Amid the hustle and bustle of La Rambla, find a quiet refuge among some of the city’s famous residents at La Virreina Centre de la Imatge. Afterwards, treat your eyes to free photo exhibitions upstairs.
Everybody knows about La Rambla. Tourists, residents, pickpockets—it goes without saying that no one is unaware of its varied appeals. Street performers pretending to be flower-pots, football stars and ancient queens, and fragrant flower stands interspersed with stalls selling silly nick-nacks made in China lead the way to perennial Barcelona favourites such as the Boqueria Market, or the Columbus statue that welcomes locals and foreigners alike to city’s busy port, although something tells me it welcomes foreigners in much larger quantities.
But less people know about the home of the gegants, or giants. Hidden along the avenue, away from the seething crowds, Barcelona’s city giants Jaume I and Violant of Hungary, are trapped behind shining sheets of glass. Here, on the ground floor of the Palau de la Virreina in a deeply shadowed corner, they keep company with the masked Carnestoltes carnival giant, Barcelona’s eagle, and the city’s child-like co-patron saint, La Laia, remembering years past. Not so many years ago, they may have been forced to parade about town and dance among the screaming, celebrating masses, before being forced back into hiding for safekeeping, but at least they were allowed to leave the premises. But in 1992, clones were created to take their royal highnesses’ rightful places in city festivities and have been mixing with the common folk on high holy days ever since.
Violant stands tall and dignified but avoids eye contact with a mere peasant like myself, staring stormily at the wall behind my head. Jaume is inexpressive at best and Barcelona’s eagle is obviously grumpy because of the impossibility of winging his way through sunny skies anytime in the near future. Poor gegants, ever denied the low-key paseos de domingo and freedom that I so enjoy.
I shrug and assume my preferred perch on a cold stone bench, always convenient for huddling into a corner and superimposing your thoughts and feelings on unsuspecting giants in their not-so-natural habitat.
Carnestoltes, the masked buffoon, smirks condescendingly at me. He may be scatterbrained and ridiculed, but at least he’s the king of something. Only Laia smiles sincerely, if rather absently, unaware that I covet the fabric of her crimson cape for a wrap.
After some time spent contemplating the giants and their rather limited lifestyle, there’s always the option of climbing the stairs, wandering the halls of an 18th-century palace and scoping out what’s on exhibition, as what was once a nobleman’s not-so-humble abode is now a Centre de la Imatge, dedicated to free photo exhibitions.
Until the end of September the exhibit is Número tres. De la casa a la fábrica. Obras del Centre national des arts plastiques (Francia), or, in English, Number Three. From Home to the Factory. Works from the Centre National Des Arts Plastiques, France.
The exhibit showcases compelling images with one objective: to make the observer rethink the fusion and separation between home and factory (as previously explored in Jean-Luc Godard’s experimental, Marxist-leaning film Numéro deux). All in all, an interesting subject to explore in a former palace, don’t you think?
On the way out, I steal a last glance at the Gegants and wonder how living in a crystal cage may have affected Violant and Jaume’s stances on Marxism, factories and social housing…
How to get there by public transport
Metro: L1 & L3 Plaça Catalunya or L3 Liceu
Opening hours: 12-8pm. Tuesday to Sunday.
Address: La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, Palau de la Virreina, La Rambla 99
More Info: http://lavirreina.bcn.cat/
Chris Ciolli is a US copywriter and translator currently living in Barcelona. She has two blogs of her own: www.barcelonaforidiots.com all about the city and www.midwesternerabroad.com, where she writes about her travels.