Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16, 2011: Santiago de Compostela, Spain - Citea, Cathedral, Seafood

We're in Spain - Santiago de Compostela. Mark has been invited to give a talk at the university, courtesy of his friend Eugenio.

Santiago de Compostela is most famous for being the destination of Christian pilgrims for centuries, as it is purported to be the burial place of St. James. It is in the north of Spain, in Galicia. This area has been called the "Ireland of Spain" - cool, wet and green. After the consistently summery weather of Grenoble it sounded like a nice change.

Eugenio met us at the airport and we did some local sight-seeing. First up was the rather infruriating contemporary City of Culture development on a hilltop outside of town, a complex of cultural buildings designed by Peter Eisenman. It's only partially built and is already blowing its budget.

The overall design of the City of Culture isn't so bad, but it's terribly car-dependent - it's not connected with the city at all. The notion is that the top of a hill has been shaved off, and the great curving buildings recreate its form, while the walkways dividing the buildings recreate the street grid (or non-grid) of Santiago. There'll be a library, archive, gallery, performance space and museum. But you have to wonder how well-used they'll be since they're so separate from where anyone lives, works or spends their free time. A concert could draw in visitors, but libraries thrive on being close to where life is lived on a daily basis.

Eugenio tells us that a local politician wrangled a connection for selecting the quarry, but when it ran out of stone they had to go to China for more to match. The match is gratingly obvious and the cost is now double the original estimate. The cladding with the stone looks poorly done too - it's hard to imagine it holding up well to the elements in such a wet climate - too many seams and protrusions for plants to root in and flake the stone off. All in all a frustrating exercise in Spanish infrastructure - I'm sure they thought they were using stimulus money to make the next Bilbao, but to me it looks as disappointing an exercise as the Crystal addition on the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Santiago's main draw is its cathedral of St. James, the final destination for thousands of pilgrims over the centuries. This was not a disappointment - it's very baroque and over the top. Apparently a different heretical priest is buried there but legend distorted it over time to being St. James. A no-name priest wouldn't attract the same dedicated pilgrims.

For dinner I had some seafood firsts: razor clams and octopus. Delicious! Dinner starts even later in Spain than in France - the restaurant didn't know what to do with us when we showed up at 8pm, so we sat at the bar with wine and snacks for a while. There was a delicious little starter of spicy pork spread inside flat bread.

We have also discovered that English is spoken here much more commonly than in Grenoble - good thing, since the only Spanish I know is what I picked up from Sesame Street's American broadcasts as a child ("agua, agua"). It's liberating as a traveler, but again it makes me appreciate how the immersion in almost all French in Grenoble has been so necessary to improving my ability to speak and understand it.

The Madrid airport - gorgeous design. Terrible food. Might as well be eating on a plane. Or in McDonald's. 

One of the first places Eugenio took us to see was this church, one of his favourites. It has these giant buttresses all along just one side, because the building started to lean dangerously over. Kind of like a squat Tower of Pisa.

Walking from the (distant) parking lot to the City of Culture.

A topographical model of the City of Culture and surrounding hillsides.

The stone cladding. It pains me to look at it.

The City does have some fun swooping plazas - here's Mark and Eugenio at a distance.

Can you tell that there are two different quarries at work here?

Mark peers over the shoulder of the saint inside the Cathedral (a standard ritual of the pilgrims - you can see the wear and tear on the statue after all these many times).

This statue originally showed the slaughter of Muslims - a dicey subject in this day and age. So the victims at the horses feet are screened out of view by fresh flowers. 

The cathedral of St. James, glowing warmly in the sunset as we sat at a cafe in the plaza, having drinks.

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