Razzbuffnik gets caught taking a sunset. Burunchel, Spain. 2009

I can quite often be heard to say “any idiot can take a sunset; just be there and F8”.  Many artists, of which I do not consider myself one, think that bright beautiful colours are a seductive distraction from “real art”. 

Unfortunately for me, I am in control of my desires as much as a bug that flies into a lit candle.  I’m a sucker for bright colours (you may have noticed); spicy foods and raucous music.  So it should come as no surprise that I clandestinely love sunsets whilst publicly heaping scorn on them.

Engogirl has produced photographic proof of what a slut for sunsets I actually am.

The shame, the shame!

Tengo by Macaco

About the only TV stations in Spain that we can watch and understand are CNN and Fox and those two options are so bad that we can’t bear to watch them. The only brainless relief we can find to vegetate in front of are two music channels. Sort of the MTV of Spain and as such most of what they offer is quite mediocre along the lines of Shakira and Robbie Williams.

One video though, stands out and has caught our attention and it’s of the Barcelona band “Macaco” and their song “Tengo” which is on high rotation at the moment.

So I thought I’d share with you some contemporary music from Spain. The video shown here isn’t the original shown on TV but a video made by a guy called Chan Chan that has various people miming the words and having a generally good time.

[youtube GbwiyHfzYXA]

Buying the stairway to heaven. Burgos Cathedral, Spain. 2009

About three weeks ago I was in Burgos, Spain, where I visited the Catedral de Santa María which is the burial place of El Cid.

Needless to say Hollywood’s version of El Cid’s life bears no resemblance to the one lived by the man himself. There isn’t that much of El Cid’s life to be seen at the cathedral other than a marriage contract and an old trunk said to be his coffin. El Cid has been buried under the floor of the cathedral and unlike so many other people intered there, there is nothing but an inscription to mark where the great man is buried.

This brings me to the point at which I start my rant.

There are times when I look at gigantic structures like cathedrals and I think to myself, “what a colossal waste of time, money and effort”.

When I was in Bangkok a few years ago I can remember having the same thoughts about the Buddhist temples and then it occurred to me how much industry and commerce religion causes. For example in Thailand there is a whole industry employing thousands of people who just prepare the offerings that are changed everyday, that go into household shrines.

In short religion keeps a lot of people in employment.

Even the small shrines and chapels in the nooks and crannies of the cathedral would’ve kept teams of craftsmen busy for years. So when I was looking around the cathedral in Burgos I found myself once again thinking about all the people and the wide range of skills that were employed to construct such an amazing building. Make no mistake, the Burgos Cathedral is amazing. It has it all; beauty, size, complexity and history.

The trouble I started to have with the cathedral was when I started thinking about where the money came from to build it. The answer of course is the people. Back in medieval times the common person’s life was short, brutish and full of misery. Archeological evidence from medieval graves has shown that the lower classes quite often suffered from malnutrition and often went through long periods of starvation while their overlords lived the high life.

Which brings me to my next problem; the aristocracy.

Back in the old days if you were a bigger and nastier than other people you just took their stuff and if you were really good at fighting you built up a gang around yourself and made a career of making other weaker people’s lives miserable.

As Thucydides (c. 460 B.C. – c. 395 B.C.) once said, “”Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

The aristocracy is basically a group of people who have descended from the worst kind of people and who for some strange reason think that they are better than others. It always blows me away when I talk to people who defend the whole idea of rule by monarchs as though it were a good thing. The idea that someone who comes from a long line of selfish bloodthirsty bastards would make a good leader in this day and age strikes me as completely ridiculous.

So what has this got to do with Burgos cathedral?

Over time Burgos cathedral has become shrine to aristocratic hubris and ego. Huge chunks have been added to the original medieval cathedral by rich people trying to buy their way into heaven. All over the church are either paintings or statues of rich people that try and associate them with god.

For example there are paintings of archbishops (a common person could never hope to rise so far in the old church) in triptychs showing the crucifixion as if to say, here is god and I’m his best mate.

Probably the most disgusting display of overwhelming arrogance and cluelessness on display is the Chapel of the Constable which houses the bodies of Pedro Hernández de Velasco, Constable of Castile and his wife Doña Mencia de Mendoza.

The chapel it’s self is a tour de force in carved stone with lifelike carvings in Carrara marble of the constable and his wife. The chapel was begun just before Columbus found the Americas so gold that had been tortured out of the Indians wasn’t yet available for its construction so it can only be assumed that the peasantry of Castile paid for its construction with their blood sweat and tears.

Building a church that employs a lot of craftsmen because the people have a fervent faith is one thing, bleeding an already oppressed people to build a hugely expensive monument to one’s greed and desire to buy their way into St. Peter’s good books is utterly unforgivable.

A pox on Pedro Hernández and people like him.

The Valencia branch of the Oscar Niemeyer fan club. Spain. 2009

Engogirl is presenting a paper at a workshop on environmental hydraulics at the University of Valencia and we are staying near Valencia’s City of Arts and Science (Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias).

The city within the city is mostly the work of Santiago Calatrava and from where I stand I’d say he’s a fan of the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.

To my mind, nothing dates faster than a vision of the future. While I applaud the Spanish for their architectural daring, Calatrava’s designs look to me like Jurassic Park meets Space Mountain at Los Angles Disneyland. Sort of like if Oscar Niemeyer had been asked to design something influenced by dinosaur bones.

On one hand I like seeing unusual buildings and what Calatrava has designed is very spectacular, I felt that they already looked out of date as if they were some kind of vision of the future from 1957 and it surprised me that they were designed in the late 1990s.

As the sun went down in Avila. Spain. 2009

I first saw the fortified walls of Avila back in 1982 as I sped by in a train bound for Madrid. From the moment I saw Avila I wanted to go there but by various turns of fate it wasn’t until 27 years later that I’ve had the chance to finally visit it.

Avila looks like the archetypal medieval walled city I used to fantasize about as a child.

Being an Australian of Anglo-Celtic descent I’ve always felt a bit adrift in a country that I wasn’t genetically designed for and my thoughts often turned to Europe and its history. As a child I was disappointed that Australia didn’t have any castles or major battlefields.

In Australia conquest was mainly achieved with alcohol and germs. There have been a few uprisings of disgruntled convicts and miners that were all quashed with very little blood spilt. All very underwhelming for a little boy who hadn’t the slightest inkling of what a horrifically gory business medieval warfare was in reality. As in butchery of the kind that would be considered too cruel to inflict on animals but practiced on men in the name of some cause that was usually a thin excuse to steal someone else’s land.

Castles and walled cities are amazing things. Vast amounts of effort, thought and materials go into their construction and despite the fact that tourists find them so picturesque, they represent a need to be secure from the most unimaginable violence. Just about every fortification ever built has been the scene of intense carnage. I find as I look at such places, I can’t help but imagine what it must have been like to be either standing on the battlements looking at a sea of armed men with mal intent approaching with ladders, or being one of the poor sods carrying the ladders and trying to scale the high walls while it was raining arrows, rocks and boiling oil.

Often when I walk up and around the walls of fortified cities it almost makes me feel sick as I imagine people being pushed off the scaling ladders as they finally reached the battlements.

It’s always a long way down.

Engogirl (henceforth known as Don Rodrigo) and I sat outside of the city near the base of the wall and spent a fair bit of time talking how we would try and take the city.

Me (henceforth known as Don Pedro): “So Don Rodrigo how do you propose we get our men over these walls?”

Don Rodrigo: “We will build catapults and fling the men over the walls.”

Don Pedro: “It’s a fine and amusing idea but there are no big trees around here to build the machines of war.”

Don Rodrigo: “Yes of course you are right!”
“Perhaps we could sow discontent with spies”

Don Pedro: “There is no such thing as free speech in these times and the provocateurs will only be arrested, tortured and executed, possibly exposing our intent.”

Don Rodrigo: “We could use infiltrators and poison the water wells.”

Don Pedro: “That would surely work but then the water would be undrinkable for us when we take the city.”

Don Rodrigo: “Eureka, I’ve got it!”
We’ll attack the city a few weeks before the harvest.”
“That is when the food stocks will be lowest and we will be able to take the harvest for our own men while the defenders starve!”

Don Pedro: “I like the way how you think!”
“After a couple of months into the siege as it comes close to Christmas we could throw bread over the walls as a Christian gesture.”

Don Rodrigo: “But why would you give food to people we are trying to starve?”

Don Pedro: “Because it will be poisoned!”

Don Rodrigo: “It is a brilliant idea Don Pedro, but will not the enemy be suspicious?”

Don Pedro: “You are right my valiant friend; perhaps we could set up in infiltrator in the city with poisoned flour, months before the attack and allow the flour to be discovered six months into the siege as the common people and soldiers are beginning to starve.”

Don Rodrigo: “I think we now have a plan!”
“We must keep it a secret from our noble friends as I’m sure they would deem such warfare dishonourable and unbecoming gentleman”

So our conversation continued as the sun went down.

Soon it was too cold to be sitting on the damp grass and we walked back into the city to find a place to eat.

The Spanish are a nocturnal species. They rise late to work a few hours, only to go home again for several hours to eat and sleep, and then in the afternoon they arise to work some more until it gets dark.

Because of the way how the Spanish live it is almost impossible to get anything to eat, other than cakes and tapas until after 8 o’clock when the restaurants start to serve meals.

The streets in Spain can be deserted at 2 in the afternoon but very busy at 11 at night.