Synopses & Reviews
Robert Hughes has been going to Barcelona regularly since the 1960s and was married in its Gothic city hall last year. Although in his new book Hughes is compelling and engaging in describing Barcelona's remarkable culture and history, his first subject is his 40-year love affair with the city. Thus it is a much more personal book than his earlier Barcelona. Since publication of that book in 1992, Barcelona has become one of the most vibrant and popular cities in Europe; Hughes describes the pre- and post-Olympics reconstruction that sparked the tremendous revival.Hughes begins the book with the decision to marry in Barcelona, "Where to get hitched? It ought not to be in Manhattan, where I lived. Neither Doris nor I is a particularly social animal. Neither of us wanted a fearsomely expensive wedding, and in my post-divorce financial blues almost anything from a New York caterer beyond a sausage on a stick and a can of beer seemed extravagant¨.But there was a solution. It was Barcelona. Doris didn't have strong feelings about Barcelona-not yet-but I most emphatically did. I had been going there at intervals, to work and to disport myself, for more than 30 years. I had written a biography of the city, some ten years before: not a travel guide nor really a formal history, but something like an attempt to evoke the genius loci of this great queen city of Catalunya-and to tell the story of its development through its formidably rich deposit of buildings and artworks." Hughes goes on to describe the wedding, "Not only in Barcelona, but in the Town Hall¨and by Joan, in his capacity as alcalde [mayor]. And not only by him and in the adjutament, but in its most splendid and history-laden ceremonial room, the Salo de Cent," and the party that followed in an ancient farmhouse. "I thought about a lot of things during that party, though with increasing muzziness as the evening lengthened. Mainly about Doris, about happiness, and about the very circuitous route which had led both of us to Barcelona. When I first spent a mildly riotous and sentimental evening at Xavier's [farmhouse], it was easier to imagine being dead than being over 60, and I had no more idea of Barcelona than I did of Atlantis. But if my grasp of Barcelona 40 years ago was lame and slight, so was that of most Europeans and Americans. Not just slight-embarrassingly so. The 1500 years of the city's existence had produced only five names that came readily to mind. There was Gaudi, of course, and the century's greatest cellist, Pablo Casals. There were the painters Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso." Thus begins Hughes's lively and engrossing account of the history, the art, and especially the architecture of "La gran encisera," the name Catalonia's great 19th-century poet, Maragall, gave to his native city-"the great enchantress." He tells how at the end of the 14th century-when Madrid was hardly more than a cluster of huts-Barcelona commanded a trading empire as wide as the Mediterranean. Barcelona was always what a recent mayor called "the north of the south," the part of Spain closest in contact with Europe, technologically advanced, proactive in trade, passionately democratic. Its wealth made it one of the great Gothic cities, filled with architectural treasures of the 13th-15th centuries. Its language, Catalan, was the medium of an enormously vital literature. Crushed and colonized by the Bourbons in Madrid in the 19th century, Barcelona nevertheless entered a period of prodigious industrial and architectural growth (rebuilt by, among others, the genius Gaudi). Repressed by Franco, who hated the Catalans, it has blossomed anew since 1975 and especially in the last decade.At the end of the book Hughes and his wife return to Barcelona for a one-person exhibit of her watercolors. "Once again I was off to my favorite city in Europe, or the world. For the twentieth time? The thirtieth? Long ago, I lost count. You are lucky if not too late in life, you discover a second city other than your place of birth which becomes a true home town¨Some forty years ago I had that marvelous stroke of luck: Barcelona."
"In this pared-down version of his acclaimed Barcelona (1992), art critic Hughes traces Barcelona's progress from a burgeoning port city to the booming Catalan capital that roughly 1.5 million people call home today. Hughes's portrait chronologically flutters from one century to another, shedding light on the city's cryptic history in a way very few non-Catalans can. Hughes treats the city as if it's his own, and his critiques are justified and insightful, drawing on personal anecdotes, excerpts of Catalan manuscripts and anti-Castilian decrees. It's not the details of cataclysmic events like the plague of 1348 or the bitter suffocation forced upon Cataluña by Franco that make Hughes's book worthwhile, but rather the accounts of small events that transformed 'one enormous ashtray, covered in a mantle of grime and grit' into what is now an affable, colorful, modern hub. The author poetically weaves politics, food, architecture, sport, myths and music into a striking depiction of the great Catalan seaport. 8 b&w photos, 1 map." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Robert Hughes has been going to Barcelona regularly since the 1960s and was married in its Gothic city hall last year. Although in his new book Hughes is compelling and engaging in describing Barcelona's remarkable culture and history, his first subject is his 40-year love affair with the city. Thus it is a much more personal book than his earlier Barcelona.
"You are lucky," writes Robert Hughes, "if you discover a second city other than your place of birth which becomes a true home town....Some forty years ago, I had that marvelous stroke of luck: Barcelona." And now, a dozen years after his classic, bestselling chronicle Barcelona
, his good fortune is ours as well, distilled into this personal, affectionate, fascinating portrait of the Catalan capital. Here is Hughes's own history with the city from his first visit in 1966 to his recent wedding in the history-laden Town Hall interwoven with Barcelona's history, from its origins as a Roman outpost through two millennia of fiercely independent culture to its modern incarnation as one of Europe's most dynamic cities.
We meet such emblematic Barcelonans as the legendary ninth-century warrior-king Wilfred the Hairy, who first forged Catalan unity and independence...the visionary engineer Narcis Monturiol, whose late nineteenth-century submarine became a symbol of a resurgent, modern metropolis...the eccentric genius Antoni Gaudi, whose fantastical designs are the crown jewels of a heritage that spans a thousand years and has helped make architecture the city's premier art form. Indeed, architecture is as much at the heart of this book as of the city itself, and Hughes leads us through the three building waves with a connoisseur's admiration and the authority of one of the world's foremost art critics.
A paean to the city to which he has given his heart, Barcelona the Great Enchantress is Robert Hughes at his witty, passionate, and tartly opinionated best.
A decade after the publication of his bestselling chronicle "Barcelona," thisrenowned author and art critic revisits Barcelona and reconsiders the historyand culture of this fascinating and unique city.
About the Author
Robert Hughes has been an art critic for Time magazine since 1970. He is the author of many books, including the bestselling Fatal Shore, as well as the originator and narrator of the highly acclaimed PBS television series The Shock of the New, American Visions, and Australia: Beyond the Fatal Shore. A frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, Hughes lives in New York City.