We left San Diego around midday on Tuesday, and arrived in Barcelona around midday on Wednesday. Five hours to Atlanta, nine hours to Spain, a nine-hour jump in time. Neither of us got much sleep on the plane. We knew we needed to resist the tempation to nap upon checking in at the hotel, and at first the exhilaration of being in Barcelona was enough to keep jet lag at bay. We were met at the airport by our host, David Macho, who represents a number of Spanish artists. Scott’s role at the convention was to, along with a couple of other DC and Marvel editors, meet with would-be, hopeful, and up-and-coming artists and look over their portfolios. My role was to do whatever I felt like. Not a bad deal, eh?
Another con attendee happened to be on our flight from Atlanta, along with his wife and her friend, though we didn’t know that until we met David at the airport. Tony Harris, illustrator of Ex Machina and many other titles, is a wildly popular artist and also does the most killing impersonation of Eddie Izzard impersonating Darth Vader at the Death Star canteen. I had no idea, when I squeezed between Tony and his sweet wife Stacy in the narrow back seat of David Macho’s tiny European car, that I would spend much of the upcoming week weeping with laughter over Tony’s stories.
David pointed out the sights on our way to the hotel, including prepping us for our first glimpse of the Plaça d’Espanya, a large and fairly stunning plaza bounded by the old bullfighting arena (now being renovated to become the world’s largest museum of rock) and our hotel, the Barcelona Catalonia Plaza. The Plaça contains a giant fountain (turned off at the moment, alas) and the two 154-foot tall red-brick Venetian Towers which stand imposingly at the foot of Queen Maria Cristina Avenue. On either side of the towers are large buildings with splendid facades, one of which was the site of the comic con. At the end of the avenue, partway up the hill called Montjuïc, is the Palau Nacional, home of the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Much more on that later.
The fountain and Venetian towers, with the Palau Nacional in the distance
The Fira de Barcelona, site of the con
David was right: we were all pretty blown away by the sight of the Plaça, the towers, the long avenue stretching away toward the mountain with that magnificent building at the top.
By the time we got checked in, it was almost 2pm: time for lunch. Lunch and dinner was provided for us every day in the hotel restaurant. A long table filled the back room, and we were joined there that first day by the Harrises, David Macho and his assistants, and several other comic book artists and writers. We met underground comics superstar Peter Bagge and his family, and the revered artist Michael Golden, a comics legend whom I had met several times long ago during my honeymoon year in New York City, was a wry and jovial presence. Lunch that day included a delicious white bean “fisherman” stew, with a tomato broth and clams, shrimp, and squid. The rest of the meal was somewhat hazy, as jet lag began to get its teeth into us.
Determined to stay awake until night, as one is supposed to do to when traveling to a dramatically different time zone, Scott and I followed lunch—it was after 4pm by that point—with a walk up the avenue to the Palau Nacional. We climbed many, many steps (and rode a few escalators) to the top level and marveled at the views. Looking back down the avenue, past the long rows of hushed fountains, we could see our hotel. From one end of the terrace, we saw the ocean, and in the middle distance, the spires of La Sagrada Familia, surrounded by construction cranes. I didn’t know, then, how important that view was to become to me by the end of the week, nor how much the cranes would be part of the poetry of the place. That first day, it seemed a pity that unsightly construction machinery marred the view; I didn’t yet understand that Barcelona is a work of art in progress, and that the unfolding and ongoing nature of the creation of masterpieces is part of what makes that city so vibrant and beautiful. Its art is not static and finished: walking the streets of Barcelona is like being in the studio of a master sculptor, with astonishing pieces all around you and the greatest piece of all on the work table in the middle of the room, a figure of breathtaking beauty just beginning to emerge from the stone.
La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s cathedral in progress, as seen from the terrace of the Palau Nacional on Montjuic. Click to view larger image.
View of the Magic Fountain, Queen Maria Cristina Avenue, and Plaça Espanya from the steps of the Palau Nacional. Our hotel is the tall, cream-colored, many-windowed building just behind and to the left of the leftmost Venetian tower. In the distance, Mount Tibidabo.
That first evening, all we knew was that the view was lovely, and we were walking dead. Scott exerted heroic efforts at keeping me awake until nightfall. Dinner was at 9:30, but there was no way we were up for that. We collapsed sometime between 8 and 9: I was too far gone to do the math necessary to convert the San Diego time on my iPod to Barcelona time. There were no clocks in the room, nor anywhere in the entire city, as far as I could tell, except the giant one on the front of our hotel.