The toughest stories to photograph are the closest ones. Typically, I overlook them or avoid them like a telemarketer. Today, I walked through the magical Sagrada Familia -- the Basilica designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. With my head tilted uncomfortably perpendicular to the floor, I gazed at the elaborate ceiling cascading overhead like a stone rainforest canopy in the heart of Barcelona. The Sagrada Familia is an experience, an architectural marvel. Photographs will never do it justice. As I stood in the sanctuary of Gaudi's most visited construction site, I realized today's story was not the building. That story has been told a dozen times over. Today's story is the man in front of me. I rotated the body of my camera down and began to snap straight ahead. My dad, a talented architect himself, was finally standing inside the creation of one his favorite architects and he couldn't see it.
Earlier this year, freshly back to New York on a frigid winter morning, I opened my icy, silver MacBook as usual to find a curious email from a brother I never knew in Spain. My broken knowledge of Spanish and a weight in my gut told me something was wrong. A phone call away later, I discovered my dad going blind. Tio Stib, as my nieces and nephews call him, designed airports in Vancouver and Washington and hospitals in Oregon and California. Now the lens through which he implemented his visions is covered by a blurry, darkened filter.
He has two favorite architects -- Gaudi and Albert Alto. Today, we wandered through Gaudi's acclaimed Sagrada Familia -- considered his life's work. The vision he constructed in his mind was so complicated that only 3 people in the world understand the computer program developed to finish it. I'm not an architect. Most people who visit the site are not. But, they can appreciate the brilliance. My dad on the other hand understands the genius needed to create such elaborate engineering. He explains the hyperboloid structures and Gaudi's upside-down models of string weighted down with small bags full of birdshot as we amble through the museum in the crypt.
My dad stood inside one of the most magnificent, inspiring buildings I, as a
non-architect, have ever encountered. He studied him. He remembers the photos in his
head. And we stood in the middle and he couldn’t see it. He imagined it from
the photos imposed on the blurred light that filters through his nebulous vision.
Yet, Gaudi's buildings are some of the few that can be felt. Nature inspired his organic designs. Columns rise like trees with knots that split into small branches to form arching canopies. Stairs curl like the spirals inside seashells. Door grills interlock grids like honeycombs. Though shrouded from perceiving light in sharp focus, he could feel Gaudi's genius. In an adjunct museum, we meandered through mini-replicas of elements of the Sagrada Famliia like the giant columns towering inside the main cavernous nave. He could feel the knots at the tops of the columns towering above our heads inside. Then, he shuffled back to the airy holy cavern and ran his hand around the gruff trunk-like columns thicker than I am tall. And, that's when I lost it. I disappeared into the crowd to hide the tears.
He reminded me later that loosing sight in one area gives us the opportunity to see other things. Gaudi himself attested, "In the Sagrada Familia, everything is providential." As cranes moved stone like legos overhead, I felt Providence at work in this painful yet beautifully profound moment strumming my heart like the picking of Andres Segovia. Providence is at work closing our eyes to open them to what we've been blind to all along.