Mar 23

And now, on to our vacation

After traveling to Spain via Amsterdam (almost Zurich) and New York, we attended two days of conference work, and just a few of Barcelona’s wonderful sites, we returned to the airport. But not for a plane, thank goodness, but a car.

We then pointed that car three hours north. We figured, let’s do most of the drive in daylight. You know, for the views, but also because we were in another country, on roads we’ve never seen before. But also for the views.

So we did that, GPS-aglow on the dash of a blue Volkswagen rental. It is a sedan-over-cross-UV, the sort of hideously designed thing where you have to step up, and duck down, at the same time, to get in. For four or five days, though, it’s perfect.

Here’s why, that great big beautiful GPS in the dash. Possibly the backup camera. And the side mirrors fold in. This is critically important.

So these shots are a but a few glimpses we saw as we made our way up the autovía, A-2 and C-14, with the idea of the Pyrennes looming ahead of us.

After we put the big city and a bit of sprawl behind us, the car started pointing up, and it never stopped pointing up. The airport, the car rental place are right on the shore of the Mediterranean. It is, for the Spainard, a seasonably cool early spring. They’re all still wearing coats down there as the mercury heroically makes its way into the mid-70s, or 23 degrees, Celsius. You can be sure that everyone we saw in Barcelona wearing light clothing was a tourist. Someone we know at the conference said he went back to his room and changed out of shorts one day, because he felt conspicuous.

In light of that, we’re spending the next few nights above the snow line.

We’re leaving Spain for this vacation. When my lovely bride built out this trip — she is the chief builder outer of all of our adventures and she is, despite the occasional logistical hiccup, undefeated — we considered going to the beach or going into the mountains.

We quickly decided that we made the correct choice. Not without plenty of consultation mind you. We talked with colleagues, neighbors and I even asked a few questions of a college buddy of mine who is from Spain. They all pointed us this way.

This way is to a microstate, population 80,000, bordered by France to the north and Spain to the south. We’re staying in a small village in that small state. Wikipedia tells me it is the 10th largest city, by population. Wikipedia says 1,641 live there. It is a ski resort town.

To get there, we just keep climbing up and up and up. Then there is, finally, a ski lodge. We get the key from a little black box. The keyring also holds a remote control that orders the elevator. The car elevator. You have to line the vehicle up between two narrow curb markers, pull your mirrors in, eeeeeease into a small cargo elevator, turn off the engine for CO2 purposes, and then wonder if the elevator does what the AirBnB hosts says it does.

And when it does, you’re in a creepy, dark, underground parking deck, dimly lit by fluorescent bulbs on motion sensors, with support pillars every 1.5 parking spaces. Navigating this would be tricky. My parking in college was substantially more demanding, and, what’s I am the grandson of men who drove great big trucks for a living. The weak link here is the Volkswagen, which, tonight, sits crooked in our assigned spot. And we are now settling into Andorra.

For dinner, we had a reservation at Surf Arinsal, an Argentian steak house highly recommended by the AirBnB. Just look at that menu, won’t you?

And look at this homemade bubble bread with garlic.

Tomorrow, we start the sightseeing!

Mar 23

Sagrada Familia’s Passion Towers

Here’s one final post to share some of the sites from Sagrada Familia, specifically, we’re going up into the Passion Tower. But, first, the centerpiece of the great narthex. These are the central doors, of which there are seven. They were sculpted by the famed and controversial sculptor, Josep Maria Subirachs. Each door represents a sacrament — baptism, anointing of the sick, holy orders, confirmation, marriage and penance.

This is the central door, 15 feet by 16 feet, and it represents the Eucharist and features the Lord’s Prayer in Catalan. The doors also carry the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” in 50 languages.

The door handles are the A and G, for Antoni Gaudí in “que cAiGuem en la temptació,” or “lead us not into temptation.

For more on this portion of the Sagrada Familia, I commend to you this PDF. But, now we’re going up into the Passion Tower,
built in the 1950s, years after Gaudí’s death. His plaster models had been restored and closely followed, with the tower’s shape at the base being slightly elliptical, opposed to the perfect circles of the Nativity.

Small windows.

Big views.

There are four towers in the facade, but only two are open to the public, the Philip Tower and the Thomas Tower. As a guest, the highest point you can reach is around 295 feet.

The towers go a bit farther up.

I believe this statue, between the towers, is intended to be a representation of Jesus. A Gaudí expert, sculptor, or an art history major will be along in a moment to correct me.

I mentioned two of the four status. The Bartholomew and James the Less towers aren’t open. It seems a family of falcons has taken to nesting there, so the tourists are kept away from the chicks. Guess they don’t mind the bells.

When you hear bells from far off, you might notice them. Perhaps you’ll think idly about them as you walk. Maybe you’ll stop and pay close attention. But when you’re right beside them you just wonder how far away they can be heard.

Gaudí planned for 18 bell towers — one each for the six spires are dedicated to the Four Evangelists, Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, eight are so far completed — because everything here is steeped in symbolism. Some more noisy than others.

Visiting the towers is actually a diversion from the master architect’s plans. He figured them all to be only bell towers, which helps explains the narrow stairs. Apparently bell ringers in Spain are all petite and diminutive people.

If you’re interested in learning more about the towers, I’ll suggest Seven reasons why going up on Sagrada Familia towers is worth it. I suspect the views are worth it to some. And they were fine. It is just that I was too taken by the naves to have a solid impression of the towers. This is fine, but, with our time limited, I wanted to go back inside.

I’m sure one day we’ll be back. When we are powerful and can arrange for a private, hosted tour, we will definitely be back.

But, for now, we’re headed to Andorra!

Mar 23

Inside Sagrada Familia

There are a few things you should know before we step inside one of Spain’s most important cultural icons, and one of her most popular attractions. In no particular order …

As I said, I didn’t care for the aesthetic of the exterior of Sagrada Familia. It just doesn’t appeal to me. Secondly, I am probably not a talented enough photographer, and I certainly didn’t have the proper equipment with me, to capture the incredible beauty of the interior.

I say that because, in my humble and awe-inspired opinion, this was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stood, including some of the best places of worship in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Istanbul, New York and elsewhere.

Third, all of the liberally quoted text that follows about Antoni Gaudí’s masterwork, is from this page.

Finally, if we ever have the opportunity to visit Barcelona again, we’re blocking off a sunny day, just to sit inside this place to watch the light change. You’ll see why, just as soon as we go through the Door of the Portal of Faith.

I previously mentioned the long-running construction.

The date of completion of the Sagrada Familia has been postponed many times. It is one of the longest architectural projects in the world and if the finish date is met, construction will have taken 147 years. This is surprising if we consider that we are in the 21st century. In this article we are going to understand why the work has taken so long and why now they are moving at a good pace.

“The year 2026 will mark the centenary year of the death of Gaudí and we want to celebrate this anniversary by completing the Sagrada Familia. However, there are two things which won’t be finished by 2026: the artistic part and the surroundings of the Basilica.”

“Finishing the Sagrada Familia is a long and complicated task. The reasons for the delay in the finalization of the project are its complicated architecture and historical changes such as the death of Gaudí, the Spanish Civil War, the destruction of the original project and the limited economic support from private donations that have subsidized it.

The photo collage shows the evolution of the work over the years.”

I’m not the sort to pick on these things myself, but if you listen to the audio tour, there is some discussion of the columns, which are both artistic and structural. They, like so much of Gaudí’s work, are meant to be evocative of nature. Trees, in this case. And once you realize that — the shape, the shade of the selected stones, the way the branches fly into the ceiling — you can’t unsee it. As … you’ll see …

The windows facing the west are the reds, oranges and yellows. The ones to the east are in cooler blues and greens. And this sets the mood of the entire place.

We were there in the middle of the afternoon, at a time of day when you’re struck by how much of this enormous space is filled with natural light.

“(A)narchists set fire to part of the Sagrada Familia at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, including the workshop where Gaudí had always worked.

“In Gaudí’s workshop there was not a large library and the graphic material was reduced to a minimum. There was a photographic workshop, a space for sculptures, a large area for plaster models (scale 1:10 or 1:25) and a large number of models to investigate aspects of lighting, functionality, construction and structure.

“Many of the sketches, drawings and models by the great architect disappeared and a lot of information on how to continue the work was lost. In 1936 they tried to preserve the remains of the destruction by sandwiching the pieces, and that is how they survived the conflict, hidden between two walls.

“The Civil War caused the paralysis of the works for 17 years (1935 – 1952). It was not until 1976 that the four towers of the Passion façade were finished, where Josep Maria Subirachs added his sculptural work which begun in 1988.

The Sagrada Familia is an expiatory temple which means that it is financed only by selfless donations from the loyal supporters and by the tickets of the tourists who visit it.”

See those trees yet?

So there’s interpreting the architect’s intent, following what survived of his plans, and continuing on, but also those budget problems. What’s before us, then, is even more breathtaking considering these circumstances.

Three generations of architects have dedicated themselves to recomposing the more than 1,000 pieces of model left over from the fire of Gaudí’s studio in 1936. But Gaudí’s work was so avant-garde, that architects could not easily reconstruct their designs.

“The forms that make up the building are so complex that five different computer programs have had to be combined to reconstruct the surfaces outlined by Gaudí. These programs are used in the automotive and aeronautical industry. This is without a doubt an important factor in the completion of the Sagrada Familia.

“Gaudí transformed his plans into large scale models because he wanted to see the three dimensions.”

If you stand right in the center, and look up, this is the ceiling, the underside of Gaudí’s magesterial canopy.

“Since 2000, his model has been continued thanks to the use of 3D printers. These allow us to manufacture the gypsum models originally designed by Gaudí. It is indisputable that 3D vision has helped guide decisions about the design and structural behaviour of the project.

Since the end of 2016, the technology offered by virtual reality glasses has been used to carry out three-dimensional simulations. This technology allows us to reduce the work times in projection.”

New building techniques are also speeding up actual construction, particularly as it applies to the towers, of which you’ll count 18 when the building’s work is done.

Remember, I began this post saying I’m not a talented enough photographer to share this with you. I mentioned the changing light. Both of these are proven in the last two shots, taken from almost the same spot, just a few moments apart.

Yes, I would spend a day in here, watching the wonder of the wandering light dancing through Gaudí’s inspired work.

“The straight line belongs to Man; the curved line belongs to God,” Gaudi said. The man knew some stuff.

Up next: A quick trip into one of Sagrada Familia’s towers.

Mar 23

IACS, day two, or the rare weekend post, part one

Happy Sunday. We’re all out of sorts here, with extra posts because of our many adventures. So let’s dive in. Yesterday, Saturday, we spent at the conference, and chatting with friends old and new. It was a fine day with delightful people.

Today, we took in two of Barcelona’s sites.

First was Park Güell, on the northern face of the Collserola mountain range. The design was Antoni Gaudí’s, the architect is the face of local modernism, but more on him in the next post. The park was opened in 1926 and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. More than 12 million tourists visit the park each year, but the initial plan was to build a complex of high-quality houses.

Also, it affords these outstanding views of the city and countryside.

The Calvary — or the hill of the three crosses, or El turó de les Tres Creus in Catalan — is a small manmade mountain. There are three crosses there. It was intended to be a chapel, but Gaudi didn’t finish it. Highest part of the park.

This was to be at the front of the failed housing project, and inspired by the story of Hänsel and Gretel. There are two buildings here, model houses, really. This one was to be an administrative building, but is now a bookstore and gift shop. That cross is not original. It was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, and rebuilt sometime thereafter.

This is the Escalera Monumental, or dragon staircase. Very popular, and if you’ve ever seen photos from Güell, this is probably what you saw first. The highlights are the mosaics, which you can’t appreciate properly for all of these crowds.

A lot of Gaudi’s work doesn’t appeal to me. The explanations for what he was after often feel like apologia. “It’s an appeal to nature!” If you say so. Modernism has plenty of peculiar strains though, and it isn’t always better. I love the mosaic work, there’s not one in Spain I wouldn’t stop to admire, but I can dismiss much of the rest of Gaudi’s park.

We visited there with some friends from Louisville and Canada — you don’t know them. After, we cooled down with a gelato, took a group photo and said our goodbyes. The conference was ended, and we’re all going to separate places in the hours and days to come.

The first place The Yankee and I were going was to the Sagrada Familia. It was a mile or so away, and we strolled through beautiful high end neighborhoods. Apartment living looks fine, if, I’m sure, you can afford it.

This is Casa de les Punxes, or Casa Terradas. Bartomeu Terradas i Mont, a textile magnate, and his son, Bartomeu Terradas Brutau — a soccer player, a founding member of FC Barcelona and, briefly, the team president — had this house built for the women in their family in 1905. It is actually three buildings, but design and perspective make it all merge fairly seamlessly. (And if I’d been on my toes when we walked by, I’d have a better photo to show that.) The medieval modernism style makes it a signature Barcelona building, and in 1975, it was declared a national historic monument.

Soon after, we arrived at Sagrada Familia, the famous church — and famously unfinished church — designed by Antoni Gaudí.

We’ve seen beautiful churches and cathedrals in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, across the United States. It’s just a thing we do on trips, now, and they never disappoint. But, as I said above, Gaudí’s quirky style isn’t to my taste. He was killed by a tram in 1926. He was 73 and about a quarter of the project was completed, so he was never going to see this place finished. Here we are, almost 100 years later, work still in progress.

The exterior is adorned with scenes depicting Jesus’ life.

Rich with symbolism, or at least stabs at explanation, it is quite … involved and ornate … in its own mottled sort of way.

I don’t care for the style, is all.

Except for these. While the church work has been underway since late in the 19th century, these doors were installed in 2015. Apparently there were no doors before that.

These are bronze, and that’s symbolic too, since the more it gets touched, the more brilliant and beautiful it becomes like the love between two people. These doors were crafted by a man named Etsuro Sotoo. The “Japanese Gaudí” came to Spain in 1978 and his devoted much of his life’s work to project. I’ve shortchanged his genius by capturing it with two hasty photos.

These doors, the Doors of the Charity, are absolutely stunning.

After Gaudí died, work continued, but then came a two-decade pause from the Spanish Civil War and World War II, and then some time repairing war damage. And the work always continues. A few generations of artisans and laborers since … they’re eyeing a tangible finish line. In the next decade or so, they’re anticipating finally having Sagrada Familia completed.

In the next post you’ll see the interior, and why we will most definitely be back.

Dec 22

52 things I learned in 2022

We’re all moving on, done with 2022 and hopeful for 2023. But we’ll take some things with us. Much of it good, and much of the rest are things we’ve learned along the way. (Inspired by https://medium.com/magnetic/52-things-i-learned-in-2021-8481c4e0d409″>Tom Whitwell.)

In no particular order …

1. Toyota is now America’s top-selling automaker

2. We can put pig hearts in humans

3. A billion years of the planet’s history is missing, maybe

4. The digital cloud is impacting the planet

5. 20 things to learn about where you live

6. Life advice from NYC chess hustlers

7. Calculate the pizza exchange rate

8. Lack of advancement, development is why people quit

9. Staffing shortages may take years to resolve

10. We miscalculated the cost of the federal student loan program

11. Many states that restrict or ban abortion don’t teach kids about sex and pregnancy

12. That huge four-day work week trial worked, called a win-win

13. Facebook and your hospital may be in cahoots

14. We built a better battery, and gave it away

15. Saving seagrass is vitally important

16. Somewhere, spiders are dreaming right now, perhaps

17. 1.55 million households avoided eviction because of that 2020-2021 moratorium

18. Samuel Whittemore fought in the American Revolution, killed three, left for dead, lived for 18 more years

19. We’re getting closer to understanding the human-neanderthal overlap

20. Following the black soldiers who biked across America

21. Uncovering the 1,400-Year-Old Native American canal in Alabama

22. Scientists are working on manipulating photosynthesis

23. When Twitter goes, we’re going to lose a lot

24. Early tools might have been intuited, rather than taught

25. Blowing on hot food is actually effective

26. New internet users don’t have the usual expectations and mindset

27. FEMA has a weather problem

28. LiDAR uncovers ancient monuments on the Belarus-Poland frontier

29. LiDAR is also helping flesh out a Mayan city in Mexico

30. We touched the sun

31. And, for the first time, purposely changing the motion of a celestial object

32. Parts of the Star Catalogue, the oldest known attempt to mark fixed stars, is revealed with new tech

33. On charting stars, we owe more to 19th century women than you may realize

34. Meanwhile, the Webb Telescope is just getting started and here are the first pics

35. We might be at a turning point in Alzheimer’s research

36. Children in poor socioeconomic conditions age more rapidly

37. Recipe: Super-soft cream cheese cookies

38. Scientists at MIT are studying why Oreos do what they do

39. But, then, one day, we might eat air

40. The simple genius of NYC’s water supply system

41. Turns out we might all be related

42. Artificial intelligence may make our biomes better

43. Yet another AI innovation, colorizing black and white photos

44. Deep learning can, for some reason, determine males from females based on their eyes

45. Data centers are becoming an energy concern

46. Dogs are learning about, and communicating with, buttons

47. VR seems to stimulate more dairy cattle milk production

48. There’s such a thing as mental health “warmlines” for those not in a crisis

49. Even masters can be stumped

50. Guns now kill more American kids than car accidents

51. Approximately 1 out of every 70 Americans 65+ died of Covid-19 in the past three years

52. There are now 8 billion people, and growing, on the planet