Saturday, October 31, 2015

Museum pieces

At an art space supported by the Telephonica Foundation, we saw the amazing Strandbeests, the creation of the Dutch artist Theo Jansen. They walk powered by wind, and can even store energy in plastic bottles and thus amble without wind. Genius. 

For video see his site   He also has a TED talk.

It was a nice building. Great looking stairwell.

Also in the building, a history of the telephone museum that was quite fun, though at the end, I had to laugh over the fact that my exact model of phone is already a museum piece.

At a different gallery, saw a retrospective of the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, Europe's Frank Lloyd Wright, a man who brought architecture into the modern age and also designed furniture, lamps, bricks, and many other things. His designs are still available, especially the glass ware.

Went to the Madrid design center for an exhibit of Bakelite objects that was absolutely wonderful - hundreds of pieces, all in excellent condition.  Unbeknownst to us, they also had a show with a about a dozen Finnish artists, all women, working in 3D with often recycled material. I'd show you photos, but none were allowed. 

Truly, Madrid is a museum lovers dream. Tomorrow we hit The Prado. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Every day in Spain is a lesson in religion

So off we went to Toledo on a beautiful sunny day. Another cathedral and I'm bored to pieces with cathedrals so I've declared this one to be the last. Sure, it had its fine points, but it's easy to go into overload.

We wound our way to an ancient synagogue which was built in the 1400s and lost to the Catholics after not many years. It was clearly designed by an Mudjaher architect, as were many buildings commissioned by non-Muslims simply because they were the best. For many years the synagogue was a church, it spent about a century as military barracks and then became a state memorial and is now known as the Synagogue of St. Mary. 

As the sweet nun with a Star of David in her crucifix told us, there is no longer a Jewish community in Toledo, yet they will celebrate Hanuka and their love and gratitude for Israel. 

In much of the city, embedded into the street, are tiles like these.

And many souvenir stores carry mezuzzahs of Spanish ceramics or Damascus steel.

Afterward, we wandered to a beautiful little square for another meal outdoors and found tapas con lox at a cafe called "Dar al Chai" whose interior decor as strictly Arabian.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

A retraction, of sorts

All the negative things I've said about the Spanish churches were turned on their head today as I experienced one of the prettiest churches I've ever seen. 

It is the Catedral of Madrid, the Cathedral of the Virgin of Almudena. We popped in just as the sun popped out and I was gobsmacked by the ceilings. 

So richly painted and very reminiscent of Moorish design. Stunning and contemporary. Have never seen anything like it and the photos don't begin to do it justice, as always. 

Later learned that the sanctuary looks so contemporary because it is. It was consecrated in 1996.

I don't know anything about the Virgin of Almudena, but as our walking-tour guide explained, any Spanish word with "al" at the beginning came from Arabic; he said 4,000 Spanish words are rooted in Arabic, since they ruled Spain for 700 years. All over this country there are church bell towers built like minarets.

Again, I think how very different it is to be in a place that esteems it's Arab roots and respects the legacy of art, language and architecture they left behind. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Most Catholic of Kingdoms

I read a bit before this trip on Spain and especially the reign of Isabella. It was her desire to show the world that Spain was the most Catholic nation. 

These are photos all taken in the cathedral at Jaen, the heart of Spain's olive country.

It was an enormous church with at least a dozen side altars. The Spanish love of mannequins in clothing they never would have worn for real, escapes me, but the big picture is clear -- that suffering, pain, bleeding and creepy skeletons are the main imagery and that opulence and treasures beyond the imagination of the masses belong to the church.

Gold and silver chalices and candle sticks so valuable they are kept in a vault in modern times. 

The point being this --- being Catholic is about suffering you can imagine because these manaquins look like people and Point 2 - Look at how rich the church is! God loves us best! 

The gospel of prosperity, as preached by Joel Osteen and many others, is simply the modern version of this. 

And, by the way, the candles are electric and have a specific price which differed from altar to altar. As Mark pointed out, dropping in a coin and waiting to see what lit was a lot like playing the slots. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

After a fashion

Spanish parents like to dress their kids in very traditional clothing, with smocking and such,  and they like to dress them alike. Saw 8 girls with 2 Moms and only two different outfits. Stores with dressy kids clothes are common. 

Shops selling flamenco clothes are more common than I would have guessed. Who wears that and when? I have no idea. 

Nail salons? None. Hair salons? Tons

The bare legs look has not caught on. Women, even teens, wear hose not only with dresses, but often with shorts! (Have not seen any adults in shorts.)

The thing about stores closing for several hours in the afternoon? Very true if you're not in a tourist area. Bakeries with amazing looking sweets abound, yet it is rare to see anyone seriously overweight. 
Shoe stores are also everywhere and I expect that's because when you walk as much as they do, you go thru them fast. 

The local pedestrians walk as though you are expected to get out of their way. No eye contact. No moving, unlike New Yorkers who expediently weave thru crowds. 

I am keeping a list of English words on clothing. This has been a thing world wide for many years and obviously still is. 

Some examples:
     Good Vibes All The Way
     Claremont since 1859
     Fly Half 1+1
     The Music Show Lets Dance Rock and Roll
     Half Moon Girl (worn by a teenage boy) 
     State and Company Department of National Seashore

But they aren't even close to my favorite, seen 13 years ago in Japan--
     Her Boots is Hers Snazzy House

Monday, October 26, 2015

When the rain comes

Raining gatos y peros today and as the woman in the info center curtly said "All museums in Spain are closed on Mondays." So we got the car from the underground and hit the road. We wandered east toward Guadix and saw how the troglodytes live. Both in the past and present, people in these parts make homes in caves. It's interesting to see hill tops with chimneys and TV antennas. There was a cave home museum, but it was, of course, closed. 

We drove past vast ceramics shops and up into the Sierra Nevada, so similar to much of the American west. (The sun came out briefly.)

But there are differences. This is all much greener, plus I've never seen olive groves in Wyoming. 
Furthermore, we have yet to see a police car on the highway or anyone anywhere pulled over. 

Speaking of cars, this Renault Clio with GPS is a car that nags. It beeps when you exceed the speed limit, it tweets when you're on a road that has radar (or at least that's what we think) it shuts off when you idle and it goes into Def Con 4 if you leave the headlights on.

One of the White Villages of Andalucia. 

We saw a castle, but only from outside because it's only open on Wednesdays OR you can ask around town where the castle keeper is and pay him to let you in. Instead we lunched at the restaurant down the hill made to recall the look of a castle. Mark had rabbit, I stuck with the mariscos. But, sad to say, the tastiest meal I've had so far was at Schwarma King. 

At one point, We stopped on the side of a rough road, strewn with trash, to recheck maps and Mark noticed an area dug out of the dirt on the roadside, no bigger than a laundry basket and about chest high. 

We have no idea what it means. 

A lot a Granada


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Arabian Nights

I don't recall when I first heard about Alhambra but it has always held a special fascination. Because it is something that goes back to childhood, I was quite prepared to be disappointed.

But I wasn't. 

The Nazari Palace, especially at night, was magical and amazing. 

They allow a few hundred people in and the rooms are lit by one or two up lights, but it is still filled with shadows and dark. Amazingly, there are no obvious guards shooing you this way or hissing at you to keep back from anything. There is very little in the way of signs or explanatory info. I assume there are rentable audio tours in the daytime but it was perfecto to walk and marvel at the intricate and vast details of the walls and ceilings. I tried to imagine what it must have been to live there.

But even as we took them, we knew the photos would disappoint and they do. Some things simply cannot be captured. 

The opulence of the Spanish churches left me cold. The decoration of Alhambra was busy beyond words, yet didn't seem at all over the top because of the lovely, subtlety colored repetition. Looking at the tile work and designs, the planning, the geometry it must have taken, it brings home the fact that math came from the Arabs. 

They were brilliant in art, architecture, mathematics and what's more, they lived in peace with their Jewish neighbors in Spain, yet their time as a great civilization came to an end as well. 

No one lasts. 

Friday Night Sights

Like so many places we've been, especially in mild weather, Sevillians live on the streets. 

There are bars and cafes and stores are open late and school age kids are out kicking futbols in the plaza and people of all ages are talking and smoking and smoking a lot. Living in detached houses is for farmers. Life in public is how they live. And though folks of all ages are out and about, so many are young it feels much like a college town.

Of course what we like so much about the old world is that they kept any old things. 

On to Alhambra. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Clash

Allow me to begin with a screenshot of the neighborhood.

The blue dot is our hotel, the one that smells like sewage and has tiny single beds with mattresses that are probably less comfortable than the cardboard they came in, but I digress. Again.

Back to the map. I've been in cities that were confusing, with narrow streets but this spaghetti drop of a place is just crazy. People have been living in Seville for a couple of millennia and cars are simply an after thought. The streets can accommodate a compact car, often with sidewalks of only about 18 inches and the layout in totally without logic.  We are going everywhere on foot but without a smart phone, we would still be trying to get home from dinner. I mean last night's dinner.

Today was the palace and gardens of Alcazar, it's hodgepodge of styles and materials reflecting the fact that it was begun in the 8th century and frequently changed, added to, expanded, and altered, but amazing all the same. 

We then strolled over to the Cathedral - the third largest in Europe - and it was astonishing in it's opulence, but I found that, like cotton candy, it's fun at first but soon grows cloying. I simply have no appreciation for the Spanish church asthetic. Like Versailles, I couldn't wrap my head around the nauseating gaudiness. And in this case, it simply served to remind me how the Spainish had murdered and enslaved the people they found in the New World for the so called glory of God. 

But it was the beginning of the end for them. All that unearned wealth that came back to Spain caused horrible inflation and economic chaos, plus Queen Isabella's insistence that Jews and Muslims leave the kingdom, taking those many skills with them, led to the decline of Spain as the world's richest and  most powerful nation to just another small, struggling country. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Olives and time on one's hands

We headed out of Setubal already deciding to forego the planned route to take the non-toll road straight to Seville. It was an excellent decision.

Impressions -- if you want to help the beleaguered nations of Southern Europe, keep buying that olive oil. For miles after miles after miles, olive groves; some very old and gnarly but many of them newly planted.

(Actually it was kilometer after kilometer, but imagine if Frost had said "And kilometers to go before I sleep.") 

We stopped in Beja for lunch 

and a planned visit to a 15th century convent that the Michelin guide touted, but since it closed for lunch from 12:30 till 2 we had to kill time and then lunch went long because they don't hurry here and we really wanted to make Seville before dark so we hit it out of town.

Observation -  the global recession lingers in Iberia. The unemployment rate in Portugal is about 12% and the empty store fronts covered in graffiti are evidence, as are the many men who simply hang out in every town, sometimes at a local cafe, sometimes just under a shade tree. Those who can have a beer or a smoke. If women cluster, it's at a cafe with a coffee. 

In terms of flora and topography, the drive ranged from Northern California to Texas Hill Country to So Cal IF-- those places had not been in a drought in recent years. Yes, it's all much greener than I had imagined. 

The roads are in good shape, the guard rails freshly painted and things seem in good repair. Houses are white 99.8% of the time and roofs are terra cotta tile, of course. 

Seville - Sevilla. So charming, so delightful, so...will have more to say tomorrow.