Posts Tagged ‘Catalonia’

Not necessarily in that order.

This is Joan Cusine Cusine, who used to be in charge of the family owned winery Parés Balta in Catalonia’s Penedès region.  He’s the middle Joan – Joan can be a bloke in Spain – between his father and one of his sons.  It’s the sons who run the show now, with his daughters in law in charge of the winemaking – the oenologists beloved of crossword and quiz compilers – but middle Joan is still very much involved.  We were part of a group that had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago of being taken round by him and talked through their organic vineyards and winery, while being instructed in what goes into the producing of good wine.  The tasting was a pretty tasty experience too.

He’s a delightful man, wearing his undoubted passion for what they do lightly, with charm and good humour.  Said he had a soft spot for the British because – inspired by the Beatles – he spent time in England in the ’60s.  He had our attention from the start.  Being organic, for instance, means they have their own herd of sheep for the direct application of fertiliser to the vines.  He also outlined a fascinating approach to instilling in the young the difference between taste and consumption; you establish a regular time for the whole family, you make it an event, to try five examples of, say, bottled water one time, bread, milk, and so on another, exploring the differences.  So by the time you get to alcohol you’ve sewn the potential seeds of appreciation, of savouring rather than just necking it.

Abandon cheap mass-produced supermarket vino he politely pleaded, and give the good guys a chance; their range starts at a modest  €7 a bottle.  He’s agnostic when it comes to screw caps – no problem – which is a relief.  They have a neat highly informative website here.  (If you get a bit confused by the A unique heritage page, just click on the A variety of microclimates photo and take it from there.)  So that’s http://www.paresbalta.com/ in case that link doesn’t work.  Not that I’d bet on me in a blind tasting, mind, but, you know … I appreciated the ambience and good vibes.

There’s a few fine wines necked for all the wrong reasons in I am the secret footballer: lifting the lid on the beautiful game by, well, The Secret Footballer (Guardian Books, 2012).  I zipped through this.  From what I recall of them, it’s a bit more than just the Guardian columns anthologised – he’s been running there for over a season now – and some, like the one about what it’s like for a player’s family during the autumn transfer deadline dash, aren’t included, which is a shame.  I’m not that deep into the minutiae of the game to be able to make a sensible guess at his identity, but the revelations that Ashley Cole and John Terry are not particularly pleasant human beings and the opinions that Alan Shearer contributes nothing to punditry and that Robbie Savage is a gobshite hardly narrow the field.  There’s an unofficial website that speculates about who it could be.  He started writing the column because he wanted people to know the tabloid portrayal of players was over-generalised, inaccurate and didn’t do justice to, well, him at least.  It’s revealing on Premiership football as a job, albeit a well paid one even for the journeyman, as a workplace.  His resolve to keep in touch with his council estate roots engages, while his arguments for the usefulness of agents are not the usual stuff of broadsheet journalism.  There’s much else besides.  Well worth reading.

Meanwhile the book group book this month was Bernhard Schlink‘s The reader (1997).  I could do a number here about you reading about me reading a book about someone else reading books but I shall refrain.  The reader is one of those books that had me reeling with compassion, incomprehension and a certain understanding.  It hinges on three big sudden revelatory twists and I don’t want to take away from them or put anyone off reading it by even hinting thereat.  I will say it’s mostly set in Germany in the ’70s and within the spare prose of its 216 pages (paperback edition) it addresses a cartload of issues of individual and social morality, responsibility and behaviour, both directly and implicitly, between the lines.  The novel functions over and above its specific dramatic situation; we are struggling here with the basic human condition.  I’d read The reader before and couldn’t remember too much about its specifics so tried to approach it sceptically this time – is it not most 15-year-old boys’ fantasy to be inducted into the delights of sexual intercourse by an elder woman? – and gave pause to the thought that one of the crucial plot twists was carrying too heavy a load, but in the end it got to me same as before.  It’s one of those books.

And so for light relief and some jokes we turn to Harry Lipkin P.I. (Polygon, 2012).  Barry Fantoni‘s novel has Harry – “the world’s oldest detective” as it says on the dust jacket – telling of the case of a series of thefts from a rich old Florida widow’s mansion and what he found investigating Columbo-like the various backgrounds – ethnic mostly, but not too stereotypical – of all the suspects, her domestic staff.  There is a twist at the end which I guess you could call tragi-comic.  It is not so much a crime novel, more an extended gentle and enjoyable jewish stand-up routine, his age – at 87 is there much scope to keep a series going? –  being the source of a fair bit of it.

The jewish humour slant on classic Raymond Chandler-isms works to occasional treat too.  If you like:

Half the paintings were the kind you see people walk past in a modern art museum.  The other half were by old Dutch masters.  Windmills.  Skaters.  Taverns full of guys smoking pipes […]

Or,  “There was a long pause.  I could have read a whole sentence by Proust.  She didn’t want an answer.”  Or when the hippy gardener turns nasty, “His voice didn’t sound quite so Mister Tambourine Man now“, if those hit the spot there are plenty more where they came from.

Not wild about the book design, though.  In my book, if you’re being consistent throughout, chapters should always start on the recto, the right hand page, and not, as here, the verso because the chapter headings are always on the recto and accompanied by some scratchy drawings (not by the author), the bulk of which add sod all to the enterprise as far as I’m concerned, and lead to an awful lot of white space and blank pages, which I find deeply annoying.

Have been giving Babel, that difficult second album from Mumford & Sons a spin this week.  They’ve ducked the issue, really, in that it’s not far removed from Sigh no more but inevitably lacking the surprise of the majestic emotional swell of the latter’s arrangements.  On Babel they sound more like assemblages built from the first album fed into a computer.  Marcus Mumford’s voice remains distinctive but apart from the title track all the songs start slowly and quietly and build to their frenetic acoustic climaxes (and still effective anti-climaxes) with the banjo still holding its own.  Couldn’t a couple of tracks kicked off loud and strident and faded for a change, lads?  Or just been, well, songs?  I’ll still defend them against the scoffers and snobby musos who bemoan the success – hell, they’ve even got a book club on their website – because I think their hearts are in the right place, even if the well-intentioned lyrics (always focussed on the I as a part of a we rather than me, though old before their time) don’t exactly read as profound as they can sound fragmentally.

Meanwhile Mr Dylan‘s difficult 35th studio (it’s the official website that’s counting) and 50th anniversary of his first album album, Tempest, is repaying repeated listening. The larynx may have gone, but the phrasing, the rhythmic qualities of the delivery, still have plenty of petrol in the tank.  The band, his touring band, is outstanding and there are some lovely musical moments.  The beauty of the arrangement for Pay in blood is in start contrast to the savagery of the lyrics, while the narrative tensions of the death ballad Tin angel or the Barbara Allen reworking Scarlet Town are prime Bob Dylan.  There are a few seconds of accordion from David Hidalgo (he of Los Lobos) on the second Chicago blues workout, Early Roman Kings that shine in their sheer classicism (though I retain a slight regret that the Kings are a New York street gang rather than yer actual ancients).  The two tracks that all the pre-publicity was about, a 15 minute song about the sinking of the Titanic – the title track, no less – and the John Lennon tribute , are frankly superfluous.  I haven’t managed to sit through the former once without nodding off or drifting into doing something else.  Just as well they’re the last two songs on the CD, which is otherwise an exhilarating and mysterious ride indeed.


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One of my favourites anywhere:

And here’s another one.  Yup, it’s a whole terrace end wall.

Tarragona is Catalonia’s second biggest urb, with loads of Roman ruins we chose not to explore.

Not having been anywhere near the inside of a gym since uni exams, coming across a spinning exercise session on the Nova Rambla was something of a high energy revelation.  Community pedalling and shifting shapes to a disco beat looked fun; wouldn’t have lasted 2 minutes, though – I’m closer to this guy.  Before we went away people said about not missing La Rambla experience in Barcelona – it’s a wide promenading area in the middle of the street filled with stalls, café tables, entertainments. Was a bit underwhelmed, to tell the truth; must have been one of its lesser busking days.  It’s a great concept though and they built what could have been something like into the plans for the centre of Milton Keynes (the publicity ads had people playing boulle there) only to put them on the outside of rows of shops that all faced the other wa, into the out-of-town mall they put at MK’s heart.  Oh for the climate to make for a viable street life, but still a wasted opportunity.

Tarragona‘s Rambla Nova has a life-size statue of a casteller – a human tower – and we were lucky enough to be there at festival time to see the castellers in a town square buzzing with excitement.  Would never happen in the UK, of course – Health & Safety – and indeed one tower did collapse, though there were no reports of serious injury; there’s a centuries long tradition of technique to draw on.  Smartly kitted multi-generational teams of castellers compete and who builds highest wins.  The older and bigger you are, the nearer the bottom you stand, while a small boy or girl climbs to the top and then descends again as if down a fireman’s pole.  The symbolism is you can’t get to the top without the support of those on the bottom, strength coming from solidarity, working together.  And later in the day, sitting on the cathedral steps catching the gralles (a traditional wind instrument, kinda light celtic drone) and kettledrum folk play-offs was a good place to be too.

Then was this outdoor micro-gallery …

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Catching up from Catalunya,
still buzzing from Barcelona.

I can say nothing original, I’m sure, about the modernista Catalan architect and designer Antoni Gaudi, who worked over  the tail end of the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth centuries, only join the chorus to sing his praises.  You couldn’t be further removed from the notion of ‘modern architecture’ and yet there that word stays in all the books, almost as a rebuke.  His great work – the big three being the Casa Batlló (originally a private house), the Parc Güell (a failed garden city project, now a wonderful public park) and the ongoing saga that is the glorious temple to the Gospels known as the Sagrada Familia (the Sacred Family), which dominates the city skyline from afar – this work inspires in equal measure awe, wonder and, uniquely I think, affection.  You can – and many, many do, every day – sit resting your back on the this continuous curving seat – just a small section of which is  illustrated here – with its never-repeated detailing rolling along the terrace wall at Parc Gúell, lazing in the sun, looking over the areas of Barcelona and the sea spread out below – what sensory pure delight, there for the sharing.  And while he obviously didn’t sweat the small stuff, he was, they say, technically, instinctively, ahead of his time too.  What a man, such a life and end, worthy of great balladry!

It is hard to imagine a bigger contrast than the one encountered the day we went straight from the grandeur and intricacies of the Sagrada Familia exterior and its fluted pillars and radiant colours from the stained glass inside, to the unadorned straight lines and uncomplicated curves, the sheer contemporary whiteness of MACBA, architect Richard Meier’s fine  Museu d’Art Contemporani, a different kind of space altogether, which is impressive enough in its own way, as you climb the gentle incline linking its three floors.  Which the skateboarders in the yard outside would doubtless love to ride down.

Grayson Perry‘s notion of the art gallery effectively taking on many of the roles of a church these days fails for me at MACBA.  The airy feel of the building is made to seem sterile by a lack of unity and – hesitate to say it but – substance of much of what was on show.  Not that it was devoid of interest or intellectual engagement, but I need more.  On the top floor Rita McBride‘s Public tender exhibition contemplates and experiments with the question, When and where exactly does sculpture becomes architecture?  So she mounts red air conditioning ducting on a white wall; that’s an unfair reduction of the work on show but my point is, Antoni Gaudi lived out there on that border, with his joy and inspiration in nature and myth in the heart of a city being made anew.

Perry’s notion of transferred reverence certainly holds for the Museu Picasso, housed as it is in a set of what were once medieval palaces, no less.  Pablo Picasso spent his teenage years studying in Barcelona, and the bulk of the beautifully presented collection on show is from his early years – he was so good as a student you can see why he had to keep moving on – and a playful splurge of activity from 1957, including some crude fun work of his as a ceramista.  While none of his major works is here save 1897’s social realist Science and charity, which brought him to wider attention, the wait to get in was well worth it, and leavened by a talented busker plying an accordion.  And I worshipped more in the Montserrat Museum at the spectacularly sited Monestir de Montserrat up in the hills, with its impressive collection of work from Catalan painters of the last couple of centuries, augmented by a decent sprinkling of big names from many eras than I did in its glittering Basilica (of which more in a later post).

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