Barcelona, it was the first time that we met. Barcelona, how can I forget?
It’s the mix of the classic with the modern that gives Barcelona its flavour. The same way the operatic melodies of Montserrat Caballe combine with the stylised pop of Freddie Mercury’s voice in their song ‘Barcelona’.
I don’t know why I think about this song when I think of Barcelona now. It’s been weeks since I was there and I have only discovered the duet since then, as I did research into a city that I feel calling me back. Perhaps the song is part of that: siren-like, it’s more like the city than it ever meant to be.
Montserrat Caballe, the opera singer and Barcelona local, asked Freddie Mercury to help her write an ode to the city in preparation for the 1992 Olympic Games. She was supposed to be the guide, the local expert with the guiding hand. Instead, it was the excited foreigner who takes control and directs the action.
Her warbling, so controlled and so perfect, contains the restrained pleasure of a Spaniard who knows how much joy there is in Barcelona. His almost-shouting is like an excited child who has just discovered it for the first time.
“Such a beautiful horizon, like a jewel in the sun”, Mercury sings. In Spanish, she acknowledges that the charms of the city will be revealed and all are welcome. “Ring the bells”, her harmonious words can be translated. “Open your doors to the world.”
It works, though. His enthusiasm is complemented by her grace without either tempering the other. And it’s this consummation of the two which captures the city for which the song was recorded.
Barcelona’s new and old
Take Antoni Gaudi, for instance. He may have been born in the region but his flamboyant architecture was as foreign as any British singer. It was embraced by Barcelona and by one of the most traditional organisations in the world – the Catholic Church. This was not just the new and the old… this was modernism and tradition and a pairing that defines the city today.
The doors of Barcelona have well and truly been opened to the world. It is the fourth most-visited city in Europe and the sixteenth in the world. The Olympics did their job and there is no need to ring the bells anymore. As an example: the Port Vell, the waterfront harbour entertainment district, went from a rundown industrial area before the games to a magnet for more than 16 million visitors last year.
But the modern complex on the shores of Barcelona sits just metres from the historic quarters of the city, with their small winding alleys leading pedestrians in circles to squares built upon the houses of the holy cross. On the steps of the King’s Square (Placa del Rei) it is said that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella welcomed back Christopher Columbus from his discovery of the New World.
Little did the citizens of Barcelona know how, 500 years later, people would be leaving this square to return home and regale others of their worldly discoveries. Little did they know that the welcoming bosom of an opera singer would be used by a blogger as a metaphor for a classical European comfort unweathered by the New World which had just been found.
Returning to the song and to Freddie Mercury. In one line he sings the sentiments of most who visit Barcelona. I know he speaks for me. “And if God willing, we will meet again someday.”
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of accommodation website HouseTrip but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
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