barcelona flaneuse

I've been to Barcelona three times and I'm ready to return!


KINTSUGI…And Creating a Regular Feature

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Not so long ago I swept my favorite tea bottle off the table with my elbow.  The tea bottle and I were both shattered. My impulse is always to save the shards, and I discovered the interior compartment was unbroken.  I put all the bits I could find into a bag and waited for inspiration to strike.

Time passed.  I considered putting the pieces together as well as I could, then covering the outside with papier mache, creating a sort of egg shell. But I saw no solution for washing the bottle.  I couldn’t imagine a way to make the papier mache waterproof — and I’d have covered up the blue and white ceramic, the reason I chose this bottle.

A solution occurred to me when I found a roll of clear, broad packing tape on the shelf near the epoxy I would use for the first step in reassembly.  The gluing was difficult — as much on me as the fragments, and yes, there were gaps.

Next I wrapped the scarred surface in the transparent tape.  It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.  It could be rinsed out and the bottle insulated the tea better than it had undamaged.  It occurred to me later that I was, in a clumsy way, practicing kintsugi, the art of mending or making do.

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In the Japanese tradition, valuable ceramics were repaired in a manner that did not attempt to hide the repair but to dramatize it with a sprinkling of powdered gold along the seams.  I had no gold powder, but I may have been practicing a more immediate tradition. My mother too saved the shards.  Her attitude always was, “If nothing else, I can put dried flowers in it!”  And blue and white objects were always salvaged.

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A week with a huge dumpster at my disposal has me asking many questions.  What is worth saving?  How do I decide? Is it a question of repairing or finding a new purpose?  When do I let go?

Clearly these questions apply to more than ancient blue and white tea pots.  But the urgent matter at hand is a blue plant pot that cracked when it was left out in last winter’s extreme cold.  Time to get the epoxy.



ART GEAR — Tins and Pocket Protectors


A few years ago I was in the process of encouraging friends and students to take art gear with them everywhere so they could liven up their journals.  One of my strategies was the “Vest Pocket Studio,” which is contained in a clear plastic pocket protector.  I filled the compartments of a seven-day pill container with watercolors from tubes, added a pen (extra fine point, Pilot V Ball pens are waterfast), a tiny watercolor brush, some 2 x 3 inch pieces of watercolor paper, a folded paper towel and was ready to go!  Not pictured here is the super-handy water brush which will fit in neatly and eliminates the need for a separate water container.


Another alternative is to take advantage of the many tiny tins that exist in the world and use them to contain art supplies. The Vermints tin at the top is three inches by two and a quarter and it will hold nine half-pans of watercolor (I haven’t filled these yet), a tiny pencil and brush (the brush’s handle comes off to contain the brush-tip), and a few pieces of carefully cut watercolor paper.  In my experience, children love the tiny six-pan tin at the bottom of the picture.


Of course  you can rely on the trusty old Windsor and Newton compact travel kit (a messy one seen at the bottom), but I also like Peerless Water Colors, pigment dried on paper, which then allows you to cut it into small sheets and stable them to a “palate” as I did above.  I clip these bits of instant color into the back of my journal, then all I need is my water brush.


I put a small sheet of pastry parchment over each sheet so that if I close them when they are still wet they won’t stick together.

The tins for Altoid mints come in several sizes and can accommodate between six and a dozen half-pans and a collapsing brush or a small water-brush (available in art supply stores and catalogs).  So save your tins and you’ll have no excuse not to bring some color to your next sketching session.

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I don’t think trompe l’oeil, like these images of pigeons on a fountain in Barcelona, can be properly described as a disguise, and yet they do play with the viewer’s sense of reality.

One of the things I like about Barcelona is that it wears its politics on its sleeve.  There are frequent demonstrations and the Catalan flag is flown everywhere.

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So some things are very “up front” in Barcelona.

But in other instances, there are mysteries.  For example, the opening and closing hours of everything from banks to stores to tourist offices.

And when to try your marginal Spanish and when to make an attempt at a few words of Catalan.


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And then these roll-down devices that cover the windows and doors of most businesses after closing.  They are concealing but also revealing — either advertising their purpose or acting as a frame for a bit of graffiti art.  I admire Barcelona’s graffiti artists for keeping their work on these surfaces.  Almost never do you see graffiti on a wall or monument.

So Barcelona has its disguises but they mainly function to charm the viewers, not confuse them.

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I traveled to a month’s stay in Barcelona with a single carry-on bag, and so I neglected to pack any guide books, a decision which made me an explorer.

I had spent a New Year’s Eve in Barcelona with friends a few years ago when we stayed in an apartment on Placa de Sant Miguel in the heart of Barri Gotic.  This area became “home” to me, the center of my explorations.  Of course, I gradually expanded my wanderings to include other neighborhoods, but I mainly avoided the Rambla — precisely because so many other people do not.

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I wandered around Barcelona Cathedral on an almost daily basis and became appreciative of this young woman puppeteer who charmed the socks off her audience.

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Often what pleased me most were accidental things.  I happened upon this small traditional orchestra on the steps of the Cathedral by following the colorful ribbons of one of the performers, an innocent form of stalking.  The performance was excellent.

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Another neighborhood I made it a habit of strolling through was El Born, the area around Santa Maria del Mar. The church, built in the 14th century, was built through the labor of those who would worship there, and men of the parish carried stone from the quarry: their efforts are depicted on the doors of the church.  I heard an amazing a capella group, Singer Pur, perform here.  The pews were nearly full.

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This peculiar structure on the back of the church’s door allowed people to communicate through the door when it was closed and locked.

2014-04-11 13.39.12An engaging window display in the El Born area.

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And entry and exit signs from a one-way street.  Yes, clearly these  signs were more useful when the street traffic was much slower and the travelers more alert than they tend to be today!

POST SCRIPT — I am working on my drawing-a-day.  More about that soon.




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Graffiti, fountains, statuary — all sorts of compelling faces in Barcelona.  The above trio at Placa Sant Just, the home of the wonderful Artists’ Books exhibit sponsored by ILDE (Festival Del Llibre D’Arista) every St. Jordi’s Day.

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One of the trio.

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No, it’s not a face, nor is it a real dead pigeon.  Just part of the public art whimsy you may see in Barcelona.

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The face may come in the form of graffiti.

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Or a charming enticement to come in and see the Artists’ Books.  Yes, we’re back at Festival Del Llibre D’Artista which happens on St. Jordi’s Day and is followed by a continued exhibition and workshops on book forms, print making, and other skills useful to the book artist.


LINES VS NO LINES: The journal-keeper’s dilemma.

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For ten years I was faithful to this lined journal in a hard, cardboard cover.  The narrow-ruled pages encouraged me to write. But the Dartmouth Bookstore in Hanover, New Hampshire, became a Barnes and Noble box store and the blue notebooks were no more.  Oddly, they they were not ideal for drawing or painting, but when I traveled I used them to sketch in with some success.

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I did love these notebooks, and it took me a couple of years spent in a random selection of journals to find the Fabriano Quadrato Artist’s Journal in a Fabriano shop at Fiumicino. I became an instant convert.  Beautiful paper in four neutral tones. No lines.  A good size.  And soon I worshiped at the Fabriano altar.

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For better or worse, I don’t need to go to Italy for the journals; they’re available on Amazon.  Fabriano has existed as a paper company since 1264 so I’m trusting them to continue producing this journal.  Before finding the Quadrato, I’d used the Classic Artist’s Journal (too large), and the Artist’s Journal with multicolored paper (it’s a challenge to write or draw on dark gray-green paper).

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Logically, I’ve been encouraged by the books to do more visual things — drawing, painting, even printing, as I did here with hand-carved stamps.  I’ve learned that the journal as container is capable of dictating the direction of my recording.  Does the Quadrato encourage a more colorful life?

I’m nine journals and five years into the new commitment.  I think it’s love.  And, prompted by a comment on this blog, I’m about to embark on an exercise:  I intend to do a thousand drawings or paintings, at least one-a-day, in my Quadrato journal.  In fact, my friend suggested the 10,000.  I’ll go for the first thousand and see where I am.

2015-07-09 08.56.01The challenge is sure to be my reluctance to keep poor drawings, and yet how else do I see my progress?  i know that when I draw, I see more clearly.  In fact, the friend who suggested the 10,000 agrees with me that drawing opens our brains somehow, allows us to record what we see and simultaneously the sounds…the whole experience that surrounds us.

So here’s to drawing and writing on a daily basis.  And to Fabriano for nourishing my habit.  (No, I’m not on their payroll.  I only wish.)

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I had seen the sign for the Museu Frederic Mares many times from the Pla de la Sue, the grand square in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, but never bothered to seek it out.  Had I but known it is a testimony to the art of pack-rattery, I would have gotten there sooner.  The above picture of the lovely lunch at the Cafe d’Estiu became my reward after a Mares Museum visit.

In the museum’s guide book, the author says that Mares, a noted sculptor in the early 20th century, created and sold his work in order to buy more of the things he loved — most importantly, religious sculpture from the 11th through the 19th centuries.


The gentleman pictured here is removing his hat in reverence to the Virgin Mary.  The medium is what is called polychrome or painted wood and was created in the early 16th century.  I love this stuff, and I hadn’t even been aware what the medium was called.


The gentleman with his cap removed can be seen in the lower right hand corner.  I love this mob and I’m struck by how well fed and various the crowd is.  Such a far cry from the dour scenes I’d seen depicted in the Romanesque galleries.  (Forgive the overexposure and lack of focus.  I was sneaking these snaps when the guards weren’t looking.)


This figure fascinates me.  I’ve lost the notes for her identification, but I’m impressed both with the figure’s realism and the fact she’s dressed in what appears to be a reed mat.

IMG_3001And while there are gallery after gallery of sculpture, there are also gallery after gallery of … ephemera.  Dolls, doll house furniture, fans, perfume bottles, matchbooks, locks and keys, playing cards, pipes and menus.  Which brings me back to the cafe which is just outside the entrance to the museum, itself only a stone’s throw from Barcelona Cathedral.  I visited the Mares Museum four times in the month I spent in Barcelona, and I barely scratched its surface!

IMG_3262Outside the entrance to the museum is this fountain with its lovely fish and their shadows.  Who could ask for more — apart from a glass of cava.