Grotesques and Guitars

These are nighttime photos of Carrer del Bisbe Irurita or Bishop’s Walk in El Barrí Gotic, Barcelona.  I must thank a number of friends who gave me tips of things to see (throughout all of Spain, if possible) during my first, quick visit.  What I post here is only a glimpse based on fleeting hours.  It simply means I will have to revisit and stumble into a few more new discoveries along the way.

After a long day, I felt relieved to be free of my camera but then regretted it the instant I saw the full moon perfectly positioned over this lacy stone bridge, which I later learned was built in 1928 by Joan Rubío, a student of Antoni Gaudí.  I took this shot on my phone and then scampered to the hotel, though I knew by the time I chased there and back, I’d be lucky if the moon hadn’t slipped behind a massive, stone wall.

Joan Rubio's bridge.  Photo by Julia Crowe.
Joan Rubio’s bridge. Photo by Julia Crowe.

Rubío’s bridge connects the 14th century residence of the archbishop to the Generalitat of Catalonia, their general council or parliament.  The buildings were restored in the 1920s but Catalonian presidents chose to no longer use it a private residence after the Spanish Civil War.

My favorite stretch of this walk is the gothic façade of El Palau de la Generalitat was designed in 1416 by Marc Safont, whom I discovered, with some sleuthing, also designed what is now the entryway to the Museu Picasso, the former 15th-century Palau Aguilar. The figures jutting from the building are not rain spouts like traditional gargoyles but medieval grotesques, a visual lexicon of mythical and folkloric creatures that prompted oral histories and storytelling for those who couldn’t read.  I have not been able to find anything anywhere to explain the figures jutting from the wall but I’m assuming they’re supporting players in the tale of St. George and the Dragon because they sit below a carved medallion of Catalonia’s patron saint.

Sculptor Pere Johan carved these figures in 1418. Interestingly, Pere Johan was the son of a Greek slave, Jordi Déu, who was purchased by Catalan sculptor Jaume Cascalls who taught Déu his craft and let him win his freedom with it.

Pere Johan’s first solo work is on the keystone of the knave inside the nearby Cathedral of Barcelona and his last work is visible along the archway entrance of the Castel Nuovo in Naples.

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During the day, these narrow streets are busker heaven. I heard a very good cellist…  One left turn and up half a street, I spotted a guitarist.  Yet I intuited from several yards away that something seemed off. This guy was playing what sounded like a mic’d classical guitar. I didn’t recognize the piece and the tempo was slow, yet I could have sworn this musician was “finger-syncing,” in spite of the intense focus he was giving to the fretboard. Then all bets were off as the guitarist nonchalantly lifted up his guitar and set it across his lap to dig inside a bag that slouched beside his chair.

The music continued to play.

“Finger-syncing” on the guitar!  In Spain!

Around the back of the cathedral, in another courtyard, I encountered another guy who wasn’t even trying to fake a thing unless you cared to believe his mysteriously invisible vocal and percussive accompaniment were ghosts who’d grown slightly more cheerful since the days of the Spanish Inquisition. He was sunburnt yet smiling, having a great time making chord shapes along the neck of his guitar to the Gipsy Kings-style music playing on his boom box beneath his chair.

I won’t leave you with this image of six-string hustlers in Miguel Llobet’s hometown, nope.  This is the first city I’ve ever walked through where the streets are confettied with multi-lingual guitar concert brochures, like this one for Manuel González.   And it is not difficult to find beautiful guitar concert posters leading into an inviting courtyard (see below):

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During my last hours in Barcelona, I had a chance to scoot by the gorgeous art nouveau Palau de la Música.  This theatre, which opened in 1908, has seen the premieres of works by legends such as Enric Granados, Joaquín Turina, Manuel de Falla, Frederic Mompou and, in 1940, Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.  María, David Russell‘s wife, told me that he performs here every year and, this year, his concert at the Palau will be on October 1st.

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Recommended reading: Rick Steves’ Walk: Barri Gòtic & Cathedral of Barcelona, Barcelona an Palau de la Musica Catalana.