Barcelona: Progressive and Innovative
By: Esilda Buxbaum and Jaime Cobas
Because of Barcelona’s privileged location, its culture has been nurtured and influenced by commerce (textiles from the East), architecture (the Romanesque and Gothic styles were introduced here to the Iberian Peninsula), gastronomy (the Italian pastas that Marco Polo imported from China and the use of honey, fruits and nuts in composite main course dishes), the arts (Picasso and Dalí, started here before moving to Paris and revolutionizing the concept of modern art), architecture (the structural innovations of Gaudí and his religious symbolism) , literature ( Garcia Lorca’s poems and symbolic plays), all contributed to create a city that is vibrant and innovative, what has been called the Athens of Spain, a cultural center of creativity and invention.
Although Frank Ghery made Bilbao an architectural magnet, Barcelona has always been known for its innovative cuisine, but it became a gastronomical destination due to Ferran Adriá and “El Bulli” (In nearby Roses) where he created magical transmutations, training many chefs, and gaining many followers of “ La nueva gastronomía", with its emphasis on fresh produce and deconstruction of the ingredients that are used in the elaboration of its creations. Now that El Bulli is closed, the coveted and hard to get tables are in Barcelona at the Adria brothers new enterprises: “Tickets” and “41 Degrees”.
La Cara de Barcelona by Roy Lichtenstein
Architecturally, the city boasts of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites (many by Antoní Gaudí) and recent structures and public projects are a result of a civic impetus to develop and expand its limits. Here one can marvel on the works by Ricardo Bofill, (Walden Tower and the Vela W Hotel).
The spectacular cantilever of the glass enveloped “ Torre de Gas Natural”, the phallic “Torre de Agbar” with its LED colored light displays by Jean Nouvel, the ultra slick MACBA (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Barcelona) by Richard Meier, and the “ Hotels Suites” by Toyo Ito that evokes the waviness of Gaudí’s “ La Pedrera, diagonally across the street.
“Hotel Suites” (by Toyo Ito) and “La Pedrera” (by Antoni Gaudí) are located diagonally opposed in the “Passeig de Gracia”. Note the similarities in the undulation in the façade.
On our visit to Mont Juic, and the Joan Miró Museum, designed by Josep Luis Sert, on the Plaza de España area, we stopped at “ Rias de Galicia” (“La gastrojoieria”) Starting with a “Cava” and roasted salmon with honey, sampling (“tapeando”) the exotic “ jewels” offered; percebes gallegos (“ goose barnacles”, a mollusk that is perilously gathered on the rocky shores and is considered a delicacy) (Do not refuse the bib that is offered- they squirt when opened), also “ Croquetas de Gamba, Buey del Mar” ( crab croquettes,) “ Espardeñas con Patatas” (Sea cucumber with potatoes), Rodaballo al Pil Pil ( turbot in a garlic and olive oil emulsion) and “Espalditas de Cabrito”, a crispy skinned and juicy back of baby goat meat. With the fish we drank a Lanius “ Alta Alella” a regional white of limited production and with the meat course, “ Fulanito” (Rivera del Duero 2010) Percebes
(Rias de Galicia, Lleida 7, Parallel-Poble Sec, ph: 93 42 48 152, www.lagastrojoieria.com)
While on a sightseeing trip along the Barceloneta a neighborhood that once served the maritime trades, but as more land was reclaimed from the sea, it has grown upwards and outwards. The opening of the Passeig Maritim, that connects it with the Olympic Village built in 1992, became a meandering esplanade, full of parks and well designed urban furniture, populated with sculptures that refer to water sports. Bracketed at one end by the impressive “Vela” W Hotel by Ricardo Bofill, (a sail shaped glass clad structure and a convention center, built in 2009) and at the other end, Frank Ghery’s metallic fish sits atop the Center for Maritime Investigations. (2001)
“Vela Hotel (by Ricardo Bofill) Fish (by Frank Ghery)
Along this wide sidewalk, on the town side, are outdoor cafés that overlook the bathers and the seashore. Most notable among these is Can Majó, where one dines “al fresco”, shaded by market umbrellas. Its kitchen and the formal dining room are in front, across the narrow one-way street. We started with a Rosé Cava, because our main course and the purpose of our visit was the “ Caldero de Arroz Caldoso con Bogavante” (a soupy rice with lobster in a tomato sauce); but before, we sampled the fried artichokes, that were thin and crispy, reminiscent of the Cuban “mariquitas or the puertorrican “ platanutres”, along with shrimp croquettes, that melted in your mouth.
(Can Majó, Almirall Aixada 23, Barceloneta, ph: 93 221 54 55 www.canmajo.es )
Another “ must” for locavores has to be “ La Boquería”, a wrought iron Modernista food market located just off “ Las Ramblas” (the main avenue and pedestrian walk that connects the Plaza de Catalunya on top, and gradually descends to the Monument to Cristobal Colón at the seaport). Crammed with individual stands that display colorfully arranged vegetables, artisanal cheeses, Iberic ham, freshly made pastas, and, at lunchtime, it is a favorite place to have a light repast with fresh produce and fishplates. The most famous is “ Pinotxo” where people stand three deep. But also good is “ Kiosko Universal” (#691) at one end where we had Cava along with whatever delicacies were just prepared. There is no menu, it is best that your attendant suggest the choices, we tried clams, chipirones, (squid), sautéed mushrooms and some salad. On the way out we stopped al stand # 562, which was chock-full of cheeses and an array of hams and chorizos.
Stand #562 at La Boqueria
Las Ramblas is a multi-sensorial experience, populated by kiosks with tourism information, some that sell city excursions, and it is subdivided in areas that sell birds, pet mice, flowers, crafts, etc. You will see elaborate streetlights designed by Gaudí and intriguing shop signs (an umbrella shop in one corner). While in that neighborhood visit the MACBA (Museu d” Art Contemporani de Barcelona) by Richard Meier (1996) on the Plaça dels Angels, a glass fronted gleaming white structure that with a permanent collection Spanish artists from the 1950 onwards and temporary exhibits of foreign artists.
Next to it, in a courtyard is another architectural gem, the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporanea de Barcelona) (1993) where architects Helio Piñon and Albert Viaplana have remodeled an 18 th century former hospice. They used reflecting glass to close off the U-shaped buildings enclosing a four-story atrium that serves as an entry hall and main circulation space, appropriately for this cutting edge cultural hub.
If you can only visit one of Antoní Gaudi’s works, the choice should be the Church of the Sagrada Familia; a neo-Gothic landmark that Pope Benedict XVI consecrated in 2010 and declared it is “an encounter between Art and Faith”. It is a work in progress, started in 1882, developed by Gaudí throughout his life (until 1926 when he died in an accident with a tram). It lay dormant during the Spanish Civil War, until 1954 when work began in the West (Passion) façade. It is a marvel of space, formed with, intuitive innovation and structural invention, a place full of religious symbolism yet awe inspiring, and welcoming to all faiths.
After a very extensive exploration of its spaces, façades, (maybe an elevator ride to its roof) and a visit to the gift shop, you can also visit the modern, (12007) Biblioteca de La Sagrada Familia, on the corner of Provença and Padilla, which boasts a multistoried atrium, criss- crossed with pedestrian bridges that unite its different departments.
Afterwards, you can retire for a leisurely lunch at “ Alkimia”, on Calle Industria #78, where chef Jordi Vilá deconstructs and re-assembles the Catalan cuisine. The bill of fare had three choices: a “ Tasting Menu” (much too long for lunch), a “ Menu Migdia” (Midday) and a la Carte. The lunch menu enticingly listed only “ appetizers (notice the plural) Main Course and Dessert, for a 35 euros fixed price ( US$45.50). Only after choosing it were the different dishes announced, but do not worry, everything is delicious and fresh. To start, a “ Cava” with “Torrejas de Almendra” (an almond studded “ tuille”); the first appetizer was a shot glass with tomato water, olive oil, toasted breadcrumbs floating atop and a thinly sliced “ longaniza” (sausage) capping it.
An “ Aldemor” Albariño blended beautifully with the next offering, “ Boqueron con aceite de Pepino” (Anchovy with Cucumber Oil), followed by “ Meloso de Ternera” (a narrow strip of veal that must have been slowly cooking for hours, it was so tender, it could be cut with a fork. This was paired with horseradish foam, which gave it a little kick, plus tiny cubes of beets and potatoes, and a touch of “ morcilla” (Spanish blood sausage). As a last appetizer, “ Bacalau con Morillos and Patates”, (flaky codfish accompanied by morels and potatoes). , This was the highlight of the whole repast.
As the main course one has a choice of meat (entrecote) or fish, in this case it was a “ San Pedro” (John Dory) with clams, mussel sauce, zucchini, mint and ginger.
For dessert we opted for a cheese course (off the menu) and the chef delivered an assortment of Catalonian cheeses accompanied by spikes of toasted breads and “ membrillo” (guava paste.) A truly country delicacy reinterpreted by its presentation that was a reprise of the whole meal.
Alkimia, Industria 79, L’Eixample, t.93 2076115 www.alkimia.cat
There is more to explore and enjoy, Cal Pep at Plaça de les Olles 8 for half portions ( tapas) of tiny clams in broth, tuna tartare, a sardine or fresh salmon when you visit the Picasso Museum. Tapaç 24 at Diputació 269, where Carlos Abellán, who once toiled at “ El Bullˆ” tantalizes with Iberic Ham croquettes, White Anchovies with lemon, Black Rice with Squid Ink or the improbable but deliciously decadent “ McFoie Burger” (a meat patty slider with half a bread bun accompanied by a good dollop of foie gras. The whole thing is consumed in three or four bites, but the memory lingers on.
Cacao Sampaka where Albert Adriá (Ferran’s brother) concocts delicacies with flowers, cinnamon, liqueurs, etc in the Passeig de Gracia sector, when you visit the Gaudí masterpieces, La Pedrera and Casa Batlló. Or the Tapiés Foundation housed in the first residential building built with iron, in this city.
Although there is an economic turmoil in Europe and the rest of the Iberic Peninsula, Barcelona thrives, inventing, adapting and transforming the mundane into the sublime. A motorized knife sharpener in Barceloná’s Gothic Quarter distills the contemporary spirit of this imaginative city; ingenious, inventive ,modernizing the past and adapting to continue evolving.