Tuesday, September 04, 2018

New Year's Resolution 8: «Los cuatro muchachos de Liverpool»

This month's Spanish culture discovery is a bit weak. I was going to visit the Ceramics Center of Triana, but their opening times are prohibitive for those who work, so even if I pass by every day on my way to work and back, I didn't manage.

I also though about writing about a ceramics/porceline factory called La Cartuja, as I wanted to visit their Outlet store to buy some little neat things, but that didn't happen either. I hope I get around to those two things - eventually...

Instead, my pop-cultural discovery of the month is a Spanish release of the Beatles' album, or a soundtrack, which they call "Que Noche La De Aquel Dia" - a hard days night. I happen to find an LP which, according to the internet, is the second pressing of the album in Spain. It's not from 1964, but  like these guys say, it's from1982. It looks like this:
The cover is different to both the first
Spanish pressing and the UK version (says this site)

The LP was first released in Spain in October 10 1964. It's actually pretty curious to think that during the hard core Franco time, the release was allowed. I need to talk to people whose parents were young then, maybe they remember and have some memories to tell.

Googling a bit around, I found this interesting exposition from 2016 in Barcelona which was about banned rock songs during the Franco time. The Guardian writes the following: 
From 1960 to 1977 the four censors working the afternoon shift at the Directorate of Popular Culture in Madrid banned a total of 4,343 songs on grounds of their sexual, blasphemous or politically subversive content.

Most songs cited in it are from the 70's or so, nothing that early as 1964 though. Maybe pop was so pop already then that no one was able to find it offensive ;p

Regading the reference to the film and Spanish industry to produce their own, in this book, I found an interesting passage about popular films at that epoque, which I should try to find and see!!

Epiloque: as after finishing the post, I could not stop googling around about the topic, I found this interesting article which explains the heading.

Mental note: study the perception of Western pop music in Spain in the early 60s and its own response to it, e.g. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_chicos_con_las_chicas

Sunday, July 22, 2018

New Year's resolution 7: Palacio de Alba

The Duchess of Alba (no: 18), also known by one of her many names as Cayetana de Alba, was a figure often seen in Spanish gossip magazines when I moved to Spain in mid-2013. With her wild, white, frizzy curly hair and being well past 80 years, she seemed always up for little fun - usually a move of sevillanas, which, of course, people here in Seville loved!

Stables with an old arch
from a mosque built by mores.
One of her Palacios is open to public since 2016 (she passed away in 2014). It is called Palacio de las Dueñas, the name pointing to an old monastery called Santa María de las Dueñas which used to be in the same premises (from 1248 onwards).

But, as the visit to the Palacio's stables reveals, the arches that hold up the stalls are from some old mosque that was built there already in the 4th or 6th century! Apparently they go down underground some 2m deep.

The place is a mix of styles, like everything is Andalusia, from gótico-mudéjar style to Luise XV and renaissance. It was constructed in the late 15th century onwards. It has great gardens too. Somehow, though, the place is a bit shallow, it does not really tell much about the last Duchess, even if she lived there among many other places that she owned.

So I googled something more about her, a few funny anecdotes will follow.

I found some really neat pictures from her youth which reveal some more personality about her. What, of course, pleases me most are the pictures of her on horse-back!

La duquesa de Alba es una mujer que vive con toda pasión la fiesta sevillana. Foto: Archivo ABC

Apparently, she even took Jackie Kennedy out to Feria on a horse-back!

Jacqueline Kennedy visita la Feria de Abril de Sevilla en 1966 acompañada de la duquesa de Alba.
Also, because of her many titles (the most titled aristocrat in the world!) and privileges, she also had a right to enter the cathedral of Seville on a horse!! I wonder if that ever happened?

Apart from the passion for horses and dogs, she of course also had a big collection of art, and she did some painting herself too. Interestingly, when she wanted to marry for the 3rd time in her 80s, there was some push-back from her children. In order to marry, she passed on much of her wealth (which was estimated at somewhere between €600 million and €3.5 billion) to her children and her soon-to-be-husband renounced any claim to her wealth. The list of much valued art is amazing, but funnily enough, it also included a first-edition copy of Cervantes's Don Quixote!!

One of her ancestors, who also held the dukedom of Alba, was also called Cayetena (13th duchess of Alba), was somewhat a rebel of the time and there are some famous Goya painting of her. But there is also the story of La Maja vestida de Goya, and that of a nude one being her, which apparently is fake news!

Here is also a link about her by her own words (in Spanish) and one in English

Sunday, May 20, 2018

New Year's resolution 5: the prison where Cervantes served his time

I finally got around to start reading the massive book of Don Quijote de la Mancha, not in Spanish though. I had already heard that Cervantes has some connection with Seville, but now that I started reading his main piece of art, it also felt natural to check about his time in my hood.

Here is an image of how the prison looked back in the day.
It turns out that he spent about a year in prison here betwen 1597-1598! At the time, the prison, called La Cárcel Real de Sevilla, was situated right in the centre of the city (by the city hall at the end of La Calle Sierpes).

A bit ironically, they have erected his statue there to commomorate him, or his prison spell here...I've passed it by about a million time but never really paid attention to it.

So, what was he doing in the prison? It appears that he was working as a tax collector in Andalucia but got his books cooked up a bit. So he had to pay his debt to the Crown, which meant that he had to collect more money. So he did, but unfortunately to him, the bank where he deposited the money got bankrupted and he lost it all. That ment that he had to serve his time in prison.

Apparently, while there, he was helping his fellow illiterate prisoners by writing letters on their behalf! Also around this time, he started thinking about Don Quijotte as a character.

This travel site talks about Cervantes' Seville in English. There are a few things in town, like this walking tour with tiles around the city (see below). This page has more about him and Seville (in Spanish). 

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Alcalá de Henares, 29 de septiembre de 1547 - † Madrid, 22 de abril de 1616), llamado el «príncipe de los ingenios», escritor.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

New Year's resolution 3: The Palace of the Countess of Lebrija

This town-palace is special for the personal collection of art and antiques that its owner, Regla Manjón Mergelina, who was also known as the countess of Lebrija, collected and installed in it.

She bought the place in 1901, when she was in her 50s and after her husband had already died, and started making it her personal legacy based on her interest in, and access to, art and antiquities, most of which had a connection to Andalusia.

It took her 13 years of works to re-model and refit the place so that it could host her amazing collection. She died in it in her mid-80s. The house was passed on, and lived-in, within the family and eventually in 1999, it was made into a museum.

It's absolutely worth the visit not only for its content (like the beautiful Roman mosaic in the patio that is excavated from Italica), but also to ponder about the special taste and personality of the countess!

Don't only go for the ground floor where most of the mosaics and tile work is hosted (summer residence), but make sure to include the guided visit at the second floor (winter residence). That's where her personal taste comes through more profoundly, she mixes everything with everything. This text has good hints about the place and this one has a good description.

Well, the creation of such private collection of arts and especially antiquities in not without a controversy either; wouldn't those Roman mosaics be best placed where they first belonged to? During the visit, there is hardly any material available to understand the dynamics of what went on back then (e.g. only in 1911 a law related to national partimony started stipulating such things), but this newspaper article (in Spanish) gives good insight to it (watch out for the long sentencces, though!).  Here is a good posting in English. This blog post is also good, and it has very detailed pictures of the ground floor, too!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

New Year's Resolution 2: el Hospital de la Caridad

"Thus passes the glory of the world" - is a phrase that well describes the work of art displayed in the Hospital de la Caridad, one of the most famous barroca churches in Seville (see a good resolution picture on wikipedia). It is one of the two paintings displayed right at the entrance to the church to remind people about the passing glory of life and earthy belongings.

This is a pretty grim painting, very dark and macabre. One has to take time to look at it and decrypt its symbolism, this blog post has an excellent dive into it. Check the scale for details:
"the two trays of the balance are labeled in Spanish: Nimas & Nimenos, or Neither More Nor Less. Nimas, at left, weighs animals that represent the deadly sins: a peacock for vanity, a dog for anger, a goat for avarice/greed, a monkey for lust, a hog for gluttony, a sloth for laziness (or sloth, ha, ha, ha), and a bat perched on a human heart for envy. “Nothing more [than these] is needed for damnation.”
The other piece is pretty grim too, called "In the Blink of an Eye" (In Ictu Oculi) where a skeleton pinches the flame off of a candle reminding us about the shortness of life and its quick disappearance.This piece is full of symbolism too, like how the skeleton has his foot on the globe!

There is also a "urban legend" related to the founder of the hospital and the church, Miguel Mañara, allegedly being the origin of the legend of Don Juan, which probably wasn't the case, but makes an interesting anecdote!

What's interesting to know is that at the time of Miguel Manara, Seville was going through a big decline. Apparently, at the time, it was "fashionable" for nobel men to set up a hospital and tend the poor. There are many such big hospitals around the town, for example, the current parliament and the Fine arts museum building.

This sentnce describes the mood well:
In Seville, the popular riots of 1642, the Black Death of 1649, the drought of 1682 along with the floods of 1683 caused the disappearance of a large amount of population as well as the gradual weakening of its social and economic structure.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

New Year's Resolution 1: knowing my city better

In 2018, I decided to get to know better the city that I live in, especially its culture and history. In Seville, there is so much to see and to know, but as in any city, once you live there, you become less interested in visitng places. While living in Paris, for example, I never visited the Eiffel tower (granted, I had visited it when 8 years old).

The first target in January 2018 was the famous Church of Saint Luis (en), or La Iglesia de San Luis de los Franceses (es), as it is called in Spainish. I already wanted to visit it for a while, as it's been touted to be the epitome of Barroc art in Seville. The visit was guided by this group.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Free schools in Sweden

I visited Sweden already some years back and was intrigued by their Free schools. The Free school system was instituted in 1992 and already for sometime, serves as a model for the charter school reform in the UK. Free schools are publicly funded by school vouchers.

In 2011 (figure reported in March 2011[ii]), some 15% of Swedish children go to free schools (friskola). In general, parents view the opportunity of selecting the school for their children as an important part of their freedom. Parents with children in private school (87 percent) are more satisfied than those with children in public schools (74 percent)[iii].

There is currently a big debate going on around Free schools in Sweden. The most controversy is around some small number of private companies that run tax-funded schools "for profit". For example the biggest enterprise, Academedia, in 2009 had sales of SEK 2.1 billion, compared with 2006, when turnover was 222 million SEK. According to Wikipedia, the Group has in total around 44 000 pre-school children and students, and approximately 20,000 adult learners in their activities (figures from 2012).

The quality of education in Free schools has also been in headlines. Additionally, the debate is on-going whether they also increase equity gap among Swedish society. For example Pasi Shalberg says "In Sweden, everybody now agrees free schools were a mistake. The quality has not improved and equity has disappeared.[iv]"

For profit debate:

  • In 2012, there are 906 companies who offer free schools and kinder gardens. 97% of them are small with one to four schools. On average, they are run on 3% marginal of profit. 54% generate a surplus.
  • A small number of them are run on risk capital which has made big headlines lately. Recently, bankruptcy has been claimed while previously such schools were paying hefty profits to their risk capital funders.
    • See for example John Bauerskola, which now has failed bankrupt, but previously, according to headlines, put about 2.6 million euros of tax payers' money into paying school rent to big banks (e.g. see: John Bauerskolorna, som gick i konkurs i juni 2013, betalade 24 miljoner i räntor på sina lån 2012[v])

Quality debate:

One free school enterprise called Distra Utbildningscenter in the south of Stockholm is risking to face a penalty of 500.000 kronor if the results do not show better quality. The school inspectorate refers to weak leadership, unqualified teachers and lack of competences in special education. The school is small, only about 30 students, the same company also runs an upper secondary school that also received complaints by the school inspectorate.  (translated from: http://www.svt.se/nyheter/regionalt/abc/friskoleforetag-riskerar-vite)

Website by the major newspaper (Svenska Dagbladet) to help choose a school: http://www.svd.se/nyheter/skolvalet/skolsok/

[i] http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friskola
[iii] http://www.svensktnaringsliv.se/skola/valfrihet-lyfter-alla-skolor-i-en-kommun_205490.html
[iv] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/jul/01/education-michael-gove-finland-gcse