Category Archives: Art & Culture

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.




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


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



Albert Camus and the Balearic Islands



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).




A brave angry young man in my books. 



It Takes Two to Tango



Do you fancy a trip to Buenos Aires, in Argentina?


I am suggesting Buenos Aires, because I suppose that you might like things Latino. And what expresses Latino more than Latin Dance. Salsa perhaps. Or even better: Tango.

Buenos Aires is in the middle of its Annual Tango Festival. Sorry. There are actually four different Tango Festivals going on in Buenos Aires, every year. Right now, the Buenos Aires Ministry of Culture is holding the 5th Tango Dance World Championship (the first one was held in 2003), from 16th to 26th August. The couples participating in the competition will represent their hometown or the town where they presently reside, be that in Argentina or elsewhere in the world. All contestants must be over 18 years old. Entry is free for participants.


So, why not take your spouse to Buenos Aires for a bit of Tango. You have to take him or her, because as you know, it takes two to tango.

Once there, you might enjoy a Tango class on a boat that sweeps you along the coast of the Río de la Plata past the city’s most traditional neighbourhoods. This is where Tango was born more than a century ago. Discover for yourself why the dance is often described as the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.

Workshops are run by the Great Masters of Tango, the Milongueros. Held in the best dance halls and sports clubs and culminating in the grandest ballroom in the city, the Palais Rouge, the workshops are accompanied by six orchestras. In broader terms, this dance is also a physical interview for that greater tenet of coupledom: commitment. Can he take the lead and is she capable of following? Has he got big feet? Will he drop her? Test it yourself.


The place to stay whilst in Buenos Aires would of course be the Hotel Faena, of Philippe Starck fame, described by its creator as ‘a temple to pleasure’. Five nights this week would cost you 1,925 USD for two, breakfast included, plus taxes. Rooms are still available; I just checked. Flights are extra, of course, wherever you might hail from. For reservations telephone 11.4010.9000.


If the Hotel Faena sounds a bit expensive for your Tango outing, I can also recommend the arty Hotel Boquitas Pintadas, in the San Telmo barrio. This small, self-proclaimed Pop hotel of only six guestrooms looks a bit like an extraordinary film set. It is called ‘Little Painted Mouths’ as a tribute to Manuel Puig’s novel of the same name. The kitschy decor changes every few months. A library features Puig’s works, and the hotel hosts ongoing film cycles and art exhibitions. A modern restaurant serves unique, eclectic dishes, including creative dishes for vegetarians. Single occupation is from 45 USD, doubles are from 65 USD; no credit cards. For reservations telephone 11.4381.6064.


Or else, the five star Abasto Plaza Hotel. Here you can see a classy daily Tango show. Nearby you can take Tango classes or buy a Tango outfit at the ‘Tango Boutique’. Rooms start from 150 USD. For reservations telephone 11.6311.4466.


You can eat your Argentinian steak nowhere better than at Cabaña Las Lilas in Av. Alicia Moreau de Justo 516. The restaurant has its own estancia (farm), where cattle are raised for its clients. Telephone: 11.4313.1336. Dinner will cost you 30 AR $ – 40 AR $, provided you speak Spanish. If not, they will think you are an American tourist and will charge you in USD.


If you have not had enough Tango during the day, I recommend the following Tango Bars at night:


Sin Rumbo (Telephone 11.4574.0972), Club Almagro (Tel. 11.4774.7454), Nuevo Salon La Argentina (Telephone 11.4413.7239), Glamour (Telephone 11.4866.5261), Sunderland (Telephone 11.4541.9776), La Milonga (Telephone 11.4601.8234), Café Homero (Telephone 11.7730.1979), or Bar Sur (Telephone 11.3620.6086).

You might need a guide book whilst in BA. I am convinced that you will not find a more comprehensive one, albeit in the Spanish lingo, than the Guia Total Buenos Aires, which sells locally for 69 AR $. That’s about 20 USD. If English is easier for you, I have good experiences with the Time Out guide series. Time Out do a Buenos Aires City Guide, at £ 12.99, again about 20 USD.

In you are having a good time in Buenos Aires, I would appreciate a postcard from you. Mind you, a comment here would do nicely.



A Word About Federico García Lorca


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.



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.


Let Me Introduce You to the Outstanding Artist, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón



100 years ago, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón, as her name appears on her birth certificate, was born in July 1907 in her parents’ house, known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacán, which at the time was a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. We know her better as Frida Kahlo, but there is not much evidence that we really know her.

I do not pretend to know much more about Frida Kahlo than any of you do, but I sure would have liked to know her during her life time. She must have been a fascinating woman.

I have seen some of her paintings in a number of exhibitions and museums. Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to see an exhibition composed of some 60 photographs of her. Of course, I’ve seen the bio-pic Frida, played and produced by Salma Hayek, who, I must say, totally convinced me as to the spirit of Frida Kahlo and to the explosiveness of the time, the Twenties and Thirties, in post-revolutionary Mexico.

On the afternoon of 17 September, 1925, Frida and her friend Alex were involved in a severe accident of a bus collision with a tram, and Frida was very severely injured. A metal rod had made a very deep abdominal wound, her third and fourth lumbar vertebrae were fractured, and her uterus was pierced. Frida ended up trapped in a body cast for months. The accident left her in a great deal of pain. She recovered ever so slowly. She took up painting to occupy her time during her temporary state of immobilization. Before the accident, Frida Kahlo had begun to study medicine; now she soon embarked on a full-time painting career.


As a young artist, Frida Kahlo approached the famous Mexican muralist painter, Diego Rivera, whom she had previously admired, and asked him for his advice on pursuing art as a career. He immediately recognized her talent and her unique expression as truly special and uniquely Mexican. He encouraged her development as an artist, and began an intimate relationship with her. They were married in 1929, much to the disapproval of Frida’s mother, a Mexican lady of indigenous roots. Frida’s father, by the way, had been a German emigrant of Hungarian descent.

If you are into art, if you admire creative women, if you like to know more about the period in which Mexico was a thriving society, if you appreciate beauty that is not cast in the superficial terms of Hollywood and if you enjoy a spellbinding performance by an outstanding Latina actress, let me suggest you get a DVD out of your local video hire shop. Even if your Spanish is not good enough to listen to some of the original soundtrack, Frida Kahlo’s story is absorbing enough in English, just the same, or any language of your choice.


The movie is called Frida, here in Europe. In the USA and Canada, it is called Frida Kahlo. It was filmed and produced in 2002; it was released in 2003.

For those of you living in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, there will be a fantastic exhibition of paintings by Frida Kahlo touring from the Walker Art Center (October 2007) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (February 2008), to culminate at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (June 2008). A core of that forthcoming exhibition was shown at the Tate Modern Museum in London, UK, a year ago or so.

A must-see, in my books.