Most of the roads of L’Eixample remained loose gravel. The motorwagen’s thin wheels kicked up dirt to the jangle of small pebbles, ricocheting off the metal frame. Men with caps and pipes, walking along side donkeys or pushing wheel barrows, stopped and gawked at the sight of the horseless carriage, barreling toward them in a cloud of dust. Everyone, man and animal alike, then scattered at the blast of a horn when they realized the glistening machine wasn’t going to stop.
Gaudí felt the skin between the dusty eye-goggles and moist scarf start to burn from the wind. The pounding of hammers and chisels thundered in a sky shaded brown from the smoke of steamrollers. All around him were signs of Barcelona’s golden age. Cloth tarps draped scaffolding attached to hidden façades undergoing cosmetic changes while exposed steel frames showed the skeletons for new edifices to be erected.
The architect thought about his beloved Sagrada Família: neglected, forgotten, decades behind schedule. He slumped in his seat, cursing the materialistic leanings of the emerging bourgeoisie, who would rather spend their money turning flats into palaces, instead of donating to the last sanctuary of Christendom. Did they not understand without Christ, Our Lord, none of their wealth would be possible? That all their material possessions meant nothing when they arrived at Saint Peter’s Gate?
Gaudí rued the decline of true men of faith, like him and Eusebi Güell, but didn’t get a chance to dwell on his disappointment. His body leaned to one side and slid down the cushioned backseat as the automobile turned off Las Ramblas, onto Carrer Nou de la Rambla.
Prostitutes, their clients and panhandlers clogged the shadowy El Raval street. The driver honked; smoke plumed from the exhaust pipe. The steel motorwagen plowed through the congestion before stopping midway down at a somber stone wall with the flattened curve of two catenary arches. The wavy bars of wrought-iron doors gave the illusion of being Arabic mosaics. In the middle were the scripted initials “E” and “G,” which parted as the two gates swung in.
The black motorwagen drove into a courtyard rife with the stench of hay and horse manure. Gaudí noticed the wooden doors for the stables below ground were open. The odor reminded him of his family’s farmhouse outside Reus where he had spent much of his childhood alone, wandering through the forest in search of bats.
The rattling engine cut, ending the lucid memories streaming in Gaudí’s mind. He took off his scarf and goggles and watched as Arnau climbed down from the motorwagen and extended a helping hand.
“This palace is the first building you designed for El Senyor Güell, isn’t it?”
Gaudí ignored questions when speakers already knew the answers. He shunned Arnau’s gesture and got out of the motorwagen himself. The wavy wrought-iron doors swung to a close and he saw the people, who stopped and stared at an opulent iron eagle mounted between the two catenary arches, start to disappear. Most onlookers had wide-eyes and slack jaws, others snickered and pointed as they mocked. The architect tried to dismiss the critics as uneducated and ignorant masses, but the sting of seeing his work belittled burned more than the skin of his chapped cheeks.