San sebastian and Madrid

31 07 2005
Ok well i´ve got a little while untill my flight so i can update on what i´ve been up to .
 San sebastian was great. There´s not much in the way of great backpacker tourist locations there (the number 1 attraacvtion in the lonely p,lanet is the aquarium – which didn´t look much chop) but it has nice beaches (gorgeous by european standards – we are spoiled back in oz) nice weather gorgeous old architecture and just has a really cool vibe. the jazz festival was on while i was there and my days consisted of going to the beach with a few new friends from the hostel and then out to the jazz on the beach at night. Throw in lots of beer and tapas (little gourmet bits of food you get with beer) and it was a good time.
Then i caught the bus down to madrid. while waiting for the bus (it left at 11.30pm) I was soo tired after the last few days partying that i fell asleep on the platform while some poor argentinian guy who had to wait till 6 in the morning for his bus was trying to make conversation with me. I woke up and apologised and then wen´t back to sleep. As soon as i got on the bus i fell asleep and didn´t wake till 7 hours later we pulled into madrid. 3 minutes after that i was navigating the madrid metro rail system (which is much more complex than the melbourne one). I actually didn´t get lost and ended up at the cats hostel. The cats hostel is what all hostel´s should be like, It has great facilities and is set in a beautiful old Moorish style building. More importantly they have a bar attached to the hostel where you get 1 litre cups of beer for €2.50. It´s been a great place to meet people and on my first day here lone 10 lone travelers coalesced into a big group for drinking games and then onto the clubs of madrid. Interesting people have come and gone every day but i´ve been hitting the town with a good sized crew every night.
I´ve made one or two good friends here – one guy Paul .. "born in philly, lives in missipi" has this long southern accent and covered in tattoo´s: first impression – he´s about the last person on earth you´d pick to have a degree in sociology and completing a masters in spanish linquistics. He really busts up the stereotypes thats for sure. It´s been great to hang out with when im not seeing the sites and speaks spanish which has made it easier.
I´ve been persevering with museums and have gone to the thyssen-baroness museum which had a a chronological structure to it´s galleries. SO i was able to go through and look at the different styles and evolution of european painting from the primitives to the gothics to the classicissts, dynamists, impresionists, post impresionists etc… So now i can tell what a painting is and to an extent hazzard an educated guess at what country it was painted in. This was good but i still wasn´t really appreciating the art. It was more a game to see if i could guess the origin and date a painting was done.
Anyway i went to the prado museum the next day and approached it totally differently. Didn´t have to try and work out what i was supposed to be looking for and found that yeah there´s alot of obvious skill in the paintings.  Most of the big names in painting were there up to the modernist period. Raphael, Carrevegio, Rubens, Velazsquez etc. I  really liked Titian´s pieces and it was interesting to see the progression in Goya´s work and i really like his later stuff. El greco, and El Bosco both had great stuff too.  That said i still don´t like the modernist pieces i saw, and i´m not blown away by paintings –  don´t know hom many more art galleries i´ll go to.
I´ve also been to the cathedral in madrid -(which although massive lacks the charecter and style of other cathedrals i´ve seen) and the Royal palace. The royal palace is amazing. The decadence of the palace really cannot be shown through photographs. Priceless chandeliers and paintings´s and ornaments  in every room.  I spend a fair few hours admiring the palace interior. Great collection of medieval weaponry in the armory as well.
Well thats the update. Soon i´ll be catching up with Bongers, Owen and Toppa to take eastern europe by storm!

More photo´s

30 07 2005
Ok guys i´ve just been able to add some more photo´s. There were heaps of tiems i´ve wanted to take photo´s but it would have been rude downright dangerous to do so. Anyway they´re up now. Don´t have time for a long entry suffice to say at the moment i´m visiting museums and thinking by day and going out and having a wild time with people from all over the world at night. 🙂

Seville and the pick-pocket

27 07 2005
I´m writing this now in sunny San Sebastian. A gorgeous town near the border of france. Although there´s not that many sights here (you know theres not much to see when lonely planet lists their top ´sight´as an aquarium), it´s a gorgeous city with beautiful old buildings, clean streets and nice beaches. The international jazz festival has been on so i´ve been baking  on the beaches during the day and then chilling with people from the hostel, drinking, talking and listening to the free jazz concerts on the beach every night. I´m heading on to Madrid tonight on yet another overnight bus. It saves me having to pay for a nights accomadation and i don´t mind the drives. 
On the way out of barcelona someone tried to pick-pocket me! I had just stepped onto a really crowded train on the way to the bus terminal. I stood out a mile with my huge-ass backpack, marking me a tourist. Anyway i didn´t feel his hand in my pocket, but i did feel his jacket (heavy jacket when it was a 30 degree day) which with his other hand he used to conceal what he was doing to on-lookers. I turned before he had a chanceto get my wallet and he just stood their looking caught.  I thought about making a little bit of a scene (by knocking him out) but decided against it, as he hadn´t got my wallet and i would have just made trouble for myself. So i stood their greasing him off and he stood their looking shifty and at the next stop he got off very quickly (aided by a little shove on his way). Luckily I´d been very wary whilst in barcelona and when i saw how crowded the train was i had moved my wallet from the pocket he tried to pick, to my front backpack…
Anyway the spanish adventures are nearly at an end, on the 31st I fly out to London and then on to Dubrovnic to meet up with the boys from uni. Should be awesome 🙂 .

Bilbao – The Guggenheim

25 07 2005
OK i was going to write a fair bit on this but got caught up on msn.. Anyway just visited the Guggenheim museum, in bilbao on my way through to San Sebastian. The architecture of this place is amazing. I could harp on about the details of the architecture but it´d probably bore everyone. Anyway i found the desighn of the place much more interesting than the actual art work it housed. I appreciate innovative architecture much more than innovative art. In fact this particular architect Frank Gerhy doesn´t draw a distinction.. but i said i wouldn´t get into it… Suffice to say it´s a very clever and clever piece of architecture.
The other thing i found interesting was not so much the art, but the way people approached it. Every patron of the museum is supplied with an audio guide that looks like a giant phone about the size of a police club. Anyway only some of the actual paintings had an audio commentary. I obseverved the way people looked at the art. It was interesting to note that most people would only give a brief passing glance to the work that did not have an audioguide however when they found a piece with an audioguide most people would stop and punch in the code and listen to what the big phone had to say on this piece. The entire museum was charecterised by clusters of people around art with audioguide and empty spaces surrounding pieces without audiouguides. It´s like people don´t interpret the art themselves but rather listen to what someone else has to say. Perhaps this is because people are lazy and can´t be bothered forming their own opinon or because they do not feel they know enough about art, or are smart enough to draw their own interpretations.. Perhaps they are listening, trying to work out how to say something that sounds clever about art in case someone asks them or so they can sound retell their trip to their friends whilst sounding intelligent, thus earning maximum kudos.
Some of the patrons (mostly men) walked around barely giving most of the works a cursory glance searching not for artwork that resonates with them but for the audioguide symbol that will tell them what to think. This reinforced the belief i had the other day that alot of art is out of touch with the common person. And some of the art i saw today, appeared to me more of an exercise in creative writing than in art. For example the audioguide provided an eloquent essay on the structure, form, representaions, connotations, and style of a piece that consisted of 100 identical pictures of marilyn munroe. People stood and looked at that ´pop art´alot longer than more original or challening pieces. It sounds so much more impressive when someone talks of "a challening example of Abstract expresionism" (quote from guide) rather than  ´2 chairs tied together with string´  and people do love to sound impressive…

Barcelona – disgustingly beautiful

24 07 2005
After my little refection i went for a walk down to the barcelona beach. Two things really struck me. Firstly how homogenous it was. It was very very very similar to the beaches in thailand. All along the side of the road were people sitting on the ground with a groud sheet of goods, (fake gucci sunglasses, beads, jewlery and all kinds of crap that people don´t really need). They were exactly the same kind of goods in exactly the same style in thailand, the only difference was that instead of being served by a poor asian they were serviced by poor africans. Even when i wen´t down to the beach it was the same, african men walked between the european sun bakers yelling out "Beer, coke, fanta, ice cold!" exacltly the same as the Thai´s did on the resort beaches. I called over one of these men and asked him about his job, he worked 9 hours a day walking up and down the beaches in the 30 degree heat saying the same thing, and hoping that the weather would be hot so he could sell more beer, i asked him how much he made and he told me 20 euro´s. Ok can you support a family like that? "no not enough money for a family i live with other workers from the beach 3 in the same room". I decided to buy a drink, though i wasn´t thristy. The difference betwen thailand and spain is that i could live for a king on Aus $30 a day, whereas here in Spain i´m scrapping by on $90 a day (30-40 on accomadation). So in real living terms these people were very very poor. At least in thailand there was enough margin in sales for the workers to live, but in an expensive city like barcelona, these people would have been worse off than the Thai´s. So while the beutiful people (and i mean gorgeous) sun-baked these workers walked around serving their whim for a drink. Some of the sun bakers would make fun of the drink sellers, mimicing their broken english and accent.
The other thing that struck me was that i was more interested in thinking about this situation and reading my book on liberal economics than i was at looking around at all the beautiful topless women everywhere on the beach! (what the hell is wrong with me?).  Thats right, for those of you who don´t know in europe everyone sunbakes topless. But their were plenty of other guys doing just that. The whole scene struck me as gross – the men perving on the girls, while they drink beer from the poor beer sellers men, the rich girls lazing around naked getting massages from the poor massage-service women.
On the way back to the hostel i was walking past the rug sellers when a cop car was stopped at the lights, the cop decided to get out of the car and all of a sudden, all these africans had folded up their rugs of goods and were running for the hills. It took about 4 secounds and all of a sudden there were about 60 sellers, with gurs full of goods over their shoulders high tailing it! The cop walked after one but couldn´t be bothered running and got back in his car and drove off. Before he was even out of sight the rugs were back on the groud and the sellers were rearranging their goods. It was almost comic.
I walked around barcelona that night not out to have a good time but just observing the city.
I watched a bag snatchersitting in in an internet cafe (easy enough to spot as he was in front of a computer but was not logger on, I decided to observe him. I  watched him walk up to grab the bag (i then foiled him by yelling out) and he walked quickly out.
I watched two cops beat a man in front of a restaurant – you could see he wanted to hit the cop back but he was too afraid.
I was offered hash 6 times.
I watched as the drunken crowds did the universally ugly things that drunk people on the town do.
I watched the same poor pakistani´s now out at 1am in the morning trying to sell beer to the foreighners who they hoped would be drunk enough to buy it from them for slightly cheaper than in the club (these guys were everywhere)
I looked at the large number of dirty homeless people begging, or stoned out of their mind.
I talked to a man working in a shop that sold swords, and knives (open at 12pm on a saturday night in the middle of the city) he told me he worked a 14 hour day and made only 1 euro an hour. I was incredulous to this but i had enquired he hadn´t offeredit. I talked more to this man and he told me he works 14 hours a day so he can live. He says his boss makes him sign a sheet saying he payed a certain amount of money and then gives him much less. He has to stand most of the time he is working, because the security camera, is focused on the till. This is because it´s not checking for shoplifters, but so the owner of the store can check to make sure that the worker is standing up and serving people. He tells me he must stand for most of the day and shows me the injuries on his legs which hurt while he works. He lives with 3 other men in a bedroom and their is only enough room for the beds in the room, the are all working in similar conditions. He has been in spain 3.5 years and it has been like this, though he hopes it will change in a few months when he tries to change jobs. I ask him out the front of the store and once out of view of the camera offer him some money, he thanks me but refuses telling me that it is ok, and that he is living and that he can eat. (but he told me he can´t afford to eat after his 14 hour shift, only in the morning. Apparently it is not the same for all spanish workers, but for many imigrants it is like this.  
Barcelona is a beautiful city, filled with beautiful people (muscley bronzed men, and lithe spanish women) but scratch the surface and this beautiful city has an ugly underbelly. The different worlds of the rich and poor living in the same city is stark.
I will remember that night much better than if i had of gone to one of the kicking clubs in this paradoxical city…

Bender reflection

24 07 2005
The last few days i have been in a hostel, made up entirely of french speakers.. In retrospect i should have changed hostel, but i figured at the time english speakers would move in and i would just hang with them, this didn´t happen. The guys in my room were friendly but it´s hard when you don´t speak the same language. I did make friends with these two american guys from MIT and spent a bit of time hanging out with them, went on a pub crawl with them which was heaps of fun. Met some friendly fins too. Anyway the french guys in my room had one focus – to pull as many chicks as possible. It was just so blatant that was all they came to barcelona for. It made me think about what i want from this trip. I wrote this the other day after a bender with the american boys (i´m always very sappy and reflective after a bender):
Many guys i have met are simply out there to party and pull chicks. Thats fine if thats all they want, but i want something more from a trip abroad then drinking beer and chasing girls. I can do that back home. It seems silly now, but I think that subconsciously i was hoping that sometime on this trip i would see something beutiful or meet some fascinating/wise person and all of a sudden something inside me would click, and i would just be enlightened. But now I don´t think that travel is intrisicly enlightening. Talking to many other travelers it´s obvious that travel alone does not lead to personal insight.    So what else do i want from this trip. It´s more than just being able to say i´ve travelled around the world, although that is a part of it. When i look back on my life, i want to be able to say i lived it well. I don´t wanna look back and say ´man i coulda done so much more´.  But it´s not just so i can say i´ve been places. I´ve met people like that, people that spend lots of their time talking about where they´ve been, or where they are going. An example is those people who can be right in front of something beutiful and all they talk about is how it reminds them of some other time they were somewhere else, or how it´s good but wait for this thing in the future (i´m hearing that alot from other tourists on the road). They often strike me as lacking substance.

I have a feeling that when i meet up with the boys, this trip will be a holiday not a journey. That will be great, it will be wild times and great memories. But beyond that , what else will i take away from this period?


Picasso and Art (rant)

24 07 2005

Friday, July 22, 2005

Ok i feel the need to write something.
Firstly i went to the picasso museum today and i´ve decided that if you want to learn about a painter buy a book. Don´t go to the museums! I´ve been to two museums dedicated entirely to picasso now and i still haven´t seen the work that made him famous. This is apparently ´the´picasso museum, anyway all starts off well with a nice biography of his development up to about the age of 20. Now i can appreciate he´s good up to this point, he´s still emulating the classic painters. Anyway just as he´s about to experiment with cubism the exhibit jumps ahead 50 years. and all of a sudden it´s just totally different and i mean really different – the stage where he´s trying to emulate the drawing of a child. Theres a 50 year gap in what the museum shows. I thought i´d bugered up the order of the rooms or something and when i asked they told me that all the work from that period is in other museums. So now after going to two museums i still haven´t seen most of the work that made him famous or a logical progresion of his style. – conclusion if you want to learn about art, don´t go to a museum- read a book. With a book you also get a comentary with every picture rather than having to try and decipher it yourself as well.
In all seriousness i have just developed a new appreciation of books. Because i don´t think i really understand art, and to be honest i don´t have the time to learn. I mean it´s just not a useful thing to learn about, if one has no intrinsic interest. The whole modern art thing strikes me as a wankfest. I think picasso was probably brilliant. But interestingly alot of his work is similar to the paintings done by manics and also schizophrenics i´ve seen at mental asylums. The same use of bright colour and disjointed reality. I also think picasso opened the door wide for a whole heap of wankers to call themselves artists. And sit around admiring each others crap. I . I always thought it was because i just didn´t understand art. But now i realise it´s more than that. I now have a rudimentary understanding of Picasso´s work and his early stuff is relatively straight forward, and i can estimate the perioud in which he drew somethign to within about 3 years (was practicing at the museum). I know have a good idea of his life and its fair to say i probably understand his early stuff to some degree. But who cares! Because you need a serious amount of time to even begin to understand this art properly. And i don´t gain pleasure out of standing in front of a picture trying to work out what the hell is going on and what represents what. Art has value in it´s ability to move someone. And the fact is that if some art only appeals to pretentious wankers with nothing better to do than sit around looking at pictures and congratulating themselves on the big words they can use to describe each others crap and looking down on those without the time to look into it – then thats fine for those people but i don´t want any part of it. Not saying all art is like that (i went to the museum of fine arts in seville and those paintings can be appreciated by the common person) – but alot of modern stuff seems to be. In contrast idea´s change everything. They aim to clarify rather than obscure. And they have meaning, utility and power. For example the ideas of religion which are the cause for all the beutiful buildings and all the historyi have been lucky enough to appreciate so far on this trip.For me personally, i would rather appreciate and evaluate an idea than a painting.