September 26, 2012

I am sitting in a theatre lobby, awaiting the 9pm curtain of a dance show. All of the shows here start at 9pm, and then everyone goes out afterwards. Spanish people, evidently, have no need for sleep.

Flamenco is not a dance from Barcelona, but I’m pretty darn close to Andalusia (relative to Portland, anyway), so I wanted to see a live Flamenco performance while I was here. I was having trouble finding listings for anything other than tourist traps, though — you know, cheap tapas, communal tables, tired and uninspired thirty minute demonstrations, and a bunch of people with cameras. Yesterday, though, I chanced upon an Arte de Barcelona storefront with information about all of current performing arts in the city. The woman behind the desk was super helpful, and she recommended an internationally touring dance troupe out of Seville that was performing in Barcelona for two weekends. So here I am at the Victoria Theatre, tickets in hand to see the María Pagés Compañía.

I started off the day with a trip to El Museu Picasso, a museum that focuses on Picasso’s work when he lived in Barcelona. Unsurprisingly, it was all incredible, including the paintings from his childhood. Picasso was clearly a prodigy, as the pieces on display from when he was thirteen showed incredible mastery. I certainly couldn’t tell that they were painted by anything less than an accomplished artist, let alone a kid. Something that was cool about his early work is that the evidence of his experimentation is right there on the side of the canvas, which he used as his palette. Globs of paint, color mixes, brush strokes, etc.

When I left the museum I spent some time walking around El Born and then got paella to eat on the sets of Església Maria del Mar. I had intended on exploring the Barceloneta, but it was a little brisk and windy for a waterfront walk so I instead veered into the Museu d’História Catalunya.

My God, the depth and the breadth of the things I don’t now is astounding. For every place I’ve visited on this trip, there always seems to be a moment when I marvel at my ignorance about important historical and current events. Today’s lesson (thanks to a great history museum) was about the ancient people of the Iberian Peninsula, the history leading up to a unique Catalan culture, Spain’s Civil War, Franco’s Fascist government and the resulting oppression of the Catalan people, and the revolution that restored Catalonia as a self-governing body within Spain.

I am perhaps admitting to extreme naiveté when I say this, but until I came to Barcelona, I didn’t know that Catalan had its own culture, let alone an entirely different language. In Barcelona, most people’s native tongue is actually Catalan. Schools are bilingual (Catalan and Spanish, with the emphasis on Catalan), as is all public text (signs, plaques, maps, directions, etc). Just a couple weeks ago there was an enormous rally of the Catalan people (1.5 million!), calling for succession from Spain.

I’m still a bit confused about a few things, so I won’t attempt to relate any of the history just yet, but just know that it’s super intense and super interesting.

Side note: After spending a lot of time in the pre-history section of the museum today, I feel qualified to say that my previous knowledge of how early hominids lived is very good, and it’s all due to the Earth’s Children series (of which The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first book). Laugh all you want about Clan of the Cave Bear being caveman soft porn, quite a bit of research went into those books.

My walk to the theatre tonight included a tremendous sunset over the Mediterranean, clouds that were straight out of a Renaissance painting, an enormous and vibrant rainbow, and the moon shining brightly above it all. And then someone somewhere in the distance released a few hundred balloons. Seriously. It was like the cover of my sixth grade Trapper Keeper. I half expected a unicorn to canter up and ask if I wanted a ride.

All right, they’re ringing the bell for the show. More on that later.



Wow. Wowwwww. No big frilly dresses, no rose in the teeth… instead, a company of contemporary Flamenco dancers and musicians in simple flowing clothing dancing through joy and flirtation and pain and a sense of undeniable smoldering passion. Their footwork was virtuosic, leading me to gape, wide- eyed and jaw-dropped, my hands frozen in mid-clap. The musicians were a part of the dance, at times wandering through the choreography or directly singing to the dancers. Their fingers were lightning-fast on the guitars and their voices were raw with pure emotion. Stunning.

Also, it didn’t hurt that the male dancers all looked like Antonio Banderas.