May you live in interesting times, goes the old Chinese curse – which is of course neither that old, nor Chinese, but it’s common western misconception that anything vaguely clever must be a traditional Chinese proverb. But, misquoted and misunderstood pearls of wisdom look great on Instagram. But don’t we just live in exciting times? Take the United (for the time being) Kingdom. V for Vendetta resembles to a prophecy more and more each day. 5 years ago, could you have imagined in your wildest dreams a cabinet, where the statement “Priti Patel is now home secretary” is immediately trumped by “Dominic Raab is now foreign secretary”. Ms. Bring-Back-Capital-Punishment and Mr. I-Hadn’t-Quite-Understood-The-Importance-of-Dover-Calais-Crossing (for British trade) in charge of UK’s most important ministries. And the best part is that exactly as in the above-mentioned graphic novel, this horror show arose from democratic elections, so sit back and enjoy what you paid for. Elsewhere in the West, second Trump administration is not even a probability anymore, but practically a done deal Apparently people repeat the same mistakes in relationships because of behavioural patterns they subconsciously learned in their childhoods. So either all Americans get themselves into therapy ASAP, or we all better get ready for five more years of Twitter shitstorms. And a nuclear war. Other exciting highlights of our times: 20+ °C in Antarctica, unprecedented wildfires decimating the wildlife population on three continents, a different storm in Europe every weekend, with floods as a bonus. Meanwhile, the world is on the verge of a novel virus pandemic, and the panic is so much fun to watch: supermarkets in countries unaffected by coronavirus look like what shops used to be under socialism in Soviet Union (someone in the Czech Republic bought 600 kg of online shopping…and no coronavirus case had even been reported, at the time), people discuss the usefulness of face masks, but still don’t wash their hands after using the loo (as witnessed in my workplace). It’s like watching Contagion in real time. But just three weeks of standstill lowered China’s emissions by what New York City releases in an entire year (and counting). This manflu may yet save the planet.
I know most of you will think I’m cynical, and you are right, but if this new illness is something really threatening, then most of us will die and none of you can even start imagining the level of excitement the survivors will have to live through, and buying 5 years worth of rice will have 0 effect. Any form of establishment will fall apart, there will be no existing society, public services or political system and whoever’s left will have to deal with general disruption of the world as we know it. Also, have you googled yet what happens if a nuclear power plant is left unattended with no one to look over complete cooling down of the reactor? No? What are you waiting for then? If you people must panic, panic properly. Spoiler: full-on meltdown of every reactor in the world is unlikely, and before that happens, your more urging problems will be all the chemical plants, gas storage facilities, refineries, and traditional power plants that don’t have automatic shut down procedures in place and are bound to eventually explode in spectacular blazes, much sooner than any core melts through its cladding. Freaking out yet?
But look at the positives: climate change – solved (possibly reversed, even); ecosystem balance – restored; wildlife diversity and species at the verge of extinction – preserved. Moreover: wealth distribution, institutional racism, gender pay gap: all solved. And then: Instagram – gone; social media influencers and self-professed life coaches – banished to rightful oblivion; the Great British Bake Off, Love Island, and every sleazy talent show – gone. Tinder, Happn, Bumble, Plenty of Sh…Fish and all the other online tools that elevated swapping pictures of genitalia to (virtual) handshake – finally gone. On the personal level: all the pain, depression, mal de vivre – blissfully gone. Probably all the happiness and joy gone too, but no one realizes they are happy until they’re not. Those who survive the disease and the violent aftermath will have the privilege to experience living in post-apocalyptic version of Lennon’s Imagine (although, as for “no religion, too”, I am 100% positive it would not take the survivors long to come up with some idiotic cult that they could spend the rest of their days killing each other for). Speaking of which, Prague City Council seems to be adamant to return the controversial Marian Column to the Old Town Square, which I thought was a decision driven by sheer ignorance the honourable councillors have of the national history, but it’s now clear that the Virgin will make Her glorious return to the city centre to help fighting off the coronavirus. I mean, it’s not quite like the plague, yet, but given vaccination is considered a somewhat medieval practice these days when it comes to prevention of infectious diseases (as opposed to erecting statues), who knows…maybe this works! Better safe than sorry.
A couple of weeks ago, I met with my Italian friends in Barcelona. I should probably disclose this to my HR, given the current atmosphere, but as I don’t want to end up in imposed self-isolation confined to my 32 square metres apartment for mixing with the wrong crowd, we’ll just all pretend I didn’t make that statement. I am due back to Catalunya in a few days, this time with my Mum, so this first trip served for a bit of scouting, too. I had been to Barcelona before on two occasions, one of which included two shows of Bruce Springsteen in Camp Nou, so I didn’t really get to doing much tourism apart from queueing outside the stadium; the second one was a 30th birthday trip with my best friend, which for obvious reasons I largely don’t really recall. The photo below was taken during that trip. Whatever i was trying to achieve, it still hasn’t worked.
I did not manage much sightseeing – which does not mean I haven’t taken heaps of bad to average photographs:
Catalan modernism: Most people (rightly) associate Barcelona with the genius of Antoni Gaudí. I will talk about his work more in detail in the next blog, as I already booked entrances to visit Sagrada Familia and some of the famous townhouses he designed, on this occasion, I opted for a quick evening walk around the basilica and only managed few horrible shots with my cellphone. Taking out the tripod every now and then (given I made the effort to buy it) may not be a thoroughly bad idea.
Park Güell: Nowadays (mostly) public garden was originally an ambitious plan for luxury housing estate for the rich ideated by Catalan entrepreneur Eusebi Güell and designed by Antoni Gaudí. Today the area is in the city, but on the beginning of the 20th century this was countryside, away from the smoke of Barcelona’s many factories. However, the project was unsuccessful from the beginning, and while the monumental part of the gardens served as experimental playground for Gaudí, only two houses were built out of 60 intended, one of which was a show house where Gaudí later moved with his family to lure potential buyers, but none ever came forward and the development turned out to be an utter disaster. The city bought the premises in 1922 and turned them into a public park. There is now a 10 euro fee to visit the monumental gardens, while the rest of the park remains public. However, extensive restoration works are underway, meaning most of the monumental area is closed and what’s left is crowded, so I would wait for a couple of years before visiting again.
Catalan contemporary architecture: With over a thousand buildings standing in over 50 countries, Ricardo Bofill Levi is one of the world’s most prolific contemporary architects. His work merges old and new, fuses traditional aesthetics with modern materials and building techniques, often converts existing abandoned structures into public spaces, concert halls or parks. In Barcelona, Bofill’s most prominent works include the W Hotel on the waterfront, the extension of the Terminal 1, and most importantly Walden-7 housing estate and La Fàbrica. Walden-7 was conceived as a new concept of social living, with half of the surface originally intended for communal use. It was supposed to be an auto-sufficient vertical city with shops, cafes and small businesses. Only one of originally planned 3 blocks stands today, with communal spaces reduced to make space for more flats, but the building still remains a beautiful monument to modern architecture.
La Fábrica: Ricardo Bofill’s family home and headquarters to his professional studio RBTA (Ricardo Bofill Taller de Aquitectura) is located just next door to Walden -7, and was also built in the same period (early 1970s). To me, La Fábrica is the finest example of Bofill’s genius: an abandoned 19th century cement factory converted into beautiful modern living a working space hidden in a lush garden.
Santa Maria del Pi – Pi as in catalan expression for pine tree, not the greek letter Π (but I admit I was intrigued). On of the many neo-gothic buildings in the Barcelona city centre, but here at least the bell tower dates to 14th century. It would not be anyone’s first choice of monuments to visit in town, but I am curious and will stick my nose to most places. Look for Lucy, a beautiful Russian Blue that lives in the church garden.
Barrio Gotico & random shots: when the idiot-in-chief the POTUS announced his intention to “Make federal buildings beautiful again” last week, what he meant was “let’s start building neo-classical buildings again, because modern is bad and ugly”. This of course is not a new idea, but wouldn’t it surprise everyone if Trump actually came up with an original or god forbid progressive notion? In the same spirit, there is nothing remotely gothic about the Gothic Quarters of Barcelona. Most of the “medieval city centre” was built at the end of the 19th / beginning of the 20th century in neogothic style to please tourists pouring in town for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition. This practice unfortunately included the addition of a flamboyant neogothic façade to Santa Eulalia Cathedral, a beautiful example of heavy and stern Catalan Gothic prior to this face-lift. I personally find ridiculous the idea of going back to past architectonic styles not for inspiration, but for a model to reproduce. I am perfectly aware that various forms of historicism were cool in the 19th century, but architects kept adding neogothic “improvements” to buildings in Barrio Gotico well into 1970s.
On the other hand, Barcelona also gave us all the beautiful creations of Antoni Gaudí, so some architectonic obscenities can be surely forgiven. More about those in the next blog. In the unlikely case this is the last ever entry to Kacenkaontheroad.com, because we are all going to succumb to the novel manflu, well, I’m sure some of you would be pleased by this outcome, and those who would not, stay tuned for more caustic rants and average photographs. This too shall pass, probably.