Barcelona at its best is what we all aspire to be. Poised, confident and assured. Stylish – often a glib word – but I mean a real sense of style. Being open to organic and unconventional shapes but not giving into the peculiar or bizarre. Style without the lawlessness of flamboyance and restrained but without being constrained or pretentious. Beautiful buildings right up to (but never over) the top. Barcelona knows how to go out in style. It knows how to win big. But it also knows how to work hard.
The people of Catalonia, like Scotland, have faced much hardship and adversity. Both have spent the last 300 years in complex unions with dominant neighbours that often misunderstand them. But in the face of this challenge there has been much success and invention. It is often in feelings of powerlessness that we grow into our capabilities. Life is painful and pain is formative. That doesn’t make the pain good or reasonable or just or excusable. But in the mix of beauty and triumph there is also chaos and failure. It’s the pattern in human life as much as in nature that out of destruction and loss new things can happen and grow. We bond under duress. A cast after a bad performance, a team after a decisive defeat. This doesn’t make these lows ‘worth it.’ But let’s not close the door on what is redeemable. We can ask why there is pain or we can ask what to do with the pain. Both are necessary, we need to do some soul searching, but it strikes me that whether or not there should be, there is pain and the more pressing question is what to do. What can we make with ashes, fragments, shards? There’s so much to consider, to take on board, to throw overboard, so much…
We’ve only got five senses right?
Well wrong. Apparently we have way more including balance etc but you take my point. We’re only here. The internet gives us the illusion of being everywhere at once but really we can only ever be
We’ve only got this soup of water and air as our toes cling to the croutons. We cannot step out of reality, we can’t step out of the framework. We’re all in the same boat, brothers and sisters, Catalan or Scots, it’s comin yet for a’ that, that man to man, the world o’er, shall brithers and sisters be for a’ that. We all just have to try and keep our balance somehow. True balance is effortless and everything up to that point is huge effort. It’s like flying buttresses. In order to create the classic A frame arch huge buttresses must support it. Gaudi thought about this and the alternative he developed in the 20s (proved right by computers in the 80s) is that gravity should do the work for us. To work out the curved shape of his domes, sans supports, he would hang a chain and invert the shape to create a natural balance shape where the weight is distributed evenly.
To get to the bottom of it he had to things upside down.
Like cathedrals we often find ourselves pulled in different directions. We Scots and Catalans have been tested in these fires many times as we have tried to forge a way forward. In 2014 both countries will be looking for the best balance to strike. Whatever the outcome, we will continue to strive and thrive. We have done so in very difficult circumstances and will continue to do so as we try to lay down the groundwork of new circumstances. I am reminded of Alasdair Gray, ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’ That means hope triumphing over adversity, living into the expectation of who we can be not just the limitations of who we have been. It means facing up to success and facing up to setbacks.
Barcelona with its vivid style and tastes, shapes and colours, moving from measured to immeasurable, is like you on a good day – confident, poised, in the sweet spot. But more importantly Barcelona with all its unexpected rewards around each corner is like you on a bad day. Defiant, arms outstretched, eyes wide open.