Category Archives: Art & Culture

The Drowned and the Saved

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The Drowned and the Saved was created in 1992 by American artist, Richard Serra, as a site-specific work for the Synagogue in Stommeln (GER). Its title took reference from a book with the same title by Italian author, Primo Levi (1919-1987), an Auschwitz survivor. I had the pleasure of being there when the forged iron sculpture was installed in the synagogue in the presence of the artist.

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The piece was purchased in 1997 by the Diocesan Museum in Cologne (GER). The work is now installed at the Kolumba Museum in Cologne, a fabulous museum. The magnificent building was created by Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor.

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Miquel Barceló in the Palais des Nations

In my blog entry dated July 2nd, 2007, I told you of a commission which the Felanitx born artist, Miquel Barceló, had accepted in Geneva (Switzerland). Felanitx is the town in Mallorca (Spain), where I made my home for the last twenty years.

I have it from a very reliable source that Miquel Barceló has accomplished the mammoth task. The mural painting for the 1,500 m2 domed ceiling of Room XX in the UN Palais des Nations building in Geneva is now completed and, apparently, the finished result is said to be rather impressive.

Here is some background information (I quote from the ONUART website):

In April, 2007, in a ceremony presided over by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé, the Fundación ONUART was established in Madrid (ONU is the Spanish acronym for the United Nations Organization). Fundación ONUART is a private, non-profit agency with mixed public and private funding, whose main aims are to promote dialogue, through the use of Spanish contemporary arts, to promote dialogue, to drive understanding between cultures and societies, and to foster multilateralism in Geneva. 

Fundación ONUART commissioned Spanish artist, Miquel Barceló, to create a unique ceiling painting for Room XX. This meeting venue will host the UN Human Rights Council and will be one of the largest and most state-of-the-art of all the negotiating rooms at the Palais des Nations. What also distinguishes Room XX in particular is that it has an enormous 1,500 m2 ellipsoidal dome. This dome provides the backdrop for the biggest challenge ever for 51-year-old artist. 

The Chamber for Human Rights and for the Alliance of Civilisations will be the room’s official title following its inauguration and it will be the permanent home of the newly created United Nations Human Rights Council. It will become the UN’s most modern negotiating room, using the latest materials and technology in audiovisual resources, conference services, interpretation systems, information technology and telecommunications.

Miquel Barceló, supported by a 20-strong team, was using some 35 tons of paint with pigments from all corners of the globe, specially designed equipment, with the involvement of specialists in various disciplines, including particle physics laboratories, engineers, architects and others in heritage restoration.   

The Chamber for Human Rights and for the Alliance of Civilisations is currently being fitted out and furnished to its 800+ seating capacity. I understand that the inauguration date is set for sometime in November, 2008. We just have to wait a bit longer before we can see what the man from Felanitx has created, this time.

In the meantime, an exhibition with work by the Felanitx artist opened last week at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (Ireland), called Miquel Barceló: The African Work. The show can be seen until 28th September, 2008. This exhibition will then travel to CAC Málaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga (Spain), where it will be opened in November, 2008.

The two photos (top and centre) show Miquel Barceló’s ceramic sculpture, Gran pot avec crânes sur 1 face, dated 2000. The photo (above) shows the artist in Room XX of the Palais des Nations, Geneva; it was borrowed from the Internet (© Agustí Torres – ONUART). Gracias.

Barcelona, Here We Come

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It might have been some while since you last spent time in Barcelona. Fancy a weekend there, perhaps?

I am suggesting Barcelona, because it is right on our doorstep. It is easy to get to, and it is exciting, whatever the time of the year. Right now, Barcelona is immersed in some autumnal bliss.

Barcelona has, as most coastal towns in Spain, a long and interesting history. Since its foundation in around 200 B. C., it has been dominated in turn by Carthaginians, Visigoths and the Moors. It was not until the 9th century when the Muslims were defeated by the Christians that the city was inhabited by Cataláns. During the 14th century the Catalán mini-empire reached its splendour, extending to areas such as Valencia, the Balearics Islands and even parts of southern France. In 1473, the kingdom of Castilla invaded Catalunya after various conflicts. In 1700, the Catalán language was forbidden for a long period after the Cataláns had joined forces with the English army against Castilla.

 

During the regime of Franco, the Cataláns were repressed and their language was again forbidden, this time by the threat of death. But, when Franco died in 1975, the Cataláns got back their freedom. Today, Barcelona is a very sparkling city and Catalunya as a whole, a very independent region. Both are very proud of their very own language and a certain nation-within-a-nation status. Do not always expect to get by with your usual Castellano idiom once you stray away from the tourist trail.

 

Be that as it may be, I would suggest you fly to Barcelona. Although I have taken ferry boats plenty of times (and you may not even come, as I would, from the Balearic Isles), I do not recommend you take your car, as Barcelona is rather arduous when it comes to parking, and traffic in general.

From the airport, you can take the bus to Plaça Catalunya. From there you will best be going to your hotel by taxi. I do not suggest you stay at the rather fashionable Hotel Arts, flash and stylish as it may be, because it is just too expensive. Also, I have heard comments that the hotel service is not on the same level as are the room rates. A hotel to my liking, with a very central location and with quite a bit of historic flair, is the Majestic on Paseo de Gràcia. Josephine Baker stayed there in the Twenties.

Barcelona of course, would not be Barcelona without its glorious heritage of buildings, parks and other wonders, created by Antoni Gaudí. If you have not done the Gaudí trail yet, now is a good time. And if you should be staying at the Hotel Majestic, you cannot be better located to appreciate some great works built by Gaudí’s genius.

 

There is too much Gaudí in Barcelona and its surroundings to see them all in just a few days, but the do-not-misses are Casa Batlló, Casa Milà (La Pedrera), Palacio Güell, and Parque Güell. And most of all, of course, this wonderful cathedral of all cathedrals, La Sagrada Familia. This one has been under construction since 1885, and it is still unfinished. But I assure you that you have not seen the likes before. In 1984, Gaudí’s buildings were awarded the status of being UNESCO World Heritage sites.

 

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Next on your list of priorities will have to be some concert, opera or theatre performance. The best would be a visit to the newly rebuilt Gran Teatre de Liceu, where concerts are given this weekend of works by Igor Stravinsky, at the occasion of the composer’s 125th birthday, but I am afraid that tickets have to be booked well in advance. I suppose that the front manager at the Majestic will be able to help you, but I do not know.

Apart from the Liceu, I would recommend a visit to the Mercat de les Flors for Ballet, the Espai Escenic Brossa, the Teatre Borras, Teatre Nacional de Catalunya or the Teatre Principal. For music, mostly classical, I recommend the Auditori and the Palau de Musica Catalana with its beautiful Modernist architecture. For Pop, the Palau Jordi.

 

For more information about Barcelona see the Barcelona City Guide.

Barcelona is Spain’s creative capital, and Art with a capital A keeps the creativity going. That is Art in its widest sense, including fashion, architecture, music, design, as well as street cred. For fine art, I recommend visits to the Miró Foundation, the CaixaForum, the MOCBA Museum of Modern Art, the CCCB, the Fundación Tàpies, and the Centre Cultural Caixa de Catalunya, inside of Gaudí’s La Pedrera. And most important of all, the Picasso Museum. For friends of Pre-Columbian art, the Museum Barbier-Mueller is a must. And do not forget a visit to the Catedral de Barcelona, the cathedral.

After all that theatre and art, Picasso and Gaudí, you will want to wine and dine in Barcelona. Barcelona is one of the World Capitals of good food. There are too many restaurants (more than 10,000), tapas bars, bodegas and cervezerias to choose from, and some of them of a very good quality. I suggest that you buy yourself a copy of B-guided or of Guía del Ocío for guidance. What I would do, in any case, is to go either to the Barrio Gotico, the Port Vell area, or the Olympic village. There you will find seafood restaurants galore, plus restaurants specializing in Catalán food, or Mediterranean food. Just enter the establecimiento that seems busiest of all. You will not be disappointed. Or you could try Restaurante Hofmann, in Calle Argenteria, 74-78. Pricey, but first class.

If time allows, and your fancy takes you, you could head North-East to Girona or Figueres. In Figueres, you could pay an unforgettable visit to the museum of that other Catalán artist genius, Salvador Dalí, whereas in Girona you would visit that beautiful medieval old town centre, including the historically unique Jewish quarters, the Call.

North-West takes you, instead, to the Monasterio de Montserrat. And also to Terrassa, where you can enjoy the annual Festival de Jazz, in full swing right now.

I hope you will enjoy your trip.

 

Frédéric Chopin’s Hapless Trip to Mallorca

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Mallorca always had an infatuation with famous people. Be that the Spanish Royal family, the British Princess Diana, filmstars Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Goldie Hawn, Danny DeVito, or even longer ago, Frédéric Chopin and George Sand. As long as they all are rich and famous.

I told you about Amandine Aurore Dudevant, aka George Sand, on an earlier occasion on this very blog (see August 3rd). She came to Mallorca in 1838, accompanying Frédéric Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist.

 

Born near Warsaw in 1810, the son of a French émigré and a Polish mother, Frédéric François Chopin won early fame in the relatively limited circles of his native country, before seeking his fortune abroad, in Paris. 

 

Chopin began to play the piano with verve at the age of 5, taught by his older sister Ludwika. His talent was immediately apparent, and the services of a piano teacher were soon enlisted in order to support his practice. Chopin was a highly dedicated student. It is even said that at the early age of 7 he slept, by his own free will, with wine-corks between his fingers in order to achieve a wider grip. He knew his destiny. 

 

After the studies, Chopin went to Vienna, where he was recognized as a decent pianist with some nicely written compositions, but altogether, it was not the success he had hoped for. Thus, he went back to Warsaw and, later, set his course for Paris. In Paris, Chopin did not immediately achieve success. It took a couple of hard years of composing and performing before he had worked himself into the High Society where he gave lessons to Royals and received the highest appreciation for his compositions. Chopin quickly became famous not only as a composer or teacher but also as a pianist.

 

Chopin was never to return to Poland again and made very few trips outside of France, mainly because of his weak health. The most famous of his trips may be a disastrous one to Mallorca which nearly cost him his life and another one, to Scotland, which was equally bad for his health. 

 

Chopin was diagnosed with Tuberculosis early in his life and it is quite surprising that he even reached the age of 39 before the illness finally took his life, after about 15 years of struggle. At this young age, Chopin had composed an amazing amount of works from a wide range of piano genres.

 

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In 1836, at a party hosted by Countess Marie d’Agoult, the mistress of fellow-composer Franz Liszt, Chopin was introduced to George Sand, who had been granted a divorce one year earlier from a marriage of convenience. She fell in love with him and offered to become his mistress. Chopin, however, did not find her attractive at first. “Something about her repels me”, he told his family. But George Sand had strong feelings for Chopin and pursued him until a relationship developed.

 

Chopin was already in poor health at the time, which is why he took his physician’s advice to leave Paris and go for a milder climate during the winter, in the Mediterranean. 

 

In the autumn of 1838, Chopin set off with George Sand and her two children, to spend the winter on the island of Mallorca. They arrived on November 8th, 1838, in Palma de Mallorca by boat from Barcelona. They rented a simple villa and were apparently quite happy. On November 15th, Chopin wrote a letter to a friend, saying “I am in Palma (…) I am close to that which is most beautiful”.

 

When the sunny weather broke, however, Chopin became ill. On December 3rd, Chopin wrote a letter to the same friend, saying “I have been ill for the last two days like a dog”.

 

When rumours of Chopin’s suspected tuberculosis reached the villa owner, they were ordered out and could only find accommodations in the Real Cartuja de Valldemossa (Real meaning Royal), a Carthusian monastery from 1399 until 1835, but now defunct, in the then rather remote village of Valldemossa. They stayed there from December 28th, 1838, to February 11th, 1839, when they left Valldemossa, Chopin being seriously ill.

 

He had been ill-advised to come to Mallorca. Even though temperatures here rarely drop very low, there is a sometimes quite unpleasant humidity in the air in Mallorca, rain or no rain, which can be uncomfortable and extremely damp in the winter. Not so healthy for someone with a tuberculum problem. Anyway, the hapless party left the island on February 13th, by boat from Palma de Mallorca, heading for Barcelona on their way back to Genoa and, eventually, France.

 

Although his health improved, Chopin never completely recovered from this bout. He complained, with his habitual wit, about the incompetence of the medicos in Mallorca: “The first (doctor) said I was going to die; the second said I had breathed my last; and the third said I was already dead”.

 

Chopin convalesced during the summer of 1839, in Nohant, George Sand’s manor house, 300 km from Paris.

 

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In 1845, as a further deterioration occurred in Chopin’s health, a serious problem also emerged in his relations with George Sand. The affair was further soured in 1846 by problems involving Sand’s daughter Solange. This was the year when Sand published her book Lucrezia Floriani, whose two main characters – a rich actress and a prince in frail health – might be interpreted as Sand and Chopin; the story was in fact somewhat derogatory to the composer. In 1847 the family problems finally brought the relations between the two to an end, which had lasted for ten years. Chopin died later that same year.

 

Although Mallorca has treated its guests, Chopin and spouse, not in a very commendable way, as one can easily read in George Sand’s travel memoirs of A Winter in Mallorca, published in 1842, Mallorca has since made the most of the couple’s stay in Valldemossa. One could quite rightly say, that Mallorca’s most famous tourist attraction, after Palma’s Cathedral, for those visitors that do not come only for sun, sea, sex and sangria, is Chopin and Sand’s legendary 45 days stay at the Carthusian monastery. Today, the Claustro houses a Chopin Museum, mainly for the purpose of celebrating the composer’s visit.

 

Two of the pianos that Chopin played in Mallorca are exhibited there, including the one which he had shipped over all the way from Paris.

 

During the tourist season, short piano recitals are offered to visitors at the Valldemossa Cartuja, four times a day. A real treat, every time, even if only for a brief duration. In August every summer, Mallorca celebrates the annual Chopin Festival of Music, the Festivals Chopin de Valldemossa, with its 27th edition just concluded.

 

If you ever have a chance, come for yourself one day and see how Mallorca treats you.

A Visit to al-Andaluz

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A person, a place or even a country is always an expression of their very own life story. The country of Spain is no different thanks to its rich history. 

The Iberian Peninsula was inhabited by Iberians, Celts and Basque people before the Romans occupied what they then called Hispania. The Romans lasted until perhaps the 5th century, when their Empire decayed. After that, Germanic barbarians crossed the Pyrenees and Visigoths and Vandals settled here in quick succession. They were followed by the Arabs and Muslims of the Islamic Umayyad caliphate who first arrived in Iberia in 711, mainly hailing from North Africa, and commonly called Moors.

The Moors brought the entire Iberian peninsula, except for Galicia and Asturias in the far north, under Islamic control (see map below); however, frontiers with the Christian north were constantly in flux. The new Islamic territories, referred to as al-Andaluz by the Muslims, were administered by a provincial government established in the name of the Umayyad caliphate in Damascus and centered in Córdoba.

Within a century, the Islamic, or Moorish civilization in Iberia was widely considered to have been the most advanced in Western Europe. The period of al-Andaluz was a prosperous time for Spain. The Muslim invaders brought with them a cultural influence which greatly enriched the Iberian life in all aspects of arts and architecture, music and literature, food and agriculture.

The period of the Caliphate (from 929) is seen by Islamic writers as the golden age of al-Andaluz. Crops produced using irrigation, along with food imported from North Africa, provided the area around Córdoba and some other al-Andaluz cities with an agricultural economic sector which became by far the most advanced in Europe. Among European cities, Córdoba under the Caliphate, with a population of perhaps 500,000, eventually overtook Constantinople as the largest and most prosperous city in Europe. 

 

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Within the Islamic world, Córdoba soon developed into one of the leading cultural centres. The work of its most important philosophers and scientists (notably Abulcasis and Averroes) had a major influence on the intellectual life of medieval Europe.

The society of al-Andaluz was made up of three main groups: Christians, Muslims and Jews. The Muslims, though united on the religious level, had several ethnic divisions, the principal one being the distinction between Arabs and Berbers. Mozarabs were Christians that had long lived under Muslim domination and thus had adopted many Arabic customs, art and words, while still maintaining their Christian rituals and their own Latin-derived languages. Each of these communities inhabited a separate part of the cities of al-Andaluz.

But history is a funny business. Today, Spain is not so sure about its Moorish past. Whilst everybody is proud of Muslim remnants in Spain, such as the Alhambra in Granada or the Great Mosque in Córdoba (now integral part of the Cathedral in Córdoba), Spain seems much happier about its own history beginning in 1492 with the Americas being discovered for the Spanish Crown.

Over the last ten years or so, Spain has seen an enormous influx of immigrants, including a large number of Arabs from Morocco. In Mallorca, where I live, these immigrants are called Moros (moors) in quite a derogatory way. Some locals are worried about a rebirth of al-Andaluz, especially now that al-Qaeda’s second-in-charge has begun to verbally claim the historic al-Andaluz for the Islamic world.

Watch this space.

 

Salvador Dalí: Artist, Genius or Crook?

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Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech was an important Catalán painter who is best known for his surrealist work.

 

Dalí was born in 1904 in Figueres, in Catalunya, Spain, where he received formal art training from an early age. He had his first public exhibition at the age of 15. That is no mean feast considering that we are talking 1919 here, the year after the end of World War I. At the age of 18, Dalí moved to Madrid, Spain’s Capital, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. Already then, Dalí drew attention to his personæ, wearing long hair, sideburns, coat, stockings and knee breeches.

In Madrid, he experimented with Cubism at a time when there were no Cubists as yet in Spain, and with Dadaism, a movement that influenced his career throughout his life. He became friends with the poet, Federico García Lorca, and with the film maker, Luis Bunuel, with whom he would later collaborate on the film Un chien Andalou.

In 1926, Dalí was expelled from the Art Academy in Madrid shortly before his final exams. He had dared to express his verdict that no one at the faculty was competent enough to examine him. With hindsight, one might think that he was probably right.

1926 also saw Dalí’s first trip to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso, whom he revered as a young man, though not in later years. In 1929, Dalí met his muse and future wife, Gala, a Russian immigrant eleven years his senior. They were married in 1934.

Dalí encountered conflict over political beliefs once Francisco Franco came to power. As a consequence he was expelled from the Surrealist group, to which his response was ‘Surrealism is me’.

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As World War II started in Europe, Dalí and Gala moved to the United States of A. in 1940, where they stayed for eight years. Dalí’s work during that period combines excellent draftmanship and great painterly skills with surreal, dreamlike images. There is no doubt that Dalí’s œuvre deserves recognition and respect, certainly during the early, his prime years.

It appears that he lost his artistic clout when he returned to Europe and to the Spain of Franco, a move for which he was politically criticized. Instead of being acclaimed as a great artist, he was considered controversial. He then entered a period that might be called his ‘theatrical’ phase which was one of his most unique periods. In 1960 he started work on the Teatro-Museo Dalí in his home town of Figueres, near Girona. If you would ever manage a visit there, you might possibly agree that some of the ideas and arrangements, compositions and visions there have a streak of genius. Opening hours now are 9h30 to 18h00; from November and during winter they are 10h30 to 18h00. Admission is 10 €.

There are accusations against his caretakers for supposedly having forced Dalí in his final years to sign blank sheets of paper that would later (postmortem) be printed upon and sold as originals. Other critics claim that a sane and sound Dalí was not coerced or fooled, but instead was part and scheming parcel of this deceit. They call him bluntly but convinced, a crook.

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I would rather draw the following conclusion:

 

I definitely recommend a visit to the Dalí museum in Figueres (Teatro-Museo Dalí). I also recommend visits to the Púbol castle which he had bought for his wife, Gala and which was the place of her death (Casa-Museo Castillo Gala Dalí de Púbol), as well as to the museum in Cadaqués (Casa-Museo Salvador Dalí) which is housed in his parents’ Summer residence. Opening hours in Púbol are 10h00 to 18h00; from November until the end of the year they are 10h00 to 17h00. Admission is 6 €. Opening hours in Cadaqués are 10h30 to 18h00 from now until January 6th. Admission is 10 €. Before you go to Cadaqués, you must telephone for a reservation: (+34)972.252.015. All three places are within easy reach to one another, and are about an hour’s drive from Barcelona.

If you have a chance to see a major museum show of his early and Surrealist work, go. If and when in London, UK, you can see some good Dalí at the Tate Modern. When in New York, USA, see some excellent Dalí at the Museum of Modern Art. When in Spain, see some early Dalí at the MNCARS Reina Sofía in Madrid. In Mallorca, we have one fine Dalí at the Fundación Juan March (Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani), dating from 1946 (see above). For other locations, simply consult the Internet.

 

The L. A. County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California, USA, will hold an exhibition called Dalí: Painting & Film, from October 14th until January 2008. Admission will be $17 ($20 on weekends), but entry is free after 17h00. Could be quite interesting.

 

Avoid any of Dalí’s later work, post-1955, and in particular, any work on paper. Original gouaches or drawings on paper are in the hands of established institutions, and the remainder is of minor importance, or is more likely to be a blunt fake.

Spare yourself some serious disappointment.

 

The Amazing Senyor Llull

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I was musing about dinosaurs yesterday in a metaphorical way.

Well, there is another metaphorical dinosaur today: Ramón Llull. He is long since dead, but his thoughts are still very influential in many of our ways of thinking, not least of which, in the way we use computers and the Internet.

Ramón Llull (Raimundus Lullus) is without doubt a most important 13th Century Catalán philosopher and mystic as well as the first writer to ever write books in the Catalán language. Some argue that Senyor Llull should be considered the greatest man ever born in Mallorca.

As I do live in Mallora, Spain, and have been for 20 years now, I must declare myself partial to this man.

Llull was born in Palma de Mallorca at the time of the Reconquista. Jaume I, King of the newly united Aragón and Catalunya, had just conquered the Balearic Islands in 1229, ending 300 years of rule of the Moors. However, it took about another 3 years until the last of the Arab resistance was crushed on the island.

Llull was brought up at the Royal Court of Mallorca. He learnt Arabic from the Moorish population that still remained after their defeat. He was well educated, and became the tutor of Jaume II of Aragon. Llull wrote in Latin, Catalán and Arabic.

In 1265, aged 32, he had a religious epiphany, and became a Franciscan monk. In 1273, he founded a Franciscan missionary school in Miramar, near Deià, Mallora, which today is a museum for Ramón Llull, as well as for the Archeduque Luis Salvador. Miramar is well worthy of your visit. Talk to the gardener there if you have a chance.

Llull’s first major work ‘Art Abreujada d’Atrobar Veritat’ (The Art of Finding Truth) was written in Catalán and then translated into Latin. He wrote treatises on alchemy and botany, ‘Ars Magna’, and ‘Llibre de Meravelles’. He wrote a romantic novel, ‘Blanquerna’, the first major work of literature written in Catalán, and thought to be the first European novel ever.

 

All this happened some 350 years before Cervantes or Shakespeare, and 30 years before Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’.

 

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Llull pressed for the study of the Arabic language in Spain, then insufficiently studied here, for the purpose of the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.

About 1272, after another mystical experience on Mallorca’s Randa mountain in which Ramón Llull related seeing the whole universe reflecting the divine attributes, he conceived of reducing all knowledge to first principles and determining their common point of unity.

Ramón Llull designed a method, which he first published in full in his ‘Ars Generalis Ultima’ or ‘Ars Magna’, of combining attributes selected from a number of lists. He also invented numerous devices for the purpose, each of which consisted of two or more cardboard discs inscribed with alphabet letters or numbers that referred to lists of attributes. These discs could be rotated individually to generate a large number of combinations of ideas. This method was an early attempt to use logical means to produce knowledge.

 

Some computer gurus have adopted Llull as a sort of founding father, claiming that his system of logic was the true beginning of Computation Theory.

Llull hoped to show that Christian doctrines could be obtained artificially from a fixed set of preliminary ideas. For example, one of the tables listed the attributes of God: goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, virtue, truth and glory.

Llull knew that all believers in the monotheistic religions – whether Jews, Muslims or Christians – would agree with these attributes, giving him a firm platform from which to argue.

 

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In 1285, Ramón Llull visited Rome and from there embarked on a mission to convert the infidels of Tunis to Christianity. He was violently expelled from Tunis, in an incident which was wrongly magnified by some later historians into a stoning to death, and therefore a martyrdom. On his return, Llull began to preach for a unification of the three monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – which, together, he hoped, would be able to defeat the Asian invaders then threatening Europe and the Middle East.

Llull reduced Christianity to rational discussion, thereby attempting to prove the dogmas of the Church by logical argument. But in 1376, Pope Gregorio XI charged Llull with confusing faith with reason and condemned his teachings. The Roman Catholic church did, however, pardon Ramón Llull more quickly than they did Galileo Galilei, venerating Llull during the 19th century.

In all, Ramón Llull is said to have written over 265 books and treaties, making him the most prolific Catalán author ever. Another 135 works are doubtfully or spuriously attributed to him.

The amazing Senyor Llull has a statue in his honour in Palma de Mallorca, just as one turns right from the Paseo Sagrera towards Plaza Reina and the Borne.

 

I salute him every time I drive past.

 

Wine Festivals, Grape Treading and Merriment

The heavy rain that fell in Mallorca, Spain, last weekend could not stop the merriment of the Binissalem populace when the annual Verbena de la Vermada, the Grape Harvest Festival, was about to be celebrated. Binissalem, you should know, is the Mallorcan wine producing capital.

As the name suggests, the village of Binissalem has its origins in the period of the Moorish settlement in the Balearic Isles some 1,000 years ago. And yes, believe it or not, the Arabs were known then for the production of some fine wines. I cannot vouch that they actually drank the stuff because I was not around at the time, but they are reported to have been very knowledgeable in the fermentation of grapes in many ways.

Part of the festivities last weekend was the Battle of the Uvas. 4,000 kg of grapes were supposedly used to fight, battle, attack and compete in the friendly skirmish that got everybody soaked, stained and muddied. The rain helped along in the general saturation.

The following day, it was time for a bit of grape treading.

Grape treading is an ancient method already used by the Romans and the Greeks in their respective ancient empires and has since been practiced by the French, the Italians, the Portuguese and the Spanish, here in Mallorca and elsewhere on the Iberian peninsula. The Book of Hours illustration shown below hails from Paris, France. This exquisitely illustrated work was written and decorated by hand on vellum in Paris in about 1490. Among its brilliantly coloured miniatures is one for September, which shows a person treading grapes.

The human foot is considered to be far more gentle than any form of mechanical grape pressing. Although there are now automated alternatives, grapes for the highest quality wines are still routinely pressed by the foot, which still results in the best juice and colour extraction.

The grape treading competition was introduced into the Binissalem festival nine years ago, and is now one of the most popular events in the Vermada programme. This year, 30 teams took part, 10 of them of children, made up of girls and boys of between 12 and 16, taking part for the first time. The teams consisted of four people, two of whom tread the grapes first, then the other two, grasping each other by the shoulders as they do so. In the children’s category the winning team extracted 8 litres of juice in the five minutes allowed. Their prize was 120 Euros. The winners in the adult category managed to extract 10.5 litres in the time allowed. During the competition 1,280 kg of grapes were trod.

To avoid misunderstandings: in general, wine in Mallorca does not get produced nowadays by treading. It is a tradition that is celebrated at festival times, once a year. There are not enough little feet around in Binissalem to tread all the grapes for all the wine that is produced in Mallorca, every year.

September is the month when the Mallorcan wine is harvested. The grape harvest is traditionally related to the cycles of the moon, hence, the wine festival moves along in the calendar. Another highlight of the Binissalem festivities, apart from the Battle of the Uvas and the grape treading, was an open air dinner where locals as well as visitors sat down at the longest arrangement of dining tables that I have ever seen. Thousands of portions of seafood paella were served, together with the red wine that was trod here last year. There were also other events, such as dance exhibitions and sport contests, as well as a concert held in the parish church, to be followed ultimately by fireworks displays.

Whilst I like the wine festival of Binissalem, my personal tastes in Mallorcan wine go for some other areas of the island, such as the Pla i Levant region.

In case you are interested, my favourite vino tintos of the Mallorcan denomination are wines from Son Sureda Ric, Ànima Negra, Toni Gelabert, Miquel Gelabert, Miquel Oliver, Jaume Mesquida, and Armero i Adrover, probably in this order of descent. Of course that varies to some extent, as not every year can possibly result in exactly the same vintage quality or taste.

 

There are other grape harvest festivals throughout Spain, at this time of the year. Of course there are other great Spanish wines as well, outside of Mallorca, but that would be too long a story for now. Perhaps in a future blog entry I shall tell you all about wines from the Rioja, the Ribera del Duero and the Toro, my secret favourite. Unless you prefer to follow Robert Parker’s musings.

Salut.

 

The ‘Príncipe de Asturias’ Award for Yad Vashem

We all know that most noble award of all, the Nobel Prize. Each year, scientists are awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Physics, or Chemistry, as are authors and writers, for Literature.

 

The crown of all that is the Nobel Prize for Peace; never mind that Mr. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, a product  that has had its fair share in bringing down peace more often than enhancing it.

Not everyone knows that Spain has created the poor man’s Nobel Prize.

Well, that is not quite doing it justice. Spain has set up something similar, with perhaps a slightly more contemporary and more popular angle, and without the prize money that is attached to the Nobel Prize. And without any dynamite or other applications with sinister possibilities associated with it. It is called Premios Príncipe de Asturias, and is awarded annually to outstanding achievers from the world of theatre, literature, art, music, film, architecture, politics, sports and the world of science.

 

Stephen Hawking, Woody Allen, Daniel Baremboim, Günter Grass, Arthur Miller have all been awarded the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ in the past, as have Doris Lessing, J. K. Rowling, Susan Sontag, Yaser Arafat, Jane Goodall, Yehudi Menuhin, plus many others, as well as the Camino de Santiago, in case you should want to know.

 

Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Nelson Mandela are laureates of both, the Nobel Prize as well as the Premio Príncipe de Asturias.

The Prince of Asturias award was first bestowed in 1981 and now celebrates its 26th anniversary (quite a way from the 106 year old Nobel Prize). But Spanish Prince Felipe after whom the award giving Foundation is named, has the slight advantage of still being alive and kicking, something that Mr. Alfred Nobel, sadly for him, can no longer claim.

Quite why the Prize giving scheme was conceived is anyone’s guess. I suspect that the Premios Príncipe de Asturias have to be seen in the historical context.

After a dictatorship of 40 years, Spain has been a Parlimentary System with a Constitutional Monarchy only since 1978. It is a system similar to the one in Great Britain. The Monarch is the head of the State and as such, represents Spain internationally. Prince Felipe is the 3rd child of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophía. He was born in 1968; he will be 40 years old next January. His full name is Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbón y Grecia. His Royal title is Prince of Asturias. He is also Prince of Girona and Prince of Viana. He is the Spanish Crown Prince, i. e. the future King of Spain, if things don’t change any time soon.

With a bit of maths you can work out that the prince was a mere 13 years old when the Premios Príncipe de Asturias were set up. I believe that the Spanish Royal family was then looking for a niche in the international scene. Spain also wanted to give itself an image of being democratic, pro-Western, open, liberal, dignified and humanitarian, attributes that this country had forgone during the dark years of Franco. Plus the young Prince also had to be given a role on the world stage with some prestige attached.

26  years on, Spain is a respected member of the world community, both in Europe and in the world. The Premios Príncipe de Asturias were certainly not fundamentally instrumental in getting Spain to this position, but they have hardly done any harm on the way there.

The Premios Príncipe de Asturias command prestige and respect already. They have not quite yet achieved the flair that the Nobel Prize evokes, but wait another 78 years, before we can take stock. They are in a close second position now and that is not bad going for such a young scheme.

The 2007 prize winners have already been named:

Writer, Amos Oz has won the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturia de las Letras 2007’. Michael Schumacher won the award for Sports. Arts, Bob Dylan. German born British Lord Dahrendorf has won the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ for Social Sciences. Al Gore has won the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ for International Cooperation. Peter Lawrence and Ginés Morata have been chosen for Scientific and Technical Research.

 

And just a week ago or two, the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias de la Concordia’, was announced. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, has been awarded the coveted prize.

 


The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, an international institution in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, aims to transmit to future generations the need for preserving human rights and, essentially, the respect for life. It is the only one of its kind in the world to also honour people who risked their own lives to save Jewish victims of the Shoah. Yad Vashem has become an important centre of information, research and education of one the largest genocides in the history of Mankind.

I just wish Israel would not only take good care of the memory of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but would also begin to preserve human rights and respect for life in their own territory and in the immediate neighborhood in the present day, i. e. in Gaza, the Lebanon and also in Jerusalem. Too many victims and too much death, destruction, misery and hardship are caused on a daily basis in the vicinity of Yad Vashem.

If not, perhaps our children will visit an Intifada Museum in Gaza, one day, which the Premio Príncipe de Asturia might also choose to award some Concordia award to, in years to come. 


White Night, Light Night

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La Noche en Blanco, or ‘White Night’ in English, is an all-night cultural extravaganza which takes place during one night every year in September. In Madrid, Spain, it will take place tomorrow night, September 22nd. Activities, events, circuits and performances are free of charge. The city of Madrid also puts on 24 hour public transport to make getting between events easier.

Begun in Paris as ‘Nuit Blanche’ in 2002, the event has since spread to numerous European cities, as well as São Paulo, Toronto, Montreal and Chicago and is known as Light Night in Leeds, UK. It is based on a similar German event, known as Long ‘Night of Museums’ (or, more precisely, Lange Nacht der Museen). A White Night was celebrated in Riga, Latvia, this August 25th, and in Rome, Italy, this September 6th. A Noche en Blanco will be celebrated in Brussels, Belgium, next week, September 29th, and in Paris, France, on October 9th when it will be called ‘La Nuit Blanche’.

For those of you that happen to be in Madrid this weekend, you might want to check on the lanocheenblanco website, if you happen to be near a computer. The programme is full of shows and exhibitions, theatre and music performances, street art and sound circuits, food and fun.

 

For those of you who are Barça followers (not a condition for the following though) do not despair. If it works for Madrid it more than works for Barcelona, one should think. The Noche en Blanco also has a Barcelona date which, unfortunately, is not until 2008. I shall let you know if and when.

It’s Madrid then this weekend, or no Noche en Blanco