After a high floor view, it’s back to earth for five days

After wandering near and far through the streets (excuse me, the “carrers”) of Barcelona for three days, I looked forward to kicking back for 26 hours in a nicely appointed room purchased with rewards points in the Hilton Diagonal Del Mar.

While you can’t get to know a city like Barcelona without walking it at ground level and using it’s outstanding metro and tram system, it’s also nice to settle back on the executive lounge’s 15th floor sky deck and look down at the endless movement and bustle of a world class city.

I mean, below is the view out the window by the 15th floor elevators.

And it’s not bad waking up to the view from my 21st floor sea view room, either.

But there are a lot more days in this trip than there are hotel rewards points to use, so it was back to a cheaper hotel for five days, albeit one just two blocks from one of the great attractions in Barcelona, Las Ramblas, a boulevard with a wide pedestrian mall between the two one way streets, and a plethora of shops and museums and bars and balconied apartment buildings and what not on either side for block after block.

Below is the more modest view from one of the front balconies of the Abla Hotel on Carrer de l’Hospital, two blocks from Las Ramblas.

After exiting the Liceu metro station early Tuesday afternoon, I was greeted by the imposing and beautiful facade of the Lideu Theater. I wasn’t looking down, what with being worried about being run over by bikes, cars or other people, but I’m told there’s a mural by Joan Miro on the ground right there. I’ll have to go back tomorrow and look for it and Miro’s signature on one of the tiles.

A block up from the theater is La Boqueria, a block square food market that, while not quite the scale of the Pike Place Market in Seattle, is easily its superior in the quality of food and drink offered. The place is to be smelled and tasted as much as seen.

Then again, you can just walk down my home street for the moment and find just about anything you may want there as well, and for lower prices.

OK. That’s all. Tired. Time to stare at MSNBC Livestream for a while. More tomorrow. I miss you all.

And now for something totally different…

So. Lourdes and France behind me, on Sunday I found myself walking back to my Barcelona hotel after lunch on Las Ramblas, passing by various sites, such as the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi’s creations. And, um, other sites.

One of the things I like about Europe in general is its lack of euphemisms. Walking back from lunch on Las Ramblas, I passed this place.

In America we called this a “Gentleman’s Club,” or “Exotic Dancing.”

Here the owners just tout their “Porno-Show.” Refreshing honesty, not that I’m judging. 

Lourdes

In the early afternoon of Wednesday, February 27, I stepped out of my hotel and walked the half mile or so down winding streets, over the river and past the shops filled with religious paraphernalia, and into the complex that includes the Lourdes Grotto and the baths.

It’s no St. Peter’s Square, but it’s quite a place. And, unlike St. Peter’s, very quiet. This is the off season, I know, but these were pilgrims, not tourists. People seemed both relaxed and quietly purposeful.

The church that towers above the grotto was built on top of the slopping rock that forms it. There is something quite moving about seeing a man made structure inseparable from nature. 

I sat for about 20 minutes on a front bench by the Grotto, watching people enter it and walk through it, many reaching out to touch the stone surfaces that are darkened by the oils of millions upon millions of human hands over the past 160 years. 

It was moving, though I was not nearly as interested in relics as I was in the spiritual yearning those relics represent to people.

After taking it in for a time, I walked the 200 feet or so over to the long one story building housing the Lourdes baths. 

The sign said the next session was at 2 p.m. There are ten or eleven formal entrances to the baths. That morning there were two entry doors open. One for women and one for men.

At 2 o’clock, a casually well dressed man stepped out and invited the 20 or so men waiting on benches to step forward, and ushered the first six inside. I was seventh, and took a seat on the long bench immediately outside the door. 

Around eight or ten minutes later, the first man walked out, and the gatekeeper stepped out and gestured to me to follow him in. I took no more photos. You can Google it.

The man led me through a small sort of ante room, pulled open a curtain, and invited me into a bricked space with three chairs on either side, with hooks above them for clothing and a shelf running along the wall. 

Five other men either sat undressed and waiting, or putting their clothes back on. No one but the gatekeeper spoke. He quietly asked me if this was my first time, and I nodded yes. So I assumed there are people who do this more than once. I was instructed to undress except for my shorts, and have a seat.

There was a passing thought of my relatively expensive sun glasses and iPhone and wallet; then I laughed and hung up my clothes and sat down. I was barefoot with my feet on the stone floor, but was surprised to find that, while it was cold, I was not uncomfortable. 

There were a total of five men involved in the process, the “gatekeeper” and a freindly man between the outer door and the curtain covering the dressing cubicle, and behind the second curtain covering the pool area, three more, one who stood behind me and wrapped a wet thick black cloth wrap around me and tied it off at the waist. 

I didn’t really give a second thought to my nakedness, as I was alternately focused on how I wanted to phrase my purpose for being there, and being a bit leery of the act of being immersed in what I’d heard was “ice cold” water. 

Two men were there to assist me into and out of the water. One asked me what language I spoke, and I said English, he welcomed me in English. 

I was asked to step onto the first stair of the pool, my feet in the water up to above my ankles. It was very cold, but not “icey” as I had dreaded. The three men- I’m not sure, prayed? recited?…. incantations that I had heard previously through the curtain as I waited my turn.

“What do you want to ask for,” one of them them asked me. I mistakenly began to speak it out loud, and he smiled and said, “No, to yourself.” 

And so I did. There are so many ways I could have said it, so many concerns I could have voiced, and so many things I could have asked for. I chose a psalm I remembered from long ago.

“Lord, please cleanse and heal my heart, and renew my spirit,” I thought.

The two men on either side of me then led me down onto the next stair and into the pool, not quite waist deep, and had me hold onto one of two metal bars attached to the wall. Then they instructed me to kneel. 

A little “ah wow!” escaped me as I settled into the cold water. Held by either arm, I was then pulled slowly back until I was under water except for the very top of my shoulders and head. 

Strangely, it wasn’t nearly as shocking to my system as I had imagined; I had fantasized not being able to breathe. But it was cold enough that, though the men were speaking something, I forget what it was.

Less than two seconds later, I was pulled up and gently helped back up the steps. 

The man who had wrapped the black cloth around me gestured for me to turn toward the wall away from them and take it off. I pulled on my boxers, turned to the three men who had assisted me and said quietly, “mercie beau coup.” “You’re very welcome” came the reply in English. 

I was not and am not seeking a miracle by the simple act of being immersed in cold water, but rather seeking to solidify my committment to change and renewal I’ve been dealing with for sometime now. To turn away from a way of being that was laced with fear, anger and an arrogance that I could handle the problems of this life without guidance from my Creator, the One who gave me this life.

The expense and time of my travel to Lourdes was a sacrifice to something far more important that any trip; the act of humbling myself and enduring the cold immersion my way of underscoring my willingness to place my free will beneath my Creator’s.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, one of the giants of the Italian Renaissance, acknowledged his reliance on God in a sonnet, saying “My unassisted heart is barren clay, that of its native self can nothing feed.”

For so long I scorned my Creator’s assistance, wanting no part of the obligation and responsibility it entailed. And when I did acknowledge his power and glory, it was only to ask for something. Never to give anything. 

Spanish poet Antonio Machado describes, I believe, the result of that way of being in his brief and profound poem, The Wind, One Brilliant Day.

Machado speaks of God (“the wind’) appearing one day and bestowing on him the gift of the smell of jasmine on his soul.

Then God asks for something in return. 

“In return for the odor of my jasmine, I’d like all the odor of your roses,” God tells Machado.

And Machado can only reply that he can not give God what he asks for, because, “I have no roses; all the flowers in my garden are dead.” 

God does not reply except to say, “Well then, I’ll take the withered petals and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.”

God then leaves Machado, who ends the poem in tears, asking himself, “What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”

I was entrusted with a garden. A wondrous place within me that thrilled at the beauty of this world. As a boy I heard the rustling of spirit ever moving through this physical existence. 

But a long time ago, pain and fear overcame that spirit, and I thought it had whithered and died. But it hadn’t, just retreated to a place deep within me beyond my reach.

As my own inner garden whithered, I plodded on in the foolish conceit that I could handle things on my own, that I was in and of myself enough in this world, all the while ignoring the withered petals and yellow leaves scattered at my own feet. 

For now I can only say that I’ve come to acknowledge that gardens can’t grow in barren clay. Last week in Lourdes, I humbly asked for God’s assistance with regrowing mine. 

I wait to be asked what I can give in return.

Barcelona’s signature site(s)

I arrived in Barcelona around 7:30 last night after a 10 hour trip from Lourdes. Back to a big urban environment, and all the very good and a few bad things that involves.

I’ll have something to post on my trip to Lourdes, France, but I’m still in the process of, well, processing it. Suffice to say for now that it was productive. 

As destinations on this long trip go, Barcelona is a big one, so I’m excited to be here for 10 days. 

My room in the Hotel Nuevo Triunfo in the Montjuïc neighborhood of Barcelona is small but well  laid out and comfortable. And it’s smack dab in the middle of the old city’s yeasty mix of cultures, and just three minutes from its outstanding metro train system. 

My first trip on the L 2 metro line (there are ten lines) was to the Sagrada Familia stop and the world famous church designed by architect Antoni Gaudi. I find his work a bit weird, but that aside, walking up the steps of the metro station and turning to see the church bordered on awesome. 

It is a remarkable structure. One that goes on and on and on and on. Trying to describe the building is akin to the ancient and widely circulated parable of several blind men describing an elephant by touching it. 

Long story short, it all depends on where you’re touching the elephant. With the Gaudi church, what you think and feel about the building tends to change as you walk around it, as several thousand people already there were doing Saturday morning when I arrived. 

It also depends on when the part of the building you’re viewing was built. Construction started on the church this month back in 1882, so there are not just marked differences in the styles and angles of the building, but also in the coloration of stone installed nearly 140 years ago versus stone installed more recently. 

The still far from finished church is a dizzying mix of architectural styles, materials and aesthetics. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like it.

There’s also a lovely and peaceful park directly across the street that was a welcome respite from the milling crowds that ring the church on all four sides.

I didn’t go inside the church on the tour because I didn’t care to spend 38 Euros when I’ll very likely be back here next winter with someone who wants to spend like two days exploring the building. 

I’m doing a good deal of writing, but I plan to visit some site of note each of my days while here. Lots of photos and text to come. 

And, by the way, the next time you’re felling sorry for yourself, think of this guy. I know I will.

Trains in Europe good? Yes. And no.

If you look at the map below, you’ll see San Sebastian, Spain, and Bayonne, France. I travelled between the two places enroute to Lourdes, which you can also see on the map.

Pretty direct.

The red lines trace the route I have to take Friday enroute to Barcelona.

Direct it’s not. Long and expensive it is.

Ah well. It’s in the mid 70s here. I’ll stop grousing.