Thursday, November 14, 2013

Norwegian Wood

Not the song, but the book by Haruki Murakami
It does however, get its title from the song that the protagonists in the book loved.

I can't say whether I like it or I don't. I can see why it makes a beautiful movie. It can be pictured in some setting of natural beauty in the snow and in the mountains, intertwined with the confusion of Tokyo and a sweet love story under the shadow of a tragic love story. Sometimes I would think of the book as utterly hopeless with 4 characters having committed suicide. It's depressing and I can't understand what could be haunting all these people who kill themselves for no reason as it seems. I think it should never be read by anyone under 25, or may be 35 or may be anyone. It's like the opposite of Veronica decides to die, which I think should be prescribed reading for teenagers. And then I again, I love the way the book flows in and out. It isn't the story, it isn't the writing. But it leaves you with a feeling that is the essence of any book. I read books to teleport into a different world, and this book accomplishes it like it's the most natural thing to do. The writing style, may be because of the translation, is a bit off. I read the whole book and in my mind were people all aged 30 to 35 years old. None of them felt 20, not even Midori. Midori seemed rather childish yet in her early thirties. Is it possible that the author realised this and added a prologue to say the story is actually told by a man in his 50s or 60s talking about when he was 20? Possibly. Interestingly, the back drop of the story is Tokyo in the 1960s with students brewing revolutionary ideas. And yet they are students in their early 20s like Nagasawa, a character so common these days with his ambition and drive and no real meaning. And those not in the inner circle either gape in awe or mock at their hollowness. Like people, everywhere. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

7 days in Barcelona

This post is overdue, written on the very day I came back. I was waiting for pics but I shall add them a few weeks later.

Sitting here in London, right after St Jude and colder, darker nights after the clocks switch back, it's hard to believe I was on a beautifully sunny beach hours ago. Flights and timezones, latitudes and seasons. The world is small place today.

Day 1
It is probably one of the closest airports to any city. It takes barely 18 mins by train (Renfe) from airport to Barcelona Sants. The metro has long transfers, air-conditioned coaches with doors that don't automatically open. The metro shuts at midnight every week night, later on Friday nights and never on Saturday nights. I got a T10 card that allows for 10 travels but if you are staying for longer a Hola BCN might be more useful. To figure all this out reading between Spanish and Catalan, I arrived much later than expected missing a Sandemans walking tour. So no snippets or history this time (any you see is lifted off wiki).
Barcelona Cathedral is old and beautiful, an impressive Gothic structure dedicated to the 13 yr old Saint Eulalia. Within the cathedral are smaller chambers for a number of saints. The blocks surrounding the cathedral are a nice walk too, around other roman buildings like the history museum. A few more blocks and you find yourself at the urbanised Placa de Catalunya, a square with its fountains, infinity pool and the reverse stairway (to heaven?) memorial to Francesc Macia, who spent a large part of his life campaigning for the Free Catalan Republic. One of the corners of the square leads out to the most happening street in Barcelona, La Rambla. It didn't seem very happening the first time around.

Day 2
I was in Barcelona to hang out with one of my closest friends from insti. She found herself in Barcelona to present a research paper at a conference. On a relaxed day we had shared a meal with her colleagues at the conference and met some of the other doctoral and grad students from various countries, studying mostly in the US. We went to a fancy restaurant by the sea, by the Port Olimpic nearly under the Fish sculpture by Frank Gehry (who is also associated with the dancing house in Prague) and Villa Olimpica built for the legacy of the 1992 Olympics.

Day 3
Antoni Gaudi is a famous Catalan architect who is most acclaimed for La Sagrada Familia, a neo-Gothic Roman church. Interestingly, it is incomplete yet is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When Gaudi died in 1926, a relatively small part of the church was complete. However, a jewel encrusted model of the complete structure lies inside the church and generations after have tried to continue with the construction. It was interrupted time and again and was only half complete by 2010. The construction is set to take up more than a decade from today for completion. We visited it while the cranes continue with their work. Where Gaudi style, every single inch of the outside walls is ornately carved with various depictions of the life of Jesus. Even the gates are engraved with words from various Psalms. We've been told to book online to avoid the queue, but we stood in the queue anyway and spent about 45mins in it. We went up the Navity tower whose decorations are mostly surrounding the birth of Jesus.
Yet another famous Gaudi landmark is Park Guell, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gaudi became friends with Eusebi Guell, an industrialist who liked Gaudi's work and commissioned him to build a few buildings, including his house. His house was part of Park Guell which is up on a hill a little far from central Barcelona. It has beautiful views of the city and contains a world of Gaudi's colourful mosaic. It houses the famous mosaic salamander called el drac. Incidentally, the government has decided to charge an entrance fee for this public park starting the very day we decided to visit it.

Day 4
La Rambla does come alive. The last time we walked along it, we just came at the wrong time, during the siesta. La Rambla is a walking pathway full of florists, street side restaurants and pop-shops. On either side of the pathway you have the road for vehicles. Perpendicular to La Rambla are streets that lead you to another neighbourhood of entertainment and food, some lavish some street side. One such takes us down to Placa Reial, a large open space with numerous restaurants on its four sides with open seating and some inside. In one of those little places we watched a Flamenco show after which we strolled La Rambla a little longer.

Day 5
Time for a day out. Mostly when we looked up day trips from Barcelona we found a pilgrimage to the Black Widow at Montserrat which promises great views, Girona with its Dali museum and the Jewish quarters of Figueres. Girona and Figueres didn't seem that interesting but we probably might have liked the views from Montserrat. However, when I was looking up flights to airports near Barcelona, I came upon Reus and its neighbouring Tarragona. So we decided to take a trip to Tarragona.
Tarragona is an old Roman town on the sea, 80 mins from Barcelona by Renfe. A large part of the current town contains many Roman remains and yet again a UNESCO World Heritage Site (looks like I am on a UNESCO suggested trip). There is a well preserved Roman Amphitheater on the beach and a flyover right next to it to click some beautiful pictures (no kidding, we saw a photographer with some fancy heavy cams and tripod and the whole gear). The other Roman excavations are strewn all over the town, all entirely within walking distance. From the amphitheatre we walked along the modern streets overlooking the sea to Rambla Nova which is the main centre of the city and sat down for tapas on one of the side streets. Walking on we came upon another Roman excavation right next to the current market center. It was discovered when the market was expanding and the area had to be cordoned off. Bright and sunny with bits of history, Tarragona was a breathe of fresh air by the sea.

Day 6
It was day of El Clasico, especially in La Liga and in Barcelona. On the streets and hanging from houses the Catalan flag was everywhere, not FC Barcelona! Unfortunately, we couldn't watch the match in the stadium but we walked around some of the side streets of La Rambla and watched a bit here and a bit there. When the game was at 2-1 I wasn't even sure it had ended when it did. And here I was hoping it was only the first half. Anyway, Real Madrid lost and the streets of Barcelona was ecstatic.
We walked along La Rambla like we seemed to do all the time, grabbed some tapas and walked all the way to the sea and then over the bridge of Rambla de Mar to a deck where we could sit with legs swinging over the sea and watch the city lights.

Day 7
So long in Barcelona, we never really chilled out on the beach. So we got lots of sun as we walked along the beaches from the Fish sculpture at Villa Olimpica to Barcelonata. From Barcelonata we could see the cable car ride, so we walked up to Sant Sebastia but the wait for the cable car was way too long so we decided to walk back the way we came. We walked back close to the sea, stopped for some tapas and got to the Fish sculpture once again. The water was an amazing blue dotted with a bunch of surfers who couldn't get the surf.  The sun was hot enough to tan anyone and anything. I think I could just lie down and go to sleep there, hopefully with an umbrella.

Day 8
We were staying at a private room in a student hostel, cosy for the two of us, at a location close to the center but not so close that it would be noisy. I could easily live there, in that tiny room with the beautiful weather and a beach. Barcelona felt like home, only with better infrastructure. But it was time to go. We went to Passeig de Gracia for my train to Aeroport but also to do a little bit of shopping only to find out that all the shops were shut on Sundays. So we just waited till I got my train and I left. And in a few short hours I got out of the tube to the rainy cold night that most London nights are like.

I was in Barcelona for only 4 days. I wasn't used to the idea of a siesta. So the second half of every day was yet another day.