September 25, 2009
In the art gallery: so many Madonnas – both with and without child. And so many suffering Christs, nailed to wooden crosses, while wearing the obligatory crown of thorns, blood streaming from the various wounds in hands, feet, side and head. All this endured in order to “save us” all, poor sinners that we are!
Here, also, are portraits of every Saint known to man ( and some that aren’t! ) from St. Abadios to St. Zoticus – with imaginative and bloody depictions of their myriad martyrdoms. Like an over indulgent Sadeian fantasy, keenly, lingeringly created in languid brushstrokes, these orgies of blood and torture include an “auto de fé” – yards long canvass, depicting both ecclesiastical and civil authorities, the humiliation of the “heretics” (Jews in this case) and the smiling, gleeful faces of the onlookers (always nice to know someone’s worse off than you!) – finally the burning. So much burned, raw flesh in this Spanish holocaust. A timely reminder, perhaps, of just how ugly humanity can be…often without really trying.
The names of the artists simply trip from the tongue, too: Juan Valdes, Murillo, Bartolome, Francisco de Zurbaran…so much culture begins to clog the arteries after awhile, like a surfeit of high cholesterol!
Ah, but enough. Enough. It is nearly lunchtime (my lunchtime at any rate). We are to walk to the bullring and its museum before eating. It’s 49 degrees in the shade. In the stands of the bullring the sun is fierce, merciless; the stone “seats” are so hot they burn through the material of your cut-off denims. Like the fires of hell itself. After a morning of apocalyptic artworks and the rhetoric of religious torture and death, the bullfights seem almost humane! Almost…
So, the bullfight consists of six bulls and three matadores, each of whom is supported by his own team of assistants. The bullfights take place late afternoon. The matador is resplendent in his trajes de luces, his suit of lights (one of these usually costs around 3,000 euros). His assistants, using large purple capes, attract the bull’s attention and “work” the bull while the matador observes closely how it moves. Next come the picadores, a pair of lancers working the bull from horseback, using their pics to pierce the bull’s neck and weaken it. Now it is the turn of the banderilleros who get the bull to charge them and thrust the banderillas into the bull’s neck muscles thus weakening them. Finally the torero, the matador, engages the bull in a number of elegant passes before exchanging his purple and yellow capote, the large cape, for the much smaller cape, the red muleta and sword…from this point on it’s usually “Goodnight, Mr. Bull”.
Bullfighting is bloody ritual – one can’t help but think of those ancient depictions of “bull dancers” seen in Crete. It is a ceremony of death carried out in carefully arranged stages, each choreographed to achieve a final climax of confrontation between bull and matador – one or other will be the sacrifice in this ritual to death. The matador, man, stands alone in the ring and seeks to vanquish death. He accomplishes this by confronting his fear of death, and by overcoming the physical reality of death in the shape of the bull. The bull is death. When the matador kills the bull, man has defeated death…become a god, immortal for that single transient moment.
Matadores earn a fortune. They are akin to English or US pop stars. They are adulated by crowds of fans, who follow them from arena to arena. When the season finishes in Spain the Matadores journey to Latin America and the bullfights there.
But enough about bullfighting. I’m thristy and hungry. Time for tapas and wine.
September 10, 2009
So, the decision is made. We’re to “explore” Andalucía. Constantly on the move, a pair of transient sundrenched gypsies, living out of a battered suitcase. We will go where we will go. Wherever the whim or road takes us.
Will we come back? One can never be certain hence the question. Surely we will, is the hesitant response. I will remain in touch with the world via emagic.
And no sooner is this decided, than we are in this burned-out, blasted landscape. Europe’s most southern point, so they say – but I think it’s Africa’s most northern incursion into the European continent…the sun here bleaching the life from everything. Including the people.
My Spanish friend, Samuel, talks obsessively about the olive oil: “It’s so much better than the Italian oil. The Spanish are the world’s largest suppliers of olive oil.” I nod my head and make polite noises but remain far from convinced by some of his claims. Here land is priced by the number of olive trees growing on it – 350 euros per tree, I believe. Red-brown earth, desiccated as the wrinkled nut-brown faces of the old women in the villages we pass through, how can anything grow here in this sun cursed soil?
Then there are the bulls, and Flamenco, the gypsies – los Gitanos – many of whom are nothing more than skeletal junkies, trapped within the narcotics trade in order to feed their own addictions. The Flamenco, of course, is pure passion. It is the merciless Andalucían sun in the blood. Vivid emotion. But there are rules. Yes, always there are rules. The rasping complexity of sung Flamenco in the traditional style – the raw depths, the control, the pitch of voice. The guitar. The violent rattle of heels on dusty floorboards. The flaming red swirl of a black-eyed senorita’s dress, the flash of white petticoats.
And the bulls?
Well, I’ll return to them. And to the horses. All in good time.
In Seville we find ourselves seduced by the cities sensuousness, by the lisping Andalusian accent, by the heady scent of orange blossom; the narrow streets, squares and fountains are charming. The oranges, of course, are inedible. Here one can eat stewed bull’s tail – a specialty of the area. The flesh of bulls killed in the arena is eaten – it is greatly in demand by aficionados – but is very tough. It’s to do with the muscle tension of violent death. The tails gently simmered in tomato sauce and garlic for hours on end are marginally more palatable, so I’m told. Although most of the tails come from those bulls not chosen for the arena. I stick to salad with roasted peppers and achingly cold white wine that leaves a slightly metallic aftertaste in the mouth.
C is captain of our expedition: organiser, arranger, and protector of my good self; she, like all intrepid explorers, takes the lead and boldly goes where no one (in their right mind) has ever gone before (willingly). She it is will have us on a ten mile route march during the hottest part of the day. She is indomitable – too indomitable by far to succumb to anything as mundane as heat stroke. She proudly explains to Samuel that when she lived and worked in Morocco, she drank the water – tap and well water – without ill-effect. Samuel, himself once a sufferer of the Tangier trots, seems duly impressed.
“I want to visit the art gallery,” I say.
“It’s a good place to see virgins, lots of virgins, lots of fat priests, lots of suffering Christs.” Samuel is dismissive, not that he is affected by my desire to attend, but his attitude casts a shadow over C’s (hesitant, tentative) agreement to this suggested visit.
“I can’t stand religious art,” she says, ominously.
Oh, well…shit happens as they say!
I’ll write more on this…later.