Sunday, June 10, 2018

Not always feeling at ease in Sevilla's famous cathedral :S

Among Sevilla Cathedral's claims to fame is it being
the final resting place of one Christopher Columbus
This cathedral also houses Spain's most valuable crown,
whose centerpiece is the world's largest pearl
Just one look at its High Altar will get you realizing
that it's quite the treasure too!
And it's Chapter House may well be the most
beautiful in the world! :O
Sevilla's Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede has many claims to fame.  One of three structures in the Andalucian city (along with the Real Alcazar and the nearby Archivo de Indias) which is UNESCO World Heritage-listed, it took some 100 years to build and its total area of 23,500 square meters makes it the third largest church in Europe (after St Peter's in Rome, and London's St Paul's Cathedral) and the largest Gothic church in the world.  Kings, princes and cardinals are buried in it.  And so too is the Italian explorer largely funded by Spanish monarchs, Christopher Columbus, "who sailed the ocean blue" to what he thought was India but turned out to be the Americas.
Even if you didn't know who he was or that he's buried in Sevilla's cathedral, you'd be able to figure that Christopher Columbus' tomb is a big deal since it's pretty much always surrounded by crowds of people from various parts of the world. Another section of this vast building where the crowds -- understandably -- gather in front of is its High Altar, where the largest altarpiece ever made can be found, albeit behind metal grills that the church administrators in Spain seem to erect far more than their equivalents in many other parts of the world. 

I have to be honest: often, Sevilla Cathedral felt far more like a tourist attraction than an actual place of worship to me.  One reason is because of the large amount of people there who weren't there to pray.  Another is that the place is chockful of treasures, works of art (including by Goya, Murillo and Zurbaran), and -- my apologies in advance if I offend sensitive religious souls -- some rather bizarre and discomfiting oddities.  
Many years ago, I read a book about Christian relics in which it was mentioned that there are a number of churches in Europe that claim to be in possession of Jesus Christ's foreskin.  (Incidentally, it was through looking up that word in a dictionary that I came to find out what it meant!)  And while Sevilla Cathedral is not one of those Christian places of worship that have made that claim, its treasury does contain hundreds of what are claimed to be saintly body parts along with gold and jewel encrusted items, including the Corona de la Virgen de los Reyes, whose creator, Manuel de laTorres, made use of the world's largest pearl for the torso of the angel at the center of this precious crown!
In retrospect, I should have known to brace myself to behold some pretty unusual sights when the first part of the cathedral proper that I entered (which has been set aside as its art pavilion) turned out to house a 17th century piece of sculpture made to resemble the severed head of St John the Baptist.  Oh, and near an exit hangs El Lagarto, a stuffed crocodile gifted by an Egyptian Sultan to Spain's King Alfonso X when the former sought to wed the daughter of the latter!
Far more pleasing to my eye was the cathedral's Chapter House, where the archbishop and his council would meet to consider matters.  Its magnificent domed ceiling and marbled patterned floor makes it an aesthetic wonder.  At the same time as I was admiring its beauty, however, I found myself thinking it highly likely that some pretty unsavory decisions got made in the room, and perhaps that what accounts for my feeling literally chilled while in there... 
More specifically, as I had learnt at Cordoba's Casa de Sefarad, Sevilla was where the Spanish Inqusition got its start, with the first ever auto-da- of the Spanish Inquisition, which led to the burning alive of six individuals, being held in that city whose famous Jewish Quarter now no longer is home to any Jews.  And while the seat of the Inquisition was across the river in Triana, a Sevillan archbishop, Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza, is considered to be the true founder of the Spanish Inquisition -- and the chances are indeed high that he made a number of decisions in his seat's chapter house... :S

Friday, June 8, 2018

Inspired by Anthony Bourdain even while mourning his demise

A hearty serving of rabo de toro (bull-tail's stew)
I could totally see Anthony Bourdain having enjoyed

 The Spanish eat tripe too! 

Anyone else up for morcillo (blood sausage) canapés?

A couple of hours ago, I found out that one of my heroes has not only died but committed suicideAnthony Bourdain has given me so much inspiration and joy along with entertainment.  He led me to have memorable meals at a number of dining establishments, including Tung Po and the now sadly defunct Tai Po branch of Yat Lok here in Hong Kong, Muthu's in Penang, and Koyoshi Sushi in Osaka.  Watching his shows made me want to follow in his footsteps and head to many parts of the world, including places as diverse as Vietnam (a country he seemed to genuinely love) and Amsterdam (which an episode of The Layover made really enticing).  

I loved that Anthony Bourdain was able to appreciate both "low end" and "high end" foods, and that he seemed so happy whenever he was in Asia, eating Asian foods.  I also got a major kick out of his sharing my love of street food, "tube food" (including blood sausage and liver sausage as well as more "regular" types of sausage) and "nose to tail" eating, and making it come across as "cool" rather than "gross".  

And while I haven't actually watched any of his Spain shows, I still felt like I was following in the intrepid and enthusiastic traveller's footsteps there as I did such as make a point to try a variety of foods and eateries (all of them sans reservations) on my travels in that country as well as try to look at the country and society from the viewpoint of a traveller interested in delve deep into it rather than just scratch its surface -- the way I reckon he would.

On the culinary front: I made sure to go beyond just eating jamon while in Spain (though it's also true that I did eat quite a lot of it -- Serrano, Iberico and even Iberico de Bellota) and trying a lot of local and regional specialties.  Having done some research beforehand, I knew that the Spanish eat a lot of sea creatures that many associate more with Asian culinary traditions (including razor clams, squid and octopi).  Ditto re eating animal parts such as tripe, cheeks and tails!  So when I saw such items on the menu, I would readily and happily order and eat them -- sometimes to the shock of my German friend, and often to the appreciation of the Spanish restaurant staff.  

I know there are people who see eating such items as stemming more from a dare than genuine expectation that one will find them delicious.  In all honesty though, I enjoyed eating rabo de toro (bull's-tail stew) and the Spanish version of blood sausage (morcillo) so much that I ended up happily ordering and eating them more than once on this Spain trip along with pimientos de Padron (the Russian Roulette of green pepper dishes!), gazpacho (so refreshing on hot days!) and, yes, platters of jamon (sometimes also with cheese but often just alone)!

And, like Anthony Bourdain, I regularly washed the food down -- or, should I say paired them(!) -- with alcohol: more often than not straight beer but also sometimes clara con limon (the Spanish version of British shandy or German radler), cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and, in one instance, a generous pour of gin and tonic.  

Returning to Anthony Bourdain: The way he's left this world has made it so that my thoughts and views of him will now forever be tinged with tragedy.  At the same time though, I have little doubt that this man who I never ever had the privilege of meeting, yet feel like I've had many conversations and experiences with over the years, will continue to inspire me when I travel, look at food and so much more.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Artistry seemingly everywhere you look at Sevilla's Real Alcazar (Photo-essay)

As I came to know over the course of my Spain trip, the country is home to a number of Alcazars (with a capital as well as small "A/a").  But as far as I know, there's only one Real (as in "royal" but it's easy enough to read the English meaning into it!) Alcazar in Spain -- located in the heart of Sevilla and UNESCO World Heritage-listed to boot.

Built for the Christian king Pedro I (1334-1469) by Muslim workmen -- whose artistic talent I'm absolutely in awe of -- on the site of a 10th century Abbadid Muslim fortress, the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe was added to and enlarged over the centuries and consists today of a number of palatial buildings and also has sprawling gardens within its expansive grounds.  The Real Alcazar was the Spanish attraction that I queued the longest to get into (more than one and a half hours!) but I have to say that it was totally worth the wait and I loved the place so much that I ended only leaving at a few minutes after its official closing time (and am grateful that the Spanish aren't the best of timekeepers!)!

Behold!  The entrance to King Pedro I's Palace!
Stairway leading up to the Upper Royal Apartments

Seemingly every bit of the Real Alcazar,
including its ceiling space, is a work of art
See what I mean?
And again... this in the Salon de Embajaroders 
(Hall of Ambassadors) that was King Pedro I's throne room

The Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens)
with its long, rectangular reflecting pool
Puppet Ponyo wishes it to be known that even the doors
of the Real Alcazar are beautifully decorated
Seemingly every thing you look at, everywhere you look
in the complex, is a thing of dizzyingly gasp-inducing artistry :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Amazing sights abound inside Sevilla's Iglesia del Salvador

One of fourteen richly decorated altarpieces to be found
The chapel containing the Christ of the Passion statue has its own 
separate entrance through a courtyard of orange trees
The statue of Our Lady of the Waters
predates the church by about 400 years
Considering how (in)famously Catholic Spain is, it may seem somewhat strange the first outright Christian site that I visited was in the third -- rather than first or second -- city in the country that I set foot in.  To be sure, I did walk past a few churches and one massive cathedral in Madrid as well as spent time in the cathedral section of Cordoba's Mezquita.  Still, it's true enough that the first Christian, never mind Catholic, establishment that I made a point to check out was Seville's Iglesia del Salvador (Church of the Savior).   

Built on the site of a ninth century mosque (whose traces have been largely eradicated, though it's worth noting that what's now the church's bell tower used to be a minaret), Sevilla's second largest Christian place of worship is close to uniformly Andalusian Baroque in architectural style and decor, and is aesthetically all the more pleasing and beautiful because of it.  Containing far more -- and far more elaborate -- altarpieces than I had hitherto been used to seeing inside a single church, the Iglesia del Salvador is far more filled with art than its fairly plain looking exterior would have you think, and what a diversity of Christian art and artefacts there are on display in there too!
As heavy-looking as the high-ceilinged main space of the church feels bright and airy, the church's 14 (yes, really!) large altarpieces are all pretty spectacular and distinctive.  For example, there is one which memorably features images of God the father and God the spirit as opposed to the usual God the son.  Also, while the main altarpiece includes a statue of Christ on the cross, Jesus also appears in more unusual incarnations, including one riding an ass, and another which has him looking incredibly humble and bowed as well as bloodied.   

Amidst the elaborate architectural flourishes and religious depictions, the church's three-dimensional sculptures and statues really stand out.  And I'm not just referring here to the statue of Jesus Christ carrying the cross that's so revered that the faithful have been known to kiss one of its heels or that of the Virgin Mary which, in centuries gone by, was paraded through the city in times of drought!  For even church's more modest sculptural works, like the pair of lamp angels attached to columns located close to the main altarpiece, have such individual facial features that they seem so much more defined and life-like than the pride and joy of many an art museum as well as equivalent establishment.  

To think that I would have missed out on these sights if not for the existence of a combo-ticket for Sevilla Cathedral and the Iglesia del Salvador, and it being so that buying it at the latter allows one to avoid the far longer queue for tickets at the former!  As it is, while my German friend and I were in the very short line for tickets at the Iglesia del Salvador, we saw a group of American tourists peek into the church and mistakenly decide that, since they already had been to the cathedral, this smaller Christian establishment would not be worth visiting!
Post having spent a good deal more time gaping at amazing sights galore in the Iglesia del Salvador than I actually thought I would, I genuinely feel that those folks actually missed out on quite the visual and cultural experience.  At the same time, they probably helped those of us who opted to give this church a chance have a better experience than we might otherwise have had since, unlike at such as Cordoba's Mezquita, the small number of tourists within made for a more uncrowded and, consequently, pleasant and peaceful time in the place! :)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Hong Kong remembers and awaits the time when justice will prevail in China

Candles held aloft at Hong Kong's Victoria Park at a ceremony

Patiently waiting for the candlelight vigil to begin
earlier in the evening

People reading posters set up in readiness 
 for this evening last night

For much of today, the skies were a threatening dark gray and when I left my apartment to meet up with friends with whom I would be going over to Victoria Park this evening, some rain was falling.  By the time I got to our meeting point, however, there no longer was any precipitation in the air and the conditions turned out to be lovely weather-wise to spend outdoors this evening.

If only the reason why we were assembled in Victoria Park earlier tonight was a happy one.  But rather than be festive or celebratory, we were there to mourn the dead: specifically, those idealists and innocents who sought to change their nation for the better one summer in Beijing 29 years ago and ended up paying the price for thinking not only that their time had come but also believing that the (so-called) People's Liberation Army would never turn its guns and tanks on its own countrymen and -women.

There are people out there who reckon that the annual commemorations are increasingly on the tired side.  And it really is noticeably so that, with each passing year, not only the Tiananmen Mothers but also the witnesses to the Tiananmen Square massacre who deliver messages (sometimes live, other times on video) to those assembled at Victoria Park on the evening of June 4th are growing and looking increasingly old.

At the same time, those who get to thinking that the spirits of those seeking vindication and justice for the June 4th, 1989, massacre victims are weakening are very much mistaken.  In fact, my sense is that, with each passing year, the resolve of people to carry on remembering, and also to resist the immoralities of the Communist Chinese government, actually gets hardened -- and this all the more so when it's so obviously the case that the persecutions have continued, claimed further victims (such as Liu Xiaobo) and are making martyrs of still more innocents (including Liu Xia). 

To those who say that the Communists will never fall from power in China: I will (counter-)state with certainty that nothing lasts forever.  Not the Qing dynasty or any other regime that has ruled the area currently occupied by China at any point in history.  Not the regime of Robert Mugabe, whose 37 year rule over Zimbabwe came to an end late last year; nor the presidency of South Africa's Jacob Zuma, ousted after nine years this past February; nor -- perhaps most shockingly to my mind! -- the Barisan Nasional coalition government whose 60 year rule came to an end after being voted out in the Malaysian General Elections just last month!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Judeo-Spanish history and culture in Cordoba's Jewish Quarter and Casa de Sefarad

Inside the interpretive museum which seeks to showcase
the Spanish city's rich Jewish past and heritage
Puppet Ponyo at the feet of a statue of Maimonides,
one of Cordoba's most celebrated Jewish sons
There's no question that the main attraction in Cordoba as far as my German friend (with whom I toured Spain) and I were considered was its celebrated Mezquita.  As it turned out though, I think we ended up spending more time in the Andalucian city's Jewish Quarter than the great Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba.

We effectively stumbled into the area while trying to get away from the frustratingly large crowds of tourists that had flooded much of Cordoba's UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic center and made the city feel much more like a tourist trap than genuinely attractive attraction.  After passing by the statue of Maimonides (which makes for a thought-provocative troika along with those of the Roman philosopher Seneca and Muslim thinker Averroes (aka Ibn Rushd) found elsewhere in the city) and getting our bearings, we decided to head deeper into this neighborhood of narrow streets and thick, whitewashed walls and over to the Casa de Sefarad to learn more about Cordoba's Jewish past.
Housed in a 14th century building located directly across from the only remaining synagogue in the city (which also happens to be one of just three medieval synagogues still standing in Spain), this museum of Spanish Jewry's text-rich displays make up in information what the institution lacks in actual artifacts.  Despite it actually not being all that big, I ended up spending more than an hour at this space which also functions as a cultural center (and looks to have a room set aside for prayer as the synagogue is currently closed for renovations).   
The Casa de Sefarad's permanent exhibitions (which includes ones on the history of the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba, notable Jewish women of Al-Andalus, and the Marranos) take some time to go through because they are so laden with facts.  And I ended up reading every evocative word of a special exhibition on Muslims who have come to the aid of Jews over the course of history (including the Albanians who secretly sheltered Jewish refugees during the Second World War who I first learnt about via a screening of Besa: The Promise at the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival a few years back).
Speaking of evocative: a couple of times during the visit, the air of the Casa de Sefarad was filled by a staffer singing the kind of song that one just knew had to be religious in nature and also couldn't help being emotionally affected by even though one can't understand its words.  Early on during my visit, the same staffer had told me that he's Spanish but not Jewish.  The feeling I did get though is that he has a respect and appreciation of Judeo-Spanish (Sephardic) culture, traditions and history which he hopes to be able to share with many others.     

Friday, June 1, 2018

The glory that is (was?) Cordoba's Mezquita (Photo-essay)

While planning our Spain trip, my German friend and I separately drew up lists of other towns and cities besides Madrid (where we already had decided that we'd fly into) that we wanted to visit in that country that I had previously never set foot in and she had only been to once before.  Given our shared interests in cultural heritage and diversity, it wasn't entirely unexpected that we both wanted to spend time in Andalucia, with Cordoba and Granada being cities we agreed that we simply had to include in our itinerary.

One of those places with a much storied past, Cordoba has a history traceable all the way back to the Bronze Age.  There's no doubt about its main draw for both my German friend and myself though, and the Mezquita that's at the heart of its UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic center -- and, in fact, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right, with the inscription being expanded to include the area only a decade later -- was where we headed straight to after arriving in town by train and depositing our luggage in lockers at the bus station next door (since the train station doesn't have any).

Built in the 8th century, over the remains of a Visigoth basilica, after the city and its surroundings came under Muslim rule, that which also is known as the Great Mosque of Cordoba was expanded upon over the years, and reached its present dimensions -- whose total surface area is exceeded only by Mecca's Holy Mosque as far as Muslim religious buildings go -- in the 10th century.  An unmitigated architectural marvel, the Moorish monument was turned into a Christian cathedral in the 13th century and additions were made to it, notably at its center, that have turned it into an artistic as well as religious hybrid whose older, Muslim parts I frankly think are aesthetically superior to the newer, Christian sections... :S

View from the Patio de los Naranjos of the Mezquita's 
minaret turned bell tower flanked by palm trees
So many design elements catch the eye at the Mezquita
The sight of the arcaded hypostyle prayer hall, with its 
856 columns that appear to stretch into infinity, 
is one that makes the jaw drop and takes the breath away
 Its mihrab (prayer niche)'s horse-shoe arch entryway is
exquisitely decorated with calligraphic bands and floral motifs
I often found myself looking up while in the Mezquita to admire 
the intricate decorated ceilings as well as arches above me
This is the only place in the world where 
one can see Gothic vaulting mingled with Moorish arches
The 16th Renaissance cathedral nave inserted into the Mezquita's center
can make for a visual shock and, to my mind, overblown eyesore
The glory that was shines through amidst later developments

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Crazy luxurious decor at Madrid's Palacio Real that I wish I could have photographed (and need to be seen to be believed!)

View of Madrid's Palacio Real (Royal Palace) 
from its Plaza de la Armeria

 One of the first sights to greet visitors
entering into the palace proper
The Guard Room is the only room in the palace where 
photography is allowed -- probably because it's one of the
more modestly decorated rooms in the complex!

It used to be that photography was not allowed in museums.  But in recent years, I've seen photography -- so long as it doesn't involve the use of a flash, and, increasingly, tripod or selfie stick too -- to be allowed in museums as celebrated as Amsterdam's amazing Rijksmuseum along with various museums in Spain, Norway, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan and elsewhere. 

I've also been allowed, to my surprise, to take photographs in Amsterdam's royal palace.  So part of me was expecting to be allowed to take photographs in the sections of Madrid's royal palace (palacio real) in which visitors are allowed (albeit for a fee, of course), only to find that was sadly not the case.

Although a part of me wonders if this is for the security reasons, a larger part of me suspects that this is the case in order to encourage the purchase of souvenir photobooks: both because of the commercial nature of the website of the state agency which administers this and other Spanish royal palaces and sites, and the incredible eye candy offered up in many of the rooms of the largest palace, when measured by floor area, in Europe.

Built on the site of a Muslim fortress, construction on the Palacio Real took place in the middle of the 18th century and it was the royal residence of Spanish monarchs up until the great-grandfather of the current Spanish king who, like his father before him, prefers to make his home in a more modest palace on the outskirts of Madrid.  And while it can seem kind of wasteful for the Spanish royal family to live in another royal palace (that the state presumably then also has to pay to maintain), I could imagine people going crazy (a la Bavaria's Mad King Ludwig) if they were to spend a large amount of time in the kind of over-the-top surroundings I saw on my visit to the Palacio Real.

For me, absolutely the most insane looking space of all was the room in which Charles III (1716-1788) dressed and received special audiences.  Known as the Chamber of Charles III (or the Gasparini Room, after its Neapolitan designer), the entire room was done up in the late Baroque-Rococo style and designed as a single, super ornate gold-green-pick ensemble, complete with detailed stucco work (including of "Chinese people" in the corners of the ceilings) seemingly in every bit of space not filled by ceiling frescoes, marble furnishings or silk embroidery!

If there was one room I could photography, it would have been it.  Meanwhile, my German friend appeared most taken by great hall of the palace's armory in which was displayed the massive personal armor wardrobe of not one but two Spanish kings and much more besides.  It's hard to imagine that items whose primary purpose was related to warfare can be so ornately designed and decorated.  But, then, the fact of the matter is that they were made for royalty after all, and often came to be worn at ceremonies rather than (just) the battlefield.

At one point during our visit, I shared with her that I could easily see the royals who lived in places like this thinking that they were an entirely different species or breed, not just class, of being from the hoi polloi.  To which she added the suggestion that this would be such a dangerous disposition in leaders and why she, for one, is happy that her country has done away with royalty.

Something else that I came away from there (and the likes of Versailles) thinking is that seeing crazy luxurious stuff like this makes me understand better why the French Revolution happened, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoniette were accorded such violent ends.  Still, I know others have different thoughts and reactions when seeing unabashed luxury like this.  After all, the week that I visited the Palacio Real, the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took place and was accorded major news coverage not only by the British media but also the likes of CNN and newspapers in Spain!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Encountering the historical, charming, tacky and more while walking through central Madrid (Photo-essay)

On the morning of my second full day in Madrid, my German friend and I decided to walk from out hotel by the Spanish capital's museum neighborhood (where such as the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza are located) over to the center of the city.  Our primary destination was the Palacio Real but we took our time getting there, making sure to choose a route that'd take us past some major landmarks. 

After spending a few hours at the official residence of the Spanish royal family and another couple of hours or so enjoying a big and leisurely lunch at the nearby Plaza de Oriente, we meandered back to our hotel via a different route.  In the process, we got to see quite a few sights -- some of which impressed me, others less so...

The Plaza Mayor is large as well as visually impressive
(and I bet it'd be even more so if there hadn't been a bunch of
portaloos placed in the center for use by open air concert attendees!)
Puppet Ponyo poses in the center of the square
with the equestrian statue of Philip III :)
I found the smaller Plaza de la Villa nearby to be far less 
crowded and, consequently, tranquil and charming 

Having taken 100 years to build, the Almudena Cathedral
located next to the Palacio Real (and on the site where a mosque
once stood), was only consecrated in 1993
On one side of the church of San Ginés at Calle de Arenal
is a bookstore that's been there since 1650! 
As far as I'm concerned, the super crowded Puerta del Sol is 
touristy, tacky and the kind of place where pickpockets thrive
 I was so out of there soon after snapping this photo
of the back of an Uncle Sam-costumed Mickey Mouse
carrying Minnie Mouse and Hello Kitty balloons in its hands!
Meanwhile, demonstrators, including those calling for the protection
of marine life, clogged up yet another of Madrid's many plazas

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Caring for and thinking about the environment while at the beach

Beach clean-up on Lamma on Sunday
View from the beach at Cheung Chau yesterday
Late last week, I returned from Spain to a Hong Kong experiencing a record-breaking heat wave -- and although I wish it wasn't the case, the "very hot weather" warning days have continued into this new week.  Having already decided some months back that I'd halt the monthly Cheung Chau beach clean-ups I've been organizing for the past year or so (and taking part in for even longer) when summer came along, I ended up also cancelling this month's beach clean-up after foreseeing a low turn-out, given the demanding conditions, but also because I had signed on some time back for another beach clean-up the same weekend over at Lamma.
Organized by (some of) the same folks behind the emergency beach clean-ups prompted by the palm oil spill last summer, the long planned event in aid of the green turtles which have been known to nest on Lamma's Sham Wan beach attracted over 2,000 volunteers, many of them Filipina and Indonesian helpers on their Sunday off, despite the searingly hot temperatures.  
Although we were originally scheduled to clean the beach at Sham Wan, it seemed that the government had been freaked out by the idea that so many civilians would descend on that sandy beach -- and probably more so, at the thought that we'd find it a mess rather than that we'd make it so -- that on the day itself, it deployed some 100 Marine Police to clean the beach and also had been having others going hard at it for the two weeks immediately before that!
Rather than decide that there no longer was anything we could do, the participants of the #cleanforturtles event went ahead and set to cleaning up the beach next to Sham Wan.  Shek Pai Wan, about an hour's hike away from the main Lamma ferry pier, was scoured for trash, in particular  microplastics that newly hatched baby turtles often fatally mistake for nutritious food and end up ingesting early on in their consequently prematurely shortened lives.      

As one of the event participants remarked: you think the beach is clean but it turns out to not be so when you look closer.  So often what looks like sand turns out to be a plastic microbead or a kernel of styrofoam -- and I speak from experience when I tell you that they can be more difficult to pick up and get rid off as well as spot than larger items of trash such as the plastic bottles and styrofoam boxes that I must admit to being really upset by when I see them strewn about a beach that could otherwise be oh so beautiful.
One day later, I took a friend visiting from the US and her 10-year-old son over to Cheung Chau.  Learning from the previous day's experience, we planned our excursion for the latter part of the day, when things were a few blessed degrees cooler than a few hours before.  With the added pleasure of sea breezes helping to fan the island at times, Cheung Chau managed to charm once more. 
Spying the beach and water early on during our visit, it was inevitable that the boy would end up happily splashing about in the sea for the greater part of an hour while his mother and I watched from the shore (though it's also true enough that his mother also would be unable to resist going and dipping her toes -- and a bit more! -- in the water for a few minutes).  And this especially since the mother had remarked on how clear the water was and we had seen the sign pronouncing that the beach water quality was indeed optimally high there that day. 
Sitting on the beach that's among those looked after by the Leisure and Culture Services Department (LCSD), I tried to enjoy myself too for the most part but couldn't help noticing the microplastics, pieces of glass and cigarette butts that still could be found on Cheung Chau's Tung Wan Beach.  To be sure, much of it wasn't all that obvious unless you made a point -- like I had done -- to look.  Even so, I wish it wasn't the case: that is, that we don't usually think something is a problem unless we actually notice it as well as that we don't seem to care that much for the environment in which we live, play and move about, and -- this with regards to the air -- breathe.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Color, revelation and drama at Madrid's Museo Nacional Thyssen-Borenemisza

It's not only the art on display at Madrid's 

Not the type of image that comes to mind when
one thinks of works by Pablo Picasso, right?

Also, this is not your typical painting of a saint, right? :O

For first-time visitors, Madrid can feel overwhelming.  It's not just that the Spanish capital is one of Europe's largest cities but the fact of it having some really wide thoroughfares along with narrow streets that can seem more like lanes or alleys, some thoroughly impressive -- and imposing -- looking architecture, and a reputation for being where many pickpockets lurk.  Throw in a disconcertingly sizable population of outright beggars along with buskers and one can feel rather stressed and intimidated when walking about the city.

In situations like this, I often resort to going to place where I feel comfortable and safe, and which can introduce me to the city's cultural riches and heritage.  Put another way: I make a museum my first port of call in the new city -- and in the case, I chose a doozy in the form of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Opened on October 8th, 1992, this art museum located across the street from the Museo del Prado is very much the younger and smaller sibling of the behemoth established close to two centuries ago.  But I found this over 50 room museological establishment very much a visit and ended up spending almost the whole day in there!

Putting on my museologist hat: I really liked that this modern museum opted to have quite a bit of color on its walls, and sometimes on its floors and ceilings too, rather than just go for the "white cube" look favored by many contemporary art galleries.  Rather than diminish the art on display within the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, I reckon that the often warm colors in the background often made the paintings foregrounded on them -- especially those with darker hues favored in certain periods of art history -- feel warmer, more vibrant and accessible.

Moving on to the paintings: I found myself being intrigued by the early works of Pablo Picasso on display in the museum, including the Harlequin with a Mirror painted in 1923.  To those who are familiar only with the artist's later works and think that he produced those Cubist and abstract works because he couldn't create realistic representations: just check those early works out to see how wrong you are -- but know that, at the same time, I'm with you in reckoning that he maybe should have stuck with realistic depictions as those that he produced are really beautiful indeed!

Another, much older painting that caught my eye early on during my visit to the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza was The Beheading of Saint Januarius by Italian Baroque painter Mattia Preti.  For one thing, it's not all that common to see a black person in a painting by a European artist, never mind being depicted as a saint rather than servant or slave.  (In comparison: I actually can't recall seeing a single Asian individual depicted in a work on display at the museum -- although, funnily enough, there were quite a few books about Asian artists and art, including Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Ozu's Tokyo Story.)

Then there's the dramatic subject of the painting -- though, as I continued moving through the museum and also came across such as Bernini's sculpture of Saint Sebastian, I got to remembering the predilection of whole eras of European artists for depicting various martyred saints along with tortured Christs.  Indeed, if I had known how many depictions of terribly tortured saints along with Jesus Christ that I'd cross paths with in many a Spanish church or cathedral as well as museum... Well, let's just say at this point that I ended up seeing my fair share and leave it at that!