Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Wednesday July 27, Grey Days and New Ways

Famous english weather all outside. Its about as grey as it gets. Can be depressing. On the other hand...

  • Have installed a wireless network at home so can access the web from anywhere. This is cool. What this means is I can keep the news on and work from the living room or at night surf while I'm tucked in.
  • Regular and honest work at the gym has finally helped me get rid of the couple of kilos I put on in Barcelona and the easy living thereafter
  • No shortage of work to keep me occupied
  • Have also managed to figure out how to add pictures to the blog
  • The football season is nigh, pre-season games have begun. Active debates have broken out over my football fanatic friends discussion groups and the transfer season is reaching its climax
  • Despite the London bombings, so far, people have behaved admirably, sensibly and cohesively. The muslim community have declared a fatwa on the bombers, the public have voted in favour of a shoot-to-kill policy despite the tragedy of the Brazillian guy. And the police have done a dramatically good job so far in tracking down the miscreants and the network.

Grey is only a state of mind.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Managed to put up about 30 of the 300 pictures I've taken in Barcelona. The captions, fortunately are in English, not Katakana.

Barcelona - Late Nights, Gaudi, Miro and Machismo.

On Wednesday night we wandered into the Placa De Reial somewhere between 1 and 2 AM. You may not think much of the Placa De Reial if you came across it on a hot sunny day – in fact you may dismiss it as yet another European courtyard scene bordered with Restaurants and Cafés. But given that the square was packed at 2 AM, it definitely painted a very bohemian tableau – like something out of an improbable Bacardi ad. There were groups scattered on the ground, squatting with guitars, practicing street performances, people dancing or just milling and talking, wandering arm in arm, greeting people, stopping for a glass of wine or a mug of beer, all perfectly natural things to do at 2 AM apparently, at the Placa De Reial. I have to point out, that despite 250 people, mostly young and marginally more male than female in composition, never gave the impression of being unsafe, or yobbish or in any way belligerent. In fact this culture of benign drinking and sang-froid is a microcosm of Barcelona – friendly, easy going, extroverted, but gentle, with a heightened sensitivity for art, architecture and design. Very reflective of the artistic influence of Gaudi and Picasso and Miro, the sporting legacy of the Brazillians, (Ronaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho) and the Dutch (Johann Cruyff, Philip Cocu, Ronald Koeman et al) not coincidentally, one suspects, 2 countries known for the art and intelligence of their football.

Tuesday night: we wandered through the Barri Gotic, the old, apparently jewish part of town – an area symbolized by a number of very old buildings, narrow alleys, quaint stores and bars, and an ever open invitation to explore. The place we were looking for, and found, with some effort, was something called a Harlem Jazz Club, where they say you never know just what you’ll find, by way of music. On this given night, we found our way past the bar to a corner table in an L shaped room, facing the corner where there was a performance about to start. The ensemble was a curious one, 2 violinists, a double bass, a couple of hand played percussions and a couple of wind instruments – trombones. The band looked like they would have been perfectly at home performing in a beach shack in Goa, or indeed living there. Their music when it started was very reminiscent of an Indian shaadi band – but freed of playing their rendition of “Didi Tera Dewar…” and allowed instead the freedom of jazz experimentation and egged on by a supportive crowd of 50 or so. To be honest, I was more amused than impressed. Starting with a version of Zorba the Greek, played more with gusto than with finesse, they wandered through a few other less known pieces, sounding more and more like the shaadi bands of India. Then, somewhere just after midnight, a strange thing happened: this guy, who looked more Goan than Pinto or Carvalho, picked up the trombone and suddenly and effortlessly, took the music by the scruff of its neck into a completely different plane. It was as though all that had gone before was a different set of musicians. The band fell in line with him and he blew some incredibly sweet notes and for the next and rather short 45 minues, he transported the crowd to a very happy and heady place and kept us quite enthalled. It was this music, I’m convinced, more than the couple of very stiff Bacardi’s I drank which led to my sudden and utter intoxication, whereupon I had to be guided home by Karuna and the walk while entertaining was far from easy.

Last 4 hours in Barcelona. Sitting at a Starbucks (that amazing symbol of Catalan culture and tradition!) and reflecting on what I’ve seen of Spanish culture. Oh yes, an important quirk that must be noted is the way toilets are organized. In restaurant after restaurant, bars and cafes, the loo is either unisex or has a common area from where the men’s and women’s rooms are branched off. The structure is patently consistent – anybody walking in has direct line of sight to the urinals. Having thought about it at length I can only conclude its intended to be that way. It’s a show. A performance. Perhaps it’s a sign of masculinity! Once you get past the discomfort of knowing that there are women passing by who can see you in an act which I at least have never thought to be a particularly graceful one, you can get into the stride of it. Suddenly your posture changes, you hold your shoulders out, straighten your back hold your stomach in, and in general try to look like a statue of Adonis or Hercules at the alter of the bladder. Let all that power surge through you as you empty your bladder with the masculinity flowing through your veins. If after all that you can still pee, you’ll undoubtedly find the experience an exhilarating one.

I have to learn Spanish and come back here. There’s too much happening and the little conversation that slip past my ears opaquely leave me with a vague sense of superficiality. Lives are quite intricate here. The air is half tropical, which brings a certain density to the air, the society and the culture.

Of course, its not possible to end a story about Barcelona without mention of Gaudi, Picasso or Miro. At the same time, its hard to think of things which haven’t been mentioned already – given the gazillion books published in every conceivable dialect on these guys. Let me therefore keep my comments brief and personal.

Gaudi was to architecture what the Sergeant Peppers album was to rock music. A creative force who was not only ahead of his time, but remains a tour de force to this day. This analogy is a bit unfair to Gaudi since he preceded the Beatles by the better part of a century. Today we’ve just spent 2 hours at his Casa Batlio. To describe it in words will not do justice even if I write for the next 2 whole days (and indeed, you read all of it!). Gaudi took his architectural inspiration from nature, and combined the creativity and unshackled thinking of a Dali with all the clarity and functionality that is the hallmark of a good architect. The Casa Batlio has a marine theme and apart from Gaudi’s usual style of “no corners and no right angles”, also manages to utilize the marine theme through the house. The central courtyard, for example uses darker tiles at the top, with smaller windows, where sunlight is plentiful, and light tiles and big windows on the lower floors to maximize available light. Ventilation and insulation are thought through in detail and every stunning arch or curve is implemented with a vision of utility that is breathtaking. The terrace, the coup de grace of most Gaudi buildings, has his signature fantasy like structures, decorative chimneys, dragons or just parapets, with mosaics of coloured tiles and glass, intended to make the terrace look different by time of day, season or just weather.

The Sagrada Familia and the La Pedrera are 2 of his other well known constructions. I've described the former earlier in this blog (scroll down) and the pictures of the La Pedrera can be found here:

In fact here's a link to all of Gaudi's life and work:

I suspect I'll be writing about Barcelona for a few more days till I can get all these highly charged neural impulses quieted down from their state of extreme excitement.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Miro and Picasso.

I've always liked contemporary art, and I'm usually careful to avoid the stigmatized term "modern art" as I introduce this. Once the purpose of Art moved away from representing reality - this came with the emergence of photography, there was clearly more to life than creating portraits and landscapes which were stunning in their ability to replicate life. This was, I'm convinced, the source of modern art and all that came with it. I'm yet to find any formal studies supporting this thought. So may be someday I'll try to do one. For the time being let this serve as my personal understanding of Modern Art.

Miro and Picasso had lives and careers that effectively spanned the birth and maturing of Modern art. Both spent time in Paris in the early part of the 20th century in the midst of all the avant garde poets, philosophers, artists and thinkers who seemed to congregate there at the time. Both were spanish and retained strong roots with spain, more so Miro than Picasso. Both formed very deep and strong styles which over their body of work becomes an entire system of codes, semiologies and symbols. Both turned their backs on realism though both draw great inspiration from it at different points in their career. And both seemed to understand the commercial aspects of their work alongside the purely artistic ones. And in an retrospective of their works, its diffucult not to get swept away by a feeling of awe at their capability to follow through on artistice beliefs which were significantly at odds with a lot of what preceded them.

The Fundacio Joan Miro at Montjuic in Barcelona offers a fairly comprehensive walk through of Miro's life - from the last decade of the 1800s, to his death in 1983. The contexts of the emergence of modern art, the impact of the Spanish civil wars, the World Wars and all that happened through his life is clearly reflected in much of his work, but also evident is his evolution through experimentation, analysis and self evaluation which leads him to continue creating and expressing prolifically through his life.

I came away with 2 clear thoughts from the Miro museum. First, that the right to express is fundamental and any and everybody's work needs to be seen in light of this right to express. This expression may/ may not please us aesthetically, but is valid expression nonetheless. The second, that it is in the larger appeal of this expression that the distinction between art and mere expression lies. Something is art because the expression of the creator appeals to a larger set of people and evokes an intellectual or emotional response, which is positive but not necessarily a happy one. When Miro draws a curvy line and calls it the Solitude of a Convicted Man Doomed to die, and explains that he has spent 10 years thinking of the perfect squiggle to represent this thought - gives this expression a validity. Whether it's art or not, depends on whether the world reacts to the same canvas in some active way. Of course, the critics cast an undue shadow on this objective reaction of a viewer, but that is a whole new debate, which I will continue later.

Joan Miro says "My refusal to create beautiful things has led me to use the most... incongruous material for my work"... this in many ways to me is the crux of contemporary art. A move away from the beautiful, but perhaps a move that brings us closer to symbols that reflect real life around us. Modern art therefore paradoxically, is more real by being more symbolic.
Sagrada Familia... the Cathedral

Whats common to broken bottles, lizards, turtles, multi-coloured fruits, stained glass and statues from war mythologies? Answer: they're all found in Gaudi's work on the Sagrada Familias. Started in 1820s and expected to be finished in 2030, based on detailed (almost anatomical) drawings by Gaudi and initial work done by him, the Cathedral is again an outstanding example of the daring and almost iconoclastic work done by Gaudi. The Parc Guell - his residence, and other buildings like the La Pedrera all point towards the man who in the field of Architecture can only be compared with Dali, Picasso, and indeed, the Sergeant Peppers album.

The only comparison I can draw is the Cathedral in Cologne, but perhaps a vision of how it might look if you were seeing it while on an acid trip. "Picture yourself in a church in a city, with lizards, and cherries, and looking glass tiles... " :-)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Today is a strange day. The inevitable has happened... all along the police chiefs in London have been saying Terror in London is not an if but a when. On the good side there are already clear signs of the fact that people haven't panicked. Even locked in an underground train in the dark, with the carriage filling up with smoke, people had the presence of mind to try to crouch low in a packed train and to try to open the doors to walk to safety.

Out here in Barcelona its infuriating to have to watch CNN (the only English channel - no pun intended - at the hotel, on TV). All they seem to be interested in is the drama and the "story". You'd have thought with a large % of the city's population on the streets, unable to reach anywhere, and with communication systems failing to keep up with the load, the broadcast channels would try to restore a sense of calm and at the very least issue their own statements about some basic do's and don'ts... such as don't clog up the airwaves by talking on the phone unless you have to, or just stay where you are and get a message across to your loved ones... something of the nature... rather than keep looking for the grizzly stories, and the inane questions like "how important is the tube to london?" and "how busy does it get at office rush?"

Those who remember the Mumbai blasts, will remember also how the city was back to normal in 24 hours... lets hope London can display the same resilience - its the only way to handle the real threat of terror, which only seeks to displace and disrupt normal life.
July 6...

Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby

My holiday reading for the moment is Nick Hornby’s fever pitch. It’s such a stark counterpoint to the form of cosmopolitan football support we’ve grown used to – having come into London from all corners of the world. My support for Manchester United can be traced back to the simple coincidence that I started following English football closely in the 1999 season. Many of my friends in Mumbai and Delhi who have taken to the game before or after support Liverpool or Arsenal and I’m sure there are now legions of supporters of the new improved Chelsea. I have to admit, no matter how deep our joy or sorrow at outcomes of games – it all seems synthetic – and I often cringe when somebody says “you guys are playing at the weekend” – it seems like somehow I’ve connived myself into an elite set that I don’t really belong to – and it’s my own little dark secret. Reading Fever Pitch reaffirms what I’ve realized and believed all along. Football support for most people, in a place such as this, isn’t just about the game. It’s about identity, growing up, self discovery and a lifelong social contract.

The other fascinating analogy I’ve found so far, is, somewhere along the way Hornby makes a rant against the higher prices. His argument basically suggests that rising ticket prices changes the composition of the crowd – the working class and lower middle class punters get supplanted by families and middle classes and executive boxes. He also makes the curious point that the stadiums owe their atmosphere and the wall of noise to the aforementioned working class fans and that those in the executive box are getting this “atmosphere” free of cost. And that shorn of this segment of spectators, the whole proposition of the game may change for the rest of the viewers who may stay away. This of course, we know today is not true of Arsenal – they’re still as noisy and as crowded at Highbury, and no doubt, will be so at Ashberton Grove. But over at Old Trafford, the anti-Glazer demonstrations, I believe are simply alternative expressions of this same class struggle.

Recent demonstrations during the Glazer visits have driven a wedge between the larger body of reasonable United supporters and the rabid set of game-goers who’s actions have been soundly criticized as yobbish by supporters of the game from across the world. The real change that the Glazers pose to the Old Trafford faithful is actually the same as the one described by Hornby – a potential substitution of the working class faithful by a more “elite” and financially more secure set. The instrument of this of course is the ticket price. Manchester United, surprisingly has one of the lowest (if not the lowest) ticket prices among the major premiership clubs, and clearly the Glazers will want to rectify that to a more appropriate market clearing price – which clearly is much higher than the current one as evidenced by the thousands of people who want but can’t get tickets for the Old Trafford games. The rest of the arguments, like the debt etc. are clearly specious as nobody among the so called supporter groups really understands business well enough to make those claims and it was also reported that Arsenal took on a larger debt to build Ashberton Grove.
july 4

After 2 days in Barcelona, I’ve already got a heightened sense of what can happen if you can effectively combine hundreds of years of European culture with Latin American flair. A celebration of the proletariat, it sparkles with the efforts of a select few, such it’s most favoured son, Gaudi; but it throbs with the million heartbeats that seem to congregate in every part of town. Be it the beach, the town centres, or the far flung tourist spots, there’s no way you can avoid the sea of humanity. The Timeout guide suggests that this is, in fact, what makes Barcelona special – something about a post modern view of the La Ramblas being a horizontal monument alive with the pulsating crowds of people. That may be over the top for most people, but sitting here, on the Ramblas, I know what the writer means.