Barcelona I

We hit the ground running in Barcelona. Thanks to yours truly’s amazing sixth sense apartment locator, we lucked out and found a bright, spacious, modern apartment with a huge sunny terrace!  Three metro stops (3 different lines: the red, the green, the yellow…) within a few blocks: north, south, and east.

my Chef made himself right at home

The weather was perfect: hot, sunny, Mediterranean!

our Barcelona terrace on Carrer Árago

Barcelona became a modern city in 1992, when the Olympic Games put it on the world map and jumpstarted a major urban transformation. The world rediscovered Barcelona: a city teeming with cultural vitality, its peoples inheritors of a millenary tradition of open-mindedness and cultural tolerance. Africans, Jews, Arabs, Christians coexisted in the busy port, an early trading post on the Mediterranean, and they still live here side-by-side today!

Barcy harbor

Cristóbal Colón pointing west

Did you know Cristóbal Colón (in the states he’s called Christopher Columbus) returned from his third and final voyage to the New World in chains? Crazy as a cuckoo. They don’t tell you how, on his last voyage, his ship anchored off another uncharted Caribbean island, and he made his crew swear on the Bible that he had discovered yet another New World.

Barcelona Port building

This awesome structure is la Aduana, right on the waterfront. That’s where you pay your taxes on whatever you bring into the country… like all that silver and gold they stole from South America!

la Aduana – the Customs house

Yea, royalty is so high-maintenance! How come the rest of us gotta keep forkin’ it over to pay their keep? If that ain’t the rich folks’ Entitlement program, then what in the bleep DO you call it?? I know, I know, calm down, after all, somebody’s gotta pay the upkeep on these beautiful luxury yachts! They deserve to be maintained in the style to which they’ve become accustomed… don’t they?

that’s the Port Vell Imax cinema in the background

We decided to go on a Jazz Chill-Out Sunset Cruise. Our catamaran was more like a third world transport vessel: no luxury, no bar, and as packed as a feedlot.

yea, but we still had fun!

The aquarium is also right on the docks, right next to the Maremagnum. The Barcy Tango community hosts a milonga there called la Acuarilonga. How cute is that name? We danced till early morning one night under the towering rooftop, as a salty-sweet breeze caressed us and kept us cool.

The building in the background below is the Maremagnum, a huge 3-story mall where we tango’d one evening on the deck overlooking the water. My intrepid photographer Benjamín took this gorgeous shot:

the Maremagnum from the water after dark

and this one of the harbor:

how beautiful is that?

On our way back to the dock we passed a stunning sailing ship lit up like Christmas Eve.

so beautiful, like la Noche Buena!

Let’s let this tall sailing vessel anchored at the harbor plaza take us back in time to explore the oldest part of Barcelona:

don’t you just love the color of that water?

The oldest part of Barcelona is the Quartier Gótico, the Gothic quarter. Here medieval towers and churches cast long shadows over the remains of the early Roman city.

Roman ruins underneath the Plaza Real

a cántaro: a Roman era wine or water jug

We spent a long hour one afternoon winding our way around the raised walkways that skirt the various archaeological sites underneath the plaza. They excavated an entire block underneath the Plaza Real. You can see the old Roman baths, like modern-day spas, with separate men’s and women’s dressing rooms, hot tubs and lounges, workout areas… the vintner’s shop with grape-presses, tasting rooms… shops where fabrics were dyed in huge vats, and hides were processed… apothecaries… don’t forget your love potion No. 9 and poison for your enemies; hey! what about some sleep potions like Romeo & Juliet used? and of course they had all kinds of stuff for your bi-polar melt-downs and romantic delusions… all natural, and USDA certified organic!

they had horses and fashionable riding gear

The mosaic floors! The frescos! Man, those early Romans were interior designers! Their living spaces were so gorgeous, no sheetrock or aluminum trim in their neighborhood! Down under the plaza you can even see their old clay water pipes and sewers. Exploring the underground labyrinth takes time and energy, an hour at least, and when you finally glimpse the light of day through an open doorway, you’re on the opposite side of the plaza from where you started!

Let there be Light!

You emerge, not just into the sunshine, but time-travelling at warp speed a thousand years into the future!

back in real time… but how would you know?

This ancient portal could be your own personal time machine! If only those doors could talk….

portal on the Plaza Real

Right across from the museum entrance is a tiny little fan shop, packed floor-to-ceiling: all colors, sizes, materials from plastic to wood to paper to silk, adorned, unadorned, from plain to ornate, affordable to outrageous, cheap to elegant; in short, a fan for every woman!

flights of butterflies can’t compare….

Barcelona is a mix of all of these elements: the millenary history, fast-forward to twentieth century modernist creativity, mix in the personality of each neighbourhood — you’ve got a really special place. Barcelona is like no other city in the world!

Gothic quarter

simply stunning!

gargoyles like Notre Dame

A certain 20th century caped crusader really goes for gothic… Gotham City Chic. He probably took his first flight out of that tower… or maybe this one.

la torre gótica

Barcelona Cathedral

Barcelona has fabulous food, cafés, nightclubs, la Rambla… which is so crowded by day it reminds me of pedestrian streets in Buenos Aires, like Calle Florída, which used to be full of manteros, people who spread a manta (blanket) on the ground and pile their wares on top. After some violent clashes with local law enforcement, the manteros were driven out of the tourist zone. Things were a lot nicer and quieter, and you didn’t have to walk with your hands in your pockets to keep the pickpockets out of them. Barcelona has similar problems, but their street-hawkers have stalls and permits. Barcy, to its credit, has enormous recycling containers on every block. And like Paris, Barcy has public water spigots on just about every block.

typical Barcy street fountain

Back in the days before indoor running water, people filled their jugs and buckets and water skins every day from the public fountains. The Romans are generally credited with building aqueducts to bring water to where it’s needed; pretty cool idea! Arabs also have a history of bringing water into their homes, and they bathed a lot more than the Christians! Legend has it you could smell a Christian trading ship from way across the water, by the stink of the crew! Couldn’t they at least bathe in salt water?

Ahhh, refreshing! This beautiful fountain can be found at the Alhambra, the exquisite Moorish palace in Granada, in southern Spain.

OK, readers, listen up. I have to tell you there is so much to see in Barcelona, I just can’t squeeze it all into one post!  Tango shows, Flamenco shows, Gaudí, early Catalunyan art, the best milongas of Barcelona, the Magic Fountain…. and then there is our road trip along the Costa Brava, the Big Sur of the Mediterranean coast. So I’m going to close now with a sunset photo of the harbor… can you make out the statue of Cristóbal Colón?

Port of Barcelona

Ciao from Barcelona!

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Spooky Milonga

One evening in late June we jumped on a bus and rode it all the way down Rue Tolbiac, almost to the end, a block from the François Mitterand library. Looking for a milonga, we walked past the funkiest trashiest old building I’d ever seen. It had a medieval tower whose top was wrapped in netting… some kind of restoration? Keep the hunckback from flinging rotten fruit on passersby?

tower tour, anybody? Eiffel Tower it ain’t!

A set of windows on the 2nd or 3rd floor was painted into a giant gaping mouth with sharp monster teeth, waiting to devour anyone who dared enter. Silly us, we hadn’t yet realized that scary building was our destination!

Who’s hungry? I am!

We kept walking, not seeing any place that looked like a milonga. Around the corner the sidewalk sloped down to the level of the ground. There was a big chain link fence, a parking lot full of junky cars, graffiti everywhere, weeds, broken windows, trash… where the yada yada were we going?

colorful graffiti…

Ben spotted an opening in the chain link, with a paper taped to it that said Milonga Los Frigos and an arrow pointing to a trail leading around the side of the horrific palace.

boho chic?

We ducked under some trees and plunged into the semi-darkness of a shady overgrown courtyard slash/ abandoned side yard.

the spooky path

After a few steps we saw the twinkle of tiny lights through an opening in the brush. Three young people sitting around a card table came into view, smiling and looking completely normal. Could these be the demented gatekeepers of a horrific palace? Had we just entered the Twilight Zone?

We paid our €7 each. Apparently still having that deer-in-the-headlights look about us, the slim young Parisian (she spoke a little Spanish) led us along a dirt trail that led to the cobblestone patio and then, happily, towards what looked like a bar in a cave. Emerging from darkness into light is always a little confusing. We thought maybe the bar was the milonga, but she said it was just the bar, and so we walked past it (you could hear Billie Holiday singing softly) to yet another cave-like room on the ground level. By now we heard the music and saw open doors on a small wooden deck leading into — you guessed it — the milonga! Couples were dancing, and others sitting around small tables lit with candles. The ceiling was a series of stone arches paved with brick (we were right under the overpass) and the dance floor was, well, not great, but … what else do you expect at a monster’s ball?

trés jolie!

….and so we danced happily ever after in the remodeled troll cave. With French champagne in hand we toasted the classic sounds of Orquesta Sans Souci, Sexteto Milonguero, Canaro, Troilo, Biagi, Caló, de Caro, Pugliese, Enrique Rodríguez and other Top 100 Tango Tunes. We drank to bat caves, badger dens, rabbit warrens, hobbit holes and other warm snuggly hideaways. We danced underneath Rue Tolbiac, left bank of the Seine, 13th Arondissement, and we kept dancing until we dropped. Perfect, blissful, tango exhaustion: you try to pace yourself, but another favorite song comes on and a mysterious underground force compels you to get up and dance some more!

BOO!

Happy Halloween!

Sitges Tango Festival July 18 – 22

warm tropical nights… milonga under the stars… the crowd watches a demo by Sebastian Arce & Mariana Montes

We carried the rain with us as we flew from from Paris to Barcelona one gray day last July. From the airport we drove through the midsummer drizzle 30 km south to Sitges. By sunset that evening the skies were clearing, though the wind continued through the night. In the morning the sky was still cloudy, but, intrepid beach-goers that we are, we walked half a block to the beach with our giant sunbrella and his & hers beach towels. After an hour the clouds had flown away north (to drench Paris again, no doubt, as they’d been doing all spring) and the day turned sunny and hot. Here’s my personal bodyguard testing the water…

the water is warm!!!

captured web photo… it actually wasn’t this crowded!

Known as the St. Tropez of Spain, Sitges is a small city known for its beaches, nightspots, and historical sites.  A wide boulevard winds along the Mediterranean, with cafés, restaurants (fresh fish! tapas! clams oysters mussels calamari, lobster…) beautiful old houses, historic churches, alcázars, plazas… tango on the beach, anybody?

white sands, white tie…

and Tango.

Sitges became a counterculture city back in the 1960s… and it still resonates hip and cool. One of the hottest gay beaches of Europe, too. Franco was still in power in those days, but apparently rebellious Sitges managed to skate by … or maybe I’m just desperately under-informed.

main beach and plaza

pretty tiled fountain

in the historic center

a beautiful old portal

I really go for historic buildings, and Sitges is full of them.

looks Art Deco to me

This retro wedge-shaped building was one of the landmarks I used to orient myself while walking around the old part of town. The streets are winding cobblestone paths, most not even wide enough for cars, and even though they mostly all lead down to the beach, it’s easy to get lost in the maze (unless you’re looking for the beach, of course). But since being lost is my normal state, I actually felt pretty much at home. Everywhere you look are restaurants, cafés, colorful shops and marketplace stalls selling tango-fashionable loose trousers, and loads of more pretty things.

Every day is market day in a tourist town, and the food on display was appetizing and delicious!

CJS pizzas (just say “CJ’s”)

the olive seller

CJS deli

CJS salmueria

a portal in the historic center

la Sirenita de Sitges

Our room in a small hotel a half-block from the beach overlooks a beautiful house, three floors, dazzlingly white walls with blue shutters, an intense cobalt blue (one of my favorite colors!) with a terracotta roof. Classic mediterranean. Sorry! I didn’t get a picture. But here’s a serene spot on the hotel terrazza, where breakfast is served till noon, and you can order drinks and/or snacks the rest of the day and evening.

Hotel Los Globos

If you’ve had too many mojitos you can just hang out and talk to the resident parrot.

Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight! Isn’t that one of the last lines in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island?  The Hotel Los Globos resident parrot-greeter talks and whistles loudly whenever anyone walks by. He seems really sweet, but then I didn’t risk sticking my finger between the bars. We humans always want to believe animals have thoughts and feelings just like us. I guess we just can’t imagine anything different, but… birds will be birds! And they have brains the size of a pea. Of course it helps if you use all the brainpower you have!

The afternoon we arrived we walked all around town. The main church is perched on a high point of the malecón, the walkway along the waterfront.

la iglesia principal

There was a wedding party outside the church, with lots of chic people standing around, waiting for the novios to exit. I felt like I’d stepped into an episode of La Reina del Sur, but fortunately there was no exchange of gunfire. I should have taken a few photos but, shy me, I didn’t want to be the intrusive tourist. Later, as we walked along the beach, we happened upon the sweet ending of yet another wedding! The couple was wrapped up in a big piece of  cloth which was then knotted around them, like a giant pretzel. Trapped forever! or so it would seem. A day of domestic mergers in sunny Spain.

Sitges evening milonga

The Sitges Tango Festival had world-class teachers: Miguel Angel Zotto, Sebastian Arce & Mariana Montes, Rubén & Sabrina Véliz, Sebastián Jiménez & María Inés Bogado  (winners of the 2010 Mundial de Tango in Tango Salón), Marcelo Ramer & Selva Mastroti, and Marcela Troncoso. All Argentines, all professional tango dancers and teachers. Miguel Angel Zotto was flying solo — he had a lovely assistant who was filling in for his wife, who had just given birth to twins! Way to go, Miguel! Nice guy, by the way, totally unpretentious, the way I like my tango teachers. <www.festivaltangositges.com>

Ensemble Hyperión under cover at the Jardines de Terramar

Classes were held every afternoon (no morning classes, thank you! you gotta sleep sometime!) at three locations, organized by the customary levels of beg-int-adv. (Or is that beg-int-tango teacher? ja ja) I took one class per day… my usual limit. Ben took lots… the Energizer Bunny. I took a DJ class with Gabriel Sodini, also Argentine. More of a chamuyo, really, a question & answer session, but informative. Gabriel is buddies with our old friend Gato Valdéz, who DJ’d the all-nighters on the beach, starting at 2 am, after the official milonga ended. What a fun time we had!!

the gala Saturday night milonga & show… fabulous!

I highly recommend this tango festival. Super location, super teachers, great shopping, cheap street food, tapas, fish… sun and sand… and reasonably priced classes!

dinner on the beachfront

Life is Good.

Ciao from Sitges!