I've been to Barcelona twice in my life, once when I must have been nine or ten with my parents and sister, and once, six and a half years ago, whilst inter-railing before going to university with two friends. One of them, rather philistinely I thought, refused to pay the couple of hundred pesetas to go up one of the towers of the Sagrada Familia, and sat on a bench outside whilst the other friend and I trooped obediently up the spiral staircases along with hundreds of other tourists, peering out through windows I remember as rather small at the unfinished facade. We were rather disorganised, and didn't see any other Gaudi, so perhaps the rest of it is less ostentatious, less overloaded with excess, but I felt rather beaten into submission by the Sagrada Familia, almost resentfully impressed. We did all go into another church in Barcelona, the Santa Maria del Mar: it must have been free. I much preferred the thirteenth century Santa Maria del Mar, and particularly the interior: restrained and perfect in that restraint, graceful enough to avoid severity and to draw, capture, and hold the eye, the columns a kind of suspension of disbelief, inviting the gaze upwards, towards the light.
I have just started reading Alan Bennett's most recent collection. I like Bennett a lot. There's a humane moral seriousness to him, an awareness of people's vulnerabilities, of how things become indignities and how hurtful an indignity can be, all done lightly enough to not give too much weight to the foolishness of some of those vulnerabilities, the focus falling rather on the vulnerability itself. He also writes well, in an unobtrusive, observant way. The piece which gives the collection its title focuses on his parents and aunts, towards the ends of their lives. It is very Bennett-ish, sympathetic, its most caustic tone a kind of gentle mocking, its explorations quite careful to avoid becoming exposures, mirroring, in his description at least, the character of his lower middle class parents. He writes very movingly of their shyness, a reluctance to put themselves forward, something they thought of as obligatory, despite - or perhaps because of - the disadvantages they thought flowed from it. It is hard not to have a great deal of sympathy with that thought. It is what is wrong with the Sagrada Familia, and quite so wonderful about the Santa Maria Del Mar, the willingness to step back and let people be, not to impose, to trust that others are good-willed enough to search for and find things to admire, although of course it helps that the Santa Maria Del Mar is beautiful.