Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “Spain”

Freeway-Free in Spain: Old Bilbao Explored

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When you are tired of looking at indoor and outdoor art along the Abandoibarra between Bilbao’s two world-class museums, go for a different vibe in Bilbao’s Old Town and Warehouse District.

On a weekday, you can browse the Mercado de la Ribera, one of the largest and oldest indoor markets in Spain. (I was there on a Sunday, but I did get to see some of the lovely stained glass windows in the guild hall.)

In the Warehouse District you will find the Alhondiga a multi-story public library  built on pillars within an old warehouse, with a glass-bottomed swimming pool on the roof.  It’s a wonderful re-imagining of how to use space. (Notice that no two of the supporting pillars are alike.)

In the Old Town are the usual medieval cathedral, narrow cobbled streets, and slightly skewed medieval buildings.

And if you explore the side streets, you will find some amazing, funky shops offering  exotic (and painful-looking) piercings, gothic wear, and many other oddities.

If you want an overview, don’t omit visiting the park atop Mount Artxanda, the hilltop overlooking Bilbao, for a panorama which takes in both old and new Bilbao. 20190528_124541doc

And then maybe you’ll want to take in the art scene just one more time before you leave.

 

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Freeway-Free in Spain: A Tale of Two Museums

Bilbao’s Promenade along the Estuary is anchored at each end by a world-class museum.  The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum looks like a traditional museum from the outside – a blockish building with a fountain courtyard,  a lobby with a gift shop.  Ho hum. But the museum has re-invented itself in competition with its more famous colleague at the other end of the promenade and its exhibit space, when I visited, was among the most interesting and inventive I have seen.

20190526_160456webAt the time of my visit, the museum had thrown the traditional chronological arrangement of its art right out the window, and had rearranged its El Greco’s, its Goyas, its Gauguin in alphabetical order by subject.  So the Gauguin was exhibited under A for ART, taken out of its frame and put between glass panels so you could see the paint smudges on the edges of the canvas, and some scribbles by the artist on the back of the canvas.  In the same room were examples of art by paleolithic artists as well as moderns ones.  It made me think about the Gauguan in a completely different way.

Here’s a sample of the many pieces of Spanish and European art on view at the Fine Arts Museum:

(The picture on the lower left was taken, of course, in the room labeled “P for Portrait”.)

It was a rainy day when I visited, and I could have happily stayed for hours.

The next day I visited the other end of the Promenade, the Guggenheim Bilbao.  This museum is really all about the building.  The architecture inside and out is so curvaceously fascinating that the art pieces serve as much to enhance the building as to display themselves. Here’s a sample:

Of course, Bilbao is more than the sum of two museums and a promenade along the estuary.  There is an old town. There are modern buildings. I’ll give you a glimpse of that Bilbao next time.

Freeway-Free in Spain: Bilbao Re-Imagined – Day 1

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All I knew of Bilbao before arriving was what I learned from Andy Williams in the song about “that old Bilbao moon/I shan’t forget it soon…/While Tony’s beach saloon/Rocked with an old-time tune”.

Whatever Bilbao Andy was singing about has gone, if it ever existed. For one thing, there is no beach at Bilbao; it gained its success as a port because it was situated on a wide river inlet, well away from storms AND sand.

Bilbao was the Pittsburg of Spain, a busy port located near iron deposits, and thus steel mills and manufacturing plants. Like Pittsburg, when the iron gave out, the city verged on collapse.   The warehouses emptied, the port facilities were allowed to become outmoded, and manufacturing jobs left for cheaper labor pools.

City visionaries hit on the idea of re-positioning Bilbao as a cultural center, and reclaiming its idle port as a riverside sculpture park and promenade. Someone heard that the Guggenheims were thinking of establishing a satellite museum in Europe, and Bilbao pulled out all the stops to secure this prize. The result: a voluptuously curved Frank Gehry–designed building which is a destination in itself, supplemented by The Museum of Fine Arts (the second largest museum of Spanish art in the country after El Prado in Madrid) at the other end of the promenade,, and between them a lovely open green space bordering the reclaimed river, studded with sculptures, bridges, fountains, playgrounds, and outdoor performance spaces.

Sculptures vary from realistic to very abstract:

The fountains bubble graciously from traditional to naturalistic:

And the playgrounds are well-used (note: the red-capped youth on the rope net are the same ones you can spot starting their school field trip in the first photo above).

20190526_172636webSo – come to Bilbao for the walk, the outdoor art, the architecture, the parks… and that’s only the first day!

Freeway Free in Spain: A Dream Deferred

The cookie factoryMy niece Jen teaches English in a small Pre-K through Adult School district in a small town (pop. 8000) in northern Spain. The town is most notable for its Romanesque church, its castle ruin, and its cookie factory, the largest in Europe.
Each morning Jen begins her day with a class of 3-5 year olds, held in the basement of the school. The classroom’s walls are covered with colorful posters and student artwork. The letters of the alphabet with pictures (A, Apple, B, Book) ring the tops of the bulletin boards. The classroom is divided by a long two-sided bookcase into two halves. On one side are several small round tables with chairs, on the other side are a playhouse, a large rug, and a smartboard. Except for the smartboard, it looks a lot like the kindergarten my children attended in California.
The children begin to arrive at 9AM. They exchange “good morning” with Jen, hang up their coats, and go to sit around the rug. T he five-year-olds wear purple gingham smocks with their names embroidered in purple along the front. The Pre-K group of 3 t0 4 –year-olds wear bright red smocks with yellow piping and a blue screen printed border, with their names embroidered in yellow.
Jen starts up the smartboard, which is a combination whiteboard, computer touch screen, and video player. A young man with a guitar appears on the screen to lead the children in a good morning song, while Jen helps the younger children settle in place and makes sure they are paying attention. One of the Pre-K students, Xavier, is Class Leader for the day. He leads the class through several phonics-based games using the touchscreen.
“The smartboard is great,” Jen whispers to me. “It’s like having another teacher in the room. Every class in the school has one.”
Next the students practice reciting a poem which they will present at the school’s Open House in a week. Afterward they break up into groups to color pictures for the presentation. Everything is done and said in English. The three-year-olds are still making mistakes; the four and five-year-olds are nearly flawless.
During her break, Jen takes me on a tour of the school. In the 6th grade class, each of the students is working with his own notebook computer. I am feeling a bit envious – this little town’s school seems as well equipped as those of Silicon Valley, and the 3-year-olds are already learning English. Here is a country that really puts value on education!
Later, while walking back to Jen’s house from the school, we meet one of her friends. He is an attractive young man of about thirty, who speaks excellent English and has an MBA from one of the best universities in Spain. He still lives with his parents. He has been looking for a job since getting his degree, but the best he has been able to manage in Spain’s economic meltdown is a part-time job on the night shift at the cookie factory.
What is the value of education, if it brings one no closer to one’s dreams?cookie factory 2

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