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Road Show: Ewa Podleś in Barcelona

The Polish diva reflects on the charms of the Catalonian capital. ERIC MYERS goes along for the ride.

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Quantity and quality: one of Podleś’s favorite spots in Barcelona, La Boqueria market, offers a bounty of seafood
© Gregory Downer 2012
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Podleś sings the praises of the City of Counts
© Gabe Palacio 2012
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The century-old pastry shop Escribà
© Gregory Downer 2012

"Barcelona!" It's Ewa Podleś's unhesitating answer to the question: what is the place in the world where you most love to sing? The Polish contralto is esteemed the world over, but she is beloved by Barcelona audiences with an intensity perhaps matched only by her rabid following in New York. "I feel that people in those two cities really love me. After the performances and the concerts, the audiences, the ovations, they are special! These audiences that are so warm and enthusiastic — I love this. In Madrid, the public is much more quiet. In Barcelona, they are happy, and they scream! Once in Barcelona after an opening night, they were waiting for me for three whole hours after the performance. They waited through the long party afterward. It was two o'clock in the morning when I got out of the theater — and there was a crowd of people, waiting for me. That is fantastic!"

The Catalonian metropolis that has inspired everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Woody Allen is indeed seductive, a sensual city bordered by mountains and sea. Few can resist its appeal, not even Podleś, who is a self-proclaimed cityphobe. "Cities make me feel like animal in cage," she admits. "Barcelona is different. You know, when I have to spend hours and hours in the theater, I want to go out into nature. Barcelona is wonderful for that. People can escape to their country houses in the summer in the mountains, where it is not as hot." When time doesn't permit a woodsy excursion, she'll stroll through the atmospheric streets of the ancient Barrio Gotico section, or head for the port, where she can decompress by simply gazing out to sea and feeding the gulls. 

Podleś feeds them on high-end bread and fish that she buys at one of her favorite spots in Barcelona, the centuries-old La Boqueria marketplace on the famous pedestrian boulevard known as Las Ramblas. "I love La Boqueria," says Podleś, who is known to be a terrific cook. "Of course, it is very expensive, but you cannot imagine the quantity and quality of the fish and seafood in this market. I am in heaven, because I love fresh fish and seafood. This fish is so fresh it moves on the table! It is something incredible." Podleś tends to shun restaurants when traveling, preferring to rent apartments with full kitchens so that she and her husband, pianist Jerzy Marchwinski, can take charge of their own meals. La Boqueria makes for a top-flight — if pricey — local A&P. One of her biggest fans is the chef of a major Lisbon restaurant; he always makes the jaunt to Barcelona to visit her and concoct a fabulous meal from La Boqueria's choicest gleanings. "He always prepares for me and my friends a big party," says Podleś. "He buys everything at La Boqueria and then prepares in my apartment fantastic food. He even brings his own knife!"

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Barcelona's Mediterranean waterfront
© Gregory Downer 2012

Road Show Picks

Ramblas 122, 08002 Barcelona
Tel.: (34) 93 270-1111

La Rambla 111, 08002 Barcelona
Tel.: (34) 93 318-6200

Escudellers 14, 08002 Barcelona
Tel.: (34) 93 301-2041

ESCRIBÀ (pastry shop)
Rambla de les Flors, 83
08002 Barcelona
Tel.: (34) 93 301-6027

LA BOQUERIA (food market)
Rambla, 91 Mercat de la Boqueria
08001 Barcelona
Tel.: (34) 93 412-1315 

When she does go out to dinner in Barcelona, there is no question as to her favorite restaurant — the venerable Los Caracoles, founded in 1835. Many years ago, when she made her first trip to Barcelona with her husband for a vocal competition, they arrived at Los Caracoles for a noon lunch and wound up staying for twelve hours, sampling almost everything on the menu. "My husband and I shared every dish, half and half," she remembers. "We were so happy that at three o'clock, I asked the director of the restaurant if we could just stay there and keep drinking sangria and ordering more food during the whole afternoon siesta, when they were supposed to be closed. And they said yes, we could stay! We were only two of us in the restaurant then, and we kept ordering every dish. The last was a big, big lobster. Everything was so tasty, so fantastic, so good, and they were so nice to us. We came in at noon, but we stayed there until midnight. Yes, midnight! Now you understand my relationship with Los Caracoles — it goes on now for more than thirty years. They do not change the menu there. It is always something good, always something special. I am fidèle to Los Caracoles!" 

When Podleś is in Barcelona for only a few days, she and her husband will forgo renting an apartment and instead stay in the Barcelona Citadines hotel. "I like Citadines," she says, "because it is well placed on Las Ramblas, very close to the market, to the Liceu, to the department store El Corte Ingles — and to Los Caracoles! They have suites with kitchens there. There is also a very good small hotel, the Meridien, which is almost in front of Citadines, and that is one of the best places to stay in Barcelona."

Not surprisingly, when it comes to a true vacation, Podleś likes nothing better than just staying home. "What I love," she says, "is to sit on the terrasse of my country home, fifty kilometers from Warsaw, and look out on the beautiful river Narew. That is where I find calm security and peace of mind. That is where I can spend time with my daughter, my grandson, my garden, my birds, my dogs. That is my vacation. I don't need to go through more stupid airports, and more controls, just to go somewhere and see palm trees!" spacer 

ERIC MYERS has contributed articles to Playbill, Time Out New York and The New York Times Magazine and Arts and Leisure section. This is the first article in a recurring series. 

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