Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Passionate about parks

I attempted to rise, but was not able to stir: for as I happened to lie on my back, I found my arms and legs were strongly fastened on each side to the ground; and my hair, which was long and thick, tied down in the same manner. I likewise felt several slender ligatures across my body, from my armpits to my thighs. I could only look upwards, the sun began to grow hot, and the light offended mine eyes. I heard a confused noise about me, but in the posture I lay, could see nothing except the sky….

…I could not sufficiently wonder at the intrepidity of these diminutive mortals, who durst venture to mount and walk on my body… without trembling at the very sight of so prodigious a creature as I must appear to them.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, 1726

There lies Gulliver, sprawled out flat on his back in the five-mile-long linear park created in the dry bed where the River Turia once flowed, helpless as Lilliputian children slide down his hair and scamper all over him. Gulliver’s Park occupies only a small portion of the tree-filled park with ample trails for walkers, runners, joggers and bicyclists.

Bridges, both historic and contemporary cross overhead, keeping modern-day vehicles from interfering. An earlier post focused on recent architectural projects designed by Santiago Calatrava anchoring one end of the Jardines del Turia, but the sculptural bridge arching over the park in the photos below was completed for his hometown about 15 years earlier.

While the linear park is huge, the narrow streets in the heart of Valencia are linked by a huge patchwork of pocket parks and plazas. These urban spaces are highly prized and used by the residents.

When a crumbling structure is removed leaving an open spot developers view as prime, neighbors revolt, trying to claim it for open space. Protest banners hang from buildings abutting one such fenced-off area. They claim the site contains archaeological ruins and should be preserved as an open plaza for public use.

My favorite sign of revolt appears to be somewhat of a vigilante park. Neighbors seem to have taken over the fenced-in property, adding plantings, handmade playscapes, seating groups and whimsical touches. The occupiers kept the gate locked and seemed to have a somewhat regular schedule or social network for nearby families to gather in their cloistered nook in the city.

Pity the developer who tries to usurp the turf now integrated into the surrounding community’s fabric. He might find himself as helplessly entangled in the locals’ Lilliputian web as Gulliver.

Postcard from Madrid, Spain: Paradise found in parks

Better to reign in Hell,

Than to serve in Heaven

Lucifer in John Milton’s Paradise Lost

There he is, the fallen angel himself, painfully ensnared atop a beautiful fountain, guarded by gargoyles, in the heart of Madrid’s Retiro Park. John Milton’s Paradise Lost inspired sculptor Ricardo Bellver to create a monumental depiction of the devil in 1877. Both widely acclaimed and highly controversial, the statue is regarded as the only piece of major public art dedicated to the devil.

Anyone bedeviled by the artwork can easily avoid it, as Retiro Park is huge and is only one of many found in the capital city. Madrid has more parkland in its center than any other major European city, and Madrilenos take full advantage of them any time they are free.

These photos are from Retiro Park and the Jardin Botanico next to the Prado.

Totally swooned for the handsome tuxedoed birds. Exotic in my mind, but considered nuisances by many – common magpies. As with the storks earlier in our trip, never recalled setting eyes on them before, which might be lucky as a multitude of legends portray magpies as harbingers – or at least a single magpie – of ill will.

With his theft of glittering objects, the magpie envisioned by Gioachino Rossini in the plot of an 1815 opera almost caused an innocent maid to swing from the gallows. And the magpie’s reputation surely was not enhanced by the inclusion of the overture to signify impending over-the-top violence by Stanley Kubrick in his 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange.