Barcelona for cul­ture vul­tures

This Cata­lan cap­i­tal is a great place for a con­ven­tion, opines this writer, be­cause af­ter the meet­ings there’s a lot to en­gage a vis­i­tor.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel - BY ALAN BEHR

THE gath­er­ing of a se­lect group of fash­ion lawyers from around the world that I or­gan­ise ev­ery year was about to be­gin, this time on a pleas­ant, sun-washed af­ter­noon in Barcelona, the coastal cap­i­tal of Cat­alo­nia, in east­ern Spain.

I was stay­ing at the Ho­tel El Palace, one of the great­est in all Spain, and we had also rented a func­tion room that, as peo­ple came in, was cor­rectly com­pared to some­thing from the kind of ro­man­tic movie in which the earnest but dash­ing prince courts the re­luc­tant princess un­der spread­ing chan­de­liers. Wait­ers served a for­mal tea in the English man­ner as four at­tor­neys from three con­ti­nents made brief and ef­fec­tive speeches on the art and craft of fash­ion law.

Some ex­pe­ri­ences in life are with­out peer, and that is what a grand ho­tel in the style of the El Palace qui­etly re­minds you it can pro­vide. As the 11,000-strong le­gal con­ven­tion that drew us all here con­tin­ued, lawyers kept ar­riv­ing. Dur­ing my stay, I took sev­eral of them to the ho­tel’s rooftop, there to have lunch, tapas, drinks, take a dive into the out­door pool or just take in the view of the city. They all com­mented how lucky I was to have se­cured the best venue in town.

Luck in ho­tel se­lec­tion dur­ing a con­ven­tion is what hap­pens when you know where to go and book ear­lier than every­one else. That is es­pe­cially true in cities such as Barcelona, where the con­ven­tion cen­tre is far re­moved from the cen­tre of any­thing you would leave home and fam­ily to see.

The next thing to do if you are in a highly de­sir­able city is to leave time for fun – and to in­vite oth­ers to en­joy it with you. That is how, bear­ing timed en­trance tick­ets wisely booked on­line by the El Palace concierge, a ver­i­ta­ble del­e­ga­tion of us – this time all Amer­i­cans and Ger­mans – ended at the Sagrada Fa­milia, the cathe- dral-sized mas­ter­piece of a church still un­der con­struc­tion from plans by the ar­chi­tect An­toni Gaudi, the great­est ex­po­nent of Modernisme (the Art Nou­veau of Cat­alo­nia). Ground was bro­ken in 1882, and the build­ing will be fin­ished per­haps by 2026, which marks the cen­ten­nial of Gaudi’s death at the age of 73, af­ter be­ing struck by a tram.

Peo­ple who have been there just a few years be­fore say the dif­fer­ence is strik­ing. In­side, at least, it looks about fin­ished.

Tra­di­tional church ar­chi­tec­ture in the Gothic style is ref­er­enced in the build­ing, but its col­umns and spires brush past the com­mon­place, twist­ing and ris­ing like trees in a fan­ci­ful for­est. The sun comes through stained glass of orange, yel­low and blue as if fil­tered through the feath­ers of an aviary of ex­otic birds. To see the Sagrada Fa­milia is to see Chris­tian­ity in a dif­fer­ent way, as some­thing closer to an East Asian re­li­gion in its strive for har­mony with na­ture and as an in­vi­ta­tion for spir­i­tual med­i­ta­tion.

Gaudi is a cul­tural hero of his na­tive Cat­alo­nia, where his ma­jor works are to be found, but Pi­casso moved here as an ado­les­cent, when his fa­ther ac­cepted a po­si­tion teach­ing art at a lo­cal academy. The Museu Pi­casso, which opened dur­ing the mas­ter’s life­time, main­tains one of the largest and great­est col­lec­tions of his works, most no­tably pieces from the early, for­ma­tive stages in his ca­reer that are un­der rep­re­sented in mu­se­ums else­where.

Pi­casso’s con­tem­po­rary Joan Miro was born in Barcelona, and many of his works are now housed in a mu­seum that trans­lates as the Miro Foun­da­tion, Cen­ter of Stud­ies of Con­tem­po­rary Art. It is housed in a Mod­ernist build­ing on a ver­dant hill­top over­look­ing the city. Although, an art critic, I am not as en­gaged by Miro’s works as I am by those of Pi­casso, I could not imag­ine a bet­ter set­ting in which to un­der­stand more com­pletely his con­tri­bu­tion to Mod­ern Art. In a rather typ­i­cal fash­ion, three Amer­i­can women (surely from our con­ven­tion) stood in front of one paint­ing, each with an au­dio guide, one point­ing and say­ing, “I think those are breasts,” then tak­ing that back and start­ing over, in con­sul­ta­tion with her col­leagues.

Lawyers on sight­see­ing breaks love cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences as much as any­one else, but there is some­thing about con­ven­tions, with their util­i­tar­ian con­fer­ence rooms that, wher­ever they ap­pear in the world, look en­tirely the same, to make an at­tor­ney want to stray off the mark just a bit. That is how an­other di­gres­sion from our duty to the law led sev­eral of us to the Museu de la Xo­co­lata de Barcelona, which is to say, the Choco­late Mu­seum. Your ticket is a bar of choco­late that you get to keep af­ter scan­ning it at the en­try gate. As we headed to the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, which de­tails the his­tory of choco­late mak­ing and in­cludes Michelan­gelo’s Car­rara mar­ble Pi­eta re-im­aged in dark Cat­alo­nian choco­late, an Amer­i­can voice be­hind me called out, “I can’t get in. I ate my ticket.”

A city’s life is what hap­pens while busi­ness trav­ellers fly like ten­nis balls back and forth be­tween con­fer­ence rooms and mu­se­ums. Cen­tral Barcelona is highly ac­ces­si­ble, with clean streets and fine old build­ings, most of them on the main av­enues

Ho­tel El Palace rooftop at twi­light. — Pho­tos: ALAN BEHR/TNS

Round and spi­ral forms in the over­head light­ing of the Noble Floor, Casa Batllo by An­toni Gaudi.

View from the cathe­dral steps of the cobla (band) and sar­dana dancers.

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