Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sagrada Familia

Well, once again the plane didn’t fall into the sea and we survived. I do hate flying, though. I hate the way that the plane seems hardly off the ground before you’re looking down on tiny dolls’ houses, giving you no chance to say: actually, I’ve changed my mind; can we go back? I really really don’t like the bumpy bits of turbulence. I always have to fix my eyes on one of the cabin crew to watch for signs of anxiety on his or her face - as long as the coffee-pouring continues, I feel somewhat reassured. But the descent is the worst bit. The part where the sound of the engines changes – clearly because one of them’s failed, if not fallen off; the bit where the pilot applies the brakes and it’s just a matter of time before we go into a spin; and the time when we’re zooming dangerously near the ground and the pilot’s teasing us, making us brace ourselves for that horrible crump as we hit the runway.

Anyway: Barcelona. It was amazing, at least to me, who hadn’t had time to read up on it before we went. Our reason for going was mainly to see the Gaudi architecture, which I knew about, vaguely. I’d seen pictures of strange, tiled buildings, and kind of realised that the cathedral that Gaudi had started to build was still not finished and was still being worked on. But I had no idea exactly how much it wasn’t finished. And visiting this on Tuesday – the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (expiatory temple of the sacred family) - was a real highlight of the trip – in fact one of the highlights of my life. Maybe that’s putting it a bit strongly; though one has to bear in mind that my life hasn’t been all that exciting… .

Unlike my expectations - which were that there would be a plasterer or two patting the last tile into place - the whole cathedral is a huge, enormous, gigantic building site. Which sounds bad but which is actually fantastically exhilarating. Because you’ll never be on such a huge, grand, ambitious building site again. It’s as if you were transported back 800 years to the building of some mediaeval cathedral – Worcester or Lincoln, maybe – and could watch the workmen tapping out the carving at the top of the pillars high above your head.

Huge, soaring pillars, an enormous roof, beautiful stained glass - and meanwhile chaps down on the floor mixing moulds for leaf and tree trunk shapes, or standing around drinking cups of coffee or consulting plans or sweeping up messy bits. And birds flying in and out.
I’ve visited lots of very old cathedrals and thought – wow, what must this have been like to build? And now you can see what it must have been like – give or take modern scaffolding and cranes and cement mixers and protective headgear and – presumably – fewer unfortunates plunging to their deaths. But in essence it’s the same – men (yes, they were all men, at least when we were there) plodding on with their work and – very very gradually - achieving something astonishing. Gaudi died in 1926 when he was knocked down by a tram, but he was 76 at this stage and must have known that he’d never see his cathedral finished. Work then came to a halt and didn’t start again till 1952; but that was a while ago now, and it’s still only about a quarter built, I’d say. It’s hard to imagine that it’ll ever be finished – for one thing, they need to knock down a whole lot of the surrounding buildings to make the cathedral into the cross shape that’s planned. And the cost of it – completely unimaginable. And we live in a much more unbelieving age than that of Gaudi, so how many people still want to expiate anything in honour of the sacred family? I’ve no idea. And yet it goes on.
The temptation in the end – for some future government in some future Spain - will surely be to leave it as it then is, which even now is very impressive, with its strange spires which look like iced decorations on a slightly melted fairy castle cake complete with fancy spoons on the top, and its pillars which look like trees, and its various carvings and tiled bosses and its stairs which curl like apple peel cut off in one piece.
Was Gaudi right to devote – as he did – the last part of his life entirely to this project? I’d have to say yes. It was completely mad, but what do most of us leave behind when we die? Not a lot. A few memories with a few grandchildren for a few decades. Which is fine – it wouldn’t do if we all built cathedrals, and I’d personally rather have grandchildren. But… well, if you’ve not been to Barcelona, let me urge you to go, despite the possibility of the engines falling off your plane.


  1. Wow - those are amazing photos (and I guess thay don't do justice to it). But I'll go for the grandchildren too!

  2. I think when we went to Barcelona, we stood in front of Sagrada Familia with out mouths hanging open for a good ten minutes simply due to the sheer SIZE of it!

  3. Oh my goodness - that is INCREDIBLE!!! I just put Barcelona on my list of places I want to visit - if for nothing else than to spend time looking at that cathedral!! I'm glad you had a good time - and I'm doubly glad your plane made it both ways with the engines intact and working!!

  4. Amazing photos and what a great experience (apart from the flyin - can so realte to that!)

  5. I'm glad you enjoyed the break, I've never been to Barcelona, but always admired Gaudi's strange architechture. It must be incredible to see. Love the photos.

    Also know what you mean about flying... for a year I lived in Kent while my husband was in Edinburgh, lots of flights. I use the same tactic... keep an eye on those flight attendants, when they panic, I'll panic.


  6. I just love flying- both real & in my dreams!
    I cant find an email address for you.
    Mine is
    I have been fascinated by the Meconaopsis you disguise yourself with- it is beautiful, & I have Googled it, with differing finds!
    I would love to know why you chose it, & where you got the pic??
    Glad you are back home safely!

  7. Oh wow wow wow!! This is right at the top of my list of places I want to go and things I want to see - and YOU JUST WENT THERE!!! How exciting!

    And, no, I didn't make Lilly pilly trees up! Here's a link

  8. Isabelle, I just noticed that I didn't have you on my links! I'm SO sorry - how did I overlook this? You're linked now!