Postcard from Zaragoza, Spain: Cheerful toasts echo around plazas

Above: Well-muddled mojitos at Gran Cafe Estrella de Cuba

Gathering for lively conversation over cocktails seems important in Zaragoza, and not just for young late-night partiers spilling out of tapas bars crowding the narrow streets of the city’s famed El Tubo district. People like us, canosos (gray-haired), jockey for hard-to-score tables on neighborhood plazas with college students and families with baby carriages to enjoy beer, wine and gin and tonics at all times of day – our kind of place.

We were there in the late spring, and, with COVID restrictions just loosening up, the few tourists around barely had a chance of winning the competition for outdoor spots. Maybe we were witnessing the first exuberant gatherings locals were having with friends and family they had missed seeing, their first opportunities to finally escape their apartments after the long lockdown, their first reunification with vices given up for Lent. Perhaps this is simply the year-round pursuit of happiness in Zaragoza – a good way to live.

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Postcard from Zaragoza, Spain: Competing patron saints and cathedrals, plus some miracles

Above: La Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar is on the left while La Seo de Zaragoza anchors the far end of the plaza.

Although conquered by The Battler, Alfonso I (1073-1134), the Moorish rulers of Zaragoza left rich architectural contributions in their wake. The main mosque was an impressive one, so The Battler opted for adaptive reuse, making alterations for Christian purposes and consecrating the new church in the name of San Salvador in 1121.

The Battler’s predilection for war unfortunately extended to his life with his wife, with no heirs produced from the contentious marriage. Leapfrogging over the resulting confusion following Alfonso I’s death, Ramon Berenguer (1114-1162), the Count of Barcelona, was betrothed to one-year-old Petronilla of Aragon (1136-1173) in 1137. The toddler’s father, known as Ramiro II (1086-1157), transferred the rule of the kingdom of Aragon to his new son-in-law so he could retire to a normally peaceful monastic life. As this post is not really about Ramiro the Monk, we will not dwell on his priestly qualifications that include the legend of his beheading of a dozen nobles who opposed him and using the head of their leader as the clapper for the bell of Huesca.

Demonstrating his dedication to the marriage-acquired territory of Aragon, Ramon had much of Zaragoza’s mosque/Catholic church razed to begin construction of a Romanesque replacement in 1140. This church became the home for coronations of Aragonese kings, and, with the papal appointment of an archbishop of Zaragoza in 1318, a cathedral.

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Postcard from Austin, Texas: Exposing an unpleasant underbelly of America

There is Eugene Delacroix’ “The Massacre at Chios,” with its 1824 showing in the Salon de Paris igniting European concern about tragedies occurring during the Greek War of Independence.

There are Francisco Goya’s “Fatal Consequences of Spain’s Bloody War with Bonaparte, and Other Emphatic Caprices,” prints so controversial they were not published as “The Disasters of War” until 1863, 35 years after his death.

There is Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” his 1937 painting of the German bombing of a Basque town that attracted the world’s attention to the atrocities occurring during the Spanish Civil War.

And now there is Vincent Valdez’ haunting 2016 black-and-white monumental depiction of Ku Klux Klansmen in “The City I,” owned and currently on exhibit at the Blanton Museum of Art.

This could be any city in America. These individuals could be any Americans. There is a false sense that these threats were, or are, contained at the peripheries of society and in small rural communities. . . . It is possible that they are city politicians, police chiefs, parents, neighbors, community leaders, academics, church members, business owners, etcetera. This is the most frightening aspect of it all.

Vincent Valdez, Blanton Museum of Art website

Vincent Valdez was born and raised in San Antonio; an artist about whom we boast. Yet you want this enormous painting stretching across the gallery wall to please be a scene from any other city in America. Please not here. Not my neighbors.

The KKK and other racist groups exist throughout the country; denial does not help; you cannot simply wish them away. They might indeed be your neighbors.

The menacing eyes peering out from the holes in the white hoods glare at you, following you around the room. There is no place to hide.

We have interrupted their gathering. The group looks warily at us as we look at them; no one appears to be welcome here.

Blanton Museum of Art website

 

After viewing Valdez’ powerful punch, the antidote in the next gallery, a 2012 neon by Tavares Strachan, offers relief. “We belong here.”

As humans, we all struggle with how we fit in and belong…. Who gets to determine who belongs where? And where is here? And why does it matter?….

I wanted to make a work that everyone can own—one that everyone can have….Because as soon as you read it, you say, “We belong here,” and we do belong.

Tavares Strachan, Blanton Museum of Art website