Sunday, April 1, 2007

Sandra Oh Reigns in Spain

Oh Barcelona!

Taking a break from her busy career, The Night Listener’s Sandra Oh went to Spain and “learned to do nothing.” By Mark Seal

“I was introduced to Barcelona by an old, dear ­theater-school friend, Andrew Tarbet, who lives there with his girlfriend,” says Sandra Oh, who came to Barcelona on a rare break from her increasingly hectic career. “I found myself with a few weeks to spare last year — and have always had an open invitation — so I decided to take the trip. It was the place where I learned to sleep. Learned to do nothing, to commune with the sun and the sand and to enjoy watching the people go by.” She was on hiatus from her Golden Globe–winning role as Dr. Cristina Yang on the hit ABC series Grey’s Anatomy and still reeling from the acclaim of her star turn in the on-the-road wine movie Sideways. She was going to spend her off-season working on an independent film in Korea. “But the funding fell through, so I had nothing planned,” she says. She looked down at the blanks in her calendar and thought, Barcelona!

Born and raised in Ottawa, Oh was already in ballet lessons at age four and in her first play at age 10. She beat out more than 1,000 hopefuls for a Canadian Broadcasting Company television film, and since then, her vacations have been increasingly rare. This month, she stars with Robin Williams, Rory Culkin, and Toni Collette in the psychological thriller The Night Listener, based on the best-selling­ book by San Francisco writer Armistead Maupin. She also returned to the stage in the dramatic play Satellites, which just completed its run last month at the Public Theater in New York City. But in a moment of rare repose, here’s Sandra Oh in Barcelona … before she went back to work.

What’s the first thing you did in Barcelona?
I got there, and Andrew picked me up from the airport. We went into Barceloneta, to his tiny, tiny, tiny one-bedroom apartment with his girlfriend and just had an impromptu dinner and had a couple of friends over. I was really ready to relax. After shooting a show for that long, you are kind of looking for a nice place to be relaxed.

Where did you stay?
The hotel I stayed at was called Peru Playa on Calle del Mar. It is a place without pretension, and it’s reasonably priced at 55 euros a night. There is another hotel that is great — a little more expensive but right in the middle of Raval, one of the neighborhoods of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella [“old city”]. It is called Hotel España — very beautiful interior with rooms overlooking the interior patio.

Wow, 55 euros? You definitely weren’t going the superstar route …
I wasn’t staying at a fancy hotel. I was going there in a much more Lonely Planet kind of way. These are hotels that are tiny little rooms that have just a bed or two. Barcelona is such a live city; it doesn’t necessarily have a lot of amenities. But the place I stayed, the nicest people ran it. They have a bar underneath it, and it was phenomenal. It also helped that my friends lived right near there, and they knew the owner and I was able to get a place to stay. It’s in the area where there are a lot of young people who are there from all over Europe.

Did you eat cheaply as well?
There are lots of places to go everywhere in Barcelona for, like, 25 bucks — a variety of food. Low-key places. I just didn’t spend a lot of time at the more chic restaurants. The food there, wherever you go, is great. Jamón! Think prosciutto and multiply that by a million. You get it anywhere, any restaurant; the better the restaurant, the better the jamón. It’s like the presentation appetizer plate. You just eat it with bread and oil, sometimes with a little tomato rubbed into the bread. There’s something very specific about Serrano ham that you can only get in Spain. It’s just so delicious, and you have it with everything.

Where did you spend your time?
I spent most of my time in Barceloneta. I really like that area. I hate to compare it to things because it is truly incomparable, but I think I really loved it in part because it reminds me of both the Marais in Paris and the East Village in New York. It’s right by the beach, it’s cramped, and it’s homey. We hung out at these places called chiringuitos, which are little bars on the beach in little huts. Barcelona has the beach, it has its family neighborhoods, it has its historical and fantastic architecture, its fashion and hipster sections, and, above all, Spaniards and their love for everything. It is a city that is so many centuries old, with extraordinary architecture, history, and works of art around almost every corner. My whole take from the city was the chill-out pace. If you try and rush something, it will take you twice as long. Basically, live life now.

What did you do during the day?
If you have only one day, just get lost. It’s the best way to discover any city. But if you have to go somewhere, Fundació Miró es la bomba. Or, anything that [Antoni] Gaudí built.

You could definitely get lost in Gaudí’s wild and inventive architecture, which has become synonymous with Barcelona. What were your favorites?
The Casa Batlló is just so extraordinary. Basically, the entire motif of the building is a dragon being slayed. On the outside you can see that there seem to be skulls. It is the wildest thing. When you enter into it, the staircase is so phenomenal; the craftsmanship of the woodwork and the glasswork and just the design of it is breathtaking. In a lot of these buildings, Gaudí would make the central part of the buildings all light, like a courtyard. So there would be constant light coming into various parts of the house. The main thing is that people actually lived here. There was some super-duper rich guy who commissioned Gaudí to create numerous buildings, and this was one of his houses. It’s mostly all empty, but you can go in and experience it. You can touch the banister. You can see the amazing fireplace, the unbelievable windows. I just love all the really supernatural, kind of underwater designs. It’s amazing, because it’s all ceramic tile, and it’s like the scales on the back of a dragon. There’s also La Pedrera, which is basically a Gaudí museum. The most remarkable thing about La Pedrera is the roof. I think he believed that every single part of a house should be beautiful. Oftentimes we fail to recognize the roof. The roof is just this amazing kind of strange, alien sand dune. What I love about his work is that it’s constantly the most creative thing and always very, very new. It’s just breathtaking. You can see the whole city from there.

Did you have a favorite place for lunch?
Kaiku has one of the best menus in the city. Every weekday they offer a selection of appetizers, entrées, desserts, and wine for a very good price — about eight to 12 euros. It’s a beautiful, perfect place. Everything there is completely fresh, and it is a very homey atmosphere. I would not even be able to tell you what I ate. It always helps being there with Spanish people who can order for you. And there is El Vaso de Oro in Barceloneta, which serves tapas, specializing in la plancha [the grill].

Where’s a good place just to walk around and enjoy the scenery?
Parc Güell is definitely one of my favorites. There is an indoor arboretum in the large park, which is a lovely place to sit, and there is a café/restaurant there to grab a bite to eat. You walk through basically what you imagine is a crazy kind of vision of a Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house [designed by Gaudí]. It’s just amazing — these tiles and mosaics, so colorful. That’s what’s so beautiful about the stuff: Everything is really colorful and very childlike. When you walk up, there’s this salamander or lizard that is also in the mosaic, but it’s in the fountain, in the center of it. There are usually beautiful musicians that are playing, and it’s a wonderful way to experience it.

I hear the city’s Gothic Quarter is one of the oldest areas in Europe.
That’s such a beautiful area — very walkable from where I was staying. It’s just a gorgeous, very old area with beautiful shops. A lot of great little design shops, shoe shops, clothing shops, a lot of ice cream stands, cute little pizzerias. It’s very alive at night. Very narrow cobblestone streets; everything is stone; all the doorways are tiny. You will have this very, very old structure, but a lot of the shops and restaurants and all that stuff are very, very new and chic and well designed. That kind of juxtaposition. It’s just a good area to get lost in.

Okay, dinner. I know you loved to get lost, but give us some addresses.
For breakfast, lunch, and dinner there is Bar Leo on San Carles in Barceloneta. They offer home-cooked Andalusian food — ­patas de pork, paella, migas, and tapas — in a totally authentic atmosphere. You also get to meet Leo. The location is great. It kind of opens out into a square, but it’s right by the beach with the boardwalk. L’Aguilera in Borne-Ribera is great. It’s right next to the Plaça St. Augusti Vell. Cal Pinxo on Carrer Baluard is a great place to have paella of all sorts, and it’s right on the beach.

Did you make it to the famous restaurant El Bulli, known for its chef, Ferran Adrià, and his eclectic Iberian cuisine? He does dishes with foam and …
No, I didn’t go anywhere that would have been known, ’cause I’m hanging around locals. Again, that’s why I really loved Barceloneta. It has a very lived-in atmosphere. I just personally like that vibe.

Where would you send us on a day trip from Barcelona?
You take a train from Barcelona to Gualta, this little village about an hour north of the city, which has the most unbelievable jazz bar, Mas Sorrer. It’s completely outdoors. You have to walk through this field of sunflowers to get to it. The bar itself is kind of like this amazing asymmetrical tented bar, and they show really old films. They project movies on the giant stone wall of the building. Outside, there’s a pool table, and there’s a little performance platform; they might have a fire eater or trapeze people, and there’s this guy who does this crazy puppet show in a trailer. It’s really amazing, the most phenomenal bar I have ever been to. In July, the owner, Gerard Argemi, and my friend Andrew hosted the First International Short Film Festival Mas Sorrer there. It was three nights of great short films by some of the best new filmmakers from around the world, playing on a stone wall surrounded by fields of sunflowers. There was also the Sonar Festival — a huge electronic-music festival. We actually went there at midnight, and we were dancing until seven in the morning. The light was coming up and we were completely fried. We walked all the way to the beach, took off all our clothes, and went for a dip. What else are you going to do after dancing for seven hours straight?

How She Learned To Let Go In Barcelona
I did Satellites, this play in New York. I met the director, Michael Greif, in Barcelona, and we hung out. We met at Parc Güell. We went to have dinner with a bunch of people. Later, at the festival, a lot of kids were throwing firecrackers, so there were firecrackers going off everywhere. Everyone goes out on the beach and you grab a beer and sit on the beach and just talk to people. You are out until the late hours of the morning. That was the first day that I was just, like, I’m going to roll with it. I don’t really need to sleep. I’m relaxing. I don’t really need to worry about the sand in my underwear; I’m just going to sit here anyway. I’m not going to worry that someone is going to yell at me for having a beer on the beach, because everyone else is doing it. I’m just going to sit and talk. I think it’s kind of hard to make a decision in Spain.

Source: American Way. August 1, 2006
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