Category Archives: Books & Authors

‘I Do Not Seek. I Find.’

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Spanish painter, Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Clito Ruiz y Picasso, to us simply known as Picasso, does not stop making headlines, even almost 35 years after his death in 1973.

 

Earlier this week, his 1941 bronze sculpture ‘Tête de femme (Dora Maar)’ sold for $ 29,200,000, the highest price for any sculpture created by Picasso, ever. His 1968 painting, ‘Homme à la pipe’, sold for $ 16,800,000. Both auction results were achieved by Sotheby’s, New York. Picasso’s 1931 painting ‘La lampe’ received an offer of $ 21,000,000 but was not sold, as the amount offered was apparently deemed below Sotheby’s stipulated reserve. Christie’s, also in New York, sold Picasso’s exceptional 1955 painting ‘Femme accroupie au costume turc (Jacqueline)’ for $30,000,000, a week earlier.

 

Picasso’s 125th anniversary of his 1881 birthday was celebrated last year in Spain with two super-size exhibitions in Madrid, at the MNACRS and the Prado.

If you are more interested in the artist’s life and person rather than his value in a still buoyant art market, you will be pleased to hear that A Life of Pablo Picasso, Volume III: The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, has just been published, painstakingly researched and breathtakingly written by John Richardson, the British art historian. The biography is published in the USA by Random House, and in the UK by Cape.

 

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The earlier volumes of this outstanding biography, I (The Prodigy, 1881-1906) and II (The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916) had already been published in 1991 and 1997, respectively. Both volumes are now also published in paperback editions. All three volumes make extremely good reading on the genius of this great Spanish artist; the latest volume is no exception.

Although one cannot think of Picasso without his Spanish roots and formative years, it is no secret that his talent really came into its fullest expression after he moved to Paris, France, in 1904, not long before western art headed for the modern era. 

No wonder the French consider Picasso as one of theirs; after all, he lived in France for near enough 70 years. 

Those of us living in Spain can view plenty of original works of art by the exceptional Monsieur Picasso in the two Spanish museums baring the artist’s name, the Museo Picasso in Barcelona and the relatively new Museo Picasso in Málaga. In addition to these, we also have his Casa Natal (birth place), in Málaga, and the Reina Sofía MNACRS museum in Madrid, which has accumulated a vast collection of Picassos mainly in lieu of inheritance tax, plus the spectacular, gigantic 349 × 776 cm canvas, Guernica, Picasso’s masterpiece painting in response to the German air attack during the Spanish Civil War.

Picasso’s best output, however, seems to have found its home in France, in Paris to be precise. The Musée National Picasso in Paris proudly presents over 200 paintings, 158 sculptures, 88 ceramic pieces, some 1,500 drawings and over 1,600 etchings, amongst other treassures. A large proportion of the museum’s holdings were left to the French nation after Picasso’s last wife, Jacqueline Roque, died in 1986. The photo above, by David Douglas Duncan, shows her and Picasso on a canvas-signing day at Villa La Californie, dated ‘circa early 1960s’.

France also holds numerous works by the Málaga born artist at the Musée National Picasso in Vallauris, between Cannes and Antibes on the French Côte d’Azur, where mainly works from his period called La Guerre et la Paix are shown. In Antibes there is also the Musée Picasso d’Antibes at the old Château Grimaldi where Picasso was allowed to install his studio in 1946. 245 paintings are normally on permanent show there, however, the museum is currently closed for renovations. 

 

For more information on the life and work of Monsieur Le Maître, you might want to consult the official Picasso website. 

Seeing Picasso’s works some 50 to 100 years after their creation and reading about the artist’s inspiring life, his women and his antics, one understands the charisma of his personæ, the forceful energy behind his œuvre and the unique, relentless vitæ of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

The voluminous Picasso biography may be in for some unfortunate news. The exceptional biographer, John Richardson, has already spent the best part of the last 25 years dedicating himself to this, A Life of Pablo Picasso, and he has only published the third volume, thus arriving at the year 1932. Picasso was only 51 years old by then. There are still some 41 years remaining.

 

I understand that John Richardson himself is at the ripe old age of 83. It is quite probable that he will not manage to finish his ambitious project.

 

Let’s hope that another talented and dedicated, if not possessed, person will step up to fill in the missing pieces, perhaps in close collaboration with Mr. Richardson. Chances are that he or she may not even have met the man himself which of course might make all the difference. Oh, well.

 

For those of you who would like to see some original works of Picasso, here is a link to information about some upcoming exhibitions of the master’s creations, including places in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, the USA, Canada and Japan.

Albert Camus and the Balearic Islands

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Albert Camus, French novelist and dramatist, was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature. Although he is generally thought of as being French, he was actually born in Algeria into a French settler family. His father was French, his mother was of Spanish extraction.

 

Camus is often associated with Existentialism, but he preferred to be known as a man and a thinker, rather than as a member of a school or ideology. He preferred persons over ideas. In an interview in 1945, Camus rejected any ideological associations: “No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked….”. 

Not only did the mother hail from Spain, but from the Balearic Islands, and from Menorca in particular. Apparently, Camus visited Menorca to connect with his mother’s and grandmother’s roots, the grandmother also being Menorcan.

 

Camus also visited Mallorca, where he met his first wife, Simone Hié, then a morphine addict. His stay in Palma is told in the chapter Love of life from his book The Wrong Side and the Right Side. Interesting reading, I think.

 

May I suggest you retrace Camus’ steps in Palma de Mallorca with a copy of this text in hand, next time the opportunity arises?

 

- Carrer Llotgeta: Bar Flexas. This is not the bar which Camus describes, but you can see details there of a typical bar of Palma’s historic centre from the 1930’s and 40’s.

- Go to Plaça Santa Eulàlia and take Calle Morey and Calle Almudaina, where you can see Can Oleo and Can Bordills, both of them possible examples of the courtyards that Camus describes. Keep going until you reach the Cathedral.

- La Seu (the Cathedral): In his first of the Notebooks, Camus adds a comment on the Palma Cathedral: “bad taste and master workmanship”. I suggest you enter and admire the reform carried out under Antonio Gaudí’s orders, undervalued and harshly critizised at the time.

- Return through the narrow streets behind La Seu towards Plaça Sant Francesc and enter the most beautiful Cloisters of the Iglesia de San Francisco there.

Camus was the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (after Rudyard Kipling) when he became the first African-born writer to receive the award, in 1957. 

Albert Camus lived in poor conditions during his childhood in the Belcourt section of Algiers, his father having died when he was barely one year old. In 1923, he was accepted into the Lycée and eventually to the University of Algiers. However, he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, which put an end to his football activities and forced him to make his studies a part-time pursuit. He took odd jobs including private tutor, car parts clerk and work for the Meteorological Institute. He completed his licence de philosophie (BA) in 1935; in May of 1936, he successfully presented his thesis on Plotinus, Néo-Platonisme et Pensée Chrétienne for his diplôme d’études supérieures (roughly equivalent to an M. A. by thesis). The rest is history.

I read some of Camus’ oeuvre when I was an angry young man, in particular The Plague and The Stranger. Later on, I had the opportunity to see his plays Caligula and The Just Assassins on stage.

 

In the 1950s Camus devoted his efforts to human rights. In 1952 he resigned from his work for UNESCO when the UN accepted Spain as a member under the leadership of General Franco. In 1953, he criticized Soviet methods to crush a workers’ strike in East Berlin. In 1956, he protested against similar methods in Poland (protests in Poznań) and the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution in October.

He maintained his pacifism and resistance to capital punishment anywhere in the world. One of his most significant contributions to the movement against capital punishment was an essay collaboration with Arthur Koestler, the writer, intellectual and founder of the League Against Capital Punishment.

In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, officially not for his novel The Fall, published the previous year, but for his writings against capital punishment in the essay Réflexions Sur la Guillotine. When he spoke to students at the University of Stockholm, he defended his apparent inactivity in the French/Algerian conflict and stated that he was worried what could happen to his mother who still lived in Algeria. This led to further ostracism by French left-wing intellectuals.

Camus is also the shortest-lived of any literature Nobel laureate to date, having died in a car crash only three years after receiving the award.

 

Camus was interred in the cemetery at Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France (see photo above).

 

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A brave angry young man in my books. 

 

A Word About Federico García Lorca

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I keep telling you about all these people, like Kahlo and Picasso, Hemingway and Graves, plus my bits about Gandhi, and Elvis, and I do not even know whether you are interested in the slightest.

Oh well, never mind. I wouldn’t tell you, if I wasn’t interested. I suppose that has to be my guideline.

Today I’ll offer you an entry about Federico García Lorca. He was born in Fuente Vaqueros, Granada, Spain, 5th June,1898; he died near Granada, 19th August,1936. Killed. Executed. Murdered. That is 71 years ago, today.

One does not know who killed him, or why. Perhaps it was a political murder, because García Lorca was considered left-leaning. Or it was a Fascist murder, because Lorca stood for the arts and the intellect and for freedom of the mind. Or it was, because Lorca was said to be more interested in men than in the opposite gender.

One has to bear in mind that 1936 was the beginning of the Spanish civil war. Franco had not risen to power yet, but was well on his way. The dossier on García Lorca’s execution-style murder compiled later, at Franco’s request, has yet to be made public. Hurry up, Zapatero.

Fittingly, the Franco regime, in power from 1939, placed a general ban on García Lorca’s work, which was not rescinded until 1953 when a (heavily censored) Obras Completas was released.

Federico García Lorca was a poet and dramatist, a talented artist and a member of the Generación de 1927, a group of writers who advocated avantgardism in literature. Among García Lorca’s best-known plays is Blood Wedding, a story of a bride who runs away with a previous lover, and is subsequently murdered by her husband. In both his drama and poetry, García Lorca balanced between the traditional and the modern, between mythology and contemporary cultural trends.

In the 1930s, after a brief time in the United States and Cuba, Lorca gained even more recognition for his plays, especially what has been called his ‘earth trilogy’ (or ‘rural trilogy’), Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding), Yerma and La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba).

García Lorca first read law at the University of Granada, but later entered the University of Madrid. At the same time he also studied music. In the 1920s, García Lorca collaborated with Manuel de Falla, becoming an expert pianist and guitar player. In 1919 he moved to Madrid, where he lived at the Residencia de Estudiantes, the intellectual centre of the town. His friends included the writer Pablo Neruda, amongst others.

With the Catalán painter Salvador Dalí and the Spanish film director Louis Buñuel he worked on different film productions.

From the beginning, García Lorca was fascinated by young Dalí’s personality and looks. When Buñuel and Dalí made their famous short film ‘Un Chien Andalou’, García Lorca was offended: he thought that the film was about him. Lorca’s friendship with Dalí inspired a poem, a defense of modern art and at the same time an expression of homosexual love.

 

I’ll tell you about Salvador Dalí some other time, if you want. Buñuel, we’ll see.

 

García Lorca is Spain’s most deeply appreciated and highly revered poet and dramatist. But it might have been his brutal murder that brought him sudden international fame.

 

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You may have seen Blood Wedding on stage; if not, may I suggest you get the Carlos Saura film version on DVD. Very good stuff. Very moving. Very Spanish. Great. Fiery.

Seeing García Lorca’s plays on stage, not much of the drama is lost in the translations, I think. For his poetry, however, I would definitely prefer the original version, in Spanish.

If you reside in Spain, like I do, you might be up to it.

And if you ever are anywhere near Granada, why not pay a visit to the Museo-Casa of the man himself? You’ll find it in c/ Poeta García Lorca, 4, Fuente Vaqueros, just outside of Granada. It is quite charming.

Granada is worth a visit at any time, García Lorca or not.

Between Sun and Moon

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Nearly everybody heads to the Mediterranean for the sun. The sun, the sea and the Sangria. Or do they all, really? Well, not quite, I think.

 

Take the Mallorcans, for instance. You will find, if you talk to the locals, that they do not take to the sun all that much. Mallorcan villages always look as if deserted. All shut, especially in the summer. The windows are protected to leave the sun out, and the heat with it, by way of shuttered blinds called Persianas. What a clever invention.

 

Locals have a lot of respect for the sun. If you examine traditional architecture in the Mallorcan countryside you will notice that most old farm houses have surprisingly few windows of a surprisingly small size. Modern farmhouse conversions, done by well-off Northern European finca owners, can’t seem to get enough windows, all of them as large as possible. What do the locals know, that we don’t? Or better: what did the Mallorcan farmers know, in times gone by?

 

Talking of farmers: they respected the sun, possibly feared its unforgiving force, but they did not live, nor farm, nor grow by the sun’s schedule. Quite the opposite. Mallorcan farmers observed the Lunar calendar, and still do, when it comes to pruning their fruit trees, grafting plums onto almond tree branches, planting new trees, sowing their crop, harvesting their wine, mating their sows or sheep. I would say that the Mallorcan farmer’s life is governed by the moon much more than by the sun. I dare even claim that Mallorca as a whole seems perhaps to be dominated much more by the moon than the sun, and has always been. Why that should be, one cannot fathom. But that this is so, you will find lots of evidence for. Take agriculture as just one example.

Take Ramon Llull as another point in case, the famous and important 13th century mystic. Ramon Llull wrote some 265 books, one of which is Lluna Negra (Black Moon). Ramon Llull was seemingly more drawn to the moon and the stars that are so prominent in Mallorca, where he was born, than the sun. He did not write about the sun, to my knowledge. Llull’s work is clearly orthodox and anything but magical. But in the 15th century, the historical evidence makes it clear that Llull’s work was lumped by some into the category of Magic.

Or take Cresques Abrahams, a prominent 15th century cartographer of which Mallorca has bred so many. The moon was important in the prediction of tides and in seafaring in general and the knowledge of its phases could often decide about life or death. Lunar phases and stars were likely to have been important in the Mediterranean from the early 14th century on, when navigation and seafaring became all important. That is suggested by sea-navigating maps. The season between the rising of the Pleiades (shooting stars) in the spring (bringing rain) and their setting in the fall was considered favourable for sailing (for shooting stars: you can watch lots of them over the next few days).

 

Is all that too long ago for you to matter? Then take someone nearer to our day and age. Robert Graves, poet and writer, 1895-1985, for instance. Reliable sources suggest that Robert Graves claimed repeatedly that he was fascinated by Mallorca for the moon rather than the sun. You might remember that he lived for most of his adult life and up to his death on this Balearic Island. “The Muse, or Moon Goddess, inspires poetry of a magical quality”, as Graves would put it. You can find evidence of that in many of his poems as well as in his book Between Moon and Moon: Selected Correspondence (1984). A book that sadly is out of print, or so I am told.

 

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Be that as it may, just look at the sky next time the moon is out in Mallorca, or better even, the Full Moon. In three weeks time, for instance, on 28th August. You will not have seen such a moon anywhere, or hardly anywhere. Not in Barcelona. Not on the Côte d’Azur. Not in Greece.

 

It’s all very interesting, I think.

 

Bonjour, Madame Dudevant Dupin

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I think it is probably time that you should meet Madame Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin. She is possibly one of the most famous people ever to be connected with Mallorca, Spain. How come, nobody knows her? Well, that’s easy. Because that’s her maiden name. She got married age 17 to Count Dudevant. That makes things much easier, doesn’t it?

 

No? How about her nom de plume then, her pseudonym. Madame Dudevant Dupin, born in 1804, French writer, is better known to the rest of the world as George Sand. Now we are talking.

 

Born of an aristocratic father and a lower-class mother, she was reared by her austere paternal grandmother on a country estate in Berry, France. After completing her education at a convent in Paris, she returned to the countryside and led an unconventional life, donning the male clothes that became a mark of her rebellion.

 

In 1831, after eight years of a marriage of convenience with Count Dudevant, a country squire, she went to Paris with her two children, obtaining a divorce in 1836.

 

She wrote some 80 novels, which were widely popular in their day, supporting herself and her children chiefly by her writing. Her earlier novels were romantic; later ones often expressed her serious concern with social reform. George Sand’s voluminous works are not much read these days. It is hard to take on board today what a huge influence she had in her own time.

 

Her liaisons – with the writer, Jules Sandeau; the poet, Alfred de Musset; the Polish composer, Frédéric Chopin; and others – were open and notorious, but were only part of her life.

 

She came to enjoy great renown in Paris both as a writer and as a bold and brilliant woman. She demanded for women the freedom in living that was a matter of course to the men of her day.

 

All her books are distinguished by a romantic love of nature as well as an extravagant moral idealism. She also wrote a number of plays. Much of her work was autobiographical, notably Histoire de ma vie (1854), Elle et lui (1859), and Un Hiver à Majorque (1842) about her life with Chopin. And that’s the one you might have read if you have ever visited this Balearic Island. Or haven’t you? The photo (above) shows the Cartuja in Valldemossa, Mallorca, where George Sand spent that famous Winter in Mallorca with Chopin, in 1838-39.

 

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In case you should be interested in a very readable biography on George Sand, the author and the woman, I do recommend George Sand by Elizabeth Harlan, Yale University Press, 384 pp, £ 25.

One More Word on Ernest Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and Spain are intrinsically linked.

When Hems was a young man he came to Spain to write and report on the struggle of the Left after World War I. Hemingway himself had entered WWI in Italy on a voluntary basis and had been wounded. For his service, Hemingway was twice decorated by the Italian government.

When Hemingway saw his first bullfight in Pamplona in 1923, he brought his first wife Hadley along because he hoped the event would have a positive influence on the unborn son she then carried. The sport certainly affected the budding writer. It became one of the reigning passions of his life.

In the 1920s, Hemingway spent as much time as possible in Pamplona. He stayed at the Pension Aguillar because that was where the bullfighters lived. Although he never ran with the bulls in the San Fermín festival, he competed in amateur bullfighting competitions.

In 1932, he journeyed to Spain to research Death in the Afternoon, a manifesto on bullfighting that was published in Esquire and that later became the Bible of the sport.

In 1937, Hemingway returned to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, translating his experiences into newspaper articles, short stories, and the 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. Fiercely supporting the Loyalist cause, he overcame his fear of public speaking to deliver an anti-Franco speech at the Second American Writers’ Congress. He also helped produce the propaganda film Spanish Earth.

Hemingway last visited Spain in 1959 to cover a series of one-on-one contests between two leading matadors. Life magazine had commissioned a piece. Hemingway turned in 10,000 words, later published as the 1985 epic The Dangerous Summer. During this visit, he met the famous bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominquín at a hospital, who was being seriously gouged by a bull.

Later in life, Hemingway swapped his love for bullfighting with a passion for deep-sea fishing. This took him to the waters off Key West, the Bahamas, and to Cuba. Here he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, published first in Life magazine in 1952. He spent nearly 27 years, on and off, on this Caribbean island which to him was like Spain but without the bullfights. With his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, he bought Finca Vigía, a house outside La Habana, Cuba. Hemingway stayed on after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. He supported Castro but when the living became too difficult, he moved to the United States. After his death, his fishing boat Pilar was taken to Finca Vigía, which has since been turned into a museum and a shrine for the author (see photo above).

Hemingway was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature. He was unable to attend the award ceremony in Stockholm, because he was recuperating from injuries sustained in an airplane crash while hunting in Uganda.

In 1960, Hemingway was treated for depression at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and released in 1961. During this time he was given electric shock therapy for a period of two months. On July 2, Hemingway committed suicide with his favorite shotgun at his home in Ketchum, Idaho.

After Hemingway’s death, two tickets to the upcoming bullfights in Pamplona were discovered in his desk drawer.

Several of Hemingway’s novels have been published posthumously. True at First Light, a depiction of a safari in Kenya, appeared in July 1999. It is arguably one of the worst books published by a Nobel writer, ever.

 

Nothing that a Hemingway Daiquiry or two would not put into perspective.

¡Olé! to Bullfights in Pamplona

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Yesterday saw the official opening ceremony of the fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona, Navarra. That’s the world’s famous, annual bullfighting party, brought to fame in 1926 by the then lesser known author, Ernest Hemingway, in his novel The Sun Also Rises, who first experienced this Pamplona spectacle in 1925. He was honoured years later by having a street in the city named after him, the Avenida de Hemingway.

The author elaborated more on bullfights in Spain in his 1932 novel Death in the Afternoon. When Hems was first introduced to bullfights, he soon became fascinated with the ritual and, in due course, he craved it obsessively. I am not suggesting that Hemingway’s novels will endear you to Spanish bullfighting, but you may, through his writings, understand a little better what passion a bullfight sometimes brings about in some people.

The way Ernest Hemingway explains this archaic Spanish custom to us is like this: Bullfighting, as Ernesto says, is “a decadent art in every way … I was trying to learn to write, commencing with the simplest things, and one of the simplest things of all and the most fundamental is violent death. …. Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.”

Bullfighting has long generated commentary and controversy. But Spain would not be Spain without its bullfights and Corridas. I do not claim to know a lot about Tauromania, but I do acknowledge that bullfights are important for the Iberian race. Let me state that I have been to a bullfight in Spain once, thus claiming a certain level of first hand experience. But let me also say, that I understand the polemic opposition that this subject brings about in a large audience, admittedly mostly non-Spanish.

 

As one should hopefully never attempt to teach the Eskimos, for instance, about their lifestyle regarding whales and polar bears, nor should one take a moral high ground over the British with regard to fox hunting, one should apply some tolerance when it comes to cultural dos and don’ts. I do not believe that it is my moral privilege or duty to teach the Spanish about bulls, religious beliefs, or any other cult topic. So, as long as the Spanish enjoy a Corrida in Pamplona, I let it be.

 

It is a fact that bullfights have been practised in Spain for well over 1,300 years. While the religious cult of the Minotaur goes back to the Iberians, the Greek and Roman influence converted it into a spectacle.

 

During the middle-ages it was a diversion for the Spanish aristocracy to torear on horse back. That was called Suerte de Cañas. This changed when the Spanish King Felipe V prohibited the nobles from practicing the sport as he felt it was a bad example for the public’s education. From then on the commoners took on the spectacle, facing the bulls unarmed, dodging and taunting the bull, to then eventually placing small spears into the bull, the origin of the banderillas of todays bullfights. Around 1724, the sport was transformed from horseback to foot.

 

The bullfight is literally a dance with death. The bullfighter has to carefully examine and study the movements and strengths of the bull. Mature fighting bulls can weigh as much as 600 or 700 kg. One wrong move and the torero will end up gored or seriously injured as happens again and again.

 

If you ever have watched Spanish TV and switched your set on during the month of May, you will have stumbled across San Isidro bullfights almost every day. Madrid celebrates its patron saint San Isidro every year with a fair, including cultural events and concerts, and three weeks of bullfights. Most bullfights, in Madrid and elsewhere, are won by the torero, but, there are exceptions to the rule. Which, I suppose, is only just.

 

And then there is Pamplona. This Navarran city is famous for the San Fermin festival, with its saint, San Fermin – the son of a Roman Senator who ruled Pamplona in the third century – giving the annual excuse to go wild and risk one’s life during the Corridas from 6th to 14th July, in which the ‘running of the bulls’ or encierro is one of the main attractions. Six bulls are released from a pen into a closed off street each morning starting on 7 July. They stampede some 800 m from the corral to the bullring where they will face matadors later in the day. In front of them run hundreds of people hoping to keep clear of the animals’ hooves and horns. 48 bulls end up going into the ring during the eight days.

 

14 spectators have lost their lives to the bulls in the streets of Pamplona over the last 60 years or so when they did not manage to escape the stampeding bulls in time. Alcohol or other toxins surely often have to be blamed for the unfortunate onlookers’ impaired reactions. 6 spectators were seriously hurt yesterday and ended up in hospital. No-one has died so far.

 

Within the bullring one finds life, death, ambition, despair, success, failure, faith, desperation, valour, cowardliness, generosity, and meanness – all condensed into the actions of a single afternoon, or even a single moment.

 

It surely must be one of the most exciting, sometimes dangerous, parties anywhere in the world. La fiesta más salvaje del mundo.

 

And for those of us with a conscience, you will be pleased to know that PETA yesterday staged a protest in front of Pamplona’s Plaza de Toros (bullring).

A Look at a Special Date: 07/07/07

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Tomorrow will be a special day for people who believe in the magic of numbers: the 7th day of the 7th month, 2007.

In almost every system of antiquity there are frequent references to the number seven: The Pythagoreans called it the perfect number, with 3 and 4, the triangle and the square, the perfect figures.

There were, for instance, seven ancient planets. The Arabians had seven Holy Temples. In Persian mysteries, there were seven spacious caverns through which the aspirants had to pass. The Goths had seven deities, as did the Romans, from whose names are derived our 7 days of the week.

And what about the ‘Seven Sisters’? No, this is not meant as a reference to London’s Underground Station in the Borough of Haringey, but to the number of the daughters of Atlas and Pleione, in the Pleiades, of Greek mythology fame.

Believing the triple appearance of the number 7 will bring luck to those superstitious types who freaked out last year when the calendar read 06/06/06. Now they will have something to smile about.

Many people are planning important events for this first Saturday in July. Brides and grooms, especially, looking for a little extra dose of marital fortune, are flocking to the altar in droves on 07/07/07, according to some wedding watchers.

Book number 7 of the ubiquitous Harry Potter drama, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ by author, J. K. Rowlings, and the one to complete the series, is due to be launched, also on 07/07/07. What does the Rowling phenomenon tell us about our cultural zeitgeist? Will Harry live or die? Will the magic sustain? Will everyone live happily ever after? Read for yourself, and add one more copy to the 325,000,000 books sold of the Potter saga already, of volumes 1 to 6.

‘Live Earth’ is part of a campaign, “Save Our Selves – The Campaign for a Climate in Crisis”. This mega event is scheduled for the same day, a 24-hour, 6-continent series of eight concerts taking place on 07/07/07 that aims to bring together more than 100 music artists, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bon Jovi, Snoop Dogg, Melissa Etheridge, Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow, Duran Duran, Korn, the Black Eyed Peas, Akon, Enrique Iglesias, and an estimated 2 billion people audience to trigger a global movement to help solve the climate crisis. ‘Live Earth’ will start off in Sydney, before it comes to Shanghai, London, Johannesburg and New York, etc., to end in Rio de Janeiro if security worries there can be resolved. But will all this mega hype really help our planet by raising awareness for a major problem, or will it simply add to its woes of pollution, I wonder?

This year’s Tour de France is scheduled to start on that day and would you have guessed? In London, UK, with a 8 kms prologue. No pollution there, I guess, except for in the athletes’ bodies, perhaps.

And the New 7 Wonders of the World are going to be announced in Lisbon, Portugal, on that magic number day. Only the Pyramids in Egypt remain of the original Wonders of the World. Contenders of the New 7 Wonders are, amongst a total of 21 candidates, the Alhambra in Spain, the Taj Mahal in India, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Sydney Opera House, the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Stonehenge in Good Old Blighty. I would go for the wonders of the Alhambra in Granada, anytime. Been there?

But there are also sad 07/07 days to remember, like the one two years ago in 2005. London was terrorized by the series of four explosions on the London Transport system with the loss of the lives of 52 innocent victims, not counting the four lives of the suicide bombers.

Or 70 years ago tomorrow, when Japanese troops entered Peking (now called Beijing) as part of the Sino-Japanese war. Whilst in the Basque province, the towns of Durango and Gernika were still counting the number of their victims in those infamous Franco-Italo-German air attacks, on that very day.

Let’s hope there will be only good news tomorrow.

PhotoEspaña07

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For ten years now Spain has been celebrating a remarkable series of Photographic events under the PhotoEspaña signum. The annual festival takes place in Spain’s capital city, Madrid. This year the exhibition dates are from 30 May to 22 July, but some exhibitions are on show until the end of August. Some 65 exhibitions are being shown in total in various venues, from galleries to department stores and from theatre foyers to Metro stations. 

“My America”, 1999, by Chinese photographer Zhang Huan (above) for instance, is shown in a major exhibition at the Fundación Telefónica in Madrid’s Gran Via 38, until 28 August. Zhang Huan is acclaimed as one of the foremost artist of the new wave from China. The artist (born in 1965) now lives and works in Shanghai as well as New York. 

Most exhibitions of PhotoEspaña07 are shown admission free. A small, pocket size catalogue is available for 15 €, whilst the official hard bound catalogue is for sale at 55 €. 

When did you last spend a weekend away in Madrid? Go soon if you have not been.

Good-Bye to All That, Robert Graves

r_graves.jpgOn a recent visit to Deià I went to the parish church cemetery there.

There may be lots else to do in Deià, but I had a particular fancy to find the grave of Robert Graves. It took me a while though, which was probably my own mistake as I was looking for a proper grave, and what I eventually found was a large, crude, ceramic slab on the ground. I was somewhat disappointed about the poor and sparse, almost pathetically provisional appearance, but one can only assume that perhaps this was what the man himself might have wished for.

This eccentric British writer and poet of some 140 books who had made Mallorca his home on and off for over 46 years was born in Wimbledon in 1895. As you all may know he died in Deià in 1985, aged 90. Two of his sons still live there to this day. You might see one, or the other one, in the local Deià market, or else in Palma, perhaps at the Literanta bookshop.

It took me even longer to find Beryl Hodge’s resting place. Graves’ second wife died in 2003. She does not appear to have been given a proper grave in Deià; all that I found was a wall plaque, again very sedate.

Robert Graves had come to Mallorca and the village of Deià with fellow poet Laura Riding, in October 1929, having just separated from his first wife, Nancy Nicholson. Here in Deià, Graves built a house, Ca n’Alluny, and established himself as a full time writer for the first time in his life. For his simple lifestyle, he was soon labeled as the 20th century’s first Robinson Crusoe poet. With the hostilities of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 however, Robert and Laura were obliged to abandon Mallorca and move back to London after only seven years. With Europe in ruins and his beloved son David just deceased and also with a severe dissatisfaction with England, Graves and his second wife, Beryl Hodge, as well as their three remaining children, returned to Mallorca and Deià again. In 1946, they were able to return to Graves’s house and they resided there until his death in 1985.

Ca n’Alluny, Robert Graves’ house in Deià, has been turned into a museum which opened earlier this year. You may have no desire to go to the cemetery in Deià, but you may enjoy a trip to a great writer’s erstwhile home. Not quite like Ernest Hemingway’s country retreat outside La Habana, but then Hems never was into the sparse lifestyle of Robinson Crusoe either. And whilst Graves liked his vino tinto, there is no evidence that he would have been heavily into Mojitos or even Daiquiries.

The Robert Graves museum is closed on Monday, but open from Tuesday to Saturday 10.00 h – 17.00 h and Sunday 10.00 h – 15.00 h.

It seems perhaps that Robert Graves is more venerated amongst his British audience for his novels and biographical books. ‘I, Claudius’, ‘Good-bye to All That’, ‘Wife to Mr. Wilton’ and ‘The Golden Fleece’ are amongst his most successful fictional works, often with a historical setting. In Spain however, Graves seems more applauded for his poetry.

Spain is a country whose citizens have a deep nurturing of poetry and of contemporary verse at that, which to me seems almost unequalled amongst other European nations.

If your command of the Spanish lingo is up to it, why not try the small volume of ‘Poemas’, with 66 poems by the Maestro. Published by Pre-Textos, 30 €. Poems are printed here in their original English version, with a competent Spanish translation en-face on the opposite page. A meaningful way of helping your language skills along, in case you live in a Spanish speaking country. And in case your Spanish fails you, ‘Between Moon and Moon’, in English, is a book of some very readable selected correspondence, covering the years between 1946 and 1972.

 

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“Mallorca is paradise – if you can stand it”, Gertrude Stein reportedly told a young Robert Graves during an interview.

 

Well, we are told that the ‘I, Claudius’ author did like his paradisiacal retreat from the world, and if you visit Ca n’Alluny, you might glimpse why, for yourself.