Monday, July 21, 2008

What do "Guernica" and Legs of Ham Have in Common? Both are Worshipped in Spain.

Dedicated to T, my fellow traveler in the best sense of the term.

I am back and suffering from culture shock after three weeks of the requisite cliches: sunshine, art and delicious food in Spain. The shopping was good but thanks to the decline of the American Empire, the Euro's rise made most things out of reach. I did manage to come back with a couple of new pairs of shoes, many books and a few assorted tchotchkes. 

Back in the day, my fellow Spaniards did not know from Marketing. Now the newly expanded Prado and Reina Sofia rival the private Thyssen Museum in their tchotchke offerings (Mata Mua shmatta? Check. Kandinsky tie? Check. Nolde eraser? Check That last one is just bizarre, you want to erase things and thus obliterate the reproduction of a picture you presumably like? Paradoxical.) 

[Note: In the interest of doing my share to rid the world of the visual pollution involving the picture in question below, I leave this area blank]

Some of my favorites are Guernica-related. Surely Picasso would pretend to roll over in his grave, while gleefully observing that his fame is such that tacky reproductions of his iconic work, with whatever remains of its "progressive" allure, proliferate like a bad case of toxic mold. One may choose between Guernica coasters, which create an unintended possible party game - create a puzzle! find the guest with the contiguous piece! Another good one is the Post-It Note. On the cover of the batch is the banal painting (banal from its inception, if you ask me it's one of the most kitsch paintings of the 20th century) and, I assumed, the inventor meant for one to be in charge of the picture's frenzied reproducibility by choosing a venue to deface or decorate (depending on your view) with the cliche-filled allegory. In fact, in another surely unintended act of brilliance, the object's creator has demonstrated literally the fact that the painting is an empty signifier. The cover features the work, but the pages within are merely blank regulation yellow Post-Its!!! Goya's Fusilamientos are treated to equally irreverent reproductions, though I was looking for a mug, which they haven't thought of - yet.

I will miss the evening weather report, with its charmingly old-school vagueness. On the upper sections of the penninsula we'll see gradual rising of temperatures. On the East, we have a chance of rain. Etc. And the best were the child-like magnetic suns of my childhood - now hi-tech so they are computer-generated - cheerfully indicating the weather in broad swaths of the nation. Oddly, though they are incredibly vague about the weather on land, below a ticker rolls past with the sea predictions, with odd names for specific areas and numbers I don't understand as the newscaster intones "Marejada, fuerte marejada" over and over. Sadly, the dapper gentleman above was just forced into early retirement. He was my favorite. In the USA we are used to minute-by-minute predictions of everything from air temperature to humidity to pollen counts to UV exposure range. An entire cable channel is devoted to the weather! Too much information! In Spain one can leave such details behind. The "forecast" is arbitrary, anyway. So you either always bring an umbrella and a cardigan, or, duck into a bar and order a glass of wine. 

I will miss the food, I ate enough paella, varieties of shrimp and langostinos, vats full of ali-oli, squids galore, delicious white!! bread, amazingly flavorful tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet onions, buttery lettuce, divine tuna, tortillas filled with potatoes and onions, and exquisite ham. Sadly, I couldn't think of a way to bring an entire pata de jamon with me but presumably somebody has, because they sell them in the airport for around 400 USD. Spain is known for its Cult to Ham. In each home you will find in a place of honor, lording over the kitchen, a huge leg of cured ham, with the hoof (I should have warned my Jewish readers to STOP HERE), lovingly displayed in a holder the better to prop it up and show it off, often draped with an embroidered cloth of some type, like a sleeping baby. People just invite you in and hack at it (the latter carving is an art) with a special knife to serve you. One of my relatives kept his in the living room, propped up one of the arms of the (plastic-encased) sofa. But let's not go there.

I am always delighted to see the growing racial and ethnic diversity in Spain. Although this is still a very racist country, and there is a huge backlash against Africans (North and sub-Saharan) and especially against Roma people. Notwithstanding, small progress may be seen for example in the production of a Benneton-like array of baby dolls. I am clearly joking but could not resist posting this hilarious and creepy photo from the Barcelona airport shop.

Nationalism continues to rear its ugly head. Although I admit I was celebrating with the best of them when Spain won the Eurocup. I have been asking myself for a long time, as I wrote earlier, about the nationalist pride evoked by the teams. The Barcelona Futbol Club for example, has quite a few foreigners, but the team is still viewed as the embodiment of the region's distinct, Catalan, identity. In fact, some said that they were rooting for Germany since they are "not Spanish." In any case, I loved seeing the very campy F.C. Barcelona retro-styled refrigerator in a Barcelona shop window. 

Lest we forget that Spain is now in Europe and a big part of globalized culture (if the waves of immigrants literally washing up on its shores were not enough, that is) I was in Barcelona having a mid-morning merienda (how those people eat at least 5 times a day and not look like Star Jones pre-operations is a mystery to me) of a cortado and ensaimada when I noticed that I am drinking espresso out of the Illy limited edition Venice Biennial 2007 cup! 

Feel with the mind, think with the senses! OLE!

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