person, a steal bordering on criminal. Don’t let the simple facade fool you.

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There was a semi-set menu but we could choose between course options and there was not a single bad choice to be had. The ingredients were seasonal Catalan selections and the emphasis on cooking technique. It sounds basic but was in fact pretty mind blowing.

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Mushroom soup with a slice of gooey cheese and Spanish olive oil.

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Handmade pasta. Technically Jeff’s but I ate a decent bit of it…while we’re being honest.

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A gorgeous slice of beef and perfectly roasted potatoes. Again, sounds basic. Again, could not further from the truth.

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And finally, a traditional Catalan desert of a type of cheese covered in local honey. Its taste and texture was was similar to a less sweet and more crumbly cheesecake and it was both dense and refreshing at the same time. Paradoxical, yes, but true.

Do yourself a favor on your visit to Barcelona and swallow the train fare for the ride out, or make a day of it away from the city and take in the vineyards and olive groves. But seriously. Eat here. I mean it.

Crum, Barcelona

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
― A.A. Milne

On the Carrer de Parlament is a delightfully hipster sort of joint that is worth checking out. Let me introduce Crum.

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The menu is in Catalan, but they do have English versions for those of us whose European languages veer a bit more northern. True, embarrassing story about how French functions as my default language pretty much all of the time and I had to bite my tongue all week to avoid saying “bonjour” when I meant “buenos dias,” and uttered “trois” instead of “tres” to a bemused waitress at one point before finally deciding to keep my mouth shut and let my more Spanish competent compatriots do the majority of the ordering. Setting self-consciousness aside, this place does one thing and one thing only: potatoes.

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Whoops, I lie. It does potatoes and sauces; you essentially order the type of spud preparation that tickles your fancy and the sauce that you want to accompany it. There are handy suggestions but you are mostly given free reign–though the staff will voice their alternative opinions if you ask for feedback.

We pushed the boat right out and ordered one of nearly everything. Patatas bravas is a local dish of thickly chopped potatoes, roasted, and served with a spicy sauce that any tapas bar in the city worth its salt will offer…but this was an exemplary specimen. And it’s a good thing we got a bunch of things as it turned out we were more than a little hungry.

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Pardon the dreadful photo quality but I had to move fast you see, because…

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…approximately seven seconds later.

Barcelona: The Food

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

When discussing what we wanted to do on our holiday with friends in Barcelona, we narrowed it down to three major priorities: 1) eat, 2) hang out with them, and 3) precious little else. Tapas, traditional Spanish and Catalan food, seafood, random weirdness–we wanted to try as much as we possibly could.

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We were beautifully situated for local dining as we were in a residential neighborhood that had about a million bakeries and coffee shops, gastro pubs and tapas joints, and even a massive produce and meat market about two minutes away from the flat. We were spoiled, no question about it. But again, thanks to Kelsey’s boss travel prep skills, she had already mapped the gastronomic system of the city and we knew we had some spots that simply had to be hit, but we also knew where playing it by ear would most likely pay off in a fantastically good meal.

Welcome to Barcelona Food Week on SDS!

Carrer de Blai

This is a street full of almost exclusively tapas restaurants where a mini food culture or trend seems to have originated. All the food is bite sized and served on slices of bread, held together with a skewer. You can eat as much or as little as you want as you pay based on unit and your skewers are tallied at the end of your meal–prices can be indicated by different colored sticks–and you can either call it a night…or head to the next joint to see what they have on offer. Guess which choice we made?

It turned out to be prescient as we also discovered a bodega specializing in empanadas and indulged in those as well.

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Barraca on the beach

We wanted paella and we wanted it in the most appropriate setting: seaside. My photo quality may be lacking, but the food was not! Traditional dishes like gazpacho and seafood, expertly done.

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Pasapalo

I wasn’t blown away by this place, in spite of a plethora of good reviews, but I was also the lone group member to not have a burger and so my review may be suspect. The ambiance and style, however, were great!

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Street food

There is so much good and cheap food in this city that it’s almost unbelievable. On every street corner we saw sellers roasting sweet potatoes and chestnuts, to be wrapped in newspaper and taken to eat on the go. And on every street there seems to be a place where you can get an excellent cut of meat grilled or roasted up for your pleasure. Meanwhile there is no end to the tapas options, and you can wander into the vast markets and come away with cones of traditional cured Spanish meats and cheeses. I repeat, handfuls of meat and cheese. Nirvana exists, kids.

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Desserts

And finally: pudding! I shan’t overdo this one expect to say that there is a traditional dessert somewhat similar to creme brulee called crema catalana, and that your life is incomplete if you have not yet partaken of it.

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Weekend Links

“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough”
― Walt Whitman

There was a loss in Jeff’s family so he’s back in the States this weekend attending the funeral with the tribe. It was his grandmother, a gentle woman with a spine of steel and greatly beloved. I keep saying it, but I keep meaning it: 2016 has been rough and needs to go.

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Sir, I for one am ready for the mic drop.

Great piece. I might have got a bit emotional.

Why Ms. Marvel threatens Superman.

One half of the former Civil Wars (still heartbroken about their band breakup) gives an ace Tiny Desk Concert.

Beauty therapy.

Old British houses are not exactly pinnacles of comfort and modern convenience.