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Barcelona August 15th, 2013 11:24am

A bit of Barcelona advice: Buy your tickets for the museums online and avoid the lines.

So today I went back to the Picasso museum. I have to admit I am a bit down having just heard I didn't get cast in a show back in the States I really wanted. So going to a museum was perfect. Being surrounded by amazing art helps me put my temporary disappointments into perspective.

There is a room in the museum with some of Picasso's early work. Detailed still life studies, drawings of bodies, faces, landscapes. He was about ten. In the next room is a huge canvas of a doctor and a nun attending a dying patient. The walls of the room are filled with practice paintings on the subject, as well as drafts and unfinished versions. It's an amazing painting... from a fifteen year old. I gotta admit - though I do it by throwing "gotta" in there to distance myself from it - that I got a bit teary looking at Picasso's work, especially the early stuff. When I picture this little kid in from of this huge canvas, planning out this great painting, having to stand in a stool to reach the top, it helps me feel better about humanity. If this teenager could conceive of and achieve something like this surely we, with our collective brilliance, can successfully deal with climate change.

Another aspect of Picasso I don't think enough people get; he had mastered classical realism when he was a child, and that he moved through each other style - impressionism, pointillism, cubism - until he settled on what we call his style. In another room there is his version of a famous painting by Velaquez called "The Meninas." Two rooms are full of the variations he painted of each figure - various colors, extra noses, eyeballs all over the place, and then variations of the whole painting. It's like Beethoven's variations on Diabelli's theme, only in this case the original is also a masterpiece (sorry Diabelli.) Picasso, like Beethoven, is teasing out every variation he can, seeing the subject fresh each time, and letting some new concept take him each time. He's playing and working.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not one of those people who puts artists themselves on pedestals, declaring as brilliant every practice sketch they scribble. (Except Rembrandt. That guy could spill goulash on a cat and it would be museum worthy.) So if it sounds like I'm gushing over Picasso or Dali it's not that I'm a devotee of their particular styles, or would want to wake up and see their paintings all over my walls. Some of them are beautiful and amazing, some of them are wiggly line experiments, and some are just examples of days when the shit just doesn't come together. Even great artists have off days. (Except Rembrandt. Again, he could piss out of a window and the pavement would be framable.)

Next I went around the corner and had an experience one only dreams about: I was in a museum by myself. The MEAM - Modern European Art Museum - is very nice, three stories, all work from this century, and empty. Kinda reenforces the idea that the people RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER at the Picasso Museum may not have been very interested in art, but in what was in the guide book. Picasso Museum, check! The MEAM has some fun pieces, some somber pieces and a shitload of nudes. Their stated focus is the human form, but that was a lot of naked people. I'm not prudish or anything, but even I get a little concerned about who's watching as I wonder how closely to inspect a nude to find out if it's a painting or a photo. "No, really! I was looking for brushstrokes!" There was one sculpture I really liked, that made me laugh out loud - it was a rough-hewn wooden piece of a tiny man in a business suit, holding a briefcase while on a cell phone, riding a huge, rearing stallion. That cracked me up. Turns out you can buy stuff from the museum, but this piece - even if I could afford it - should be seen by more people than I could fit in my apartment.

So I left the museums, and decided that I was too tired after all that standing to walk back to the apartment, and that I should rent a bike for a leisurely ride back. Then I ended up chugging uphill in the middle of the "don't go out in it" afternoon all the way to Parc Guell. Why? Because once I got it in my mind I refused to give in to that nagging voice that tells me I should stop.

When my father had his first heart attack he was on a treadmill. He got a pain in his chest, and thought it might be a heart attack, but refused to get off the treadmill. He kept going, because he was a stubborn, iconoclastic contrarian who when there was a clear and obvious choice would question it. And he wanted to see, if it was a heart attack, how much further he could run before he died.

Well, he didn't die that day. Had a bypass, lived another twenty years. But I definitely got that from him, an annoying determination to not give in to the inner voice that says I should stop simply because I'm tired, or because it would be a good idea. So I rode to the Parc, which was packed cheek-by-jowl with beer swilling tourists, then turned around, went to the store and pIcked up some chocolate milk - which for most of the world is something only children drink - and rode back to the apartment, exhausted again.

Which is all another way of saying I really wish I'd been cast in that play.

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