Sunday, 25 November 2007

Visit to Sorolla Museum

Visited the museum. Earlier this year I saw the "Sargent / Sorolla" exhibition at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. I became interested in the two painters. Was able to see Sargent's work in Boston (Public Library and Isabella Steart Gardner Museum) and now more Sorolla at the museum that was his home in Madrid. In the new year I hope to be able to visit the exhibition of the large-scale pictures he did for the Hispanic Society of America in New York.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Heart of England

Looking through a stack of CD-ROM discs that had lain forgotten for few years at the back of the cupboard I came across one of music that I saved from the format oblivion that will soon be the sort of vinyl records and tapes.

Among them was “The Heart of England”. This record is important to me as I remember as a child listening to it on a wind-up gramophone that my mother has used as a child. I was fond of the record but hadn't been able to listen to it since then as I accidentally broke it. Many years later I was able to buy another copy second-hand thanks to the Web. The original was a 78 rpm by His Master's Voice that my mother listened to as a child in the 1930s. The replacement copy is a 45 rpm single, I suppose from the 1960s (there's no date on it).

The reissue record has three recordings on it:

  • Daybreak at a Surrey Farm
  • In a Village Churchyard
  • Stedman Caters

Record label of the 78rpm edition of Heart of England“Stedman Caters” is change ringing (a musical composition with no melody) on the bells of St Margaret`s Westminster. “Daybreak at a Surrey Farm” is a recording of birds and animals on a farm at daybreak (chickens cackling in delight having just laid their eggs, cocks crowing, cows, pigs grunting, dogs barking, birds signing). “In a Village Churchyard” is a composition of sounds including a church organ and choir singing Easter hymns, bells ringing, birdsong, insects. Today, these are nostalgia for me but I imagine that when they were recorded they must have been an innovative use of new technology.

Today one expects to find on the Web at least some reference to almost anything that has ever been published. In this case it wasn't so easy. The only reference I found is in a catalogue of second-hand records. I write this blog post to leave some information for anyone else who vainly does the same search as me and draws a blank. This recording does exist and I have heard it.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

No switchable electric sockets in Spain

Having grown up in homes that had nearly all the mains electrical sockets with switches I had often wondered why the opposite was the case here in Madrid. For those who are not familiar with this design you can see a picture of a switched 13 amp wall socket. I use several appliances that draw mains current even when they're turned off (laptop computer for example) and wanted an easy way to cut off the power. So I strolled over to a nearby electrical shop, only to find that the person in charge didn't really know what I was talking about. I've since tried in two other electrical shops, ones catering to professional electricians and they tell me that such a socket doesn't exist here. Having thought about it, I don't remember the sockets in France having switches on them either.

If people can't turn off appliances at the mains one can only wonder what the implications of this are for electricity consumption in Spain.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Floods in Calpe

When the phone rang at nine o'clock I was asleep in bed blissfully unaware of what was happening a few floors below. When I went out onto the balcony I was more than slightly surprised to see water gushing down the side road and into the sea, washing away the sand and the beach furniture built on it.

Rather than receding, the water level continued to rise until the promenade was under water all the length of the building and was washing over the low wall.

As we couldn't get out of the building we stayed in and started rationing the little food we'd taken with us in the car.

Water and mud had flowed into the back of the building and out through the ground floor restaurants. A short circuit started a fire in the electrical meters on the ground floor and caused a small fire. The fire brigade came but couldn't put it out and we were without power (and lifts) for the rest of the weekend. On Saturday afternoon we put on short trousers and sandals and waded out to get some dinner. the restaurants were shovelling and pumping out mud. That was the moment we saw the devastation in the rest of the town which we hadn't seen until then because there was no television.

To finish off the weekend nicely we were woken at six in the morning on Sunday by a small earthquake that shook the building and rattled the glass.

You can see the other photos of the flood in my Picasa Album.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

New Prado Museum Extension

I went to visit the new extension to the Prado Museum. Except for a short but fun photographic series of pictures of people looking at pictures, there's no exhibition yet; the visit is just to admire the architecture. Well, I didn't admire it much. Granted, we didn't take the guided tour so perhaps we missed the explanation of what an achievement it is. Unfortunately the map we were given at the door was just that, with no explanation at all, although there is a quite good article about the building in English on the Website of the Culture Ministry.

The building has been designed by official fave architect Rafael Moneo. It seems like a spacious and functional building that makes maximum use of the space available (and the cloister of the church next door). From the shape of the rooms, asymmetrical spaces and odd angles on different levels, up and down escalators, so unlike the clean lines of the original Villanueva building, it's evident that one of the design priorities was to maximise use of every square metre of the available space. But it's not one that merits going there specially to look at the building, any more than one would the original one. I was reminded of the also recently-opened extension to the Reina Sofía Modern Art Museum which is so different. That building, with it's smooth, curved, blood-red walls reminiscent of a boat hull, seems to be designed not to make maximum use of the available site area but rather to enclose it in empty and unused spaces. The Reina Sofía museum extension certainly makes a bold gesture, while the Prado offering is an understatement.

The main door, a naturalistic tree-bark design by current official favourite sculptor Cristina Iglesias seemed oddly elaborate in what is otherwise a rather drab and plain design. Thinking of it as a work of sculpture rather than a door, it does seem appropriate for an art museum.

Clositer of the Jerónimos, now incorporated into the Prado museum extensionThe cloister seems like a good way to restore a derelict building, although I wonder whether it is necessary to take over a building in order to care for it. Leaving the Prado extension building I noticed scaffolding on the Jerónimos church, and also the sadly delapidated state of the façade; maybe the powers that be have realised after the event that it's a good idea to look after the buildings you already have before you start putting up new ones.