Susan R. Kirshenbaum

art and life - both the cherries and the pits

May in Spain

Susan KirshenbaumComment

Fresh Inspiration

Selfie with reflections of Madrid in a groovy fixture store window. I'm wearing a pastel pink neoprene jacket from a shop in Girona.

SPAIN'S CENTER, SOUTH, & NORTH

For three magnificent weeks my husband and I roamed through some of our favorite cities in Central, Southern, and Northeastern Spain.

We flew into Madrid then took a fast train into deep Andalusia, where we visited a new destination for us - Cadiz. It's always fun to explore a new destination on our frequent trips to Spain. Cadiz, founded around 1104 BC by Phoenicians, is regarded as the most ancient city still standing in Western Europe. Our Bay Area friends go there frequently and invited us to meet up. In Cadiz the Bakers showed us around their favorite sites, made sure we were extremely well-fed and entertained for close to a week, including a day-trip to Jerez.

We flew from Jerez to Barcelona and took a high-speed train (only 30 minutes) to Girona. After several days in our "sister city", another SF friend, Fred, came to visit, so we rented a car to drive north up the Costa Brava.

We wrapped up our travels in Madrid with several days of museums (some of the best in Europe), touring, and a visit with an old friend, Adin. Visiting so many friends in Spain takes up a big part of our time there (almost as much as eating and drinking), but also keeps Spain feeling like our second home.

  On Day 1 we wandered through squares and quarters, snapping and snacking.

On Day 1 we wandered through squares and quarters, snapping and snacking.

andaluSia: HISTORIC PORT OF CADIZ 

Our archeological tour guide's genetic history is telling. It reveals her ancient roots: Phoenician, Roman, Moorish, and Iberian. The blue tube in the photo is the original ancient plumbing (with strange lighting).

  While digging the new theatre foundation the original Phoenician city was revealed and restored.

While digging the new theatre foundation the original Phoenician city was revealed and restored.

  Cadiz is a charming maize of town squares and narrow cobblestone streets. And well-lit at night. All very clean. And many old watch towers.

Cadiz is a charming maize of town squares and narrow cobblestone streets. And well-lit at night. All very clean. And many old watch towers.

  Sailors' travels to the New World brought exotic plants to Cadiz.

Sailors' travels to the New World brought exotic plants to Cadiz.

 Sculptural tree roots.

Sculptural tree roots.

  Oyster shell beds became stone, then became the building blocks of choice in and around Cadiz.

Oyster shell beds became stone, then became the building blocks of choice in and around Cadiz.

The staples and heart make this wall an ideal background/surface.

Collage with life drawing and Cadiz wall.

I collaged photos with drawings on my iPad while on the road. This heart = a tattoo

Shades of pink charred with soot. It's a painting already.

WALL ART

I love the walls, gates, and doors of Spain. Whether it's graffiti, layers of paint, or peeling posters, it all looks great and lends itself perfectly to become part of my collages.

  Here's some cool and arty graffiti on a gate. Most gates, grates, and screens are covered with graffiti. 

Here's some cool and arty graffiti on a gate. Most gates, grates, and screens are covered with graffiti. 

  This amuse bouche was one of many delicious taste surprises in Cadiz. It looks like olives, but when you pop it into your mouth and bite down, gazpacho fills your mouth.

This amuse bouche was one of many delicious taste surprises in Cadiz. It looks like olives, but when you pop it into your mouth and bite down, gazpacho fills your mouth.

FOOD & DRINK IN THE DEEP SOUTH

We had so many wonderful taste treats throughout the trip. Coffees are very good and very, very cheap. Wine is also quite good and inexpensive too - the best in my opinion is in Catalonia and I'm a huge fan of Catalan cava. People who enjoy sherry would be delighted by the varieties made in Jerez and Cadiz, but I don't care for it. Excellent cocktails have also taken hold. The meat, fish, and seafood are generally fresh and well prepared. There are more vegetables and salads each year we return. And the olives are still some of the best in the world. I enjoy the meal schedule too - breakfast late, a large main meal in the afternoon, tapas or a light meal at night, QUITE late.

Spanish food has evolved tremendously since my first visit in the 80s. There's greater variety and better efforts at fusion. There's not quite as much fried food - bathed in olive oil. We lived in Barcelona and Girona from 2004-06 and we could see a shift underway then - toward a more international and eclectic cuisine. Spain continues to emerge from the dark decades of Franco's reign and with so much tourism these days the demand for variety is high.

  Imaginative cocktails in Cadiz at a beautiful indoor/outdoor bar - this became our ritual.

Imaginative cocktails in Cadiz at a beautiful indoor/outdoor bar - this became our ritual.

Croquettas are one of the most popular tapas all around Spain. The best are crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. They're filled with creamy mushroom/ham that explodes in your mouth. 

Jerez HORSE FAIR

At the end of our stay in Cadiz we took a taxi to the Jerez Horse Fair (Feria de Caballo). Here we saw the gorgeous horses of Jerez - as synonymous with the city as sherry and flamenco. Eating fried food and drinking sherry or beer in casetas is a big part of the fun.

  The lights as yet unlit at the Horse Fair in Jerez - everything here contributed to a visual banquet!

The lights as yet unlit at the Horse Fair in Jerez - everything here contributed to a visual banquet!

  Riders at the fair

Riders at the fair

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I loved seeing whole families in matching colors and patterns. The women, from toddlers to seniors, dressed in tight ruffled flamenco dresses, bold stripes and polka dots, fabric flowers in their hair, jangly jewelry and embroidered, fringed shawls...and great dance moves. The slick caballeros and their decorated horse and buggies were colorful and elegant. Everyone seemed to want to take a spin around the fair grounds to see and be seen.

RELIGIOUS ART

Churches were built on top of mosques which were built on top of Roman ruins. Somewhere in there a buried synagogue may even exist. We saw so many layers of history and a wild mix of architecture, art, and design.

I'm particularly fascinated by the faces and hands of the statues in the churches we visited. 

Note the hands gently lifting back the hair in this carved stone head, with the woman above looking down with a grimace.

Her tears, so real. Her hands, so graceful.

 We listened to a free concert at this graceful church in Barcelona.

We listened to a free concert at this graceful church in Barcelona.

CATALONIA: Barcelona, Girona & costa brava

Classic view of Girona with the Onyar River running through it. On the right is the Old Quarter and the left side is the newer part of the city.

  Esglesia de Sant Feli's s  teps in the square (right by our apartment) are decorated with flowers for Flor de Temps, the Catalan name for the annual Flower Festival.

Esglesia de Sant Feli's steps in the square (right by our apartment) are decorated with flowers for Flor de Temps, the Catalan name for the annual Flower Festival.

Flowers festoon the the old Jewish Quarter (Call). It is one of the best preserved in Europe.

We had several lively, often emotional conversations around Catalan independence with Catalans, expats, mixed couples (Catalan and Spanish), and Spaniards. I came away with a slightly better understanding of the arguments for and against\. One thing is for sure - you can't ignore this powerful, popular desire for independence. These movements have solidarity - for example - Scotland is very supportive ( I hear) of the Catalan independence movement.

  You know that you're in Catalonia when you see the Catalan flags, yellow ribbons, and independence posters. 

You know that you're in Catalonia when you see the Catalan flags, yellow ribbons, and independence posters. 

  Who doesn't love Marcona almonds? Even better when presented in local pottery from Bisbal.

Who doesn't love Marcona almonds? Even better when presented in local pottery from Bisbal.

  Lovely lunch at a local friend's home with SF-friend, Fred. Miquel's artwork on the wall - he's the most prolific artist I know.

Lovely lunch at a local friend's home with SF-friend, Fred. Miquel's artwork on the wall - he's the most prolific artist I know.

  Local art popsicles in shapes and colors of important sites and symbols! So imaginative.    \

Local art popsicles in shapes and colors of important sites and symbols! So imaginative.

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  Just five minutes walk from our place via   medieval cobblestone roads we arrived at our friend Shelley's apartment roof deck and this view.

Just five minutes walk from our place via medieval cobblestone roads we arrived at our friend Shelley's apartment roof deck and this view.

Just beyond girona

Girona is a great base for us. Only 20 minutes from the sea and 45 minutes from France, there's so much of the Costa Brava to see north and south of us. We've explored much of it by now, but there's always more to discover.

  Even in the off-season we found an open "chiringita" for great coffees on our favorite beach, Sant Marti d' Empuries. This is the other part of Spain where the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans traded and left beautiful intact ruins.

Even in the off-season we found an open "chiringita" for great coffees on our favorite beach, Sant Marti d' Empuries. This is the other part of Spain where the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans traded and left beautiful intact ruins.

My favorite meal in Spain, sepia a la plancha in Sant Marti.

Because our favorite monastery Sant Pere de Rodes (12th-14th C) was already closed, we wandered into a nearby site where we'd never ventured. We found Verdera Castle (Sant Salvador de Verdera) ruins at the highest peak in Serra de Rodes. From here we watched sunset over l'Alt Empordà, the Golf of Roses, the Montgrí mountains, and the Medes islands.

  A short drive north of Girona took us here for sunset.

A short drive north of Girona took us here for sunset.

Day Trip to BCN

  Knife, scissors, and shaving supply shop window in El Born.

Knife, scissors, and shaving supply shop window in El Born.

  Here's a charming map of food in the hood in El Born, in Barcelona.

Here's a charming map of food in the hood in El Born, in Barcelona.

Madrid is Underrated

The colors are spectacular. With intermittent rain we were treated to fabulous skies during our entire trip. Although the country was cooler than usual, it was very pleasant and not dissimilar to San Francisco weather.

The Prado is right near the smaller Botanical Garden, and was a refreshing break from urbanity. May is my favorite flower season On Day 1 we saw and smelled Lilacs around Madrid, then at the end of our trip we were treated to Peonies and Irises.

After the a rain shower in the Madrid Botanical Garden right by the Prado.

Madrid flower market

 My colors = Spain's colors.

My colors = Spain's colors.

 Rental bikes here too.

Rental bikes here too.

View of the Prado from above.

View of the Prado from the side while waiting in line.

THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE OF ART

Madrid's three art museums are:

Prado Museum: pre-20th-century art

Reina Sofía Museum: mainly 20th century art and yes we saw Picasso's Guernica

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: fills the historical gaps in its counterparts' collections

I loved these museums and need to return again and again...

Toward the end of our last day in Madrid at the Reina Sophia Museum looking toward the train station, Atocha. We saw so many dramatic skies!

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A GRAND CITY

Big and beautiful, Madrid is a grand dame. Her museums rival Paris'. And if you haven't done a "hop on hop off" bus tour of a major city, this place is ideally suited. To get your bearings and to see things from a high perch - these are two great reasons to take the bus!

  Close-up of one of Madrid's artist-made statues (there are many different ones all around town) - a collage of Spanish stamps.

Close-up of one of Madrid's artist-made statues (there are many different ones all around town) - a collage of Spanish stamps.

So many gorgeous doors and brass knockers. So long, Spain!

We'll return to Girona next year, and we only need to figure out where else we want to discover on our next trip to Spain.