He lay in the road where an unseeing tram had knocked him down. He wasn’t looking where he was going, his mind intent elsewhere, this old tramp in carpet slippers shuffling towards the church.
People stepped around him until a compassionate passer-by took him to the charity hospital where Nuns tutted over trousers fastened with safety pins, and nursed him for two days before friends discovered and identified him. Antoni Gaudi died a few days later at the age of 74.
At his funeral, Barcelona honoured him as the genius he was; now it preserves his international heritage and sells the tee-shirts. This is the man who put a tiny lizard on a decorated chimney pot in Palau Grὔell
and created, in the Sagrada Familia, a church that breaths light and air as it inhales the energy of the cosmos or, if you are devout as Gaudi was, the Grace of God.
Today, June 25, is Gaudi’s birthday, and I am in the Catalonian town of Reus where he was born, in 1852, into a family of metalwork artisans. Few have remembered his birthday: it is fiesta today in Reus, but for the feast day of Sant Jordi (aka St.George – he of the dragon), who is the patron saint of Reus and of special significance to all Catalonia. But there are no banners for Gaudi, so I am writing this birthday card for him.
Near the simple house where he grew up, there is a small sculpture of Gaudi as an adolescent, a boy in deep thought.
There are none of his buildings in Reus, though; it was prosperous enough in the nineteenth century – spoken of in the same breath as Paris and London – but its wealthy industrialists did not choose one of their own to design their status symbols.
Instead, there is now a Gaudi Centre which does homage to his originality and genius with interactive displays and audio-visual aids that are appropriately innovative and creative. it is a state-of-the-art exhibition that Gaudi would have enjoyed – not for personal aggrandisement, that was not his style – but for its ingenuity and artistry. It shows vividly how Gaudi observed and applied nature’s own engineering to the spaces he designed; experimented with form to provide new functions, and achieved all of this with imagination and originality still unsurpassed.
Happy Birthday, Gaudi!