25 May 2010 – Altamira AND the Guggenheim

After the usual wonderful breakfast buffet we headed out to explore ancient cave paintings, first at Altimira, where the painting were 20,000 years old, and then at Puente Viesgo, farther west, where the paintings are 30,000 years old.

We were prepared for the fact that we would only be allowed into a replica of part of the Altamira caves, which were closed to the public in 2002.  We were not prepared for how wonderfully it was done.  It turns out that

Altimira Cave Painting

most of the paintings were done on the ceiling, which at the time was only 3 feet or so from the floor in some places.  In the replica, we could walk upright, but the feeling was there.  Many of the animals were painted on large bumps in the ceiling, which produced a three-dimensional effect.  Off to side there was a moving visual diorama which showing the cave dwellers in the cave working next to a fire.  It helped one visualize what was going on at the time the caves were being painted.  Unfortunately, photography was not permitted, but here is a representative cave painting.

We also saw some three-dimensional replicas of older cave paintings at Puente Viesgo where we had planned to go next, and even though it would have been in the actual caves, we decided

The Acual Cave Entrance

to go on to Bilbao instead.  Just as we were leaving, I noticed an unmarked path leading off in the direction of where I judged the actual cave entrance was.   However, there was no clue as to where to go from there.  A maintenance man showed up and pointed the way towards a fence, and sure enough, about 200 feet away partially   hidden by growth was the cave door.  We told some ladies from Norway, and an English couple how to find the entrance.

Another cave entrance

We took another unmarked pathway, and came to a metal door with a slot about four inches high, and if got right up to it, and let your eyes get accustomed to the dark, you could see real caves leading downward.

The British couple said they might be the “stalactite” caves he had heard about, but I couldn’t see any stalactites.

A stalactite cave?

We had seen enough, and so we headed for Bilbao.  Once again Miss Nüvi demonstrate her preference for side roads, but we let her have her way, and enjoyed the scenery.  It was only 2:15, and the Guggenheim is open until eight PM, and so we had a plan.

Along the way we figured we needed a little something to eat, and stopped at a likely looking place, which turned to serve booze only.  Unusual for a roadside business, we thought.  They did point out a gas station food mart where we got some good sandwiches.  The service attendant came over and I asked for a fill up, and she started to put in “gasoil” and not the pump labeled “diesel”.  I yelled “Stop, I want diesel”, and she convinced me that gasoil was diesel, and that the other was a higher quality fuel which I didn’t need.

Six card readers???

Inside the store there was another surprise.  Most places used a single credit card reader for card purchases, but this place had six card readers lined up on the counter.  The clerk said it was necessary, but couldn’t explain why.

We had trouble finding parking associated with the Guggenheim, and would up parking in the Megacalzado multi-floor shopping mall about a half mile away.  As we approached it n foot, I was surprised to see that it sparkled as advertised.

The Guggenheim

I was sure that in 13 years the titanium exterior would have dulled to some degree, but it had not.  It was a pleasure to walk around, and after navigating unnecessary steps up and down, amazing to walk inside.  In Spain, they use a much better word than “retire”.  It is “jubilate”, and male and female retirees are “jublatos” and “jubilates”, respectively, I think.  Anyway, jubilates are given free admission to the Guggenheim, which as a nice gesture.

It was an exhilarating experience just to enter the museum.  Curved elements soared to the ceiling and the whole place had a feeling of well managed spaciousness.  On the main floor was a huge permanent exhibit by Richard Serra called A Matter of  Time, which consisted of huge curved steel plates through which you walked, sometimes in narrow wavy curves, sometimes in ever decreasing spirals. Unlike many artist’s explanation of their own work, Serra’s audio comments about the spaces created, and the description of the shapes, were satisfyingly relevant.  There was also a side hall with large mirrors by Serra placed so that the distorted observer image becomes part of the work, sometimes upside down.  There was a series of rooms with installations by Anish Kapoor which were really interesting in some cases and, to us, a little silly in others.  There was an air cannon with about a 1 foot caliber that shot red paint and fiber at the intersection of two walls.  I thought it was a static installation, but later on I heard what sounded like a 1 foot caliber air cannon firing paint and fiber at a wall.  I was sorry not to have checked that out, if I could have witnessed it.  There were models and photographs of tubular subway entrances that we both liked.

Art in The Guggenheim

Unfortunately no photography was allowed in the Guggenheim.  Nevertheless, I got photograph of some art.  Never mind that it was the wall in the men’s room.   What Teresa and I agreed most on the most was a large collection of paintings by Henri Rousseau which were wonderful.   He had no formal training, and you could see how he experimented with different themes, and somewhat different styles.  We agreed on the wonder of Frank Gehry’s museum.

We then headed for the Parador de Argomaniz to the west.  Once again, as Teresa says, it’s like driving through a fairyland of hills, trees, and homes dotted across the green landscape, this time interrupted by huge industrial plants.

This was the first Parador to be located in a city so small we couldn’t find on the map we had at the moment, and so basically we were in the hands of Miss Nüvi, who seemed to know where our Parador was.  It wasn’t until we were about a mile from the hotel when we saw our first sign for town Argomaniz.

It’s a lovely old building and the dining area is on the top floor.  We mean to find out if the hand-hewn ceiling is original or restored.

As I often do, I leaned over to a couple at a nearby table, and asked the man, “Where are you from?”  The man looked up and said something like, “What do you mean, where am I from?”, and Teresa responded, “We’re from California.” We had clearly violated their space, and that was that.  We did find out that our waitress was from Manorca, and that the island was too small for her, and she left.  She had only been at the Parador a couple of weeks.  I asked her where she learned English  so well and she said from her English friends.  She said she doesn’t see them that much, and so she is losing some of her fluency.

I was keeping an eye on the British couple who had rebuffed us, and I got the feeling from their body language, that he was regretting his action, and sure enough, when he had paid the check, his wife came over and  started a conversation.  We invited her to sit down, and after she did, he came over and said, “Would it be alright if I joined my social secretary?”

We covered many topics included Obama, Republicans, medical insurance (she was a doctor), Rotary, the Round Table, Feminism.  All in all it was a good evening.

And it was an amazing day, seeing the Altimira Caves and the Guggenheim in the same day.  We experienced the extremes of human history in 12 hours.

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2 Responses to 25 May 2010 – Altamira AND the Guggenheim

  1. JGF says:

    That is a GREAT story about the gruff man and his “social secretary”. He got to keep most of his pride with his subtle and clever sort of apology and he probably learned a thing or two from his wife who clearly knew how to behave and reap the benefits of friendliness. I love the way you retold that event.

    • jfistere says:

      Well, thank you. At meals we often were able to figure out who at adjacent tables spoke English and we had a good time comparing travel notes. We are home now, and I have quite a few pictures to add to my blog. My observation about blogs is that they need to inverted so that you can read continuously from one day to the next, if you are not reading only the last entry. I’m going to look for an upside down blog template. Have you heard of such a thing?

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