Walking with Gaudí on the Paralelo
by Isabel Goig
In April 1905 the “Pabellón Soriano” was inaugurated in the Paralelo. This pavilion is a work of architect Audet, who had taken the challenge to use his setsquare to change the street Marqués del Duero. He would replace the large number of concert bars and barracks that characterised the neighbourhood which people had started to call the Montmartre of Barcelona , because of all the luxurious halls Barcelona was worthy of, as it in those days it had already become a big capital.
Some years later Audet directed the works of the “Gran Teatro Onofri”, property of the kings of the pantomime, together with the church of Santa Madrona. This hall opened its doors in 1903 with the work “ El mar por tumba o el almirante ciego ”. With its audience capacity of three thousand people it had a lot of success, as the people from Barcelona had always felt captivated by this kind of scene settings. In 1904 the theatre “Apolo” started to present performances and once more it was Audet who was in charge of the direction of the work. “Andreu Audet will change the Paral.lel” , Gaudí said.
In 1905 Gaudí was 53 years old and didn't have a lot of free time. The Temple of the order of Saint Joseph, the continuous trips to Mallorca and the Colonia of Don Eusebio left him without time for anything else. Little by little he started to decline the invitations of his friends and clients that took up a great deal of his time. He also started to regain his old habits and live his life more according to his rural origins. The almonds and hazelnuts, the herbal infusions, the long walks and, at last, the simplification of a part of his family and private life – not the professional part – ; it all made Gaudí feel more swift, less dull and gave him more urge to work, as if this were possible. Besides, he wanted to devote more time to his father, go more often for a walk with him and help him forget for a while the obligations he had taken on administrating his son's goods or the pain caused by his granddaughter's great liking for the “Agua del Carmen”.
One late Sunday afternoon in April, Gaudí and his father Don Francisco walked on the Barceloneta, dreaming about the same sea yet the one kilometres further in the South, the sea that bathed the coasts of Tarragona, with its more vivid light, more defined tonalities and great assortment of olives and almonds you couldn't find in the industrialised city of Barcelona. A sea just like you would imagine in the Mas, its waves smashing on the crater which you could smell when the East wind brought the smell and even taste of the saltpetre to Ruidoms, and which you could finally catch site of after some kilometres walking.
As Gaudí was a true hiker, he adapted his walk to the rhythm of his father. They came from the Eixample where the streets started to be cobbled. They walked across the Paseo de Colón until the Atarazanas and made for the Paralelo. They talked about the bad luck of Josep, the worker who suffered from serious burns on his legs alter he felt in an acid deposit in the Colonia of Don Eusebio, and about the generosity of his co-workers who offered their own skin so that his legs would not be amputated. Two months after this accident, the poor man still hadn't been able to overcome the infection and people were afraid for his life. “If you don't find solidarity among workers you find it nowhere, Antoni”.
Don Francisco, who had spent a great part of his life in Riudoms spiral shaping the stills from where the alcohol of the small and strong grape from the Camp would be distilled, struggling with the fire, always felt impressed when he walking across the enjoyable city Barcelona with its Ramblas and the Paralelo. This afternoon he was grateful his son wanted to see Audet's last work. They stopped for a moment in front of the façade of the Onofri and Don Francisco went into ecstasies in front of the façade of the Apolo. It had been a long time since he hadn't walked through this neighbourhood anymore. The fire works had already started to twinkle and dazzled the senses of his craftsman soul, used to the beauty of the shapes he impressed on the small works he created himself, works that were of a simple and pure beauty beyond the one of the facades of the great theatres where men and women, attracted by the legend of Barcelona, came together from all over Catalonia and even farther so as to entertain themselves with comedians, couplets, alcohol, dance and sex.
One year before, he went to the Circus of Barcelona in the street Montserrat to see "Emilio Zola o el poder del genio", by the playwright José Fola Igúrbide, a work about the Dreyfus affair he was interested in. They already started to talk about “The Fornarina” or “Tea Flower” as the French used to call this gorgeous woman who triumphed in Paris and announced spectacles in Barcelona. It's unlikely that the “La Fornarina” will be able to defy “La Chelito” with her dance La pulga , he said to his son.
His son paid more attention to the three chimneys of the Canadian, between the streets Palaudarias and Vila Vilá. And he smiled when he thought that soon his temple would exceed their height.
They passed by “El Peñón” in front of the Theatre Arnau, at the intersection of the Conde de Asalto and the Paralelo. There was a crowd of different kind of people surrounding something or somebody. Gaudí, taller than the rest of the group, could see a trickster who was selling an elixir to stimulate appetite. Don Francisco amused himself throwing some coins into the mouth of an enormous frog and won four out of six times. Happy as a child he invested his profits in some cones for Antonio who was found of all kinds of sweets and who really enjoyed eating them, leaving the leftovers in his lapels without removing them, something that was becoming a habit of his.
“Look there, Antoni, El Lumière ”. The cinematographic projection hall, a novelty still rare in town, had been installed next to the bar of the Circus Theatre Español . “And they project movies from Gelabert, do you remember, father? Fructuoso, the cabinet-maker who worked for us some years ago, he produced his own camera himself and started to film with Biosca the congregation leaving a church”. “Yes, from, Santa María from Sants”.
Both the Gaudi's had heard that Salvador Seguí had his get-togehter in the bar of the Español now. The Español was quite a place, three years before the General Striking had been decided in this hall, and they said that Teresa Claramunt who was acting as orator, had finally convinced the more then three thousand attending people to face the Management all together.
The night had taken control over the Paralelo and the flickering neon lights were already a real spectacle on themselves. Sometimes Marqués del Duero acquired this frenzy atmosphere. As if by magic the escape of the natural light had open a box from where new characters got out and replaced the ones who were already on there. As if the entire Paralelo were a great scenario and the decor had changed. It turned from being just another worker's village neighbourhood into a great saloon where luminous hooting cars from all over the world passed by putting down women dressed on high heels, with red lips and perfumes that reminded Gaudí of his grandmother's marinated mixture of all the herbs and flowers of Santa Coloma de Queralt, the place where he was born and from where he sometimes left as a child accompanied by his mother and impressed by the big palace of the counts who lived at the highest part of the village.
Around the “Pabellón Soriano”, on the opposite sidewalk of the “Peñón”, a much bigger crowd had got together. All over the neighbourhood, from the Atarazanas to the Plaza de España, from the Ramblas to Montjuich, one could hear some very loud music coming from a façade of the building. The theatre of the brothers Ricardo and Manuel Soriano was being inaugurated. The whole crème of the Barcelona bourgeoisie had been invited. Even the Güell and the Comillas who of course didn't go, not because of the repeating criticism of Father Verdaguer, who had become quite dull regarding the global parties, but because they didn't go further than the Liceo, now neighbour of the palace of the street Conde del Asalto, where Gaudí had been allowed to give expression to his genius without any kind restriction at all.
Father and son got closer and waited patiently until the people entered to attend the show so that they could contemplate the facade. Again Antoni noticed the smell of the herbs of his land, and now he seemed to inhale the perfume of the broom that would be yellow by now on the edges of the ways facing the sea as bleu as his eyes. The façade of the marvellous theatre presented the form of an enormous square frame with an insertion of an “orchestrion” decorated with mouldings of many strong colours among which the colour blue dominated. Many shapes in their natural sizes had been animated by devices that made them turn around and gave them a between pathetic and comic aspect. The music notes that were roaring over the Paralelo seemed to come from their smiling mouths. “One can even get ideas from the Devil. Audet would change the Paral-lel”, thought the master again. Still fascinated he took his father at his arm to get closer and have some refreshing sesame seeds in the tavern “El Paralelo”, next to the local “La Pajarera Catalana”, where the lovers of the nights of Barcelona came together to look into incongruous magazines.
Gaudí knew Ramona, the proprietary. He had had the occasion to try her escudella1 as well as her fricandeau at José Comas's place who was since more than a year the director of the Observatorio Fabra of the Tibidabo and in whose house Ramona had worked as a cook until she got married. Then the matrimony Comas lent her money in order to transfer the tavern, under the condition that they would call it “Paralelo”; Mr. Comas knew that this ideal line passed through over there. Ramona acceded and with this act she baptized the neighbourhood again. She was really lucky, Ramona, since the tram from Sants to the Puerto, originally pulled by mules, passed through the street. What's more, before she was in charge of the commerce, the tram managing company “The General” had decided to install a tram stop in front of the tavern.
Ramona, happy to see Mr. Gaudí and Don Francisco for the first time at the place, ran to the kitchen to warm up a good stew of fricandeau , but the architect already went through life with his alimentation based on nuts bread with Honey and Saint Antonio pies and to the surprise of the good cook he denied to taste her solid dish Don Francisco was already eating with delight. Ramona complained slightly about the proliferation of the anarchists in the neighbourhood although she assured that they let her quite a lot of money, though not as much as in the tavern “ La Tranquilidad ”, where the foremost members of anarchism used to gather together.
She said that all the troubles used to begin in Marqués del Duero, beyond the fact that the theatre Apolo was handed over for free to the meetings on Sunday mornings. “This isn't bad, woman, you know how the emigrants live in Barcelona, they have to arouse and claim if they want to be taken into consideration. This land of ours is changing, one day it will be great and strong and we must consider those who are managing to make this happen”. “Ai, Mr. Gaudí, it's the people that are rich and important enough to assign their houses to you that must realize this”. “We must make it happen all together, as long as it entails no blood the Church also has to be involved. ¿What are they making up there, Ramona?” “Another theatre, as you can see, they say it will be called “Cómico” and maybe it will be dedicated to represent zarzuela 2. ¿Would you like to have a glass of fresh milk, Mr. Gaudí?” “Well, why not, Ramona? By the way, it has been a long time that I haven't seen Mr. Comas, is he still smoking so much?”. “Well, I don't know, Mr. Gaudí, but I have been told that he has discovered a new star”. “A comet, Ramona, a comet”.
Back home Don Francisco, whose mouth was still hot because of the hot stew of the good cook Ramona, reprimanded his son because of what he called an inappropriate remark about what already was becoming the problem of the anarchists, not only in Barcelona but also in the rest of Catalonia. “How again did you say this to Ramona, my son?” “Look father, I still don't know what is worse; this anarchy which for the moment I don't consider as dangerous yet, or a bourgeoisie which denies seeing the terrible problems in the life of the poor workers. Charity, rare everywhere, is not enough. If we want a great Catalonia, it must be trough the help of everybody, and we all have to live with dignity. What do you want, father, it must have been the rauxa 3. Don't forget that la gent del Camp es la gent del llamp 4”.