Postcards from Naples, Italy: Wishing you wind in your sails on all routes*

*Okay, I admit that’s not a literal translation. I just invented one when snapping the photo and stuck with it. In other words, still mine, smooth sailing navigating your way through these troubled times, and take time out from your worries to enjoy virtual travel staycations.

Throwing out some random photographs from our fall trip for a little weekend escape.

Looking over these this morning gave me a hankering for pizza. As Italy is out for now, picking up a Milano pizza from Il Forno proved a flavorful substitute.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Signs of the times

Let the photo below of the former “Bazar” serve as an example from a time when signage was approached as artistic embellishment.

From a distance, the banners on the Opera House above appear a major detriment to its majestic architectural integrity. But at least they are removable. And, when you examine the second tier banner in the close-up shot, the comic strip-like advertising might just be a brilliant way to market opera to a new generation. The other series of seven posters with stars in more traditional poses appears downright stuffy by comparison.

The double-d-cupped model for Intimissimi mars another architectural gem, from a woman’s point of view, but it does have the excuse of promoting lingerie. On the other hand, Coca-Cola’s “Taste the Feeling” is offensive to women on so many levels.

The advertisement depicting Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros as a puppeteer reflects current political contests in Hungary. This spring, thousands of students marched to Parliament to protest laws targeting Soros’ Central European University, and, this week, Andras Gergely reported for Bloomberg News:

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told lawmakers from his Fidesz party that fighting against what he sees as the agenda of billionaire financier George Soros will be the key campaign theme ahead of next year’s general elections, a news website reported.

Orban has already been facing charges from Jewish groups that he stoked anti-Semitism with a billboard campaign that targeted the investor and philanthropist this year. While the government has repeatedly denied that charge, it has kept up its rhetoric, saying Soros was undermining Hungary’s security by inducing migration toward Europe.

The government plans to hold a “national consultation” with voters to survey their views on what it calls the “Soros plan” on migration, Orban told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting, Origo news website said late on Wednesday. The premier said his chances for reelection to a third consecutive term in the spring hinge on whether the “Soros plan” fails, the publication close to the ruling party reported.

Orban’s government has also clashed with the U.S. and the European Commission over legislation targeting non-governmental organizations and a university funded by Soros. The laws were steps in Orban’s push to prevent what he calls foreign meddling in political matters by civil groups and institutions, in line with his model of the “illiberal state.”

The random signs brandishing exclamation points to indicate the importance of their warnings went unheeded by us. We were clueless. After a month, we still remained completely ignorant of the meaning of virtually any Hungarian word. Fortunately, the Kakastoke Porkolt sign was much friendlier about translating its warning that the stand’s star product was rooster testicles stew. No exclamation point needed to send us on our way.

Emperor Franz Josef is thrown in here purely because every time we saw the posters of him we felt as though we were staring at Jim LaVilla-Havelin. As I could find no email address for the San Antonio poet online, maybe someone who stumbles across this blog can forward it to him.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Another day at work on high

I have tried to close the frontier between architecture and sculpture and to understand architecture as an art.

Santiago Calatrava

First we noticed window-washers dangling to clean midlevel glass on the enormous humpbacked Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. Not a job meant for us. Then we spied another pair perched much higher, balancing on the peak of one of the topmost ridges of the opera house. Made the window-washer position appear a cakewalk.

We approached the opera house from below, walking along the pathways of a linear park stretching five miles through the heart of Valencia – Jardines del Turia. Wide enough to easily accommodate soccer fields and numerous tree-shaded bicycle and pedestrian trails, the park is sunken below street level in the former bed of the Turia River.

After more than 80 people lost their lives when the river sent floodwaters rushing through the city streets in 1957, engineers diverted the river Turin away from the center of town. What to do with the bed was debated for many years. Some wanted to pave it over to provide a quick route to the beach. Fortunately, those who wanted a park held the asphalt-lovers at bay (Does this sound familiar San Antonio?).

In the 1970s, the park was completed. Three decades later, the ample width of the riverbed provided a major opportunity for a massive economic development project on the east side of city. A Valencia-born architect and engineer, Santiago Calatrava, was selected by the city to design a string of contemporary public buildings on 90 acres of the river bed.

On an architect’s dream playground, Calatrava completed numerous monumental landmarks between 2005 and 2009, redefining the city of Valencia. These descriptions are from his website.

In recognition of the civic importance of the Opera House, Calatrava gave the building the iconographic character of a monumental sculpture. In form, the building is a series of apparently random volumes, which become unified through their enclosure within two symmetrical, cut-away concrete shells. These forms are crowned by a sweeping steel sheath, which projects axially from the entrance concourse out over the uppermost contours of the curvilinear envelope. The structure that results defines the identity of the Opera House, dramatically enhancing its symbolic and dynamic effect within the landscape, while offering protection to the terraces and facilities beneath.

http://calatrava.com/projects/palau-de-las-artes-valencia.html

The Opera House, Planetarium/IMAX Theater (Hemispheric Theater) and Príncipe Felipe Science Museum form a linear sequence from west to east. A fifth structure, known as L’Umbracle, is a promenade and parking garage, built within an open arcade that is a contemporary reinvention of the winter garden. A raised, axial walkway, offering views to the sea, serves as an ordering element, with gardens and reflecting pools on either side.

The Science Museum is a spatial tour de force, 104-meter wide and 241-meter long. Like the grand exhibition pavilions of the past, it is a longitudinal building, created from the modular development of transverse sections that repeat along the length of the site. Five concrete ‘trees,’ organized in a row, branch out to support the connection between roof and façade, on a scale that permits the integration of service cores and elevators….

The Planetarium/IMAX theater resembles a human eye, set within a 24,000 square meters pool. The ‘pupil’ is the hemispherical dome of the IMAX theater, which is transformed into a globe through its reflection in the pool. The concrete socket of the eye incorporates an ‘eyelid’ of vertical, articulated metal slats, which can be raised to permit views across the pool.

http://calatrava.com/projects/ciudad-de-las-artes-y-de-las-ciencias-valencia.html

Of course, those structures were not enough. Internationally known for his bridges, Calatrava added his second to the river – the Serreria Bridge. Almost 400 feet high, a curved pylon extends its harp-like “strings” across the former riverbed.

And wait, there’s more:

As Calatrava’s immense City of Arts and Sciences has taken shape, it became evident that the complex needs a multi-functional space, capable of accommodating large amount of audience and versatile enough to host various different types of events and activities. Calatrava therefore proposed the construction of a Agora on a site between the Sawmill Bridge and the City of Arts and Sciences’ Oceanographic building.

A diaphanous large hall, built of steel arches and a roof with glass will be crowned with a movable structure that controls the natural light and endows the otherwise horizontal building with a vertical component. This large hall will be raised slightly above the ground level. Underneath the large hall will be a lower level with seats of up to 6000 audiences as well as space for VIP rooms, dressing rooms, toilets, shops and in-house office facilities.

http://calatrava.com/projects/agora-ciudad-de-las-artes-y-las-ciencias-valencia.html

Sinful as this seems, we did not enter any of these structures. We were blocked from one or two undergoing repairs, and the higher-than-a-pyramid stairways mounting the sides of the science museum were closed (Darn?).

Instead, we skirted around and through the row of projects, soaking in their sculptural interactions with each other, the land, the cityscape and the sky.