Friday, January 16, 2015

Vagabond Wonders and Woes

Drop-dead gorgeous view from the terrace of the house in San Agustin de Guadalix, north of Madrid


In the midst of our two-week holiday together, Rich, my son David, Heidi, Emily and I ride the high speed AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona across rolling hills, gullies and canyons, mountains in the distance and glimpses of the sea when we near Barcelona. (The AVE train sells the best bocadillo -- serrano jamón and Manchego cheese on warm, crispy baguettes.) We arrive in late afternoon and settle into our apartment in the Barri Gòtic, the old section of the city. The apartment has two bedrooms, two tiny bathrooms, kitchen open to large living, eating area with futons for additional sleepers.The ceilings are probably 5 meters high, wooden slats and beams. The rooms have long windows with door-sized shutters that completely eliminate light and most noise from outside. With the shutters open, we can look up through the narrow chimney between buildings and see blue sky. An updated space perfectly in keeping with its medieval foundation. 
Barri Gòtic

[Enlarge photos by clicking in the center. To better see links embedded in the posting, go to the actual Rambling Solo site.]

Outside the apartment, narrow stone roads snake through corridors shadowed by the surrounding stone buildings. I lead the way in search of sardana dancers said to appear in front of the cathedral at either 6 p.m. on Saturday or noon on Sunday. Sardana is a circle dance and a Catalan tradition, forbidden during the Franco years, but quickly reinstated after his death. Although the dancers never appeared during our visit, the YouTube link provides several examples as well as showing "castles in the air," the tradition of building towers of people.
Cathedral in Barcelona
sin sardana

Barcelona, with rear of
history museum towering above

Barri Gòtic

And so we walked The Ramblas, the swath of walkway leading from Plaça de Catalunya with its fountains and city center bustle to the tall, slender Columbus Monument at the port. The Ramblas offers a kaleidoscope of entertainment along its sweep, from human statues of silver men or golden women to monstrous creatures inviting small children to pose for photos. There are outside cafes and pickpockets, balloon sellers and T-shirt vendors, sellers of birds in cages and flowers in tissue, and more tourists speaking more languages than almost anyplace else in the world. Barcelona is an international tourist mecca, compared to Madrid, the quintessential Spanish city. 
Las Ramblas

Port in Barcelona

We select the Museu Picasso and the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat for Sunday since many museums are closed on Mondays. (Note the spellings for museum. As you may know, Barcelona speaks Catalan -- museu; museo is Spanish; and spell check throws up her hands in disgust.) The Picasso museum has many of the artist's works created before he moved on to Paris and restructured the face of art, literally. The museum provides an educational introduction to Pablo Picasso through his very early work, including those completed at 15/16 years old: the portrait of Picasso's mother and "Science and Charity"As you walk across the room in front of Science and Charity, the bed lengthens and shortens depending on perspective. How many 16-year-olds know the meaning of perspective, much less how to create the effect in a static work? 
Columbus points the way
The viewing tower under Columbus is accessible
from the visitor center at the base.

We see portraits of Picasso's father, many of his assistant Jaime Sarbartés and self-portraits created over the years. We see the influence of Toulouse-Lautrec, several pieces from Picasso's Blue Period, but none from the Rose Period, other than one that hints of those rosy glows to come. One of my first-to-recognize and favorite Picasso pieces is from the Blue Period, Woman Ironing and hangs in the Guggenheim in New York.

Finally, the early hints of cubism appear, including one large room dedicated to Picasso's famous studies of the Velazquez masterpiece, Las Meninas, in the Prado in Madrid. The full rendition of Picasso's Las Meninas hangs with multiple individual studies. For the full perspective, I suggest a trip to Madrid and Barcelona; we're here until May. And if you come, we'll also see Picasso's famous, Guernica, in the Reina Sofia, here in Madrid.
Rich, David, Emily, Heidi at the port in Barcelona
with Park Güell visible on the hill behind

We move on to the Barcelona history museum recommended by new friends met at a Boxing Day party in San Agustin de Guadalix. New and very beautiful, the museum flaunts lots of wood, lovely displays of artifacts, and is airy and spacious, but the very best part is underground -- an archaeological site beneath the palace and cathedral next door. It's an extensive site with walkways rambling throughout, railings that don't interfere with the view, at times glass/plexiglass underfoot to reveal the dig. Captions are a bit uneven, sometimes including English along with Catalan and Spanish, sometimes not. The site itself is incredibly impressive; a Roman Barcino (working class community) (10 B.C.) unearthed beneath standing city monuments. Along with the footings for living quarters, the dig has revealed workshops for laundry and dyeing cloth, a swimming/soaking pool, fish processing and wine making vats. Then the walk extends into digs revealing the 7th century church and 11th century palace -- Barcelona in the Middle Ages. A fascinating walk through history.

More Barcelona next week.

These boats in Barcelona
headed around the world the 
next day
so Rich says


In the months before we left the United States, Rich and I amassed the documents needed for long term visas to Spain. No, you don't need a visa to visit, but you do need one to stay for more than 90 days. We needed documents attesting to financial health; we needed signed assurances attesting to medical health; we needed police reports attesting to behavioral health; plus, photos, an apartment contract, and all the documents translated to Spanish and thrice copied. We turned it all over to the Spanish Embassy in August and returned to packing and disposing of belongings. 

Two weeks before our departure date in October, notification in hand, we appeared at the Embassy to have visas affixed to our passports. We were told to report to the police station in Madrid within the 90-day period. 

After three visits to a Madrid police station (closed; schedule an appointment; appointment) the experience was feeling much like DC rigamarole. Then, we were sent to a website to complete another part of the task. Rich spent days trying to decipher what to do and where to do it. Phone calls were unsuccessful. He finally traveled across the city to receive a small front-and-back form again citing a website where we could set an appointment. The response to the submitted e-form: no appointments available before your visa expires. With January plans to return to DC for a pre-scheduled court appointment, Rich was quickly becoming very grouchy. I began making mental plans to move to Chile. Rich called a Spanish attorney. 

Finally, we had an appointment overshadowed by clouds of pessimism. You are late; you needed this the first month; lots of people want to get into Spain; you are late. I could go to Chile and study Spanish. We ride the crowded Metro for an hour, packed among commuters returning to work after lunch/siesta, students headed home, standing room only for most of the trip. We disembark and begin a long walk along a highway in an industrial area of the city. I don't see any buildings that could possibly be a national police station. And we're late. On our left, a 4-story yellow block with blue canvas awnings, ugly, deserted on the street side, we follow a group in business dress around the corner and the building opens into a fenced courtyard where people in two long lines wend their way and police officers mill about. A woman smiles and waves from the security enclosure and whisks us through the human scanner, by-passing the belt scanner. A young man has held our spaces in line while the attorney herded us. She briefs us again: we are late; we needed this appointment a month ago; lots of people want to be in Spain; we may be refused. Santiago is a real possibility. "You have your photos," she says. I see the envelope left on the corner of the dresser in the apartment. I squeeze through the line and hie to the photo booths, slide in my 5 € note, push any buttons and retrieve a sullen-faced digital replica.

I focus on Chile where it is summer and scan the queue. The young Asian man who held our place in line is behind us. Women with small children, families, a mix of nationalities, skin colors and dress, mostly young, a few middle aged, all wait patiently to enter the building. Inside, walls of white glass tile, stark and cold, and around the perimeter, officials sit at 20 or so small tables with computers and interview applicants. I imagine a prison intake room. I look at the faces, stern, intent, sullen, bored, stern. Only one woman leans forward across the table, listening, eye to eye with her applicant. We don't get her table. 

Our official keeps her eyes on the computer screen, desk, papers, asks no questions, reaches for the passports. She places a small machine in front of me and indicates how to put my index finger on the screen, then again, roll side to side, then the other hand. She retrieves a letter from the printer, hands it to me and waves me on to another table while she turns to Rich's hand. The next woman chats with the attorney, stamps and initials my letter and returns it to me with a smile. I am an immigrant for a year. No fanfare, no hassle, clean, quick in the end. Chile will have to wait. Today aún, we have Madrid.


  1. Good to know there's bureaucracy everywhere? (Probably even in Chile). Love the inserts of the paintings... I did see Guernica when it was in NYC (probably 1973), before being returned to Spain.

    I'd love to see the archaeology site in Barcelona! And I'm surprised at how often your pictures of city streets bring back my memories of different parts of Spain. Glad you get to stay the year!

  2. Hi There, So glad you finally got your papers so that you could stay there...Looks like an awesome place for sure... I am enjoying keeping up with you through your blog. I don't always comment but always read it.