My wife, Kate, suggested we visit Barcelona and the magnificent architectural works of Gaudi on our anniversary.
Gaudi & our marriage–works-in-progress….
Kate had hatched this same notion for every one of our 32 anniversaries. I declined for the 33rd time and in the spirit of compromise I bought her a color poster of Spain.
I adore my wife and the art she loves. But I’m terrified of the birthplace of the Spanish Inquisition where I once had my pockets picked three times in six hours.
I wrote a couplet about the experience 25 years ago:
Iberia, Iberia, I fear ya,
I never want to go near ya.
Appealing to my literary bent, Kate suggested I read Don Quixote.
I plowed into the novel but again stopped at the windmill. There was not a hint about using them for alternative energy. So much for Spanish foresight.
Kate, undaunted, bought me a special travel jacket which she claimed would protect our valuables from the most ardent pickpockets.
The jacket featured 35 pockets, most of which were impossible to locate without a blueprint or divining rod. The perfect solution to thwart the most cunning and persistent pickpocket, she said.
(Note: The only force more persistent and cunning than a Spanish pickpocket is a wife driven to expose her husband to strange architecture.)
I put my foot down. We would stay at home!
I was not firm enough. I should never have given her the poster. It triggered an array of deep seated emotions in Kate and those brought the tears. I have little defense against tears and that is how we ended up on a flight to Spain a week later.
In 1883 Antoni Gaudi took over the design of the Sagrada Família. He worked on it until his death in 1926 when he was run over in traffic. Traffic that he created by making a divine hunk of art that attracted zillions of tourists. Jokes on him. Art does not always imitate life. It often ends it.
Since then the city fathers and graffiti artists labor night and day to complete Gaudi’s piece de resistance, the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, which to my way of thinking looks like an upside down cathedral that melted under the blazing Spanish sun.
Antoni Gaudi not only had a basilica interruptus, but an entire city of unfinished works. Maintaining and restoring his works keeps the city prosperous.
Before we left the safety of our hotel room by the Mediterranean, Kate helped me slip on my special jacket with all those secret pockets and we were off for the Sagrada Família.
On the morning Metro there was standing room only. I clung to a steel pole in the center of the car. A beautiful senorita shared the pole which she fondled between delicate fingers.
She wore a short red dress and heels for an evening on the town. Her dress almost covered that part of her that Donald Trump enjoys grabbing.
Skin, flawless and radiant, the young lady bent over and I saw she had neglected to wear panties. She sported a tattoo of an angel on her ankle. It was holding a half-inked pitchfork. Unfinished art. Obviously a student of Gaudi.
The lovely senorita fluttered her eyelashes. “You are not from Spain?” She spoke adorable English.
“No. A stranger in a strange land. I have come to learn about Gaudi.”
“Some of your countrymen criticize him for failing to finish his work.”
“Not me. I too have unfinished art. Over 150 novels.”
“A writer!” she said, trembling with excitement.
Before I could reply a wave of commuters surged into our coach cramming the woman with no panties against me.
“All those novels, you must be famous. What are some of your favorite?”
“I love them all, they are like my children, many of my novels have only a brilliant first page, in some cases only a brilliant but single paragraph. Some of my novels begin with a brilliant word and are only a sentence long …”
She clapped her hands in glee. “A spiritual brother of Gaudi. Both of you so brave, forging on, creating one unfinished work after another. May I have your autograph?”
I reached for my pen but the Metro hit another bump and threw us hard against each other. “I have always felt Gaudi and I were soulmates,” I whispered to her petite nose that the crowd had forced into my chin dimple.
She clutched my 35-pocket coat to regain her balance and I realized later that the senorita also managed to locate at least 20 or 30 of the zipper pockets in my jacket. And let’s not forget the fly on my pants. She didn’t.
Her breath was cinnamon laced with lime and of the best five smiles in the world she owned seven of them.
I was not quite aware of what was happening for the thought was going through my mind that someone might drop something and the Spanish gal would be compelled to bend over to retrieve it and I would have to help her.
Her fingers, as soft as baby’s breath, held onto me as I heard zippers opening.
Our car hit a curve and jostled our lips together as her tongue fell into my mouth.
More zippers sounded beside, behind, and under me. Cinnamon and lime, intoxicating.
When the Metro door opened, the Spanish lady with the flickering tongue whirled and dived for the open door, my wallet in her hand.
Kate snagged the wallet as the morning rush of bodies swallowed my pole companion.
At the next stop Kate and I staggered off the Metro and came face to face with Barcelona’s greatest unfinished work.
“With all the pickpockets in this city I bet they have their own union. I hope we don’t run into any more thieves,” I said.
“If we do, please keep your mouth closed,” said Kate.
By then I realized the girl without the panties had also hooked my gold watch and passports. “We’re going back to our hotel and pack before the thieves of Barcelona steal our fillings,” I said.
“We stay the week,” said Kate. “Or I rent a truck.”
“Like the one that killed Gaudi. Then I can tell your friends that you share not only unfinished works with him but you died exactly as he did. Solemates. Both mowed down by a runaway truck in your 74th year.”
I agreed to stay, after all we had to have our passports and credit cards replaced.
On the day of our departure we discovered several more super secret pockets in my special jacket. We hid our new passports and credit cards in these pockets and caught a shuttle to the airport.
Our driver was sympathetic when he heard what had happened to us. He apologized on behalf of the City of Barcelona, plus the entire population of Spain, and assured us that the authorities had rid the city of most pickpockets and thieves.
He stressed that the majority of the population were honest and loved tourists. After all without tourism Barcelona would be in a real pickle. Made sense to me. I wished we had met him the first day.
The traffic was horrible and when we got to the airport we were late for our flight. I was in a frenzy as I ripped my jacket inside out, clawing for our plane tickets and passports. I could feel the documents through layers of fabric but they were in an unreachable parallel universe.
Soon our plane would leave.
Kate grabbed our luggage and dashed into the terminal to hold a place in line for us. I found six secret pockets that contained only mints and broken pencils.
Then I remembered.
I had tucked a hundred dollar bill in my shoe and I gave it to the driver. He had no change and suggested that I go to the currency exchange window and break the $100 bill for Euros.
As I was stepping from the van the driver, embarrassed, asked me to leave my jacket as collateral. I hesitated. That stupid jacket had our passports, tickets and credit cards in it. Plus $500.
He offered me the keys to his van and explained that we needed to trust each other. He could go nowhere without the keys and I would have every reason to return with his correct fare and perhaps a small tip.
Grabbing his keys, I sprinted into the terminal–a moment later I returned with a fistful of Euros.
The van was there but the driver and my jacket had vanished.
The police have Kate and me in custody along with the stolen van that our “sympathetic” driver liberated.
In Spain if you have the keys to a stolen vehicle the authorities assume you’re up to skulduggery. It’s worse than being in possession of a stolen wallet.
SPECIAL BONUS — there is no question the interior of the Sagrada Família is sensational and uplifting but if you are just going to check out the exterior and want to save $17 – then go to the following link. It will give you a sense of the view and horrendous noise: gaudi2016
This chaos will last for at least another decade.
As Gilbert K Chesterton wrote: “There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.”
How to see things for free.
Go below the Sagrada Família and check out Gaudi’s crypt. No charge. I’m pretty sure you can sneak upstairs.
But if you get caught, remember these are the fun-loving folks who taught the world how to operate thumbscrews.