Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chapter 3: La Sagrada Familia

I wasn't positive my kids were going to love their spring break in Europe.

And now that we're two weeks away from it, I'm still not sure that either of them truly loved the trip.  They both appeared to have a relatively good time most of the time and I do believe there were some A-ha moments for them both- surely many more for my 10-year-old daughter than for my 8-year-old son.  The son who was visibly disgruntled at having to leave all electronic equipment behind each morning- forced away from the hotel room (read- a consistent Wi-Fi source) on a daily basis to go seeking tourist attractions.  It put a real cramp into his All Minecraft/All The Time Especially On Vacations sort of personal manifesto.

And yet despite that- Truman loved Barcelona.  At least, he says he did.  Josephine was happy in both cities, Paris having already enthralled her before she ever stepped foot on an international bound flight for Charles De Gaulle.  In fact, she informed me sometime late in her fourth grade year that she wanted to live in Paris when she grew up- perhaps go to college there.  "Hm.." I responded, a bemused grin trying not to launch itself rampantly across my face thereby causing Josephine to (rightfully) retort that I wasn't taking her seriously and why she ever tells me anything, she doesn't know?!  Instead, I calmly asked her "Why, Jo?  Why Paris?"  "Well mom," she says completely seriously, "Probably because of the fashion there.  You know- the Fashion.  And the art."

For any of you who may know my daughter Josephine, perhaps you've already chortled in disbelief to yourself.  Because up until VERY recently, Josephine Adele Petunia Lieber, a young woman endowed with many wonderful traits, including a consistently upbeat demeanor and flawless lust for life, has not reflected ANY of her mother's penchant to cultivate any sort of fashion sense whatsoever.  She has been surrounded by friends who do, however, and so I assumed that her comment about wanting to "live in Paris someday" was likely prompted by some playdate flop-on-the-bed talk with her girlfriends- at least one of the friends who has a penchant for magazines, shopping, accessorizing.  Or one whom at least seems to have mastered the ability to wear a pair of pants for longer than one day before holes at the knees and/or indelible Sharpee marker slash dirt slash motor oil stains renders them unwearable.

So when we arrived in Paris- all 38 degrees of it- she was undeterred by the chill and wind.  She saw the Paris that I see, and giddily fell in love.  She was, of course, ready to.

Truman on the other hand.  Paris was "ok."  And that's a direct quote.  Perhaps the only soul alive on this earth today who's been to the jewel of France and still believes that Paris is "just ok."  But Barcelona on the other hand-- ahh--  well, he's always been a sucker for the beauteous darker-skinned ladies.  Barcelona was great, according to Truman Lieber.  Namely, he says, because of one man actually-- because of the great architect Antonin Gaudi.

Now I can't really choose favorites between the two cities- they both enthrall and delight me.  And I have a tough time choosing which of our many tourist stops were my favorite among them all (of course, Montmartre now begs to be at the top of that list, considering m'last blog entry.)  Though there was the Montjuic Park, and Park Guell and Notre Dame and La Tour Eiffel and the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona and shopping in St. Germaine and every Gaudi structure we encountered and and and---

But I do choose the Sagrada Familia as perhaps the only monument we encountered on our vacation that I will probably devote a blog entry to.  One might argue this cathedral- easily the largest tourist attraction we visited- definitely deserves the attention.  But mostly it's because this particular holy structure captured not only my attention (like shooting fish in a barrel really,) but captured the heart and imagination of my 8 year old Minecraft obsessed Truman.  He was oddly like a kid in a candy store inside this huge unfamiliar church.  "Look mom- you look up and it really does look like a forest.  Like he wanted it to."  (um- oh yeah!  I'm thinking.  We watched that 60 Minutes segment about the Sagrada Familia that my mother in law turned me onto 10 days ago or so before leaving for Spain.)  "Mom- mom- remember how they said that each column of stone was stronger than the one next to it moving up toward the front of the church?  Because the stronger ones needed to be close to that statue of Jesus over there?  So, those big pink ones there are the strongest, Mom.  They're from Persia.  Persian marble."

Now here I must pause a bit.  Because I have not painted a fair and well- rounded picture of my kid.  Yes, my flopsy mopsy beautiful toe-headed Venice surfer boy of a son is stubborn.  And video-game obsessed like almost all his peers.  And loose of limb and good at most sports that he seems to lack any real competitive nature to excel in.  And really funny- almost always getting the joke- meaning also the adult ones- and delivering his own comedic gems with impeccable timing. (If only he could really understand that yes, comedy comes in threes, but once you've made someone laugh once with the thing... you don't trot the same thing out 3 seconds later and expect the same reaction. Or 10 seconds later. Or 30 seconds later. Or even later on that night. Yeah- just not gonna happen, kid.)

I guess what I'm trying to get at is, Truman is usually pretty damn smart for an 8 year old.  And I forget this because, like many boys I know, he comes off like all the others: vaguely smelly, cute, and distracted. Truman just wants to hang with his peers- watch his Comedy Central TV shows- build his many various minecraft structures on the various servers he's connected to, or play with his pet rat.  He doesn't so much want to read, or even talk much to other adults.  But he has a memory like an elephant.  And so, while he's regaling me with the Persian Marble thing, I'm thinking, ok, well that DEFINITELY must have been a 60 Minutes factoid because God knows, I never told him that.  I don't even remember hearing it.  But of course, Truman does.  Truman remembers everything.  (Maybe one day he'll be a very effective politician.  Or lawyer.  Yeesh.)

Now- La Sagrada Familia translates to The Sacred Family.  And this huge mammoth church is clearly Antonin Gaudi's greatest work among a portfolio of groundbreaking stunners- though he only lived to see a fraction of it actually built.  It's still not entirely constructed- they suspect it will be finished somewhere around 2025, I believe.  But over the decades since the beginning of its construction at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century, this building has been faithfully, painstakingly attended to.  Well, really like all other massive, major and minor historical European cathedrals predating this one- it has been sweated over and brought into existence chunk by chunk by a huge posse of dedicated stone masons, artists, architects, engineers and the like. For years upon years.  Hell, Notre Dame took over 250 years to build, so this house of God is moving along rather quickly in the grand scheme of things!  Point of interest via 60 Minutes:  There's one stone carver born in Japan, who moved to Barcelona in his early twenties to meet the aging Gaudi and throw in his talents on this work, and he has ever since been helping to sculpt the Sagrada Familia's famous outdoor facades for almost his entire 75 years of life.

But back to the title of the thing.  Sagrada Familia- Sacred Family.  I find this interesting- not as a Christian, because I am not a Christian. (Though I grew up in the church and was baptized at 13 in the holy waters of Lake Michigan.)  But this title reaches out to me as a human, and a soul who though she's roundly denounced all religion as sorely lacking, cherishes her very personal connection with the Divine Spirit  (or God, as others might say.)  And this enormous chamber that Gaudi, the very devout Christian that he was, conceived of to celebrate his God and his Son did feel like a holy place.  Not only is the actual physical surrounding of the cathedral monstrous and unlike any church you've ever been inside of, but the space itself, the very air seems charged with - for lack of a slew of specifics- love.  This church celebrating not only God, not only Jesus, not even really only Mary, but celebrating the WHOLE story of Jesus from birth to death is most clearly, most palpably a holy place.  And this is coming from a gal who truly thinks Jesus was an amazing guy, with some absolutely right on ideas, but not at all the son of God.

(If you care, if you're interested, in short- I believe we're all sons and daughters of it all.  That's right- you, me, the neighbor's annoying cat perched on the fence just outside your home office window, the little eight legged tannish spider you keep meaning to squish in the kitchen ceiling corner because you're not sure if it's poisonous or not... we're all sacred.  All of life on earth- all of everything outside of earth- all of it all.)

But my views aside- this church and its architect, Antonin Gaudi, is really so very special.  Even (I might almost be tempted to say especially) eight-year-old Truman Lieber  could see this.  Truman with his penchant for building things in cyberspace and being just as mesmerized by train and ship models as were his Grandfathers before him. (One grandfather is an architect.  The other is a structural engineer.  Another great-grandfather was both...)  I don't know if it was traveling up into the towers and walking the myriad of steps that comprise the nautilus-like spiral staircases, or leaning out the windows spaced at intervals along the way- frightfully high- so overtly higher than anything else for miles and miles and miles around that you feel like you really might be touching heaven if there were such a thing.   But I believe my son was truly moved by the spirit that day- moved by the Sagrada Familia.

I certainly was.

And I wonder if it's the concept behind the name of the place- if it's the many tendrils of concepts that connect each stained glass window and iron door frame and marble column and granite carving-- they all seem to be cohesive in a way.  A Church dedicated to a Family.  A Sacred Family.  Which for me means - Us.  Humanity.  Not just God and his boy, not just the virgin who conceived of him (ahem.  ok, that's the only truly 'blasphemous' thing I'll say on that.) Not even the sacred Trinity, which, like almost all religious iconography and/or symbols,  I find so useful actually in theory rather than in actuality.

This place felt like it was meant to honor Faith and Spirit. And whether you're Jewish or Buddhist or Christian or Muslim or Hindu or nothing- Faith and Spirit are a part of everyone's existence.   Because even if you don't believe in anything in the spiritual realm, you do believe in something.  Even if it's only the oxygen you breathe, or the goals you have set for yourself, or possibly the people you love.  You believe in, and must tie and connect yourself to SOMETHING.  And this feeds you faith and gives you spirit to move forth in life.

So the universality of this place captivated me.  And I felt like I was home a little bit in this amazingly astounding, weird, gorgeous, demonstrative, Alice in Wonderland-styled place of worship and devotion.  At home with my family in the place dedicated to worshiping the family that we all are together.

Here's a few photos we took of the Sagrada Familia.  None of which of course do any justice to any part of this place, but pictures are fun to look at, and I think I've typed enough long-winded paragraphs.  Please forgive the occasional baseball hat of another unwitting tourist.  It was tough to get photos of this place without having people in them, there are so many there at any given time- even given how big it it, even given that I'm taller than most in heels (small heels- kitten heels on my boots.  I knew I was gonna climb some stairs after all...)  Hopefully you can catch a glimmer of what I felt in them. Adios, my readers, for now. Hasta la proxima, mi familia!

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