Hemingway and Picasso hung out at Quatre Gats (4 Cats) on atmospheric Mont Sio, one of the narrow pedestrian streets that defines the Gothic quarter in Barcelona. Picasso’s drawing for the menu of the restaurant is unrecognizable from those who know his avant-garde work. His first exhibition took place in February, 1900 at the 4 Cats. Early works depicting his interest in the human figure and portraiture is on display at the excellent Picasso Museum.
Yet another cat to seek: Botero’s oversize Gato.
A popular hangout for the literary crowd—Hemingway, Orwell–was the London Bar at Carrer Nou de la Rambla, just across the street from an early Gaudi work, the Palau Güell (1886–88). Where didn’t Hemingway imbibe?
Barcelona is a paradise for architecture. Gaudi is rightly famous for his fantastical, nature inspired buildings, including the still-being-built Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera (1906–1910), and, my personal favorite, the Casa Batlló.
Another not-to-be-missed architect is Lluís Domènech i Montaner, whose Hospital de Sant Pau and Palau de la Música Catalana are both stunning. The former is accessible by walking the lovely Gaudi Avenue from the Sagrada Familia. The latter is somewhat hidden near the Gothic Quarter but worth finding; even better, attend a performance in the enchanting hall, filled with light from its stained glass ceiling.
All of these buildings have features that look like the late 19th-early 20th century architects could have been high on speed. Colored broken tiles decorate rooftop vents and sculptures, such as the lizard at Park Guell.
For an entirely different architectural experience, visit the Barcelona Pavilion by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe—one of the most influential buildings of the last century. Designed for the 1929 International Exhibition and then rebuilt in the 1980s, its simple lines are enticing after the whirl and swirl of Gaudi. Or, check out the Roman columns of an ancient forum found by venturing into a lovely courtyard.
What to read in a city filled with such extraordinary sights? The UK’s The Guardian provides a good starting point with its “Top Ten Books Set in Barcelona”: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2011/jun/08/top-10-books-barcelona-burgess. I read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s marvelous The Shadow of the Wind (2001) some years ago. Quatre Gats is one setting featured in the novel. Who can resist the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” in this literary thriller? From this list, I picked out a detective novel, The Angst-Ridden Executive. I’m not sure I’ll read the other 21 titles in the series, but José “Pepe” Carvalho, not only a detective but also a gourmet chef, provides walkers of Barcelona’s streets with familiar signposts such as La Rambla, a popular, tourist-filled boulevard.
The Guardian also provides a helpful list of “literary haunts”: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2011/jun/08/top-10-literary-haunts-barcelona.
I find it helpful when seeking RoadWorks to browse the shelves of the shops at landmark sites. The store at Gaudi’s La Pedrera offered these titles: The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones; Victus: The Fall of Barcelona by Albert Sanchez Pinoi; The Time in Between by Maria Duenas; The Angel’s Game, also by Zafon. Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones, reminiscent of Pillars of the Earth, describes the building of the Santa Maria del Mar Church, not far from the Picasso Museum.
The most enjoyable novel I read while in Barcelona was not on any of these lists: Love in Small Letters by Francesc Miralles. Those familiar with The Rosie Project may see similarities in this charming novel about an academic—a professor of German language and literature—who fears that he will be found dead in his apartment some years after the fact as he leads a lonely existence. The “Butterfly Effect” changes his life on New Year’s Day when a cat scratches at his door, and he succumbs to giving it a saucer of milk. How one small incident can lead to a transformation in an individual’s life is the plot of this funny and charming book. Follow Samuel through the streets of Barcelona, If you’ve been to Museum of Modernism (Art Nouveau), Balmes Avenue will be immediately recognizable. Miralles’ book provides a light and airy alternative to the more typical darker literature of the city.
Walking in the same streets as authors and characters is always fun, recognizing places from the narrative, like a medieval bridge joining two buildings near the Cathedral. In Barcelona particularly, good places to eat are also easy to find, like a lovely cheese shop that offers a delightful cheese tasting for lunch: Formatgeria La Seu. Onofre Wine Shop and Deli is yet another delectable option.
Delicious reads. Delicious sights. Delicious eats. Barcelona truly is a spectacular city.