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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Casa Berenguer or Casa Clapes - A Modernist Building with a Textile Past

Casa Berenguer or Casa Clapes, modernist building in Barcelona


Walking along the streets of L'Eixample Baix Esquerra (low left part of the Eixample quarter) I come across this beautiful historical restored house: Casa Berenguer or Casa Clapes, located exactly at 246 Diputacio carrer (street) and right in between two well known downtown busy roads, Rambla Catalunya and Balmes. 

This is the story of Casa Berenguer aka Clapes, yet another good example of Catalan architecture: 

It was the start of a century, times of prosperity, of fortunes amassed thanks to the endeavors of the Catalan bourgeoisie not only in Cuba before the war of independence but in the textile industry, the bulwark of the local economy. Bear in mind that it was in Catalonia where the first textile machinery was imported from Great Britain and its leadership in this sector has remained till today (from the 10 top companies in the Spanish textile market 7 are Catalan). Within this context and in combination with an artistic boom in all aspects of life, probably due to the economic bliss, distinguished families of well-being decided to hire famous architects that embarked in one of the most remarkable urban projects of the moment in Europe. Thanks to that spirit, that capitalist greed transformed into a sudden burst of interest in art, now we can admire everyday, for free, these hallmarks of Barcelona city. 

The story of Casa Berenguer begins with the Berenguer family of course and a lime factory in Altes, region of Bages. The years of dedication of Josep Berenguer Vilarasau in that factory inspired his descendants (from a family of weavers) that after his death in 1895, created a textile society called Nephews of Berenguer. The members of this society, Josep, Casimir and Francesc Clapes Berenguer bought a parcel of land from Sons of Antonio Escubos company. 

It was 1905 and the Berenguers decided to commission brothers Bassegoda i Amigo (Casa Bosch Alsina  1891 - 1892, Casa Rocamora 1914) to build a multi-family house that would hold their society headquarters and some rental apartments. The modernist house was finished in 1908. As an anecdote you should know that one of the brothers, Bonaventura Bassegoda i Amigo was a full professor and director at ETSAB (1922 - 1924), old Escuela Provincial de Arquitectura de Barcelona, founded in 1875 and first one in Catalunya. 

Casa Berenguer was remodeled in 1990 by a private company that offers offices for rent. It was thanks to that meticulous renovation that we enjoy the view in the image above of this unique modernist house included in the Architectural Heritage Catalog of the City of Barcelona. 

When we approach the façade of Casa Clapes, we are attracted like bees to flowers and stand amazed at the entryway, one of those ample porticos mostly prepared for carriages, with the elaborate woodwork by Joan Busquets i Jané, famous furniture maker and decorator (1874 - 1949) in the porter's sentry box and the coffered ceiling illuminated by marvelous lamps profuse in ironwork.

Outside, over the ground level, four floors of beauty rise before us, two of them festooned with an enormous tribune or gallery in which textile scenes abound and an upper one boasting two large balconies over which appears the image of a woman in the act of spinning. 

After sharing with you, Casa Berenguer, one of the many works of our artists it is time to keep walking. Who knows what architectural troves we'll find along the way!




Thursday, January 16, 2020

How Green and Sustainable is Barcelona?





What is Barcelona doing to become greener and sustainable?

After the lack of consensus in many areas during COP25 summit regarding climate change, it is clear that our governments and our citizens still have a long path ahead to mend things up before it is too late to save us from extinction in this planet which by the way will prevail with or without us. So it is quite obvious that every single measure, be it performed by an individual or by the state, counts.

Solving this existential problem is vital and requires every effort. Of course increasing green space in the city, nurturing our natural lungs is not enough if 70 % of the metropolitan area favors cars. 
There is no time for the trees to absorb all that CO2 and it is more practical to cut down on cars than sowing a jungle out there. 

Sometimes, the air in Barcelona is quite good, in some quarters more than others but the yearly average does not meet with recommended measures. It is not that we are one of the most polluted cities in the world, but it is rather stupid to think of the patch of atmosphere above us as an impermeable bubble. We ruin this spot and that will have repercussions all over the globe.

It is necessary that an agreement is reached and that countries stop behaving like kids. Children are often wiser I would say. 

The fact that the car industry is a huge business run by not so scrupulous lobbies, happily sustained by 'greedy' consumers, not too willing to consider the battle to stop pollution as a top priority, does not mean we cannot work on putting some filters in the house in the way of green spaces scattered not only in the surroundings but in the very center of our part of the world, Barcelona in this case.

Barcelona is among the most crowded cities in Europe with a population of 1.636.762 inhabitants in a 101.35 km² surface and so there are a lot of cars. From that huge amount, 570.000 do not carry any label certifying its level of pollution because they simply are highly contaminating vehicles. This is all about to change by decree thanks to local government measures in 2020. Cars like those won't be allowed in the city anymore. 

Besides this important news, there is literally an invasion of personal electric two wheel vehicles and I think things are going to get better. 



But wait a minute, what about the green?! 

25 % of Barcelona is covered or adorned with trees. They tend to last 50 years and there is a sort of 20 year plan, ending in 2037 to improve their quality and quantity. Take the case of plane trees, a traditional species in Barcelona. We keep them because they have been part of our culture for more than a century but they get sick more often and make people sick with their pollen. So not any tree will do. They must resist the new adversities of climate change as well.

Fortunately, we have beautiful green areas in the small hills around and inside Barcelona like Parc del Guinardo (in the pictures), Parc de Montjuic, Collserola Range Natural Park or charming and romantic style Ciutadella Park and Parc del Laberint

Evidently, as we emphasized at the beginning, it is difficult to filter insane proportions of CO2 and other contaminating agents by turning Barcelona into a jungle, and of course not just planting trees
without criteria, that's why we need new plans, plans for the industry and plans for green spaces in a way that we create a balanced urban ecosystem. One of the most outstanding measures regarding the latter is the Greenery and Biodiversity Plan  or the Green-Infrastructure Impetus Plan - Barcelona intends to have an extra 1 m² of greenery per resident by 2030!

Check here for more information on Barcelona environment and sustainability

And on January 15th, 2020 Barcelona has declared a state of climate emergency and a plan of action for the next decade that includes 100 measures and a 563.3 million euros budget. Measures will apply on seven main areas: mobility, urban planning, food, economy, energy, consumption - recycling of waste and culture - education.

These actions add up to a previous strategic plan adopted in 2018 known as the Pla Clima (Barcelona Climate Plan).

As you can see we can work on a better planet for our children. It is yet to be seen whether politicians and social agents, whether we as individuals fulfill our promises.





Tuesday, January 7, 2020

La Vietnamita Sant Antoni: Best Vietnamese Restaurant in Barcelona






Today I want to recommend something different that I am sure Barcelona visitors and of course, many locals would appreciate, Vietnamese cuisine, and what better than choosing a good restaurant in the city that I have tried myself, of course. The place in particular is La Vietnamita Sant Antoni which is part of a group of four restaurants that have been providing quality service for almost a decade to 'exotic' food lovers like us. But before I talk about my favorite Vietnamese let's explain why I go there in the first place.





Why a Vietnamese? Southeast Asian food, that is, Vietnamese or Thai food are delicious options that we often overlook in Barcelona. We tend to choose between Japanese or Chinese all the time (Korean would be the less common choice within the East Asian food group). I am no expert but in my opinion they all share some common traits, like good cousins, sort to say, but have a character of their own that would take hours to describe here. I like the way Japanese handle raw food. I like fried stuff, pork mainly, soy and ginger from the Chinese. Korean Bibimbap. Sweet and spicy flavors and coconut milk in Thai food. In fact, what I enjoy the most is sweet and spicy and I can have that in Vietnamese food plus that little extra touch of herbs like lemongrass, Vietnamese coriander, Vietnamese balm or mint, rice paddy herb, basil, lime leaves...

It is this taste and scent of herbs that captivates my senses, that harmony of natural ingredients that tells me I am enjoying quality, organic, healthy food. This really makes a difference for me and constitutes the main reason I choose Vietnamese cuisine in La Vietnamita Sant Antoni.

Last time I visited, I went with the family, wife and daughter. It is the perfect spot for family groups as there is plenty of room (there is even a playground area for kids). Space, comfort and street-style decoration is the first thing that calls your attention in fact. All four restaurants in the chain have that casual street deli food stall air that goes so well with the idea of homemade healthy cooking, respectful with nature and affordable.

And here is what I recall we ordered this time and will surely make us repeat:

Starters:

The Nem rán fried rolls that take veal, carrot, onion and noodles.





Main course:

1.  Bun Bao Burger with salmon and fried yucca





2.  Noodle crunch with shrimps, vegetables, Vietnamese herbs, coconut powder, nuts and Nuoc Cham fish sauce.


3.  Red curry with coconut milk, mesclun salad, jasmine rice, chicken and peanuts (curries are fantastic!)




Desserts:

Che chuoi of tapioca pearls, coconut milk and banana. Yummy, yummy!






And last but not least, the refreshing Vietnamese lemonades or the exotic cocktails in the Mixology section. 

I wouldn't want to finish without stressing that general state of well-being that accompanies you and your stomach when you include such fresh and environment respectful foods in your sustainable diet. It is time to start the year with new commitments and why not including good old wise Vietnamese cuisine to clean the path.







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