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The Statesman

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A Window Seat on the Way to Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona. (Ana Llácer Alventosa / The Staesman)

After one year away from home, I couldn’t wait to see my family and friends again. Finally, Christmas time had arrived and I was going home.

Leaving the cold of Long Island was a Christmas gift within itself.

It was a long, eight-hour flight, but thanks to the man next to me, I was able to sleep because he gave me his window seat.

When I arrived in Spain my friends were excited to see me after a long year away.

Nothing changed, they welcomed me home with open arms and tears of joy.

When I arrived home to Guadassuar, Valencia I was relieved to feel my cold. It’s a different cold then New York cold. It’s a cold different from Stony Brook’s. It was an American autumn.

My boyfriend, Frankie, had been saving money during the whole summer to come to Spain for a month. Because we come from different backgrounds, I wanted to show him my culture, so he could better understand me and the way I am. I was excited to show him my homeland.

We planned to travel throughout Spain, and our most exciting destination was the beautiful city of Barcelona.

The place I fell in love with most was the monumental church “Sagrada Familia.” The building stands hugely in the centre of Barcelona and is visible from miles away. Antonio Gaudí started building it in late 1883, and, over the years, it has become an icon of the city’s identity. This is especially true because as the city grows, so does the “Sagrada Familia.”

When we arrived there, we were astonished by the church’s majestic appearance. The exterior is ringed with cranes, and inside, there are many tools and bricklayers. In every stage of its development it has been  magnificent and incomparable.

The façade is not unlike any other church in terms of subject matter. It expresses the Catholic faith with depictions of Jesus, Mary, apostles and saints.  If you look closer, it looks like any other Roman relief. The sculpted statues are very life like. Each one represents scenes from the Bible. But if you look at it from far away, the elaborate relief sculptures begin to look more organic, resembling a bee colony or an anthill.

It made me think that perhaps this is what Gaudi wanted us to see. We are human beings and part of an exceptional species. But we tend to separate ourselves with our cultural norms and traditions. Guadi successfully unites us through his use of natural forms rather than alienating us with dark facades and hard edges.

Most of the churches I’ve seen in my life all seem like they want to strike the fear of God in you. They are dark and ominous cluttered with gory depictions of Jesus on the cross, I thought. But this one is different. The “Sagrada Familia,” Gaudi takes a different approach. While retaining its mystery, the church depicts life and welcomes you to wonder. The elements inside of the church reflect Gaudi’s fascination with repetition. Everything is round and bubbled. It is inviting.

The ceiling connects directly with the windows in an attempt to echo the pattern made by the rays of light. It is wonderful and whimsical. Gaudi was drawing inspiration from structures found in nature, and the pillars look organic. Similar to Roman columns, the pillars look like they were inspired by plant stems. The ceiling, instead of having man-made paintings and frescos typical of Renaissance, shows shapes of flowers and leaves. It is something we can all relate to, even people that do not believe in God. The building connects nature with religion and belief.

Street performers in Barcelona. (Ana Llácer Alventosa / The Staesman)

Barcelona is a close-knit community of adjacent buildings and narrow winding streets adhering to its mountainsides. It’s  bathed in the salty waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It has remains from the Middle Age, the Renaissance and the Modern era. The city flaunts its charms while tourists admire its art and co-mingle with the locals ambling around its narrow streets.

On the stroll down from the Plaza de Catalunya to the Columbus monument at Port Vell, flower and animal stalls and all sorts of artists, are “Las Ramblas.” It is the social center of the city where everyone can come together. The sidewalks are laden with street performers who design very elaborate costumes and pretend to be statues to make a Euro.

There are many stores on both sides of the street such as Custo Barcelona and Nike. On one side is the Barrio del Raval— loaded with traditional cafes, bars and rows of intimate restaurants where we had lunch one day—  and on the other side, is el Barrio Gotico, which has narrow streets full of antique shops, bookstores, craft booths and souvenir shops.

Park Guell, another one of Gaudi’s creations, is located in the north part of city. It is situated on a steep hill in the neighborhood el Barrio de Gracia. It is a garden complex with many different architectural elements. To get there, we had to walk up three steep city blocks. We were not quite prepared for this type of exercise, so we were pleasantly surprised to find an escalator in the middle of the neighborhood.

In the main entrance to the Park Guell, there are two buildings that resemble gingerbread houses. They have checkered-tile roofs and the shapes are very round and exaggerated. They are made of stone and they seem to come right out of a children’s book. The windows are decorated with brightly-colored stones that seem like candy. It is as if you are inside of a colorful fairytale tale.

Gaudí’s multi-colored tile mosaic decorates long benches that make up the main terrace. Here, there was a street performer dressed as the invisible man. He was apparently popular. Everybody was crowding around waiting for their turn to take a picture with him. Finally, at the top most part of the trail, there is a beautiful view overlooking the whole city and the coast of Barcelona.

Walking around the Park Guell was exciting because of all the architecture seated in nature. It seems huge and hard to navigate because you don’t know where you are on the map.

On our way out, there were children who had just gotten out of school, and they were climbing all over the park. It was funny to think that they all just live there and go to school right down the block from Park Guell. To them, it’s a routine part of their lives, but it’s a really big deal for everyone else in the world.

The trip went by really fast. I was headed back to Stony Brook for another long and cold semester, but this time I had no window seat. The girl next to me didn’t let me sit there. And I realized that everything was going  back to reality after my storybook vacation.

At the end of the trip, Frankie told me that he was grateful for the time we shared and the opportunity to find out who I really am.

“We’ll always have Barcelona.”

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