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07.27
Sun
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My wife and I took a week off and went to Spain.
We stayed for eight days, visiting Madrid, Granada and Barcelona.

I had known almost nothing about Spain, and surely it is impossible to know about a foreign country by a mere eight-day's visit. The more I got to know about Spain (its culture, lifestyle and history), the more questions arose in my head. Many aspects of Spain were just beyond understanding.

Madrid

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The fight to Madrid took 14 hours from Tokyo (not including the transit which in our case was at Munich). In Madrid, I was awed first by the gorgeous buildings on both sides of the street, next by the abundance of food (mostly ham: jamon) sold at every street corner. Do Spanish people eat that much ham everyday, or is the apparent omnipresence of jamon just for tourist attraction? Where do all those pork meat come from? That was one of the enigmas of Spain.Anyway they were very good especially when sandwiched with bread. We both agreed that the most expensive Iberico Bejolta was too oily and the ordinary jamon serrano was the best.

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What we expected of Madrid was its art collection, so we visited two of the largest art museums. Museo National del Prado was a huge museum collecting mostly religious paintings of Medieval era to 19th century. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía houses more recent works by the globally famous Spanish artists, among them Picasso, Miro and Dali. I learned that art these paintings are so tightly related to the history. For example Guenica
painted by Picasso is famously a reaction against the German bombing of a Spanish town during the civil war. Many of the portrait paintings at Museo del Prado had direct relation to politics. There were many other works of art that were affected by the political situation, explicitly or implicitly.

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Granada
The trip from Madrid to Granada was a four hours of train ride. The scenery was most memorable. Endless fields of olive trees under the blue sky. Very few houses could be seen. How do people grow those trees and how do they pick the ripe olives? I did not have a guess, nor could I extrapolate from the knowledge I have about Japanese agriculture.

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Granada is famous as the last city ruled by the Muslims, before the whole of Spain was conquered by the Christian queen and the king in 1492. (This year 1492 has a special meaning for Spain, being the year both of Granada's fall and the discovery of America by Columbus. This is among the few things I learned about Spanish history during this trip.)

We visited Alhambra, the complex of palaces and fortresses. It reminded me of the fortress of western India, perhaps because of the common Islamic origins. It was a hot and sunny day, and the too strong sunlight deprived us of strength (the temperature was 37 degrees Celcius though low humidity made it much tolerable than the hottest days in Tokyo).

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Barcelona
We were told that Barcelona is like no other place in Spain (which means no other place in the world, at least for us), and it certainly was. We had three whole days there, visiting the tourists' spots as much as we could. Among them were three architectural works by Antoni Gaudi: Sagrada Família (Church of the Holy Family), Park Güell (a park originally designed as a huge residential area by Gaudi and his patron Güell), and Casa Mira (an apartment building still used for housing purposes).

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Before we planned this trip I knew next to nothing about Gaudi (or for that matter, any other aspect of Spain). I was so ignorant that I had thought that Sagrada Família was an old (Medieval, maybe?) architecture, where in truth it was only designed in the end of 19th century and still constructing (not restoring!) according to the original plan. Not only Gaudi's works were amazing by itself, but I was impressed by how people in Barcelona respect them. How much energy and time do they put into conserving those pieces of art! And there must been tremendous recognition of artistic values to allow such construction in the first place. I don't think this passion towards art can be explained only by the economic incentives to attract tourists. And they think in such a long term! They don't seem to care if the construction takes decades, or even lifetime (Sagrada Família is said to be completed on the 100th year after Gaudi's death).

Like in the previous cities, I could not help wondering the history of Spain in Barcelona. The book I picked up at a souvenir shop at Alhambra was quite informative and readable.


The Story of SpainThe Story of Spain
(2010/01)
Mark Williams


The history of Spain is really remarkable. It is as if they have experienced everything. There was mornachy (Spain ruled by kings and queens), decades of global hegemony, dictatorship (under genaral Franco), rise of democracy, economic growth (especially around the Barcelona Olympics' year), etc. Also, there were struggles between communism and capitalism, Catholicism and atheism, unification and separatism, so on and so forth. Spanish people went through all that.

Yet, no form of governance or "isms" has worked completely or long enough, and Spain is still struggling. (I've heard that economic difficultly of Spain is next to Greece among the EU nations.) Then what did all that history bring about? In my view, it was art and culture, that went to such a level that no other place in the world can match. (I personally wish to add science to the list, but too my poor knowledge scientific achievements in Spain are not so distinguishable compared to Britain or Germany.) I could not help comparing Spanish history and the current situations of my own country, and wonder whether contemporary artists (and academicians) of Japan can play certain roles comparable to that of Goya, Gaudi or Picasso.

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Barcelona is a seaside city, facing the Mediterranean. We ate shrimp like we never tasted before (in quantity that we could barely consume).

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By the way, Spainish non-alcoholic beer (cerveza sin alcohol ) was surprisingly good.
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