Monday, March 21, 2016

Europe 2015 - Barcelona: Finding faith in art

¡Si osmosis no funciona en Barcelona estoy cagado! Loosely translated: If osmosis doesn’t work in Barcelona, I’m screwed!

In our five-day visit, we were inside Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece, a few feet from Salvador Dalí’s painting chair, and had lunch with another great Salvador.

There is no other way around it: Barcelona was Gaudi’s sculpture garden. His emblematic architectural examples of modernisme or Catalan modernism are everywhere. The Casa Milá and Casa Batlló buildings, along with the gated community-turned-public park Parque Güell are Barcelona’s biggest draws. The structures’ curving lines and cave-like texture, sprinkled with mosaic accents are instantly recognizable – like a Picasso.

But the centerpiece of his collection is the still-unfinished church of La Sagrada Familia. From the outside and from a distance, it looks like a gigantic candle gothic church with its wax skyscraping steeples starting to melt. As you get closer, you begin to see the intricate details. And once inside, you get a full appreciation for Gaudí’s vision of marrying art, nature, and geometry. Concrete pillars resembling tree trunks with protruding branches seem to hold up the impossibly high ceilings. Light peers through various small crevices above, creating an optical illusion of what you might see if you looked up inside a dense forest or jungle. The monochromatic arrangements of stained glass windows – reds, yellows, and oranges or blues, greens and purples – add splashes of color the otherwise plain, off-white interior walls.

Dalí’s most eclectic collections, on the other hand, are actually about two hours outside of Barcelona. His seaside house in Portlligat reveals how the master of surrealism lived: you can see where he sat to paint, how he found inspiration from the sea, and his absolute, unabashed sense of style. He embraced and reveled in his eccentricity. He viewed his life as a canvas for his surrealism expression: his gravity-defying mustache, his wardrobe, his interior decoration.

When you visit the Dalí Theatre and Museum in his hometown in nearby Figueres, one thing becomes clear: Dalí was a multimedia artist. Beyond his famous surrealism oil paintings, he designed clothes and furniture, and was one of the first to use holograms and arrange mirror-imaged paintings and mirrors to create three-dimensional illusions. He also designed jewelry, including the magnificent “Royal Heart” – a gold heart brooch with pulsating rubies arranged to make the heart look like it’s beating.

And then there’s the other Salvador – Salvador “Mister Furia” Rey Nagel. Dalí may have been better know, but this Salvador is still very much alive. He is one of the creative powerhouses – writer, singer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, humanitarian, all-around good guy – of one of Barcelona’s most important music exports: The Pinker Tones. When he found out I would be in Barcelona, he invited Deniz, the kids, and I to swing by “Pinkerlandia” – their studio in the artsy Grácia district in the heart of Barcelona.

I met Salvador in New York City in 2006 during the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference, where I interviewed him and his creative partner Professor Manso and also watched them perform live at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I didn’t know The Pinker Tones at all, so when we sat down for our interview, he immediately struck me as so unassuming and humble, I wondered if the band’s management had dispatched their roadie for the interview instead of its original member and creative genius. The Pinker Tones’ versatile style and refusal to box themselves into a specific sound, along with Salvador’s graciousness, made them instantly likeable.

Pinkerlandia doubles as a recording studio and a house of worship for music greats. There’s an autographed Brian Wilson photo, an original John Lennon sketch, and Bill Graham psychedelic concert poster from the ‘60s promoting a new up-and-coming band called The Who with “Jim Hendrix” as an opening act.

Over lunch at a nearby café, we talked mostly about music – the genius of Brian Wilson and how The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” inspired The Pinker Tones’ “Life in Stereo,” Turkish funk by Mustafa Ökzent, and what’s next for The Pinker Tones. We then touched on how we both – in different ways – have embraced parenthood and adjusted our lives accordingly.

For example, I’m writing less about music and more about family travel because that’s my reality. Similarly, Salvador is all in on The Pinker Tones’ third installation of their children’s book series “Rolf & Flor,” which apart from being aesthetically pleasing also raises awareness on important topical issues, including global warming and the protection of children. Rolf & Flor in London – due out in October – will have the two title characters meet a child with down syndrome and also a young Syrian refugee.

Given that our exchanges up until now had been mostly business – I need a story to tell, they need to get their music out – I was expecting a pitch. This would have been completely fine by me, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn Salvador had no agenda but to simply have our families meet and just hang out. It wasn’t until I pressed him a little that he shared with me some humanitarian work that he is doing with a friend to help Syrian refugees. “My grandparents were Polish refugees,” he said, “So the war in Syria and this immigration crisis really hits home.”

So maybe creative osmosis doesn’t work. I won't be designing a building, painting a picture or recording a song any time soon. But through these brilliant, creative minds, I picked up a few powerful messages. From Gaudí: faith and science can coexist. From Dalí: don’t pull any punches on self-expression. From my friend Salvador: stay grounded and find a cause to champion.

Through it all, it also reinvigorated my somewhat dormant faith. While my Catholic upbringing taught me not to worship false idols, I think I’m okay appreciating God’s divine intervention through their artistic expressions. Beyond the miracle of my children’s births and the rebirth of a tree in the spring, these artists and their work just might be the most empirical proof of God’s existence.

Here are more photos from our visit to Barcelona or click on the photo below:
Europe 2015 - Barcelona


  1. Beautifully written and enthusiastically 'inhaled' by us! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences this way. You guys are amazing!