Monday, June 19, 2006

Memories of...Barcelona

Back to the travelogue, at least briefly!
Our first stop in Spain was Barcelona. Except for the seaport, the city is surrounded by rough, scrubby hills. Already in the airport, we saw signage in two languages: Castillian and Catalan. The Masses were in Catalan, which sounds somewhat like Portuguese (with its "eu" sounds and lots of "sh"es). We checked in at the Hotel Monte Carlo on Barcelona's chief promenade, la Rambla. When we arrived, we were told that we had been given an upgrade. That meant that our rooms were every bit as "Monte Carlo" as the name implies. The bathroom alone was larger than the hotel room at the "XX Settembre" Hotel in Rome, as Barbara will attest. Gratifyingly, it did not sport the fine filigree of mold on the walls that we had in Rome, either.
We barely dropped our luggage off when we went rambling down la Rambla to get something to eat. It was about 3 p.m. and we had had nothing but a light breakfast all day. On the waterfront, we found the recommended restaurant ("Seagull Restaurant"; in Catalan it sounds much more appetizing). There I had my very first taste of two Spanish specialties: jamon iberico de bellotta (I may not be spelling this correctly) and paella. The jamon, a kind of prosciutto, is unique not only because it really does melt in your mouth, but because it is from wild pigs that are fed the acorns of a certain oak. The pig's system processes this into a ham product that actually lowers your cholesterol! Goes to show you that animal husbandry may have done a disservice to the human condition. I mean, if domesticated animals do not have that property, but the wild pigs do, is it something in the domestication that has gradually changed them, and not for the better? As for the paella, to get back to my subject, I went all out for my first taste and chose the "riso negro": black paella, with the inky sauce of cuttlefish ink. Quite good.
From there we set out for the Church of Santa Maria del Mar, noteworthy to us because it was here that one IƱigo de Loyola begged for the alms that would allow him to go as a pilgrim to the Holy Land, where he had every expectation of living out his mortal days. The Church is a Gothic jewel, but like so many in Spain, it was ransacked and burned during the Civil War. Characteristic of churches that were subject to desecration, its side chapels were bare, occupied only by a smallish statue (3-5 feet, small for the chapel size). No paintings, no reredos, no memorial plaques, none of the signs of centuries of veneration. We found a decent enough statue of St. Ignatius, and Karen and I took each other's pictures there. The stained glass windows were mostly modern, the originals having been destroyed by fire. (A few originals remain, according to the guidebook.) And the Church's historic statue of Our Lady was saved, and now stands atop a pillar behind the altar.
More memories of Barcelona on another occasion!

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