Saturday, May 1, 2010

Last day! Bilbao

It'll be nice to see my cats tomorrow. And to relax on the hammock under the cherry trees. And to eat a simple salad with a bit of blue cheese. And to play in the dirt, planting radishes. This vacationing is interesting, but you're never at home, always doing something.
One more day first.
In the morning I wander around the old town of Bilbao, with its cobbled streets overhung with laundry, and its myriad small shops, still closed but for the bars serving coffee and breakfast pintxo at this hour.
The advertisement of wifi at the hotel seems to be a ruse to get you in the door. I want to ask about it, but never see anybody but the cleaning staff (including the woman who took my 40€ in exchange for keys yesterday), none of whom speak a language I speak. When I pack up my stuff and leave it's 11, and still nobody but women gathering laundry. I check my bag at the Guggenheim and go off again, in search of a souvenir t-shirt from one of the inevitable vendors across the street from this major attraction and a light lunch. No t-shirt. There's only one shop open on this off-season weekday, and they have nothing interesting. Pintxos, on the contrary, are everywhere. Now for a day at the museum. Let's see if it tells me any stories.
Art Impressions at the Gugg.
- A large hollow room, six abstract painting from the 'color field' school. I do like one: 4x5 feet of black paint, except for a little bit of the lower left corner. It looks like there just wasn't enough paint to go around. All used up. Called 'Iberia', by Robert Motherwell, the audioguide has a much more complicated story. It says Iberia is a commentary of Spain in the 1930's. Grim, intimidating, seemingly impenetrable but the brushwork all swirling out from the center implies chaos and frantic movement (brushwork?? perhaps it's the lighting, but from here I can't see any brushwork at all). A daring response to Franco's regime.
Hm. Looks to me just black. With a bit undone.
- A curling metal shell spirals in.You can touch both sides, should touch. Ten feet high, sometimes opening sometimes nearly touching above, you wonder what treasure you will find when you follow the path to the center. At last you are there, and it's empty. The enjoyment is in the journey.
There are several of these, like very large metal apple peels set on edge, oxidized. People-ants are drawn into their enclosed spaces. Although every one is empty, we go always to the middle, convinced that this time...
I like the way the walls lean, keeping you in, keeping you from seeing anything but the curve ahead. You can hear everyone, echoing; you can see none of them. Their shouts and attempts at interesting echos invade your own relationship with the work, intruding. Exiting, I read the sign: No Touching. - Yellow, by Anish Kapoor. Alone in its room, alas with no seats (there are plenty of seats in the hallways, but none where you can see the works at the same time. Art is a standing experience here), Yellow takes up most of the wall. It's a square with a deep indentation, all painted a flat, warm, thick yellow. As you approach, the color changes subtly with the angle of light, creating shadows and bright zones, disguising the shape and enveloping you in the understanding of this one, singular, hue.
- Got reprimanded for breathing.
The audioguide tells us that Alexander Calder's Standing Mobile responds to currents of air with gentle motion of its freely moving parts. Such a serious gallery, no currents of air are generated by the public timidly tiptoeing past, trying not to make too much noise on the wooden floor in this echo chamber.
So I circumnavigated to work, at a distance of four feet to so, and decided to try it out. My back to the guardian, I blew at the mobile, not even very hard, and yes, it responded. It came alive and arranged itself into a different face. As it is meant to. Currents of air are what bring this work of art to life. Otherwise it's just another static chunk of painted metal. Unfortunately, the guard was the other thing set in motion, and she kept close to me until I left the room.
Yes, Mom, still 'touching' after all these years.
But HaHa! nobody will be able to put Standing Mobile back the way it was before me. They can't fix it. The next visitors, the poor dupes, will think it always was that way. Will they dare breathe too?
- Good museum day: it's raining outside. Rain?? Yes, and it continues to rain off and on throughout the afternoon and evening, which will make my buswaiting an even greater pleasure. But I can look forward to that later.
Right now I'm waiting for the show. One of the temporary exhibits involves a work where a projectile of soft red wax is fired at a wall from a specially made cannon. I heard it go off a while ago, and then was the latest blob, about the size of a gallon paint can, finally slide down to join the pile on the floor. It looks like great fun. Only they're not doing one every 20 minutes like the audioguide says. It's more like every 40 minutes, and most people check and recheck their watches and give up.
Ah, finally!
A guy in a grey jumpsuit (who with his costume and scraggly hair and paunch reminds me seriously of Pinback, from that 70's SF classic, Dark Star), comes in, steps over the guardrail like it wasn't there, loads up the cannon with a fresh gallon of wax, and starts up the compressor. All without a word or a glace at us. Wait for it... wait for it... WHUMP. Red wax goes flying...and sticks to the many-times-hit wall, about 10 feet up. Flattened. The bigger chunks will make their way down to the pile over the next several minutes. - For all its impressive exterior, the Bilbao Guggenheim doesn't have many items on exhibit. Many of the ones they do have take up a lot of space. And most of the higher reaches of the archtectural fantasy are just a façade. So by six, having seen it all, slowly and in detail, including a fastidious tour of the gift shop where alas they do not have a reproduction of a particular bovine sculpture I'm partial to, and having decided that yes, I will pay that outrageous sum for a t-shirt, I'm done. I hop the 7pm bus to San Sebastian, and by 9 I'm enjoying yet another sublime bowl of fish soup. Indeed, the details are restaurant-specific. This one is dark brown, no tomatos at all, and hiding in the depths are many chunks of fish and two shrimp. Next - grilled squid in a light garlic sauce, tender and perfect. Now if only the Spaniards would visit France, or maybe Italy, and learn to make decent bread, this would be heaven.
Most of the people in my chosen eatery ignore the tables set for dinner, staying at the bar in the front section, noshing on pintxos and tossing their used napkins on the ground. For a while I'm the only diner and wonder if I'm the one who's strange, when a couple with two young kids takes a table. OK. Dining is for tourists. The bar empties out as the locals go home. Who will eat the remaining piles of finger food? There's catering for a wedding still out on the bar - what do they do with it all? Perhaps the guys remaining to watch the football game on the large screen will work their way through it.
The rain has tapered off when I wander back toward the bus station. I've got two hours to watch people gather and disperse with the arrivals and departures of busses. Really a lot of busses, apparently with little to do with the routes and hours posted. Some cultural event going on at the stadium up the road lets out at midnight, and well-dressed pedestrians flood our area in waves, taking all the taxis.
At 0:46 it's my turn. A bus flying the colors and language of Portugal pulls up and the driver calls out Clermont! It's not as comfortable as the bus out here, mostly because it's full and I have to take a seat next to a foul-breathed man who is absolutely delighted at his luck. He's a talker, too, and our lack of common language doesn't stop him. (If he's headed to France to work, why doesn't he speak French, just a little?)
That's it for this trip..

1 comment:

steven said...

you puffed on a calder and made it move!!! excellent!! story of the day, maybe even the week!!! you know alexander would clap his hands and dance if he saw you. steven