Category Archives: Events

San Fermin Bull Runs And More

Every July 6th, the central balcony on Pamplona’s Town Hall sees the Chupinazo, the rocket launched to mark the beginning of the San Fermin fiestas which started today.

In all, four rockets are traditionally launched during the annual encierros (bull running).

The first one is launched when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes 08h00. Then the gates of the corral are opened and the barriers formed by Pamplona’s Municipal Police retaining the runners are withdrawn. The second rocket announces that the entire herd has left the corral, the third that the bulls and the oxen are in the Bullring and the fourth rocket indicates that the entire herd has entered the corral at the Plaza de Toros.

I have done a blog entry on the San Fermin activities in Pamplona in July 2007, and you might wish to check there on taurino matters.

 (photo: EFE)

Today, I am rather inclined to let you know that Pamplona has more to offer than just bullish things and events. Much more.

Surrounded by mountains, the plain of the basin of Pamplona has always favoured human settlement. Stone tools have been found on the terraces of the River Arga dating from some 75,000 years ago. In the first millennium B. C., there already existed a Vascon settlement beneath the modern-day city. This settlement gave rise to the name Iruña, Basque for ‘the city’. The Roman General, Gnaeus Pompey Magnus, arrived in 75 B. C. and founded a Roman-model city. He gave it its name, Pompaelo, and enhanced its function as a strategic link between the peninsula and Europe.

Quite a few years later, Pompaelo, now Pamplona, became a major venue for anyone walking the Camino de Santiago along the so-called Camino Francés.

The Gothic bridge of La Magdalena is the main entrance to the city for pilgrims. Built in the 12th Century, it has three slightly pointed arches as supports. There is a cross with an image of San Jacobeo at one end. After crossing the River Arga, pilgrims find themselves beneath Pamplona’s city walls.

Caminantes cross the Gateway of France, and climb Calle del Carmen, known as Rúa de los Peregrinos in the 14th and 15th centuries, to the ancient City of Navarrería. This is the oldest gateway in the city. It bears a coat of arms carved with the two-headed eagle and the imperial arms.

The Pilgrims’ road passes through the square in front of the Ayuntamiento de Pamplona (Town Hall), one of the most important stages of the San Fermin fiestas. 

A brotherhood used to attend and give shelter to pilgrims at the church of Santo Domingo. The church is large, open-plan and austere, typical of religious architecture. Inside, Saint James is present in the niche on the façade, dressed as a pilgrim, complete with stick, hat and scallop shell. The façade repeats the scallop-shell motif, icon of the Pilgrimage, on its niches and door.

The church of San Lorenzo saw the light of day in the 13th Century, but only the tower remains of the original medieval building. This church houses the famous Chapel of San Fermin with its bust-reliquary of Pamplona’s patron saint and first Bishop of the city. Next to the church is the Plaza de Recoletas with its Neoclassical fountains and the Convento de los Carmelitos, founded in 1634.

The good news, overall, is that you do not have to be a taurean aficionado, nor an Ernest Hemingway lover, nor even a pilgrim or anything, really, to get a lot of pleasure out of a visit to Pamplona, the capital city of Navarra province.

Navarra is the largest of the four Basque provinces that we have in Spain. A lot of good things come from the Basque culture and the Basque people, whatever you might think and hear, or read in the papers – good food, good music, good fun and lots of good life, all round. And of course, you know that on the French side of the Pyrenees, there are three more Basque provinces, with lots more good things, aussi.

But that is perhaps a story for another day.

Advertisements

Paul Andreu and the National Grand Theatre in Beijing

beijing_andreu.jpg

If you are interested in architecture, there is no doubt that you are impressed by the work of Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect who gave the world the singular Sydney Opera House, in Australia, inaugurated after much delay in 1973, and now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We all saw Sydney Opera House pictures last week when the APEC Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation met there for their 2007 summit.

sydney_utzon.jpg

In his pursuit for immortality, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava surprised us all with a splendid Auditorium concert hall in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, in 2003. Not so many delays in that case. No summits there, as yet, either.

tenerife_calatrava.jpg

Now, we can be in awe of the new National Grand Theatre in Beijing, unofficially put to use a few days ago by former Chinese leader and opera enthusiast, Jiang Zemin. Admittedly, I wasn’t there when comrade Jiang Zemin, 81, sang his bits of Peking Opera to an intrigued audience, but I am more than impressed by French architect, Paul Andreu’s work that continues a formidable tradition of great 20th century opera and concert house architecture in China’s capital city.

The retired president and Communist Party chief sang parts of a Western opera and also, of a Peking opera for theatre staff when he visited last Friday, a Hong Kong newspaper reported.

The controversial National Theatre, a shiny half sphere, sits in stark contrast next to the Soviet-style Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing, perhaps 500 m from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was due to open in 2005, then 2006, and is now expected to open at the end of this year.

The National Grand Theatre of China in Beijing was designed by French architect Paul Andreu. You may know Monsieur Andreu for his Maritime Museum in Osaka, Japan, or his Grande Arche in La Defense, Paris, France, amongst others. His Beijing theatre must be one of the most talked-about architectural projects for years, both because of Andreu’s bold and innovative design, and for the grand scope of the project itself.

Once opened, it surely will become Beijing’s foremost cultural centre, situated in the heart of the capital, symbolizing all that is exciting about the new China, and no doubt will convert into one of the visual icons of the upcoming Beijing Olympics 2008, together with Herzog & de Meuron’s as yet unfinished Olympic Stadium (see photo below). And any number of summits will be held there, too, for sure.

beijing_herzog_meuron.jpg

It’s lucky, isn’t it, that UNESCO will not be short of candidates for future World Heritage Site considerations?

White Night, Light Night

noche_blanco_2006.jpg

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

 

The European Day of Jewish Culture

jewish_culture_spain.jpg

 

Shortly after we moved to the island of Mallorca, in Spain, twenty years ago, a Jewish wedding was celebrated in the island capital, Palma de Mallorca. The local newspapers were reporting at the time that the happy union was the first recorded Jewish wedding on the island in well over 500 years. The first Synagogue in Palma had only been established in the 1970s, over 500 years after the expulsion or conversion of Spanish (and Mallorcan) Jews during the times of the Spanish Inquisition.

Spanish Jews once constituted one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities under Muslim and Christian rule, before the Judíos (Jews) of Spain were expelled in 1492. Today, a few thousand Jews live in Spain, but the descendants of Spanish (and Portuguese) Jews, the Sephardic Jews, still make up around a fifth of the global Jewish population. The Jews of Spain speak Ladino, a Romance language, derived mainly from Old Castilian (Spanish) and Hebrew. The relationship of Ladino to Castilian Spanish is comparable to that of Yiddish to German.

Someone better qualified than me could tell you a lot more about the history of the Jewish people in Spain, in Mallorca and the aftermath of expulsion, conversion or simply, extermination of the Spanish Jews.

Many Spanish towns and cities that once, a long time ago, were vibrant hubs of Jewish life, such as Toledo, Girona, Barcelona, Cáceres, Segovia, Córdoba, Jaén, León, Ávila and many more, have joined a European movement of celebrating the European Day of the Jewish Culture. Tomorrow, 2nd September, the 8th such European Day will be celebrated and not only in Spain, but in other European countries as well (France, Italy, Britain, Lithuania, Czech Republic).

 

As far as Spanish cities and towns are concerned, and amongst them, Palma de Mallorca, I feel much better informed.

 

placa_hebreu.jpg

 

I can share with you the fact that Palma and all the other Spanish cities named earlier have historic Barrios Judíos (Jewish quarters) that recently have been restored and maintained and been put back on the map. In Palma de Mallorca, for instance, guided tours are on offer throughout the year for interested people like me (or you). I have taken the Palma Call tour a half a dozen times, and each and every time I am amazed that more and different things can be learned. I have also been to the Jewish quarters, Call in Ladino, in Toledo, Barcelona and Girona. If you are interested in Spain, or history, or life in general, you might get as much satisfaction out of such visits as I did.

Tomorrow, Sunday, may be just such an occasion.

 

If you want to read a book on the subject, because you are interested, but may not be around for a visit in Spain, or another such European country, I would recommend The Jews of Spain, by Jane Gerber. In case you can read a Spanish text, I would recommend Los Judíos de la España Antigua, by Luis A. García Moreno. If you want to read about it on the Internet, or if you want to know more about the programme and the venues of the European Day of the Jewish Culture, I would click here if I was you.

 

Let me also remind you that the Jewish holidays, which denote the new year (5768) on the Jewish calendar, will take place in two weeks time (September 12th-14th).

 

Just in case that you might have a Jewish friend or two.

 

Tomatoes Anybody?

tomatina.jpg

Most people think of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) as a food item and even a culinary symbol. But wait a moment. This blog comes to you from Spain.

The tomato probably originated in the highlands of the west coast of South America. After the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also took it to the Philippines, from whence it moved through south east Asia and then the entire Asian continent. The Spanish also brought the tomato to Europe. It grew easily in the Mediterranean climate, and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, though it was certainly being widely used as food by the early 1600s in Spain. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources.

If ever you have travelled extensively in Spain or if you even live here, you might have become accustomed to the fact that Spain is different. How the tomato is typical of such differences you will discover as soon as you hear about the Tomatina.

La Tomatina is held in Buñol, a small town about 50 kms west of Valencia. It takes place on the last Wednesday in August every year. It has been held there ever since the end of the Spanish civil war, possibly as a celebration of life at the end of all the misery and pain endured in Spain before 1940. Yesterday, it was Tomatina time, once again.

I have to admit that I did not make it to Buñol yesterday and I do not have first hand experience of the Tomato Battle, but I cannot hide an eagerness to see it for myself, one day.

Buñol is a small Spanish town of perhaps 9,000 inhabitants, but every year, at Tomatina time, some 40-50,000 people congregate to celebrate the ultimate tomato festival that man, or woman, has ever invented.

Imagine the combined effect of San Miguel, sangria, sweltering heat, a profuse dousing with water from the public water hoses (lots of wet t-shirts there) etc. and you get a party atmosphere that easily rivals the running with the bulls party in Pamplona, also in Spain, but without any of the risks of physical harm that a fast moving object of 750 kgs or more could inflict on you.

Add to this some 120 tons of ripe tomatoes, streets crammed shoulder to shoulder with people and the senseless spirit of a party made up of Buñolians, Valencianos, Spanish, Germans, Brits, Americans, Australians, a Kiwi or two, plus a surprisingly large number of Japanese and Asian visitors, and you have probably the most insane thing you are ever likely to witness.

The blood-like red colour of the tomatoes suggests violence and injuries, but everything is totally good natured with almost no incident in this peaceful annual tomato throwing fight of tens of thousands of people. 

You will need a good and proper wash at the end of the fiesta, though. The combination of tomatoes, sweat and alcohol amounts to a very smelly and sticky matter, exciting as it may be.

 

The Moon, Eclipsed Again

lunar_eclipse.jpg

I must confess that I am a bit of a lunatic. The word is borrowed from the Latin word lunaticus, which gains its stem from luna for moon, which in turn denotes the traditional link made in folklore between madness and the phases of the moon.

Ok., let me re-phrase that. I do not believe that I am mad (somebody better ask my wife for her verdict). I just happen to like the moon in its appearance and in its rhythm, and I am probably prone to some of its folkloric and symbolic connotations. So maybe I am a moon-atic.

Anyway, it’s Full Moon again, tomorrow, and a special one too, at least in some parts of this lovely planet. No, I am not talking about a Blue Moon for tomorrow. The next Blue Moon is not due until 31st December, 2009. Instead, tomorrow we can experience another Total Eclipse of the Moon. At least, if we live on the right side of this planet.

A total eclipse of the moon occurs during the early morning of tomorrow, Tuesday, 28th August, 2007. The total lunar eclipse, already the second one this year, will be visible in North and South America, especially in the West. People in the Pacific islands, eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand will also be able to view it if the skies are clear.

An eclipse of the moon can only take place at Full Moon, and only if the moon passes through some portion of Earth’s shadow. The shadow is actually composed of two cone-shaped parts, one nested inside the other. The outer shadow or penumbra is a zone where Earth blocks some (but not all) of the sun’s rays. In contrast, the inner shadow or umbra is a region where Earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the moon.

People in Europe, Africa or the Middle East, who had the best view of the last total lunar eclipse in March 2007, won’t be able to see the one tomorrow because the moon will have set when the partial eclipse begins at 04h51 EDT. The full eclipse will begin an hour later at 05h52 EDT.

Since the Earth is bigger than the moon, the process of the Earth’s shadow taking a bigger and bigger bite out of the moon, totally eclipsing it before the shadow recedes, lasts for about 3 1/2 hours. The total eclipse phase lasts about 1 1/2 hours.

The next total lunar eclipse will occur next year, 21st February, 2008, and will be visible from the Americas, Europe and Asia.

I am more than slightly worried about a friend of ours, who gets totally affected every time there is a Full Moon. I just hope he does not get a Total Eclipse himself, tomorrow. Or tonight. Or all week.

 

 

It Takes Two to Tango

tango.jpg

 

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.

tango_salon.jpg

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.

ba_tango.jpg


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.