Tag Archives: Texas Author Pat Krapf

Europe 2013: The Guggenheim – Bilbao, Spain

The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainAnother cloudy morning greeted us as we went downstairs for breakfast at the Albatros. We wanted to eat, then get a head start on the drive to Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim Museum, which I had wanted to visit since I’d seen Dancing House, also known as the Fred and Ginger house, in Prague, Czech Republic. I wasn’t as interested in the exhibits as much as the architecture of the building itself. I hoped the weather would hold so I could take some decent pictures. We filed into the dining room along with the French tour group, also up early but for an outing into the Spanish countryside. A pleasant and exuberant group, they asked if we would join them for breakfast. We politely declined and pointed out that their tables were reserved for their gathering only.

Mural Under Puente de la Salve

Mural Under Puente de la Salve

Rain pelted us during the hour-and-a-half drive from Suances to Bilbao, but despite the inclement weather we enjoyed the trip, especially when the road hugged the coastline along the Bay of Biscay. The rain and the terrain reminded me of the Florence, Oregon coastline. During my college days at the University of Oregon, I used to spend hours strolling the uninterrupted miles of beaches that stretched along the dazzling Pacific Ocean.

I knew from research that a thriving cultural sector is an essential part of any great city, just as expanses of greenbelts, which limit sprawl, are important to the health of urban dwellers and help them feel more connected to nature. But for me, the star-quality draw in Bilbao had nothing to do with green spaces. My sights were set on finally seeing Frank Gehry’s shimmering titanium, limestone, and glass attraction—the Guggenheim.

Puppy, by Jeff Koons

Puppy, by Jeff Koons

Prior to my visit to Bilbao, I had read an article about the “Bilbao Effect,” or “the Guggenheim Effect,” as the locals refer to it. By 1980, Bilbao, the fourth largest city in Spain, was decimated by the collapse of its steel and shipbuilding industries, its factories shuttered and its port in disrepair. After Spain joined the EU, the Basque authorities embarked on an ambitious revitalization program. They hired expensive architects to design a new airport, a metro system, and a footbridge, Zubizuri, designed by the neofuturistic architect Santiago Calatrava Valls. But the city’s biggest achievement was convincing Solomon R. Guggenheim to build a branch of the legendary Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. For the project, they hired Frank Gehry. Critics referred to Gehry’s design as “mercurial brilliance.” The museum is the centerpiece of the Bilbao Art District.

Five years after construction, Bilbao estimated that the museum’s impact on the economy at around $168 million, more than the cost of construction of the building, which came in on budget at $89 million. In 2012, more than one million people visited the world-class museum, half of them from abroad. Bilbao has become the model for attracting investment, brands, tourism, and cultural energy through a historic cultural institution, which has transformed a struggling post-industrial city into a worldwide cultural power.

Tulips, by Jeff Koons

Tulips, by Jeff Koons

As we exited the motorway and threaded our way through Bilbao’s traffic-congested streets, the skies began to clear. We found a parking spot close to the Guggenheim and hopped out. Since it was still too overcast for picture taking, we decided to tour the museum first and snap photos later. I was in awe from the moment I laid eyes on Gehry’s building as we approached it from the massive steel Puente de la Salve, which crosses over the Nervión River.

At first, I had difficulty keeping my mind on the exhibits, eager for the sun to appear so I could shoot the exterior of the museum, but the significance of the exhibition, L’art en guerre, France 1938–1947: From Picasso to Dubuffet, soon grabbed and held my attention as I toured it. The exhibit had just closed in Paris and opened at the Guggenheim. We spent two somber hours working our way through the war and persecution exhibits, a solemn reminder of the horrors of the war and the genocide carried out because of hatred and fear of certain peoples and religions.

Jed Perl’s article in the New Republic is an accurate critique of the exhibition. Following is an excerpt from his article; a link to it appears at the end of this blog post.

Reflectorama, by Anish Kapoor

Reflectorama, by Anish Kapoor

The German occupation of Paris precipitated an extraordinary confrontation between the city where modern art was born and the regime that was determined to shatter modernity. The juxtapositions in this exhibition are harrowing. We are asked to take in both the luxuriantly sensuous visions of Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard, living in relative safety in Vichy France, and the stark, hardscrabble images done in detention camps by Charlotte Salomon, Otto Freundlich, and Felix Nussbaum, who would soon perish in the German death machine. If it is a story in which the moral giants are outnumbered by the moral pygmies, it is also a story that raises the gravest questions about the morality of art and the artist’s obligation to society.

Between 1939 and 1942, Camp des Milles, housed in a former brick factory, was an internment camp for political dissidents, artists, and intellectuals. After the summer of 1942, and the Nazi plan for the “final solution,” it became the holding site for almost ten thousand Jews awaiting deportation for extermination at Auschwitz. Having been stripped of their freedom and dignity, the detainees quickly organized themselves in order to survive the miserable living conditions. The painters, sculptors, writers, actors, and musicians interned at Camp des Milles had to be endlessly inventive in devising ways to ward off boredom and lift their spirits. Aside from writing and live theatrical and musical shows, over three hundred paintings and drawings are thought to have originated there. Among the “undesirables” held at the camp were Nobel Prize-winning physician Otto Fritz Meyerhof, Max Ernst, Golo Mann, Robert Liebknecht, and German author Lion Feuchtwanger, who escaped to the United States and described his experiences in the camp in his 1941 memoir, The Devil In France – My Encounter With Him In The Summer Of 1940.

Maman, by Louise Bourgeois

Maman, by Louise Bourgeois

Still discussing the war exhibit, Dave and I gravitated toward the Guggenheim café for a sweet and an espresso. Afterwards, we wandered the museum shop, made a few purchases, and returned to the soaring atrium with its pine, glass, and steel curves uncurling high above us. Lured outside by artist Jeff Koons’s work Tulips from his Celebration series, I snapped off several shots of his bouquet of mirror-polished stainless steel balloon flowers. I wished I had an arrangement of such beauty for my own yard. Also impressive is Louise Bourgeois’s tribute to her mother, the mammoth Maman, a nine-meter-tall bronze spider that suggests both protector and predator and embodies both strength and fragility. From the spider, I gravitated back to the tulips and on to a sculpture of cascading balls, Reflectorama, designed by the artist Anish Kapoor. And definitely original are Fire Fountain by deceased French artist Yves Klein, best seen at night as the photo insert shows, and Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Bridge, in which steam floats out from under the Salve Bridge every hour. We circled back to the front of the museum and took several pictures of Jeff Koons’s giant, canine-topiary Puppy, one of the first works acquired by the curators. You can’t miss the forty-foot tall, flower-covered West Highland white terrier that isn’t white as you approach the Guggenheim from the Puente de la Salve. Under the bridge is a stunning mural (see photo). Everywhere you look in the Bilbao Art District, you are greeted with visual beauty.

A short walk from the Guggenheim is Calatrava’s Zubizuri, Basque for “white bridge.” The design consists of a curved walkway, which is supported by steel suspension cables from an overhead arch; the deck consists of translucent glass bricks. Access ramps and stairways are located on both banks. I could easily have spent hours taking more photographs, but bad weather started to close in. Thankful for the photos snapped, we walked back across the Salve Bridge to our rental car. We tossed our drizzle-soaked Windbreakers into the backseat and motored out of Bilbao, bound for Suances.

That night, we ate at El Fanal. The establishment is owned by an Australian who is married to a Spaniard. He tends the restaurant, and she cooks. When we entered we were immediately greeted by the owner, who was friendly and outgoing. We sat at the bar and sipped a glass of wine while he talked about Australia, what we must see if we visited, and what had brought him to Suances. He showed us to our table and for starters recommended the grilled octopus. Perfection. The special of the day was a whole grilled turbot with smoky, spiced potatoes. Excellent. We also gave the nod to his wine suggestion, a Don Olegario Albariño 2012 that paired well with our seafood. For dessert, a homemade flan, something I will never turn down. Our flan arrived along with two glasses of a Spanish sherry “on the house,” a pleasant way to end a great meal in a relaxing atmosphere. Again, we had eaten too early for most Spanish diners and were alone in El Fanal until we finished our sherry. On our way out, we noticed most of the restaurant’s seats had filled.

“When the Surrealists Met the Nazis: Picasso, Paris, and modern art in Vichy France” by Jed Perl. The article can be read in its entirety.

Next week: “Europe 2013: Toledo, Spain.”

Europe 2013: Monte Carlo, Monaco

Author Pat Krapf Visits Monte CarloMonday morning the sun appeared as we jumped on the A8 and motored toward the Nice airport. There, we would drop off the rental car and catch a ride to our hotel in Monte Carlo. As we exited the subterranean parking lot in Avignon, we misjudged the distance from the car to the wall of the underground garage. I winced as we made the tight, sharp angle, not surprised to hear the grind of metal against stone, and wondered how much repairs would cost. But a little over two hours later, when we turned in the car, the Avis representative seemed nonplussed as he looked at the damage. “That’s nothing. Happens a lot,” he said and told us to have a safe trip down to Monaco. Continue reading

Europe 2013: Day Two in Beaune

Day two in Beaune. I tucked a rain jacket and umbrella into my backpack and was ready to face the elements for our all-day excursion into the Burgundy wine region. We had hired a local guide for a private tour of some wineries, as well as to provide a deeper understanding of the oenology and the geology of the Burgundy region. Having lived in California for decades, we were both familiar with our local wine regions, so we weren’t new to viticulture or winemaking in general, and while Dave was well-versed on French wine production, I was not. And, I soon discovered, unlike at most wineries in California, you can’t simply stop in for a tasting and a purchase at any French winery you choose to visit.

Our guide met us at our hotel, and we sped away to downtown Beaune, just minutes away. As we walked through the narrow streets of this charming town, she gave us a brief history of Beaune and pointed out significant landmarks along the way. One sight that caught my attention was a model of the Beaune ramparts, which we planned to explore the next day.

We arrived at our guide’s office and settled in for an in-depth discussion on viticulture and vinification, and she was certainly a wealth of knowledge on both subjects. During the hour-long talk we tasted wines from various villages in the Côte de Beaune, which gave us a better grasp of just how important the terroir is to wine growing and how it affects a wine’s taste. The terroir is the symbiosis of grape, soil, climate, vineyard placement, and the human touch, all rolled into one.

“Now we will go on the ground,” said our guide. As an avid gardener, I hoped this meant what I thought it did, and I was right. We drove through the countryside, stopping at intervals to feel the soil in which the grapes grew, learning hands-on about viticulture and how geology impacts wine growing. A side note: 95 percent of all wine produced in the Burgundy region, from Dijon to Lyon, comes from two specific grape varieties: pinot noir and chardonnay.

From the Côte de Beaune region in the southern half of Burgundy, we retraced our route north to the Côte de Nuits. Ninety-five percent of the wine produced in this district is red, predominantly from the pinot noir grape. The most famous and most expensive come from the  grand cru vineyards of Vosne-Romanée and Chambolle-Musigny. The remaining 5 percent is white, but the white wine mecca of Burgundy is really the Côte de Beaune region.

Clos de Vougeot wineryOur first stop in the Côte de Nuits was the Clos de Vougeot, a wall-enclosed vineyard (clos) with a 125 acres under vine. It is the largest single vineyard in the Côte de Nuits that’s entitled to the grand cru designation; a wine of the most superior grade. The vineyard, like so many in the region, was created by the Cistercian monks. The land was either purchased or donated. In 1336 a wall was built around the vineyard, and in 1551 a château was added. During the French Revolution, all vineyard possessions were confiscated and sold to private buyers. In 1818 the château and vineyards were purchased by Julien-Jules Ouvrard and remained a monopole until his death. A monopole (monopoly in French) is an area controlled by a single winery and can be as small as a vineyard or as large as an entire appellation. An appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown. Also note that, unlike in most of the world’s vineyards, single ownership is rare in Burgundy.

After Ouvrard’s death, Clos de Vougeot passed to three heirs but continued to be operated as a single property until 1889, when the heirs sold and the vineyard was bought by six Burgundy wine merchants. This was the first time the land had been subdivided since the creation of the vineyard some seven hundred years earlier. Over the years, the holdings have been progressively subdivided by inheritance or sales, and as of the early 2000s Clos de Vougeot is now split among eighty-six owners. These producers either make cuvées under their own brands, sell their grapes to vintners, or both. And with its array of owners, Clos de Vougeot is arguably one of the most diverse sources of pinot noir in the world.

Next, our guide explained how much the soils can vary even within this 125-acre tract. The soils around the château are chalky and gravelly oolitic limestone and therefore have good drainage. Those in the middle part of the vineyard are soft limestone with clay and some gravel, resulting in moderate drainage. The bottom part of the vineyard is humus-rich alluvial clay and is flat, making for poor drainage.

What about appellation laws and regulations for the French wine industry? I won’t even attempt to go into this, only to say the industry is heavily regulated, and some of your best fine wines are produced here, allowing you to cellar them for years.

Later, when I commented on the size of Clos de Vougeot—large for the region—our guide said most grand cru sites are closer to thirty-five acres, with the average being eleven acres, so the clos is indeed a large grand cru vineyard. And after I checked prices for some of the wines produced in this region, approximately $200 to $3800 per bottle, I can see why Burgundy isn’t popping corks to draw tourists to daily wine tastings. You can, however, plan in advance and make an appointment to tour a specific winery, such as Maison Louis Latour or Louis Jadot.

As I walked through the grounds of the Château du Clos de Vougeot, I was amazed by the tall, sweeping roofs that almost touch the ground, and I marveled at the giant wine presses built by the Cîteaux monks.

My head was still buzzing with wine facts as we approached our last stop of the day—Gevrey-Chambertin, the largest wine-producing village in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or district. While our guide answered the few remaining questions Dave had on viticulture, I took in the scenery and soaked up some rays. The sun had finally appeared to warm the day.

Abbaye de la Bussiere receptionLate in the afternoon our guide dropped us at our hotel, and we immediately prepared for our drive from Beaune back to Dijon, about a fifty-minute trip, as we had dinner reservations at Abbaye de la Bussière. As we wound our way through the Ouche valley, the countryside picturesque and unspoiled, we were glad we had our GPS to guide us. We turned onto one, then another country crossroad and kept going until I was certain we were hopelessly lost, but we soon spotted the Burgundy Canal and knew we were on course. We followed the river, and before long there appeared before us a grand gateway. The drive curved past willow trees and a duck pond, and Shetland ponies grazed on the grass. We parked and were escorted into a main hall.

The front of the Abbaye de la BussiereAbbaye de la Bussière is a Cistercian monastery built in 1131 by Stephen Harding, an Englishman, of the Cistercian Order at Cîteaux. Following the French Revolution, the monks were expelled and the property sold at auction. It remained in private hands until it was returned to the Catholic church in 1921 to serve as a spiritual retreat. In decline and decay, the church decided to sell the abbey in 2005. Today it is owned by the Cummings family and is an exclusive boutique hotel set on fifteen acres of parkland with a lake and a botanical garden. The abbey is surrounded by historic vineyards, Gevrey-Chambertin being one of them. There are sixteen guest rooms, all lavishly decorated, and fine dining is in the main abbey building, a cathedral-like setting with honey-colored stonework, traceries, ornate staircases, and stained glass windows that cast soft turquoise light on the vaulted ceilings and walls.

Stained glass windows from the abbey, the original onesThe abbey’s main restaurant is in the former refectory. Seated at a table tucked into a corner, we settled in for a most memorable meal. For starters I ordered the escargot, served with a garlic-suffused green risotto topped with goat cheese foam. It came in a tapered parfait glass, the green risotto at the bottom topped with the goat cheese foam, and in the center of the topping the escargot. The presentation was as delicious to view as the dish was to eat. Dave ordered the crayfish and smoked eel with a candied quail egg on marmalade tomato and anchovy cream. For the main course, I had trout served with basmati rice, capers, golden raisins, and herbs. The whole grilled trout was expertly filleted at our table. Dave ordered free-range pork, morels, and roasted potatoes, with a light emulsion of green pepper and rosemary. For dessert, we selected our favorite cheeses from the cheese trolley and sipped an excellent French port.

As we drove away from the abbey, I wondered what the Cistercian monks would have thought of the monastery today, knowing no vestiges of their strict monastic orders of self-denial, seclusion, and silence remain today. But it was a fleeting thought, as it was obvious that the Cummings have gone to great effort to successfully restore the abbey to it glorious medieval self and are carrying on the Cistercians’ passion for surrounding themselves with peace and natural beauty, which kept the monks close to the earth of which God had made them stewards.

Next week: “Europe 2013: The Beaune Ramparts.”