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Barcelona: "Every Day is a Story"
Antoni Gaudi and Els Quatre Gats
by

Arnie Greenberg

It’s easy to think in superlatives when you think of the exotic architecture of Barcelona. The Catalan approach to design has always been different. But what I saw in Barcelona has to be described as magnificent. To think that man’s imagination can be carried to the new, the different, the unique, the colorful and exhilarating is to think of Barcelona. True, the architecture has been described a kitschy, camp, gaudy and overdone. But it is an expression of architects with a vision. It is a joyful celebration of Catalan ingenuity. It swept me off my feet.

This is a young Catalan capital is sophisticated, vibrant and alive with sounds, smells, tastes and the feeling of youth. In order to get through the late night revelry of this party atmosphere one must join in and we did. The bars of Barcelona are alive with laughter until the wee hours of the morning. No wonder the city is quiet in the morning. No wonder everyone takes an afternoon nap. To live and work in glamorous Barcelona is a celebration, seven days a week.

But for visitors there’s time to roam this happy city and take in the sights. Just walking on Las Ramblas is a treat. Here, away from the cars and buses, one can walk past bird merchants, flower stalls, vendors, hawkers and street entertainers. I saw people dressed to the nines. I saw beggars, clowns, musicians and tourists, tourists, tourists. From the harbor-front statue of Christopher Columbus, to Catalonia Square, the

Tree shaded street is one big festival. There is everything to see, eat and hear on Las Ramblas, at all hours of the day and night.

To feel the vibrancy of old Barcelona, the city of Picasso and his Les Demoiselles d’Avinyo I suggest the narrow streets of the Barri Gothic. Stroll around this medieval heart of the city starting at Placa Nova , the cathedral square. Any route you take will be rewarding. The Barri is for walking. You’ll soon be back in Roman times. Here you’ll get a sense of architecture.

There is no city I know that has the same architectural spirit. Great architects like Antoni Gaudi, Puig Cadalfach and other innovative architects changed Barcelona for all times with their turn to Modernism. The buildings that depict their ideas and their spirit are the Parc Guell, Sagrida Familia by Gaudi, and Josep Puig I Cadalfach’s design of the Casa Marti where you’ll find my favorite restaurant, Els Quarto Gats.

Antoni Gaudi is by far the best known. Aside from this massive unfinished cathedral, the Sagrida Familia that Gaudi took over in 1883, his Parc Guell Casa Mila, Majorca Cathedral, his street lamps, parks, estate pavilions, the private Casa Calvet and Casa Vicens, changed the architecture of Barcelona and Catalonia forever. Unfortunately, this father of Modernism died suddenly in a streetcar accident in 1926 he was 74 years old. But the construction of the cathedral continues even without Gaudi’s plans. It won’t be finished for another forty years or so. There is great controversy over the building.

The honeycomb pinnacles and cascade of organic sculpture for the Nativity are unique in the world. He built the Palau Guell on the ‘Ramblas’ and Parc Guell a park on the flank of Tibidabo, the city’s amusement park over 1600 feet above the city. Gaudi’s chief patron was the wealthy industrialist Count Euebi Guell. He commissioned Gaudi to build his Palau (Palace), which is open to the public. It’s certainly an eye opener. The park is a series of buildings and spaces. It challenges the imagination. Gaudi even lived in one of the buildings for a while. They are like no others. Take my advice. A half- day at the parc will be most rewarding. Just looking up at this man’s legacy all over Barcelona is its own reward.

Casa Marti by a contemporary of Gaudi is another approach. Cadalfach’s approach though ornate in a different way and unique nevertheless is a much more simple design. This Modernist Gothic building, once a residence and office, now houses one of the most famous and celebrated restaurants in Barcelona. It was furnished in the style of the day and was well lit by the seven ogive arches filled with stained glass. Mainly because of the art and poetry movements at the end of the 19th century, this hot-bed of the art was and is the gathering place of the cultured, the literati, lovers of good food and sponsors of the art world. Just being in this charming gathering place puts one in touch with an era when young people gathered to create the twentieth century in art. It still exist over a hundred years since its beginning. It is still dedicated to the lovers of Art.

You can find the neo-gothic façade of Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats) at the corner of Carrer de Montsio and Passage del Patricia. Its history dates back to 1887. It was an alehouse, a café, a casino and later, a remarkable restaurant. But its contribution had to do with it being a meeting place of the young artists. Here you can sit at the bar under the painting of the two bicycle riders In Tandem, done by Ramon Casas.

It is important to note that  the bicycle was the fashionable mode of transport of that period. The artist also did a wonderful black and white portrait of Picasso as a young man. Barcelona was the city of Picasso in those days and it was here at Els Quatre Gats that he met, drank and argued with the other talented young men. He was only seventeen. Many of the artist’s paintings depicted this meeting place. Best known is the poster that is still used as the frontispiece of the menu today. Here, Picasso held his first exhibition and met Juame Sabartés, the poet who became Pablo’s closest confidant and friend for the rest of their lives. It was Sabartés who acted as Picasso’s secretary for many years. The paintings that Picasso gave Sabartés during his lifetime became the seed of the great collection now held by The Picasso Museum in Barcelona.

I have an eerie feeling of déja-vu as I watch the patrons, examine the art collection and eat the Catalan food. It is a happening and while I was born 50 years too late I fantasize about  that era when Picasso, Sabartés, Casas, Nonell, Miguel Utrillo and their friends occupied that sacred space that filled their lives with a sense of belonging.

Today, Barcelona is filled with art and history. It is in the streets, the bars, the hearts and minds of these proud, hard-working people. Today, Barcelona itself is a museum. It is a monument to modernism, youth and patriotism. It welcomes us all with its language, culture and grace. 

People from many countries visit this important place. They include the Queen (Silvia) of Sweden, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, the Catalan actress Monica Randall, the French actress Eleanor Duse and the Mayors of Kyoto, Fez, Mexico City, Managua and Zagreb. The guest book contains thousands of names from all over the world

    “who, in all languages, from morning to night, come to imbibe the atmosphere here and they sing, play the piano, recite and enjoy good communications with their hosts…”

There are books about Els Quatre Gats, newspapers and it is the organization force behind literary contributions. The Ferré family, which now owns the special meeting place, recently opened El Petit Miau (The little miaow), which represents the youngest son of Els Quatre Gats. Els Quatre Gats has reopened after being cloded for a long time in 1903.

A trip to Barcelona without a meal or more at this famous and important place is like a visit without taking part in the Catalan spirit. As the owner says,“Every day is a story…!”

When you go to Els Quatre Gats ask then Maitre D’ to sell you the centenary issue of Els Quatre Gats by Leda Ayax et al. It is a wonderful souvenir of a unique place.

Ask for a traditional meal, “for the feeding of the spirit”, dating back to 1899:

  • Omelette
  • Fillet of steak with French fries
  • Cheshire Cheese & bread
  • Two tankards of ale

It may not be gastronomic luxury but it’s part of the Gats, history. Call ahead for a reservation. Lunch can be in the bar but dinner should be in the main room with dark tables covered with fresh white linen, its narrow balcony, huge arched stain-glass windows facing the street and black and white tiled floor and exhibitions that conjure up memories of a time lost but not forgotten.

Note: Els Quatre Gats comes from the description of a place where very few people gather. It is like saying it’s a place with room for only four cats. In this case that is far from the truth.

Els Quatre Gats
Montsio Street, 3 Bis, Barcelona      

Phone: 302 41 40       
Fax: 317 40 33

#   #   #

You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 

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