What follows is Part One of a story about a trip my wife and I took recently to Barcelona, Spain, and then home again on a cruise ship that stopped in the Canary Islands before setting sail for Port Canaveral. There may be more installments to this; I don’t know yet. We’ll see how it goes.
First things first. I know some readers will critique me for the carbon emissions left behind in the wake of my travels. You have every right to carp at someone who writes for a publication that preaches sustainability being partially responsible for burning so much jet fuel and diesel fuel. I can’t plead ignorance. All I can do is beg your forgiveness and hope that some of what I learned on my journey has a positive impact on your own thinking.
Spain & Barcelona
It seems everyone I know has been to Barcelona and loved it. I had dozens of recommendations about where to stay, what to see, and what to do. In the end, my wife and I chose a room at the Serhs Rivoli Rambla, which provided us with a third floor balcony overlooking La Rambla, a street and pedestrian mall that wends its way from La Plaça de Catalunya more than a mile to the statue of Christopher Columbus that overlooks the harbor.
La Rambla is busy 24 hours a day with many shops, restaurants, and museums along the way. From our balcony, we saw an unending stream of bicycles, scooters, mopeds, motorcycles, taxis, cars, trucks, and buses all sharing the same one-way traffic lanes that run north and south. Traffic moves at the pace of the average bicycle, many of which are electric, at a speed of about 12 mph.
There are frequent crosswalks with lighted signals to let pedestrians pass from the sidewalk to the pedestrian mall and the drivers all respect them. But if you happen to be a tourist who is gawking at the sights, you had best step lively once those drivers get a green light!
One of the most interesting places along La Rambla is Mercat de la Boqueria, an outdoor market crammed with fresh fruits, tapas, beverages, fish, and purveyors of the signature product of Spain, the national treasure known as jamon iberico, a cured ham shoulder that is proudly displayed in every market and served thinly sliced in every restaurant and tapas bar in the city.
Travel is the best teacher, so they say. People in the US would be horrified at such an outdoor market where none of the food is prepackaged in individual containers and covered in plastic wrap. And yet the Catalunyans seem to survive just fine. Maybe there are lessons about how to reduce the amount of packaged food we eat that could be learned from other cultures.
The Sagrata Familia
Here’s another way travel can broaden your horizons. In America, the word gaudy is derived from the architect Antoni Gaudi and it means garish, tasteless, or excessive. Gaudi created most of his famous works in Barcelona and they are…different. Without question, the highest expression of his artistry is the Sagrada Familia, the cathedral of the Sacred Family, in the center of the city.
It is exquisitely sculpted to be a living memorial to Jesus Christ and God. Every element, every window (there are thousands), every column, every crevice and balustrade was designed by Gaudi to glorify The Creator and to inspire those who visit with the power, depth, and breadth of the message of Jesus Christ. It is a sculpture, but more than that. It is a solid state hymn and homage to the Catholic Church. Nobody who has visited it and taken the time to watch the sunlight shine through the myriad of colored windows as it passes overhead every day can be anything but awestruck by this unique, iconic building which has no equal anywhere on Earth or in human history.
The cathedral has been under construction for nearly 100 years, with every facet and rendering drawn by Gaudi. That one person could have the genius to imagine such a magnificent place of worship is nearly unbelievable. The building itself is the opposite of garish, tasteless, or excessive. It is the New Testament expressed in architecture — a Picasso rendered in concrete — and it is breathtakingly beautiful. But you have to go see it to understand its power and the genius of the designer. Only travel can expand our view of the world beyond the limited confines of our daily existence.
The Catalunya Experience
Barcelona is the leading city in the Catalon region that tucks up into the northeastern corner of Spain that nestles against the border with France. It is a place that has valiantly fought for its own regional identity, a stance which earned it unending abuse by the Franco government during the Spanish civil war. To this day, it holds itself apart from the rest of Spain and takes pride in its obstinate refusal to kowtow to the central authorities.
Barcelona natives speak Catalan first and Spanish second. School children learn first about Catalonia, and second about Spain. The Catalunya flag flies proudly from virtually every building. Barcelona today is a cosmopolitan Mediterranean city, but beneath its cultured exterior is a toughness, a grittiness, an unwillingness to bend the knee to political, cultural, or linguistic usurpers. I think of it as a version of Paris, but with the addition of a waterfront.
Renewable Energy In Spain
There are lots of electric bikes for rent along the streets of Barcelona and some electric mopeds, scooters, and such, but few electric cars. I did see a billboard advertising the Ford Mustang Mach-E, but saw none on the streets. The Toyota Prius is the taxicab of choice, but considering the pedal to the metal driving style of taxi drivers everywhere, there’s some question of how effective they are at reducing exhaust emissions. There were no electric buses I could see, unlike Madrid. But I did notice several buses were CNG-powered or used battery/diesel hybrid power trains.
I never got much beyond La Rambla, but I did not spot a single solar panel or wind turbine anywhere within view of the city. According to Wikipedia, Spain was an early renewable energy leader in Europe, but its nascent industry crashed during the global meltdown of 2006 and things languished for several years. Then the national government imposed a fee on solar energy, known as the “sun tax,” which further inhibited the transition to renewables. In the last few years, that tax has been repealed and renewables are rising again.
The message of this visit to Spain and Barcelona is that spending our lives cloistered in our own little communities and getting our information third hand from the internet tends to skew our perception of the world around us. We are like cave dwellers who experience the outside world only by the shadows of the people and creatures who pass by outside. To be an educated person requires travel. There is no substitute.
We will need to learn to cooperate with our fellow humans in distant lands if we are to keep the world habitable for our species. That means getting out there, meeting them, listening to them speak, learning of their history, their culture, and their culinary traditions. After all, we are what we eat. If it takes a few carbon emissions to make that happen, so be it.
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