....To Santiago

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Finding Chagall in Nice

To find the Chagall Museum in Nice was a triumph in what otherwise felt like a slightly unreal city filled with airy villas, impressive Belle Epoch structures and Rococco churches...a place full of eye candy with cocoa skinned Europeans strolling and sunning on the French Riviera. Two things made Nice substantial for me: the Mediterranean Sea and the Marc Chagall Museum.
Following the GPS on the phone, we took a strange and strenuous walk up into the hills of Nice arriving at the museum in a hot lather, we pilgrims seeking Chagall.
First we saw the tapestries, paintings and studies of Chagall's Biblical Stories rendered with utter devotion by superlative weavers into richly shaded tapestries. Reverential silence filled the gallery rooms as people sifted by each other taking it in.
Chagall, a Belorussian by birth but most of his life spent in France, has always epitomized what I perceived as a French sensibility with his sweeping, swooping lovers with faces joined in a kiss; his colors of deep azure and cobalt blues scribbled over with quickly laced bouquets of flowers, inverted roosters, rams, acrobats and bulls, which turn again into angels, as womens' breasts morph into hillsides.
Chagall took all the exuberance of life and descended inward with it in an introspective embrace. His figures avert their solemn gazes in the face of mystery; they bow their heads and become human commas- ciphers even. Chagall's outer and inner worlds are always out-gassing and bubbling in the alchemist's retort, fluxing between states of liquid and ether, solid snd quintessence.
Here, Jacob wrestles with the angel of destiny, a hushed bowed Jacob weeps over Joseph's bloody coat--these images are so close to my heart as I have lived with Jacob's saga as if it were my own.
And then I reached the room filled with Chagall's Song of Songs paintings, all painted on rosy red ground, all of them holy and so intimate all at once.
Gwen had never seen me moved by art in this way-- what a revelation for both of us on so many levels.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Conceptual Art Drains Me

Our visit to 
Museo d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) was quite interesting, don't get me wrong. 

The first floor exhibit on the philosophical tensions and attendant ramifications of the polarities between The Sovereign and The Beast (that is as far as I can go in verbal explanation after so much thinking while walking at the same time) was full of vivid material. Cool video art depicting the Minotaur, Venus, and Priapus, desacralized icons and generally shocking sculptures all kept me on edge for a full hour. But as soon as I stepped out of the exhibit hall, my legs buckled and thank God there was a mod beanbag chair there to catch me as I crumpled to the floor. I had to nap for half an hour. I was thoroughly sapped of energy. Gwen was able to revive me enough to stagger through the rest of the exhibits as cursorily as possible muttering to her over and over "This does nothing for me..."
I could not wait to get out of the door to go down an espresso across the plaza.
On to a city sponsored proletariat run art space which had a couple of good moments but already I felt so drained by my earlier conceptual art innoculation from earlier in the day that rallying was not an option. Conclusion: Conceptual artists? I can only spare you one hour of my brainjuice in any given museum setting. I shall do my best to stretch this span with practice over the course of this trip, but I make no promises: there are only so many political utopian claptrap art pieces I will suffer in the course of a tour day. Nuff said.

Modular Gaudi?

Climbing up the mountain to Park Guell via steep sidewalks and finally, thankfully, several escalators, one begins to wonder: what in the world possessed Gaudi and Eusebi Guell, his wealthy industrialist friend, to build a "Park" way up here at the turning of the 20th century? Of course, the views were even more spectacular back in 1913 when the trees blocking the view of Sagrada Familia were much shorter and Gaudi could look down from his house perch and mark the progress of his beloved Sagrada Familia basilica project, but my God, did they really expect the wealthy and moderate home buyers to trudge their groceries daily up to these steep hills? I suppose help was cheap but it does seem a quixotic project. But, anyway, the World Wars came along and blew up any economic chances the new modernist housing development might have had and the project was halted and considered a failure. Only the Guell and Gaudi houses and a couple of model homes remain and they are the main attractions of Park Guell aside from the fascinating landscape features with spooky stone teeth grimacing atop twisting columns and warped passageways resembling ear canals wending into the jungle surroundings complete with parrots chattering in the plane trees. The models intended for modest income housing are so quirky that perhaps only a Who from Whoville might feel at home here.
This bold modernist dream wasn't to be but what if it had and modular Gaudi homes became a commonplace all over Barcelona? Would it have cheapened or degraded Gaudi's genius? The fantastical Casa Batllo, a specially commissioned townhouse of four stories, is such a glorious, sensuous work of art in every inch of its creation that I cannot imagine it replicated even twice.
I will post pictures of Casa Batllo and Park Guell as soon as I am able to access a "real" computer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


After a rather harrowing start, driving to JFK Airport with white knuckles through apocalyptic rain torrents, then the usual hurry up and wait three hours on the runway, we arrived in Spain only minutes shy of our train connection to Barcelona. Missed that train and after a couple more hours waiting in several queues, we are finally and most gratefully sitting aboard a Barcelona-bound train. Gwen is in good spirits and makes sure I stay on task, giggling at my denseness. We soon meet Marcelo, our first Airbnb host in a strange land.
The land is rugged and sliding by in shades of maize yellow and scrubby green. Gwen's vino tinto immediately throws me back to trudging through the Rioja region on the Camino; I can taste the sun-drenched grape nursed the red Rioja soil. Spain is beautiful even when you're jet groggy.