“We’re America’s ghostwriters.”

My favorite piece from the Hamilton Mixtape.

I wish I could send this to every member of Congress and the Administration.

I know, however, that the people most in need of a change of heart will not be swayed by it, if they bother to watch it at all.

 

 

 

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Perspective.

While I am recovering, I am watching a lot of television (but no news). Today’s feature: the last day of the Royal Ascot race meeting in London. Talking about the weather, the announcer said “Still quite warm here — 73 degrees, and very humid…”

73 degrees is “still quite warm”? Oh, England, how I love thee.

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Gaudi.

Every so often there comes an artist who changes how you think about art, about the world, about life. Artists whose works were beloved when they were alive and artists who were only appreciated after they were dead. Leonardo, Cervantes, Emily Dickenson, Lennon & McCarthy, Stephen Sondheim. Vincent Van Gogh.

Antoni Gaudì.

I often repeat the axiom that you cannot properly assess a work of art from a photograph (see: “Guernica”). I had seen pictures of Gaudi’s work before, and while some were merely much better than their photos, at least one is truly transcendent. It touched my soul in indescribable ways.

Let’s take them in order of preference:

Casa Mila. Rick Stevens says this may be the most photographed building in Barcelona. He may be right. People often describe Gaudi’s facade for this building as “melting,” although to me it more resembles sand dunes. The interior has a wonderful light well, and the roof undulates and curves around several tile covered ventilation shafts. True confession: while on the roof I had a panic attack (I think it was a combination of all the steps — I trip over air — and the proximity to the edge that did the trick) and rushed through the rest of the building. I did go through the sumptuously appointed apartment that was on display (most of the building is still residential), and amused myself by wondering what the rent was. (My hunch? Lottery-winning high.)

CasaMila

 

Parc Guell and the Gaudi house:  Parc Guell is the remnants of what was once supposed to be a housing development. Only two of the houses were built (neither designed by Gaudi), and the rest of the area was converted into a park. The walkways run under viaducts, with supports that look like trees, and “the Rosary Path” is bordered by stone balls that every so often (I didn’t count) were replaced by larger stone balls. Not only a Catalan treasure, UNESCO named the park a World Heritage Site.

Gaudi’s home now houses a museum, with artifacts of his life and work — which among other things provide an object lesson about street crossing (Gaudi died three days being struck by a tram) and dressing properly (people assumed that the shabbily dressed Gaudi was a beggar and didn’t give him proper medical care until the chaplain of the Sagrada Familia recognized him, but which time he was already too far gone to be saved). Not to mention caring for all people, regardless of their station in life.

Gaudi’s furniture was displayed in the house. The wooden chairs and benches look comfortable and ergonomic, full of curves and gentle support. I could not help but mentally compare them to the reputedly uncomfortable furniture made by Frank Lloyd Wright for his houses, all straight lines and harsh edges.

Gaudi did not design his house; his assistant did. It seems tame in comparison to the park in which it sits. That makes sense to me: the house was a model house for a real estate development that never materialized. Gaudi had his assistant draw up the plans, they built the house, and then they submitted the plans for approval by the Barcelona City Council. And Gaudi signed the plans, because his assistant was not licensed as an architect.  For some reason, I find all of this amusing.

Casa Batlo. Wow. The roof of this whimsical residence looks like a sleeping sea creature from the outside, the window balconies look like skulls, and the interior staircases seem to be made of the creature’s spine. Oh, and the columns on the front are bones.

The rooms have an entrancing fluidity warmed by wood and light from the enormous windows and the central atrium. The attic spaces are light, made of the catenary arches that Gaudi loved to use. The tiling evokes Monet’s water lilies.

Gaudi did not build Casa Batlo from scratch: the owner gave him an existing apartment building and asked him to redesign it. When an architect so reshapes a building to be unrecognizable from its former self does it matter who put the underlying structure in place?

Casa Batlo makes me happy. I spent the entire tour with a silly grin on my face. Even the stained glass in the transoms reminded me of sea glass. The house is no longer a residence, which is a shame. I would love to live here.

Casa Batlo

Sagrada Familia… Nothing I can write is adequate. All I can do is try.

The Sagrada Familia was one of the two religious structures in the world I have wanted to see (The other is the Hagia Sophia). I had seen pictures, and the basilica looked fascinating.

The “Nativity” facade that you enter by is interesting, and strange, but not life-altering. Arches that would be at home in Carlsbad Caverns protect realistic statues that would not have looked out of place at the Cathedral a few miles across town. The entire Nativity Facade has a melted look, as though it had been made of wax and someone had taken a giant Bunz-o-Matic to it. The Passion Facade on the other side, however, looks markedly different: the stonework is plain, and the statues are abstract almost to the point of Cubism.

The towers are wonderful, too, and not like anything I have seen on any building. From a distance they look like dripped sand. Up close, one can see the almost lattice like structure.

The interior…. Abbot Suger, the father of Gothic architecture, said that light brought you nearer to God.  On the doors to Saint Denis (the first Gothic church) he had inscribed

Bright is the noble work; but, being nobly bright, the work
Should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the
true lights,
To the True Light where Christ is the true door.
In what manner it be inherent in this world the golden door defines:
The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material
And, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion.

The good abbot would have approved of the Sagrada Familia. Light streams in from each side of the nave — red and orange to evoke sunset on one side, and blues and greens on the other, reminiscent of sunrise. The entire church glows.

The gold and red and blue and green meet in the center of the nave: a swirling dance of color. To enter the basilica is to walk into the heart of an opal.

Abstract glass fills traditional forms like rose windows. Unlike a lot of cathedral stained glass, the light streams through the glass without interruption, pure and radiant. No pictures of the Holy Family or the Apostles distract from the glorious incandescence.

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The pillars resemble trees, branching off to leafy tops. The entire building reflects the nature which so inspired Gaudi in all his works.

With one exception, none of the pictures I took of the interior of the  building came out anything other than blurry. I find this appropriate: the basilica calls to the soul, not to the camera or phone. The people who run it know that too: they have set aside chapels for meditation and prayer. Before I entered one, I was lectured: silence, no cell phones, no pictures. They turned away the young man with the camera ahead of me. (One of my pet peeves with tourists in historic churches is when they take pictures of people in prayer. They eavesdrop on a conversation between someone and God, and whatever the tourist’s beliefs they have no right to do so.)

I sat in the chapel, and I began to cry. I don’t know why.

Gaudi knew that the Sagrada Familia would not be finished in his lifetime. He once commented “My client is not in a hurry.” At the time of his death, the church was only fifteen to twenty – five per cent  completed. Gaudi left blueprints and instructions, many of which were destroyed in the Spanish Civil War. (Some of those plans have since been reconstructed.) Since his death, work has been carried on by others, who have, like Gaudi, drawn their inspiration from the forms of nature. The doors on the nativity facade, covered with leaves, were created by a Japanese designer. The church is a living thing: architects and craftsmen have been working on it since Gaudi’s death, and people who visited ten years ago saw a different but still wonderful building. It is expected to be finished in 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s passing.

Putting so much of your life (Gaudi moved into the Sagrada Familia’s workshops a few years before he died)  into a church you know you will not see completed speaks of a deep and abiding faith. By all accounts, Gaudi was a devout Catholic, not the “goes to church every Sunday” devout, but with a true love of God. The church calls people to faith, speaks of the Eternal and the Almighty.

There are efforts to have Gaudi beatified (the step below sainthood).  I’d say he deserved it.

 

 

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Hi there! Miss me?

Note to self: never even think, let alone say out loud, anything along the lines of “I have seen the Sagrada Familia, I have walked inside an opal, I can die happy now.” Because Fate will look down her nose at you and reply “Reeeeaaaallly. Hold my beer,” and you will find yourself on a Saturday evening in the urgencias department of a Madrid city hospital, having a very young (she looked about twelve, I swear) intern explain to you that you have “pneumonia in, how is it? both lobes of your lungs.” (As it turned out she was wrong, although I wouldn’t find that out for a couple of days: due to a miscommunication between me and the x-ray tech, which is not surprising since we did not speak each other’s language, I had not breathed in fully, so the x-ray  was ambiguous. I did, however, definitely have pneumonia in my left lobe.)

I have a post about Gaudi that is nearly done.

I have a post I want to write about being in the hospital.

I had no computer in the hospital, so I have not been online for five days, so I don’t know what’s been happening in the world (although, actually, that was kind of nice), so I don’t know if there is anything else I want to write about.

But right now I am exhausted just by the effort of sitting up for long periods of time or walking a block. (Yes, the doctor cleared me to fly.) So I don’t know how long those will take.

 

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Barcelona

Traveling in Europe has challenges for someone like me who has an impossibly hard time with languages other than English. And in Barcelona, I not only don’t know one language, I don’t know two. When I was growing up, I was told that there were five Romance languages: French, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese, and Spanish. If I was taught anything about Catalan, it was a dialect of Spanish. Wrong: Catalan is its own language, much like Dutch is different from German.

Barcelona may now rival my beloved Madrid as my favorite city in Europe. In no small part this is due to Antoni Gaudi. I was going to write about him here, but decided he deserved his own post.

Gaudi aside, lovely architecture abounds. There is the Catalan Music Hall, and the Cathedral, and the row of Art Nouveau houses on the “Street of Discord.” We only saw the last  in passing, as we  spent so much time at Gaudi’s Casa Batlo. Not to mention the Cathedral. Oh, and the unidentified building — appears to be late 17th or early 18th century — that has been covered with googly eyes. No, really. (Unfortunately my picture of the googly-eyes house didn’t come out well enough to show its full  bizarre glory.) And, much like Paris, some of the Metro entrances feature Art Nouveau wrought iron.

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The music hall.

Day Three: In the morning I started off with a coffee con leche and a croissant at the cafe that was literally at the base of the apartment building we were staying in. (I have yet to find the European country where the coffee is not better than in the U. S.) I then walked around the Gothic Quarter. On my way, I saw a building that reminded me of one of the reasons I love Europe. Buildings that in America would be tourist attractions, in Barcelona are ….. bank offices. (Once, in Segovia, I saw “Charles was here, 1785” scratched into the stone of an aqueduct that dated to the time of the Romans, thus proving that people have always been people.)

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Just your ordinary bank building.

At the cathedral square, I encountered a “living statue” — in this case what appeared to be a bronze statue of Galileo. I watched him for a while, and he was absolutely still, except when a young man took picture after picture and then left without tipping. At that point a very brief expression of annoyance flashed across the ersatz Galileo’s face. Whereas I, who took no pictures but nonetheless gave the man a Euro, was rewarded by a slow, jerky change of position, a smile, and a bow.

I tip street performers when they are good. The street performers in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter are very good.

As I meandered, I happened upon Barcelona’s City Hall, and a subtle indication of what the Spanish think of our president:

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Hear that, Donald?

I also came across the State Archives for the Crown of Aragon. Outside the building they posted a picture of the contract Isabella signed with Columbus. It was a pretty good deative.)l for Columbus: he got one tenth of all the booty, after expenses, and for all subsequent expeditions was to foot one eight of the costs of building the ships in exchange for one eighth of the profits. Had his voyages been as successful as other explorers, he might have been a wealthy man.

And then there was this piece of public art, which seemed incongruous in the Gothic Quarter, thus proving that no country has a monopoly on WTF sculptures:

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For those times when your radioactive monster chickens need to be restrained.

I was only there for a couple of days, so there was so much I did not do. I did not go to all of Gaudi’s building. I did not go swimming or snorkeling. I did not go down the Ramblas, the main tourist thoroughfare. And I could spend hours just going around the city in a cab. (Cabs are pretty reasonably priced here. If you have multiple people it’s pretty cost-effective.)

Barcelona. I may be in love.

 

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Transit to Spain.

Once upon a time, a woman called Super Shuttle for a ride to the airport. For her 7:30 flight, they picked her up at 3:45. AM. It might not have been so bad, except Penwiper, distraught that yet another of her humans was leaving her (she had seen the suitcases in the hall), spent the entire night hitting said human in the face or, once shut out of the room, sitting and yowling loudly outside the door. So much for sleep.

I got the the airport three hours before the flight, and spent the time in the United Lounge. I deeply appreciate not having to hang out at the gate. I appreciated it even more when I had no access to a lounge in Montreal and …. spent three hours hanging out at the  gate.

Air Canada people are, like most Canadians, nice. Really nice. I would fly with them any time. (Unlike, say, another international airline who shall go unnamed but whose initials are “AF” and who are based at Charles de Gaulle International Airport.)

Montreal airport was nothing special, especially given that I spent three hours at the gate. Next to the gate was a toy store. I kept saying “I’m too old for stuffed animals….I’m too old for stuffed animals…. I’m too old for….

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Damn.

I don’t have a name for the owl, other than Pride Owl. He (of course he’s a he) needs a better name.

The flight from Montreal was not bad — I had two seats to myself. I couldn’t sleep (I never sleep on airplanes), but I had noise-reducing headphones, a full phone battery, and soothing music on my iPhone. The trip went faster than I expected.

I often use mobility assistance in airports. Due to fibromyalgia, walking the distances required is a slow process,, especially given the luggage involved. I try to check most everything, but that still leaves me with a small carry on, a backpack, and medical equipment. (Twenty minute walks to the gate become 40 minute walks for me when my fibro kicks in.) If I have a luggage cart to lean on, the walks are less of a problem, but you don’t see luggage carts once you get through security.) One of the advantages is the ability to get through lines quickly.

When I got to Barcelona, there was no mobility assistance. No problem, I thought. I would just take a long time, but I could do this, as long as I didn’t have to stand too long. I hobbled the short walk to passport control. As I rounded the corner, I said to myself, “That’s not too bad.” Then I got closer, and saw the line snaked around another corner. “Hmmm.” I walked abound that corner so I could get to the line’s end and “Holy crap.” The line doubled back and forth several times. It was Space Mountain the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The only thing missing was a “You must be this tall to use this passport kiosk” sign.

So I stood and I stood and I stood some more. Quite unpleasant — painful, even — but I was in the same boat as everyone else. It was worth it to see Barcelona.

[To be continued.]

 

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Stigma.

In my Facebook feed today, a friend innocently used the word “bipolar” to refer to God — specifically the erratic, capricious, and vengeful God worshipped by fundamentalist Christians. She meant no harm, and when I spoke up, she immediately recognized what she had said, and apologized. I was not offended so much as saddened.

I was saddened because I know that almost all the people reading would know what she was aiming at. I was saddened because that’s what “bipolar” means in this society: fickle, changeable, unpredictable, acting out, swinging wildly from one personality to another. More than once I have seen people write “I’ve been so bipolar this week,” when they mean that their life has been all over the place.

The same with “schizophrenic.” People use it as a casual insult about others they view as unreliable and untrustworthy.

These words, these uses, have been internalized by all of us, myself included. But “bipolar” and “schizophrenic” are medical terms. How do you think the casual usage  affects how we view people with those disorders? Among other things, people think they know what a particular diagnosis entails, when they could not be more wrong.

Being bipolar does not in and of itself mean being impulsive and changeable, even if those attributes might be a symptom of the disorder for some people.

Schizophrenic does not mean acting like two people.

Depression — clinical depression — is not merely sadness.

Bipolar disorder is slowly being understood more and more by the public, in large part because of celebrities who speak out their own disability. (God bless you and keep you, Carrie Fisher. I would say the same thing to you Stephen Fry, except I understand that you’re an atheist. So I’ll just say thank you.)

Schizophrenia, though…. People fear schizophrenics: “paranoid schizophrenia” seems to be the diagnosis of choice of fictional detectives dealing with serial killers. But there are law school professors with schizophrenia (just as there are medical school professors with bipolar disorder). The condition does not have to be debilitating if managed. Efforts to combat stigma are even more important with schizophrenia than with bipolar disorder and depression.

Having a mental illness makes it harder to find employment, even though employment helps keep us functional. Telling employers of your disability is often a kiss of death for  job prospects until after you have been hired, when you tell them you may need accommodations. Thank God for the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Although I am outspoken about my disability here, or in non-employment contexts, I usually do not tell a potential or actual employer (or coworker) about my bipolar disorder until necessary.* I’m not alone: a few years ago I told a coworker (and friend) I had bipolar disorder. There was a silence, followed by “So do I.” I had been working with this man for two years at that point.)

These are serious illnesses. The more we stigmatize them the more likely it is that people who need help will refuse to get it. And bipolar disorder and major depression are often terminal if left untreated.

I have been told by some of my friends and all of my medical professionals that I am “brave” for being outspoken about my bipolar order. Wrong. All I am doing is trying to put a human face on something that all too often is hidden, except to show up when some person with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia commits an act of violence, either in real life or on Criminal Minds. (Far more violence is committed by people who are not mentally ill. And as I have often pointed out before, people who are mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.) My role models are that generation of lesbians and gay men who spoke out — who are still speaking out — to insist on being recognized as fully human and having the same rights as everyone else.

I’m not brave. I’m just fed up.

*If they Google me, and find this blog, they’ll know, but that’s a risk I am more than willing to take. If they don’t want to hire me because of what I write here, I might not feel comfortable working for them anyway.

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