I emerge from the underground sweaty and a little grumpy after my 10 hours of travel to Barcelona. But as I float up the Passeig de Gràcia metro stairs, the first thing I see is Gaudí’s masterpiece, Casa Batlló, lit up at night. I laugh.
Casa Milà too, better known as La Pedrera, looks like it’s made from the water when the tide rushes in—the water and sand swirling around your feet in a churning mass of a million grains. In La Pedrera, Gaudí has somehow convinced this fluid beauty to hold the shape of a building. Walking through the city, it’s as if I’m stepping into the future each time I see another Gaudí vision, and yet, his influence washed over Barcelona a hundred years ago.
Pushed along with the river of people on La Rambla in a soft golden light, every alley of Barri Gòtic opens to reveal laughing, carefree crowds that overflow from tapas bars and pubs. Around La Boqueria market, I’m inside a kaleidoscope of food; sun-dried tomatoes, spicy sausages, pale-colored cheeses, bright fresh herbs, chili peppers, and stall upon stall of Iberian ham. And, of course, everywhere Pan Catalan—an open-face baguette rubbed generously with olive oil, sea salt, and ripe red tomatoes. It’s better with a glass of wine. Even better in the heady glow of early evening.
Walking around Park Güell, I feel I’m in a half-constructed dreamscape, the ruins of some ancient civilization. It is, in fact, a ruin of sorts, created over 100 years ago as a haven for the rich to look out over a growing metropolis and to the shining Mediterranean beyond, and then abandoned when the elite chose not to move there.
I’ve been in a line to get into the Porter’s Lodge, one of the few buildings completed before the money dried up, at the entry to the reclaimed urban Park Güell. Time stretches when the sun beats down and some people in front of me, who I had been listening to as they chatted away in a lyrical mixture of French and Catalan, pull out a boombox from somewhere and start dancing, right in the middle of the square. The dance is beautiful. Not because it’s expert or rehearsed. It’s beautiful because it’s spontaneous. I smile. Knowing my own inhibitions, I wait to see if other people in line will start to look embarrassed ... or even annoyed. But they don’t.
In Barcelona, if you want to dance, you dance.