Reading Toibin on the Beach

There’s something about reading a book in situ, isn’t there?

Beaches are not my usual habitat but my travelling companion’s blistered feet did insist on some respite after we had walked the length and breadth of Barcelona, down the Ramblas,  around the Gaudi buildings and parks, the Picasso Museum and the Miro foundation.  While she sun-worshipped, I spent hours in the company of Colm Tóibín’s very educative homage.

Tóibín has lived in Barcelona on and off since the 1970’s and has fully immersed himself in the history and culture of the place.  While DK’s Top 10 Barcelona provided the necessary starting points, Homage to Barcelona added  depth in 15 chapters with titles that enabled them to be picked off to compliment our itinerary.   This second edition from 2002 encompasses the social and political history of Barcino from Roman times through the trauma of the Spanish Civil War right up to the building and beach clean up work undertaken in preparation for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.  Selective chapters focus on cultural giants,  Gaudí, Picasso and Miró.  Interesting too the insider’s guide to local festivals, eating and drinking and other entertainments on offer.  And let’s not forget the insights into Spanish  literature.  I’ve added a few names to the at this point virtual TBR.  I’ve no doubt that Montalbán will appear on the physical one some time soon.

We were there for only a week and so it was impossible to follow up all of Tóibín’s leads, but reading the relevant chapter the evening before we visited a place certainly enhanced the trip.  There were some things we would have failed to appreciate,  had Tóibín not been following our every step.  For instance, we would probably have simply shook our heads at this baffling box of junk.

Picasso's Box

In 1983 Barcelona built its monument to Picasso in Passeig de Picasso, beside the Parc de la Ciutadella.  It was designed by Antoni Tapies as a glass box in a pool of water containing some old chairs and an old hall-stand, old ropes and sheets with indecipherable messages written on them.  All the furniture is cut through with iron grids.  It is an astonishing piece of work.  It stands there as a monument the mind’s ability to create images, to our freedom to imagine. 

While Tóibín has obviously failed to convert me to surrealist art, I’m sure I’ll be referring back to his book, not only when I revisit Barcelona to visit the places I missed this time round, but as I’m reading my way through the Spanish literature TBR that had amassed prior to my visit.  I had to abandon Manuel Rivas’s Books Burn Badly because there were too many unrecognised cultural references.  I think that Homage to Barcelona may have resolved many of those difficulties for me. 

P.S Barcelona is so picturesque. The architecture is fabulous. I took hundreds of photos.  There’s a selection of them here.  I’ve still to title each photo and add notes.  Still I hope you enjoy them in the meantime.

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