Yesterday afternoon, while the kids relaxed and watched endless DVDs of "Friends" in the apartment, Raf and I took a walk around the Eixample neighborhood. After a long morning and tour with the kids, managing their hunger and desire to shop and complaints about walking, I was eager to spend a little bit of time in the fresh air of Barcelona's early evening pedestrian crush without counting three kids in my periphery to be sure we were all together and no one was walking into the middle of a bus lane.
We walked in the direction of La Pedrera (or "Casa Mila"), a Gaudi-designed apartment residence on the ritzy Passeig de Gracia. I find it ironic that this is my second trip to Barcelona and I'm awestruck by Gaudi's mad genius, and yet I've never set foot inside his buildings. And, for the most part, I've been okay with it; if I'm accepting reality, then this is the spot where my parenting reality and expectations about long European sojourns intersect. If I'm going to truly enjoy a trip to Europe with my family - with the intent to inspire a lifelong love of traveling and a cosmopolitan world vision in my girls - then I've got to suck it up and find places and activities that they will love, too. Museums and staring at wavy lines of architecture generally don't cut it with my kids (remember, we're the family that lasted about 2 hours in the Louvre... with a private guide...).
Anyway, we've walked this route with the kids twice - it's about five or six blocks on the same street as our apartment, and then two or three blocks to the left on flat city streets. With kids, it can take 20 to 30 minutes of Are we there yet? and Dad, *that* was a gelato place! and My feet hurt...can we just take a cab?
Therefore, I was surprised to reach Gaudi's Casa Mila in less than 10 minutes. Raf and I crossed the Passeig de Gracia as though we knew what we were doing. "We'll just see what's going on," Raf said. "No expectations."
That was good enough for me. We poked around the front, looking for an entrance line.
Hmm... only a handful of people waiting...
We looked at each other. I raised an eyebrow. Raf shrugged, both of us envisioning two possibilities:
1 - the kids were swigging back cheap wine while playing with matches and throwing them out the third floor window like molotov cocktails at the Spaniards of Eixample
2 - they were on their second episode of a "Friends" marathon, hands in a third bag of chips, and truly enjoyed the parent-free afternoon of eating junk food with reckless abandon.
We tiptoed inside and bought tickets, then took the breath-taking (literally) winding stairs up eight floors to the rooftop terrace, where a stage had been assembled for an evening jazz concert (which I knew the kids wouldn't go for, but still I daydreamed...).
The thing with Gaudi is, his designs are supposed inspired by nature, and yet they are otherworldly (in fact, our guide Teresa had mentioned George Lucas was inspired by Gaudi for his Storm Troopers). Over and over, I noticed comparisons to the Green and Green Craftsman style of the California bungalows I love so much and the natural, organic lines of Frank Lloyd Wright's homes.
And still, I couldn't put my finger on it. Gaudi was different. Utterly mad as a hatter. Bombatic. Fluid. The poorly translated brochure called it "unclassifiable," which is as good a description as any.
From the rooftop, we entered the spine-like attic, where an exhibit of models and scales "explained" Gaudi's work. Display cases filled with organic materials - the skeleton of a python, a dried-up skull of a goat, seashells, honeycombs, lacy tree branches - attempted to show the connection between nature and Gaudi's fanciful designs.
It was there, in the attic space, weaving between models and renderings and trying to take it all in (while Raf reminded me of our kids sitting in a foreign apartment alone several blocks away) that I saw an alternative version of myself decades earlier, touring Casa Mila and changing the course of my life.
Architecture, I heard in my soul. You could have been an architect.
I could feel that 17-year-old girl walking around with me, getting goosebumps, her life stretched out ahead of her like tanned legs on a sandy beach. I should go to school for architecture, I felt her saying, careless and carefree, hair wild, a mostly empty backpack slung over one elbow. Yeah, that might be fun.
We toured the apartment below, a gorgeous, light-filled living space that incorporated natural light on both sides of its inner corridor. There weren't a lot of people, so we wandered through the rooms virtually alone, the ghost of the girl I might have been and me. By then, I was smitten and the curved lines of the ceiling and Gaudi's well-designed Modernisme furniture only deepened my admiration.
What might have been... I wondered, picturing that alternative version of myself spending a homesick year in Barcelona, studying at the Universitat, learning Spanish, pining to be with my high school friends, riding the Metro in endless loops around the city. But by winter break and the following summer, my life would have changed again. I would have fallen in love with Barcelona, maybe changed the course of my life by staying, like so many ex-patriots.
What might have been?