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  • Friday, July 31

    Cafe Babel: The Secret Charm of Small Barri Gotic Cafes

    Cafe Babel - Barri Gotic [enlarge]

    The narrow alleys of Barri Gotic in Barcelona's casc antic (old quarter) are studded with small bistros that have this sort of deceptive ramshackle appearance. Many of these, are rather mimetic and seem to come out of a lethargic dream when the last rays of the sun slowly disappear at the top of the weathered façades. An enthusiastic clientele of loyals and the usual newbies fluttering from place to place, storm the place to start over the life cycle of bohemian deja-vus. A good idea to attract the prey for the night kill is to use some flashy lure and that is where art comes alive. A nice painting on the metal rolling door sometimes can help the house keep a certain cultural aura that is well appreciated by customers and inadvertently contributes to the atmosphere of an otherwise dull street. Notice this pumping heart at Cafe Babel where all different bloods blend and gush out into one single stream probably an allusion to the famous biblical tower and the notion of a united humanity, speaking a single language. It is a very small place, with just a few tables but artistically decorated. To the sound of Nu Jazz you can enjoy a good menu or a nice drink (they even have absenta) either inside or at the quiet terrace across the street in the middle of Placa dels Traginers just below the remnants of the old city wall: check Plaça del Traginers - A Very Romantic Place an article by Sonia Martinez Argüelo at Barcelona Spotted by Locals which features a picture of Cafe Babel's terrace.

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    Wednesday, July 29

    One-Week-Old Yorkshire Terrier Puppy

    One-Week-Old Yorkshire Terrier Puppy [enlarge]

    Some pet photographs well deserve some space in this blog. Granted that dogs are a very well trodden subject when it comes to photography but of course, depending on how they look. I guess puppies are beautiful enough to be portrayed with some decent results so here it goes: a one-week-old Yorkshire Terrier puppy I photographed this weekend for my neighbors who seemed to be very happy with the newborn babies, four beautiful black puppies. The hair comes further on so now they could be easily mistaken for other breeds. If you don't believe me notice the mother's hair on the top right corner of the picture.

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    Monday, July 27

    A Mexican Hat, Black and White and Musings About the Past

    Tourist wearing Mexican hat in Barcelona [enlarge]

    In the streets the most absurd, the most trivial situation may be frozen up and become a scene in your imagination and eventually end up more or less fortunately imprinted forever on a photograph. Some of those scenes acquire more meaning or are better off in black and white or sepia. I don't know why is that so. Have you ever wondered why the lack of other colors turns a photograph into something more artistic, more symbolic, more serious perhaps? And wondering about that, why is it that after ten or twenty years, that significance grows exponentially. For example, I am somehow sure that this modest snapshot of a random guy showing off his brand new Mexican hat along the Rambla de Mar bridge near Maremagnum center, looks better in black and white but I am convinced that twenty years from now (not that it is meant to turn into a famous picture) this trifle, brief moment in time, will evolve into something more artistic, into a sort of message from the past, talking about other times, other people at least to me and my family. It is evident that black and white gives value to images because in our imagination we associate faded, blurry, noisy, black and white images with the past. And curiously enough, although recent generations have been surrounded by color photographs there is something there in the back of our minds that makes the association persist. Maybe it is something about chromatism, dreams, the subconscious mind...who knows. Here is a link to a previous version of someone else wearing a Mexican hat but this time in color: Mexican Hats in Barcelona.

    Picture Location on Google Map

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    Thursday, July 23

    Sweet Shapes

    Sweet Shapes [enlarge]

    An assorted sample of sweets, candies, gummies or gominolas you can buy, in this case, at La Boqueria market. If you feel like watching other similar shots check the new Linkwithin widget under each post or these previous photographs: Gummy Candy, Sugary Candy Treats, Green Jelly Candy.

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    Monday, July 20

    Sant Pau Hospital: A Touch of Fresh Air in Architecture

    Art Nouveau ventilation turret in Sant Pau hospital [enlarge]

    If you want to see a good sample of Catalan art nouveau take a walk inside Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau. I have mentioned this jewel of modernist architecture before in many posts. I just want you to stop and take a look at the details. There are some small ventilation towers or art nouveau chimney stacks that do deserve some of your time. Adorned in a very similar way to nearby cupolas with overlapped fish scale-like tiles they carry some extra decoration that makes them stand out from the rest of motifs on the roof and part of the façade. Notice the use of tiny gargoyles to deviate water from the duct and bigger yellow tiles to embellish the box where the vents are. I particularly like those two stars which give it this sort of bizarre look. These turrets were made just for ventilation purposes because the heating, water, gas and electricity services are installed in the open. Domenech i Montaner, the architect behind these magnificent buildings, made emphasis on the human factor, on the well being of patients so fresh air, obtained thanks to this innovative system of natural ventilation, was a priority within the isolated, one-storey pavilions surrounded by gardens. In fact, pavilions are connected by underground corridors to transport patients and for some medical services thus keeping the atmosphere on the surface much cleaner and less noisy.

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    Thursday, July 16

    Coca de Recapte, Bring Up Your Best Ingredients

    Catalan Cocas [enlarge]

    For a better understanding of what a Catalan coca is it is inevitable to mention pizzas. They are similar in appearance but each of them are good their own way. There is nothing like a home made, wood-fired oven baked Italian pizza, but, believe me, Catalan cocas elaborated in small towns by our grammas are delicious. The principle is the same, a flour-made base, crispy or soft, thick or slim, that accepts an incredible amount of toppings (open coca). They tend to carry less fat cause cheese is not present in all of them although some ingredients are not considered to be healthy food. What I mean is that it may be slightly healthier than pizza in some cases but being careful with the topping and the butter or lard in the dough. Wholemeal flour could be a solution. Let's face it, forget about your diet if you try them. As it happens with pizzas, some combinations of ingredients are more familiar and are accepted by many. Cocas can be open, closed, with a hole or just plain. They can be salty or sweet like the ones we have by Sant Joan celebrations. I've heard of sweet pizzas but I don't think they are as extended, except for the nutella pizza. Besides St. John's cocas the most common is what is known as coca de recapte which consists of botifarra (sausage), herring, olives and escalivada (roasted aubergines, onions, red peppers and tomatoes on hot coals). There are variations of these ingredients since the word recapte (Cat. recaptar or Sp. recaudar) refers to an old tradition that consisted in going house to house collecting whatever suitable edible ingredient you could think of to add to the cocas to be baked in the only wood-fired oven in town. So it is not strange that now herring is substituted by tuna or sardines. I suppose there was a point in which the recipe went wild and new cocas started to appear by the dozen. This one in the picture is what is known as, guess...Coca de Anchoas. There are many other types that I may cover some other day with a different picture. Take note of it then, when in Catalonia, do as Catalans do, have some coca de recapte.

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    Sunday, July 12

    La Escala Anchovies: A Genuine Catalan Product vs The Competition

    L'Escala Anchovies Displayed on Market Stall [enlarge]

    There are plenty of brands selling bottled or canned anchovies. A good anchovy should not be too salty or dry and they are better in plain olive oil although the ones that come salted make better fillets once gutted and cleaned. I am no expert but as a good consumer I can tell by the taste and sometimes by the look. In fact I used to sell anchovies for a small company catering bars. I had to distribute small plastic containers full of fillets. I remember they were sold as L'Escala anchovies (Cat. anxoves). To tell you the truth they were not too genuine. Our anchovies (L'Escala is a fishermen town in Costa Brava), have a great rival: Cantabric anchoas or boquerones. You can tell the difference sometimes by the color or the degree of dryness but mainly by the taste due to curing differences. As it happens with all good brands it is difficult to come across the authentic product. They must carry the original label and preferably some small tag inside the can or bottle. I have had the opportunity to try them both and I can assure you they really mark the difference compared to other anchovies (Palamos anchovies are a great option). Personally I prefer Cantabric anchovies but of course that might be considered as some kind of "treason" since they are not Catalan. I think that food is food and knows no boundaries. Some local-product defenders go crazy for Jabugo ham or Burgos morcilla (Black pudding) and that does not seem to tarnish their unpolluted image. Well, I do like both but I like the Cantabric ones better. The species is the same though: engraulis encrasicolus or European anchovy, the difference lies in the habitat which is more appropriate up north according to experts. I won't talk more about the competition. L'Escala has been engaged in the process of curing anchovies since 1940. It is more home-made, less industrialized, applying salt curing techniques inherited from the Greek (the ruins of Empuries nearby are good proof). Due to the low amount of this fish to the north of Spain, captures have been temporarily banned by the government so Mediterranean anchovies are being more demanded than ever. I don't want to bother you with stats or details. My point today is to show you how the label on the bottle looked so you can spot the good ones, to remind you that these two regions lead the market here and finally to emphasize that the anchovies you can buy in other countries, specially in America are not by any chance all the good they are supposed to be (more recently they can be bought on gourmet stores or online) so when you visit Spain buy yourself some good bottle of anchovies, oil-packed or salt-packed (they are not that expensive!), and don't miss the opportunity to treat yourself with exquisite new flavors. Oh, I almost forgot, help yourself with some pa amb tomaquet, some Manchego, Cabrales or Valdeon blue cheese and a good bottle of Albarino or Rueda wine. An even better idea is to go and visit El Xampanyet, on Carrer Montcada 22, one of the best places in Barcelona to try good anchovies among other tapas. But that is part of a different story...

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    Friday, July 10

    Snake Eagle at Cim d'Aligues

    Snake Eagle's Detail [enlarge]

    In order to foster the animal lover in you even though you arrived in here searching for Barcelona photos, I want to show you this nice specimen I was able to capture with my camera at Cim dels Aligues (Eagles' Peak): A Snake Eagle. I hope I am not in a mistake as to identifying the animal. Nevertheless, bird watchers or zoologists could help me with taxonomy here.

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    Sunday, July 5

    Maori Lady Dancing at Port Aventura

    Maori Girl Dances at Port Aventura [enlarge]

    A maori girl dancing under the sun at Port Aventura amusement park, her dress flashing with colors and her hands waving gently at the sound of traditional music. I have always wondered how they manage to have such wonderful looking skin all year long considering they are living in Catalonia. It must be something in their genes I guess. Anyway, if you visit the park don't miss their show, it is a must-see.

    Update and correction: Thanks to the kind observation by Amy of Maungaturoto Daily Photo, New Zealand, the lady is definitely a Polinesian dancer. In fact, if I am not in a mistake this show was called Aloha Tahiti and the whole theme area of the park is called Polinesia! Either I have to quit on booze or take a good rest and stop writing my posts so late at night. The only explanation I can find to this terrible mistake is that the dance, specially the men's dance looks very similar to a maori dance at least to the European eye. As my intention is to inform and not to misinform I am happy someone like Amy helped me with this one.

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    Friday, July 3

    Cafe Zurich - Lamps

    Lamps at Zurich Cafe, Barcelona, Spain [enlarge]

    Decoration snapshots are not too frequent in my catalog but I take it that many are interested in other aspects of Barcelona like is the case of interior decoration. Don't ask me why I took a picture of these lamps, maybe it was the place and its name. If you are in the city you can see them too at Cafe Zurich, located just in front of La Rambla and Catalonia Square. Here is an outdoor picture published recently: Cafe Zurich - Terrace. I asked my daughter if she liked the photograph, she said that not much, specially showing that guy on the mirror. I love it when my 12-year-old gets that honest and gives me bad reviews, it really helps keeping my feet on the ground and being less stuck-up.

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    Wednesday, July 1

    Las Ramblas Buggy Rides

    Las Ramblas Horse Rides [enlarge]

    It might look kind of anachronic to ride along Las Ramblas of Barcelona on one of those horse-drawn carriages (buggies in this case) something which is very common in cities like Seville for example, I mean it must be difficult to circulate considering there is still a dense traffic in spite of official bans to regulate it. Not that horses look out of place, in fact they were always here when this street was young, a long, long time ago, but aside from the platane trees that adorn the famous promenade the rest seems to go against the pleasant effect the ride's supposed to trigger. I am not saying that they should stop the service, on the contrary, I'd prefer that Las Ramblas got rid of cars and everything looked the way it must have been in the early 20s of last century.

    Information about La Rambla buggies:

    Departures from the Portal de la Pau at the end of the Ramblas, near Columbus monument

    Mon-Sun and holidays: from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

    Length of time of the route: 30 minutes or 1 hour

    Information and reservations:
    Tel.: 93 421 15 49
    Fax: 93 421 88 04

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