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25 Things You Should Know About Barcelona

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With its Catalonian roots and modernist architecture (much of it by the legendary Antoni Gaudí), Barcelona's charm feels timeless. Read on for more about this coastal metropolis, the former home of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

1. Nobody knows exactly how the city got its name, but two legendary figures are frequently cited. According to one account, Hannibal's father, Hamilcar Barca, named the settlement "Barcino" in the 3rd century BCE after his family's surname. A different tale credits Hercules, whose ninth ship (barca nona) was said to have washed ashore in the area.

2. The Eixample section of the city is a nearly perfect grid, although the corners of each square are cut off, effectively making every block an octagon. In the 19th century, geometry-obsessed architect Ildefons Cerda designed the areas to ease traffic patterns and navigation, but also to build a community within each block, which featured a communal garden in the middle. As a bonus, the setup also maximized sunlight and the ventilation of the surrounding homes.

3. One of Barcelona's most popular arteries is the three-quarter-mile road called La Rambla. During the Middle Ages, it was the site of a polluted stream outside the city walls affectionately known as Cagalell, or "stream of shit." Today, the road is divided into five sections—Canaletes, Estudis, Sant Josep, Caputxins, and Santa Mònica—which is why it's often referred to in the plural as Las Ramblas.

4. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), more than 1000 underground bomb shelters were built to offer Barcelonians refuge from enemy attack. You can experience the claustrophobic atmosphere of one of the subterranean structures, Shelter 307, a massive bunker with specialized rooms (toilets, a children's room, an infirmary, and more) linked by 400 meters of tunnels. The Museu d'Historia de Barcelona manages the site and offers public tours.

5. The annual Sant Jordi festival (which took place this year on April 23) toasts Catalonia's patron saint, Saint George. As part of the celebration, men traditionally give their loved ones a rose. But it's also the anniversary of both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes's deaths, so women give a book in return.

6. A 200-foot-tall monument of Christopher Columbus is located at the end of La Rambla, near the harbor. Completed in 1888 by sculptor Rafael Atche, the towering column honors the explorer who returned to Barcelona from the Americas and reported his findings to his patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. In his left hand, he holds a scroll, and with his right, he supposedly points toward the New World.

7. Construction on Antoni Gaudí's masterpiece cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, began in 1882 … and is still going. The Gothic- and Byzantine-influenced design reached its final stage in November 2015, but projections still target 2026 as the completion date. By then, it will have 18 towers and reach a height of 564 feet, making it the tallest religious building in Europe. Despite not being finished, it's still Spain's most-visited monument.

8. A modernist masterpiece, Park Güell is a complex of public parks designed by Gaudí and a local industrialist, Count Eusebi Güell. Originally, in 1900, Güell had envisioned the complex as a housing development interspersed with green spaces, but only two homes were ever built and few buyers showed interest. The residential project was abandoned in 1914 and the city later converted the rest of the area into municipal parks with roads, walkways, a plaza, and gatehouses designed by Gaudí. Today it's one of seven properties in UNESCO's Works of Antoni Gaudí world heritage site.

9. Another site in the UNESCO group is Casa Milà, an apartment building designed by Gaudí and nicknamed La Pedrera, or stone quarry. It took six years to build and was completed in 1912 in the Catalan Art Nouveau style. With 48,438 square feet of space for visitors to explore, its most recognizable feature is the roof terrace with its winding paths of ventilation towers, chimneys, and stairs.

10. Spain's most powerful supercomputer, MareNostrum, is housed in the 19th-century Chapel Torre Girona on the campus of Barcelona's Polytechnic University of Catalonia. A team of researchers uses the MareNostrum for mapping the human genome, detecting complex weather patterns, and other massive projects using huge amounts of data.

11. The first boycott-free Olympics since 1972 was held in Barcelona in 1992. The summer games took place amid global political shifts—South Africa had outlawed Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall had reunited East and West Germany, and 15 former Soviet countries competed as a "unified" team. More than 9000 athletes (6652 men and 2704 women) competed in 257 events—including baseball, badminton, and women's judo, which all made their official Olympic debuts that year.

12. The coastal city's beloved beaches are actually man-made. To prepare for the 1992 Olympics, industrial waterfront buildings were torn down and palm trees were imported from Malaga, resulting in two miles of idyllic waterfront space. Today, there are more than four miles of beach.

13. Singer José Carreras, who was born in Barcelona on December 5, 1946, sang the part of Tony on 1984's West Side Story recording with Leonard Bernstein. He later joined forces with Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo in 1990 to form the powerhouse combo The Three Tenors. Their first live album (recorded at their debut concert in Rome) went multiplatinum that year—and won a Grammy for best classical vocal performance.

14. In 2004, Barcelona-based candy shop Papabubble started making hard candies completely by hand. Today there are more than 40 locations around the globe, in cities including Beirut, Dubai, Lima, New York, Paris, Sao Paolo, Taipei, Toronto, and Zhengzhou.

15. Built for the 1929 International Exhibition by Carles Buigas, the Montjuïc Magic Fountain features a dancing water show with more than 50 shades of colors coordinated to music. Located at the end of Avinguda Reina Maria Cristina, it was restored for the 1992 Olympics and also hosts an annual Piromusical show, synchronized with fireworks, for the city's La Mercè festival.

16. For a panoramic view of Barcelona, hop on the scenic Montjuïc cable car, which travels up a hillside for 277 feet, with stops at Parc Montjuïc, Montjuïc castle (built in 1640), and the Mirador de l'Alcalde. From the upper terminal, board the Montjuïc funicular to ascend to more cultural attractions, including the Fundacio Joan Miro and Barcelona’s ethnological museum.

17. Barcelona's local cuisine combines the hallmarks of the coastal Mediterranean palate—fish and shellfish, legumes, tomatoes, peppers, other fresh vegetables, fruits, and wheat—with the rustic fare of the mountainous interior. Pork (especially Serrano ham) and wild boar, sausages called botifarras, wild mushrooms, cheeses, and wines add heartiness to the Catalan table.

18. Pablo Picasso's family moved to Barcelona in 1895, and he lived there on and off through 1904. "There is where it all began … there is where I understood how far I could go," he said of the city. Barcelona’s Museu Picasso, founded in 1963, houses 4251 of his works in its permanent collection, including early self-portraits in the figurative style, Cubist works, studies of harlequins and horses, and later sculptures.

19. Catalonia’s artistic legacy wouldn’t be complete without Surrealist master Salvador Dalí, who was born in Figueres, a small town about an hour northeast of Barcelona. He spent the last decades of his life creating a museum in his hometown to preserve his work. "I want my museum to be like a single block, a maze, a great surrealist object. It will be an absolutely theatrical museum. People who come to see it will leave with the feeling of having had a theatrical dream,” Dalí once said. The Dalí Theatre-Museum’s collection includes more than 4000 Dalí works, 11,300 photographs, and 537 manuscripts.

20. Barcelona’s most visited museum is dedicated to the city’s beloved football (that is, soccer) team, FC Barcelona. Within the team’s stadium, dubbed Camp Nou, is a collection of multimedia exhibits, memorabilia, and trophies from the team’s 22 league titles, four Champions League victories, and many more. Visitors can also take a tour of the locker rooms, the players’ tunnel leading to the field, and other hallowed spaces. In 2013, more than 1,530,400 fans passed through the doors, more than the Dalí Theatre Museum in nearby Figueres and the Museu Picasso.

21. The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is the city’s main market for food and drink. The current market was established in 1840, but the site has been a well-trodden spot for farmers to trade their produce and city dwellers to buy fresh food since the 13th century. Today third- and fourth-generation sellers offer fresh and salted fish, poultry and eggs, meats of every description, breads, pasta, wine, fruits and vegetables, and even frozen foods.

22. The old Sant Agustí monastery now houses the Museu de la Xocolata ("Museum of Chocolate” in the Catalan language), showcasing a sweet part of Barcelona's history. In the 15th century, shipments of chocolate from far-flung regions arrived in Barcelona and were distributed throughout Europe. Exhibits focus on the chocolate-making process, historical roots of the product, and even chocolate-themed works of art.

23. Barcelona’s Avinguda del Portal de L'Angel is Spain’s most expensive retail street. As of 2015, commercial real estate on the street sold for $335 per square foot.

24. The au courant clothing chain Mango was founded in Barcelona in 1984. Now, the brand has 2415 stores in 107 countries and operates Europe’s largest fashion design hub, the Hangar Design Centre.

25. The Royal Institute of British Architecture's highest honor, the Royal Gold Medal, has always be awarded to a person—except in 1999, when it was given to the city of Barcelona. Citing the city’s widespread revitalization after the 1992 Olympics, the organization announced, "Barcelona is now more whole in every way, its fabric healed yet threaded through with new open spaces, its historic buildings refurbished, yet its facilities expanded and brought up-to-the-minute.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

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Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes? And [Hanson] said ‘Dean Martin.’”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

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[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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