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Sunday, September 18, 2011, still in Barcelona, Spain

Hi all. Yep, we’re still here, on a rainy, cool September Sunday. Last week, we were awaiting the arrival of visiting friends.

On Monday, our first guests in months arrived. Gene and Rhoda stopped by to see us on their way to a Mediterranean cruise that would begin in Venice after they visited with us. We tried not to keep them too busy on their first day. We all took a walk on the Rambla, went out to lunch, and got them settled in their cabin. After the overnight flight, it was all they could do to keep from falling asleep standing up.

On their second day in town, we visited the only sightseeing destination we’d missed (waiting for them) in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia Temple. Designed by Antoni Gaudi at the height of his fame, it was only about a quarter completed at the time of his demise, and only passed its midpoint in 2010. Art and I had tried to visit several weeks earlier, but were put off by what we thought was a summer-season hour-long line. Now, on a mid-September weekday, the line was still an hour long.

We marveled at the facades of the nativity and the passion, all ornate and modernist. The interior is simple and stunning, with stained glass, towering columns, and a bizarre absence of pews. There are folding chairs in the center of the nave for those who want to study the building or even for prayer. But I don’t think that this church is used for anything but gawking, and it’s supported only by private donation (meaning, among other things, our 13 ticket fees. They don'''��t even accept credit cards.)

It occurred to me that it would be an impossibly expensive endeavor to have an actual service. If people are visiting every single day (there’s never a free-entry day at this venue, not even the first Sunday of the month), ushered in as fast as the ticket-taker can work (without even having to validate credit cards), then offering a mass would just cost too much in opportunity costs.

We all walked back from Sagrada Familia along a route suggested by a different walking tour than the one we’d taken on our own. And that was enough for a first full day.

The second full day of their visit, we repeated the Gothic Quarter tour we’d enjoyed on our own, or at least most of it. Art has taken to pulling me aside and saying, “You know; we’ve toured the crap outta this town.” And we have.

Their next day was devoted to a visit to the Guell Palace we’d enjoyed, and Art and I sat at a café in a nearby plaza. In the evening, we watched a classical guitar concert in the stunning Palau de la Música Catalana.

We’d seen a concert in this modernist hall, and found a date to share the experience with our guests. The performer for this concert was a classical guitarist, arranger, and composer. Our seats had been well back in the audience the first time, and this time we had weeks of advance notice to buy these tickets. This time around, we could pick anyplace in the theater to sit. We picked a row up front. And our seats were at the bulkhead. The stage was inches from our knees.

For me, this was a great way to watch a guitar concert. I could see every chord on every fret, and which fret was holding the capo. On his right hand, you could watch what appeared to be two guitarists using one hand to play two different melodies. The thumb played bass notes, and his fingers seemed like they belonged to a completely different person. Spanish guitar notes are played so quickly, and you could watch a finger strum a string down and up in such quick succession that it seemed as though the notes were coming from somewhere else. It was the instrumental equivalent of a patter song. Beyond all the picking, that hand was also strumming occasionally, and ending each piece with a flourish. And while they were at it, his fingers tapped the wood occasionally to provide his own percussion.

Behind him, there was that grand, overdone stage, with mosaic dresses on busts in relief, horses with leather straps pushing through the walls, and above it all, a stained glass ceiling crowned with a dome inside out.

After the concert, we finally found ourselves looking for something to eat at Spanish dinnertime, eleven o’clock. We stopped for tapas on lively Argentina Street, hoping to eat at a recommended place across from the church of Santa Maria del Mar. Every place we tried was packed. We finally settled on a tapas place on the street that had also been recommended by one of our guidebooks. That turned out to be just what we wanted.

On our next evening out, we went to Placa Espanya to see the Magic Fountain and to visit the bullring-turned-mall.

Our company moved on to their next destination, and we settled right back into our Barcelona life. “I live here now,” Art told me. We’d considered leaving immediately upon their departure. But we still had several weeks to mosey towards France, and Barcelona was still hopping. So we decided to stay for just a few more days.

I really do think that we’ll be somewhere else by this time next week. The weather is changing, and there’s autumn in the air. Hope you’re all enjoying the last gasps of summer.

Love, Karen (and Art)