Arthur C. Clark once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
This is pretty true, I think. If say, William Shakespeare, was transported in a time machine to the present day, what would he think of smart phones and TVs and elevators and, heck, electric toothbrushes? He’d no doubt think a magician was involved. But what makes a place “magical?” It’s certainly not technology. I suspect it’s more about awe (which I wrote about in posts #153 and #157), that feeling that the location is touching on something bigger than our mere physical and mental selves. The Grand Canyon, in all its vastness, is awesome and magical, especially at sunrise and sunset. Listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is magical. Watching your child take its first step is magical. Watching the heavens open up in a rain forest is magical.
I would argue that the Park Guell in Barcelona, designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi, has a little bit of that magical pixie dust as well. You wouldn’t know it from its Wikipedia entry, however, which writes, “Park Guell is the reflection of Gaudi’s artistic plenitude…[he] introduces a series of new structural solutions rooted in the analysis of geometry… His works acquire a structural richness of forms and volumes, free of the rational rigidity or any sort of classic premises.” Talking about draining the magic out of a place! This is what I dislike about academia, which analyzes things to death. Park Guell is magical because…it just is. Located on Barcelona’s Carmel Hill, the park is a riot of bright colors and sinuating shapes. Parts of it look like a mad man’s sand castle. There are tiles and turrets everywhere, not to mention giant lizards festooned in mirrors and mosaics. It’s is a children’s story come to life. Gaudi is something of the patron artist of Barcelona, with works like this all over the city (including the “awesome” Sagrada Familia cathedral), but for me, Park Guell is the most magical place in town. Analyzing it is beside the point. Some places just have it or they don’t, and Park Guell has it.
(I was once on top of a bus in India, arriving in the town of Ajmer, busy analyzing the scenery and my experience, when one of my fellow travelers says, “Shh! Let’s just enjoy this in silence!” I’ve never forgotten that moment, when I was reminded to stop analyzing all the time and just feel what’s going on around me. I think we could all benefit from turning the dial down on our busy, analyzing brains and tap into the awesome infinite in every moment. Try taking a walk in the park today without saying a word. Give yourself a vow of silence and see what magic emerges.)