Off with Yours Truly and Mrs Truly to Barcelona at the weekend, to soak up some sun and good vibes, both of which missions were accomplished with considerable ease and very little effort on our behalf. It’s a nice city, Barcelona – an industrial city, fiercely proud but not particularly pretty or in love with itself, with just enough cultural landmarks to make the trip worthwhile and not so much that you feel a complete philistine for bunking off every couple of hours for a beer / coffee / tapes / siesta. Mrs Truly, of course, did all the pre-jaunt legwork, and installed us in the Advance Hotel (recommended), a minute or so stroll from Playa Universidad, and five minutes or so from the Playa Catalunya, the Rambla, and assorted cathedrals, Gothic quarters, et al. Temperatures hit 16 degrees, the food was terrific, the coffee was even better, and I was back on the Mediterranean littoral again. Happy days.
Mrs Truly wanted to see the Fundacio Joan Miró up on Montjuic, so off we toddled on Friday morning. First, the funicular and cable car combo was out of action, which meant we had to take a bus, which was a bummer; second, the Joan Miró exhibition was a pile of pants that only confirmed that most modern art was and remains a reaction – and reactionary reaction – to the advent of the camera. Yes, I understand the reasons for the infantile scrawls, but seriously, there were guys painting better stuff on the cave walls at Lascaux 20,000 years ago, and they weren’t a bunch of knowing, self-referential middle-class dilettantes. Art without a narrative is just about acceptable if it’s technically brilliant, and it’s by no means necessary that it ‘speaks’ to me (or anyone else, including the artist) to be relevant as art. But art (any kind of art) without function is simply a waste of time and space.
We came across the bull at top right on the way home on Saturday night, one of the many examples of public art dotted around Barcelona. It may or may not be a bovine spoof of Rodin’s The Thinker – I was apple schnappsed to my eyeballs – but either way, it had far more to recommend it than the entire Miró exhibition. Mind you, Mrs Truly loved the Miró material, and I know next to nothing about the visual arts, so feel free to mock my crashingly boorish ignorance.
Speaking of which, the Picasso museum is impressively detailed in terms of the artist’s evolution from a conventional painter of portraits to the man who would eventually paint Guernica. Trouble is, there’s about five hundred rooms worth of very minor work that cover the first 20 years or so of his career, and then a massive lurch forward that skims his later and far more interesting work. And nary a replica of Guernica to be seen, although it’s possible I passed by it with my eyes glazed over.
The Sagrada Familia, on the other hand, almost defies superlatives, and the interior moreso than the exterior, oddly enough, even though the interior is pretty much a building site. Is architecture art? No matter. A single, stupendously outrageous purpose hewn from a multiplicity of narratives, conceived by a vision spiced with no little lunacy, the Sagrada Familia literally sent chills down my spine. The last time I felt like that was in the Parthenon. Did it ‘speak’ to me? Yes, and I even heard it, despite all the hammering and drilling. Basically, it confirmed what I’ve suspected all along, that my own ambitions (artistic) are so microscopic by comparison with those of true artists as to be dirt, both figuratively and literally. A chastening experience, but a good and necessary one.
The Rambla, by the way, was a very disappointing thoroughfare. No one even tried to pick my pocket. We had much more fun wandering through the Old Town and the Gothic Barrio, stumbling across beautiful mediaeval cathedrals and churches and being offered every drug known to mankind, except ketamine. If you want my advice, go north of the Rambla beyond Playa Catalunya, and up the Paseo de Gracia – beautiful buildings, some of them inspired by Gaudi, and terrific restaurants, particularly Costa Gallego, where they stuff you full of free apple schnapps after your meal.
By the way, the news about Hughes & Hughes bookstore chain going into receivership filtered through on Friday night – terribly sad news, especially as it’s a family-run business, and especially for the 245 staff. Hughes & Hughes have been very strong supporters of Irish writing of all hues over the last decade or so, and they were behind the Irish Book Awards. What it all means for Irish publishing has yet to fall out, but I imagine it’ll be one of those few ill winds that’ll do no one any good.
“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.