We slept deeply and packed our things in the morning, purchased a few more bottles of wine and checked out of the hotel after breakfast and a walk and drove up up up out of town and then down down down back into the flat landscape of Catalonia. Violet was tired of driving. It had seemed inefficient to have me drive, since I didn’t drive stick and it would take a while to learn and we couldn’t get to where we were going as quickly. “Are we there yet?” she asked.
We tried to go check out Colonia Guell outside of Barcelona- a chapel that Gaudi designed. It was unfortunately closed but we could admire it’s seemingly random curves from afar. So we had lunch and then were on the road, into Barcelona, as I did my best to navigate, and got to the parking garage outside of Jami’s place without much consequence. There were crowds of people and, when we got up to her fifth floor apartment, she was excited to have us back. There was some kind of festival going on, that had been going on for a few days and there was music tonight, fireworks, who knows what. So we quickly cleaned up, grabbed a few things an headed out with her towards the harbor where we would see a performance of some sort of circus thing.
When we are complete with Dali, it is onwards and upwards out of the city. I found on the map the Monastery of Santa Maria, located high up in the mountains between Figueres and Cadaques. The road takes us up into the blue sky and with the windows down, the sun shining majestically and the world stretching out before us with welcoming arms, it feels like a return into the light; Dali was sort of a dark fellow. We stop at an old stone dolmen, a burial arrangement of stones that is, what?, ten thousand years old? Ancient!
We come around a bend, through a couple of roundabouts and into the access road to the Monastery. The first stones of the Monastery were laid in the 6th century – 1500 years ago! – later it was built up in the 10th and 11th centuries and went through various times of abundance and poverty, expanding itself as was fit. The tall stone towers, the vast echoing chapel with it’s filigreed columns sculpted by hands centuries old with golden light cast into it from the afternoon sun was an inspiration. Ancient remnants of frescos still on the walls in some places, other little corners and nuances… it was a gorgeous and inspiring experience, right down to the flan and cappuccinos we had on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean below.
The road snakes down the mountainside, hugging it tight as the drop off down below cascades into layer upon layer of terraces made from the slate stone that makes up the bedrock of the Spanish landscape planted with rows of olive trees, dotting a pale olive green landscape with their gnarled branches and tufting leaves. We pull into the center of town, find a little hotel – Hotel Residencia – and I go inside while Violet parks the car. The hotel is bedecked inside with old Dali prints, books, gold and velvets with a cheeky mannerism - a homage to Dali, Picasso, Miro. I am given a room on the 3rd floor with a terrace looking out on the bay. I bring our things up through the hallways lined with Dali prints and find our room to have a sweet sort of charm, little fridge, Dali lithograph over the bed and a view of the bay with the noisy street below. I open a bottle of wine – a reserva from La Rioja and it’s smooth and soft in my mouth, ten years old and delicious. I sit and enjoy it on the little balcony, in the sun, watching the boats bob in the turquoise blue sea while the sun pats me upon the head.
Violet arrives and we rest for a while then clean up and go for a walk. The tourists trickle out (we never feel so much like the tourist we see…) and we sit at a café, have a cappuccino and draw for a while. Violet keeps a travel journal and I like to draw out in my own sketchbook various impressions that are left on me from landscapes, architecture, people, concepts – from the Spanish Gothic cathedrals to the Gaudi mosaics to the steep craggy peaks of the Pyrenees – all of leaves an impression upon my own visual language and lines and every time I go somewhere, I’m left with a new set of symbols, a few new curves and concepts. After our evening café we walk along the edge of the waves that gently lap the shoreline, find some dinner at an Italian restaurant and then head to bed in order to get a fresh and semi-early start in the morning for the Dali museum.
Laguardia, a small village on top of a hill is, notably, in the middle of the area. It is surrounded on all sides by long sloping valleys of vineyards and bodegas, with some towering cliffs and mountains climbing, granite grey dappled in green, behind it. We wander into the town, parking the car in one of it’s surrounding parking areas because there are no cars allowed in the town. It is almost siesta time we have a chance to buy a few bottle of wine at a little wine shop, sold to us by an excited Italian girl. The town clock rings two and three little figures dressed in white come out of it and do a dance called the “passacalla”, a local traditional dance. It’s a strangely humorous occasion, at least to those of us on the outside. We head into a crowded and somewhat smoky little café peopled by older local folks talking and laughing and drinking wine, have some lunch of tortilla, some wine and head out again. At this point we are heading for Cadaques, on the Mediterranean coast north of Barcelona. It’s a long drive and Violet is going for it – I don’t drive manual! She’s been at it the whole time! God Bless her!
But it gets late and the wine makes us sleepy so we stop in Lleina which seems to have filled it’s twisting streets with dozens of shops and not a restaurant in sight! Finally we have some super tasty Italian food, poke around a bit and end up in bed sleeping soundly. In the morning, after cafes and a walk, we get out of there and drive drive drive – 140 km/h – to Cadaques.
A few noteworthy things while we drive:
The next morning after breakfast we pack our things and make our way back down the mountains and through the vast golden farmlands towards San Sebastian, a seaside city near the border of France. However, on the way we stopped in a Sos del Rey Catolico in search of the Castle, Crypt and Cathedral but it was hard to find – we wandered too long through the little winding narrow cobblestone streets with their little balconies and archways, big old stone doors and monuments that have been there since before anyone alive there now can remember. We popped into a little store, bought some wine and cheese and finally found the Castle, but it was closed cause it was Monday so we wandered for a bit through the ruined remains that we could and then found our way through the giant archway gate and drove back down to the highway from the little hilltop town, passing other fortified outposts, ancient crumbling stone houses, cows grazing, mountains of harvested hay and headed to San Sebastian, trying to get there before dark.
It took us circling the town four or five times before we got the right route in to park and found a little pension to spend the night with dark hardwood floors, stone walls and a spot in the little old town district. We rested for a bit and then went for a walk through the stone streets, eating tapas from plates and mountained plates of dozens of flavors, drinking a glass of wine here, a glass of wine there, writing and drawing in our journals and taking pictures of archways, people talking and laughing in a dozen different languages, enjoying the French/Spanish Romanesque architecture of cupolas and sculpted wrought iron, stone leaf cornices and arcing triomph, walking on the beach under the moonlight along the curving arc of the San Sebastian port, flanked on either side by towering hills with lights climbing up their sides, playing along the sand, dipping our toes into the other side of the Atlantic… The next morning after a decent nights sleep I head out early to a beautiful sunrise over the bay, a café con leche at a Café, write some, draw some, check out the massive gothic cathedral with it’s tiny little embellishments- so much of this that I see is reflected in Gaudi’s architecture but more nuanced, natural and inspired from within rather than drawing simply on tradition and religious structure. I go back to wake Violet and she is up already. We shower and pack up and head outside. There are some kids fighting in the street while people look on – their sounds echo off of the stone walls, apartment buildings, streets- everything is stone, there is very little grass or trees, only in designated area. We buy some fruits and vegetables from a little market and go have breakfast. Soon we are in the car and on our way to France.
Driving takes us northwards, into the mountains where we find ourselves passing into what seems like a gateway into the mountains in the form of mammoth curving red rock formations that end with a punctuation of a little white walled red terracotta roofed town, along a river rushing below. We stop to take pictures, of ourselves, of the rocks and river and trees. Driving further takes us up past cows grazing, sheep grazing, more mountains, into the trees and, as the sun sets, the shadows of the mountains grow until they tower over us, looming in the dark. We make our way towards Jaca a little mountain town in the direction of our destination but at an intersection we change course and head deeper into the mountain valleys passing through littler and littler towns until we arrive in Hecho where we stop to eat in the little village of grey stone, flowers, ancient streets twisting and turning, balconies. In the brightly lit restaurant/bar, half a dozen older men come in all at once from the drizzly mountain night. They stand around the bar, in front of our table and each quickly has a glass of wine, talks loudly and with much gusto and then leaves with the same sort of bluster. Our wine and potatoes and cheese are much quieter. When we are finish we get in the car in the cold wet dark nifhr and head north towards the dot-on-a-map village of Sirensa and finally, onwards further to the little Hotel Uson, but they are full for the night (Sunday) and we must turn around and make our way back to Hecho where we get a bare little room in a stone and wood hotel. Hotel is a loose term: it’s a pleasant enough little place on a corner with rooms, a restaurant… but whenever I think of “hotel” I am doomed to mental images of Motel 6’s and Best Westerns… they are never ever like that. They are almost always cute, pleasant and homey.
In the morning, I go for a walk. The sun is rising, bathing the stone walled village in golden light. In a hillside field, one square of grass amongst others, with little stone barns, low stone walls and verdantly green grass, sheep graze in this place that place hasn’t changed for thousand years ago, save for the cars and the electrical lines. A dog sidles up beside me and follows me around town, keeping me company, showing me his hood, nice dog. When Violet awakens we have breakfast of, once again, croissants, ham, orange juice and café con leche, take a walk through town then head back to Hotel Uson with it’s quaint wood and stone farm house look, powered by solar and water and beautifully situated on a hill side looking towards the stone cathedrals of mountains that rise up out of the forests. We are given a room this time and leave our things and exploring.
Upon awakening, I rise and dress quietly and go for a hike, telling Violet I’ll meet her for breakfast downstairs. The main plaza is empty and vastly quiet in the morning light coming through the archways and pillars, casting long arcing shadows and igniting the towering bulbous shaped rocks that loomed overhead. I find a trail that winds up into the mountains and half-run/half-walk up the long winding trail of rocks and stairs, the rocks worn smooth underfoot, stopping now and again to take a picture, catch a breath or feel the great open winds that rush through me in the morning air- the chill of the earths breath mixed with the warmth of the morning sun. I crest ridge and find myself on a wide sloping rock face overlooking the valleys below and looking up towards the towering chimney like peaks of Montserrat. I breath. I sit. I relax into the earth, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze over my perspiration. But I am to meet Violet for breakfast and don’t want to keep her waiting so, with a good-bye to the peaks up there, I run down the stairs, glancing down at the picturesque scene of the monastery below me, with it’s bell tower and church of reddish stone illuminated in gold by the sun.
After a breakfast of coffee, croissants, Serrano ham, cheeses and fruits we go for a walk around the wide open empty square and then wander into the main cathedral itself, adorned in grey stone gothic curves and archways of white marble, through the main cathedral plaza and then into the vast open expanse of golden arches and pillars that is the cathedral. We file in line up past golden mosaics and into the little room housing the famed Black Madonna with Child (supposedly carved by St. Luke in 50 AD, rumor has it…), get a view from the nave of the church, up behind the altar and then chill in the little insanely ornate chapel behind the statue. Leaving there we stop into the art museum and are presented with a wide selection of Catalonian artists including Dali, Picasso, Rusiñol, Degas, El Greco, amongst others. We hang out for a while longer til throngs of tourists made the entire situation a little unbearable, so we pack our things into our little Citroen that we have named Narajazul (Blue Orange) and get on our way northeastwards towards the Pyrenees, stopping briefly at the market that has set up for some goat cheese, honey and fig pate.
In the Barcelona airport our connection meets us: she is a friend of a friend who will be providing us with a place to stay and a few pointerswhile in the city. She is holding a sign reading “Michael and Violet” in a big heart. Cute! With our bags in tow we ride a train through the uninspiring outskirts of the city (like most cities…) into the heart of it – the “Born” district where she lives: a crowded area of tapas and bars and cafes and shops and narrow rock paved streets and elegant cast iron lamps, gorgeously sculpted cornices and building facades lined with curving spiraling wrought iron balconies and lovely old embellishments. One building has 12’ tall griffins guarding it’s rooftop while another is curling, twisting leaves framing faces of gods. But who can pay much attention? We collapse into bed and sleep til ten pm and I have dreams of days and nights passing, the sun rising and falling. When we awaken, we go and eat dinner and Jami takes us for a walk. We have delicious gelato and admire the city, loving the energy. She leaves us to wander and we return to go to bed by one, crashing on the sugar.
Awakening in the morning takes a while and we spend the day with a visit to Sagrada Familia – Gaudi’s church masterpiece that towers with it’s archways and peaks that look like drip sand castles or rivulets of wax and inside of each rivulet is another masterpiece, another heavenly doorway, strange creature or beautiful saint giving praise and all of it built upon foundations of natural rhythms- architecture built on the geometry of nature. Park Guell is another masterpiece of organic design but this time snaking and winding it’s way through oaks and olive trees and succulents with whirlpool like columns and mosaic work that blows our minds. The next day we visit his two apartment buildings- Casa Basllo with it’s underwater/art nouveau style that is beyond anything we’ve seen before and La Pedrera, an elegant piece of curves and parabolas and a rooftop that is like being on another planet. In between it all are tapas, cafes, park benches, shops, subway stations, gelato and taxi cabs. It’s fun and noisy and full of people and things to look at and ancient architecture with layers of centuries of styles, compounding upon and referencing each other, communicating over decades and lineages… Later in the evening, while searching for the perfect paella and then watching the lightening from the shore, we get caught in a sudden downpour and, running across the sand, we make our way, soaked and wishing for the umbrella in our luggage, to a nearby awning. The rain vanishes as suddenly as it had appeared and we walk home laughing.
... after a long summer... On Tuesday afternoon, on September 23rd around 1:30 pm, much to our cat’s joy, we returned home at last: from Spain, the Honeymoon, from Burning Man, from everything. At this point it is not so much a blur as a whirlwind: In a nutshell about the size of a large coconut we left for Burning Man on the 22nd of August to set up McLightenment, our funded art project. That went like a non-stop drive/sleep/drive/sleep rotation til Reno where we all melted into a good nights sleep. The next day we are finally getting out of Reno at sunset and getting camp set up in the dark. The next day is camp and the next day is set up of project/kiosk/spiritual take-out drive-thru restaurant. And then Burning Man and dust storms and people and parties and walking and riding and playing and sleeping and, well, everything. And then we take it down. And then we skee-daddle on home, dust covered and worn, throw everything into garage, get rental vehicles detailed and returned, do some laundry, get a tad bit of sleep and get up and out and on a plane two days after returning. The plane lands at JFK in NYC and we visit a friend in Brooklyn, spend the night and, the next day, go to MOMA and view Dali and Film exhibit, including his film made with Walt Disney in the 50’s. Eat some food, grab our things and out the door on a train to Grand Central station, pause a moment to appreciate the architecture, this most hallowed of all of America’s train stations and buy a ticket for Milford to visit my family including those who couldn’t make it to our wedding and more specifically my sister and grandmother, and we show up late but that is to be expected. Visit with my parents in evening and next day they have planned a post-wedding reception for Violet and I for all the family who couldn’t make it to our wedding in Malibu a couple months before. Lots of people! I do not freak out which is good. Nor does Violet. Kudos to her! If I’d been her, I might’ve been freaking out. Her family’s nuts! The next day we chill then go visit my sister and her family (newborn baby and another little one) at the house they’ve been pouring all their energy into. The next day, Monday, we are on a train to a bus to a plane that whisks us to Amsterdam where we catch another plane to Barcelona. Royal Dutch Airline reminds us what planes in the states used to be like: meals and movies, warm napkins to wash your hands, free wine and the steward seems genuinely sorry that he has no ginger ale for my bourbon… Ah the good ol’ days…
The artwork I create has to do something to ones spirit. Otherwise, it is simply decoration. While I am a craftsman, I am not just a craftsman. The same goes with being an artist: while I am an artist, I don't want to be just an artist - to be "just" anything is to be simply performing the mechanics of the thing - going through the motions - without partaking in the spiritual component of whatever action one might be engaged in. It is to be just a mechanic. However, the mechanic as well can transcend his own position to be not just anything; I do not mean to disparage mechanics. Does what you do uplift others? Does it challenge them to step beyond ordinary perception and push expand boundaries and, while you are engaged in your art, do you push yourself to be more open, more expressive and more aware of where your own edges are?