Thursday, June 25, 2015

In Pamplona, they party like it's 1591

Photo of the encierro from Sanfermines.net. 

From the Toronto Star, October 27, 1923 -- "In Pamplona, a white-walled, sun baked town high up in the hills of Navarre, is held in the first two weeks of July each year the World’s Series of bull fighting. Bull fight fans from all Spain jam into the little town. Hotels double their prices and fill every room. The cafés under the wide arcades that run around the Plaza de la Constitución have every table crowded...As far as I know we were the only English speaking people in Pamplona during the Feria..."

This was Ernest Hemingway's first trip to Pamplona, and it provided some of the material for his 1926 novel, "The Sun Also Rises." Today the top bullfighters still come, but now there are mobs of English speakers.

We are just a few days away from the start of the annual nine-day Festival of San Fermin, collectively referred to as the sanfermines, which is a combination of commercial fair, showcase of Spain's top bullfighters, and international debauch whose most memorable images are of people in red kerchiefs running down medieval streets chased by a stampede of bulls.

Hemingway was a latecomer. The earliest mention of bullfighting as part of the sanfermines was in the 14th century, and the festival was moved to its current dates in 1591 in order to coincide with the annual agricultural fair and thus produce more traffic for merchants. (The most comprehensive information about the festival is in Wikipedia, which has links to many historical references.) 

Monday, June 22, 2015

People are still upset about a battle from 1521

The regional differences in the United States have nothing on those in Spain. People have really long memories here.

Today I was reading an advertisement in the local paper, the Daily News (Diario de Noticias) of Navarra, advertising a book called "The Battle of Noain," described as "the unfortunate episode of 1521".

Navarra, in dark green, is on the southwest border of France.
The ad describes how the powerful Castilians (read "Spanish") defeated the local forces and "invaded our town" (Pamplona), which had been part of the French kingdom of Navarre.

For just 6.95 euros, the ad reads, you too can read this story of how "our forefathers struggled and spilled their blood" in a desperate battle that led to "the loss of idependence of Navarra".

The Castilians "devastated a kingdom that was ahead of its time in every sense".

Add this volume of 128 pages to your collection of the History of Navarra, says the ad.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

20,000-year-old cave art and the north coast of Spain

My sister Nancy and her husband, Tom Lukens, came to visit in May and we spent a good deal of the time on the north coast of Spain. I dragged them along to one of my favorite places, the cave of Altamira, which has paintings dating back as far as 22,000 years ago.

Modern artist's interpretation of an Altamira painting of an aurochs.

You can get a sense of the brilliance of the paintings in the example above. The artists used bulges in the cave walls and ceiling to emphasize the musculature of the aurochs (cattle), deer, and horses they depicted.

Pablo Picasso visited the cave and said, "After Altamira, everything is decadence." The ceiling has been called the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art.

Lifesize replica

The cave was discovered in 1879 when a tree fell and exposed an opening. Archeological work revealed that the cave had not been occupied for 13,000 years. The paintings were created over a span of at least 9 thousand years as different groups occupied the cave.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the site became such a popular tourist attraction that carbon dioxide in the breath of the thousands of visitors damaged the artworks. It was closed to the public in 1977.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Holy Week in Spain: a religious tradition and tourist spectacle


Our Lady of the Pillar Church, Zaragoza, on the Ebro River
ZARAGOZA, Spain -- For those of you who like anniversary celebrations, this one is the oldest I know of: the 1,975th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of the Pillar to the Apostle James, and it occurred here in Zaragoza in 40 A.D.

James was discouraged about how hard it was to convert to Christianity the residents of what we now call Spain. The Virgin Mary appeared to him on a pillar and encouraged him to keep at it. Which he did. Today there is an amazing Baroque church dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar in the heart of the city.

Holy Week processions

Zaragoza has dozens of cofradías that are known for their drum corps. Each of these groups has hundreds of members who participate in the Holy Week processions and observances. Each has a slightly different rhythm to their playing, but all beat the big bass drums hard.

Each has its own floats depicting religious scenes. Acolytes with censers fill the air with the smell of incense to create a visual, audio, and olfactory experience.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Barcelona's art and architecture make it a favorite

In the Gothic Quarter, 1996. Christine is a freshman at Kenyon College. Patrick is 12.
BARCELONA, Spain -- We were here 19 years ago with the whole family, and at that time Cindy pronounced Barcelona her favorite city. She has always loved Art Deco architecture and its Barcelona cousin, Modernisme. Gaudi is its best known practitioner.

Gothic Quarter, same fountain 2015
The Moorish architecture of southern Spain made her think that maybe Barcelona was just a passing fancy. Manchester, England, wooed her with its Victorian brick.

But no. After visiting Barcelona again in March, she said that now she is sure. Barcelona and its curving, vegetable facades, its wrought iron balconies, and its geometric tiles are her favorite. Along the tree-lined streets, artistic touches are everywhere, from the sgraffito plaster facades to the decorative manhole covers.

Actually, Barcelona has a couple thousand years of architecture on display. You can tour large sections of the old Roman city in the City Museum.

The Gothic quarter preserves the cathedral and religious buildings. There are Renaissance palaces converted into schools.

Invasion of the Anglo Saxons

Barcelona made huge upgrades to its transportation systems and tourist facilities for the 1992 Olympics. As a reporter and editor, I did some stories about all of the investment. It has paid off in attracting foreign investment and visitors. In the process, the city has lost some of its charm.

Sgraffito facade. Layers of plaster of different colors create the effect.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pamplona: Lots of running, no bulls

Pamplona is in NE Spain in Basque country. A 1,200-year-old pilgrimage route passes through the city and goes to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of the country. 
The city of 200,000 sits on a plateau, surrounded by hills. 
PAMPLONA, Spain -- After one week we love this place. It has lots of parks, bike paths, cafes and restaurants all within a short walk of our apartment.

On our block are a butcher shop, fruit and vegetable shop, a small general store and a bar or two. A big grocery-department store like a Wal-Mart is two or three blocks away. Cindy likes all the shopping opportunities.

The local people are generally friendly and very polite, although local people tell us that they are more reserved than the people in the South.

We have been running around getting various documents at various government agencies so we can get paid, get health care, etc. The offices are professional and efficient. Not a lot of waiting.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Favorite photos from Christine and Fernando's wedding

Christine Breiner and Fernando Duarte, on their way to the wedding reception in lower Manhattan, July 12, 2014. Photo by Martin Orozco.




They met at MIT several years ago while playing co-ed soccer. He was finishing his doctorate in economics and she was a post-doc in math. He got a job at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York and she got a teaching job at Fordham University in the Bronx.

They wanted to have a simple wedding. No more than 40 guests. No gifts, please. The week before the wedding, activities included a trip to the batting cages, watching the Netherlands-Argentina World Cup match with family (he is from Argentina), a pizza party on the rooftop terrace rather than a rehearsal dinner.

Fernando's parents and sister traveled more than 5,000 miles from Mendoza, Argentina, which is wine country, just a hop over the Andes from Santiago, Chile. (Moscow is closer to New York.) The photographer was Martin Orozco, Fernando's brother-in-law.


The ceremony was at the Anglican Church in the Bowery that Christine attends and where she does volunteer work, St. Mark's. Music was provided by a trio of oboe, piano and bass, and a song from Christine's friend Allison.