(I should explain. The date on a blog indicates when I started writing it, not necessarily when I was in the place written about.)
At breakfast I asked if I could have my eggs scrambled. The waitress had a moment of indecision but then she went for, “No.”
I walked to the museum wending my way through the now familiar streets of the old town, stumbling across the antique store I had not been able to find the other day. It’s all bits and pieces, old Lladro figures, jewelry, pictures, silver. He had a footed silver box and I was tempted to add it to my collection but I have reached the stage of life where possessions are more apt to be a burden than a joy.
However, I saw a pair of Japanese house sandals at another shop and decided they were what I needed for the tile floors of Spanish hotels. Also they pack flat and though not warm keep your feet off the floor.
At the San Telmo Museum I walked through the Sert paintings again. Since then I have learned, from a friend who reads my blogs. about Sert’s other murals in the Vic cathedral and his first wife, Misia Sert, a pianist (1872—1950). She studied with Fauré. She was apparently a favorite portrait subject having been painted by Renoir, Bonnard and Lautrec. Her fashionable Paris salon was a resort for Ravel, Debussy, Picasso, Mallarmé, and Cocteau. He says there is a plaque on Sant Pere Més Alt in Barcelona commemorating Sert’s birthplace.
I went on into the hall with remnants of stone tools and arrows that flows into the lethalness of swords and armor and then the human homicidal tendencies are channeled into 18th century hats and headdresses that may still have been seen on occasion at the beginning of the 20th century. These are fun.
Some are real hats but many are concoctions made by winding white strips of linen around, I presume, a form to make a curved horn, a steeple straight up or a series of dumplings getting smaller as they rise and ending in a little curved horn. One mannequin looks as though she has a large muffin on her head beneath which folds of drapery enclose her from chin to chest. The face, male or female, is not covered but neck, hair and ears are. I spent time gazing, in part, because these heads reminded me of the girls who lean out of the walls of the stage at the Palau de la Musica with their harps, tambourines, flutes, and horns in all kinds of hats and hair adornments.
I took the elevator upstairs where, utterly alone with the paintings, I at last got to concentrate on this eclectic gathering of faces. There are some early paintings of the Evangelists. These are not gaunt old men in straitened circumstances hanging out with their symbols—the lion, the angel the bull and the eagle—but well fed, middle aged, scribes with thick, crisply curled beards in sumptuous brocade robes of deep, stained glass colors all of whom have, I noticed, large ears. They look as though in another part of their comfortable houses housekeepers are keeping things in order and seeing lunch is on the table promptly.
Around the corner is a startling Mary Magdalene by Tintoretto. I wrote in my notebook, “hilarious”, yes, but perhaps equivocal is a better word, although she did make me laugh. Your average Renaissance Mary Magdalene is a good-looking woman even when half drowned in tears of remorse. She may or may not be sexy—see Titian, El Greco, Caravaggio, Crivelli—but she is always pretty. This young woman, I would say she is a teenager– physically a woman but not there yet emotionally or mentally– is not particularly good looking, being a bit chubby about the face, but she is definitely of the flesh. She is ripe, about to drop off the tree. In modern terms she is, a la Madonna, a material girl. She is all gussied up in the way teenagers love. She’s been to the hairdresser and he’s given her, ringlets across her brow and beside her ears like spiral bands through which she has threaded pearl drops on a pearl chain. She is wearing a pearl necklace and her bodice is cinched with gold chains studded with amethysts. There are more adornments on the chest before her and I suspect a mirror that we can’t see that she is looking into with bland complacency. She is over the top and loving it. There’s no cleavage and no leg; she maybe spiritually and mentally immature but she is in season.
Behind her shoulders are big rose silk, opulent poofs, lined with gold brocade, like wings, suggesting that they are her current conception of wings. She’s a materialistic butterfly, not a numinous lofting spirit. She is unlike any other Mary Magdalene I have ever seen
Next door to her are three El Greco’s. I may have noted down “hilarious” in my book because of the contrast between Mary and these pale, attenuated saints, their eyes cast up to heaven, all of whom have hands like Glenn Gould. This is the first time that I made a connection between El Greco and Modigliani. The saints and Mary are polar opposites. They are almost transparent with spiritual transcendence; she is solid as a block of oak.
Across from this sanctified gathering is a portrait by de la Cruz of Phillip III, handsome, but with a thoroughly unpleasant glint in his eye, which is odd because I don’t think of him as one of the nasty kings, just another self indulgent royal who let his friends eat his country.
In the next room is an exquisite little Madonna and Child by Rubens. It has a strip before it which sounds an alarm if you lean too close which I did several times, although there was no one on the floor to hear or reprimand. It is an intimate picture whose characters are warmly lovable in the most cheerful bourgeois way. The Madonna is plump cheeked with a curvaceous mouth, baby all smiles in his chubbiness. Everyone is well dressed, comfortable and perhaps most important, happily content. They radiate well-being, wholesomeness and immense charm.
The floor below leaps into the modern era. A painting by Antonio Ortiz Echaqüe, Two Women of Tafilalet, shows a pair of women draped, twin pillars in different shades of blue with no flesh showing except their eyes, in the case of the younger, one eye. They are not veiled in the Saudi sense, but have drawn their shrouding mantles of blue across their faces as though in protest against the painter’s intrusion. They are mysterious and, of course, Islamic. Tafilalet is the largest Saharan oasis in southeastern Morocco and has a number of fortified villages. It was on a caravan route from the Niger River to Tangier. That is all I have been able to learn with nothing about the painter to be found through the usual Google channels, but the women have a statuesque, imposing quality that I found appealing.
More modern and western is a canvas by Juan Luis Goenaga of fish and divers with tanks strapped to their backs under the sea. It’s not your usual subject matter, which makes it fun. Quite different is Mari Puri Herrero’s Sobresalta a las Campistas. Herrero is a mistress of the edgy, disturbing image.
In the foreground of a greenly lush countryside are two men in dark suits, one with a bowler hat. They are as out of place as a pair of large pythons in Trafalgar Square. In the distance, hurrying away, are two women. I have no idea what this is about but it is worryingly sinister.
The museum then continues chronicling life and history in the Basque country. There are little videos on sheep and shepherds, on making cloth from spindle to loom, on labor movements, on women’s rights with exhibitions accompanying all. It is overwhelming and wonderful.
I had lunch at a place my friends E and V had suggested which had filling pinchos. They were large and delicious. I managed to rediscover a chocolate shop I had seen to buy a bar with chili, very little chili, and an orange slice dipped in dark chocolate which I ate at a café on the esplanade with a café con leche. It is satisfying to consume coffee and chocolate with the perfect curve of the bay before you.
The next day I was leaving, therefore the morning was spent packing but at lunch time I went back to my first restaurant, Casa Vergara, and reordered my first lunch—oysters, ham croquets, grilled shrimp. It was just as good as the first time. I thought about paying again to revisit the Santiago pilgrim, but it was time to go back to the hotel, order a taxi and head to the airport.