Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Two G's

As most of you probably know, I’m no longer in Turkey but I still have much to tell you before I move on to sharing my current situation with you. While we were in Spain last month, I insisted on taking my bipedal assistants (and the female bipedal's mother) to Barcelona for a few days. It’s unbelievable that we lived in Spain for over a year and never made it to the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia, but life with the bipedals seldom makes sense to me.

Bearing in mind (bear!) that there’s tons of stuff I can talk about – artistically, Barcelona was the stomping grounds of Picasso, Miró and Dalí - I think I’ll limit today’s post to Gaudí, Catalonia’s most famous son. Born Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet in 1852 (he was a Cancer if you’re into that – I’m a Capricorn), he became one of the most original architects in the history of – well - architects.

Gaudí was a sickly child, and he spent most of his time travelling out of doors on a donkey and communing with nature. His love of the outdoors would ultimately influence his work as an architect and a designer. I don’t know if he met any bears at all and, to be honest, I don’t remember seeing any bears in his work – that should be a study UNESCO could fund. I should make some calls.

Gaudí survived his childhood fevers and went on to study architecture. He was a bit of a dandy and wore only the most fashionable clothes - although he refused to wear new shoes and got his brother to break them in for him. Ooooh - tight shoes! - as a former international fashion model, I spent a lot of time on the world's catwalks and I know exactly where he's coming from.

Anyway, when he graduated it was said “Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Time will tell.” Time did tell: although he began his work in the Gothic style but it wasn’t too long before he had developed his distinctive, almost fairy-tale style which featured fantastic creatures, watery-themes, organic curves and mosaics. (Still not sure about the bears though.) He designed everything from lamp posts to houses to factories and parks, to churches and religious colleges.

In the early days though, his work was severely ridiculed (apparently writer George Orwell despised his designs - I don't know if Gaudí liked Orwell's books) but he eventually managed to secure a wealthy and influential patron, Eusebi Güell, and the rest (as they say) is history.

A vegetarian (like me!) and strong supporter of Catalan sovereignty – Catalan culture and language being unique from the rest of Spain's - he was also a big-c Catholic, and after a while he only worked on religious commissions (probably why I didn’t see any bears – are there bears in the Bible?).

He’s probably best known for the Sagrada Família – Barcelona’s monumental cathedral dedicated to the Holy Family, which has been under construction since 1882. Gaudí dedicated 15 years of his life to it and he didn't have an easy time of it. While working on it, several of his friends and family members started to die off, and at the same time, Barcelona began to suffer economically. Construction slowed down on the church, and then his patron died. Poor Gaudí. He became a recluse and even began sleeping in the Sagrada Família’s crypt. I don’t think living in a subterranean crypt will help keep your spirits up.

In 1926, fate dealt Gaudí another nasty hand: a street car ran him over while he was crossing the street. I think he was deep in thought. Because of his appearance - he looked like a street person – no one recognized him and no one wanted to help him. Poor Gaudí. Finally someone brought him to a pauper’s hospital where he stayed until frantic friends managed to track him down. They tried to bring him to a better hospital but he insisted on staying where he was, among the city’s poor. He died three days later and was buried in the Sagrada Família which, I think, he would have wanted. Half of Barcelona dressed in black to honour his passing.

Later, police charged those taxi drivers who had refused to bring him to hospital because of his appearance and because he had had no money in his pockets. Good for them! (- the police, not the taxi drivers.)

Twelve years later, during the Spanish Civil War, anarchists destroyed the only copy of Gaudí’s blueprints for the Sagrada, so it’s been really hard for architects to continue as Gaudí had intended. Nonetheless, 2026 has been slated as the year the cathedral will finally be finished - which just happens to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Finished or not, millions of people (and at least one bear) visit the church every year.

I am, by nature, a very empathetic bear (being a freelance Goodwill Ambassador helps), and I have to wonder if Gaudí led a very happy life. I think behind all those whimsical dragons, there was a very sad man. He certainly had a reputation for having a foul temper (good thing he didn't have to break in his own shoes!). I just can't help thinking that a few bears here and there - even electric purple mosaic-ed bears - might have made him a happier man.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

GB takes a Bear-Break

I realize that technically, I'm no longer on my bear-break but as my bipedals neglected to book me into accommodations which included wifi, this is really the first opportunity I've had to update you on my Christmas adventures. But please don't think that I'm complaining - bears don't complain. Sometimes we just grrrrr quietly under our breath.

Grrrrrrr ....
just joking!

I got back from Spain
(with a very short stint in London) a few days ago. I was in Nerja for the most part - a lovely seaside pueblo blanco (white town) on the Costa del Sol in oh-so beautiful Spain. I confess that I wept great big hot bear tears when our plane touched down in Málaga - which pretty much matched the great big hot bear tears I wept when I flew out of Málaga in 2008.

I love Spain.

Anyway ... Nerja. Nerja d
ates back to prehistoric times - as attested to by the skeletal remains and artefacts found in its mammoth underground caves (discovered some 50 years ago) which may actually tunnel through the mountains all the way to Granada. Naturally it was the Romans who first put it on the map. They called it Detunda, a name I don't care very much for at all. I much prefer Narixa, or "Abundant Spring" - the name later given to it by the Moors, which would later metamorphose into Nerja. It became a centre for silk production and by the 900's, its goods were travelling the trade routes all the way to Damascus. Later it was a hub for the processing of sugar cane from the Spanish colonies, but these days all you can see are avocado groves and then more avocado groves. And tourists.

One of Nerja's prettiest spots - perched on the edge of its 14th century old town - is its mirador, or look-out spot: the Balcon de Europa (so named by King Alfonso XII). It's a pretty "balcony" or avenue lined with king palms and it juts out on a cliff, 23 metres above the Mediterranean. You can see me on the balcon, and behind me in the (above left) picture is gorgeous Burriana Beach, while below is me and Alfonso XII.

A-12 visited Nerja back in 1885,
right after an earthquake devastated the area. History remembers him fondly but his claim to fame is being shot at - on his honeymoon - by his pastry chef while taking a spin in Madrid. (The chef missed.) A-12 actually wasn't the first to call the promontory (it actually used to be a gun battery on the site of a fortress) the Balcon de Europa, but he thinks he was and no one bothered to correct him and the town obligingly erected a statue to him. He was the king after all.

I must confess that beyond going for walks through the old town, I didn't do very much - maybe because I'm a bear, my body was inclined to hibernate - except conduct some quality control inspections in Nerja's bars. Especially sangria. It's so easy to mess up sangria that I felt - since I had some time on my paws - to check out the local offerings. I'm very pleased to say that every litre I had met my very stringent specifications.

I also paid a few visits to the Nerja Donkey Sanctuary. The sanctuary - which survives on donations from the public - provides a loving home and medical attention to abandoned, unwanted, and sometimes abused (*sob*) donkeys, mules, and horses. Apart from the equines, there are a bevy of goats and sheep mulling about, 2 pot-bellied pigs, and a few cats and dogs. I liked to stop by the market on the way and pick up some carrots as a treat. It takes so little to make a donkey happy but what I think they really like is the gift of money - you can click here to make a donation or for as little as 25€, adopt an animal!

I did manage to discover on this trip a wonderful little restaurant which I wish I could've taken my god-bipedals to. It's called Me Siento Como Quiero, which I think very roughly translates into "I Want What I Feel Like". Now it is an Italian restaurant (sorry guys) but it serves the best pizza I've had in the last few years (and that includes my 2 months in Italy!). But the best part? - I mean after the food? Their daily pizza special includes 2 pizzas and a bottle of wine ... ALL for 10 €! Even my female bipedal attendant's mother got in on the action. What a lush she's become!

I confess that I did spend a lot of time there (my waistline has suffered a little bit at their expense), and when I went last week to have my last pizza and say goodbye, more big hot bear tears were shed. The chicas who work there insisted on having their picture taken with me and, although my Spanish is at best elementary (I think modesty suits me), I'm pretty sure that I've been promised free pizzas and vino de mesa for life.

So that's Nerja in a nutshell. I hope to be back again next Christmas, and if my female bipedal attendant could just sell a few more copies of her blasted book (she couldn't even be bothered to mention me in it once! - not once!), we'd all buy a little place there in the sun ... then the big hot bear tears would really flow - just like the sangria!