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Finding Life In The House Of Bones

I used to paint - a lot. When I was a fresh university graduate in Boston, many nights after I got home from work, whether I was sad, happy, angry, or just plain confused, I'd splash my emotions out onto a canvas or sketchpad. To me, these In fact, I ended up creating so many works that I ended up displaying them in a local cafe, and even selling a number of them - until I moved back to the UAE, feel deeper into my life as a working adult, and got sucked into the magazine publishing industry's very different kind of work culture. Different how? Well, when I was working as a paralegal in Boston, although my days were still very intense, I left work mostly on time and once I was gone, my time was clearly my own. As a magazine editor in Dubai - where, even aside from the industry, the working culture is still quite married to the idea of long hours and few boundaries between work and life (more on that another day) - I struggled to find the time to carry on creating art. Even when I did have the time, I often lacked the energy or motivation. It was like my creative spark had been extinguished, and I needed something profound to help me light it up again. Which is why when I was so delighted that, after a visit to Casa Batlló in Barcelona, Spain, I felt artistically inspired again for the first time in years.


Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain
Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain / Photo by Yi-Hwa Hanna

Something about this place just awoke my creative side, like a sleeping dragon come to life. Created by Antoni Gaudí - the person behind the famous Sagrada Familia - this house is a living, breathing work of art. It was apparently built for a Barcelona-dwelling Spanish family in the 1900's (or more accurately, it was a remodel of a previously existing home) that has undergone several refurbishments since, and every corner of this evocative building oozes inspiration and imagination. I use the term "corner" loosely, as this is no ordinary house with the stereotypical four walls in a square room - quite the opposite, in fact, since Gaudí made a concerted effort to avoid straight lines when designing it. This is a house like none I have ever seen before. Nicknamed the Casa del Ossos (or "House of Bones") thanks to its skeletal appearance from the outside, the house is situated on the upscale Passeig de Gràcia. We entered through the foyer, where I was immediately struck by the unique winding staircase. Up we went, and I soon discovered that each room I entered was more and more marvelous - and in the truest sense of the word, by causing great wonder. First, there was the room displaying the mushroom-shaped textile working area - apparently the Batlló family were revered experts within the local textile industry, and watching the demonstration on how the work was done in a strange, furnace-like room reminded me of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and his Oompa Loompas. Distracted by every turn, I eventually made my way to the areas looking upon the street, where I gazed through the "bones" at those gazing up adoringly at the structure from down below. Guests are given a complimentary audio guide with purchase of the admission ticket, and it proved to be a surprisingly useful tool, with a wealth of information about each room and fun facts about the house. First there was the atrium and its beautiful skylight letting in streams of soft, curious light, that danced through the stained glass and off the mosaics. Then, the entrance to the outdoor back terrace, where the (now empty) light hanging fixture was reportedly inspired by the breasts of one of Gaudí's lovers. Sitting in the crisp, clear Barcelona sunshine, the mosaics glittered in an almost hypnotising rainbow of light. Making our way up the twisting staircase, we eventually found our way to the upper floors. From the laundry room to the flowing, sculpted and irregular archways, each room was a marvel to behold and in the unusual loft space, I couldn't help but feel as though I were walking through the belly of a great beast, his hollow ribcage echoing around me. I imagine growing up as a child in this house would be a constant source of mystery and excitement that would let one's imagination know no bounds.

We finally made it to the roof - and once again, wow. Said to resemble the back of a dragon, it's hard to think of little else as you gaze upon the spikes of the beast's back, writhing throughout the roof and seemingly into the home itself, scales glimmering in the sunlight. To say it were weird and wonderful would be a serious understatement - even gazing through the stained glass mosaic windows provided yet another view of this incredible home, making it appear as though I were rediscovering it through rippling waters. I felt inspired to draw and paint again - everything about this place made me want to see the world through the eyes of a magical fantasy world again.


Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain
Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain / Photo by Yi-Hwa Hanna

The house was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, and it's easy to see why - words and pictures don't do it justice, and I can say with conviction that this is a place everyone (or at least lovers of art, architecture, and fantasy) should see at least once in their lifetime. While I enjoyed all of the sights and sounds of Barcelona, Casa Batlló was by far my favourite memory of the city. And in a city that lives and breathes art, culture and inspiration as a part of everyday life, that's pretty hard to beat.

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