Wednesday Wander – Casa Batllo, Barcelona

I know, I know. You thought I was going to continue with my epic trip from last month. And, I am, definitely. There’s still so much to see in New York, from Rockefeller Plaza to the Chrysler building, Central Park to the Art Deco architecture of Fifth Avenue. Plus all the other places we visited…

But this week my mind has wandered to Barcelona, and an architectural masterpiece by one of my favourite architects, Antoni Gaudi.

I was last in Barcelona a couple of years ago. The weather was lovely while we were there, not too hot and perfect for walking around the city, which we did every day. I made sure to go and see as much of Gaudi’s work as I could, as I’d missed some on my previous visit, so we took the train up to Parc Guell, marvelled at the twisted spires of Sagrada Familia, and pondered the construction complexities of Casa Mila.

Not far from Casa Mila, on the Passeig de Gracia, is Casa Batllo or, as the locals call it, Casa Del Ossos, the house of bones. Looking at the extraordinarily intricate facade, one can see why – vaguely skeletal pillars hold curving window frames, while balconies look like the skulls of some strange sea creature, dried out in the sun.

Gaudi worked with colour and fantastical form, and I think this house is probably one of the best examples of his particular genius. The humped roof with scaled tiles was designed to evoke the idea of a dragon, with scaled tiles and a knobbly spine. There is a theory that the turret signifies the lance of St George, the patron saint of Catalonia, plunged into the back of the dragon.

The house was created in 1904 for the Batllo family, who commissioned Gaudi to design and build a new home for them. However, Gaudi convinced them that the existing building on the site, built in 1877, could simply be renovated instead. The Batllo family lived there until the 1950s, when the house was purchased by an insurance company and used as offices. It has since been renovated and restored, and is now open to the public (through ticket purchase) for tours and private event hire.

It was a thrill for me to see the house – what a joy it must have been to live there, in this wonderful ornate city where even the pavements are etched with flowers. Barcelona is one of my favourite places, and the art and architecture are a big part of the reason why.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next week, when we head back to America again…


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Maiden Mother Crone, Part 7 – The Dance

It was Sunday morning, and it was raining again. But I breakfasted with friends, warmth and laughter a pleasant way to begin the day. Outside, a raven wandered along the wooden fence – one of our group remarked on him, as he was quite unusually large. ‘He was there yesterday, as well,’ I said. Sue had mentioned to me the day before, as we stood in Midmar circle, that it was the time of the Raven, so it seemed appropriate to see him waiting there.

After breakfast we met the rest of the group at the usual place, before splitting into smaller groups to head to the first of three planned sites for the day. Aftera short drive we pulled up on a road running alongside a petrol station, brambles and bushes tangled along the verge, and what looked like a bit of a wasteland on the other side. Yet, that was our destination

This unprepossessing piece of ground was actually once a place of some significance. As we took the narrow path through tall weeds the land seemed to rise around us, cradling us in a bowl. The long grass hid shapes that revealed themselves as we came closer, a circular henge surrounding three standing stones our destination.

Another carved Pictish stone, the Broomend of Crichie, awaited us and, as we entered the henge, once again soft drizzle began to fall. The modern world seemed to fall away and, as the ancient site was described by our guide, it seemed to come to life around us. The long avenue once featured 12 pairs of stones – though only one stone remained, it was in situ, unlike the three stones in the circle. There have been excavations done on the site, but more work is yet to be done to fully understand this place.

But we had to keep moving. It was the final day of the weekend, the companions all had places to get to before the end of the day, and there were still two more sites to visit. So we headed into the countryside once more, our next destination the Loanhead of Daviot, another recumbent stone circle.

As we walked the pathway to the stone circle my gaze was drawn to the left, to a rise in the woods where I could see a couple of large stones, and I stopped to take a photograph. A tree up ahead seemed to hold the shape of a dragon, and the land itself felt full of wonder.

The trees opened out and we found ourselves on the side of a slope, almost at the summit but not quite, as we had seen with the other recumbent circles we’d visited. This circle was complete, and quite large – over twenty metres in diameter, the huge recumbent stone flanked by two taller stones.

The remains of a circular burial cairn lay next to the circle. Excavation in 1934 found burials with Iron Age & Beaker pottery, while subsequent work uncovered flint scrapers and a Bronze Age sword mould, showing the site was in use for many centuries.

‘Well, this doesn’t feel right. The bits in the middle.’

‘They seem more modern, maybe they were done later’

I was having this conversation with one of the companions, both of us bemused by the large jumble of stones spread across the centre of what was otherwise a perfectly lovely stone circle. There was none of the turmoil of Cullerlie here, but the stones were rough and difficult to walk on, not exactly conducive to ritual. It didn’t feel uncomfortable, it just felt… out of place. As we spoke, we heard our guide explain that the Victorians had moved the stones from the nearby cairn to spread across the centre of the circle, because they thought that was how it should be.

Why they haven’t been moved back I don’t know. I guess it will remain a mystery.

We stayed at the circle for a while, the usual rain appearing to soak us. By now it was expected, and we simply put up our hoods and got on with it. Our guide pointed across the small valley to the slope opposite, asking us what we could see. And there it was, another recumbent with two flanking stones, all that remained of another circle, the rest of it lost to time. Clearly, to the people who worked this landscape, the circles were deeply significant and important enough to make in multiples – it’s a shame that we don’t really know why.

One of the group had stopped on their way in to talk to an older man working on the site, and he had told him a story of a ghost, a woman in a green dress, said to dance in the circle at night. The area was used by Scouts and the story was told to scare them – we found it intriguing, in light of what we’d learned about the circles and their uses.

The stones cannot stop the dance…

I heard this very clearly, afterwards, the words strong in my mind, beautiful with their sense of freedom, their message reaching beyond the circle, a smile in the voice saying them. Whether it was the influence of the charming storyteller, or something else, I’m not sure. But it felt as though someone linked their arm with mine, wanting me to come with them.

Come with me, I would show you something. In the woods…

I went to the trees, a wire fence stopping me from entering the woods proper. But I think I could see what they were trying to show me. A small ridge, stones piled there, the same spot that had caught my attention as we’d entered the site. I took another photograph, because it felt like the right thing to do.

It was time to go, so we bade the place farewell. One more site to visit before the weekend was out…

This is my account of a recent weekend away with The Silent Eye. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Singapore

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We visited Singapore just after Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon, so there were dragons everywhere. This seemed an auspicious start to our journey, heading towards the UK and a new life there.

The architecture was a mix of traditional and new, some buildings, like the one below, defying imagination. Those dots along the top are palm trees, to give you some idea of the size.

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Soon after we arrived in the UK, I started writing for myself. One of my first short stories was a letter I wrote, a submission to a magazine that published only letters based on a theme. I can’t even remember what the theme was now, but my letter was rejected anyway – the first of many. Still, I think it evokes how Singapore felt to me, and so here it is:

To M,                                                                                                                               Singapore, July

So here I am, a million miles away from home and you and all that is precious in my world. I have only this one page left, so will use it to try and convey to you some of what I am experiencing.

The light around me is bright and hot, reflecting from sand and sea and glass and white stone, shimmering in waves from pavements, sparking off ice cubes clinking in tall glasses. By contrast the jungle lies hot and dark, signs warning against entering – I do not speak the language, but the silhouette holding the gun is enough for me to know I should not set foot  there, no matter how much I may wish to. So instead I sit here, under my awning, most of what I own in the bag at my feet. The lime in my drink is cool and refreshing, the sizzling fizz against my lips and throat just what is needed in the oppressive heat. People pass by, shopping bags filling their hands, chattering, laughing, all colours of skin and tones of voice, the scent of clove cigarettes all around me. Last night I went to the zoo and watched rippling dancers breathe fire into the sultry air, while tigers prowled and elephants slept under the cold stars.

So, if you have not ripped this letter into small shreds by now, you may wish to know why I did what I did. I cannot exactly say, but I needed to come here, to divest myself of all that I know – the dark and grimy streets, my job, my possessions – they all seem meaningless now.

Except for you.

Coming here, being burnt by this light, has seared away all except that one thing. I know now what I want and that is a light I can hardly bear, one moment embracing it, the next feeling it burn me to the core.

I will come back to you, if you will have me.

Until then,

C

Ideas can take you by surprise...

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!

Pictures In The Clouds

It’s a blustery, blowy sort of day here, grey clouds scudding across a silvery sky. Rain is expected later, though I’d much prefer snow. It’s the kind of day when treetops swirl and clouds create shapes, leaves and litter dancing along damp pavements. Much like another winter day, when I saw a dragon in the sky…

This is the post I wrote at the time. Wonder what I’ll see in the clouds today?

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The other week I saw a dragon in the sky.

Outstretched wings, a long curving neck, all gleaming golden beauty.

‘Do I need to build a windlance?’ I thought.

And then, as I struggled with cold fingers to get my phone unlocked, the dragon drifted and changed, the sky taking him away.

But I think, perhaps, I caught him. No black arrow required.

🙂

Also, has anyone else had trouble with WordPress comments? I tried to comment on a few blogs last night, but the comments stubbornly refused to appear when I pressed ‘Post Comment.’ Haven’t tried yet today, so I hope it’s fixed.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

A Portent

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The other week I saw a dragon in the sky.

Outstretched wings, a long curving neck, all gleaming golden beauty.

‘Do I need to build a windlance?’ I thought.

And then, as I struggled with cold fingers to get my phone unlocked, the dragon drifted and changed, the sky taking him away.

But I think, perhaps, I caught him. No black arrow required.

🙂