“Hola!…is this the end of the line?” asked the young woman.
I looked at her cheerful energetic face, she was with a bored looking companion who did not seem to like the idea of waiting to get into an art museum. They appeared to be tourists in Barcelona. Although I was no expert, I could tell - the “Hola” in their greeting was not pronounced in the authentic way…I had heard the locals pronounce it more like “Ohh-la”. Anyhow I nodded in silent confirmation and they briskly stepped in line behind me.
It was a moderate Sunday afternoon in January. I looked ahead - there were at least a hundred people standing in line in front of me to buy tickets to the Picasso Museum. I had just arrived in the city a couple of hours ago, and perhaps too jet lagged to be thinking clearly. It would have been much smarter to buy the ticket online. It was already 4:30 pm. The museum closed at 7pm so it was perhaps not such a good idea to stand in this line. But I had already been standing in line for 10 minutes. For some strange reason it felt good to stand in a very narrow street that was more than 500 years old. Besides that, the anticipation while waiting seemed to increase the value of the reward.
The line continued to build behind me and I was amused at all these people still joining the queue although there was no guarantee of admission. Little did I know that the museum was free admission on the last Sunday of the month! Everybody and their grandma wanted to visit the museum today. Nevertheless the line moved fast and in less than half an hour I was inside the medieval palace that housed the ticket office. They gave me a ticket that was valid for entry after 45 minutes. What?! Oh well, they were staggering the entry time to manage the traffic inside the museum.
Ok so what do I do now for 45 minutes…
I grabbed a croissant and wandered into the book store that was part of the museum building. There were literally thousands of books on Pablo Picasso. Thankfully not many were in English so I could browse through the shelves fairly quickly. There were books about Picasso’s life, his brilliant works of art, his friends and family, his defiance of conventional European art, blue period, rose period, African influence, Cubism, new research about his style, his models, his mistresses, how he distorted the truth, how Einstein impacted his paintings – hold on one second, what did Einstein have anything to do with Picasso? Ok let’s browse the book…page turn, turn, turn some more, ok there it was: the theory of relativity impacted Picasso greatly; he took the dimension of time and played with it in his paintings. So you could see a figure from one side at one point in time but then also from another side at another point in time, multiple perspectives synchronized together - like a child would paint, with no regard for conventions.
He painted like a child! That explains it. No wonder I always thought his paintings were ugly.
Another expert wrote that Picasso painted like how a blind man would paint by feeling an object, rather than by seeing it. Hmmm…I thought to myself, there had to be good reasons why Picasso’s paintings were being sold for more than $100 million a piece by top auction houses. He certainly created a new form of art – a break from convention that transformed the art world.
The iPhone beeped in my pocket. It was the alarm that reminded me that the 45 minute wait was over.
I picked up the audio and hurried to the entrance. This was the first museum dedicated to Picasso and the only one that was opened while he was still alive. Since Picasso spent his early life in Barcelona, he advised his friend and secretary Jaume Sabartes to open this museum in Barcelona, rather than in Malaga, which was the first choice as his birth-place in Spain.
The museum was packed. After all it was a Sunday evening with free admission. I stood motionless looking at the painting called “Science and Charity”. This was an impeccable painting that could easily sit next to a renowned Renaissance painting in the Louvre. Picasso’s prodigious talent had been recognized and awarded for this painting at the age of fifteen!
I was amazed at this contrast. Here was a painter who painted like a grown up when he was a child, and who painted like a child when he was an old man.
Here was a man who was revered for his artistic brilliance, and yet hated for his cruelty towards women. Anthony Hopkins stars in the 1996 movie “Surviving Picasso” that focuses on Picasso's dark side and his morally corrupt romantic life.
Later that evening after a long walk back through the streets of Barcelona, I landed at a restaurant that did not have an English menu and could not even translate for me the traditional Catalan menu. This is exactly what I was looking for. I always wanted to stay away from the touristy restaurants, and go for the authentic ones!
It said “Calcolts a la Brasa de carbon vegetal con romesco” on the menu as an appetizer. I had no idea what it was and the server could not explain to me what it was despite several attempts. Finally he said in his patchy English, that it was "very tasty", he then closed his eyes, lifted his chin in the air and grinned ear to ear. It looked as if he was describing a blissful experience beyond words. I did not need another reason to order.
Twenty minutes later, a strange looking dish arrived on the table. It looked outright hideous - charred roots with soil on them, and a burnt smell of dry leaves. For all practical purposes it looked as though someone had picked up trash from the garbage and served it on a nice white plate.
I was hungry after a long day of standing and walking - I could eat almost anything. But this was not looking edible at all. I looked quizzically at the dish and then glanced worriedly at the server – how am I supposed to eat this thing?!
A few minutes after the server had explained to me how to eat the calcots - I was in food paradise!
It turns out that calcots are a gastronomical delight in Catalonia, Spain. They are a kind of specially developed spring onions with long edible stems. One is supposed to use the hands to remove the charred roots and leaves, split it open for the delicious stem inside, dip it in the Romesco sauce and gobble it down. Ten minutes later my hands were all dirty with soil and I was reeking of onions, but as I smacked my lips and wiped my fingers with a wet tissue, I could not wait for the main course after such an appetizer.
All I needed to do was ignore the physical appearance of the food and focus on its exotic taste. It was one of those dinners that I shall always relish.
In trying to happily appreciate the art of Picasso, I am wondering how much of the ugly façade one should ignore, and how much of the artist's moral corruption one has to ignore. I dare say - ignorance is relish.