Guernica, One of the Greatest Works of Modern Art?

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against...

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against Fascism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guernica was a sleepy Basque village in northern Spain that was unknown to much of the wider world… until April 27, 1937 when it was the target of the world’s first saturation-bombing raid.  General Francisco Franco allowed his fascist ally Hitler to test his new air force’s prowess.   At the time, military aviation was in its infancy and the world hadn’t yet seen massive aerial bombings.  The raid destroyed the town, causing destruction that previously had been unimaginable.

Ruins of Guernica (1937). The Spanish civil wa...

Ruins of Guernica (1937). The Spanish civil war claimed the lives of over half-a-million people. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the time, Pablo Picasso was living in Paris.  When he read the news reports of Guernica, he quit working on other projects and set to work.   He worked on it feverishly and within a few weeks, he created a large mural measuring 87.17 meters (286 square feet).  When we were in Paris, we were surprised to walk out our door and see this plaque nearby.  It says “Pablo Picasso lived in this building from 1936 to 1955. It is in this workshop that he painted ‘Guernica’ in 1937.  It is here also that Balzac centered the action of his novel ‘Le Chef-d’œuvre Inconnu‘.”.

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Picasso exhibited it at the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. It turned out to be a masterpiece and is generally regarded as Picasso’s greatest work.   It combines various styles (Cubism, Surrealism and abstraction) to depict and comment on the horrors of war.  It wasn’t an immediate smash.  But over time, people gained an appreciation of its complex symbolism.  People reacted to the humanity depicted and the devastating effects of war on civilians.  It became a rallying-cry-in-paint to the anti-fascist cause.  When we were in Madrid, we made a special trip to the Reina Sofia Museum to see it.  It is incredibly moving and its use of symbolism is astonishing.  For a good analysis/explanation of the painting, click here or here.

Pablo Picasso pintando el Guernica (París, 1937)

Pablo Picasso pintando el Guernica (París, 1937) (Photo credit: Recuerdos de Pandora)

Happy Birthday Picasso!

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No World Wars In Western European Since 1945 = Nobel Peace Prize

Yesterday, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1993, I was living in Belgium and the Maastricht Treaty  (aka the Treaty on European Union) was taking effect.  It was all over the news…and I didn’t understand any of it.  I asked and a lovely Belgian friend explained it to me.   Before I tell you when they told me, lets detour to quick history lesson.   This is a list of just some of the battles that have the battles that have taken place on Belgian soil:

 

  • World War I The Battles of Flandres – There were five, yes five.  The First Battle of Ypres, the Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele, the  Battle of the Lys,  and the creatively named Fifth Battle of Ypres.  Germany and the Western Allies faced off once again in Belgium.  Industrialization increased the scale of wars and they took on a far more devastating nature.  Battles with over 50,000 fatalities became common.  Mustard gas doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to go either.  Belgian farmers still turn up canisters of gas when they plow their fields in the spring!
  • When the Germans wanted to invade France’s Mangiot Line fortifications built after WWI, they just went to Paris via Belgium.  Like many of the occupied countries during WWII, most of them weren’t too happy about their visitors.
  • Battle of the Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne) – After the Allies landed in Normandy, they made their way to Germany.  If you’ve read the last few bullets, you know the easiest way from France to Germany (and vice versa).  Southern Belgium has the Ardennes mountains, which happen to be a good place to entrench (and freezing in the winter).  The Germans mounted an offensive and surrounded almost 20,000 American troops.  It’s famous for General Anthony McAuliffe‘s line, ‘Nuts,’ in response to the German’s request to surrender.  Although I have heard that  ‘Nuts’ was the only printable equivalent of the word that was actually used, it goes without saying that a battle ensued.

You get the idea.  If you got tired reading that list, you can imagine how tired the Belgians were of the wars themselves.

My Belgian friend explained to be that linking their economies and cultures so thoroughly that untangling them was more difficult and costly than waging war was the only way to prevent it from happening again.  At that time, many people were alive who’d lived through the occupation and the war.  I met people whose family members were shot dead in front of their house by the Nazis.  When you think about it, Belgium is a country that only experienced intermittent periods of peace before foreign powers again waged war on their soil.  As a citizen of the tiny country that was continually caught in the cross-fire, they were hopeful that the European Union would help put an end to the seemingly never-ending series of wars waged by European powers like England, Spain, France, and Germany on their soil.

You can’t read the news today without reading about the European Union’s problems.  Some countries, like Switzerland, have good reasons for not joining (which they haven’t in order retain their neutrality and independence).  Nevertheless, as someone who likes a lot of Europeans and likes to travel, there hasn’t been a war on Belgian soil since WWII and I will happily celebrate that.

Scams, Easier Than Working For The Money

Men with friendship bracelets in front of Milan’s Duomo wanting to make new friends

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”  – Albert Einstein   Where there are idiots, scams abound.  We’re almost all guilty of it at one time or another, turning off our brains when we go on vacation.  Heck, it’s part of the reason people go on vacation.  Because people walk around like pigeons, scammers abound in tourist destinations.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about shell games.  There are many other frauds we’ve seen or heard about anecdotally from friends.

When we were in Milan, he laughed at me when I yelled at people who would not leave me alone.    They kept trying to tie a string friendship bracelet around my wrist.  If they got it on, they would then demand an exorbitant amount for it.  If I didn’t want to pay, they would ask for the bracelet back.  Giving it back is often difficult because they will tie it extremely tightly around my wrist.  If I didn’t pay, they might rip it off and demand I pay them “compensation.”  I didn’t want any part of it.  Plus, it makes me uneasy to have something tied around me with a stranger holding the end of the string.   It would seem intimidating to have someone able to yank on my arm like that.

Later that day, someone asked him the time and then tried to make friends with him while he was waiting outside for me.  He didn’t pull his hands out of his pockets to reveal his watch and let it be known that he was in no mood to chat.  The man got aggressive, but he stood his ground and responded calmly but firmly (with a little bluff of his own that made the guy hightail it out of there).  When there are bell towers with clocks all around, someone who asks the time is trouble.

In Paris, a common scam is to approach someone in the street offering to sell a gold ring they have ‘just found on the pavement’.  This happened to a friend of ours who told them “we just saw you drop it.”  Usually, these gold rings are nothing more than a cheap piece of metal, perhaps even a plumbing pipe joint ring.   The prettier and more distracting the scammer is, the more likely an accomplice is also picking your pocket.

In Madrid, we had a friend get her purse stolen from inside a restaurant.  I thought I was being careful, but someone at the neighboring table stopped someone in the midst of grabbing mine.  We’ve had a friend lose an iPhones from her table when it was sitting right next to her coffee.  Just because you are “safely” inside a restaurant (or a museum), doesn’t mean that someone isn’t just as likely to steal from you.  We’ve heard of people using newspapers, flows, etc. to distract and cover up these thefts.  We’ve even heard of the thieves looking like fellow tourists.

Pickpockets and bag snatchers are everywhere.  They can strike at anytime, but you are an easy mark when you are distracted.  Friends got their pockets picked in Paris while exiting the subway.  Someone stood in front of them trying to get on and blocking their way.  An associate took advantage of this slowdown and distraction to remove their wallet.  Another friend had bags stolen from in front of the hotel while loading their taxi!

Sometimes the money takers wear uniforms.  Remember to validate your train passes in Italy, even if you have a specific seat number on a specific train.  A few years ago we made the mistake of not punching our ticket in the machine at the end of the line.  We’d just bought the tickets and with assigned seats on a specific line….  Needless to say that crying didn’t work, only cash was accepted by the conductor, the “receipt” was illegible, and when he came back through to discuss the problem with us, he wasn’t wearing any identification.  Yep.  I’m still sore about it.

In Geneva, I have seen the same extremely pregnant woman begging at the bus stops around town for the past year.  Although time has passed, her pregnancy has not progressed.  Her baby is probably setting a Guinness World Record for the most time in utero.

Also in Geneva, I had a woman try to show me how to work the public transport ticket machine at a bus stop.  She demanded money for her “services” and was very persistent.  In French, told her to go…  You can feel free to do it in the language of your choosing.

How To Buy Cookies From A Convent

In Las Adventuras De Los Gringos En Madrid, I mentioned we bought cookies from a convent. You don’t step up to the counter and order like you do at McDonald’s.  We were buzzed in to the ancient convent, walked down dark hallways and came upon a wooden alcove containing a giant lazy Susan

To ensure that the cloistered nuns have no direct contact with the public, they have this contraption. Press the buzzer, ask the nun for cookies, put your money on the lazy Susan and turn it.  The lazy Susan will turn and cookies will magically appear.  A few turns later, your change appears.

For several reasons, asking for cookies is not as easy as it sounds:

1. You ask in Spanish
2. The nuns are hidden from view behind the large wooden lazy Susan (that works just like the round doors that help the warm/cold air from escaping in public buildings) so you can’t rely on nonverbal communication.
3. The wood in between you makes it hard to hear.
It was worth it though.  Those nuns can bake!

Holy Toledo!

We took a daytrip from Madrid to Toledo*.  I have always wanted to see it.  Now, I want to go back.
Holy Toledo it was beautiful.  It is is well-preserved, filled with history and contains a rare mix of religious influences.
See what I mean…gorgeous.
When you read that something is “well-preserved” in a guidebook, translate that to  “a confusing maze of streets whose difficulty in navigating has only increased over the past few hundred years”.  We had a great time getting lost.  It took us longer than normal to get around because I was constantly taking pictures.
Still love dogs
Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in Toledo; both are in La Mancha.  Swords have been manufactured there since Roman times and there were swords everywhere.  He wanted one, but I didn’t think we could get through security with it.
The large steeple in the middle of the town is the cathedral.  It is enormous and amazing with an incredible collection of art.  The church is rolling in it.  He was more impressed by this by St. Peter’s in Rome.
Each of the seats has carvings like the one shown below.  They commerate Christian victories over the Muslims with each seat showing a different town.
I’ve been to more than a few churches traveling in my day, but I’ve never seen a skylight.  This skylight behind the altar adds more light and allows sunbeams to fall on the altar during mass.  The red hat belonged to a cardinal.  When they die, their hat is hung from a spot of their choosing in the cathedral.  They stay there until they disintegrate.  If you look thought the pictures from the cathedral, you can spy another one or two.
Franco’s sword.  He got a lot of support from the church.
Believe it or not, this puppy holds communion bread.  I guess that helps you to put the size of the cathedral into perspective.  Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed in its most impressive part, a massive art collection.
Although I don’t have good pictures, one of the most interesting things about Toledo is its history of religious tolerance.  In Toledo’s heyday, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived side by side in the city.  That is until they were expelled from Spain in 1502 and 1492 respectively.  Oh yeah, and this little thing called The Inquisition came along.
*We have been to Toledo, Ohio many times.
 

 

Las Aventuras De Los Gringos En Madrid

Last weekend, we met our friends, Boris and Natasha, in Madrid.  We did a walking tour from Rick Steves‘ book.
 
Boris and Natasha (names were changed to protect the not so innocent)
We started at Puerta del Sol.  The building below was Franco’s headquarters and people tried to escape from questioning by jumping.  Others claimed to have been thrown from the windows.
The square is also the place where Napoleon’s troops shot Spanish protestors that was commemorated in Goya‘s painting, The Third of May.
The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showi...

The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showing Spanish resisters being executed by Napoleon’s troops. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days, it is a hugely popular public area where the biggest dangers were the huge lines to buy lottery tickets for the big drawing (the king won once) and the hordes of fashionistas at Topshop.
The guard’s hats are flat in the back so they can lean their head against the wall while smoking.  He says they wouldn’t catch anyone in a footchase.
Reading that page in the guidebook was so exhausting that we had to stop for sustenance…at a confiteria.
Sorry, they were so good that I we dug in before taking a picture.
We walked to Plaza Mayor,  a huge public space that was used for bullfighting, royal showboating, the Inquisition and its subsequent “bonfires”.  We saw it filled with a Christmas market.
We needed a cafe con leche, so we popped into a cafe.  They came with churros, so of course we had to eat them.  Properly fortified, we were ready to hit the market (Mercado de San Miguel).
Stuffed as we were, walking through was enough to make us hungry.  The food was so beautiful that I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
We went to a convent and bought some cookies (we didn’t intend for it to be a food tour even though it clearly turned into one).
File:Atentado en la calle Mayor..jpg
In 1906 there was a royal wedding procession past this spot. Someone threw a bomb along with the flowers. It killed 23. The statute below memorizes the dead.
Madrid’s Cathedral
The Royal Palace
Madrid is a really beautiful city.  We whiled away the afternoon strolling public squares, grand promenades and wonderful Retiro Park.
 
Un poquito Espagnol will get you a long way in Madrid.  I was delighted to realize I learned some by osmosis in the US.
 

Crazy Things We Saw On The Way To Madrid’s Airport at 8:00 A.M.

Last weekend, we went to Madrid and had a great time.  We weren’t the only ones.   Sunday morning, we took the subway to the airport and saw some crazy things on the way there.  Sorry.  I didn’t whip out my camera, you will have to take my word for it.  Here are the highlights:

  • Carnage in the street from the previous night (recyclable gal ores and grosser things that don’t need to be detailed)
  • Couples making out (clearly wrapping up the previous evening)
  • Groups of guys headed home together (from their state, it wasn’t surprising they were alone)
  • A guy (with his fly unbuttoned) doing the head roll for ten minutes before falling asleep on the old lady next to him.  He woke up at the airport (without luggage) and followed everyone up the escalator.  At the top it dawned on him where he was and he went back down.

Judging from the smell in the air, the receptionist’s squity eyes and his snacks when we checked out of our hostel, we should have known we would be entertained being out at that hour.