In January 2007 I was in the city of Riga in Latvia…
Have Bag, Will Travel
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On 8th January 2014 I was spending a second day in the Polish city of Wroclaw. The first day was spent sightseeing and dwarf hunting and today I was determined to find another piece of street art.
I was looking for a sculpture called ‘The Anonymous Pedestrians’…
There is an interesting piece of trivia about this picture. It is mine, I know that because I edited it to take out street clutter. A Google image search reveals that it has been used almost two thousand, five hundred times in other people’s websites and blogs. One or two have had the courtesy to give me a photo credit but only a handful. It has appeared in Pintrest galleries and several times on Instagram. I am not complaining, just saying.
In the Algarve the local council has come up with a good way to stop graffiti – they get there first with street art. These electrical supply boxes are painted and suffer no vandalism. How clever…
Inspiration for this post came from my blogging pal Jo
Regardless of the size of any Spanish city the historical centre is generally small and easily managed on foot and Valencia is no exception confined as it is within a circle that was once the old medieval city walls.
Our excellent accommodation was close to the central squares adjacent to the Cathedral and to the central market which was one of my favourite places. Every morning I volunteered for breakfast shopping duties and made an early morning visit joining lines of Valencians going about their daily business, some vigorous, some dawdling, some urgent and energetic some reluctant and lethargic.
On the very edge of the centre is another market, a very fine building with a colourful Gaudi-inspired façade which is an example of Modernista Valencian Art Nouveau architecture of the time and has since been declared a national monument.
It was once a real market but these days it has been gentrified and gone up-market and instead of stalls of fish and vegetables it is home to expensive cafés, restaurants and shops, the smell of the sea and the soil has been replaced by barista and croissant but it is a good place to visit all the same.
Not a great deal of the original city walls remain in place, just a pile of gnarled stone here and there but there are two restored gate houses that El Cid would surely have recognised even today and I chose one of them to pay the very reasonable admission fee of €1and climbed to the top where there were good views over the whole of the city.
One of the things that I especially liked about Valencia was the general level of cleanliness with tidy streets and a thankful lack of graffiti, I know some people consider it to be a form of expressionism but in my opinion it is almost always a punishable crime. I do however like good urban art and on almost every street corner there was something worthwhile to see, always well done and tasteful. (The three worst places that I have been for graffiti by the way are Bologna, Lisbon and Ljubljana).
Finally we visited the Bull Ring which I know a lot of people won’t agree with as being something worthwhile. I used to think that I would like to see a Bullfight but not anymore. Not because I disagree with it in principle but simply because as a spectacle it wouldn’t appeal to me. That is because I am not Spanish and it is not part of my culture and tradition.
“Nothing expresses the masculine quality of this country better than the bull-fight, that lurid and often tawdry gladiatorial ritual, which generally repels the northerner in the theory, but often makes his blood race in the act.” – Jan Morris. ‘Spain’
There are many calls from outside Spain (and within as well) to ban the sport but that would be doing away with a pagan tradition that stretches back to the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans and once it has gone that link will disappear forever.
“I do not consider bullfighting a sport, it is an art, a science, a ritual more spiritual than physical” Patricia McCormick – America’s first professional female bullfighter
The informative little museum explained that in a bullfight six bulls are killed in an event and this involves three matadors with their band of attendants, the picador horsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes. If the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the president of the fight that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail. Personally I would rather have a bottle of champagne or a cheque!
Every year, approximately two hundred and fifty thousand bulls are killed in bullfights. Opponents condemn it as a cruel blood sport, supporters defend it as a cultural event and point out that animal cruelty exists elsewhere in horse racing, rodeos or any form of hunting with guns which are all forms of sport that are stoically defended by those who take part.
Personally I would include the cruel and pointless sport of fishing in that list because to my way of thinking there is nothing more barbaric than catching a poor creature just going peacefully about its daily business with a hook and line and dragging it from its environment in a most stressful way and watch it lying there on the bank of a river gasping for breath.
All in all, I remain firmly on the fence in the matter of Bullfighting. I think we should first address the issue of man’s inhumanity to man.
I always wonder if they have ‘extra grip’ pegs in Southern Europe because if an unexpected gust of wind blows something off the line then it is surely gone forever.
This is rather like other unanswered questions that trouble me – why women are hopeless at supermarket check-outs, how did the Trojans fall for that Wooden Horse Trick, if moths only come out after dark why do they always fly to the light and just how can I be sure that the little light in the fridge has gone off when I shut the door?
More Washing Lines…
“When Pope John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport he began the process by which Communism in Poland – and ultimately elsewhere in Europe – would come to an end.” – John Lewis Gaddis, U.S. Cold War Historian
On a recent visit to Iceland we learnt about the elves and trolls that live there in the mountains and the valleys but we didn’t see any because they are invisible but here in Wroclaw we very soon came across the dwarfs because they are not nearly so shy and can be found posing outside buildings and along the footpaths all over the city.
Dwarfs have long held a place in Polish folklore and their current iconic status as symbols of Wrocław has political and subversive origins. Under communism they became the rather unlikely symbol of the Orange Alternative – an underground protest movement that used absurdity and nonsense to stage peaceful protests. Armed with paint cans the group specifically ridiculed the establishment’s attempts to censor public space.
During the communist era any anti-establishment graffiti or troublesome public art was quickly painted over by the authorities but upon seeing fresh censorship the Orange Alternative quickly painted over them yet again…with dwarfs. The first in its modern statuette form was placed on a busy crossroads near a subway where Orange Alternative demonstrations often took place in 2001.
We began in the Market Square and at first it all seemed incredibly easy and within a few minutes we had spotted at least twenty or so using our guide pamphlet as a sort of ‘I Spy Book’ that we used to have when we were children but then the going got tougher as we were forced into the adjacent streets to go in search of our quest.
To the south of the Market Square we walked as far as the old city moat and then back to the centre via the Four Temples District and then we went north again back towards the University searching high and low for the little fellows.
We walked to the river and then walked east but there was a chill wind blowing down the river valley so we abandoned the route almost as soon as we had started and headed back to the centre and along the way came across ‘Jatki’ which is the only preserved medieval street in Wroclaw and has a corner of bronze sculptures of animals, a pig, piglet, goose, duck, rooster and a rabbit at the entrance to the street.
As well as the dwarfs we were looking for a sculpture called ‘The Anonymous Pedestrians’ and found them at a busy road junction where there are fourteen statues of ordinary people going about their daily business but on one side of the road they are sinking into grey obscurity into the pavement and on the other are rising back out into the sunshine in a form of social resurrection.
It is a wonderful piece of street art and I am prepared to say that for me it was one of the highlights of Wroclaw.
The statues are a reminder of the introduction of martial law in Poland on December 13th 1981 and a memorial to the thousands of people who disappeared (‘went underground’) in the middle of the night courtesy of the militia. In a symbolic statement the fourteen statues were erected in the middle of the night in 2005 on the twenty-fourth anniversary of the introduction of martial law.
In 1981 the Polish Communist Government was having a hard time, there was a troublesome Polish Pope who had visited the country two years earlier and given people hope of liberation, there was a severe economic crisis, workers were striking and there was the growing influence of the workers movement Solidarity, and under pressure from the USSR, General Jaruzelski decided on a brutal and violent solution.
Early in the morning Martial Law was declared, several thousand opposition campaigners were interned, it is estimated that approximately one hundred people were murdered and strikes were crushed with the help of the army and special riot police units. Many members of the opposition and underground trade-unionists were sentenced to prison terms, others were forced to emigrate. Normal life was severely restricted with curfews and rationing, the independent trade union Solidarity was banned and its leader Lech Walesa was imprisoned.
Although martial law was lifted in 1983, many of the political prisoners were not released until the general amnesty in 1986.
Jaruzelski and the other instigators of the martial law argued that the army crackdown rescued Poland from a possibly disastrous military intervention of the Soviet Union, East Germany, and other Warsaw Pact countries similar to the earlier ‘fraternal aid’ interventions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 but history generally disagrees with this defensive interpretation and even today some of the leaders of the action await formal trial and punishment.
This is probably the most striking and powerful memorial depicting ordinary people that I have ever seen that perfectly captures the moment and visually records the suffering and the inhumanity, the desperation and the hope of the time and the military regime.
Humbled by this memorial and growing tired of looking for dwarfs it was just about now that we abandoned our search and returned to the Market Square to find a bar with tables in the sunshine and to settle down with a beer.