Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Barcelona Journal III: Placa d'Espanya

Catedral de Barcelona
Just a few steps from the Catedral de Barcelona an English couple are fighting. He has tattooed arms and her face is covered with a hat. Hoards of tourists feed from the Portal de l’Angel into the square in front of the cathedral, but on a hot afternoon it's strangely empty and the arguing couple have their moment in the limelight, he raising his voice in contrast to her growing reticence and obvious embarrassment. It’s a welcome interlude for excitement junkies who tire of the endless beauty and architectural invention on display. But if you’re spending time in Barcelona and you need a real respite from tourists, imposing structures, museums and historical monuments, shoot over to the Placa d’Espanya, which will make you feel grateful the eccentricities of Barcelona that in their super abundance you might have previously taken for granted. A functional modern hotel sits in front of a traffic circle off of which are streets with names like Creu Colberta and Career de Sant Roc which boast nameless pizzerias, hot dog stands and emporiums selling Oriental bric a brac. Sant Roc leads into another side street named Career de Leiva which characterized by purely functional buildings that have managed to remain impervious to Barcelona’s architectural heritage. Two young women in cut off jeans revealing tattooed thighs, which seem to be a fashion statement for many Barcelona teens, avert their gazes as they navigate their colorless surroundings.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Barcelona Journal II: Up on the Roof

watercolor by Hallie Cohen
“Up on the Roof” was the title of a Drifters song, but it’s where you want to be in Barcelona. Barcelona is literally a roof party in an architectural wonderland. At times it almost looks like a fairytale. On the Passieg to Gracia a brightly enameled Gothic turret on an office building presents a picture book setting against a clear blue sky; further down the street the modernist canopy of  El Corte Ingles, a department store, sweeps dramatically over the sidewalk. The facility with architectural design is almost a genetic attribute that Barcelona’s builders demonstrate with effortless facility. Looking at the dazzling democracy of styles one wonders how a country which cottoned to Franco also produced such imaginativeness in the construction of its buildings. But there was a Spanish Civil War which encompassed both political and artistic convictions (Picasso never returned to Spain because of the Franco dictatorship). Could architectural expression and flourish have been one of the few avenues of free expression during the years of repression under Franco. Gaudi, is obviously Barcelona’s most famous native son, when it comes to architecture, and the spires of the Segrada Familia dominate the landscape. But literally just about any street is a feast with everything plunked down in an almost willy nilly fashion that is so ubiquitous that it not only works, but creates the expectation of non-conformity. Just take a pedestrian mall like the Portal de l’Angel. El Corte reinvents itself in a baroque design. Next door to it The Catalonia Hotel occupies a neo-classic structure and next to that is Zara in a Bauhaus box.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Barcelona Journal 1: Paris Was Yesterday

photo of Janet Flanner (c.1020) by Berenice Abbott
The New Yorker writer Janet Flanner (aka “Genet”) published a collection of her pieces with the title Paris WasYesterday. Yes Paris has had it’s day in court and now the center of Europe may very well be Barcelona. Bofinger is the quintessential Paris Bistro, but if you are looking for the kind of 19th century redoubt whose social seating structure might have appeared in a Balzac novel, you might want to order a platter of raw fish specialties at Botafumeiro on the Passieg de Gracia. Or if you are looking for a Brat in Barcelona  cross the street and hit Barcelona’s version of Papaya King. Just such a proximity of the hi and lo might define the kind of cosmopolitanism Barcelona radiates. Walking down the Passieg de Gracia you hear crowds at the Palau Robert cheering a four women group called Las Migas and a few blocks further down you pass Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, with its ornate cut glass and rock façade, which now houses a club and the Casa Fuster, one of the grandest of the grand old hotels of Barcelona whose façade exemplifies art nouveau style. And yes there are palm trees in Barcelona and little inauspicious, not squares but triangles wedged into streets, where from a municipal bench you can hear the din of music and conversation. Barcelona cafes are not Les Deux Magots or La Coupole, which is to say they’re not the stuff of legend so much as the place where life is being lived.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Two Francois: An Essay in Criticism

Here’s a quote from a TLS review of Philip Short’s Mitterand: A Study in Ambiguity, (TLS, “Skilled at Distance,” 5/30/14): “Alongside his official family, and the inevitable retinue of mistresses, Francois also shared his life with Anne Pingeot, who was twenty years younger than him and with whom he had a child, Mazarine. Her existence was revealed to the wider public only in late l994, when Paris-Match published photographs of the President with his daughter.” This little paragraph written by the reviewer Sudhir Hazareesingh is worthy of exegesis since it contains a number of assumptions: 1) that a head of state in France has an official family (the current Francois in power in France confutes that assumption, of course 2) “inevitable retinue of mistresses.” Is it written in French law that a head of state must have a “retinue” in order not to face impeachment? Certainly the other Francois seems to have met this qualification handily having thrown over the journalist Valerie Treirweiler for the actress, Julie Gayet, (footnote: his 30 year relationship with Segolene Royal had come to an end one month after Royal’s defeat in the 2007 election) 3) while it seems that the name Francois can be attached to positions of power in French government, we know the name is not a requirement. It was not, for example, Francois de Gaulle. There have been many summit talks in which American presidents have met with their European counterparts. But there has unfortunately never been a sexuality summit in which major leaders could compare notes. Imagine a circle jerk with Francois Mitterand, Francois Hollande, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton for starters. But reading about the exploits of the two Francoises, it's hard not to ask, were these two leaders of France sex addicts and what differentiates them from DSK, a renowned swordsmen, who also occupied a prominent quasi governmental position as managing director of the IMF?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sex in Cyberia

A Kyoto Geisha by Yamaguchi Soken (1796)
CNN did a story about sex workers in the Silicon Valley (“Sex Valley: Tech’s Booming Prostitution Trade,” 7/14/13), attendant upon the overdosing of a Google executive by a prostitute (“Police: Prostitute killed tech exec with heroin,” CNN, 7/10/14) One wonders if CNN will do a follow up on the sex business in the Silicone Valley. Apparently the huge profits generated by the tech business have created a number pashas who spend their money on harems. Interestingly part of the story included an interview with a young women involved in the Silicon Valley sex trade who used a striking locution calling prostitutes, “professional sexual providers.” What’s interesting is that the syntax is derived from an expression that is usually associated with firms that provide connectivity to the internet, which as we know is one of the greatest sources of prostitution in the history of civilization. However having sex with a provider rather than depending on your internet provider for sex is tantamount to getting them while their hot or buying something wholesale instead of having to pay the middleman. In the interview the "professional sexual provider' explained that many internet moguls are very busy and don’t have time to be involved in relationships and so people like her are actually furnishing a service that is socially constructive. You had famous courtesans like Madame de Pompadour and elegant geishas, but  “sexual providers” may be one of the most artful euphemisms ever created to describe the world’s oldest profession. The nimbus created around these "sexual providers" is certainly a far cry from the old Mexican whorehouses, where one of the acts of degradation used to attract customers was to have ugly crones urinating on ingénues. Havana’s Superman and the mythology of Catherine the Great making love with a stallion are also eons away from sex in Cyberia. In the Silicon Valley, you tip your “server" and have sex with your “provider" before logging off for the evening.