Tuesday 26 January 2010

Miercoles revisted

A combination of too much work, too much curiosity and, ok I'll admit it, too much procrastination, has meant that this week's post is not what I intended. I will be away all next week and I am desperately trying to get various projects finished. And the intended subject for this weeks post has become mired in such an overwhelming mess of statistics, personages, and logistics that it isn't finished. Oh yes, and when I went to get some pictures my camera's battery ran out - which didn't help. But I asure you it will be worth the wait.

Last October I wrote about a neighbourhood that made me feel uneasy. I commented that even the somewhat stark graffiti felt threatening. With regular twice weekly visits I have become to feel more comfortable and found areas that while not the most pleasing on the eye, go some way to relieving my anxiety. And I received an e-mail from an ex-pat resident of the area who claimed I was being too hard on the place. He's probably right!

And I have revisited the graffiti and found that some is far from frightening. For instance, what indolent youth with his hat on backwards could have created this Christmas Card scene below?

And which menacing lout could have produced such beauty here?

And while I am not sure what this artist has been smoking, he obviously believes in angels.

You have to admit, the detail is quite amazing. And I will also admit that quite frankly the walls these works adorn would have been far uglier without the artwork. Hey, how about that - Graffiti as a public service. Who would have thought?

Even the lesser works show promise:

Ok, I know this is not even in the same league as the first three, but with a few strokes of the spray paint the artist has produced a comic book style portrait that conveys some emotion.

Actually, the alley where this public art is on display has now become a fixture on my route. I always have my camera because somewhere in this 'hood there are some people of real talent. Although there is still the odd menacing design, although I think the one below has a comic effect.

The foliage softens the impact somewhat, don't you think?

Wandering the streets of central Madrid there is one building where graffiti has been officially sanctioned.

This building is covered with curious scawls. So I was amused to see that a notice, just slightly out of picture in the bottom right corner, proclaimed the following

Which begs the question - where would they stick them.

Anyway, I beg my e-mailer's pardon. His barrio is not so bad. In fact it has some quite remarkable examples of modern architecture, which I will get to in a later post, once the statistically mired one I am working on at the moment is completed and I have returned from my week away.

Monday 18 January 2010

The Last Journey of Columbus

By Richard Morley.

In 1492 Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue. He left Palos on the 3rd of August and arrived in the Caribbean on October the 11th, seventy days later.

In the last three months of 2009 it has taken him twelve days longer to move just one hundred metres.

Now you see it >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Now you don't!

That journey began at the beginning of October and he finally arrived on the 15th of December. That one hundred metres took eighty two days. And when he arrived not only had he been misdirected, but the great discoverer of a new land has been isolated with water all around him.

In yet one more example of the ayuntamiento moving the street furniture, his column has been moved from the corner of his eponymous plaza and placed in the in the centre of one of the busiest intersections in Madrid.

When I wrote about the Plaza Colon some months ago a comment from a reader in Barcelona pointed out that while Columbus’s column there was higher, at least the one in Madrid had him facing west, towards the New World he discovered. Now, to add insult to injury, in his new position he faces south.

Part of this great remodelling of the city, the wonderful “Plan E” that is designed to provide jobs for the jobless, was a redesign of the confluence of The Paseos de Castellana and Recoletos with the Calles of Goya and Génova. These roads meet at an intersection that a few short months ago had a very active elliptical fountain. In mid summer that was all swept away and I remember thinking that was sensible as it’s a busy intersection and the fountain really impeded the traffic flow. Now the fountains have been replaced by a pool of water with Columbus marooned on a small island in its centre.

So basically, after months of work, nothing has changed and while it might be more aesthetically pleasing to have Columbus face the oncoming traffic coming up from the Paseo de Recoletos, all symbolism has been lost.

Apart from providing work for the unemployed I really fail to see the reason for this.

I have to visit the Plaza Colon twice every week, so I watched while the work progressed with some curiosity. Where he stood before, in the corner of the plaza, visitors could get a close up view of the relief carvings at the base of the column in safety. Now it would be a brave tourist indeed who attempted to defy the traffic for a few digital pictures to take back home.

In his previous spot he stood aloft, triumphantly surveying his world. In the centre of the paseo he now seems isolated and reduced in stature by the towering building behind him. A great man has been diminished.

But this is not the first time he has been moved. Since the time the column was first erected in the late 1800s by his descendants, not by a grateful nation, Madrid seems to have been uncomfortable with wherever they put him.

A hundred years ago he stood not far from where he is now, but the plaza de Colon was then a place of peace, a garden of tranquillity, at least judging from photos of the time.

The monument, base and column by Arturo Mélida and the Italian Marble statue of Columbus on top by Jerónimo Suñol, was erected between 1881 and 1885 in what was then named the Plaza de Santiago, or Saint James’ Square. This was renamed the Plaza de Colón in 1893. With the demolishing of the Royal Mint, which stood on the Calle Serrano side of the plaza, in 1970, the plaza was remodelled into an open, mostly concrete area, and an area known as the “Jardines de Descubrimiento”, the Gardens of Discovery, containing the huge, monolithic monument by Joaquín Vaquero Turcios dedicated to the men and vessels of Columbus’s voyage. At the moment the view of much of these “Macro Sculptures” is obscured by the portacabins of the company charged with the remodelling of the Calle Serrano and the high speed rail link between Atocha and Chamartin. Unfortunately I doubt they will be moving those for some time yet.

All wrapped up and nowhere to go.
So, at the beginning of October I watched as Columbus was hoisted from his pinnacle and dumped, wrapped in green netting, rather unceremoniously on the roadside. Then painstakingly the column and then the base was removed slice by slice. Piece by piece each section was laid behind a flimsy security fence in the gutter of the Paseo De Recoletos. One of Madrid’s priceless monuments could have been crushed to dust under the wheels of some passing juggernaut with a single instance of careless driving.

Each lump of carved stone was laid out like the pieces of some crazy three dimensional jigsaw. A couple of people could be seen, clipboards in hand, wandering around checking it was all there. Across the road – actually, in the middle of the road – workmen began working on the new plinth. After checking, a small front loader, weaving through the interminable traffic, carried the bits across. Another worrying time, I’m sure.

But before they could start erecting the column in its new location they had to wait for the last part of the base to be sliced away from the old column. This was either very complicated or simply a matter of trying to demolish something indestructible. This last phase of the dismantling went on for weeks. The work hidden behind scaffolding and safety netting and it was disconcerting to hear the sound of pneumatic drills working on such delicate frescos.

But to give them their due, when all was ready, the new column went up in a fraction of the time it took to get the thing down. Now, pristinely shiny white, the great man now surveys the traffic coming up Recoletos while pointing the way to Atocha Railway station. I suppose this time of high speed trains is a New World of sorts!

Post Script: The base of the old column seems to have proved too tough for the demolishers. They have concreted over the rough surface and left it in place. So, like London's Trafalgar Square, Madrid now has its own "empty plinth". In London it seems to be used for very strange temporary displays. Suggestions below, please, for what Madrid's empty plinth could be used for.

The Empty Plinth.

Yes, I know! I finished the last sentence with a preposition. Please don't comment on that!


Saturday 9 January 2010

Choice Pics

This blog is a year old. I did wonder when I began if I could maintain regular postings, but Madrid is such a wonderful, diverse and interesting city that many of the things I have written almost presented themselves. I hope that you have enjoyed reading about them as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing them.
I am never hardly without my camera and it has been gratifying that on more than one occasion I have received a comment saying they like the photographs that accompany the posts. But I use the photographs only as illustration. I have no delusions about my artistry or skill when I take a picture. The camera is a cheap 6 Mega Pixel Casio and basically just point and shoot.

However, sometimes the picture is better than I could ever hope for, and occasionaly, I am quite proud how pure serrendipity has produced such a good shot. Out of the hundreds, maybe thousands of pictures I have taken, the laws of chance have produced some that have become favourites - for one reason or another. Below I present a few that I quite like. Some for their drama, some for their humour, and some just for the sake of interest. I hope you enjoy then too.

The first I like because of the sheer weirdness of seeing a date palm covered with snow. The tree stands outside the apartment where I live.

The flower pots below looked sad and desperately waiting for someone to plant bulbs in them. It was a sunny day in early spring.

Spring had arrived when I first visited the holocaust memorial in the Parque Juan Carlos. This simple monument, made from railways sleepers, bringing to mind the route taken by those who met their deaths in the concentrations camps, still has the power to move me each time I see it.

I have no real love of football, but the next picture of the Real Madrid Stadium reveals its TARDIS like qualities. From outside it is difficult to believe that the ground is as large as it actually is.

Up in the northern Madrid suburb of La Moraleja, where the streets are named after flowers, I found this small flower bed beside the road. It looked colourful enough to be snapped.

I love puns, but my Spanish is not yet good enough to actually construct my own. So I was quite proud of myself to understand the witty slogan on the side of this paper recycling skip. "Papel" means both paper and a role that someone would play in a theatrical production - or in life. So it could read either, "Your paper is important", or "Your role (in recycling) is important. Well, I think it's clever.

Just in case you don't realise, the shop below sells sweets!

I have shown examples of talented grafitti before. This isn't one of them, but something in the humour just took my fancy.  Mind you, the artist's spelling could improve a little.

Where virgins are sacrified. The great red doughnut at the Parque Juan Carlos.

Sometimes I forget to look up and see how blue the sky is.

One of four stained glass windows in the Basilica of Our Lady of Atocha.

In the Parque de Berlin. Just having a rest.

The KIO towers at the Plaza Castilla. I took this across a modernesque park built above a water treatment plant. There's something sort of science fiction about it.

The Cuatro Torres on a grey day.

The business area from Nuevos Ministerios. I like the contrast of the flowers with the stark architecture beyond.

One of the first pictures I ever took in Madrid. In the corner of the Plaza Mayor. A newbie at the time it seemed an iconic picture of Spain.

The Atocha Memorial. People just stand and read the messages - and mourn.

Revealing my "freaki" side. A sliced through diesel engine ar the Railway museum in Delicias.

A couple of Saturdays before Christmas I witnessed children gazing in wonder at this shop window - and cursed as, for once, I didn't have my camera. A week later, this time photographically armed for something else entirely, the same scene presented itself. This time I got the pic. Sometimes, Christmas truly is magic.

I hope you have liked the pictures. Feel free to comment, but not anonymously please, in the space provided below.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

It's over.

By Richard Morley.

Right! That’s over for another year. The last roast potato has been eaten. The last slice of jamón Serrano has been tweaked off the tabla jamonera. The New Year Madness in Sol was enjoyed by all who ate their grapes and the three kings have brought the presents for children of all ages. Now we can return to work, the kids can return to school and hopefully, we can return to the weight we had before this month long celebration of navidad.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this time if Madrid: The lights, the belenes, the illuminated streets and the chestnuts. And yesterday evening’s parade for the arrival of the three kings was quite spectacular. In fact it was probably the best I have ever seen – and I didn’t go. I watched it on television.

Two years ago I arrived early for the cabalgada. I had a great viewing position. But then the children began arriving and I, of course, allowed them to stand in front of me. By the time the parade went past I was so far back from the barricade I hardly saw a thing. Last year I thought I had a good view, but when the parade passed by, all the little children were hoisted on to daddy’s shoulders and obscured anything but the highest passing float. Later, I went with friends to a bar and had a much better view on the wide screen television on the wall.

So this year I decided to stay at home in the warm only to see high-necked scarlet giraffes, a ballet trapeze act suspended from two hundred helium filled balloons and a huge mechanical elephant. These things would have been visible from the back of the crowd. So now I am a little sad I didn’t go.

Next year, then!

I celebrated Christmas Eve over a meal with a group of friends, Christmas day with another, enjoyed a splendid dinner party between then and New year, drank too much to greet 2010 and commemorated the Three Kings at a marvellously ENGLISH roast beef lunch. The amazing thing was there were only two native English there and were privileged to watch how Spaniards like spicy English mustard and glazed parsnips followed by hot apple pie and custard.

No one threw their cutlery in protest at being forced to eat an English meal. In fact one Spanish lady commented, ironically, “And they say the English don’t have good food!” She, incidentally, asked for more mustard, and being about thirty minutes old by this time, it was really hot. (Yes, we prepared our own. It did not come from a jar!)

Now I think I don’t have to eat for at least a week. If I made New Year resolutions it would be for more exercise and to go on a diet. But I don’t do such foolish things, so we will have to see. But I hate clothes shopping, so I will have to fit into these trousers again!

Looking at my calendar I see no public holidays between now and Easter. So, it’s back to work for all. Unfortunately for my eardrums the kids I share an apartment with don’t return to school until next Monday. And then it will be peace on Earth.

Friday 1 January 2010

New Year resolutions

By Richard Morley.

Dear Señor Gallardon and Señora Aguirre,

Madrid is a wonderful town that I have chosen to call home. Considering I could have chosen just about anywhere in the world to live, you can feel proud that that out of all the cities in all the world I happened to choose this one.

2009 was a difficult year and let us hope that 2010 will be better. But do you know what you have to do? We must all have a plan. And as a start of a new year is a good time to make plans I thought I would lend a hand.

And so, here are, what I believe, should be your New Year resolutions for the city.

1.Please stop the arguments between the City and the Comunidad. Out of the two of you, Esperanza is the best manager so let her get on with it.

2. Stop moving the street furniture. Moving the bear in Sol, Colon’s Column in the Plaza de Colon etc is just busy work. Spend the money on something more important.


3. An efficient rainwater drainage system in the centre of the city. I know it doesn’t rain much, but when it does the streets get quickly flooded.

4. Speed up the building of a direct rail link between the Airport and the centre. Tourists' number one complaint is the line changes they have to make from Barajas to Sol.

5. Copy Barcelona and have the metro run through the night on Fridays and Saturdays and special events like New Year and La Noche en Blanco. To attract a couple of million people into the city and then to give them a few overcrowded buses on which to get home shows a lack of foresight.

6. Get tough with the graffiti artists. A very few of them show talent, but the rest create a terrible eyesore in a beautiful city.

7. Pass laws prohibiting the blowing of car horns at 3am outside my bedroom window – and anyone else’s bedroom window.

8. Have the tourist office promote something other than the Three Ps of the Prado, the Palacio Real and the Plaza mayor. Madrid has some wonderful parks and some hidden treasures of museums.

9. Make a licensing difference between Bars and Discothèques. If I want music so loud I can’t hear myself think I know I could go to a disco. (Perish the thought!) If I want to have an easy conversation with friends then I could go to a bar. Televisions and one armed bandits should also only be allowed in newly designated “Sports Bars”.

But the main resolution should be to maintain our wonderful city as the joyous place it is. I swear the people of Madrid are the friendliest I have met anywhere. The waiters could teach their counterparts in Paris a thing or two about customer relations. The public transport system could teach almost every other city in the world a few lessons.

I don’t know why Europe chooses a new city of culture every year. Madrid should be the permanent city of culture. And so much of it is free!

But now, please do something about the weather. I am fed up with the rain.

Happy New Year to all.

If you have any resolution we could pass on to the people who run our city, then don’t hesitate to comment below. Oh, and do try not to be anonymous. I like to know who you are.