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Sunday, August 21, 2011

La Sagrada Familia: Not Just a Drip Castle

For years I thought that's what it looked like. You know, you sit at the edge of the water, on the beach, dig down and make a drip, or maybe you call it a dribble, castle. It's the easiest kind. You don't need anything but your hands. From any distance at all, that's exactly what this cathedral resembles. You have to get up really close to see that it's something else.

We knew it was an important cathedral, because cathedrals simply aren't built any more. Some cathedrals in use now are still under construction, such as the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine in New York. Washington National Cathedral took over 80 years to complete. Cathedrals can take centuries to build, and they are clearly enormous enterprises that will not be completed in the lifetimes of those who begin them. Sagrada Familia has been in the works since the 1880s. So I guess you can say we went there to see history in the making, a sort of homage to such an effort, and also because Gaudi was clearly a nutjob.

I don't mean this in a bad way. Artists are frequently like this; they see things differently from the rest of us. Gaudi saw buildings as living things, and designed the inside of this cathedral to look like a forest. We knew Gaudi's work was all over town, but we couldn't see it all. Despite Barcelona being a lovely city with fantastic weather, you still don't want to do much in the summer heat. So we skipped Park Guell, a housing development he designed, and went for the cathedral. It's a good thing, too, because it took the whole day.

Let's put the link right up front. Blogspot has a new edition in which you can do that.

Okay, it won't let me, so screw it. This is the URL:

We slept in after the previous day's marathon and took a taxi to the cathedral's neighborhood and immediately ate lunch, by which I mean Joyce drank coffee, and then we ordered a meal, sat there and gaped at the cathedral. You simply can't grasp the immensity (not the enormity) from any one place except maybe a helicopter. This is likely to be the first thing you see:

These are the ticket windows in front of the Passion facade. It's almost done. Gaudi lived to see the Nativity facade almost done. The Glory facade is still in its infancy, and he knew that styles would change, and left no specific plans for the later two. Smart.

Listen, if you don't have a sense of wonder, don't go anyplace, okay? If you can't be awed by anything anymore, stay home. Travel is for the open-minded, and it will open your mind even more. Sagrada Familia is a wonder. It's not a drip castle, it's not a church, it's not even just a cathedral. It IS a living thing, and it's growing right there in front of us. It's not nearly done, either, although they consecrated it once they got the roof on. So go, see a cathedral being built. See a birth in progress.

And we also found souvenir t-shirts right there by our little cafe, cheap, and grabbed them. We wore them to board the ship the next day, so you'll see them soon.

The line to get into the cathedral stretched caround the block, and we're talking an enormous block, but it went very fast! Maybe 15 minutes. This gave us a chance to guzzle water, buy more water, and guzzle that. There was shade, too. Anyway, you never, ever, want to be touring around anyplace without your water bottle firmly attached. One reason is the heat, another is there are no water fountains. If you happen to find a restroom with agua potabile, fill up!

So we bought two tickets, two headsets and one elevator ride for guess who. Only a few of the 18 planned towers are built, and you can go up elevators in two of them, cross a teeny, tiny little stone bridge, and come down the stairs inside of two others. This is not for the faint-hearted, but I love to get up high, so I went.

But first, the headsets. Every place should have these, and yes, they disinfect them. We saw them do it. Even Joyce can operate these. You can choose your language, and then you can choose your location, and then you can choose how much detail you get. You can go in order or backwards or whatever. I have tried several other of these self-guided systems but this is the best. It gives you the most flexibility. Okay, you can't ask questions, but you can go find someone and ask, or look it up later. And because there's so much detail available, you probably won't have any, anyway.

So inch by inch we started to go over it. Like sculptures? You'd better love them, because they have a million of them. This is our absolute favorite:

It's on the Nativity facade, where the sculptor thought it important to include ALL the animals in the stable on Christmas Eve. We think so, too, because we have a dog from Oberammergau in our creche. The Nativity facade is all about animals, and the few required people, but animal sculptures are everywhere. This may be one good reason to bring a child, but for goodness sake, don't overdo it. A place like this can overwhelm an adult, so show the kids the animals and the baby Jesus and get out, please. Come back in a few years, look at something else.

Like, for example, this crazy hanging Jesus over the main altar. It's very interesting, but could frighten the unsuspecting. It also looks suspiciously like a monument to Bacchus. Perhaps the wine motif was taken a little too far? If you can't see it well, use the link, above. It also has a great shot of the nave which looks like a forest. Nothing either of us attempted shows it as well as that.

While we were there, the organ was being played, maybe for practice, and we sat and listened to that. They also recited a rosary, which I think they do every hour. We especially enjoyed the stained-glass. The entire place is just spectacular, and after we had worked our way back outside to the other side, and examined the entire Nativity facade, Joyce decided it was time for a break while I took my elevator ride. Here are a couple of shots from way up high on that tiny little bridge.

The second one is from behind the Tree of Life in the Nativity facade. Speaking of that, compare the stone in the two facades. The dark one, Nativity, was completed in the 1920s. The Passion isn't quite done yet. They need to get the doors on and a few other touches. See how dark the older one is?

It's not just a matter of different lighting or the distance from the lens; the older stone has weathered. Goodness knows how many centuries before the entire cathedral is the same color.

Joyce found a bench and put her feet up while I first took the elevator up the tower, and then climbed down these stairs,

and when I fell out this door, she insisted I do the same.

So we just sat there and gaped at it for a while, and we knew we'd never really appreciate it all. I mean, how can you? And none of the pictures we took will ever convey the beauty of this place, but they will help us remember.

I don't care what religion you are, or if you have none. It doesn't matter. Cathedrals are not just for people with religions, anyway. This is art for everyone. Go see.

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