Monday, July 26, 2010

Bones, Basques & Barcelona: Day 9 (Final Day)

Hope you have enjoyed actress Kirsten D'Aurelio's blog. This is her final post. Rehearsals for MENORCA begin in just 3 weeks from today!

"On our last day of “Where’s Ollie?”, I was up and out of our Barcelona hotel with great anticipation to see a local phenomenon of cultural identity: the Sardana.

Every Sunday at noon in Barcelona's Barrio Gotico area, traditional Catalan music is played by an 11-piece band. As the music begins, groups of men and women appear, forming circles of about 12-30 people. In the center of the circle, they all place their belongings—purses, shopping bags, etc. as a statement of sharing, unity, trust. When the music starts, they clasp hands and hoist them above their heads, where they remain for the whole dance. Then the fancy footwork begins (I couldn’t get it down), sometimes with a spring in the step but never rotating the circle very much at all. This is the mid-19th century folk dance known as the Sardana. The dancers, most of whom were in their 60’s and above, had very determined expressions on their faces. Though the music sounds pretty upbeat to me, there’s wasn’t a lot of joy expressed in the dance; it doesn’t seem to be about that. There is a quiet elegance, a rootedness about it. Some of the dancers wear white espadrille shoes (invented by the Basques, by the way.) When the song ended, the groups dispersed, but others popped up all around the plaza while the band continued to play. An elderly woman approached me for a donation “for la musica”, and then looked me strongly in the eye and carefully pronounced the word “Sardana” to me, as if this were an important moment of cultural transmission between us. When I repeated it back, she nodded and gave me a sticker with the name of the sponsoring organization on it, and then disappeared into the crowd, just like the dancers. I was so moved by this display of unity, cultural pride, creative expression. For me, there was a feeling emanating from them that this dance is a link to a collective past, and ain’t no way they’re letting go of it (and indeed, there was one group of 40-somethings, not quite as skilled, but clearly grooming themselves to receive the torch.) All of this was made even more meaningful to me when I learned that the Catalans had their own 9/11 terror---in 1714. The King of Spain sent orders from Madrid to slaughter Catalan patriots, and they were killed on September 11, 1714 and buried in a mass grave in another plaza nearby, which has a monument with an eternal flame commemorating their 9/11 massacre. Even today, this dance is apparently ridiculed by many in Spain. So expressing their cultural identity week after week is an act of historical defiance and cultural survival. The serene but resolute looks on the dancers’ faces tell the whole story of what this enduring ritual means to them. I was moved to tears by the entire thing and will never forget it. Here’s another traveler’s footage of it:

After this glorious beginning, it was on to the Picasso Museum. Somewhere into his Blue Period, I was hit with a mild case of Stendhal Syndrome and Could. Not. Take. In. One. More. Visual. So I sat on a bench while my husband finished the exhibit, and I contemplated the artist’s loooong baptismal name, a series of names honoring various saints and relatives. The early paintings in the exhibit were signed “Pablo Ruiz Picasso”. Then “Ruiz Picasso.” And by 1901, I noticed that the Ruiz had dropped out. From then on, he was just Picasso, which is his mother’s birth name. Why did he go the nontraditional matrilineal route to self-identify? Was Ruiz too common? Was he closer to his mother? My character’s name, Ollie, is actually a nickname for a long set of names like Picasso’s, but her surname is the traditional patrilineal. So much of the “who am I?” and “where do I belong?” questions seem to be wrapped up in a name. Perhaps that’s because, as the Basques say, “Izena duen guria omen da.” (“That which has a name, exists.”) When you choose a name, you pull that identity more strongly into existence.

Continuing our exploration of the Barri Gotic, we found the old Jewish Quarter, which was an active ‘hood in the 12-14th centuries but now has been completely subsumed. We peered at buildings up and down those narrow streets until we finally spotted a mezuzah (ritual door ornament) on a small, unobtrusive doorway. At that moment, a young man and and elderly woman approached and knocked on the door. “It’s the old synagogue,” he said, and it was closed, but according to the elderly lady we could find a Hebrew plaque “dans la rue.” Several meters down la rue, we finally saw some Hebrew lettering and an inscription dedicating the service of one Rabbi Samuel. Scrawled on the plaque in pink spray paint were the words “LIBRE PALESTINE!”, making the dedication to the rabbi only partially legible. As Ollie says in the script, “It does not matter if you are not political, because the world is political, and you live in it every cannot avoid it, it follows you home.”

The easy, clean Metro took us to 3 final attractions: La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s cathedral-in-progress (since 1882); Park Guell (wonderfully whimsical Gaudi—Willy Wonka meets Dr. Seuss); the Magic Fountains of Plaza Espanya (even better than Buckingham Fountain). Then on to a fabulous farewell meal with tapas and sangria. Barcelona is a beautiful city that anyone would be proud to call home.

Now back to Chicago to integrate the things I’ve learned in the last 9 days so I can bring Ollie to life! Thanks for traveling with me. Hope to see you at the show in September!" ----Kirsten

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