Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Madrid: Objects and Mysteries of the Air and Ether

Interior yellow mailbox / buzón de correosSociedad Estatal de Correos y Telégrafos ~ i.e., Correos. I'm always on the lookout for post offices and mailboxes, no matter what the country, town, village or city. There's always mail (noun) to mail (verb).
"Old" pay phone, not old at all in the grand scheme of things. In all of June,  by avoiding direct calls to and from Spain, I spent less than $2 extra on my mobile phone / cellphone bill. Incoming texts were five cents, outgoing, fifty cents. There are several free alternatives to resort to, including correo electrónico (email).
Or you can use your third eye. Here, the flower eyes have it ~ what the hell, what the heck?

Today's Rune: Signals.    

Monday, July 21, 2014

The French Quarter Revisited

I thoroughly enjoyed both Herbert Asbury's The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld (New York: Basic Books, 2008; originally published in 1936) and The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (Harvard University Press, 2012), Lawrence N. Powell's masterful history of French, Spanish and early American New Orleans. Both books render a fascinating overview covering the 1700s and early 1800s, with The French Quarter carrying forward right into the early 1930s.

From these works and exploring on the ground, you can fathom how much structurally the first century set up the ethos of the city and surrounding areas. More narrowly, you can see the architectural design courtesy of the Spanish administration overlaying the initial French settlement in and around Jackson Square aka La Plaza de Armas aka La Place d'Armes in the Vieux Carré. Because of major fires and repair work, many of the visible structural flourishes that remain have a definite Spanish flavor. 

Asbury exaggerates only somewhat with this statement: "The old part of New Orleans is still called the French Quarter, but all of the buildings which date from colonial times are Spanish in design and architecture." (The French Quarter, page 59).  Indeed, walking around the center of Madrid this summer has reminded me very much of the "old part of New Orleans," only Madrid's "old part" is bigger.  

New Orleans is particularly interesting for this reason also: it is and was the only major strategic coastal town or city trading via the Atlantic Ocean in what is currently the USA that was never formally controlled by the British Empire. In fact, the British never managed to capture it at all, and not for lack of trying, even when the Empire controlled East and West Florida (including what is now southern Mississippi and Alabama) -- from the end of the Seven Years War (1763) until the Spanish drove them out during the American war of 1775-1783. French, Spanish, American -- but never British!  

A last gasp of an attempt by the British was made in late 1814, early 1815, and was repulsed at the well-noted "Battle of New Orleans" (Chalmette).

New Orleans clearly has a rich and complex history; it has frequently, through the centuries, suffered mightily from fires, floods and pestilence; yet it persists, with flair. 

Or, as Powell puts it: "New Orleans was never for the faint of heart, not when calamity, cyclonic and otherwise, seemed just around the corner. Yet somehow the town always managed to muddle through" (The Accidental City, page [197]).  Indeed it has. 

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Shock Delivered

Alvah Bessie's Men in Battle (1939) delivers a riveting non-fictional account of the Spanish Civil War from a soldier's or "worm's eye" (as he terms it) point of view. It goes perfectly well with Pablo Picasso's epic 1937 masterwork, Guernica. Here's one small sample:

'They brought the Fascist pilot in, and he was a Spanish youngster in a beautiful Italian flying suit, with a bullet wound in his arm and a broken face. The Spanish company commander in the sector where he landed had smashed him in the jaw in a fit of rage (and we all agreed that while this may have been humanly understandable, it was politically incorrect). . .'   ~~ From the 1977 Pinnacle Books version, page 273.
'[The pilot] was a native of Majorca and had been a pilot before the war. When the Fascists took Majorca, they had asked him to fly for them, and since there is nothing a pilot would rather do than fly, he had accepted. He had raided Barcelona many times. Like most pilots everywhere, he had no political convictions whatsoever, and it is relatively easy to drop high explosives on people you cannot see . . .' (Ibid.).
Guernica -- an impressively large painting (eleven feet high and between twenty-five and twenty-six feet long) -- was moved from New York City to Madrid in 1981 (Casón del Buen Retiro), then on to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 1992. A tapestry version created by Madame J. de la Baume Dürrbach is temporarily on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas, USA (until March 8, 2015) -- I saw this version in the 1980s at United Nations headquarters. In the parlance of our day: WOW.

Today's Rune: Fertility.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pedro Almodóvar's ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto? (1984)

Pedro Almodóvar's ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto? / What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984) is as wacky and incisive as anything else I can think of. Almodóvar gets at people's underlying realities -- the ways in which people may feel trapped, left out, bummed out, desirous of something beyond the status quo, or aiming for escape. Aspirations for greater freedom and autonomy abound; sometimes they even suddenly and unexpectedly come to be realized.  
Mother and son -- apple, tree. Chus Lampreave's character (on left) is particularly funny in her "ways."
Is sisterhood powerful? Wait and see. Here, Verónica Forqué as Cristal and Carmen Maura as Gloria. 
If you have yet to check out a Pedro Almodóvar movie, ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto? may be a good second one to see. (Note: There are "risqué elements" peppered throughout the film). You may first want to give this one a try: Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios / Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). Oh, yes.

Today's Rune: Journey. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Madrid: Spectral and Alive

76 and 77 years ago, the people living in Madrid were being attacked from the air and adjacent land. The city was pummeled with explosives -- bombs from airplanes, ground artillery and everything in between. Today, there are spectral traces of war still, yet the city is bursting with life -- and culture has endured.
Image: Madrid defenders firing at besieging fascist forces from the university library in 1937 - a twist in the use of library stacks. (Parapetos formados con sacos y libros de la Biblioteca. Link here).

My guess is that 99% of all sentient people now on Earth live within an hour of, by foot, horse, boat, ship, train, zeppelin, automobile or aeroplane, a battleground or battlefield -- places of war remaining from the past, unfolding in the present or coming in the future. If you don't think that's true where you live, look harder. If today you live in Palestine-Israel, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or one of many other such places around the world, you don't need to look at all.
From a little brochure about the Internationalist Brigades stationed in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, I learned that our hotel (Hotel Europa) was a hangout for the troops and their supports -- what's now the Café Restaurante Europa was, in 1936-1939, La Cerveceria Española (cerveza = beer). On November 16, 1936, the nearby metro station at Puerta del Sol suffered a direct hit from German and Italian aerial bombers. 
Tío Pepe sign now, in Puerta del Sol -- how about some nice sherry instead of another war?

Today's Rune: Partnership.    

Friday, July 11, 2014

Madrid: Birds of a Feather

Near the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace).
The Lovers. Near the Royal Palace.
El perrothe Dog.
The Query. Puerta del Sol in background.

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Madrid: Day and Night

Energetic chef at Cafetería-Restaurante ~ Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, June 2014.

Pensive woman drinking coffee.

Cafetería ~ Dixie Bar ~ Restaurante.

Zumos 100% NATURAL. Something seems askew with this image, like a Dutch angle ~ in Spain.

Today's Rune: Wholeness.