Costa Brava to East Coast

Preview: Atlantic sunrise

Preview: Atlantic sunrise

Opening this post with no dazzling first line was not really what I had in mind. Somebody please just toss a poetic blast of bombast at my beleaguered brain! Say what? Can you repeat that? No matter, let’s just get down to the biz of catching up on our whereabouts since we left Barcelona last August. People keep asking me, where are you guys? Well, right now we’re in Portland, Oregon. And, sad to say, many long miles from the beautiful Costa Brava, España. Here’s where we were in August 2012: along the coast north of Barcelona, known as the Costa Brava. We rented a car and went exploring.
Big Sur's got nothin' on the Costa Brava!

Big Sur’s got nothin’ on the Costa Brava!

Many years ago I asked one of my uncles, in Italy, how they manage to keep Italy so clean, green and well-tended. “We toss all our trash into the Mediterranean!” he replied with head-tossing laughter!
a noisy little cove... check out the boats!

no trash in sight… just lots of gorgeous scenery!

Not trashy here on the Costa Brava, and only 116 km south of the South of France. Check it out! This beach borders the historic town of Sant Feliu de Guixols. I have no idea who that happy saint was, it’s Catalan to me.
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Sunday afternoon at the beach – Renoir could have painted this

Sant Feliu has an awesome museum, the Espai Carmen Thyssen, founded by the late Baron Hans Henrik von Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002), a wealthy Swiss-German industrialist art collector with an ancestral Hungarian title and a villa in Montecarlo. The museum is named for von Thyssen’s fifth wife, Carmen “Tita” Cervera, a former Miss Spain, whose art-loving instincts played a key role in bringing her husband’s valuable collection of nineteenth century Andalusian and Catalan art to Spain.

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The museum entrance is on the right. Behind the arch is the 10th century Roman monastery, built over the ruins of an old castle which saw plenty of action back in the day. Apparently the monks were occasionally  called upon to drop their rosaries and defend their turf from marauding turks, moors and other riffraff, with arrows shot from narrow openings in the high walls.

Carmen Thyssen Museum

Carmen Thyssen Museum on right

former monastery

Benedictine monastery, rebuilt in 1723

Ben at the Arc de Sant Benet (1747)

Ben at the Arc de Sant Benet (1747)

Quite the jetsetting playboy, Baron Thyssen once famously explained his surname: «Bornemisza significa que no bebe vino, y yo más bien debería decir que no bebo agua». (“Bornemisza means “doesn’t drink wine,” but in my case “doesn’t drink water” would be more apt.”) The Baron also has  museums in Málaga and Madrid. In the 1980s he created a foundation to prevent his fabulous collection being dismantled and sold off to private collectors. My mom, a retired art critic, reminded me that she interviewed Baron von Thyssen when  he visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, accompanying an exhibition of his personal collection.

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PR for the fabulous inaugural exhibit at the Espai Carmen Thyssen. What a gorgeous day, and filled with spectacular art. The above painting made me nostalgic for our time in Paris: it rained so much last spring.

The Baroness Carmen Thyssen said of Sant Feliu: “…her dazzling beauty and  joyful people I found captivating from the first.”

Sant Feliu aerial shot

Sant Feliu aerial shot

Adios, España! In late August we flew from Barcelona back to Paris and on to San Francisco. After visiting family and friends in California we took a month-long break in beautiful South Carolina.

Charleston SC

Charleston SC

From Charleston — where I could stay forever — we drove south to Murrell’s Inlet for a vacation from the vacation! A restorative, off-schedule downtime of surf, sun, sleep & fresh seafood prepared by Chef Ben.
cloudy day at Murrell's Inlet

late afternoon on the inter-coastal waterway

Avendaw Creek

Avendaw Creek

Ben caught a big fish.

Ben caught a big fish.

we kayaked

we kayaked

we found a dockside watering hole.

we spotted a dockside watering hole.

a working fishing boat

a working fishing boat

Art on the docks

Art on the docks

tidal marsh

tidal marsh

even a pirate ship!

even a pirate ship!

ciao! from South Carolina

ciao! from South Carolina

Atlantic sunset

we head off into the sunset

South Carolina was wonderful last september, with its sizzling beachfront and dripping wet hot humid weather… I loved it! But eventually it was time to move on…
spent a few days in the Smoky Mountains

we spent a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains

Tango near the Capitol Dome

we tango’d near the Capitol Dome

We milonga’d in DC one night before heading to New York state. It was a warm and beautiful night in DC, and really cool to be dancing in Freedom Plaza, with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. engraved on the stones beneath our feet. The next day we drove through northeastern Pennsylvania over into New York, and then more or less followed the Hudson River Valley north, bypassing New York City, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Freedom Plaza - Capital Tangueros

Freedom Plaza – Capital Tangueros

the old homestead in PA

the old homestead in PA

Wayne Hotel, Honesdale, PA

Wayne Hotel, Honesdale, PA

upstate New York

upstate New York

Albany

Albany

Albany

Albany

Appaloosa in the Green Mountains

grazing appaloosa in the Green Mountains, Vermont

falls near Rochester VT

falls near Rochester VT

Red Barn

Red Barn

Sandy's Bookstore and Coffeehouse

Sandy’s Books and Bakery in Rochester VT– where old hippies munch good munchies

The frenetic grease-dripping fast food twilight zone of a cross-country road trip finally came to a standstill when we took up lodgings in Montpelier, Northeast Kingdom, Vermont. Time slowed to a crawl. We woke up to shorter days, longer nights, cafés and restaurants shutting down so early — and this is the state capital! (pop. 8,000) People actually watch TV and play board games in the evenings. Not to be left out of all the fun, we picked a free tv (the formerly glorious, heavyweight color tv, so impressive back in 1965!) and signed up for cable… like hooking up a one-way IV sucking down your bank account. That lasted a couple of months till we went back to watching news and soccer matches online.

Vermont was picture-postcard pretty! Ben started artisan bread-making classes at the New England Culinary Institute. We found a 3rd floor apartment in a 100+ year old house downtown. Pretty comfy, though we only had a bed, a kitchen table, 2 chairs and some cardboard boxes. When we arrived in October the leaves were turning and the days were still pretty nice, not really too cold yet, the nights just barely dipping into the 40s.
view of the Montpelier Capital Dome and clock tower from our apartment

view of the Montpelier Capital Dome and clock tower from our apartment

Ben enjoyed his breadmaking classes at NECI, though the expectation level was decidedly a few rungs below his experience at the French Culinary in Manhattan a few years back, where highly paid world class egomaniacs belittled & berated their students’ efforts…  turning out some highly trained professionals nonetheless. A little constructive criticism can be a useful part of the learning process… ouch! Every day was a blast for Ben; he even enjoyed trudging through the snow to be at the bakery at 6:00 am. He was lightyears beyond most of the students… mostly mouth-breathers, you know, adolescents with perpetually hanging lower lips. When he had extra time (he’s fast) the chefs let him do his own thing, and he made the most of it: croissants, pan au chocolat, marzipan pastries, escargot, stollen, panettone… you name it. Lots of yummy stuff… not to mention a million varieties of artisan breads, made the traditional way. Like, the way they make it in Paris. Voilá!
La Brioche, the NECI bakery

La Brioche, the NECI bakery

Ben cooking at home

Ben cooking at home

Yeah, he loves to cook and the kitchen always looks like a tornado’s touched down, but it’s worth it. Delicious! Notice the way cool 1950s electric stove? The oven window looks like a porthole on a spaceship. My spaceship!

what a classic!

a vintage classic

The door on the left is a warming oven, and the rear left burner is a deep well with a built-in soup pot. Crazy! Some nut will pay big bucks for it on eBay someday!

Speaking of tornados, we were in Vermont when Hurricane Sandy tore up New York and New Jersey.

Hurricane Sandy NYC

Hurricane Sandy NYC

She was just a breath of whispering wind by the time she reached northern Vermont — lucky us.

St. Anne's was RIGHT next door!

beautiful St. Anne’s was right next door

Fall colors in Montpelier… flaming red, orange and gold. There were still a few warm days but not for long… the days got shorter and colder, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot to do after dark. Burlington had a small tango community, but their milongas were not what we were used to — sorry, friends! Although we did have a fabulous evening at the Palais de Glace Holiday Milonga, in Stowe, and a New Year’s Eve Milonga with live music (and a hysterically funny skit!) in Hartford, Connecticut.

too many women in his life!

he’s gotta quit flirting with the waitress… or there’ll be hell to pay!

Happy New Years' Eve!

Happy New Years’ Eve!

Three months in a deep freeze was a little much for me… I’m a California girl! Snow is exquisitely lovely, of course. Making cut-paper snowflakes is my idea of a good time in the snow. Furnishing our apartment was kind of fun, though. We found this really awesome blue ultrasuede chair at an estate sale:

with lime green piping... and a matching couch!

with lime green piping… and a matching couch

Getting it up to the apartment was a challenge

Getting it up to the apartment was a challenge

nothing like a few bored neighbors to lend a hand!

nothing like friendly neighbors to lend a hand

Needless to say, the winding steep and narrow stairs up to our spacious atelier in Montpelier would not admit the couch, nor the bed. Lucky for us when we moved out three months later the new tenant took it all. I kept picturing how much fun it would be, rappeling all that furniture back down in the snow.

fast forward to snowy night on our street

fast forward to snowy night on our street

Montpelier West Branch

Montpelier West Branch

Beautiful Montpelier Round House

Beautiful Montpelier Round Porch and Tower

Before long our world became an exercise in whiteout conditions, arctic blasts, ice showers and icicles, frozen cars, frozen streets, sidewalks and noses; woolen mittens and lost kittens, gloves, scarves, wool caps, snow boots, layers upon layers of the warmest stuff you got… fleecy jammies and bathrobes (or my version: just drag the blanket around the house with you), down jackets… and don’t forget sheepskin booties for indoors. Snowy winter holidays prevailed. But before all that white stuff covered everything, we took a weekend trip in Maine, including a stop at L.L.Beanville.

battling moose at LL Bean world headquarters

battling moose at LL Bean world headquarters

Maine coast

Maine coast

New England Saltbox

New England Saltbox

boats in dry dock

boats in dry dock: Wicked Good is no secret; La Galatea, Cervantes’ first novel (1585)

having dinner in Bath, Maine

having dinner in Bath, Maine

Home of the Lobster Roll

Home of the Lobster Roll

Maine Weekend Harbor

Maine harbor

Colf Mountain

cold mountain, New Hampshire

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Brrr! Those were cold days.

icicles in Montpelier

icicles in Montpelier

downtown Montpelier

downtown Montpelier

my son and grandson hiking!

my son and grandson hiking

the old stone tower

the old stone tower

the sled run

the sled run

view from the tower

view from the tower

tall snowy trees

tall snowy trees

our building on a snowy evening in Montpelier

a snowy evening in Montpelier: our apartment top floor

pretty Montpelier at Christmas

Christmas in Montpelier

We left Vermont in mid-January, driving across the frigid Midwest. Mile upon mile of frozen highway: bleak, cold, heartless. Miraculously, we only met one snow storm, near Buffalo, NY. It lasted less than two hours. I parked us in the draft of a big semi and hung onto his coattails till the storm eased up. We kept to the northern route: Buffalo, Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, Boise… all the way to Portland. One evening we found a great little milonga in Lincoln, Nebraska… what a pleasant surprise! The Milonguero Spirit appearing in a place previously disguised as Nowheresville! No wonder… the home of the Univ. of Nebraska Press. Publishers of books and journals specializing in American history, the American West, and Native American studies. (Lewis & Clark fans, take note!) Our next destination: Portland, Oregon. Stay tuned!

Next stop: Portland

Next stop: Portland

¡Felíz Año Nuevo! 2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 13 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Barcelona III: Milongas and Prime Directives

Are you ready to tune into a new channel? You could call it the Universal Channel (no, not Universal Pictures; not the Disney Channel, either). Let’s call it the CLC: Cosmic Light Channel. Ready to tune in and have your DNA synced? Ready to get rebooted by the galactic synchronizer? I keep hearing from every twinkle twinkle little star, saying that our bodies are gonna be receiving electromagnetic pulses from the CLC which will greatly accelerate our own personal evolutionary journeys! Not a roller-coaster ride, please! Just a gentle ZAP! from the cosmic mother board, like the little slap on the bottom babies get after leaving the tranquil maternal seas.

Spock

Spock

A lot of that grey matter which most of us have never used to capacity (Hey! speak for yourself!) may finally be put to work! And not just for ourselves, but for the benefit of all humankind. They say we should NOT go online, not watch TV, not travel, not use electronic devices (you gotta be kidding! ya mean, wean ourselves from the mother boobie?) during our “stimulus package” makeovers to avoid a quantum leap out of the cosmic jamba juicer into the proverbial (uh-oh!) frying pan! Not good! Steer clear of the Dark Side! No burnt side with my jumbo meal today, thanks! Definitely gotta cut back to fruits and veggies, nuts and spuds, during your cosmic tune-up and chakra alignment! I mean, you wouldn’t pour Karo syrup into your gas tank before a major road trip, would you?

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So, what should you do during your universal involuntary Solstice Synchronizing weekend? Well, food, sex and tango is always recommended… um, what else is there? More endorphins, please! Some serious prayer and meditation is always good idea, of course, with a little cosmic-chip wafer and wine. A scoop of Cherry Garcia in your smoothie will give you a better chance of chatting with you-know-who on the other side. Dark glasses to avoid being blinded by the Light. And don’t leave out the Xocolate!

maya_cartoon

Well kids, If we’re going to be the heros and heroines of a universal paradigm shift, let’s do it with style and class: Enzo Ferrari all the way! Max out your carbon-cylinder footprint!  Be the protagonist of your own story, not the silent witness! If you decide to hibernate (highly recommended by non-tango dancer friends), stay at home, read, fix a fruit salad, bake your own bread, play with your kids, be creative! Make your own post-apocalypso holiday greeting cards, write a story and read it to your cat or dog (your cat will just fall asleep; your dog may provide helpful critical feedback).

So, just to be on the safe side, keep in mind these universal mandates:

  1. Resistance is futile (the Borg)
  2. Mutate now, avoid the rush! (Katie & Renie)
  3. Resist much, obey little (Edward Abbey)
  4. If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own! (Cosmic Muffin)

and these other guiding principles of La Vida Tanguera:

1)  keep doing it
2)  every time you do it you feel happy
3)  it turns your life upside down but you don’t care.

Graciela y Osvaldo La Yumba Tango y Milonga en Barcelona 0

La Yumba… our favorite Barcelona milonga!!

la Yumba

before the crowds

All the flavor of a real authentic Buenos Aires milonga!

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delicious dance floor!

We also like the Acuarilonga: an open air milonga a few steps from the aquarium, in the harbor right next to the Mare Magnum, surrounded by water with a bridge that connects to terraferma.

Acuarlionga

Sorry, I forget the name of this next milonga! Only a few blocks from our Eixample neighborhood, near Carrer d’Árago x Calabria. PR for milongas, prácticas, tango classes and workshops is spread out on the pool table. Nice bar, nice floor, nice vibe! Now, if we can just find it again… that would be nice!

unknown milonga!

possibly, La Milonga del Café

Catalans really like to play with words. There are 9 million Catalan speakers in Spain — no wonder they want their own borders — I don’t know how that would affect their economy; the way things are now, it could hardly be worse. But I’m no economist, so don’t string me up! I mean, I still use my fingers to count, ok? (All those years teaching kindergarten…) But the wonderful Catalan way with words leads to all these delightful milonga names, such as la Acuarilonga, la Milongallega (a gallego is someone of Spanish descent); la Gratalonga (a beautiful time); a milonga on the fringes of town: la Arrabalera; a milonga with a well-polished dance floor: la Bien Pulenta. How fun is that? Another night we stumbled onto a really cool milonga with live music in a tiny club. The sound was pretty decent, dance floor not bad, nice lighting, good dancers… check it out!

Milonga Bellos Aires

Milonga Bellos Aires

We went to an evening concert at Teatro Grec, an outdoor amphitheater up on the hill called Montjuic (monte de los Judíos), site of a Jewish cemetery dating to the Middle Ages, now a park and home to the Barcelona Olympic Stadium and numerous museums and event centers. Are you ready to recite the Barcy museum litany? :  there’s the MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Arte de Catalunya), the MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), the CCCB (Centro de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona), el Museu Picasso, la Fundación Joan Miróla Fundación Antoni Tapíes, el Museu de la Historia de la Ciudad de Barcelona, el Museu Maritimo, and of course, la Pedrera, one of Gaudí’s many masterpieces. There’s lots more museums and galleries, but ¡ya basta!

the original iconic Art hipster

Dalí: the original iconic Art hipster

If you’re serious about Art, besides learning all the acronyms, reciting the litany, and looking the part (see above), you’ve got to get a museum pass, the Articket Barcelona.

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It costs €30, saves you a ton of plata and no more waiting in lines. Pre-concert to-do list: kick back, have a drink, and watch the Barcy sky fade to indigo blue.

Teatro Grec

Teatro Grec

Tango en vivo!   Juan José Mosalini, in center with white hair and sensational bandoneon, in the midst of his superb orchestra.

Orquesta Juan José Mosalini

Orquesta Juan José Mosalini

Nothing like the earthy atmosphere of ancient rock-quarry walls ceilinged with stars for awesome sound; mix in a few spotlights slowly morphing from blue to purple to red, highlighting the orchestra and the dancers. I was swept away by a sense of timelessness: what a fabulous evening!

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dancers in white

Mosalini had different couples wearing different colors to complement the different Nuevo Tango pieces, including several Piazzola heartbreakers.

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dancers in red

Tango dancers in...

dancers in… um… flowers

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Recognize this couple?

Sebastian Jimenez y María Inés Bogado……winners of El Mundial, salon style, 2010. We saw them at the Sitges Tango Festival in July.

And how about that Pipa Club? I think we should spend another month in Barcelona just dancing at La Pipa, Plaza Real (ok, Plaça Reial in Catalan)…

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we spotted our friend Gato Valdéz here

Who’s the guy next to Aníbal Troilo? Somebody please tell me!

LaPipa-Troilo

Cuarteto Irreal

We didn’t see Quarteto Irreal, but you gotta love the poster!

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Yet another sizzling hot tango poster, exemplifying this absolutely electrifying Mediterranean port!  But that’s not all… what about Barcy’s amazing soccer team?

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Yes, I’m a Barcy fan. Can you tell?

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Of course, you already know about the Gothic Quarter, el Ravel (next time you listen to Otros Aires’ tune, Rotos en el Ravel, listen to the words… they speak of the multiculturality of this famous and fabulous city, an “encyclopedia of humanity”). And you may recall the sunset Jazz Chill-Out cruise… but there’s more! I have yet to write about world-famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (does the name la Sagrada Familia ring a bell?) and the Costa Brava: the meandering coastline heading north to France, not just vaguely, but very reminiscent of our own Big Sur.

la Costa Brava

la Costa Brava

Barcy just can’t be summed up in a few words, but let me try: so many hip young people, so much music, art, creativity: such a phenomenal scene! The delicious (and cheap!) tapas, delectable wine, sangria, cava… affordable public transportation (buses, subways, trains), free drinking water and recycling bins on just about every block; protests for Catalan independence every other day; corner cafés, pubs and bistros everywhere, plus the amazing nightlife: the bar scene, the nightclubs, the parties spilling into the streets at all hours…  and a waterfront! Barcy reminds me so much of Buenos Aires. How do you spell culture, nightlife, fun times, outgoing, passionate and compassionate people? ¡ESPANYOLES BARCELONA CATALUNYA! 

Hold everything!

the Maritime Museum

But wait… hold everything! No, you’re not going to the Magic Fountains before looking at some of the world’s most stunning artifacts from early Catalunya. An old Spanish friend of mine, Miguel de Cervantes, always reminds us to educate as we entertain! Besides, where else are you gonna get ideas for next year’s Halloween costume?

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La Pelirroja: biblical heroine

winged saints...

winged saints…

meditating monks...

meditating monks…

All these lovely artifacts can be found in a beautiful former palace, the MNAC: Museo Nacional d’Arte Catalunya. My favorite Barcy museum, and former palace. (Please note: la Pelirroja is not her real name. Just foolin’ around.)

el Palacio Real

el Palacio Real on a very pretty day

gorgeous black steed

gorgeous black steed – rider’s head in the clouds?

So if you want to see the Magic Fountains of Montjuic, you must begin at the stunning Plaza España, just down the hill, in the middle of a very busy intersection.

Plaza d'España by day

Plaza España by day

view of the palace from below

looking up towards the MNAC from Plaza España

You climb up the hill, sonambulate around the museum for a few hours until it gets dark, turn yourself around and, wow!! quite the view of Barcelona! In the next photo you can see the Plaza España lit up in the background, between the giant obelisks. The big round building, once a bullring, is now a huge shopping mall.

looking down from up top

looking down from up top

Yeah, they get quite a crowd around dusk!

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the sound of the water, the lights, the music…

Merry Christmas everybody!!

Happy Holidays from Barcelona!!

And don’t for get to have a superlative transformative Solstice!

Over and out from Barcelona!

Over and out from Barcelona!

Barcelona: Palau de la Música Catalana

Barcelona is home to one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world: el Palau de la Música Catalana. The Palau is one of the most brilliant examples of Modernist architecture anywhere. Absolutely stunning! I count myself very fortunate to have seen it, and extra lucky ’cause I got to see a fabulous Flamenco performance there as well.

The first modernist “curtain wall” is about 5 stories tall: a compelling contrast of modern and traditional. Catalan modernismo was a very local, very Barcelonesque architectural movement which had its roots in the industrial revolution of late 19th century Spain. In Catalonia the modernist movement went even further and developed a local style and personality, sprung from the Renaixença, the Catalan language and cultural renaissance. Modernismo was a natural response to the unprecedented urban industrial development occurring at that time, and not just in Spain, but all over the developing world. Like the recycling of Barcelona’s waterfront for the 1992 Olympic Games, the Barcelona Expo of 1888 created a big push to update and urbanize the city. This artistic movement became known as Art Nouveau in Europe. Smart people argue about when and where Modernismo (or Art Nouveau) originated, but by the Paris Expo of 1902 it was everywhere.

Designed in the Catalan modernist style by architect Lluís Domenech i Montaner, the Palau was built between 1905 and 1908 by a local choral society, the Orfeó Catalá. I find it amazing that a humble choral group became a catalyst  in the Catalan Renaixença.

Aren’t we in Middle Earth? Isn’t this Olde Elvish design?

                                                 la botiga — the gift shop

Oooh, if this isn’t the place to go for silk scarves and handpainted silk fans… gorgeous and very pricey! And loads of exquisite glass and ceramic items, jewelry… plus a whole room of art books. Truly just a light veil separates heaven from earth!

Midnight blue silk rosette fan… stunning!

It’s anybody’s guess what the ceiling motif is all about… silk fans? giant moths? flowers? Well, guess again… the book I brought home from the gift shop says they’re open tulips. An unbelievable fantasyland of the decorative arts! Everywhere you look are forms and shapes taken from Nature with a capital N. Catalan artists created their own language of symbols inspired by organic shapes and patterns from the natural world: birds, butterflies, leaves, flowers, not to mention fantastical animals and people. Like when you cut an apple in half crosswise, what do you find…? a star! Of course these photos are only a hint, a glimpse… you’ll just have to go see for yourself!

the dark blue windows are just what they seem… evening sky

The Palau has been called a “box of light.” Can you imagine the hours of work that went into creating the colored glass, the mosaic and crystal ceilings? In Catalonia, the middle class saw in the new architecture a way of placating their unconscious anxieties about modernization. All those noisy, dirty, annoying machines, motorcars, trains, foundries spewing smoke, steam engines… the transition from old world to modern world was kind of stressful back then, and these days, with exponential change by the nanosecond, I guess we’re still running on that same treadmill, trying to catch up to a world that keeps on moving just out of reach.

a wildly fabulous facade

Yet the Modernist movement was also a way for people to express their Catalan identity and spiritual roots, while displaying their newly-acquired bourgeois sensitivity to culture and the arts.

are you wowed yet?

not quite a full house, but a most appreciative audience

The Orfeó Catalá, from its humble beginnings as an amateur choral group, went on to produce concerts, symphonies, and operas, like Richard Strauss directing the Berlin Philharmonic, Camille Saint-Saëns, Herbert von Karajan, Igor Stravinsky, Pau Casals… and, in more recent times, Leonard Bernstein, Mstislav Rostropovich, Zubin Mehta, Manuel de Falla, Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones… and the list goes on! The Palau was recognized in 1997 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ain’t she wonderful!

The rich decoration of the façade of the Palau, using elements of Spanish and Arabic architecture, blends harmoniously with the building’s structure. The exposed red brick and iron, the mosaics, the stained glass, and the glazed ceramic tiles give a feeling of openness and transparency. An enigmatic group of sculptures symbolizing Catalan music on the corner of the building keep watch over a busy corner, just a few blocks away from the Plaça Catalunya.

sculptor: Miguel Blay

Prancing horseback Valkyries at the tops of columns frame the stage, while goddesses in bas-relief emerge from mosaic walls, each playing a different musical instrument. It’s wild!

musical muses decorate the stage interior

How can I transition to Flamenco after the Palau? A herculean task, and after all I’m just a girl! But I can testify that Catalans love their flamenco!  I’ll just post a couple of photos so you can get the drift… an evening of Flamenco at the Palau:

passionate, fiery!

The raw emotion of Flamenco, the dancer giving her all, the singer spilling out his guts, the complex rhythms which take you over completely; you are imprisoned, enthralled!

the power of Flamenco, like the surging ocean

When a dancer locks in your gaze, you can’t escape… even your breathing syncs with the dance; the compás of cajón, tacos, palmas and your heart; the singer pouring out her soul, the melodic complexity of the guitar that takes you far away…. the clicking of the castañuelos carved from ancient rosewood… Flamenco is insurmountable! It’s a mountain and you’re walking up the narrow path… it’s the ocean and you’re a tiny shell tossed around on the waves. Flamenco is only rivaled by Tango in my universe of music addiction. This is a perfect segue way to Tango, but not tonight. It’s 3 am and this girl’s gotta get some sleep! Adíos, que les vayan bien! Hasta luego! Vale?

Ciao from Barcelona!

P.S.  I almost forgot to mention that I changed the name of my blog to Tango Awaits You. Why? Because El Tango Nos Lleva was all about us and our Tango travels, but now it’s about YOU, dear reader, about the possibility of Tango in Your Life! Yes, YOU! Tango is out there, waiting, it will never go away, it will always be there, ready to plug you into the endorphine-producing ecstasy of dancing Tango. You might as well get started now… why wait? And I decided to put the title in English, since lots, though not all, of my readers are English-speakers. Personally, I prefer Spanish, in fact they tell me I’m much friendlier in Spanish (like, not a bitch?), that I’m downright warm and fuzzy in Spanish, but this blog’s for YOU! My friends and family! So there you have it, Tango Awaits You!! And thank you all so very much for all your comments and emails. It helps when I feel homesick for California!

GO OBAMA!

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!

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!