Saturday, March 15, 2008

Minding Montjuic

Montjuic is not a brand of French juice. Rather, it is an elevated settlement nestled in southwest Barcelona. Here I spent my third day in search of the Olympic Stadium and the tower of Telefonica. Barcelona had its turn to host the quadrennial event in 1992.

To get to Montjuic, the receptionist instructed me to take a walk all the way to España Estacion which according to her, is a good 40-minute walk from where I am based. I don't mind treading the pedestrian-friendly streets of Barcelona. I ended up going in circles for about one hour in the area where I lived, and just decided to take the ever-reliable Metro.

Two towering obelisks stand tall and proud, as if stoic guards commissioned to stop the first signs of agression. They greet anyone who emerges from the Metro station and form a virtual gateway to heaven. Behind the two towers, I caught a glimpse of the National Museum of Arts of Catalunya. On the week I visited Barcelona, the plaza was barricaded to provide a space for the Alimentacion Expo 2008. I had to take another route on one of the side streets to get around the expo, walk up the grand staircase (or cruise along the escalator!) leading to the Palau Nacional.

¿Chino? ¿Aleman? Si, Aleman!

The Palau Nacional could have been once a palace. It is designed and located in such a way where the king could have admired and literally overseen his territory. From the top, the view of the Barcelona city-scape is to die-for.

Behind the museum is an area lush with shrubs that tried to hide the jewels of the area beyond. But real gems are wont to sparkle, these treasures could not be denied to their persistent seekers. I got a first glimpse of the tower whose peak pierced the skyline. A proud yet quiet emblem of power.

In hindsight, I realized it is the highest tower I have seen so far. Rows of banded tall columns are also in display but the tower simply dwarfs everything within its periphery. Think of an army of matchsticks and a lamp post on the street, and multply this scale a thousand fold to get the big picture.

The vast space also accommodates the Palau Sant Jordi, and, had I not seen its numbered points of entry, I would not have guessed that there it is- the Olympic Stadium. The stadium looked more like a museum rather than a sports arena from outside. But don't get fooled. Once inside, though, there's no telling that it was once the venue of the worldwide sports event. I imagined to hear the cheers and jeers of spectators 16 years ago. Bleachers and plastic seats form a gray terrace around the stadium, any point in which provides a view of the green playing field below.

I lingered on for a little while in Montjuic. As I slowly made my way down Montjuic, I found a park that was probably built to sensitize people after a high they get from the grandeur that they just saw. A fleeting feeling of flight, that now has be finally put to an end.

It was early in the afternoon when I reached the hostel to get some good rest. At 7 p.m. in Plaça Catalunya, I met a friend of my classmate, both full-blooded Catalunyans, who is now based in Barcelona. Juanot and I headed to Caixa Forum, which I passed by just a few hours ago on my way to Monjuic. Serendipity seems to be trailing me. We were supposed to catch a concert which we found out was yesterday's order. Instead, we ended up watching an exhibit of Charlie Chaplin's photos, works, and short clips.

From Plaça España, we walked all the way to Raval preoccupied with conversations on photography and the architecture and urban layout in Spain. I shared my sentiments on the city's obvious similarities to some parts of downtown Manila: the narrow streets, diamond patterns on metal railings, and wide corners. Throw in some pollution, kids running around, and jeepneys plying by and it could have been downtown Manila on a Friday night. This I further felt as we entered the labyrinthous streets of Raval. It used to be the China town, Juanot said, prior to the Olympics, the event that opened the city to the rest of the world. Filipinos, Indians, and Eastern Europeans populate the area. Hostals and pension houses crowd the fringes of Raval quarter near the famous pedestrian zone of Las Ramblas.

We went inside one tapas bar whose owner is a bulging writer-painter-(cook?) from Uruguay. The Russian waiter served us our orders of paella, empanada and of course, cerveza. We topped our meal with a cup of coffee and dulce de leche, a typical dessert from Argentina, and more conversations on our passions The dulce de leche tasted exactly the same as the yellow, creamy center of a brazo de mercedes. We parted ways shortly before 10 p.m., him to his flat in Raval, and I sneaked out to Las Ramblas and took the Metro back to my base.

I could have gone to another country to spend the holidays, but some people would ask, why, among other countries, again, Spain? I spent the Christmas holidays last year in Madrid, and now I am back in España. I had no ready answer then. Maybe for the country's milder weather and as an escape from Germany. I have a better and more valid reason now. Somehow, someway, I realized it is the closest to being home that I could get. And somehow, someway, it is my means of conquering our conquerors.

No comments: