messing family picture

Spain with the Museum of Science

Ioannis Miaoulis (Yannis) visited the science museum Cosmo Caixa in Barcelona, and thought it was unique and would provide the backdrop for a trip attended by trustees of the Museum of Science. I believe his goal was to spark discussion of our museum, and ensure board members got to know each other even better as we work on all of the issues and projects facing the museum. If it resulted in a renewed committment to the Museum, so much the better. All of those goals were nicely met.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

After some incredibly frustrating issues with Air France, we finally switched to Lufthansa and arrived in Spain 24 hours later than we planned, losing one day of our trip. The planned visit to Barcelona was short, so Colleen and our friend Wendy Kistler cooked up a plan where we and the Kistlers would go over a few days early and head north of Barcelona to see some of the countryside. Arriving at the airport, we were greeted by Wendy's smiling face, with Phil not much behind her. I rented a car, hooked up our GPS (named Isabella by Phil), and we headed north.

We had lunch at the hotel Mas Pau in Figueres that we actually were supposed to stay at our first night but missed. It was a very pleasant second floor terrace with interesting local seafood. A pretty place. After lunch we went into downtown Figures, to the Dalí Theatre and Museum. Of course, I knew who Dalí was and was familiar with some of his most famous works, but I was overwhelmed at seeing this place. He spent much of the final years of his life, working on the Theatre and Museum, and, in fact, is buried beneath the central courtyard. The range of Dalí's work is enormous, spanning the surreal melting clocks we all know, but also, much much more. His technical skills were amazing, and in fact you could see that much of his work got more realistic as the years passed. A particularly striking painting was an optical illusion of a woman staring out to sea, that changed into an abstract Abraham Lincoln but only when viewed through a camera viewfinder. I'm still not sure how he accomplished that. Colleen was taken with his jewelry, particularly a large brooch heart of rubies that had a mechanism to make it beat.

It was here we became aware of his marriage to his muse Gala. Much of the rest of the weekend was spent visiting the other Dalí sites in the area and trying to understand the complicated relationship he and Gala had. Wendy and Colleen were fascinated by this aspect of Dalí.

Leaving Figures, we drove east over a costal mountain range with twisty switchbacks and beautiful views to arrive at our stop for the evening, the town of Cadaques on the Costa Brava. We had a surprise, as the hotel only had one of the reservations. Luckily, the hotel next door had another room.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The next morning, Colleen, Wendy and I walked down to the beach where Dalí's summer home was located. From the outside, you would not know it was the home of the most famous surrealistic artist of all time. Inside told a different story. He had works of art everywhere. Another touch was his use of mirrors. Dalí was not a modest main, and his vanity was evident. His studio still contained some unfinished work. You felt his presence, especially as everything there was open to view and you could walk amongst everything without real barriers (they had discreetly placed beams and photocells that would beep if you got too close.)

Wendy had found a reference to a 'castle' that Dalí had bought for his wife. It wasn't marked on any of our maps, but we set the GPS for the town where it was located and after a few false turns located it. This was where Gala went to be away from Dalí. He was only allowed to visit by invitation. Wendy was quite disappointed when I read something that said she entertained her lovers at the castle. On the ride back to Barcelona, it was interesting to hear Colleen and Wendy reading from competing romanticizing Dalí's marriage, the other making Gala out to be a manipulative shrew.

Our hotel in Barcelona, the Hotel Arts, was magnificent. Set behind a giant whale sculpture by Frank Gehry, the hotel was comfortable and service was first rate. After a short rest, we joined up with the rest of our group for a short introductory bus tour of the city, and then a sea food dinner with the largest, most varied assortment of shellfish I have ever seen.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Monday, we visited two wineries. One, Codorniu was smaller and then we went to Torres, the largest in Spain. Codorniu had an extensive warren of tunnels for storing their wine. In fact we took a motorized tram through the cellars, reminiscent of a Disney ride. The history of the Torres vineyards was interesting. It was destroyed during the civil war, though it was not obvious to which side the owners were associated. A magnificent luncheon featuring duck paella in a restaurant high on a hill in the wine region completed the day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This was the day we spent visiting Cosmo Caixa, the science museum. Our host was Jorge Wagensberg, the director and creator of the museum. Coincidentally, the provost of Boston University was visiting along with Sheldon Glashow (the Nobel Prize winning physicist) and they joined up with us. The museum was absolutely stunning, and clearly a unified vision of one man, Jorge. It was a simple design, no computerized exhibits and no extensive interaction. Instead the museum was filled with various objects that needed to be explained by a guide. (Slabs from interesting geological regions, live animals, etc.) In many ways the museum was reminiscent of a 1970's science center, yet updated with more modern techniques and technology. Jorge's enthusiasm was infectious.

After the museum, we went with Ioannis, Beth, Wendy, and Amelia for a walk through the old town and some shopping. (Colleen picked out a pretty silver bracelet that recalled the Gaudi style of architecture.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

La Boqueria, the food market of Barcelona was amazing. Loads of fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood and miscellaneous items all laid out to be visually stimulating. Anything you want in the way of foodstuffs can be purchased. Ioannis was in heaven, though he was quite upset that we did not have anything like it in Boston.

After the market, the rest of the group went off for a cooking demonstration, while Colleen and I took a break. We met up with the group for lunch in the old part of the city, and then boarded our bus for an architectural tour of the city. Barcelona is an amazing blend of old and new. The people of Barcelona are not scared to try different styles. Our guide kept exhorting us to notice the details and he was quite right. Everywhere was interesting details to be seen. You could write volumes just on all the styles represented by the balconies of Barcelona.

Hanging over all this architecture was Antoni Gaudi, the early 20th century imaginative designer. His unique style was present everywhere. The tour ended with a visit to Sagrada Familia, the unfinished cathedral designed by Gaudi. He knew that he would not see it finished in his lifetime, but he left overall designs for the building. In fact, the second phase of construction is now happending, over 75 years after the first part was built. Nothing Gaudi designed had straight lines, and he needed to develop his own techniques of support and construction to build such a unique design. You will have to look at the pictures I took to get any kind of appreciation for his work.

That evening, we had a dress up formal farewell dinner at a restaurant in the old part of the city that had been designed by one of Gaudi's students. Ioannis wanted some Catalan appetizers for the table. Little did he know they would bring out full plate after full plate of such delicacies as sea urchin, gazpacho, shrimp etc. Lobster paella was my main course, and I savored every bite. It was a fine send off for the end of our trip, chatting about the museum and our trip with everyone.