Saturday, January 31, 2009


Got back from my journey up North to the Basque country. I had to satiate my curiosity for Bilbao's Guggenheim and do some hiking in Donostia- San Sebastian. Hopped a train up through some beautiful mountain scenery, many rainbows stretched across verdant pastures. My heart skips a beat when I see large, snowy mountaintops summoned from the flat earth- a little reminder of home.

I have heard very little about Bilbao as a city and culture independent from associations with the Guggenheim. I read that Bilbao is primarily an industrial town, so I was pleased to find that much of the city centre was hugged between green hills and steep inclines. Not all grey and smokey as I imagined.

The Guggenheim was built in Bilbao as part of a revitalization project in the Basque country and it looks like the plan has succeeded. It is difficult to walk into that spiral of titanium and limestone without recognizing Frank Gehry's unique vision. Stepping into the atrium is like being sucked into the vortex of a conch shell. I paid a discounted entrance fee because the third floor was closed. An extensive body of Cy Twombly paintings and sculptures were being exhibited as well as a permanent work by Richard Serra, Jenny Holzer, Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois and some other stuff. Reproductions of art will often serve poor semblance to the original, as the case definitely is with the Serra pieces. I was completely in awe of the space that was provided for those huge works. Being enveloped in one of those metallic coils is an experience that a viewer cannot even comprehend from a picture. The Jenny Holzer piece was specifically made for the Bilbao location and the infinite strips of sinister phrases reflecting off the floor and ceiling freaked me out. But in an excitable and good way! I looked forward to seeing Koons' Puppy

but unfortunately it looked more like this:

The next day I set off with my friend to Donostia- San Sebastián. The Basques refer to their city as Donostia, whereas most other people will recognize it as San Sebastián. There were lots of nice hilly-mountainesque places that I could imagine myself trekking up, on our bus ride over. After throwing down our heavy packs at the hostel (which was crazy awesome), we ran towards the beach in eager anticipation for the briny rhythm of waves and sand. Man, it's so nice to return to the seaside. Sight for sore eyes. I was so stoked in my photo-taking induced state that I didn't notice the tide rush in up to my shins, soaking my hiking boots and pants. Whatev, how can you worry when the world looks this good?

And yes, that lady just ran into my picture naked. For the record, the sun was in my eyes, so I didn't intentionally mean to be a creep and snap this. But having a figure in the landscape does kind of add to the picturesque quality of this place, no?

Well, the next few days were pretty damp. We didn't get to do any real hiking after all, just walked up some local "mountains". We witnessed some pretty treacherous waves too. That was entertaining. Notice the man hiding behind the sculpture in the wave pictures. He was there for a long time. Possibly stranded. Possibly hypnotized. Terrified. I was in dismay that it was too wet to pull out the ol' sketchbook and scribble some landscapes though. Instead, I sketched in the comfort of our hostel.

I like the rain, it doesn't bother me all that much. We're waterproof after all. However, my sketchbook isn't. I managed to get a few scribbles done at the beach just before leaving for the train station.

When I got to the station I sketched some more.

Then I boarded the train and allowed the miserable baritone of Smog to deliver me through the dark evening, back to Madrid.

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