Sunday, January 24, 2010

Uniquely Catalan

It's a paradoxical city, Barcelona, to be known as such a cosmopolitan city while still presenting itself as such a uniquely independent culture. As I watched this week's video installments, I immediately would see a connection between the ideas (nomos, etmos, archon, etc.) and the culture in which I'm living. It's a new thought that I'm entertaining, that architecture, the layout of a city, and the consequences of these, could teach me so much about the savior-faire of a culture. So being a student of architecture, I suppose the most logical starting point for this discussion would be archon. In my short tenure here (it's been 2 weeks today), I've visited quite a few sites and it's given me not only an understanding of the architectural feeling of the city, but the cultural feeling of the city. The purest example would be The Sagrada Familia.

The Sagarda Familia has come to be a representational landmark of the city. If you were to
receive a post card from Barcelona (and some of you will!) chances are likely it's going to have either the Sagrada Familia or another Gaudi work. Work on the structure was begun in 1909
and completed in... tbd (expected 2029). Throughout the 100 years that it has been under construction, the building has evolved from a house of worship to the symbol of an entire culture. To state it simply, there is nothing like it elsewhere on earth; it is purely Catalan. The Catalan native Gaudi drew his inspiration primarily from studying plant forms, all of which were native to the region. The building employs local sandstone and rock from around northern Spain and southern France. When the final tower is completed, the structure will thrust 170 meters into the sky, a monument to Catalan ingenuity, and a representation of the pride and independent spirit of the Catalan people. The facade of the building also shows the rich artistic heritage of the place, supporting a cast of statues that range from a classical style, to a series of modernly artistic sculptures constructed throughout the 1990's. The building, like the city, has managed to adapt to the changing of the times, through scarring and formative times like the Civil War (the interior of the building was razed), and through cultural shifts such as the modern art movement, while still maintaing its unique sense that it is proudly unique.
Most of the architecture built before the 21st century had this quality of being Catalan, something the city prides itself on. Now however, the city has begun moving in a different direction, causing much controversy. Barcelona has now become known as, "the city where all the star architects come to build their worst building." The city has also chosen to tear down certain established neighborhoods in order to make room for denser housing. While development is not a bad thing, the way the city is going about it is where the controversy lies. In one particular neighborhood, a low rent community, the established tenants are being evicted and their houses torn down for highways. The people are given an opportunity to move to the new flats, however the structure and community, or the subculture that exists there, is slowly being destroyed and replaced with something that completely disregards that this culture ever existed. Perhaps the worst part is when the tenants are moved into the new building, they now have a perfect view to watch their old houses demolished from the tiny balcony which has now replaced the open squares and public space that they once enjoyed. Although the city is making mistakes in areas like these, in other sectors it is making great strides in opening up public space, which is where all of the culture of the city is enacted.
Before coming here, like any other traveler, I researched the culture and geography of the region where I read that the primary national language was not in fact Spanish, but rather Catalan. I assumed that was just for historical significance and that it was an afterthought to Spanish. Upon arriving here I was shocked to see that all the signs, directions, etc, were written not in Spanish, but in Catalan. Barcelona and the Catalan people really pride themselves in their language. Everyone here does speak Spanish, (and usually English), but Catalan takes first chair. From this I learned a lot about the spirit of the people. They are open to the world, and are quite friendly, but it is clear that maintaining their own identity is of top priority. Movies are dubbed from English to Catalan, a language with less than 10 million speakers; this isn't even done for Dutch or Danish. Here, being Catalan is a "whole way of life." Barcelonan food, the architecture, the city- all of these elements have outside influences, but at their core they are Catalan. The people here are quite able in finding a way to take something from outside the culture and integrate it into their own in a way that not only preserves the Catalan core, but transforms the new influence into something new, and therefor Catalonian. Through looking at this etnos, I have quickly had to readjust the manner in which I think about Barcelona, the people here, and how I understand their customs. Knowing of this independent pride enables me to interact socially with the people here better. Rather than approaching the trip as if I were a tourist visiting simply another part of Spain, I know try to think of myself as someone who is living in Catalan, thinking about what I can learn from the Catalan culture and how I can place myself into that culture and work within it, rather than to observe it, and make it my own.

1 comment:

  1. Great observations of how the ethnos of Catalonian (sub)culture tells its story in so many ways!