Barcelona III – Casa Batlló

In the last post you saw Casa Lleo Morera, an example of “classic” Modernista.  This time you’ll see a very different Modernista style that’s just one house away from Casa Morera.  Casa Batlló is one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces, a symphony of shape, color and light.  Although it was built in 1904, it looks avant garde even today.  We loved it!  You’ll see in this post (and subsequent posts, culminating in Sagrada Familia) why Gaudí is considered a genius.  You saw the outside of this house in the first Barcelona post, so below are just a few exterior pictures to refresh your memory.  Fascinating, yes?  The allure of the facade is reflected in its many interpretations.  The principle one is that Gaudí

was referencing the city’s patron saint, St. George killing the dragon.  Look at the last picture in the set above; the roof is the dragon’s back (is that triangular window on the right its eye?), the tower on the left is St. George’s lance, the balconies are the skulls of the dragon’s victims, and the columns of the lower windows (previous picture) are their bones.  The other main interpretation is that the whole facade is an allegory of Carnival; the roof is a harlequin’s hat, the balconies are ball masks, and the mosaics on the wall represent falling confetti.  A mark of a great work of art is the controversy it creates, but hey, I know a dragon’s back when I see one!

The story of Casa Batlló is that the industrialist Josep Batlló owned a conventional building at this site (left-most picture below) but wanted a house that stood out; he wanted something audacious and Before and after renovationcreative.  So he hired Gaudí based on the architect’s incredible Park Guell (wait ’till you see that in a subsequent post!).  He gave Gaudí free rein to do whatever he wanted.  Although Batlló wanted to tear down his existing plain house, Gaudí convinced him that a renovation was sufficient.  I think we can agree that the resulting renovated building is indeed “audacious and creative”.  So let me show you the interior, where audacious and creative continues!  Fasten seat belts.  You should notice during the tour that there are few straight lines or square floors in Gaudí’s house.  “Undulating” is probably the best description of every surface – including walls and ceilings!

The entrance hall leads to stairs and a central well that extends to the roof and is covered

by a vented skylight.  Gaudí was always interested in making his houses very livable, and he used very inventive ways to increase light and ventilation.  In his renovation he expanded the central well to deliver more natural light to the surrounding rooms.  He wanted more light, but he also wanted to deliver uniform lighting to the various floors.  In order to do this, he made the windows smaller at the top (where the light is strongest) and sequentially larger on each floor going down (see first picture below).  He also made the glazed tiles darker at the top and lighter at the bottom where they would reflect more

light (see next picture), again helping to achieve a uniform brightness on the different floors.  The color gradient and the light gradient combine to give an almost uniform color appearance to the central well, as shown in the last picture.  That picture also shows attached structures beneath the windows, which are vent slats to provide fresh air to the house.  Vents are everywhere in Casa Batlló – they’re present on windows, doors and even walls, as shown in the examples below.  Impressive attention to detail, yes?  The central well is also simply beautiful on its own, as shown in that last picture.

OK, back to the house tour!  The building consists of a ground floor, a main floor with a courtyard, four other self-contained floors, a loft and a roof terrace.  The entrance hall leads to the ground floor, shown below.  The two oval skylights in the first picture are

said to resemble tortoise shells.  In the second picture, notice the curving wall and “bug-eyed” windows, and the amazing door.  Different, but the other half of the room is simply a new world.  The astonishing wood staircase resembles the curving spine of some huge

animal.  Further, that curving spine defines the end of the wall!  There is a separate wave of a wall behind it, disappearing up the stairs.  The walls are almost in motion, with subtle patterns of color superimposed over polygonal shapes that refer back to the tortoise shell skylights.  The baseboard molding is wave-like, as is the staircase spine itself.  Descriptions of this room talk of “an underwater atmosphere”, with the wall having the colors and shades of the surface of the sea and sand.  It is the world of Jules Verne.  There is a feeling of being magically inside a wave.

The staircase leads to an elegant and exciting landing on the main floor.  The curving walls, gorgeous wood and large oval windows (eyes?  portholes?) are awesome (pictures

from the internet).  In the opposite direction is a hall, but we’ll continue forward through the major doorway.

The curving walls in this next room have the same polygonal pattern as the ground floor, but the colors are no longer of the sea; they’re a warm brown.  Note that the window shown in the first two pictures below is not planar; the wood frame curves into the room.

There are some surprising details in this room – that mirror/cabinet, for example – but the most notable feature is the cozy, secluded, intimate fireplace alcove that can accommodate just a few people.  As we exit this room through a beautiful three dimensional door – the last picture above – notice the door visible behind it!

The next room has one of those “boney” windows overlooking the Passeig de Gracia, shown below.  The window and its wood surround are amazing.  Vying for attention is this

particularly beautiful 3-dimensional door leading into the next room.  Not only is it a 3-D door, it’s amazingly a 3-D folding door!  Designing that to fit properly sounds challenging!  Like doors and windows in other areas of the house, this organically shaped oak beauty is topped by a header with inset panes of patterned stained glass; it’s also shown (first picture below) from the other side.  This door, and another on the opposite side of the middle room, can fold back to create a single light-filled space out of the three rooms.

Before going into that major middle room, let me give you a wider view of these two rooms from a picture I borrowed from the internet, shown above.  Together, this main suite of rooms is an exciting, light-filled space with wide wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling-high views of Barcelona’s most fashionable street.  I would call it a reverse shop-window display, flaunting its location.  Then, walking into that central room … well; the windows aren’t the only items of interest!  The ceiling is a veritable whirlpool; a wavy allusion to the

sea?  I should remind you that Gaudí renovated this house in 1904; most houses look dated after 100 years.  I think you’ll agree – not this one.

Details from other rooms are shown below.

The main floor also contains a courtyard, which is accessed from the room shown below.  The room has an interesting ceiling (second picture) – perhaps representing a drop of fluid landing in a pool?  This room also has a number of inventive references to the sea.

The door to the courtyard is almost blocked by columns; a barrier between sea and land?  The courtyard itself is a little disappointing; it’s attractive enough, but it’s close to normal

in a house that, everyplace else, is anything but!

The loft of this house is also unusual, with sixty arches that create a space resembling the rib cage of an animal – perhaps the rib cage of the dragon whose backbone arches over the

roof?  The loft was originally a service area for the upstairs tenants, containing laundry rooms and storage areas. It’s beautiful in its simplicity of form and all-pervading light.

And now the interesting roof!  The roof terrace is one of the more popular features of the house due to its famous dragon design.  The arch of the roof resembles the spine of a dragon, a perception enhanced by the ceramic roof tiles that suggest reptilian skin.   The

tiles have a metallic sheen to simulate the varying scales of the beast, with the color grading from green on the right side to deep blue and violet in the center, and then going to red and pink on the left side.  Alas, in the failing light, I can’t capture how vibrant it is.  The roof also has four sets of sinuous and beautifully tiled chimneys that suggest bunches of mushrooms.  They’re absolutely beautiful, with gorgeous patterns; but they’re also very

functional, designed to keep smoke from blowing back down the chimney.

Gaudí was a control guy, not unlike Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, the subject of an earlier blog (Glasgow I, The City).  In addition to designing the building, Gaudí also designed furniture for it; and as you might imagine, it’s also pretty fabulous!  Some examples were on display.

We’ll end this post with a walk back to the main floor – night is falling fast.  That room is

pretty again, in a new light.

So we end the tour of this fascinating house!  It was built in 1904, and today I think it’s still ahead of its time.  It is truly weird – and compelling, and beautiful, and captivating.  Inventiveness is absolutely everywhere, and masterfully done.  We’d live there in a minute!  If this was your introduction to Gaudí, you’re in for a treat – we’ll be doing two more posts featuring him, including our final Barcelona post on his amazing and almost finished cathedral, the Sagrada Familia.

Next post – let’s do a short one; just one building, basically just one room.  It’s the Catalan Palau de la Musica CatalanaConcert Hall.  We’ll call it Barcelona IV: Palau de la Musica Catalana.  Here’s a preview.  Don’t miss it!

 

 

Barcelona II – Casa Lleo Morera

Hmmm.  I debated whether to give you a change of pace from Modernista homes along the Passeig de Gracia – there is soooooooo much more to show off in Barcelona! – but decided that these interiors are a natural follow-up and sufficiently interesting that you won’t get bored, so here we go!

We’ll start with one of the finest Modernista interiors in town, that of Casa Lleo Morera by Domenech/Montaner, built in 1905.  What?  A whole blog devoted to just one building’s interior?  Well, you’ll see; it’s definitely interesting.  I’ll call it “Great Mainstream Modernista”.  The pictures below should jog your memory of this house and its ornate

exterior; maybe you’ll also remember the attack parrots (previous post)?

Entry is into a vestibule, guarded by – yep – more attack parrots, shown at the upper edges Entry into the Casa Lleo Morera, guarded by attack parrotsof the door (for a better view, right-click and “view image”).  You will note from this picture that the vestibule interior looks pretty ornate!  Yes, but it’s ornate with a purpose.  The Morera family wanted the building interior to reference their family name, which means mulberry tree, and that reference is everywhere – exuberantly.  From the entry, marble stairs lead up to an original elevator (the first in Barcelona) and then continue up to an entrance hall.  I didn’t take a picture of those stairs, so I cribbed the first picture below from the Casa Morera website.  Those flowers on the stair risers are mulberry tree flowers, and the mosaics and tiles

along the walls are the same.  The fancy ceiling mosaics show mulberry and other flowers.  It’s pretty fancy – a bit much, really – but as one continues up the stairs to the entrance hall, the decoration gets simpler.

The entrance hall – also the waiting room for Dr. Morera’s patients – to me seems a bit strange.  It’s a small room broken up by 6 doors, with the doors being heavily bordered by protruding stone sculpture.  The undulating ceiling doesn’t help.  Fear not, there is beauty

yet to be seen!  A hint of what’s to come is shown in the nice mulberry designs in the door woodwork.

Two of the entrance hall doors lead to (interconnected) drawing rooms where the family would receive visitors, each room with a view overlooking the prestigious Passeig de Gracia.  The first drawing room is absolutely gorgeous, the more so when you can see it all at once (sorry about that!).  The floral themes are everywhere – on walls, woodwork, stained glass, ceilings – it’s delightful, like being inside a bouquet.  The carved and inlaid

wood ceiling is spectacular, its carved roses reflecting the theme in the stained glass, while the inlaid mulberry flowers reflect the theme in the wallpaper (and floor).  Oh, but there’s more to see in this room!  Enjoy more flowers with the fireplace, wood carvings and floor

mosaics!  The wood carvings are exquisite.

Well, it’s hard to beat that gorgeous room, but the adjoining drawing room also has its charms – particularly the beautiful wood inlay.  The use of different kinds of wood in

subtly different shades at times gives the feeling that the design was painted rather than being wood inlay.

We’re back in the entrance hall, looking at the stone carvings over doorways.  To me they’re too much for a small indoor space, but at least some of them involve a story from a

lullaby, “The wet nurse and the king’s son”, where the Virgin Mary works a miracle by bringing the king’s infant son back to life after the nurse left the child too close to the fireplace (that’s a lullaby??).  The lullaby apparently had some meaning for the Morera family, whose first son died soon after childbirth.  That last picture above shows a hall (with more stone reliefs) leading to the Morera’s living quarters – bedrooms, dining room and smoking room.  Some of the stone reliefs are shown below, including Barcelona’s patron saint St. George (protector of the home) defeating a dragon.  The mosaic floor and

fancy ceiling are also pretty spiffy.

The bedrooms are plain by comparison, but still with profuse flower motifs.  The first two pictures below show Dr. Morera’s bedroom, the next two his wife’s.

The dining room is a continuation of the hall and separates the two bedrooms.  It’s a fabulous, very interesting room, and it was very personal for the Moreras.  The room is surrounded by 8 wall mosaics showing the Morera family enjoying life in the countryside over the 4 seasons (I’m showing you just 4 mosaics).  Interestingly, the mosaics include porcelain hands and faces, I guess to more accurately depict the Moreras.  In addition to

the mosaics, the surrounding wood carving and inlay is gorgeous as usual.  It’s a magnificent room.

The next (and last) room in the house is the smoking room, which is floor-to-ceiling stained glass!  Originally there was a sliding wood door between it and the dining room;

now it’s one large (and spectacular) space that nicely complements the rural themes of the dining room.  Such a large expanse of stained glass is simply dazzling, and its semicircular construction works to immerse you in the scene.  Pretty fabulous!

This was the last room of the house that we’re allowed into, but there is also a patio, accessed via a door in the stained glass wall.  Here we have an entire mulberry tree

in sgraffito, along with other mulberry references.  Down below at street level (seen through the grate) there’s a real courtyard that we don’t have access to.  Turning around, we see the beauty of the smoking room windows from the outside, but – surprise! – there

are 3 more floors of Casa Lleo Morera!  All with their own semicircular stained glass walls!

We exit the way we entered, the stairs circling around the elevator shaft that also cleverly

delivers natural light to the building interior.

Well!  I hope you thought a “classsical” Modernista interior was interesting.  The next post will show the interior of the other major building on the Passeig de Gracia’s “Block of Discord”, Gaudí’s Casa Batlló.  This other vision of Modernista is very different from what you’ve seen; rather than “classical”, I would call it “futuristic”.  You’re going to love Gaudí!

 

Barcelona I, the Eixample

Barcelona is our favorite big city so far.  It’s Spain’s 2nd largest city (1.7 million in the center, 5 million in the greater city), but it doesn’t feel like a big city.  Public transportation is fabulous, making the city seem smaller, and wherever you go there’s a neighborhood feeling.  It’s a delightful city – anywhere you look there’s a feast for the eyes and an outdoor bistro for the stomach.  Everywhere the surroundings are funky, or whimsical, or gorgeous, or all three together.  Wide, tree-lined pedestrian boulevards are bordered by arresting architecture, chic shops, and relaxing sidewalk cafes that serve amazing tapas.  Narrow alleys and winding lanes open to surprising plazas lined with classic architecture, palm trees, sculpture and – por supuesto (of course) – more delightful cafes and boutiques.  In this amazing setting, the people bubble with life; how Pedestrian walkway with Sagrada Familia in the backgroundcould you not?  And did I say the food is fabulous?  We’re here in December, and the weather is delightful (we suspect the summer might be tough).  At night we can still dine in outside cafes wearing only light jackets, while street vendors sell roasted chestnuts that harken back to a colder climate.  This city has charm.  Are you sold yet?

There’s one problem in showing you this city – there is so much to show!  Where to start!  How to organize!  I’m going to divide Barcelona into several areas and many posts: the Old City and its “Barri Gotic” quarter; the elegant Eixample which was built just beyond the Old City walls and was the heart of the Modernista movement; the city’s main street, La Rambla; Park Guell; the art museums; the Art Nouveau Sant Pau Hospital, and finally, saving the best for last, the stunning, incredible Sagrada The Sagrada Familia, from the internet (with the construction cranes digitally removed)Familia Cathedral that was started in 1882 and is still under construction.  Just to whet your appetite, here’s a picture of Sagrada from the internet.  My!  Doesn’t that look just like 1882!  No? Although that list of what I’m going to cover in Barcelona might sound like ‘way too much, I think you’re going to be as captivated by this city as we were.

One of the joys of Barcelona is its amazing architecture, so in this first post – por supuesto – a little background on that topic is in order.  Barcelona has Roman ruins, a medieval cathedral, vestiges of a city wall, twisty Gothic lanes, and we’ll touch on those in later posts.  Mostly, however, I’ll be focusing on Barcelona’s Modernisme architecture.

By the late 1800’s Barcelona had became an industrial powerhouse, and like other large cities in Europe there was an artistic reaction against industrialization, leading to the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, the Glasgow Style in Scotland (see post Glasgow I, The City), and ultimately Art Deco in the 1920’s.  Barcelona developed a unique artistic style that it named “Modernisme” (Catalan for “modernism”), which lasted from the 1880’s to about 1914.  Its main expression was in architecture but it included painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.  Joan Miro was born in Barcelona, Salvador Dali nearby, and Picasso lived here as a teenager.  Imagine asking these three to collaborate on architecture, and you’ll come close to understanding Modernisme.  The three main Modernisme architects were Lluis Domenech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and (the most famous) Antoni Gaudí.  Their styleSt. George fighting a dragon, decoration on the Casa Amatller incorporated rich decoration and detail, frequent use of plant motifs, a predominance of the curve over the straight line, a taste for asymmetry, and … what to say … fantasy?  Tomorrow’s future chic?  You’ll see.  It’s a hundred years later, but I think Modernisme is still ahead of its time.  Oh, one other piece of information: the main symbol of Catalunya is the dragon, which was slain by St. George, the region’s patron saint.  In Barcelona, “there be dragons”; they are everywhere.

I’ll start the Barcelona posts with a tour of the Eixample region.  There’s much to show, so be forewarned – you’re going to see a lot of amazing buildings (and some interiors).  The expansion out of the Old City at the turn of the century was an opportunity for the newly rich to build urban mansions designed by architects doing the bold experimental designs of Modernisma.  It’s still the ritzy part of Barcelona.  I’ll start with the mundane – the sidewalks of one of the major main streets, the swanky Passeig de

Gracia, shown above.  Interesting, yes?  They’re copied from floor tiles designed by Gaudi for one of his buildings.  These wild sidewalks go for miles down the Passeig.  The street itself is divided by a central very wide tree-lined pedestrian way that is filled with outdoor

seating for the cafes across the streets – picture harried waiters racing back and forth across those street carrying trays of amazing tapas.  The pedestrian way also has occasional art, like those pasta sculptures above (and yes, young kids are allowed to play in them).

One of the first buildings we come to is the Casa Rocamora, built in 1914 in Neo-Gothic

style.  Notice its fancy decoration!  Almost universally in Barcelona, examples below, a building’s external walls are for embellishment (sgraffito, tiles, glass, colored stucco) and

the display of stone carvings; rooftops are for fanciful artistic displays; and doors are for fancy wrought iron.

As if the Passeig de Gracia needed more elegance, there are 31 fanciful street lamps with

incorporated benches that were installed in 1906 to light the boulevard.  They’re pretty cool!

As we walk along, we come to an area set slightly back from the street, and we stop to investigate.  We discover that “El Nacional” is an 1870’s textile factory converted to a restaurant complex that now houses 4 restaurants and 4 bars that also serve tapas.  Oh,

this is soooooo much more than a food court!  We’re talking upscale.  For instance, at the fish restaurant shown above, you pick out the particular fish you want, and they cook it for you right there in the open.  Some of the food options from the bars are shown below.

This swanky area of the Eixample is called the Golden Quarter (Quadrat d’Or), but we’re about to encounter the “Block of Discord” with 3 major Modernista buildings in very different styles.  Here we go!  The first house, Casa Lleo Morera, converted by Montaner

from a previously existing building in 1905, has been described as “Renaissance-influenced”.  There’s a lot of decoration!  There are art muses lurking on the balconies representing music, photography & theater, attack parrots and dragons protecting the

entrances, and awesome column decorations.  However, the outside can not compare with

the incredibly beautiful Modernista design and art on the inside of this building.  I’ll show it to you in a subsequent post.

A few doors down is the Casa Amatller, also a previously existing building, this one redone in Neo-Gothic style by Cadafalch in 1900.  Neo-Gothic?  I see quite a mix – an extravagant

Dutch-style gable combined with Moorish influences in the windows and in the sgraffito designs in the ochre-and-white stucco.  Mongrel-ian comes to mind, but the facade is interestingly attractive.  Entry into the foyer is allowed, where one can see that the

opulent exterior design extends into the building.  A staircase leads to an upper landing and a continuation of the extraordinary detail, plus an impressive stained glass ceiling.

The next house over is Casa Batlló, and it too was a previously existing building, redone in 1904 in a unique Modernista style by the most famous of the Modernistas, Antoni Gaudí.  The facade is pure fantasy, as shown below.  The lower levels are stone, with

organic-looking windows whose columns are disturbingly reminiscent of carcass bones.   The upper levels of the facade are decorated in colorful mosaics and circular disks, the balconies look like carnival masks, and everything is crowned by a roof that looks like a

scaly reptile’s back.  Pretty wild, yes?  Well, the inside is also wild, and wildly, crazily beautiful; and not just a pretty face – the design combines amazingly clever functional elements – I’ll show it off in a subsequent post.

Everywhere in this city there is incredible eye-catching detail on the buildings – stone carvings, sgraffito, tile, wrought iron and stained glass.  Below are some examples

of this diverse architectural embellishment – like that on the Palau Montaner building from 1896, shown above, and on a variety of buildings shown below.

OK, let me show you just 4 more houses, near the end of the Passeig de Gracia.  The house below is the elegant Palau del Baro de Quadras, built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1904.

This next house is Casa Bonaventura Ferrer, built by Pere Falques in 1906.  It has an

outside door and an inner door with marvelous handles.  The interior was under construction upstairs, so we snuck in long enough to shoot some pictures in the foyer.

Isn’t that woodwork gorgeous?  I love the Modernista infatuation with floral motifs.

The third house is Casa Comalat, by Gaudí-influenced Salvador Valeri i Popurull in 1911.  The front of the house is symmetrical and urban-looking, although there are some

impressive Gaudí-like fluorishes.  The rear of the house, however, is something else!

It’s Clark Kent shedding his suit and glasses!  Modernista is on full display, in a breathtaking way.  In the last picture, a look through the upper floor window suggests a very interesting interior – so let’s go look through that door at the front of the house, shown below.

Remember, this is 1911!  I could just as easily believe the building was from 2111!  The Modernista architects were all control freaks; in addition to designing the building, they insisted on doing the internal decoration and even the furniture.  Isn’t it interesting?  And this is just to whet your appetite for what’s to come.

The final house is Casa Fuster, the last house that Domenech i Montaner built in Barcelona (1911) – and also the end of the Passeig de Gracia.  The end of a long day of

sightseeing (and blog reading!) deserves a culinary celebration, yes?  Some tapas and good wine?  We’ll finish this blog with a look at a colorful fountain near the beginning of the

Passeig de Gracia, with Casa Rocamora in the background.

Well, it’s been a long post! Hope you enjoyed our initiation into Modernista down the Eixample.

Next post we’ll look at the interior of one of the more spectacular Modernista buildings (the exterior was shown earlier in this post), the Casa Lleo Morera by Montaner.

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking School (Cook & Taste), Barcelona

Let me interrupt my on-going blog on Britain, just recently started, and jump ahead to share with you this cool cooking class we took – in Barcelona, Spain.  My, we do get around, eh?  Well, we’re here for several reasons – it’s warmer here, for one – but mostly we’re here because there are travel restrictions on how long you can stay in different parts of Europe, so we have to move around and play this silly traveling game.  A real pain for us long-term travelers.

While walking down a narrow twisting alley in the barrio (the Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona, intentionally lost, we came upon a cooking school (Cook & Taste, http://www.cookandtaste.net).  Opportunity!  The food in Barcelona is really, really good, but in addition we had fallen in love with an Andalusian dish in Malaga, Spain (post of 7/10/13, “Malaga, Costa del Sol”), called berenjenas con miel, or eggplant with honey, a version of which we had found here in Barcelona.  Could they show us how to make that dish?  Sure, next week.  And sure enough, next week it was offered, and here we are!  This is what we learned.  Disclaimer – things move fast when cooking, so many pictures are not in good focus.

FLATBREAD WITH TOMATO

In Granada, everybody was eating this tomato flatbread for breakfast in all the restaurants.  Eh?  We passed on it – I’ll have the apricot jam, please.  Here in Barcelona, flatbread with tomato pretty much comes automatically when one orders jamon (cured

Green olive and jamon iberica startersham) – and it goes really well together!  It’s also really simple to make!  Start with toasted bread, rub it lightly with garlic, cut a small tomato in half and rub one of the halves over the bread (a little garlic, a lot of tomato), drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut to a good size (in this case 4 slices) and you’re ready to chomp.  It’s great with appetizers. (shown above).

CREMA CATALANA

Crema Catalana recipeThis desert needs to be prepared ahead and refrigerated.  It’s like a creme brulee, but a softer custard with less egg, and I think a slightly thicker, well-carmelized sugar coating.  Obtain lemon peel – our chef, Davíd, prefers to cut a large slice rather than using a grater to get the peel, since the grated peel can find it’s way into the custard and make it grainy.  One needs to cut thin slices and remove any pith, which can be bitter, from the slices.  Davíd  also scored the inside of the

lemon peel a few times with his knife.  Bring the milk just to a simmer (small bubbles only), add the peel and cinnamon, and let steep at least 10 minutes to infuse the flavors.  The longer you let it infuse, the stronger the flavor.  Meantime, blend the egg yolks with

the corn starch and sugar in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture becomes foamy and almost white.  Bring the milk mixture just to simmer again, and very slowly pour the mixture through a strainer into the egg mix, whisking to avoid cooking the egg; whisk all together.

Pour mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring vigorously all the time with a wooden spoon until the cream thickens and one can make a line on the back of the spoon, as shown.  Pour into traditional terracotta dishes before the cream cools down.  Shake and tap to level the cream.  Place in refrigerator to chill.

Just before serving, sprinkle with sugar to coat and caramelize with a blowtorch.  In order to avoid burning the sugar, you’ll probably need to do alternate torching with brief periods of cooling until you have the desired degree of carmelization.  Let the sugar harden for a

couple of minutes.  Add fruit for presentation, then have at it!

BERENJENAS CON MIEL y QUESO de CABRA  [Eggplant chips w/ honey & goat cheese)

RecipeCut eggplant crosswise into paper-thin rounds with mandolin.  Keep cuts circular (Davíd had to trim the eggplant to fit the slicer).  Soak the slices in milk to reduce their bitterness – around 10 minutes.  Fill a deep skillet halfway with oil (not extra virgin) and heat over moderate heat to 170° C.  Blot the

 

eggplant slices with a paper towel to remove the milk.  Dredge eggplant slices in the flour until thoroughly coated, lightly pressing if necessary to help the coating adhere, and gently shake to remove excess (the idea is to produce a very thin coating that will become crisp when fried). Drop the floured pieces into the 170° C oil.

Only do a few at a time (our pan dictated 4).  Submerge, separate and turn slices in the oil with a slotted spoon until they begin to brown (golden brown), 1-2 minutes (or longer).  Transfer the chips to paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Repeat for remaining chips.  Cut cubes of goat cheese.

Berenjenas con mielPlace chips over cheese squares, drizzle with honey, and add toasted pine nuts and a presentation item (Davíd used viola flowers).  Fight for your share.  In Andalusia, the dish was a little different – no cheese, and they used a molasses-like cane sugar instead of honey.  Both are good!

FRIED ARTICHOKES

As an added bonus, Davíd showed us how to fry artichokes using this same system.  First he removed the scales to get to the heart, then removed the stem and trimmed the base.  The top part of the artichoke, about half of it, is removed, the artichoke cut in half longitudinally, and the choke is cut out.  It is then placed in water with parsley to prevent

the browning reaction (I didn’t know parsley did that!).  When ready to fry, the artichokes are sliced very thin, dried on a paper towel, dredged in the flour like the berenjenas, and

fried.  They fry quickly!  Drain on a paper towel, sprinkle with sea salt, and they’re ready to go.  Thanks Davíd, they were great!

COCA DE SEPINACAS A LA CATALANA CON BACALAO CONFITADO                                 (Catalan style Spinach Flatbread with Confit Cod)

Cod on flatbread with spinachActually, before we started this recipe Davíd prepared a quick appetizer with the cod.  The cod came from a farmers’ market where chunks had been soaking in salt water for 3 days.  Davíd sliced off the remaining skin and cut 4 small pieces off the fish chunk.  He drizzled the pieces with (infused) olive oil (see below) and added a garnish of chive

sprouts and chopped pistachio nuts.  Ready to eat!  It was good, but next time I would add some sea salt.

For the flatbread, work all ingredients as a normal bread dough.  Let it rest until if rises for 1 hour.  Meanwhile, warm the oil in a saucepan, remove from heat, add the bouquet of spices (whatever you want), and let infuse for awhile.  When the dough is ready, roll it out, trim to a rectangle, and cut it to size.  Place the pieces on parchment on a tray, and brush with the infused oil.  Cover with parchment, put weight on the top (another baking tray), and bake until golden brown (180°C, 10 minutes).  Brush with infused oil again.

Cut the cod into pieces and put into infused oil that has just come to a simmer; remove from heat and let stand until cod looses transparency and becomes flaky.  Clean the

spinach under tap water and remove stems.  Let the raisins soak in Moscatell wine for 30 minutes.  Brown the pine nuts for 2 minutes in a nonstick frying pan with a few drops of olive oil.  Remove the pine nuts and add the infused raisins with their liquid; stir until thickened (this happens quickly) and pour back into their bowl.  Add more oil and saute the spinach briefly, adding a sprinkle of salt; do this in small batches, adding a little oil

each time.  Put some spinach on each piece of flatbread and arrange large flakes of the cod on top.  Add some of the raisin mixture and pine nuts.  Move to a plate and add more

raisins and pine nuts.  Davíd also added a dollop of reduced raspberry balsamic vinegar on the side.  It came from a bottle, and was a nice addition to the flavors.  I would have added a little sea salt.

PAELLA DE MARISCO (Seafood paella)

Seafood PaellaTo this list of ingredients we added some fava beans, a red bell pepper as well as the green, asparagus, some of the unsliced artichokes, and smoked paprika.  Prepare all the ingredients.  Dice the onion and garlic.  Cut some peppers into strips (for presentation) and dice the rest.  Wash the asparagus and remove their lower stem.  Grate the tomatoes

as shown.  Cook the fava beans, drain and let cool; remove the outer skin.

Soak the clams in salty water and then rinse.  Check that the clams and mussels are alive (if they are open, knock them on the table and discard if they stay open).  De-beard the mussels and clean their shells (we scraped them with a knife).  Clean the squid interior by scraping with a paper towel.  Cut the squid into squares, about 1.5 inches.  If desired, trim the whiskers off the prawns.

When everything is ready, heat the oil in a paella pan (until a drop of water sizzles) and saute the prawns briefly (count to 20, turn, count 20 again, remove).  Turn on the outer

propane ring.  For the paella you want even heat, and since you don’t want more than a layer or two of rice, you need a large skillet with a wide heat source (or two skillets …).  Add the squid to the pan, spread out the squares, and wait until the squid squares are “popping up”.  Add more oil to the side of the pan as needed.  Do not turn.  The longer you cook the squid the more tender it will be, so cooking it for something like 45 minutes

(overall) is good.  Brown only 1 side (you’re going to be adding water).  When the squares have popped up, stir and add the onion and the diced peppers and carmelize, constantly scraping the pan to deglaze.  Add some wine to continue the deglazing as the water evaporates.  90% of the taste is this “attacking the brown”.  When onions are browned, add the garlic and when it starts to brown, sprinkle with smoked paprika and add the grated

tomato on top of the paprika, mixing quickly so the paprika doesn’t burn.  Scrape and deglaze and let all the liquid from the tomatoes evaporate.  Add the asparagus, artichokes

and remaining pepper slices, stir, and cook for a few minutes.  Add the rice and stir well to coat, a minute or two.  Flatten the food to a layer, with no holes.  Add the saffron to the boiling stock, then add the stock slowly to the preparation.  Do not stir!  Rice can’t be touched beyond this point!

Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for +/- 8 minutes.  (Davíd used high heat for 5 minutes).  Then add the clams and mussels, pushing them slightly into the remaining liquid.  Taste the stock for seasoning – it must taste slightly salty (rice will absorb and dilute it).  Reduce heat to a minimum (say the notes) and cook for an additional +/- 10 minutes (Davíd says cook for a total of 15 minutes).  Davíd didn’t really time it so much as check it.  As the liquid went down, he turned the heat down.  It was done when there was

essentially no liquid at the bottom of the pan.  You want rice with some dryness.  Davíd also noted that after adding the clams and mussels one could take the pan to the oven at 180°C for 12 minutes (gets even heat!) rather than keeping it on the flame.  Right near the end, add the fava beans and arrange the prawns in a decorative pattern and allow them to heat up.  When the time is up, take the pan off the heat and cover with a cloth for 3 – 4

minutes to steam (the notes say only “stand for about 5 minutes before serving” [no mention of a cover]).  For Davíd, wanting rice with some dryness, if the rice is done and there is still some water, he doesn’t cover or he covers with a cloth to let the steam escape.

One could cover with aluminum foil to keep the rice wetter.

You’re ready to go!  It tasted every bit as good as it looks.

Well!  Hope you enjoyed this diversion from our travel blog.  The next post will be back in England, visiting the fabulous city of York.

 

Granada’s Alhambra

DSC_0126The magnificent Alhambra fortress was the last stronghold of the Moorish kingdom in Europe, with a palace that highlighted the decorative splendor of that civilization.   While the rest of Europe dragged through the Middle Ages, Granada blossomed from the 1200’s to nearly the 1500’s.  What you see today is merely a glimpse of what the magnificence must have been.  Time marched on, and in this case not for the better.  The Christians built their own version of beauty on top of some of the Alhambra, it fell into ruin and was populated by the homeless, Napoleon stationed his troops there in the 1800’s contributing substantially to its ruin (he blew up several of the gates), and of course time itself dulls or eliminates the paint and gilding that was once a source of its beauty.  Nevertheless, as you’ll see – it ain’t bad!

You need tickets to see the Alhambra, and they verge on scarce.  Only (!) 300 visitors are allowed A road up to the Alhambrato enter the palace every 30 minutes, and with up to 8,000 visitors a day, that’s a problem.  The good news is that some areas of the Alhambra are accessible and free, and we’ll visit those first.  We’ll walk up the hill, which is pretty steep, as you can see in the picture to the left (and as you want in a fortress).  Note that The Alhambra with surrounding old wallsthe walls of the Alhambra connected with the walls around Granada, the remnants of which you can see in the photo above.  There’s a reason this place was the lone hold-out for 200 years.

Granada goes back in time a millennium or much more, so it is no surprise that there are walls on top of walls on top of repaired walls, and ruins here and there.  When one encounters the fortress walls/towers, they are impressively vertical and remarkably well-preserved.  At one point there were 30 of these towers.

Pictures below show the Justice gate into the fortress (there were only 4 gates).  As you can see, it was built for defense!  Big motha’.  In addition to the gate’s four 90º turns for better defense, it has a metal door that looks pretty sturdy.  And it’s not just a functional gate – there are remnants of decoration.

The sultan's summer palace - and water channel                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The Moors had a thing for water.  To the Moors, coming from the desert, water was precious; they reveled in it and surrounded themselves with ponds, fountains and gardens.  There is a river at the base of the Alhambra’s hill; the Moors diverted water from that river at a point upstream and uphill, running it down through the sultan’s summer home and garden, the Generalife, and then via aqueduct into the Alhambra city complex and palace (summer home and water path shown to the left; details later in the post).  Much of that infrastructure still remains and some is still functional, as shown below.

Once through the Justice Gate, the Wine Gate greets you.  One of the oldest constructions of the Alhambra, it separated the fortress (Alcazaba) from the town (medina) and palace within the Alhambra walls.

Nearby is Charles V’s palace; the conquerors should have their own palace, right?  Not that old one, the Moors’ Palacios Nazaries that we’ll visit shortly.  So in 1533 good ol’ Charles V Charles V's Palace(you remember him, right?  He OK’d construction of the Catholic cathedral in the middle of Córdoba’s Mesquita [post of May 13, 2014; “Córdoba”]) started construction of a new palace, financed by a poke-in-the-eye tax on Granada’s Muslim population.  However, a few years later Charlie lost interest and the project was abandoned without its planned roof.  Like the cathedral within the Mesquita, the architectural style of the palace (Renaissance) looks VERY much out of place in the Alhambra, but it is interesting in its own right.   On the exterior, the building is square, with pilasters framing the entrance.  The blocks beneath the bases of the pilasters have some fine carved battle scenes showing who won and who lost and why this building sits here, just in case you forgot (below, left).  Going into the building, a big

 surprise is that most of it is an open, completely circular courtyard, a circle within a square.  The large courtyard is surrounded by marble columns that create a covered balcony and a gallery (above, right).

THE ALCAZABA

The AlcazabaWith tickets in hand, we now pass through the Wine Gate and face the Alcazaba, which certainly looks imposing even from inside the walls.  The courtyard in the front was originally a moat, which would have made it even more impressive!  The fortress is old, from the 1200’s, but is mostly in ruins, much of the destruction caused by Napoleon’s troops.  Pictures are shown below.  Note that the entrance into the fort, shown from different levels, is a back-and-forth path protected by several gates, the approach incredibly exposed from above.  I would NOT want to be part of the attacking party!

We’re now going to walk to the Generalife, the summer palace and gardens of the sultan.  It’s at the other end of the Alhambra complex, past what used to be an urban town (medina) of 2,000 people who lived up here.  The medina was also destroyed by the invading French, and ruins are only sporadically visible.  It is, however, a pleasant walk (see below).

One of the interesting buildings we walk past is the Parador de Granada San Francisco.  A Parador is an historical building that the Spanish government runs as a fancy hotel.  Within the Alhambra the building was a Moorish palace but was subsequently converted to a Franciscan monastery.  As you can see below it’s quite attractive.  How cool would it be to sleep here within the Alhambra!  But, alas, it’s far too expensive for our budget.

THE GENERALIFE

Path to the Generalife

We continue to walk to the Generalife.  Tall evergreens line a charming path to the extensive gardens, where more evergreens in many shapes form shady, secluded, hidden areas around fountains and pools.  Everything seems to be in bloom.  It’s hard to capture the beauty of such an expanse in the small area of a photo, but I do take some side shots of flower areas with a view of the Alhambra.

At the end of the gardens is the sultan’s summer home, a cool and quiet escape.  You saw the overview of the summer home earlier (above) when we discussed the aqueduct.  Now we’ll go inside this house.  Even after all these centuries, it’s still pretty spectacular for a “get-away” place.  Pictures below.

THE PALACIOS NAZARIES

Finally, it is our time to enter the Palacios Nazaries (miss that entry time by 30 minutes and you don’t get in).  This is the jewel of the Alhambra, the reason most people come to Granada.  The royal palace was built mostly in the 1300’s and is the best example of the elegant Moorish civilization of that time.  Remember that gorgeous palace in Sevilla’s Alcazar (post of May 1, 2014, “Sevilla’s Alcazar”)?  It was copying the real McCoy here.  We are going to deluge you with photos!  There is much to admire – rooms decorated with molded plaster from top to bottom, beautiful and intricate carved wood ceilings, stucco “stalactites”, intricate ceramic tiles, and beautiful filigree windows.  Notice our repeating “beautiful” and “intricate” words.  What you will see is a lot of repetition in a decoration.  It just keeps going, yet it is not too much – well, maybe some of the tile patterns are optically active, but usually not.  The overall effect is what I call a “visual mantra”.  Something beautiful repeated and repeated and repeated, and you stare at it and your heart rate goes down, your blood pressure drops, and tranquility descends.  And your mind says “Jeez, is this ever beautiful”!  And you turn your head and see a new and different wonderful pattern and the feeling repeats along with the patterns.  We’ll just be showing you picture snippets, but we think you’ll see.  Enough talk!  I’ll divide the tour by rooms.  We’ll start by walking through a few “administrative” rooms, including an oratorio (a Mecca-oriented prayer room).

Administrative Rooms

No words – just walk with us.

The Oratorio

OK, mea culpa, we’re showing this room a bit out of order within the administrative rooms, but we just wanted to highlight it.  Not only is this room beautiful, it has a beautiful view of Granada’s Albayzín.

The Court of Myrtles

It’s named for the two fragrant myrtle hedges.  It’s pretty.  Some chambers were demolished to make room for Charles V’s palace, but happily only a few.  The lateral sections were living quarters for the women (harem).

The Boat Room

It’s so named due to a corrupted Spanish translation of the Arabic; it should read something more akin to “Room of divine blessing and luck”.  It’s a waiting room before entry to the Grand Hall of the Ambassadors, the sultan’s throne room.  My guess is that it was a bit more ornate back then.

The Grand Hall of the Ambassadors

This is the palace’s largest room, the Sultan’s throne room.  It’s a perfect cube – would you expect anything less from these lovers of geometric design?  That domed wooden ceiling is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, with over 8,000 inlaid pieces.  The cornice consists of wooden “stalactites”; the stucco walls are still glorious even without their original paint and gilding.  The filigree windows once held stained glass (and had heavy drapes to block out the heat).  The calligraphic inscriptions are of poems, prayers or praises.  An example:

Oh, God, fighter of the devil, please help me.  In name of God, who is merciful and has mercy.  Oh, God, please be company and salvation for our Master Mohammed and his generation.  And say: May the anger of God and of every devil that allows the disturbance of hell help me; and deliver me from the evil of the envious ones when they are going to be envious.  And no deity but God is alive, whom we must praise eternally.  Praise to the God of centuries“.

The floor was originally marble, but is now tiles from the 1500’s – not a bad update!

When in use, the room would have been in semi-darkness, with the lighting concentrated on a throne opposite the entrance.  A visitor would have stepped from the glaring Court of Myrtles into this dim, cool, incense-filled, intensely decorated world to meet the silhouetted sultan.  Of course you have to imagine the pillows and Persian carpets and throne and ivory-inlaid chairs and vases and hookah pipes and probably gorgeous ladies and scribes and bustling aides.  We would have been impressed, and struggling to make eye-contact with the all-powerful sultan!

Connecting Rooms

There are connecting passageways to private rooms of the royal family (and servants, of course).  We’ll just show pictures.

The Courtyard of the Lions

This is the private quarters of the royal family, and probably the most famous area of the Alhambra.  We’re just going to show you the pictures (a lot of pictures), and then we’ll talk.

The design of the courtyard refers to Persian gardens of old.  It’s divided in quadrants symbolizing the four corners of the world, and irrigated by water channels (that went to the apartments of the royal family) symbolizing the four rivers of the Quran’s Paradise ; the theme is thus an architectural manifestation of Paradise.  The slender column forest has been said to represent the palm trees of an oasis in the desert.  Originally there was a below-level garden in each of the 4 quadrants, the top of the plants cut to be level with the courtyard.  Today the courtyard floor is white marble, in the center of which is a white marble fountain from the 1000’s, a dodecagon-shaped basin resting on top of 12 lions – one of the more important examples of Moorish sculpture (which ordinarily prohibits images of animals or humans).   There is a (long) poem in calligraphy on the basin rim, part of which is:

…Such a translucent basin, sculpted pearl!
Argentic ripples are added on it by the quiet dew
And its liquid silver goes over the daisies, melted, and even purer.
Water and marble seem to be one,
without letting us know which of them is flowing.
Don’t you see how water overflows the borders
and the warned drains are here against it?
They are like the lover who in vain
tries to hide his tears from his beloved…”

Another poem decorating a wall goes:

“How beautiful is this garden
where the flowers of Earth rival the stars of Heaven.
What can compare with this fountain, gushing crystal-clear water?
Nothing except the fullest moon, pouring light from an unclouded sky.”

The Courtyard is beautiful indeed, then and now.

Hall of the Abencerrajes

This was the Sultan’s living room, with an exquisite ceiling in the shape of an eight-sided star.  It has a history – a sultan took a new wife and wanted to disinherit the children of the first marriage, so he invited them (the Abencerrajes) to dinner and killed all 36 – nearly the entire family – but he missed the son who would ultimately assume the throne (some of the blame for the decline of the Muslim world had to do with such constant infighting.  The Catholics weren’t your only enemy).  Why am I not showing you pictures of this incredible room?  It was closed.  Bummer!  Below is a picture of the outside of the building, and next to it an internet picture of the ceiling.

Hall of the Kings

This is just a connecting hall at the back of the Courtyard of the Lions.  It is, of course, gorgeous.

Hall of Two Sisters

It’s named for the two slabs of white marble on the floor flanking the fountain carrying water to the Courtyard of the Lions.  It is the center of a series of chambers where the sultana and her family lived.  The ceiling is incredibly beautiful.

Well, that’s the shooting match.  There is still some beauty to be seen on the way out of the Palace, such as the Patio of Lindaraja, but it’s not on the same scale.

The sultan and his favorite wifeThat’s it!  It is a beautiful palace, putting the monstrosity of Charles V’s palace to shame.  He thought he could improve on the Palacios Nazaries???  We thought the art of the Moors was amazing.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Our next stop in Spain is Madrid.

Grenada

Hills of olive treesThroughout most of Spain, the trip to any city is past hill after hill planted in rows of olive trees.  Grenada, nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, is no exception.  Pretty, isn’t it?

As Cordoba declined, Granada grew, and for a time Granada was the grandest city in Spain – and ultimately the last city in Spain under The AlhambraMuslim rule.  The  Alhambra fortress, the last stronghold of the Moorish kingdom in Spain, finally fell to the Reconquista in 1492.  Until then it was the greatest Moorish palace, highlighting the splendor of a Moorish civilization that nowhere else shone as brightly.