Fabergé as Headline Anxiety therapy

I feel so little and powerless when I think about Ukraine. The stoics say it is pointless to worry about things you can’t control so I have been trying not to get too absorbed by it. “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” (Marcus Aurelius). Coincidentally, I had tickets to the Fabergé exhibition in London the other day, while the world was falling apart. Probably not the most suitable way to take my mind off it, given that Fabergé jewellery was stolen and used by the Bolsheviks to finance the Russian Revolution (see this beautiful propaganda) (for context, I have cried at documentaries on the Russian Revolution). But shouldn’t I tick more items on my bucket list if a nuclear war is to start? Seeing Fabergé eggs is definitely on my bucket list. On my way to the V&A on an otherwise quiet sunny Saturday, the tube was full of protesters. What are you protesting about? We want peace! Yes, we all do. Doesn’t every Miss Universe want peace? Even Putin wants peace, believe it or not. I love protests, but I hate protesters. Most of them have no clue what this is all about, but by the time they would understand the history of what they are protesting about, the war would be over anyway so I can’t hold their ignorance against them. Don’t worry about things you can’t control, Natalia.

The Fabergé exhibition was breathtaking. It reminded me of Sokurov’s Russian Ark, one of the films I’m most fond of. The exhibition comprises art and craftsmanship as well as economics, history and politics in various degrees. It’s the perfect fit of those pieces of the puzzle that makes the exhibition so thoroughly enjoyable, especially for those “jack of all trades, master of none” like myself. It starts off like any other exhibition only to reveal itself in the final room, which I noticed is a trick they like to use at the V&A. When I left the exhibition I felt like I had just woken up from a dream. I could have spent ages in that final room, but I probably couldn’t have stopped myself from smashing the glass just to hold a Fabergé egg in my hands. The thought that 7 of them are still missing makes me want to go on a julesvernian trip to find them and heroically bring them to the V&A – hoping that history won’t repeat itself and the Left won’t finance another revolution on my beloved Fabergé.

The Hymn of the Cherubim, if I remember correctly, was one of Tsar Nicholas II’s favourites and because the last room of the exhibition is playing it, I’ll probably always associate it with that day when the war just started but Fabergé managed to take my mind off it for a day.

Yuletide soliloquy

I remember somewhere Nietzsche said holidays are paradoxical because they lack any of the modesty Christianity advocates for. Holidays are about exuberance and excesses – of joyfulness, of food, of laziness and whatnot. Yet, Christianity generally disapproves of excesses. I read this when I was about 15 years old and it really stuck in my head, probably because it was one of the few things I understood from whatever I read by Nietzsche at that terrible age. However, this passage disallowed me to fully enjoy any religious holiday ever since. No grudges held, Friedrich. I would have asked myself what is everyone so excited about sooner or later anyway. Am I missing something? What sort of fundamental flaw do I bear that keeps me from matching the joy of those around me, during these globally cherished treasures called holidays?

I didn’t want to be a Grinch, so in recent years, as part of my calculated journey away from misanthropy, I tried to force myself to enjoy them more, and to stop seeing them as displays of gluttony or as capitalist traps.

Initially, my approach was traditional. I learned about the essence of the holidays I was celebrating. I fasted before Christmas, I spent entire days decorating the house and preparing food, I went to the church a few times, attended mass on Easter every year. I even sobbed during Easter mass for some reason unknown to me.

Since I left home, holidays got better because there is a reunion element, albeit not as grand as in Hollywood films. Having a small family doesn’t help because I keep in touch with them anyway. I wish I had a big family, like Kevin’s in Home Alone, so I could get lost between all the brothers and sisters and step out of the spotlight and snuggle with all my siblings.

Now, I see holidays as a charade. We pretend we believe in something, whether it’s Santa Claus, or God, or that our parents are still in love, or that we are a happy family. And that isn’t as sad as it sounds, it’s a fairytale in itself, like the Anna Karenina principle – All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. And we keep on pretending, until the holiday spirit gets us and we no longer have to pretend. This might be the Christmas miracle everyone talks about.

To illustrate this, there are some studies proving that if you force yourself to physically smile, you actually release dopamine. [1] Similarly, you can trick yourself into thinking that you enjoy the holidays without actually enjoying them, just by acting as if you enjoy them.

So I will put on a silly jumper and I will spend hours in the kitchen getting the dessert just right and then I will not even eat it and I will pretend the shape of the star on the top of the tree is the most important thing in the world and I will give carol singers a 50 lei note and I will act surprised when I see my sister hid something for me under the tree tomorrow morning and I will watch a cheesy movie and I will rock around the Christmas tree and I will laugh at the same stories I heard a hundred times before and I will eat too much and I will remember what I said about gluttony and I will perish that thought and I will take everyone for a walk to see the lights in Moghioros and they might not be much but for us it will be like New York and the ice skating rink will be open and I will queue for hours to get my skates and when I get on the ice I will be faster than everyone else and I will tell everyone how much I love ice skating and I will get tipsy from just a glass of mulled wine and I will then suggest we go home and I will put on another movie and then we will eat again and mum will ask me if I want more sarmale and I will say yes I will yes.

(1) e.g. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/smiling-can-trick-your-brain-happiness-boost-your-health-ncna822591

Ode to Eyes

Nature is amazing. There might be better words to describe it, but “amazing” is unceremonious enough to still be expressive. If let’s say, Pascal won his wager and there is a god, Stephen Fry might be right that he’s an evil, capricious, monstrous maniac. But if Pascal lost and everything happens by chance, then it’s “utterly utterly” astonishing how many things nature does get right, just like that. I don’t know if there has there been more despair over the absence of a god than there’s been praise for nature’s wonders.

We can think about this world, in its entirety, as a huge canvas, where each one of us is painting their own life on a little patch of the canvas. A bit like the paintings of Bosch and Bruegel. Maybe that’s what makes them so perplexing. Sometimes our paintings meet, sometimes we ruin someone else’s painting, sometimes someone else ruins ours. It’s either a nursery exercise or an allegory for existence (or rather, coexistence). Overall, the painting may be chaotic, perhaps with no artistic value at all. But still, some details are drawn really damn well, whether they are drawn by an individual or collaboratively. And these details make life worth living.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hyeronimus Bosch 

For Woody Allen in Manhattan, it’s “Well, all right, why is life worth living? That’s a very good question. Well, there are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. Uh, like what? Okay. Um, for me… oh, I would say… what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing… and Willie Mays, and… the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony, and… Louie Armstrong’s recording of ‘Potatohead Blues’… Swedish movies, naturally… ‘Sentimental Education’ by Flaubert… Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra… those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne… the crabs at Sam Wo’s… Tracy’s face…”

I’ve asked people in the past what makes their life worth living. I got very pragmatic answers. V said the meaning of life is exchange, bartering, everything is an exchange bla bla bla. Back then, I thought he was an idiot, but now I think I get why he’d say that. S said it’s helping people, being a good person. Nice, but boring – is he the living counterargument for psychological egoism? A said it’s about pursuing your goal, working hard towards achieving something, and savouring that little bit of happiness between achieving your goal and finding a new one to look forward to.

They are all a bit right, I think. I’ll keep asking.

In my case, I could go on a spree through art and literature and talk about all the beautiful things like Woody Allen but I think his answer is actually just “Tracy’s face”. “It is necessary to fall in love – if only to provide an alibi for all the despair you are going to feel anyway.” (Camus) I wouldn’t say face though, I would say eyes. If there’s one thing nature got right, it’s eyes.

Eyes can talk better than mouths

Eyes can touch better than fingers

Eyes can shoot better than guns

The eyes chico, they never lie

Jeepers creepers, where’d ya get those peepers?
Oh, those weepers, how they hypnotize!
Where’d ya get those eyes?

Passing time with Bridget Jones

This weekend I binge-watched the Bridget Jones trilogy (2001, 2004, 2016), about 5 years later (or earlier?) than I should’ve. The hiatus between the second and the third is a tragedy in itself. Things decay. Bridget (Renée Zellweger) no longer keeps a paper diary, she has an iPad. There’s no way Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) would accidentally read it now. Unless he cracked her iPad password (which, to be fair, is probably MarkDarcy). Bridget knows what to wear and when to wear it. No more transparent tops at work. She gives witty speeches. The “Eastern European models” in the audience look puzzled as Bridget eulogizes Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). She doesn’t fall in love as easily, nor as madly as when she was young. Bridget is no fool.

A police car and a screaming siren
A pneumatic drill and ripped up concrete
A baby wailing and stray dog howling
The screech of brakes and lamp light blinking

That’s entertainment, that’s entertainment

“Which Bridget is better?” is the same as asking “Are you conservative or progressive?” Are you nostalgic over the blue soup dinner, Bridget’s smoking, her silly job as a TV presenter, her inappropriate family friends, her too-tight golden mermaid dress, her sweet jealousy over girls “with legs up to here”, birthday surprises from friends, impromptu dinners and trips to Thailand? I am. Does it leave a bitter taste in your mouth the fact that she’s on Tinder? That she has sex with a stranger at a festival? That people dance to Gangnam style at christenings? It does.

Days of speed and slow time Monday’s
Pissing down with rain on a boring Wednesday
Watching the news and not eating your tea
A freezing cold flat and damp on the walls

I say that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment

Things decay. But it’s easy to idealise the past. In 2120, someone will find the 2020s as charmful as we find the 1920s, for sure. That’s the only consolation we can hope for: that our grandchildren will maybe find our idiosyncrasies endearing. One way to contribute towards this consolation is to find the beauty of the times we live in. Epictetus was right saying “it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”. On this note, Bridget would have benefited much from reading the stoics. We all would. But then we’d be too nostalgic over blue soup to enjoy Gangnam style.

Waking up at six AM on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking about your holidays

That’s entertainment, that’s entertainment

Lalalalalala

Lalalala

P.S. The blog that nobody was supposed to ever read now has a reader. But I made a promise to myself to continue writing as if nobody was reading. Bridget is still a fool.

Schopenhauer on <3

If I could have dinner with anyone who ever lived, as the ice-breaker goes, Schopenhauer would definitely be in my top 10.

One of his theories that amazed me when I first heard it describes the paradox of love and marriage, which Schopenhauer intuited long before science was anywhere close to proving anything like this.

He suggested that one of the reasons why many people have miserable marriages (although they used to be oh-so-in-love not that long before they tied the knot) comes from the fact that people marry according to biology, rather than to a more pragmatic kind of love, based on genuine shared interests.

Apparently, there is a famous T-shirt experiment (1) that proves that we are attracted to people who have dissimilar genes from us. This is nature’s smart but torturous way of ensuring our offspring has a varied pool of genes. Torturous because it means when the spell wears off lovers realise they are complete strangers. It’s almost as if they were tricked into it and that Mother Nature is some ruthless charlatan.

Regardless, I find it beautiful when biology and philosophy touch in such a straightforward manner to explain something we all have to cope with.

(1) https://time.com/3707071/pheromones-love-life/

confessions of a “flâneuse”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fl%C3%A2neur

Long and lonely walks, a malady disguised as melancholy, a flaw that artists and hopeless romantics often have and which I am not exempt from either. Maybe if I walk the streets of London by myself some of this city’s charm will rub off on me. I’ll let my footsteps sing a chaotic ode to the absurd. And if it starts to rain, I will keep walking and I will convince myself that umbrellas are foolish and that rain is a catalyst for introspection and that pathetic fallacies are indeed pathetic and that my peripatetic strolls are also pathetic. And when it gets dark, I will notice that the city is brighter than ever and I’ll get a burst of serotonin and nothing will be pathetic anymore.

Reveries by the lake

I have heard about Il Lago di Como (Como lake) a few times in the past and I have found it increasingly more intriguing. Apparently reserved for the rich, so occluded for my penniless existence. As in any “rags to riches” type of story, reaching it had a rather symbolic significance to me, for no particular reason. And now that I managed to save up some money, I thought – why not? Soon I might find myself short of time rather than money to take on such a journey. Thus, aided by the ridiculously cheap flights from Bucharest to Bergamo, I managed to convince one of my dearest friends to take a detour through Como on her way to Zurich.

My friend and I

Even the mere shape of Como reminds me of a delicate, expensive jewel. Not coincidentally, Lambda (λ) was my favourite Greek letter while I was in school. I discovered that the back of the Italian €0.20 coin resembles the shape of the lake. I remembered that in the Novecento Modern Art Museum in Milan I saw a sculpture by Boccioni entitled Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (la-di-da) – and then I saw it in Tate Modern again. It is supposed to be a human-like figure expressing “movement and fluidity” (1) and it was selected to be represented on the back of the Italian coin. I think Boccioni was also making a reference to the “movement and fluidity” of the 410-metre deep Como, but it’s just a guess.

But let’s distance ourselves from superfluous topics. The Como landscape is simply delicious. My eyes experienced what my mouth experiences when I have a spoonful of Pistachio creme. Pistachio creme is my favourite food now. Being on Como’s shores feels like being trapped in an Impressionist painting except instead of oils on canvas the artist used life on earth. It smells like flowers and dew and your loved one’s skin. It sounds like two minuscule angels are playing violins next to your ears. It feels like everything around you is wrapped in satin, like the air is caressing you with its fresh yet gentle breeze.

Ecco Como!

(1) Petrie, Brian (March 1973). “Futurism at the Royal Academy”. The Burlington Magazine115 (840): 196–198.

Memento Mori, Memento Vivere

Yesterday I had a headache behind my right eye. It was as if I could feel the shape of my eye nerve all the way from my light brown irises to somewhere in the middle of my head where the pain felt more intense, like the claps of a piano where the pain intensity corresponds to the pitch highness.

Today it’s different, the pain is somewhere above my nose, much closer to my face, and it feels more like pressure causing pain rather than pain itself.

My headaches are varied.

I can remember my worst headaches. In my childhood they used to happen more frequently and they also used to hurt more. I don’t know if they have been genuinely fading or if I have been getting used to them.

Once I took so many paracetamols I overdosed. I was all alone in Manchester in my 2nd year of university and I thought I was going to die there and then without a soul knowing about it, and that they would discover my dead body days, maybe weeks later.

I started to think about death often. As a child whenever I heard adults speak about the fear of death (mostly Woody Allen), I thought it was pathetic. What’s the point of thinking about death while you are alive? I used to ask myself. Now I understand what they meant. Taking a plane becomes a 4h contemplation of how would the world continue if the plane were to crash. A car ride becomes an analysis of all the ways an accident could take place. A headache becomes a step closer to a diagnosis of a brain tumour. A breast pain means breast cancer. My grandmothers both died because of these two things, long before I had the chance to meet them. Reading about genetics feels like reading my death sentence.

Memento mori, but not too much. Memento vivere.

(I started reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and I think if anyone ever reads these lines they would be able to see its influence on me.)

A Matter of Life and Death in Piatra Craiului

Nobody is indifferent towards their family. Many people would classify it as the most important thing in life (like some characters in The Godfather), while others would openly admit how damaging and toxic their family is to them (like some characters in Downton Abbey). Both categories take pride in their relationship with their family. Either due to their efforts to maintain the good ties and a peaceful home or for their ability to escape what they consider a toxic environment. I am not sure if this quality is something that changes over the course of one’s life. Since I can remember, I have been closer to the first category. You can’t turn blood into water, a Romanian phrase says.

Last weekend, my family and I went hiking and experienced some of the toughest, most adventurous and risky moments we have ever been through. We chose a hiking trail that was much above our alpine experience, gear and expectations. The trail is considered highly difficult – to the extent where it is not even mentioned on the maps from the base of the mountain. However, up there at the peak, the trail begins to exist, and a red triangle marks it with pride.

My equipment

We started our journey in Magura, a little village with no asphalt or running water which I absolutely adored, although our host, Claudiu, as I’m sure most of the inhabitants of Magura do, often complains about these aspects of the village and the incompetency of the public administration. From there, we left the car at Fantana lui Botorog, where the trails begin. From there, a 3h hike (which I would rather classify as walk instead of hike) took us to the first cabin – Cabana Curmatura (1470m). A very well maintained cabin shelter protected by an impressively large Saint Bernard, Curmatura is frequented by professional hikers and families on walks alike. We had some tea and lightened our backpacks by eating some of our tin cans and were ready to go after a short break.

Me at Cabana Curmatura

Our next target was Varful Ascutit (2150m) which literally translates as “The Sharp Peak”. The hike was quite steep, but nothing compared to what we experienced in the next days. I was incredibly lucky to see a deer at the top, which I reached right before the sun started to set. It is among the most memorable, magical moments of my life. The deer and I were completely alone on the crest and looked into each other’s eyes for about 10 seconds, before it ran away. I was astonished at the grace and gentleness of this animal, at its human-like eyes, at the amazing mountain peak it chose to dwell on.

At the Peak, there is a refuge which looks a bit like a Pokemon ball, or an object taken out of a science fiction movie set. Inside the refuge, there is nothing but a semicircular metal plaque that fits 8 people, which we were about to test because we shared it with another 4 hikers. In fact, they were 2 groups, each of which was composed of 3 hikers, but 2 of them chose to sleep outside the refuge in a tent. It is still surprising to me that they didn’t come inside the refuge at some point during the night, as there was a really scary storm that night. My mum recalled the next morning that she felt like crying while listening to the thunders and seeing the lightnings entering the refuge through its cracks. We barely slept that night, as the sound of the hailstorm was louder than any alarm clock. God must have left the tap on that night.

The group of hikers who shared the Ascutit Refuge on a stormy night

The next morning, the clouds were still there, not allowing us to see more than 10m in front of us. The rain was coming and leaving, as if trying to baffle us and start the discussion of whether we should venture on the crest, as we initially intended. The crest is among the most beautiful landscapes that Romania, and possibly the world, has to offer. Being at such a high altitude, on a clear day, it is possible to see to the left and right of the crest, as if you are tied to a parachute and suspended mid-air. Nonetheless, due to the clouds, we could not see any of this beautiful landscape, so we decided to take a different route. We chose a track that was estimated at 6h, hoping to get down in time for my dad and my sister to be back at their offices on Monday morning.

Spoiler alert: it took us much more than 6 hours. In fact, it took us 2 days. The trail starts off with very steep chasms on rocks that were crumbling beneath our feet due to the humidity and the erosion of the mountain. The next night, my sister and I both admitted we had PTSD-like flashbacks in which we fell down the chasm. This day was a real courage test. I never understood how people can fear the mountains and hiking until that day. Suddenly everything made sense to me. The panic attacks people described to me in the past, the feeling of your body freezing and the crippling uncertainty, the pressure of knowing every single step you take may be fatal, the gloom of walking past a cross marking another fatality right on your footsteps.

The day ended halfway through our trail, when we reached another refuge, Refugiul Sperantelor (1685m). There would be no point in building 2 refuges 3h away from one another, if we were to listen to the signs. This felt to me like the mountain’s confession that the track was estimated at 6h without being given much thought. Luckily, at this refuge there weren’t any other hikers so we could spoil ourselves with being allocated twice as much room as the night before. This time we slept so much better, although we didn’t have any heat because unfortunately the additional gas tank we bought didn’t match the heater. Also, we ran out of water when we got there. That means we had gone nearly 48h with only 6l of water for the 4 of us. What we were not short of was sleep, as we slept from 8:30PM to 6AM!

My family at the Sperantelor Refuge

We woke up very thirsty and finding water became our most powerful motivator. There was a sign for Orlovski’s Well only 1h30 away from us, which we were very eager to find, and channeling all of our trust into our fella, Orlovski.

This was foolish of us. After 1h30, there was a bifurcation in the track. Our track was continuing to the right, and an arrow marking Orlovski’s Well said we should find it 3 minutes uphill. At this point, my parents were exhausted and extremely thirsty, so we decided that my sister and I would go uphill to fill the water bottles while they would wait for us at the crossing. A horrible thing was about to happen. The well was dry and my sister slipped into the trough. She was covered up to her neck in stones and I couldn’t even help her because if I got near the edge, I would have slipped too. Fortunately, she managed to get up and I returned to my parents 1h later with empty bottles and holding my wounded sister.

After that, we decided not to look for water anymore and just hurry down to the base of the mountain. Because of the thirst, we were all very quiet. After not drinking anything for 24h, every single sound your mouth becomes really painful and draining. We all found ways to appease our thirst. I shook the moist pin tree branches into my bottle and got a few drops into my mouth. I washed my hands on the grass dew and licked my hands, then spat immediately as I felt the taste of soil on my tongue.

Shortly after though, I heard the sound of water. I thought it was an auditory hallucination but my dad could hear it as well. Perhaps we shared the hallucination. I ran at the prospect of water and when I did see it I felt as though I was crying of joy, although tears couldn’t come out of my eyes because of the dehydration. The water itself was very calcareous and almost white in colour. But none of us cared. We could feel our bodies coming back to life. We were laughing like madmen and blessing this tiny well that we will forever remember fondly of.

Afterwards, the track began to flatten and shortly afterwards, we returned to civilisation. The sensation of touching cement with my boots was peculiar – a bit like the feeling you have after taking your skiing boots off after a whole day on the slopes.

My family back to the base of the mountain, safe and sound!

We went inside a refurbished cabin that felt like luxury and ate bean soup in bread. The air inside the cabin felt too difficult to breathe. I had become a creature of the mountains. Seeing other people down there made me feel odd. They had no idea what I had been through and they must have been judging me for the dirt underneath my nails, for my smelly breath, for the way I ate my soup like a famished dog. Equally, I considered them superficial clowns who lacked the courage to climb higher and I choked at their smell of cheap perfume. I saw them taking pictures with the mountain from the bottom and it felt close to jealousy. How dare they take pictures with my mountain? The mountain I have conquered and they haven’t? How dare they?

After this purgatory stage in our descend, we jumped inside a taxi that took us back to the car and in the evening we returned to Bucharest, contrasting the decadence of the city with the serenity of the mountain. We were all amazed by the fact we were all there alive, safe and sound. We began to cherish the little things a lot more. We became grateful for our tap, even though we didn’t have warm water because of a pipe being broken; for our little apartment; for our messy kitchen; for the comfortable chairs; for the dry clothes; for the suffocating heat of Bucharest; for the light bulb; for having our own beds; for a cup of tea.

What made this hike draining for me wasn’t the actual physical effort. It wasn’t even the anxiety of me taking a wrong step or the debilitating thirst. It was the fact that something could happen to someone in my family. I am confident in my own abilities. I knew this trail was not deadly for me, but it’s impossible to know how it feels for a 50 year old, or for my starry-eyed sister. As I said in the beginning of this post, family means a great deal to me. If I was hiking with friends instead of family it would have felt very different.

Anyway… I can’t wait to go back!

Light and Lightness in Sagrada Familia

Although the Rock of Gibraltar is as awe-inspiring and graceful as it has been for the past 2 months which I have spent at its foot, I began to long for a change of scenery. Consequently, we packed up our bags once again and ventured to Barcelona. I could still remember its unconventional taste since I had been there with my family 7 years ago. 7 is a beautiful number, so I decided I could allow myself the eccentricity of saying I visit Barcelona every 7 years. No sooner said that done. However, this time I had to do everything I couldn’t do back then – most importantly, entering the famous Sagrada Familia and visiting one of the houses that Gaudi designed. To my delight, I managed to achieve both aims.

Whilst visiting Sagrada Familia, I instinctively drew an analogy between this Catalunian sanctuary and its Romanian counterpart – Catedrala Mantuirii Neamului, as both caused some stir in their countries. Personally, I know which one I prefer, although I must admit I have not seen Catedrala Mantuirii Neamului on the inside yet. It is now on my bucket list for when I get home.

Meanwhile, Sagrada Familia had a huge effect on me.

The facade of the Cathedral tells the stories depicted in the New Testament. Initially, Gaudi wanted to include the whole Bible, but eventually it has be proven to be too ambitious a plan. Apparently, the intention behind telling the entire story through the facade was that old priests would step out of the cathedral to explain the scenes of the bible to the novices. Ojala the surroundings of the cathedral will be closer to this charming image Gaudi planned. For now, they are full of people more concerned to get their best angle in the photos taken in front of the cathedral, rather than the interpretation of a biblical scene.

The sculptures are modern and modest; the faces of key characters such as Mary, Joseph lack the detail often found in Catholic Cathedrals after the Renaissance. If in Islam, Prophet Muhammad cannot be depicted, in Christianity painters and sculptors have extensively tried to achieve the opposite: to depict Jesus as accurately as possible, to capture his every frown, wrinkle and grin from any angle at all ages, in any material and colour that was available. Sagrada Familia adopts a neutral ground. It depicts Jesus but isn’t concerned with the details of his appearance. Instead, the simplicity catches the eye and reinforces the unconventionality of the church.

The key element of structure that the viewer must remember is that the Eastern of the church tells the birth of Christ and the Western the end of his life. The nativity scene, the 3 Wise Men and the Roman soldiers are located on the Eastern side, while the puzzle revealing the age Jesus had when he died, Judas’s kiss and the Crucifixion can be found on the Western side.

The interior maintains this chronology. The stained glass is blue, green and yellow on the East side of the Nave, and red, orange and purple on the other side.

This may sound like nothing more than a nice design idea, and it is not the first time these colours were used to express certain feelings. The originality comes into play as soon as the light enters the church through its stained glass and the sanctuary is flooded with the most serene yet playful gleam I have ever witnessed.

Normally, when entering a church, I have burdening feelings of shame and guilt. It’s very far from the lightweight, inspiring sensation that I experience in much less grandiose surroundings. When I’m in nature, for example. In fact, I am sure Gaudi must have felt the same, because he designed the interior of Sagrada Familia to replicate a forest. There are no austere paintings in heavy gold frames, but a peaceful forest made of marble that seems to welcome its visitors with joy.

Surprisingly simple for many, I was not so surprised to see this unrefined scenery, where light, rather than paintings plays the main role. Where the eye is not overloaded with inputs and the soul feels light. Etymologically, I recently realised that the English language uses the same word for light in the sense of illumination and for the opposite of heavy. I think Sagrada Familia is the best representation of this poly-semantic word.

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