June 27, 2007

Poble Espanyol

This 'Spanish Town' was originally built for the 1929 International Fair which was held in Barcelona. The idea was to create a space similar to that of any town in Spain by compiling buildings of very different and distinct architecture from each region and/or area of the country. The compilation would be like any town in Spain because it would have all of the elements: plaza, church, town hall, living quarters, restaurants, offices, streets and entry gate. It would be different because each of the 117 buildings would come from a different place. It would be a Spanish town, but not any Spanish town in particular.

The concept was not a new one; most countries attempted to represent their whole self in some manner at international fairs and expos. Barcelona was the first to organize the presentation in such a way that it was easily followed and immediately obvious which area or town a particular section represents. The plan was to demolish the area at the end of the fair. Luckily for all of us, the town was so popular that it was decided the town should stay. If I were one of the architects and artists who spent two years traveling to 1600 towns in Spain in order to recreate their buildings and streets to scale, then I would have been mighty upset indeed had they torn it down after only six months.

One enters the Poble Espanyol through a gate, Puerta de San Vicente (Ávila) that looks much like any walled city's fortifications. A brief stop at the audio-guide desk provides each person with a device that contains about an hour of commentary on the buildings. After the desk, the first stop is the Plaza Mayor. This huge area includes a bandstand for concerts, a church in the corner, and even the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall). The audio-guide, though too involved at times, was highly interesting here in the Plaza Mayor. It told of a time when the Poble functioned as a real town does today. There was a saint's day, a mayor, businesses, church services, etc. - the only difference was that no one slept there overnight.

A walk through the Poble Espanyol would be interesting, but the audio guide provides some much needed information for those who haven't traveled extensively throughout Spain. I imagine that is pretty much everyone reading this right now (If not...why are you reading my silly blog?). The area I most recognized was, of course, the tiny white-washed streets from the Andalucian region. It was spot-on with accuracy, which causes me to believe that the whole thing is done with a high level of accuracy. The rose-colored building above is Besalú from Girona. I love the painting on the building for texture.

The whole experience is full of detail and surprises around every corner; this falls right into step with all of my experiences in any town that I have visited. There are secrets in every town; you simply have to wander to discover them. In the Poble, there is no wandering; everywhere you look is a discovery.

I know there are those who think Poble Espanyol is a waste of time and not the real-deal. On the latter I completely agree. What makes a Spanish town come to life is the people living in it; without them it is simply a shell. I do not, however, think that visiting the Poble is a waste of time. Granted, I am speaking only from the young-couple/no children point-of-view, but we quite enjoyed it. There is no way we are going to visit anywhere close to all of the regions of Spain while we are here, and this way we were able to see different architecture, which we enjoy.

As an aside - I am not saying children wouldn't enjoy it; there is a children's program and I've read that they can even participate in hand-craft workshops (that would be cool). We simply have no idea what those things entail because we didn't participate in them or research them.

Apart from being a life-size museum of sorts, Poble Espanyol also houses about forty workshops of various hand crafts. There were some pottery places with workers at their wheel (one even had a small child learning), a couple of weaving shops and a wood-carving place with some fabulous Don Quixote and Sancho statues (a bit pricey, though...El Quixote always is).

Our favorite was the glass blowing workshop. In part because we were able to watch men take blobs of hot melty glass and turn it into something beautiful via an assembly line of sorts, but if we're honest, the best thing about it wasn't the product but the men themselves. Señor CC loved the outfits (the sweatbands especially) and I loved their down-to-(this-hot-mess-of-a-)business attitude about the whole thing. Not once did they look at us to pose for photos or flash even a hint of a smile. No siree; they were busy. My favorite is the man holding the rod with the red-hot glass sliding off; he had a cigar in his mouth the whole time. It was dangerously close to the end, but there it was, in its place, for what appeared to be all time.

One man pulled glass from the oven and held it over a mold for another to 'cut' it once the liquid glass had slowly drooped into the form. The 'cutter' then smoothed the edges a bit before he placed the top half of the mold into the goo. At this point another man (with the sweat band) joined him to push on the mold for a while. This formed a dish. After all of that, a fourth man took a clamp out of a second oven fire and grabbed the dish by its pedestal to fire it. I assume this smooths the entire thing. He then handed this rod to the last man who simply rolled that dish around and around until it turned from red-hot to clear.

Señor CC was so very excited about the glass-blowing workshop that we almost spent the day there watching them make that dish over and over. I suggested we move along and was met with great disappointment. It was pretty fascinating. He enjoyed it so much that we purchased a souvenir which you can see in the above photo. If you live in Spain, I guess you have to have a bull at some point, right? We chose this one (they are all different) because it has the red and yellow from the Spanish flag as well as a ribbon of blue, the accent color in the living room of our apartment here in Sotogrande.


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