Seville in December – Museo de Belles Artes

Take your passport for free entry into this wonderful example of a city gallery celebrating the work of its sons, if not artist daughters.

There is a lot of extraordinary medieval – largely religious – art here from the likes of José de Ribera, Juan de Valdés Leal, Taller de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. But also some more contemporary work from the likes of José Garcia Ramos, Rafael Senet, Jose Villegas Cordero and Gonzalo Bilbao Martinez. There are some cameos by influential Flemish artists including Jan Brueghel de Velours, Pieter van Lint and Sebastian Vranckx. There’s also the odd German; namely, Lucas Cranach.
 
The building is a former monestery (left). It has two floors and an inner garden courtyard. The religous art tends to be about alterpieces. There’s plenty here with lots of virgins with child and grusome crucifixions. I recall Andrew Graham Dixon on his Art of Germany series that no one does ghouls better than the Germans. That may be true, but the Spanish and Flemish artists throw them in, too. Martin de Vos’, The Last Judgment (1570), has some pretty nasty ones dragging the sinners to their eternal damnation (right).
There’s a couple of paintings by 17th Century painter, Francisco Pacheco. His Portrait of an Elderly Lady and an Elderly Man (c1630) is chilling in its wizened-ness (left).
 
Alonso Vázquez’s The Last Supper (1588) has a wonderful sinister feel, notwithstanding Judas with his bag of money. There is something decidedly inedible on the table and some creepies on the floor. The apostles are muscular figures deeply concerned about the traitor amongst their number.
Maestro del Papagayo’s Holy Family (right) seems wholly mischievous. The child squeezes the nipple but is tempted by a grape! The symbolism is, I assume, fertility and the blood of Christ?
There is a lot of St Francis of Assissi going on in this gallery. For example, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Stigmatisation of St Francis (left) dating from c1645. More of Murillo’s wonderful work was in a special gallery where no cameras were allowed.
Another favourite son is Taller de Zurbarán. The gallery houses some rather large canvasses of saints; for example, St Anés with lamb (whom I know nothing about) and St Dorotea with fruit and flowers (both 1650, right). Dorotea was a legendary virgin martyr who may have lived in the 4th century. She is called a martyr of the Diocletianic Persecution.
Francisoco de Goya y Lucientes finds a place in this gallery as well as the cathedral. In the gallery, one finds his dark portraiture; for example, that of Canon José Duaso y Lastre (1824, left). This is the precursor to Goya’s black paintings, and you can see why.
 So, back to the Flemish artists, Jan Brueghel’s depiction of paradise with its paired animals, verdant backdrops and the odd naked Adam and Eve (right) delights in its detail and idealism.
This being a local museum, quite a bit of space is given over to paintings of dubious value. There are something like 8 canvasses by Domingo Martínez charting the route of a allegorical carriage through Seville in 1747 (left). It seems reminiscent of those major cavasses representing street scenes in Venice. Clearly important for the city but not necessarily for art. Though Martínez was very much a student of Murillo and the depictions are rare examples of secular art of the time.
 Talking of which, the more contemporary art occupies a few rooms on the second floor. Two things are really important in Seville. Flamenco and bull fighting. Both are represented in the collection, but not always as one might expect.
The dancing, for example, has a modesty about it; it is street flamenco. For example,Manuel Rodríguez De Guzman’s Baile en la taberne (right) and José Garcia Ramos’s Baile por bulerias (left). These both strike me as capturing the spontaneity of flamenco in Sevillian society. All you need is a spanish guitar (and someone to play it) a frilly frock, some shoes and maybe a male partner. And knowledge and passion, for I have no doubt that it is a technical art. Whilst I find flamenco myself to be rather dull to watch, I do not doubt its importance to the culture. Also nothing dies, unlike with the bullfighting.
The matadors are heroes. When one is lost, it is captured on canvas by the likes of José Villegas Cordero’s La Muerte del Maestro (1913, right).
Back to the real heroes, the people of the city. Part of the city’s wealth came from tobacco. Gonzalo Bilbao’s La Cigarreras (1915, below left) lets us into the working environment in one of the cigarette factories. It looks like a cathedral rather than a factory; it has all humanity in it.
Rafael Senet’s La Pescadora (1885 right) also draws on the lives of ordinary folk. The fisherwoman walks the beach with her large basket and exposes her feet as she tries to keep her dress from getting too wet.

Finally, I share, what is clear from our visit to Seville. The people love to dance and celebrate. Gustavo Bacarisas’s Sevilla en fiestas left (1915) captures this nicely with, what seems to be a night-time scene where the light captures three woman all dressed up with somewhere to go.

If you are in Seville and are looking for somewhere to go, this gallery is a gem.

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Seville in December – the city walls and back

Early new year’s day in Seville is tricky for breakfast – don’t try it before noon. Our favourite place, Picatoste, was closed. We ambled along to the Cathedral area and found a hungover cafe bar with torched croissants on offer. Full of charcoal, we ambled further along the river to Puente del Barquita walking south east towards the district of Macarena. There one finds the remains of the 12th century city wall (left) and gate. Most of the wall was removed in recent times to facilate the expansion of the city. It does, however, face the parliament building, a converted hospital! Nestled in between is the baroque façade of the Basilica de Macarena. It’s not really baroque. It is also closed, like most places, to visit on 1 January.

We then walked south along San Luis, a wonderfully narrow throughfare with a mix of dereliction, exquisite restorations (Santa Marina) and local people. This is not really tourist central. San Marcos has a Mudéjar tower, a reminder that the 14th century church was actually built on the site of a mosque. We managed lunch in a fast-running-out-of-food tapas bar close to Santa Catalina. In the sunshine. Unfortunately, 5 minutes later one is back El Centro. Back to the hotel for a cup of tea.

Seville in December – where did we eat?

Breakfast is not so difficult. There are plenty of cafes doing it; though what constitutes breakfast is mixed. In Seville there is lots of Churros and chocolate sauce. Churros are long and thin doughnuts.

More to our liking was warm croissant with jam. Easy. Coffee comes as leche (with milk), solo (espresso) and Cappucino. For meat eaters, add ham. And ham.

We have frequented a locals’ place called Picatoste. It’s fast, furious, loud, of mixed clientele. And inexpensive. We’re off there now.

Seville is full of Tapas. I recall a few years ago in Malaga finding many veggie options; not least aubergine and courgette. But Seville (and Cadiz) serve largely tapas with fish and ham. There is one place, though. Habanita is tucked away in an alley near to the cathedral. It is meat and veggie – the latter predominating. Not only can you get aubergine, but also banana balls, garlicked yucca, wok-ed vegetables, stuffed pepper some sort of black bean pancake thing and even veggie steak (we didn’t try it). For dessert, the caramelized apple custard is a must (right). We also had cheesecake. Interesting. The online reviews are mixed; in relative terms, it is inexpensive, cheerful, cosy and welcoming.

The only exclusively veggie place we found was Restauranto Ecovegetariano Gaia. We had a couple of visits with mixed results. The set menu is probably best avoided as the better dishes are excluded. For example, there was a tofu/spinach egg-less quiche that lacked something. By contrast, the sauteed bulghar, tofu and vegetables was great as were the pasta and salads. A couple of vegan cakes for dessert finished off the meal nicely.

If one has to do battle with the tapas bars, then there are some hidden veggie dishes. At one place we had gazpacho – a cold tomato and cucumber soup. It came with grilled aubergine, courgette and mushrooms. Excellent. There are a number of variations: Salmorejo, for example. This comes without cucumber and is topped with olive oil. We also got served spinach and chick pea stew. It was not stew at all! But very welcome.

Seville in December – The Alcazar

The Alcazar stands adjacent to the cathedral and is a UNESCO world heritage site. A palace and seat of power and repression for a thousand years. It was thought to have been founded in the eighth century and maasively expanded in the eleventh century to serve as the great court of the Abbadid dynasty. Seville was the favoured residence of four centuries of spanish kings. In the twentieth century, it found favour with Franco and in the present day is home to current spanish monarch when visiting Seville. For good reason, it is certainly a tourist attraction. Without an advanced booking we waited 3 hours to get in. Take something to read and drink.

Inside one is confronted by all of the architecture, design and colour that one would expect from a clash, complementarity and contrast of Moor and Spanish aesthetics. Ornate carvings, exquisite 15th century ceramic tiles – I love ceramics – and amazing gardens complete with fountains and live peacocks (an important symbol captured in the decor).

I have to say that I did not work out the logic of the building with its many courtyards and significant rooms; for example, the eye-shattering Ambassadors’ Hall (below left). There is actually a maze in the garden, but the palace itself is sufficiently labrynthine to not need to get further lost, unless one has children.

One of the first courtyards is that of the maidens (below right). It has a longitudinal pond with dipped gardens around it. The arches are lobed and in Mudejar-style. The ceramic tiles adorn the outer walls. The caligraphy is arabic and contrast with the renaissance-style of the upper floor/gallery. It is not possible to walk on the upper gallery, but the guidebook highlights the existence of renaissance wedding medallions and coats of arms from the period.

The Ambassadors’ Hall is the show-off room where official receptions were held. It has a golden celestial cupola that is visible from outside and and lavishly decorated from the inside. It is not particularly well lit, So the guide pictures are much better than what we can manage with our gadgets.

This is particularly true of the Hall of Justice with its stucco decoration. Already very brown from the plaster, the shade – and my struggling eyesight – render the fine plasterwork short on detail, of which there is much – largely drawn from nature; leaves, flowers and shells (fertility).

The tapestry room has five large tapestries cascading down the walls. One is a lesson in developing cartography, the operative word being developing. There is also a magnificent depiction of Spain’s victory over Tunisia in June 1535 (the tapestry was comissioned by Philip V 200 years later, right).

And finally, the sub-terranean bath (left). It is a suitably cool space. It’s big, so presumably it is for sharing.

Seville in December – The Cathedral

Seville is the location for the largest cathedral (left), by volume, in the world. It’s gothic old, dating from 1506. Expect to queue to get in – it took us about 30 minutes. But once in, there is plenty of space for all. And more.

So, What to look for? Well, in many respects the cathedral is a museum and gallery (with each chapel acting as a themed room). There are some notable pictures – Goya‘s Santas Justa y Rufina (right) depicting the two pious sisters tortured by pagans for refusing to sell their earthenware pots at a Pagan celebration.

This being Spain, there are many treasures exchanged between clerics from Spain and the Americas. These range from exquisite to kitsch (my guide describes them universally as dull).

Christopher Columbus is, naturally, a revered historical figure in Spain. His tomb (left) was originally in Cuba but repatriated to Seville at the time of the revolution. The sarcophagus is an imposing exhibit on the south east side. The coffin is held aloft by four figures representing the kingdoms of León, Castile, Aragón and Navarra. It’s a selfie paradise.

Adjacent to Columbus one finds – what my guide describes as – the masterpiece (right) of the Cathedral, the central altarpiece (Capilla Mayor). This is debatable. It is certainly impressive and is, apparently, the life’s work of the sculptor, Flemming Pieter Dancart. There are 45 carved scenes of the life of Christ, intricately carved and guilded. Unfortunately it is defended by an enormous iron gate (as are many other altarpiece in the cathedral) which really prevents one from studying the panels in any meaningful way.

This cathedral is not the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It is austere and cold. Hushed. Next stop, the Alcazar. I’m writing this in the queue. Looks like a few hours are needed!

Benjamin Clementine, Munich, 19 November 2017

We first encountered Benjamin Clementine as winner of the Mercury Prize in 2015. We sat through the BBC4 awards show with its cod-suspense. We quickly purchased the winning album, At Least For Now, and we entered a world of alienation, busking in Paris, discovery and extraordinary vocal and piano ranges wonderfully unsymmetrical. This was extended somewhat when we saw him play the Somerset House summer concert in 2016. He was then taciturn, thoughtful, shy and beguiling.

The anticipation of the new album, I tell a Fly (left), was high. To read that his record company had sought a conventional album; i.e. commercial, and he had effectively told them it was either his album and not their’s, only added to the anticipation. The album, largely about refugees (and flies), does not disappoint. The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis’ review can be found here. Though I imagine the record company was less than delighted. Where are the love songs?

He then appeared on Later with Jools Holland October 2017; a necessary launchpad for a new work. His performance was, to say the least, unusual. He was joined by his long-term percussionist collaborator, Alexis Bossard and a bunch of clothes-less mannequins. They seemed like a major distraction; not least because some of them were children. So, on entering the auditorium of the 2700-seat Munich Gasteig, a shiver went down my spine when 13 mannequins, the majority representing pregnant women, were dotted around the stage.

On time, Clementine walked on stage and waited like a conductor for silence attention, before starting his unaccompanied intro (right). He was then joined by the percussionist and bass guitarist. Interestingly, he started with a song from his first album, Condolence. Maybe a crowd-pleaser before embarking on his themed segment – One awkward fish, By the Ports of Europe, God save the jungle and Phantom of Aleppo/Billy the bully. All great songs and delivered note-perfect. It is the commentary that is troubling. It’s not the content, per se. This is an album about refugees, outsiderism and war. The violence meted out in Aleppo is clearly important and his engagement with the child-representing mannequins act as a visual prop. And presumably the mannequined pregnant women the children yet to be born? His own explanation is that they represent time. That left me a shade confused.

Once through this section, we got another extended address in preparation for his song, I won’t complain. This is a tour to make money. The Gasteig is not an intimate venue. It was about two-thirds full. Before returning to the UK the tour has two more concert halls to add to the previous night’s Elb Philharmonie (left) in Hamburg, about which he had much to say. It cost a lot of money. It had no food. This latter point seemed to be a metaphor. It was expensive to get in. So why had he played there? Presumably to make as much money as possible. The album’s non-commercial content probably means that the value is in live performance? Maybe just a contradiction?

After 90 minutes, off they went to rapturous applause. And then back for a three-song encore – Ave dreamer, Box of stones (be prepared to sing along) and finally – and with hindsight not surprisingly –  Nemesis.

This concert has troubled me. I was not entertained. I trust Clementine didn’t intend me to be entertained. He’s a man on a mission, and it’s one that I wholly endorse. But three things I can say. First, the songs speak loud enough on their own. Second, the mannequins, take them away. Third, my partner who shared the experience with me that night does not share my analysis and discomfort. This is not written to put anyone off going to see him, indeed before the tour ends, the show will be performed in Brighton, UK, the town in which I work. We are still deliberating whether to go to see him.

Vive le Moment in the snow

I have reported elsewhere that the Gauloises advertising team is obsessed with semi-naked women. Well, it seems now that that is a bit boring, so now it is just naked women, flanked by men. It being the season, of course, for running around without clothes.

So, what is going on? Seemingly, Bavarians understand the concept of Pistengaudi (me thought it was a drunk architect). It is when you’ve done the skiing for the day and it’s time to get drunk. And naturally, in such circumstances, one sheds clothes. It goes without saying.

Why would you do that?

I have not written about Brexit for some time. I have watched incredulously as the UK’s chief negotiator, David Davis, has failed to understand that the EU is a rule-based organisation that works linearly, meets 4 times per year and delegates work to qualified people such as EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. I have also “enjoyed” reading in the Guardian John Crace’s sketches – yesterday being a case in point.

This morning the British Government – though I am being generous by describing it thus after a week when the now redundant Overseas Development Minister, Priti Patel, has been making her own foreign policy whilst on holiday, wheeled out another former minister, Theresa Villiers (left), to argue that the EU – Barnier – is being unreasonable in putting a two-week deadline on the UK sorting out the divorce bill as the final EU leaders’ meeting of the year is fast-approaching and he will have to make recommendations to them regarding exit progress. I’ve heard the arguments again – the EU is not negotiating. Trade policy is important for the British and Europeans. How can you negotiate the border between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland before knowing what the trade agreement will be? etc. I do recall that Davis – and presumably what constitutes the UK Government – agreed to this on the first day of negotiation back in June 2017. Why agree to something that negotiators cannot honour?

But then this week, the UK’s illustrious and creative Prime Minister, Theresa May, decides that the leaving date, 29 March 2019 will be enshrined in law. Oh and the time will be 2300 (a recognition that the European Continent is on the whole, one hour ahead of the UK). My question is, when there is so much uncertainty about outcomes, why would a so-called leader commit herself – or successors – to such an absolute date and time? Politics was always the art of the possible. When negotiating with 27 countries whom the UK has alienated and distracted from more important global matters, this is unhelpful? Surely?

 

 

 

Picture Theresa Villiers: Chris McAndrew

I passed an examination!

Since getting back from holidays in the Alps in August, it has been quite busy. The start of an academic year is always busy; this year had its own challenges. And they are persistent. Apologies to my readers. Something had to give.

I have, however, now passed my Goethe Institut B1 German exam. It was quite an experience. I have not taken a formal examination for maybe 20 years (since completing my undergraduate degree). So, I had to prepare. The Goethe Institut offers plenty of mock examination materials for that purpose. I have spent the best part of a year trying to improve my mock scores. Examinations are as much about technique as they are content. Answering the question helps – though because the questions and/or instructions are in German, that makes it a shade more tricky to get right. I practised hard answering questions alone and with my tutor.

Kaffee und Kuchen nach der Prüfung

I have to say that I thought – confidently – that I had failed the listening part of the examination. In my training, this was my weakest discipline. One has to listen to a cod radio-discussion programme and identify who said what. There is little concession to speed. Some of the voices seem similar and, as was in my case, in the first instance, I had no idea what the theme was! But somehow, I passed that part with a creditable 77 (84 overall from four disciplines).

Anyone is doing this examination in Munich, be advised that the online “pass checker” tool may not work. After two weeks the Institut wrote to me to ask when I was going to pick up my certificate! And against their own guidelines, they sent it to an address in Munich for me to retrieve rather than have to attend in person. At 200 Euros, it is not a cheap option. But I am unexpectedly proud.

Autumn 2017 cigarette advertising in Germany

In recent weeks, the advertising territory has been completely owned by Gauloises. Indeed, Gauloises’ current campaign draws on the company’s favourite advertising theme, semi-naked women (left). I think the scenario is something like this – two women out for the night but have not had time to get ready because they work hard. So they bring their stuff with them and get changed in the taxi or some other vehicle. Whatever, they turn out brilliant.

However, JPS is back with a bunch of ultra-annoying 20-somethings (2/3 bearded men) sat on the roof – because they are so antisocial that they are not allowed inside – thinking up cool business ideas (presumably). A couple of laptops to symbolise work/creativity. One of the bearded men can do laptops and smoke simultaneously. Both the women are smoking but they don’t have laptops (men’s work?). The two other blokes are sockless, one of whom seems to be able to do amazing things with stools. I say no more.

Actually, I love the positioning of the poster next to a no-smoking sign!