Gaudi and a State of Beige

Mosaic wall in Barcelona's Park Guell

Mosaic wall in Barcelona’s Park Guell made of broken and discarded dishes

Reflections on seeing Antoni Gaudí’s architecture in Barcelona

We leave Gaudí and return to our homes of beige, perhaps with a brightly hued dish in our suitcase to remind us what color should look like.  But we don’t dare be like Gaudí.  We won’t paint our wall with checkerboards or mosaics.  We won’t bathe our living rooms in bright tiles or playful lizards.  We look at this as art–and we will always fear art.  We will fear it is too unusual, bizarre.  We fear that color will make us uncommon, when color is perhaps the most common of all.  Nature doesn’t do beige alone–it must be caressed by something brighter: the sand by the sea, the dirt by the fertile crops.  Even the desert reflects the sky.

Salamander at Park Guell

Salamander at Park Guell

I, on the other hand, want only color, perhaps too much.  I want a Gaudí wall in my garden.  i want a mosaic in my kitchen, the floor a melange of broken dishes, organic forms created from ceramic with past lives, shaped into swirls and curves.  I want to ban all straight lines and live with gently sloping walls, doors with reliefs.  I photograph the buildings, hoping to one day duplicate them, and I promise to add more color.

I want to live here:  Fantastic gingerbread houses by Gaudi at Park Guell, Barcelona

I want to live here: Fantastic gingerbread houses by Gaudi at Park Guell, Barcelona

On the flight home, somewhere above Iceland or Ireland or just some expanse of icy water, I read a line:  “Art ought to help us recover the sensations of life, ought to revivify our understanding of things.”*  I looked out the window at an expanse of cloud and imagined color.

*Anthony Doerr summarizing Viktor Shklovsky’s 1917 essay “Art as Technique” in Conde Nast Traveler
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Traveling as a Mortal

Riga, Latvia. Photo by HBarrison.

Riga, Latvia. Photo by HBarrison.

I had a disturbing thought while driving today, which I am typing up without much additional thought.  Is travel really a reminder of our mortality, as much as a celebration of our living?

We travel to places on our bucket lists.  Consciously or subconsciously.  Bucket lists are designed for experiences, designed for travel.

The book title invites us, perhaps commands us. “1,000 places to see before you die” is the title.  Think about that again.  You are going to die.  Travel and death are not just subconscious.  They are explicitly stated together.  You will travel and you will die.  Just be sure to do them in the proper order.

And the act of traveling itself is a collection of experiences we will never have again.  Continue reading

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The strangest hotel museum. Ever.

There is a century-old hotel on the main street in a Maryland mountain college town called Frostburg.  And once it was grand.  I don’t want to tell you too much.  I want you to walk down the creaky staircase into the basement and see for yourself.  But you are not near Frostburg, so the story begins.

Underground gnome village. Why not.

We stopped into Fallinger’s Hotel Gunter by accident.  On a cross-country road trip, Frostburg, a college town tucked into the Allegany Mountains, seemed an auspicious place to stop for lunch.  While walking off the sea legs that come with cross-country driving, we encountered the little hotel tucked between stores along Main Street in downtown.  I anticipated a lobby with faded glory which I hoped would inspire a story.  The desk clerk with a Caribbean accent greeted us while eating lunch from a styrofoam box on a velvety chair in the lobby.  I told her I liked old hotels.  There is a museum downstairs we may be interested in, she said.  And the adventure began.

Continue reading

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Travel Quote

A big, bearded man … tells me the story of his life, which concludes with the line “I was too stressed out working at the Hilton, so now I just take the ferry back and forth.”

– Gary Shtegngart in Travel & Leisure (March 2012)

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Moved by the Movies

I remember when they rode you in Before Sunrise.

Dear Vienna,

I met you once Before Sunrise. I don’t think you remember me then.  I was just a casual observer.  I saw you, and I wanted to see you again.  So I had to come to see you in person.  We had fun at the ferris wheel in the Prater, playing out a scene from a movie.  I stood by the statue where Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy watched the sunrise after frolicking overnight through your streets.  We had a great time together.

But you aren’t my first.

You are not my first lust from afar, my first love affair come to life from the silver screen.  Continue reading

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Travel Quote

Credit: LizMarie_AK

“[Another] family viewed maps as innocuous wall hangings … My parents saw maps as suggestions.”

–Wendy Dale, Avoiding Prison and other Notable Vacation Goals

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Avoiding Good Decisions and other Vacation Goals

Book Review of the Travel Book:  Avoiding Prison & Other Noble Vacation Goals by Wendy Dale.

Bless her heart.

Young single woman goes abroad “seeking adventure” because her life is boring.  She then meets a Kuwaiti guy in an airport hotel.  You see, the Costa Rican authorities have his passport, and he has been stranded waiting for a wire transfer from his mom in order to get the money for a Visa.  Of course he can’t have the money wired in his own name.  Another person was supposed to help, but she stole his money.  What would you do?  Of course, you would start sleeping with him!  Then you would spend weeks helping him out.  Then a few weeks later the police would haul him off and you would find out that he was a big liar, he was from Trinidad in the country illegally, and he was a con man.  Really?  Who would’ve figured that out?

On your next trip to Costa Rica, you would go to jail visiting hours while your friend visited her boyfriend.  Then you would meet a prisoner.  Then you would go back to visit him.  Again and again.  Then you would fall in love.  Then you would sell everything you own and move to Costa Rica.  Then you would have conjugal visits with him in jail.  Then you would spend months trying to get his name cleared.  Then you would jump bail and flee across the border to Panama.  Then you would move to Columbia (his home country) where you would find out that two of his family members are in jail overseas for being drug mules.  Then you would find out that your boyfriend had been a drug mule before.  Then (after you have run through all your savings) you go back to the U.S.A. briefly, and when you call your boyfriend, you find out he is at the airport, leaving on a drug drop off to Europe.  (“Now that he was deprived of my influence, I worried about what he could get himself mixed up in.”) Continue reading

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King of the Urinals

I found an unsent postcard today.  It has 23 cents in stamps on it, which means it was written between 2002 and 2005.

“I realized today that I am magic.  When I walked out of the men’s room at the Atlanta Airport, the urinals flushed in unison as if to thank me for stopping by.”

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Evening in Esperanza

Spend an evening with me on the rooftop of a guest house in the small town of Esperanza, on the north shore of the island of Vieques.

There are birds and crickets.  Frogs and dogs.  Bark left. Bark center. Bark right.  Insects in surround sound.  Car enters right, exits left.  Couple fights in English in car parked on the street, angry words through open windows.  Man walks by.  Crumbling sounds of the roadway underneath a kid on a tricycle.  Far away a plane or a boat, a distant rumble.  And the chirps go on.  In silence, there is noise.

Salsa music from an open window.  No, it approaches–coming not from a home but from a car.  Doppler effect salsa fades away.  Moped in distance gets nearer.  Like a speedboat stirring up waves, the moped stirs up barking dogs.  And like the silent sea left behind, the dogs quiet.  But the dog to the left still hasn’t shut the hell up.

Rooftop view, Esperanza, Vieques with the sea in the distance


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We Only Notice You When You’re Gone

At the beach in San Juan, our sunbathing was supervised by the concrete carcass of a one-time hotel.

Beach at Condado in San Juan: Notice the Abandoned Building Draped in Blue

And there were a few other abandoned buildings in the area, some small restaurants and some high-rise structures.  The city tried to cover up these buildings with 10 story “billboards” showing pictures of cool things to do in Puerto Rico, as if we would never be able to tell there was an abandoned building.  (“Wow, Myrtle!  It seems like there may have been an old building here at one time, but all I can see is that banner with a picture of the beach on it.”).  But the wind and sun had taken their toll, and now corners of the banners sagged or flapped in the breeze.

I wondered why these buildings were vacant and how long they had been abandoned.  Why on such a beautiful beach were these carcasses rotting away?  But then I read a story about a trip to Beirut in a book by Wendy Dale.  In Beirut, she, as a traveler, focused on the abandoned and bombed-out buildings, left to die.  But the locals see what is between–all the activity in the occupied buildings–the restaurants, the bars.

Abandoned building in Houston (there is another one in the background even uglier than this one) - photo: rutlo

I thought about it some more.  In downtown Houston, there are two ugly abandoned skyscrapers.  From the right viewpoint, it would seem as if the city was disintegrating.  But, I do not see these buildings anymore.  I see what is active.  When I drive in Houston, I notice the restaurants and the nail salons and the shops.  I don’t notice the “FOR RENT” signs in the vacant storefront next door.

Yet, walking along the main drag in Condado, San Juan’s hotel and beach neighborhood, I noticed all the empty storefronts (even though they were outnumbered by the occupied ones).  Owners come and go.  Hotels go bankrupt, shops close, condos turn to apartments, turn to dust.  This is true everywhere, why does it impact me more on vacation.  Why did I feel that San Juan was crumbling about me, even though it clearly wasn’t (as the $250 rate at the Marriott indicated).

It is interesting that on a vacation, when our glass would presumably be half full, that we notice the 1/4 empty instead of the 3/4 full.

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