There is a flavor of gelato unique to Catalonia, instantly recognizable in even the broadest palette of frozen flavors by its light caramel-ochre color (never to be confused with the pumpkin spice abomination you might find on our side of the Atlantic). It tastes a bit like lemon meringue with a hint of cinnamon, and it is called variously 'Creme de Catalan' or just 'Catalan'. Not two blocks from our apartment is a true architectural wonder, the UNESCO World Heritage site called Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, and it is to all appearances topped with a generous helping of the ceramic equivalent of 'Creme de Catalan'. I discovered this on a stroll early this morning as the sun was warming its walls where it rose next to a quiet street. A working hospital as recently as 2009, St. Pau is now in the process of being converted to an object of attraction for tourists, and it's easy to see why from the warm ginger brick facades and pillars, the pastry-shop Art Nouveau cupolas and piping, and the frosting of intricate ceramic toppings that sparkle in the sun as clear as the day they were fired.
The former hospital ground includes a small basilica church not yet touched by much renovation but filled with a light of its own from interior touches of ceramic and glass that glow, not with ochre, but with a counterpoint blue. A bull and a lion hold up the respective pulpits.
Pablo Picasso's Blue Period took place when he lived in Barcelona, as his style shifted more and more away from realism towards his own unique vision of shapes in space. One of his more well-known paintings from this period, on display in the splendid Picasso Museum, is 'Barcelona Rooftops' (1903), a profile of the city realized from a vantage point not unlike our own atico apartment terrace.
I don't know why he chose blue as the hallmark of his artistic statement in a city where the predominant tones are at the other end of the spectrum. But like every city, under the bright surface is a darker undertone here that is an inseparable part of its fabric. To this point, while searching a copy of the Picasso painting online, I stumbled on Nick Lloyd's excellent Spanish Civil War Tours, as explained on his Iberian Nature website:
Barcelona was embroiled for a brief period of libertarian revolution after a failed coup in 1936, until Franco's troops entered the city in early 1937. Clearly there are lines reaching down to today from those dark times and from the decades leading up to the Civil War, when Barcelona grew into an industrial center with its own unique social problems as one of the most densely populated cities in the world. I think we need to sign up for this tour!
After Picasso, we had hoped to check out a well-known jazz club on La Rambla, but we were disappointed to discover that it had been replaced by a Burger King. Apparently a number of establishments are finding themselves unable to keep up with the escalating rent in this street, a never-ending treadmill of humanity looking for a good time. So, we hiked instead towards the waterfront by way of the Parc de la Cituadella, a sort of Central Park of Barcelona, home to a charming lake for boating and snapshots.
We skirted around the zoo and over the crosstown arterial highway and made it to the beach in the vicinity of the 1992 Olympic village, now a residential complex close to the casino, beachfront bars, and other Mediterranean delights. Cava is the local version of champagne, and it makes an excellent sangria to watch the sunset by.