Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Bilbao’

Bilbao and Postmodern Regeneration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th August, 2013

Guggenheim Museum BilbaoBilbao was the centre of Spain’s industrial revolution, making fortunes for factory owners and other members of the elite and drawing in workers from the impoverished south of the country. True to the old Yorkshire saying, “where there’s much there’s brass”, the city developed into a glaring mix of luxurious homes of the minority, filthy factories and docks polluting the area, and poor quality housing for the masses, though  there was an old centre that has stayed intact, its narrow streets now pedestrianised. But after the inevitable decline in much of the industrial heartland Bilbao took a bold leap forward by agreeing to host a branch of the Guggenheim Museum, in a dramatic building designed by Frank Gehry. Other cities, including Madrid, reportedly turned down that possibility, fearing it would be a white elephant. But Bilbao took the plunge and by welcoming the museum set in train a process of urban regeneration that has become a model for urban planners worldwide, as well as being a draw to tourists. Inside the museum — whose raison d’etre is contemporary art — has a permanent collection of familiar names, including Andy Warhol and Gilbert & George. The day I went it also hosted an excellent and often moving temporary exhibition or art works, photographs, filmclips and ephemera from France under German occupation. It was perfect after taking those in to walk along the promenade alongside the river before crossing a bridge into the old town.

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The Basque Country

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th July, 2013

The Basque CountryGuggenheim Museum BilbaoThe Basque Country is a land of mountains and valleys — and the sea. The early 16th century Basque navigator Juan Sebastián de Elcano accompanied the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan on his historic sail westwards in search of the East Indies, and unlike Magellan, he survived. The Basques are among the oldest, if not the very oldest, peoples of Europe and their language is unlike any other. Of course it was suppressed under General Franco and for decades Basque separatists — mainly in Spain, but with a few allies in the smaller Basque lands of France — have agitated for independence, sometimes violently. It was while Franco was in decline, in 1975, that the Irish writer and specialist on Spain, Paddy Woodworth, first set foot in Euskal Herria — the land of the Basques. But he became fascinated and over the next 30 years and more penetrated the Basque lands and mentality more than most foreign observers. One result is his book The Basque Country (Signal, 2007), which is far more than just a guidebook or even a cultural history. It is a song of one man’s love for a tiny corner of Europe that has been often misunderstood. Paddy is a canny and opinionated (in the best sense of the world) companion, who relishes the Basque love of food and drink (wine and cider), the echoes of pre-Christian rituals and beliefs and the magic realism of some of its literature and folklore. He bemoans the noisiness of post-modern life in village bars, while at the same time — in a major, central chapter — celebrating aspects of the post-modern transformation of Bilbao (the “Guggenheim Effect”). While decrying the carnage of ETA’s terror campaign, as well as the torture and killings of Basque activists by various Spanish regimes, he remains neutral in his position regarding Basque separatism, at the same time drawing some interesting comparisons with Northern Ireland. Above all, he invites the reader to celebrate an land and its people before they irrevocably change, just as the whales that used to swim off the coast have disappeared and many species of fish have been driven to the verge of extinction.

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