(I have taken a long time finishing this post because it’s the last one, and I haven’t wanted to let Barcelona go. Hard to believe we’ve been home for two weeks now. )
Sunday afternoon. I had lingered long at lunch after Mr. Giraud (aka Moebius) left, chatting with the artists and convention staffers who were winding down their busy weekend full of signings, sketch sessions, and dinners. I had planned on spending my last afternoon in Barcelona visiting a monastery I’d heard about, a longish subway ride away, but I found myself instead drawn into pleasant conversation with a British ceramics artist named Alison, who had accompanied her good friend Melinda Gebbie to the convention. Melinda is a highly respected comic book artist and the wife of comics legend Alan Moore, whose Watchmen was the first graphic novel I ever read.
(In college, when Scott and I first began dating, I learned quickly that comics and music were his two great passions. I’d never read comics except for the occasional Archie, and I asked Scott what I should start with. He hesitated not an eyeblink: Alan Moore. Everything Alan Moore ever wrote. Accordingly, I read my way through Alan’s body of work: from Watchmen to Miracleman, V for Vendetta, his entire Swamp Thing run, and more. I remember how shocked I was to realize comic books could be brilliantly written—could be literature.)
It was lovely to have a chance for quiet conversation with Alison after having bumped elbows with her at dinner tables all week. It was nearly 5pm when Melinda came to remind her of an engagement they had. I knew Scott would have gone straight from his artist luncheon to his final portfolio-review shift at the con, so I was on my own for another couple of hours. I decided to take one last walk up Montjuic, to say goodbye to that view I’d come to love so deeply.
It was a warm and golden evening, and I am kicking myself for not bringing my camera that night. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I walked to the Magic Fountain and up one of the many flights of stairs, and then, on a whim, I turned off to the right, following signs for the Spanish Village I’d heard about—a living history museum, I gathered. It was a longish walk around the curve of the mountain, along a busy road. When I got to the mountain, I saw the tops of stone buildings above a tall wrought-iron fence, but I decided not to pay the hefty admission to go inside. Instead I backtracked a bit and struck off on a path through some woods up the slope of Montjuic. The Palau Nacional was not far off on my left, and the roofs of the Village rose to my right. And then suddenly, around a little bend, there was a high fence with wooden pickets set just far enough apart that I could peek through. Inside was something magical.
It was a sculpture garden, with a bronze bull that took my breath away. Dancers made of coiled and folded metal rods. And oh! Two people sleeping on the ground, their heads on rough packs, their clothes ragged at the edges, their faces tired and troubled even in sleep. At first glance they were real people. Then I saw that they were sculptures, refugees in bronze. Incredible detail work. Heartbreaking expressions on the faces.
I think I’m glad I saw them like that, unexpectedly, through the slats of a fence. I stood there a long time, peering through, holding my breath.
The woods were suddenly alive with chickadees, busy and talkative as they finished their day’s work. I tore myself away from the sleepers and continued up the hill. My dirt path ended at another busy road, this one leading to a back parking lot for the Palau Nacional. I headed in that direction and kept on going, circling the back side of that splendid building, strolling past the Olympic Stadium, discovering to my great delight a set of gardens on the far side of the Palau.
The gardens were empty but for me and the birds. Light woods turned to hedges and paths, plane trees in rows, half a dozen small fountains, each one different. It struck me that though it was April and warm, there were no flowers. Indeed, I’d seen very few flowers during the whole trip, no plantings of pansies or early spring bulbs like you see in all public spaces on the East Coast of the U.S. There was one golden-flowering shrub, and an occasional small tree with pinky-purple blossoms the color of redbuds back in Virginia, but no other blossoms at all. Most of the trees had young, translucent leaves. Perhaps I missed the main bloom season: but if that were so, I’d expect to have seen crocuses or tulips or daffodils or primroses or something in the understory.
The garden did have rows of big terracotta urns on its steps and avenues (this was a garden with many architectural elements: columned walkways, terraces, stone steps), each pot filled with the same kind of geranium. Eventually it occurred to me that as flowers go, these geraniums were not spectacular: straggly white blossoms on leggy stalks. And as soon as I noticed that, I remembered that such unimpressive blooms are typical of many varieties of scented geraniums. I rubbed a leaf and ohhhh. Chocolate mint. I used to grow scented geraniums in little blue-and-white pots all over my house, so that every time I walked through a room I could break off a leaf and smell a pretty smell. Now I moved slowly through this garden, brushing leaves, inhaling deeply, breathing in beauty, which is what the whole week in Barcelona was like.
Though I loitered long, I came at last to another road: the end of the garden, the end of new things. I was back at the Palau, on the terrace from which Scott and I had first gazed at the spires of Sagrada Familia. I leaned out over the railing and said a silent goodbye to the church, its companion cranes, the rust-red, butter yellow, and white rooftops of the city all around. Back down the steps past the fountain for the last time. Down the avenue to the Placa Espanya. The big clock on our hotel told me it was an hour past Scott’s quitting time at the con. He’d be wondering where I was.
I stopped by the piano bar first, windblown and no doubt red-nosed, for the evening had grown chilly as I walked. Scott was just coming out, his backpack slung over his shoulder: he was looking for me. Someone ordered me a Bailey’s Irish Cream (I never had a signature drink before!) and I never did make it up to our room to brush my hair. The piano bar spilled into dinner, which spilled back over to the bar. Several of the artists—Jock and Tony and Tim—were busy sketching as we talked, granting requests for convention staffers and a charity auction. There is nothing like watching a picture take shape on a blank page before your eyes, seemingly as effortlessly as ink seeping into a paper towel. These guys amaze me. Andy Diggle and I, the only just-writers of the bunch (as opposed to writers and artists, or writers and editors), marveled at this casual display of ability we do not possess and deeply covet. Novels, schmovels. I want to draw.
I had another chance to talk with Alison; I told her about the woods, the sculpture garden, the other garden. We talked about that John Stilgoe book I’ve written so much about here, and I mentioned the “every face I look at seems beautiful” quote from the Betty Edwards drawing book—because it had struck me several times during my walks in Barcelona that every place I looked at was beautiful as well. And sometimes I would be struck with a pang of regret that I had such a short time there, and then I would remember that I was going home to San Diego—beloved not just because my children are here, but beautiful in its own right, an idyllic kind of city. And then I would think of our bonny glen in Virginia at the feet of the Blue Ridge: no place on earth more lovely. Or the boats on the water of Port Washington, New York, where we lived for a time. Or the homey red-brick duplexes of Astoria, Queens, with the lovingly tended fig trees and decadently abundant rosebushes in the table-sized yards. Or the golden aspen leaves in the suburban front yards of my hometown, Aurora, Colorado, with those incredible white-capped mountains rising majestically (there is no better word) in the west. Every place I look at seems beautiful. Is beautiful.
Alison told me she thought I’d like the work of a photographer named Andy Goldsworthy. I’m going to look for his books.
The last dinner was a special event, sort of, with all the convention guests present. Andy, Jock, Scott, and I lingered longest in the piano bar and wound up seated at the far, far, far end of the table, up against a wall. As in, Jock was literally facing the wall. He’s such an amiable guy he hardly seemed to mind. That was the night my duck was served almost completely raw, which serves me right for asking for well done. There was some speechifying at the other end of the table, and many toasts, and all of us were reluctant to say goodnight. And so many of us didn’t. We stayed in the hotel lobby until 5 a.m., talking, laughing too loudly, mostly at Tony Harris, who is a riot. Finally the security guard kicked us out, and we scattered to our rooms. Most of us were leaving the next morning. Tony and his wife and friend were to be on our flight to Atlanta; Jock and Andy planned to leave for the airport at about the same time, so we did not say goodbye. We’d meet in the lobby at 10:30 and share a cab: that was the plan.
Upstairs, I packed like mad for fear of going to sleep and never waking up until the plane was about to take off. Got all ready to go, while Scott snoozed. Only 7 a.m. by now, sleep sounding very enticing, what to do? Ran down to the lobby for one last email home. Ordered breakfast. Gave in at last and dozed a little. Travel jitters woke me around ten. We freshened up and headed downstairs, suitcases in tow.
Andy was there, but it turned out Jock’s flight was a little later; he’d be taking a later cab. We felt bad that we’d be leaving without saying goodbye, but he was probably asleep: better not wake him. Scott and Andy checked out, and we lugged our luggage (oh! I just got that for the first time! how funny!) to the curb to look for a cab.
A cry from above caught our attention: someone was calling our names! “Scott! Lissa!”
We looked up, and there in a fourth-floor window was Jock, leaning out, window wide open as only Old World hotel windows will do, waving in a grand and cinematic gesture that gave us both goose bumps. “I wondered if I’d find you,” he called, “and there you were!”
It was the perfect farewell to Barcelona, a perfectly glorious gesture capturing all the magic and lightheartedness we’d felt all week. Our goodbyes soared up on the wind, like birds winging their way toward the spires of Sagrada Familia.
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What We Said Seventeen Times Yesterday
links for 2008-02-24