Spain

The Extremadura Pietà

Friday, 19 April, 2019

The Counter-Reformation in Spain was dominated by mystics such as Saint Teresa of Ávila, Saint John of the Cross, Teresa de Cartagena, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Juan de Avila. The artist who painted their prayers was Luis de Morales (1509 – 1586), who was born and buried in Badajoz, a remote town in Extremadura near the Portuguese border. Talent will out, however, and despite his relatively isolated location, Morales acquired fame and some fortune, as this snippet from his Prado profile highlights:

“For a large part of his life, Morales had an active artistic career that frequently obliged him to travel to arrange commissions, execute them or oversee their completion by the workshop. Otherwise, like many other artists in the region, he rounded off his finances with other sources of income. He owned houses and land in the city as well as vines, olives and livestock in the surrounding area. The markedly rural profile of both the artist and the milieu he lived in is evident too when we recall that Bishop Juan de Ribera paid him for several commissions in kind: wheat and barley, or ‘a Friesian horse with bit and saddle'”.

Luis de Morales completed his Extremadura Pietà sometime between 1565 and 1570. The figures of Mary and her crucified son are marked by grace and beauty despite the prevailing mood of anguish and grief. The Italian word pietà means “pity” or “compassion” and today, Good Friday, is when we should show some.

The Extremadura Pietà


Madonna at 60: Take A Bow

Thursday, 16 August, 2018

Take a Bow is a track from Madonna’s sixth studio album, Bedtime Stories (1994), and the story of the song’s video says so much about Madonna (Happy 60th Birthday today!) and her impact on the worlds of music, fashion and culture.

The clip was directed by Michael Haussman and filmed in Ronda in southern Spain. Madonna arrived in the city in November 1994 with a team of 60 people and wanted to shoot at its most famous bullring, the Plaza de Toros de Ronda. Her request was rejected by the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, however, who considered it a desecration of the arena, since her name was associated with provocative sexual imagery. The refusal was unpopular because many in the city believed the video would be of great PR value.

Eventually, money changed hands and a permit was obtained to shoot inside the palace of the Marquis of Salvatierra and at the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, where matador Emilio Muñoz performed alongside three fighting bulls. Madonna wore a fitted suit by John Galliano, and other designers who provided accessories included Donatella Versace and then then-unknown shoemaker Christian Louboutin.


Flocking to Spain

Wednesday, 1 August, 2018

Holidaymakers in Spain are getting more than they bargained for these days. Typical seaside scenes now involve African migrants jumping off dinghies onto packed beaches before asking stunned tourists for food and then heading over the dunes.

But it’s not just the victims of Africa’s dysfunction that are flocking to Spain. Venezuelans of means, fleeing the ruinous chavecismo of their homeland, are pitching up on Madrid’s property market. According to the New York Times, On Spain’s Smartest Streets, a Property Boom Made in Venezuela:

“During a walk around Salamanca, an upmarket district of the Spanish capital, Luis Valls-Taberner, a real-estate investment adviser, pointed out on almost every street a building that he said a wealthy Venezuelan had recently acquired.

Mr. Valls-Taberner would not identify the buyers. Some properties, he said, were purchased through investment companies based in Miami or elsewhere — but the money always came from Venezuela.”

By dinghy or by jet, many of those wishing to escape the most corrupt and decrepit places on Earth, especially the failed states north and south of the Sahara, are streaming into Spain, and the country’s new socialist government, like most of its EU counterparts, seems unwilling to discuss the fact that Africa’s population, now about 1.26 billion, is expected to double by 2050. Expect bigger dinghies.


Crowdfarming: Naranjas del Carmen

Friday, 9 March, 2018 0 Comments

The next agricultural revolution will connect people with food and farmers will grow only what’s going to be consumed. Says who? Say the brothers Gonzalo and Gabriel Úrculo of Bétera, a village in Valencia. They founded Naranjas del Carmen in 2010 as an online business focused on the direct sale of citrus fruits, but disruptive times require flexible business models and now, instead of selling oranges, they sell orange trees. And people from all over Europe are trekking to Bétera to see their threes and collect the fruit of those trees. This means a boost for regional tourism as well.

Gonzalo and Gabriel came up with the idea after inheriting a disused orchard from their grandfather that was set be sold. Today, they have some 11,000 orange trees in the orchard, and more than 5,000 would-be-owners on a waiting list. Naranjas del Carmen sells 50,000 kilograms of oranges a week, shipping to owners throughout Europe. Annual sales have climbed from an initial €25,000 to €2.5 million.

Business model: Each tree is planted specifically for customers, who have the right to receive its produce whenever they want. In return, the customer pays an annual upkeep fee for up to 25 years. What happens before the purchased tree begins to produce fruit? The company offers the customer oranges from a fully grown tree that doesn’t yet have an owner. Muy inteligente.

Naranjas del Carmen


Mario Vargas Llosa: Thatcher’s revolution

Wednesday, 7 March, 2018 0 Comments

“Mario Vargas Llosa is in good form.” That’s a good sentence. And it’s used to introduce readers of EL PAÍS SEMANAL to the Peruvian Nobel Laureate, whose latest book, La llamada de la tribu (The Call of the Tribe), has just been published. It’s an argument in favour of liberal thought and the writer makes his case by quoting seven authors: Adam Smith, José Ortega y Gasset, Friedrich von Hayek, Karl Popper, Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin and Jean-François Revel.

This being the eve of International Women’s Day, the sisterhood will be quick to point out the absence of women in that list but it should be noted that the interviewer here is Maite Rico and a woman, Margaret Thatcher, had a major influence on the political evolution of Mario Vargas Llosa. Snippet:

Q. The picture you paint of Margaret Thatcher as a brave, cultured woman of deep liberal convictions, contrasts starkly with the image we have of her.

A. That’s an absolutely unjust caricature. When I arrived in England, it was a decadent country — a country with freedom but whose mettle was being snuffed out gradually by the Labour Party’s economic nationalism. Margaret Thatcher’s revolution woke Britain up. They were tough times; finishing with the sinecure of the trade unions, creating a competent free-market society, and defending democracy with conviction while facing up to socialism, China, the USSR — the cruelest dictatorships in history. They were decisive years for me because I started to read Hayek and Popper, both authors quoted by Thatcher. She said that The Open Society and Its Enemies would be a crucial book for the 20th Century. The contribution of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to the culture of freedom, finishing with the Soviet Union —the biggest challenge democratic culture had ever had — is a reality that is unfortunately portrayed in a media influenced by a campaign from the left whose achievements are few.

When he’s right, he’s right. And he’s right.

Mario Vargas Llosa


The Black and White Quest winner

Thursday, 15 February, 2018 0 Comments

For its Black and White Quest, 500px asked for submissions that were stronger without colour. The winner is Michail Christodoulopoulos with this evocative Semana Santa image. Why did the judges pick it? “This is a perfect use of black and white — it emphasizes its mood and tone. The shallow depth of field and composition makes the viewer’s eye go back and forth through this line of men and their expressions.”

Semana Santa

And the story behind the winning entry: “This photo was taken in Malaga last year during the Semana Santa / Holy Week,” says Christodoulopoulos. “I’ve been living in Spain for almost 14 years, but I never miss the processions from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, where the confraternities of Malaga carry their floats, representing the Passion of Christ from His entry into Jerusalem to His Resurrection.”


Pamplona rises again

Friday, 13 February, 2015 0 Comments

The brand-new Museo Universidad de Navarra is expected to bring a stampede of art lovers to Pamplona and it might, in time, rival the economic impact of the annual running of the bulls during the festival of San Fermín. Talking of matters taurine, there’s a wonderful moment in The Sun Also Rises where the protagonist, Jake Barnes, arrives in Pamplona, sees the cathedral, enters and prays. This is Hemingway at his finest:

The Sun Also Rises “I knelt and started to pray and prayed for everybody I thought of, Brett and Mike and Bill and Robert Cohn and myself, and all the bullfighters, separately for the ones I liked, and lumping all the rest, then I prayed for myself again, and while I was praying for myself I found I was getting sleepy, so I prayed that all the bullfighters would be good, and that it would be a fine fiesta, and that we would get some fishing. I wondered if there was anything else I might pray for, and I thought I would like to have some money, so I prayed that I would make a lot of money… and as all the time I was kneeling with my forehead on the wood in front of me, and was thinking of myself as praying, I was a little ashamed, and regretted that I was such a rotten Catholic, but realised that there was nothing I could do about it, at least for a while, and maybe never, but that anyway it was a grand religion, and I only wished I felt religious and maybe I would the next time.”

Rarely has irony been expressed so elegantly.


The drums of Catalonia

Sunday, 9 November, 2014 1 Comment

The Catalans are having a moment today. They’re holding a referendum of sorts on the notion of independence from Spain. But because central government in Madrid forbids the use of the “referendum” word in this case, Barcelona is forced to speak of “a non-binding, participatory process” instead. When Scotland held an independence referendum in September, EU leaders hailed it as an exercise in popular democracy, but they’re hostile to the right of Catalonia to make a similar decision. Why? “Apparently they have forgotten that the right of self-determination of nations is a long-standing, fundamental and universal principle of modern democracy.” So says Latvian writer Otto Ozols in an article for Delfi. Meanwhile, Sydney has voted on “el 9N.”

Catalonian drummers


The King of Spain says farewell

Tuesday, 3 June, 2014 0 Comments

The news of the abdication of King Juan Carlos sparked a memory of royalty in motion as described by by Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms:

“There were small gray motor-cars that passed going very fast; usually there was an officer on the seat with the driver and more officers in the back seat. They splashed more mud than the camions even and if one of the officers in the back was very small and sitting between two generals, he himself so small that you could not see his face but only the top of his cap and his narrow back, and if the car went especially fast it was probably the King. He lived in Udine and came out in this way nearly every day to see how things were going, and things went very badly.”

Hemingway is unbeatable.


Casa Bacardi

Sunday, 23 February, 2014 0 Comments

Facundo Bacardí Massó was born in Sitges in Catalonia in 1814, and emigrated to Cuba in 1830, where he began distilling rum. Three innovations led to fame and fortune: He filtered his rum through charcoal, which removed impurities; he isolated a strain of yeast that continues to gives Bacardi its taste profile, and he aged […]

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Transparent Spanish idiocy

Monday, 5 August, 2013 0 Comments

Increasingly corrupt, dysfunctional and beset by regional tensions, Spain has gone from being the poster-child of the EU to one of its most troubled member states. At the height of the current crisis, unemployment was at 26 percent — youth unemployment was above 50 percent and, to add to the challenges, the authority of the government has been damaged by a party-funding scandal. Then there are the GUBU moments like Morocco agreeing to free 48 Spanish prisoners as requested by King Juan Carlos during his recent trip to Rabat. Turns out, though, that one of these was Daniel Galvan Vina, convicted of raping 11 children aged between four and 15 years of age. The Moroccans are not very happy about that.

Gibralter In an attempt to divert attention from this lamentable state of affairs, Spain, which is dependent on tourism income and goodwill, is contemplating imposing a new border tax on Gibraltar and to investigate the affairs of Gibraltans with Spanish economic interests. Spain is also considering closing its airspace to flights heading to the Rock. The latest strains emerged 10 days ago after Gibraltan boats began dumping concrete blocks into the sea near the territory. Gibraltar said it was creating an artificial reef that would to improve fish stocks which it maintains have been depleted by incursions by Spanish fishermen.

Spain claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, which stands on the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula but has been a British Overseas Territory since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The business with The Falklands didn’t work out well for Argentina and democratic Spain would be foolish to think that it can succeed where Franco once failed.