Traveling in a foreign country with too many preconceptions about that country is like walking around in squeaky shoes; it tarnishes the experience. In almost in a phenomenological way it makes you realize you’re there – rather that YOU are there, bringing all your mental baggage, much of it erroneous, along with. To say nothing of the literal baggage, as you ascend a four story walk up in Madrid with no elevator, hefting a backpack and two heavy suitcases. Why not leave some of that stuff behind?
Of course, preconceptions aren’t all bad or all wrong. Without a basic idea of what we might find there, it’s doubtful we would have bought tickets to Spain in the first place. But friends like Julie had talked up Portugal and shows like Somebody Feed Phil had presented enough tantalizing shots of Porto, Lisbon, Madrid, and other places smattered across the Iberian Peninsula, along with the kind of people and types of food we might be expected to find there, that, eleventh hour though it ended up being, we booked our flights to take advantage of a much needed Spring Break.
So, prior to the trip, my wife and I did virtually no pre-planning. There was no need to, as we knew that our friend Kathy, who would be traveling with us, could be counted on to descend the virtual rabbit hole on our behalf. True to form, in the week and a half between booking our tickets and leaving, Kathy sent us scores of videos of places we might want to visit.
Besides simply wanting to experience someplace I’d never been before, I had a few initial hopes for the trip: First, that we might visit the island of Mallorca, in the Mediterranean, at some point on our nine day trip. Ultimately, with only so many days available and entirely too much to see on the mainland, we opted to shelve that. Second, I wanted to visit the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry, in Bilbao, Spain. In my last post, I talk about that visit.
Third, and this is something I enjoy whenever I’m in a new part of the world, is the desire to connect with at least one artist. Despite some attempts prior to the trip to make that happen, by the time we arrived in Barcelona on the evening of March 25 from our relatively short connecting flight from Munich, it looked like I’d struck out. No matter; thanks in large part to Kathy, we had a long list of possible sights to see.
We decided to keep things flexible, only booking the place we were to stay for the first two nights bordering Sitges, outside of Barcelona and on the Mediterranean, prior to the trip. For the rest of the nine day excursion, we booked things either a day in advance or, many days, day off. It worked out great, allowed us to modify our itinerary as we went, and left a margin for serendipitous finds.
Walking the streets of Sitges
Like our last stop. It took no more than ten minutes for me to find and book the place while my travel mates were packing to leave our fourth story apartment somewhere in the maze of central Madrid, and for once, I didn’t include either of them in the decision. To me, it was a no brainer: just what we needed after the hustle and bustle of the city at night.
I will have to agree with what Ai Weiwei, the 65 year old Chinese artist who now has a studio on an old farm about an hour out of Lisbon, said in a recent article in the Guardian, “When you walk on the street in London, you feel you’re a little bit in the way of the young people. I needed a place to be more peaceful by myself.” I imagine Weiwei needed not just the quiet countryside of Portugal but the country’s peaceful solidity as a whole, in contrast with his fractious relationship with his own homeland.
My traveling companions and I, in our 50’s, felt similarly we tooled around Lisbon and especially Madrid by night, searching for our apartment or a good place to grab a nine or ten pm dinner after a long day of driving. The words of King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail came to my mind as we wended up and down streets lined with bars and restaurants with outdoor seating, jam packed with young crowds. “On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. ‘Tis a silly place.”
So it was wonderful to find a contrastingly peaceful and quiet locale for our last night in Spain, the village of Collbató, nestled at the foot of the gorgeous mountain of Montserrat, forty minutes from the airport in Barcelona. Tranquil, serene (save the frisbee the kids nearly clocked us with multiple times while lunching outdoors), and quiet.
The outdoor cafe just outside our apartment
A view of Montserrat from our second story patio
The church next to our apartment
Oh, so quiet. The perfect place to hear my frustratingly squeaky running shoes echo against the walls around us as we explored “Old Town Montserrat” on foot.
In the end, I did have an unexpected meet up with the artist Steven Seinberg, who reached out to me when we were in Porto, Portugal, from Munich, where, along with the Portuguese artist Fernando Gaspar, he’s currently exhibiting his beautiful abstract paintings at Benjamin Eck Projects. He said he was headed to Lisbon, and wondered if I’d be anywhere nearby. Again, serendipity: that’s where we intended to head next, and where he and I, two days later, met up at his beautiful gallery in the city, São Mamede, and, later that evening, “talked shop” – studio, more like – over a meal of tapas and wine on the street in Principe Real. I may write more about that visit and Steven’s work in a later post, but for now, here are a couple images of other artists’ work I was drawn to from the gallery:
“Sem Titulo [Untitled]”, 2022, oil on canvas, 114 x 146 cm, by the artist Gonzalez Bravo, Galeria São Mamede
“Sem Titulo [Untitled]”, mixed media on cardboard pasted on canvas, 42 x 53,5 cm, 1958, by the artist Cesariny,
Galeria São Mamede
Finally, while in Collbató, a lady from the US approached me just outside our apartment. She’d spied the t shirt I was wearing, recently purchased in the Philbrook Museum’s gift shop in Tulsa, with the words “FUTURE ARTIST” written on the front, and a line significantly crossing through the first word. Future no more. She said she had been getting into ceramics, and felt like it was time to stop saying she wanted to be an artist at some point in the future. It was time.
Speaking of which, although I have much more I could say about our trip to Spain and Portugal, it’s time I did some early morning online shoe shopping…