I have a poor memory. But I always remember my first visit to Barcelona, 22 years ago, to visit my friend Meg. As soon as I dropped my rucksack in her surprisingly freezing flat, I was whisked out of the door into a golden, drunken night of autumn leaves, crowded tapas bars, and over-spilling glasses of cava. And I remember the moment she turned to me and said ‘You know why I love this place? Anywhere else in the world they wouldn’t have trusted Gaudi in a sand pit.’
Back in 1990 it seemed it was just arty folks who knew about Gaudi. But we have just got back from Barcelona and Gaudi is a big thing, he is everywhere and for everyone. On Sunday we set off early to Park Guell, and there was already a thick crowd by the famous ceramic salamander. It looked like a feverish religious gathering around a beloved icon. Everyone was reaching out to touch it, to photograph it. I started taking photos of the photographers, and my husband turned to me and said, ‘Are you Martinparring?’ Martin Parr takes interesting pictures of people, being tourists, amongst other things.
When I got home I wondered if I could find the other folks’ photos taken at the moment I was taking mine. I didn’t – but who should Google up, but Martin Parr and his blog, mentioning the same spot. He asks if people don’t see anymore, because they are so busy taking photographs of themselves ‘being there’.
It’s a fair comment: if the only thing we want out of an experience is a photo opportunity, we loose out on richer connections. But looking down the steps at the swell of photographers I could feel a great wave of mass enjoyment. Every clutch of camera wielding tourists I pushed into (and became part of) was full of good humour, even though it was as packed as a rush-hour tube train.
Gaudi has accidentally made a perfect playground location for holiday snaps, and if you don’t live in a Gaudi building what else is there to do but take a picture of it. Perhaps the camera has replaced the bucket-and-spade, something to actually ‘do’, and share doing, when we get there.
Martin Parr suggests Gaudi would be turning in his grave at all this. He probably would be. He was a deeply religious man and, by most accounts, a cantankerous old git. I don’t think any of this secular jollity would have gone down at all well. People were doing a lot of smiling and, from time to time, they had eyes of wonderment.
Not a bad result for a giant concrete lizard covered in broken tiles.
But if you really want eyes of wonderment in Barcelona just have a few drinks in the square, you may see a dog on skateboard