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Gaudí: His Last Breath

Part 1

By Ana María Férrin

Antonio Gaudí's custom in his night trip back to the Sagrada Familia placed him in the tramway stop in the Urquinaona square of Barcelona around 21.45. Always methodical he went to the kiosk, bought his customary newspaper, La Veu de Catalunya, sometimes he also bought a cake and alternating reading and biting the cake he did his way that led to his destination about ten o'clock at night.

But on June, 7th 1926 it was 22.30 and the routine suffered an upset. Since the previous October, the Temple keeper's wife was charged of the meals and the cleaning of his studio, at that time also converted in the home of the Catalan architect. The couple waited him for dinner and his delay made them to worry.

- Maybe he's talking with father Gil Parés -they told to themselves, not with a lot of conviction.

A growing nervousness rushed the employee towards the priest's home, placed at the other edge of the works site beside the office of Gaudí . It must be so, they will have met and chatting, chatting... He tried to distract his worrying with this idea, because somewhat told him that for such an oversensitive punctual person the simple supposition of a delay was out of place.

Father Parés was surprised by the warden's visit and agreed with his alarm. Had he delayed, only with a tramway breakdown or an accident could be the cause. Or another seizure, and came to his mind the one suffered by Gaudí the 11th of September, 1924, when he did not want to talk to the policemen in Spanish.

They decided to wait for a short space of time after which father decided to wait for Gaudí would finally appear, and he sent the worker in a taxi to go over all the first-aid posts that dotted the architect's usual way. In the second dispensary he visited, in the Ronda de San Pedro, n. 37, they remembered to have attended about seven o'clock in the afternoon the victim of a tramway accident.

- No, they did not know his name (the registration data were written later) ... He was brought by Ramón Pérez Vázquez, the policeman who helped him...Yes, yes, he was an old man...Yes, he had the appearance of a beggar, he was white bearded, he was severely wounded and they sent him to the Clinic Hospital...!Ah! He brought the Gospels in a pocket.

The envoy went back to the Sagrada Familia with the certainty that the appearance he had gathered was beyond doubt. Father Parés agreed with him and they parted in the very taxi, that retook the way to fetch in route Gaudí's assistant, Doménech Sugranyes. They headed both to the Clinic Hospital to receive an alarming first impression. In the admission they told them that they had not admitted any wounded man. There was only an entry, who was a male deceased.
Their hopes of finding him alive vanished. Even so, the possibility of an error opened in their minds making them to last effort to do the last checking.

- We want to see the deceased man- they insisted.

It was about eleven o'clock and the watchman, reluctantly, accompanied them to the morgue. There, over a marble table in the autopsy room, lay a dead body covered by a white cloth. It was father Gil who unveiled the face of the corpse to discover that it wasn't Gaudí. The two men's joy was short to lead then to anguish: if he had not reached his destination, ¿where could he be? The very male nurse who had led them to the morgue pointed for another possibility.

- You must recall the first-aid post. Maybe there has arisen a mishap.

But the call did not cast any light. They insisted that the wounded had departed towards the Clinic Hospital, these were the only data they could give them. The watchman from the Clinic encouraged them again with a new suggestion:

- The other destination for the traumatic injured is the Saint Cross Hospital. May be he's been admitted there...

Circa midnight it stopped facing the façade wing of the hospital, in the homonym street, the taxi that brought the two friends in his anguished search. Once in the court, when they entered the precinct devoted to male patients, sited in the right wing of the building, the question was made once more:

- ¿Has been brought here the architect Antoni Gaudí, who has been ran over?

No, nobody knows anything. The scene looked like the copy of the one in the first hospital. The paradox of a professional so trustworthy would exhaust his last breath of life shaking among the bureaucratic inefficiency made that the sadness felt by father Parés gave way to a burst of energy. He demanded the doctor on duty to come, doctor Joan Prim Rossell, who answered to his questions:

-¿Antonio Gaudí the architect? No he is not here. Had he entered everything would be upset and packed with journalists. And, of course, I would have been aware of it.

The priest's patience had reached its peak and he could stand no more. He put his voice tone to the height of circumstances, nearly shouting him:

- ¡Of course he is here! He is here, but you have not even noticed it. Check it at once, please!

The firmness with which father Parés demanded the confirmation of the answer made the doctor doubt. After all it wasn't his responsibility; the entering hour corresponded to the previous turn and he had not yet paid visit to the sections. Gaudí wasn't listed in the registration book as an admission, but the hospital was sited in a dock zone with a lot of people frequently injured because of robberies and quarrels and the amount of emergencies was plentiful. In this context the quick admission of a serious injured man could have passed completely unnoticed.
A consult to the nuns who attended to the ill informed them that effectively, about eight o'clock in the afternoon, an ambulance had brought the victim of a running over. A very old man, probably a beggar. He was installed in the bed n. 19 in the Saint Thomas' hall, where the traumatic injured were looked after. The nun added:

- He had his clothes fastened with safety pins.

The two men glanced to themselves: there was no need of more data to hurry up with the doctor in the search of the patient. The more they entered in the corridors, the noise of the quarter was deadened in a mixture of prayers, sighs, aches and medicines converted in smells that floated all around the penumbra of the hall. The whiteness of sheets and blankets, the white habits of the Saint Cross nuns who moved along the four rows of beds.

Here he was, in the bed number 19, reside the 18th, where the beggar who had been the source of inspiration for Gaudí for the death of the Honest man who had died some years ago comforted by the charity of the architect. Unconscious with the head of his bed placed just under the Station of the Cross showing Jesus carrying the cross, Antonio Gaudí did not identify the newly arrived nor his appearance made them infer that he had not been given a lot of care. His condition seemed to be very serious and doctor Prim corroborated so after exploring him for first time. They left him being attended by the physician, but when they abandoned the hospital sorrow had seized the visitors' souls. The moon set in the quarter and dressed white the well and the exquisite baroque cross. Father Parés looked at his watch. It was then the early morning of the 8th of June.

Top Gaudí: his last breath.
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