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Seeking solace in the spirit of Barcelona

world Updated: Jun 15, 2012 01:07 IST
Indrajit Hazra

If it weren't for the newspapers - I don't read Spanish but I can sense the mood of their headlines - a week-long guided trip to three cities in Spain can give the delusional impression that all is well in Spain.

It's only when I'm sitting on a bench outside in the courtyard of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Autonomous University of Barcelona) that the peseta drops. The UAB is a public university with more than 40,000 students and ranks among the top 200 universities in the world. You can, however, feel a strange sense of approaching tragedy in the air.

Jose Eugenio Salarich has been a career diplomat since 1981 and has served in the permanent mission of Spain to the UN, has been ambassador to Thailand and director general of the International Economic and Energy Affairs.

But he knows that the domestic situation will be growing worse in the coming months and years. Lighting a cigarello, he points at the gaggle of students coming in and out of their classes and, in his gravelly voice, tells me, "Not one of them will find a job in Spain after they graduate. Not one of them. It's very, very sad."

Certainly uncertain

The UAB will be increasing its fees by a whopping 66% because of Spain's crunch in public spending. As a public university, it will still be cheaper than private colleges - and the standard is, by all accounts, higher. Spain's strength lies in innovation and research. Not only is it a global leader in alternative energy, but graduates have been doing cutting edge stuff for years now.

At Barcelona's 22@ District, a project area that has been transforming some 200 hectares of shut-down industrial land into a buzzbox of knowledge-intensive innovation since 2000, Studio DDT is one such honing ground. Studio DDT is the home and office to the world's finest state-of-the-art special effects. Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy was made from the Studio DDT lab. Such workshops of innovation could dwindle with the economic Spanish flu raging. "Which is why we're looking for markets in places like China and India," Salarich says as he crushes his smoke.

A dream made of stone
The gloom of Spain's economic future can be lifted only by standing in front of something sacred. And the stunning glory of the basilica of the Sagrada Familia has to be one of them. To call this rippling, organic structure created by the Catalan genius of an architect Antoni Gaudi a 'building' is like calling a dream a passing thought.

This Unesco World Heritage site was consecrated by the pope in 2010. It isn't even completed yet, with construction work going on even as visitors mill around its stupendous facade and enter its awe-inspiring interiors. Work commenced on the Sagrada Familia in 1882 and it is scheduled to be completed in 2026.

The facade has stone friezes from episodes of the Bible mingling with all kinds of creatures such as lizards, snails and frogs in mid-clamber on the outside walls. From a distance, it looks like a faux-medieval monument combining Gothic and curvy Art Nouveau forms so loved by those fin de siecle artists and sculptors.

But our guide insists that the Sagrada Familia is not a Gothic design. "This has multiple spires! How can a Gothic structure have more than one spire!" she says while I withold my query about whether Gaudi influenced Walt Disney (think Fantasia) in any way.

It's nou and forever
But you can't be in Barcelona and not visit the real living cathedral: Nou Camp, home to the glorious order of saints jointly known as FC Barcelona. When I come out of the underground station of Les Corts, I sense the presence of something not unlike an alien mothership. But along the 10-minute walk to the stadium, I see nothing peculiar - there are snackshops, stores selling Messi t-shirts, until...

It isn't a match day, but as I walk past a driving test track, I see the cathedral looming before me. Like any other pilgrim who is a believer, I have fasted to be here.

The line to the Nou Camp tour - which includes entry to the club museum, the visiting teams' dressing room and a communion with the ground itself - is ridiculously short. I pay my worth-every-rupee 22 euros, and wander like a lost mongrel through the displays, the won tournament cups, the artefacts, video re-runs of Leo Messi's quantum mechanics-driven goals, and the relics of this living religious experience.

And then, I go down and come out into the open facing the world before me that is framed by 98,787 seats and read the lettering in the distance, 'Mes Que Un Club' - More Than A Club. I have this great desire to start sobbing. But instead, I spend some two-and-a-half hours thinking of how insignificant and joyous life can be at the same time when in the comforting arms of Nou Camp, some 6,779 kms from 'home'.