The Caixa Forum has some important exhibitions every year and it is always a pleasure to wander around the old converted textile factory with its impressive brick and metal work. At the moment there is a collection built up by the Aga Khan over several decades of Muslim art over a thousand year period when they dominated most of the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East.
Off the beaten path for most visitors to Barcelona is an area with
lots of interesting architecture set on a hillside with good views- we
are talking about a cemetery.
The Montjuïc hill which dominates the southern side of the city was
first used and named after the Jews that used it as a burial ground
and about a third of it still is, although now a christian site.
When Catalonia and Barcelona started to flourish economically at the
end of the 19th century the cemetery was one of the main beneficiaries
with all sorts of exotic and new forms and materials used to create
the final resting places for the main families.
Wandering up the steep hillside under the tall cypress trees looking
at some of the best elements of Expressionist or what the Catalans
called Modernist art forms is really quite fun. This is characterized
by themes of natural romantic phenomena such as caves and rock
formations and utilises the creative potential of artisan
craftsmanship which you see all around you in the different shapes and
materials used in the crypts and graves.
All the best architects and craftsmen of their day were involved here
and several parts were designed by the ubiquitous Antoni Gaudí as well
as Lluis Domenech i Montaner, the two biggest stars of their day.
The 23rd of April is not an official holiday here in Catalonia but it sure seems like it! Many balconies and buildings are draped in Catalan flags and many shop windows try to incorporate one of the two main symbols of the day.
The tradition is for men to give women a rose (or two!) and in return they are given a book. The centre of Girona around the Rambla is full of stalls selling books and flowers and I have never seen the streets so busy, possibly because it has been a splendid, warm (hot even) day, with a clear blue sky after what seems like weeks of rain.
This is one of the few times that people seem to raise money for “good” causes; children raise money for their school play or boy scouts for a summer camp.
So beware as you walk the streets, either buy a rose or use a book to defend yourself !
Montserrat is only some 50kms from Barcelona and yet feels like a different world. Forget the Ramblas and Mediterranean casual seaside lethargy, this is a combination of the Grand Canyon crossed with Saint Marks Square and it is amazing!
There is a choice of three ways to ascend this strange landscape from below; by a modern funicular, by cable car or by road but the religious types may even consider walking depending on how penitent they feel.
For non-believers there are some great hikes around some incredible basalt rock formations with views of deep ravines and small villages below.
The real action is back at the Monastery where there are plenty of chances to save your soul in the Chapel, visit the Black Madonna, light a candle for a loved one, visit one of the best art collections of mainly Catalan artists or sit and watch the hordes of people from all over the world milling around.
A great day out will be had by all, nature overwhelms religion, but what a combination!
So, to continue the preparation for my Catalan meal with 90 year old couple Sion and Lluis from La Pera which is about 20kms from Girona.
So far we have the onions baking in the fireplace, the sausages are being grilled on the fire and now it is time to toast the bread in the flames. Once this is done we are ready to get the onions out (1.5 hrs in the fire) and peel the burnt outside layers off until we have the soft and moist interiors perfectly cooked. Olive oil an salt are added and we take the broad beans off the cooker too and take everything to the table.
So we start with cutting a whole garlic clove in two and rubbing it on the toasted bread followed by specially grown juicy tomatoes which also get spread on the bread along with olive oil and a little salt and then you can add some of the dry sausage or cheese on top. This is called "pa amb tomàquet" and forms the base (or starter) for many Catalan dishes and is perfectly acceptable as a meal in itself.
The wine I brought as my contribution is served from the bottle although Sion prefers her own from the barrell they keep in the cellar and she drinks from a "porró" which is easier to see and understand in a photo (see photos attached). The cauliflower salad is also on the table being one that Sion had made a few weeks ago with red wine vinegar and consequently looks red and tastes great.
Sausages with a garlic sauce "alioli" and the broad beans follows and by this time we are feeling not only replete but very merry and after dessert of walnuts, hazelnuts and fresh fruit we need a walk around the village to let it all settle.
This meal was not quick at some 3 hours but will certainly be one of the more memorable for the quality of the ingredients and company! Thank you Sion and Lluis.