Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Discreet Charm of Real Estate Pornorgraphy and Aging with Grace

I think this photo may be my absolute favorite of the 800+ shots I took this past week. Take a moment to click on it and "embiggen" it to catch the focal point of the elderly couple on the balcony which I get teared up just looking at again since it embodies why I will definitely be coming back to Barcelona, perhaps permanently. I began by shooting the charming Forn de Pa sign below them, but first the man came out to gaze at the street in his Dreta L'Eixample neighborhood (the Upper East Side of Barcelona), and then the woman joined him. I felt I was seeing something that was at once very private but also so natural and loving and not in any guidebook. In the flash of a few seconds, just as the warmth of afternoon was about to turn to the end of the day touched me in a deeply multi-layered way that Billie Holiday singing "Autumn in New York" does. Just after putting my camera back in my bag, they glanced down, as if suddenly aware of me, and I went on about my way, and they returned inside.With apologies to Luis Buñel, I found that the bourgeoisie of Barcelona, especially its elderly, had enormously discreet charm and great grace. Almost always elegantly but never elaborately dressed. My favorite moments were watching them going about their daily lives and picturing myself at that age and thought about where I would like to be when that time comes. Most of them, of course, came of age during or some perhaps just before Franco came of age. As Catalonians, even the most elite felt oppression during that dark era, and I found myself longing to pull one aside and ask what it felt like to have so many dreams dashed and now to live in a city so glorious, graceful and able to function without resentment of its many annoying tourists.
Those questions raced through my head as I followed a few steps behind this woman who dashed ahead of me into her local market, a wrought iron charmer. How I longed to walk beside her, help her push the cart along as she filled it with items for an elegant Catalonian Saturday supper that would suddenly increase from one to two.
A couple of days later just after nabbing this shot of a lady in the Born, she turned and glanced back at me with a sly, knowing smile. She didn't look the least bit resentful or angry but perhaps just a tad scolding of a ladrón at play in what has become one of the priciest neighborhoods in the city. In a few months, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona will let the world know that I am not the only neurotic Jew to descend on their city. And I am not the only one obsessed with real estate pornography, and I am sure we'll get plenty of lush interiors in the Born and Dreta L'Eixample. I've already scouted real estate prices there which are somewhere between San Francisco and Manhattan. When I announced more than a decade ago that I would be searching for and buying real estate in San Francisco, people laughed and said "in your dreams; it'll never happen." When some young ladrón follows me up Passeig de Saint Joan as I saunter home leaning into my cane and carrying a loaf of warm pa and salt cod, I promise to have attained a similar state of grace and will just smile back, having plenty of secrets that I prefer to let shimmer through the gauze of bourgeois charm.

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At 12:52 AM, Blogger WAT said...

Una pregunta:

Do they only wanna speak Catalan in that region or do they embrace Castilian too?

At 6:44 AM, Blogger Salty Miss Jill said...

Ai! This was such a wonderful post...get this published!

I have a wee lump in my throat now (the happy kind). Thank you for that.

At 7:15 AM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

WAT - That's a bit hard to say since my Spanish is sort of a Guatemalan/Argentine mish mash. They'd greet me in Catalan, and I could understand about 2/3rds of it. Their Spanish was pretty close to what I'd call Castilian, but I think it weirded them out to hear a gringo talking like a Mesoamerican campesino.

Jill - It was definitely the people that I will remember the most. Gorgeous, graceful and so dignified. Certainly I saw plenty of men who were stunning, but I think it was the older folks whom I know suffered through Franco and now seem to exude such joy and grace that touched me so deeply. It gave me hope that on the other side of the darkest times there is light -- and what could be more stunning than light glistening from above the Pyrenees and reflected in the Mediterranean?

At 7:40 AM, Blogger J. David Zacko-Smith said...

I really love Barcelona, too! Such an amazing city. It hasn't grabbed a hold of me like Paris or the Greek Islands have (both of which I dream about continually), but maybe I need to spend more time there (I've only been there twice). ;-)

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

JDZM - I think discreet is the key word with Barcelona. I grew up having drilled in my head that France and Paris in particular are the most superior cultures in the world. There is much to their credit, but much about them that is supremely annoying and offensive. Barcelona is not without its flaws too, but there is more mystery and ambiguity there best summed up in the oft used phrase "the color of a dog running away". People that say that phrase makes no sense will never understand Barcelona.


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