Sunday, April 23, 2006
Sorry to say I've been criminally neglecting this blog, but I did indeed go to Spain, and it was transcendent/shimmering/religious and genuinely sublime. Unfortunately I had only 5 days to write my diary for the magazine, but it covers all the high points (a brilliant live deep house combo in the cavernous Girona nightclub Platea, the resplendently orchestrated Dalí Museum, the achingly beautiful fag hotel Axel in Barcelona and the Wallpaper*-worthy AC in Girona, our godly radiant driver Jordi, and on and on). Since it was rather a bitch to write, I'm reprinting the article in its entirety here. Enjoy...
Valé en España
Luxuriating Along Spain’s Magnificent Costa Brava… the Queer Version
I have always been an armchair traveler… daydreaming of resplendent, exotic locales, fueled by my love for Brazilian music, Japanese film, British design, and, though it could go without saying, Rachael Ray and Tony Bourdain. Then factor in virtually everything I had known of Spain – sun-drenched vistas, its own ineffably lustrous architecture and design, the ubiquitous deity Almodovar and his empresses Cecilia Roth and Marisa Paredes, brilliant electronic music group Mojo Project, the yearly Sonar music festival, and a select group of porn gods/the most beautiful men alive (Edu Boxer being my true love).
So when offered a spot on a gay press trip to Costa Brava and Barcelona, the prospect was too miraculous and far far too alluring to even think about declining. The tenet in Spain is “vale,” basically meaning, “it’s all good,” and you’ll quite possibly hear it at least once in every sentence ever uttered by a Spaniard. It epitomizes the Spanish way of life: chill, effortlessly relaxed. Forget the country’s history as a staunchly Catholic nation – most of the younger generations (thankfully) have. Sexuality is a non-issue, such that it makes it an ideal gay travel destination. Don’t misunderstand – while my junket was geared to gay travel, most of the vistas we took in were more suited to honeymoons or romantic idylls (and for those they were emphatically flawless) than cruising or the life of a gent on the make (until Barcelona, which is a whole other (beautiful) beast). The other obvious enticement for single blokes is exploration of an ineffably vibrant culture (past, present and future), and to meet some of the warmest and loveliest people you’ll ever encounter.
Such was the case with our magnificent and cool as hell tour guide Ana Ramiro of the Spanish Tourism bureau (www.okspain.org), which bureau’s incredible generosity enabled myself, 6 other gay journalists and one straight girl (working for a gay publication) to discover these most radiant of jewels along the northeastern coast (Costa Brava), with the help of our sublime driver Jordi (whose grin and tousled and lustrous jet black hair (I always fall for boys with that whole middle-part/nape-length cut) I completely fell in love with… which point I’m only elucidating to drive the point home that Spanish boys are by and large an exquisite lot)). Here then, is my log:
After a grueling, to put it kindly, trip via Iberia Air (the only negative aspect of our entire jaunt – do not ever fly Iberia if you can help it; search Travelocity.com for many other options), we arrive in the ripped-directly-from-the-pages-of-Wallpaper, ultra-modern (though better aesthetically than logistically) spectacular feat of architecture and design that is Madrid Airport (also boasting what has to be the most gorgeous airport staff on earth, all draped nicely in Technicolor lime green blazers), for a connecting flight on to Barcelona. From there we venture far outside the city (roughly a two-hour drive) to the Torremirona Resort (www.torremirona.com), a decidedly secluded hotel combining rural charm with modern amenities and flawless service, and home to one of the country’s premiere golf courses (a fact sadly lost on a bunch of gay boys), along with the first of many stellar wine and cava (the luscious Spanish equivalent of champagne) selections and a superb restaurant. After retiring I begin my cultural education: Everwood dubbed in Spanish – which brings me to another major point for Anglo travelers: though my Spanish is negligible/essentially nonexistent, I had very little trouble. Roughly 60% of the Spaniards I met spoke at least some English (with a majority fluent), and communicating otherwise is not difficult. For myself I generally had only to sit down at a bar and say “cerveza” or “San Miguel” (the best of the country’s three major beers, the other two being Estrella and Mahao). Otherwise language was only a barrier inasmuch as I couldn’t exploit the opportunity of seeing Volver (Almodovar’s newest epic) two months before it’s US release. Without subtitles it would’ve been rather frustrating, despite the eye-searingly lovely visual aspect.
Our first destination this morning is our first taste of an archetypal Spanish village, a rustic metropolis (that’s to say a rustic destination inexplicably imparted with the character of a modern urban center) of a sort that has no U.S. equivalent: Castelló d’Empúries (www.castelloempuries.net). Along the way, we see major construction, and one fact is blazingly clear: all of the boys working these roads are absolutely beautiful. Empúries is likewise entirely idyllic – renovated farmhouses (one of which sports my favorite bit of Spanish graffiti: the word “Follame” (translation: “f*ck me”) with a peace sign replacing the “o”), diverging cobblestone streets, a disused gothic plaza – and the sublime Hotel Restaurante Moneda (www.hotelmoneda.com). Run by an impossibly sweet-natured (i.e. maternal) dyke, the Moneda is small (13 rooms), but feels larger via its height (six floors joined by stairs of immaculate white marble), and the rooms themselves speak to the hotel’s monumental charms. From the limestone restaurant and bar to the swimming pool-inlaid terrace, the Moneda once again manages to be effortlessly burnished and modern while retaining all of its antique character.
(One other priceless insight garnered before leaving Empúries: Spaniards do not like little dogs – they favor gigantic dogs, the size of Shetland ponies. Rather than inspiring fear, these dogs, that by and large were bigger than me (I’m 5’7”), have the most relaxed and adorable temperament you’ll ever encounter, and the upshot is, I want a huge Spanish dog.)
From there we venture out to one of the two most transcendent locations on our agenda, in the town of Figueres: the Dalí Theatre Museum (www.dali-estate.org). This shrine to the brilliant Salvador is one of a trifecta of three sites envisioned by, and dedicated to, the master. What’s remarkable is the degree to which Dalí orchestrated every inch of this particular site. My own favorite Dalí works had heretofore been his Vogue covers from the mid-30s, and his iconic backdrop for Hitchcock’s Spellbound, but the museum gives you a radically different take on his entire oeuvre. Transmuted from the town’s historic theater, the museum retains the structure’s archaic feel, but otherwise is entirely steeped in Dalí’s trademark wit and playfulness. The addition of a massive glass cupola (or geodesic dome) – and multiple giant eggs – renders it visible for miles. The museum’s courtyard contains a dilapidated Cadillac, several sculptures, and shrubs manicured to spell out the name of Dalí’s wife and muse, Gala. Most aesthetically priceless among the actual works are a collection of rare as hell (and seldom seen) Salvador-designed jewels, a stunning dress made of plastic cylinders joined by chain link done in collaboration with Paco Rabanne – and an utterly sublime book/art object titled “10 Recipes for Immortality,” the “cover” of which is two illuminated glass lightboxes etched in exquisite type. Most powerful, though, may be the stately crypt in the stage floor (visible from below). That’s right, Salvador is actually buried here, and that fact registers as overwhelmingly potent.
For dinner we adjourn to yet another resplendent hotel. Converted from a renovated farmhouse, Mas Falgarona’s (www.masfalgarona.com) limestone and brick restaurant is lovely, but does not prepare you for the unmitigated splendor of the hotel’s rooms. Though the trappings are ascetic (white walls, wood floors), every other bit of décor is absolutely breathtaking, and the hotel’s art collection is likewise staggering (an original Rothko painting, blunt Larry Clark-esque black and white photographs, a lamp made of delicate scraps paper with handwritten characters in multiple languages (including Chinese and Japanese) strung together). That each room features a library with books by several of our Food Network loves (though without a kitchen the enjoyment is purely aesthetic (the way I relate to food anyway)) and various art monographs completes the considerable lure.
On this morning we venture out early to follow a treacherous road to the Monastery of Sant Pere. True, the architecture of this disused medieval fortress is astonishing (and very Black Narcissus), but I cannot stop staring at our even more beautiful guide, Tavy (whose shyness and nerves (to say nothing of his miraculous aquamarine eyes) are peerlessly adorable).
Our next stop: the vineyard/winery Castillo Perelada (www.perelada.com) for a distillery tour, tasting (their rosé Cava Brut is (not only beautiful in color but also) absolutely addictive), library (housing an extensive collection of rare art manuscripts), museum of wine artifacts (many of which look amusingly like torture devices) – and wine bath. Yes, at Peralada you can immerse yourself in a water bath while a lovely boy named Jordi (another one) soaks you in Merlot. It sounds more glamorous and exotic than it is (and the “therapeutic aroma” smells of sulfur), but it makes for nice cocktail party banter.
For dinner we head to the Michelin-starred Mas de Torrent (www.mastorrent.com). While the atmosphere here is as prim as you’d expect, the staff is so sweet and accommodating that it’s easy to forget where you are – until you bite into the supernaturally magnificent monkfish risotto, lamb and cous cous, fava and broadbean ragout… well, you get the idea. There’s a reason Mas de Torrent is reputed to be one of the finest gourmand destinations in Europe.
The only thing that may win out over our meal for experiential luxury and pure radiance is our hotel for the next two nights. Mas Crisaran (www.mascrisaran.com) is (once again) in a converted farmhouse, but its boundlessly sweet and welcoming proprietress has given it a drastic aesthetic redesign – with art from Africa, India, the Caribbean and beyond. The (lovely) rooms are even each named for a distinct exotic port. It seems entirely apt in this setting that, when turning on the television at 2AM, I find an entire concert by Moloko goddess Roisin Murphy. (Reminder to self: I must move to Spain.)
Our first relatively uneventful day, and it’s nice to have some respite. We visit the beatnik/bohemian coastal village of Llafranc (www.palafrugell.net), and traverse some spectacular trails overlooking the loveliest beach you’ll ever see, and water that redefines the word “crystalline.”
Also on the agenda: the goth-lovely medieval village of Pals (www.pals.es), to be escorted by the mayor himself (who happens to be utterly endearing/ an absolute sweetheart). Then back for another night in the Shangri-La that is Mas Crisaran.
Another rather chill day, to soak in the warm Costa Brava vibe – boating through the startlingly beautiful canals of Sant Feliu de Guíxols (www.goletas.org), and exploring another goth-picturesque village (Besalú), before retiring to our most secluded hotel yet, the charming Cal Sastre (www.calsastre.com).
While all of our rural destinations have been ineffably lovely, it’s nice to be in an urban center – Girona. The most pronounced facet of our visit here is that we’re staying in a f*cking sublime hotel, the AC Hotel Pallau Bellavista (www.ac-hotels.com). To merely describe the AC as a Wallpaper idyll is to do it a great disservice. With its glass façade and ultra-lustrous décor, the hotel is a marvel of design, and hopefully my future home (a complimentary mini-bar doesn’t hurt either).
After touring the city’s Jewish quarter (reminding me that I know nothing about my religion), we retire to the nightclub Platea (www.localplatea.com). Never mind that it’s so nice to finally be in a club, when entering this incredibly beautiful (renovated theater/church) spot we hear the strains of what sounds simply like pleasant nice deep house. When venturing further, I discover that there’s actually a live band playing this locomotive blend. If you know deep house at all, you know that live bands are a rarity (there’s Tortured Soul, Directions, Los Amigos Invisibles, and that’s about it), but this group (who I sadly was never able to find out the name of, despite much effort), comprised of drums, keys and bass, are genuinely miraculous. Whether it was the music, the atmosphere, or the friendliness of the locals, this night turned out to be genuinely religious, and I kept going back for more, long after my colleagues retired.
At last – the loveliness that is Barcelona (www.barcelonaconnect.com), Spain’s gay Mecca. Our temporary home here is the Axel (www.axelhotels.com), boasting the distinction of being one of the planet’s first exclusively gay hotels (not resort or b+b, but cosmopolitan, exquisitely lovely urban hotel – that’s to say it makes for another Wallpaper ideal), and the staff is every bit as gorgeous as you’d expect (as is the hotel’s Brazilian manager, Michael Cleaver). Apart from its magnificently fine staff, stunning décor, superb restaurant, and location in the center of the city’s gay neighborhood (El Born), the Axel also has a stellar music selection going for it: during our brief stay I heard Gotan Project and Slow Train Soul, among many other precious sonic baubles. Try to match that in a US hotel.
Nothing on the itinerary, so I’m free to just explore. I’m told strictly not to even bother venturing out before midnight (clubs here begin to fill up at 12 at the earliest, and most close at 6). With the rest of my group unable or unwilling to leave the hotel, I commence my solitary bar crawl. First up: Dietrich. One, I of course love this name, and the fact that there’s a giant projection of the goddess Marlene makes it even lovelier. The crowd is attractive, but shy and bookish/not cruisey at all (barring one that I’ve fallen in mad love with), and a (not terribly hot) go-go dancer doing a bizarre variation on flamenco with a walking stick is mightily entertaining. From there, I head to Z:elta’s, a limestone and brick-walled spot with a radiant design sense – and even more discomfiting go-go boys rocking a sort of Fischerspooner meets Chewbacca look. Then Sra’s, Amante, and the sex shop Nostromo (with a selection of several Latin studios unavailable in the states, leaving me to ache for an all-region DVD player, along with the requisite Kristen Bjorn and Eurocreme).
My final stop for the evening is the afterhours club Salvation (www.matineegroup.com). While I’ve heretofore seen many fine-ass men, this is the Holy Grail – the tradeoff being that it’s so ludicrously crowded that I nearly have my ribcage crushed while being herded into the restroom. It’s what I imagine the ninth circle of hell to be like, albeit with plenty of eye candy (and an olive-skinned go-go god who sadly has not yet done a Bjorn film (once again I’m in love)), but unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in any stateside queer bar, and worth the ordeal just to chalk it up to experience.
When I return to the Axel at 4:30AM, a mightily hot (Spanish or Italian) gent across the hall is standing in his doorway naked with a raging hard-on waiting for company. I hesitate for a moment (or rather check my email as a stall tactic), then of course join him to keep the trip from being entirely chaste. It seems a fittingly lovely cap to an altogether transcendent excursion.
Many things to add since before and after my travels (seeing my dream husbands, Kinky, and the mighty Eric Roberson to start with), and I will endeavor to post on them as well momentarily. xo, B.