Good morning/night, depending on where you are.
This is the first installment of a new series, called ‘Where am I Writing From?, which covers the different parts of the world I visit. This first installment is about the basque city of Bilbao, in northern Spain.
I left my hometown at about 10 am on the morning of Friday the 8th of January. The drive north took about four hours, plus a coffee break and bathroom stop along the way so, by the time we left our things in the hotel and found a place to have lunch, It was almost 4 pm, and we were hungry! We found a shopping centre and ate at an Italian place called La Mafia. After lunch (Caramelized provolone with bacon, nuts and currants – yum!), we headed out to the tourist information office. There, they directed us toward the historical city center, our objective for the afternoon, which is composed of the seven oldest streets of the city, a church and a cathedral. We also saw a couple of theaters, as well as the riverside market and the Azkuna Zentroa, a culture and leisure centre built in a building formerly used to store wine.
Bilbao is an interesting place. From the heart of the city, it seems as though it is clearly an urban environment but, as soon as one moves away from the downtown area and the buildngs aren’t as high, it is easy to notice the soft green hills that surround the city. The modern downtown area also differs in many senses from the historic city area which, although small, has many hidden corners of interest. Here are some snippets:
Everything comes together in Bilbao: city, mountain, village and sea. But there are certain sections of the city that deserve a special mention.
I woke up to a slightly sunnier morning than the day before, which had been rainy. After we had breakfast at the same bar as half of the Ertzaintza (Basque police force), we headed toward the cable car that would take us to the top of one of the hills that surround Bilbao. From there, we were able to see the whole city:
After that we descended from the top of the hill and walked along the riverside, where we saw, among other things, Traineras (typical basque boat). We had lunch at a place called Berri Iparagirre, and then we made our way towards Bilbao’s most well-known building: The Guggenheim Museum.
When I though of abstract art, I used to imagine colourful blobs and/or splashes with no apparent meaning. And until now, that is what it was for me. Until I saw the Guggenheim. There I learned that abstract art does have a meaning, although many times the viewer is given freedom of interpretation (up to a point). The first piece you see, when you enter the museum, are a series of columns, made to fit the area that was alloted to them, that are covered in leds which convey messages about AIDS in English, Spanish and Basque. Then there is a couple of rooms for temporal exhibitions and a big room with various gigantic metal sculptures created by Richard Serra. Visitors can walk among and inside these sculptures and appreciate the dizzying sensation of space in motion that they convey. Then visitors move on to the next floor, also occupied by temporary exhibitions. In this case, the exhibition was called Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design. And this is where I reached my second conclusion about abstract art: it can really make you think. And not just about the meaning of the different pieces, but of the story behind them. All the little (and not so little) bits and pieces that were shown came from cultures that I had barely considered before. They were made by people who see things in a way that was totally different from how I see them, and at the same time has so much in common with it. The work shown spread across a large number of fields and demonstrated some of the countless innovative solutions that a new generation of thinkers with origins so different from ours propose for their continent and for the rest of the world. The explanations on the walls included a series of quotes which I felt summed up the exhibition perfectly, so I copied them down for you:
- ‘Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunters’
Chinua Achebe, Nigerian writer
- ‘In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myelf’
- ‘[This] strange, familiar environment […] is dense with story’
Teju Cole, Every Day is for the Thief
Lastly, we went up to the third floor, where the permanent exhibition is. We didn’t spend much time there, because we were tired, so we went back to the hotel and later on went to out to dinner again.
Some of the most well-known sculptures in the Guggenheim Museum are, however, on the outside. We stopped and saw those on our way to the cable car in the morning. Here are a few:
The first thing we did that morning was check out of the hotel. We left our suitcases in the car and then went in search of a suitable place to have breakfast. We finally found a place called Bertiz where I had the best latte of my life.
After that, we went to an exhibition called Lights, by Dreamworks, which housed paper lantern likenesses of the characters of the Kung-fu Panda, Shrek and Madagascar franchises.
And once that was over, we hopped into the car and headed home, where I hung up the postcards of Bilbao I bought for my collection.