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Guest Article:
Complaint of Culture

August 14 2000

As Dai Lowe is in England this weekend, we have been fortunate enough to prevail upon the Australian Art critic, Robert Hughes, author of a major study of the Barcelona of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, to contribute some thoughts on our fair city at the opposite corner of Spain.

G’day, readers.

The Shock of the Loo
Well, I’ve had a look round the old place and, frankly, it’s a bit of a dunny. I’m not suggesting that the English should come and do a repeat performance of 1596 and flatten the joint, but it’s of only passing and I did say passing interest to your highly cultured art and architecture critic, even if he does have to live in America.

The Shock of the Brew
It can’t be denied that the general layout and style of the place and even a few of the individual buildings are click to see 
El Gran Teatro Falla 
in all its glory worth getting a sticky beak for if you find yourself stranded here but I’d rather just concentrate on one of the sods for now. Well, to be honest I’d rather concentrate on a few of the bars but I do need those negatives off Mr Bloody Lowe, so let’s take a look at the magnificently quirky Gran Teatro Falla.
Named after the city’s most famous son, Manuel de Falla (1876-1946: a fair dinkum composer, for the benefit of all you pig-ignorant Poms), it was built in the late Nineteenth Century, when a number of local residents were knocked down to create a fine plaza, now bounded by a hospital to the south, a couple of good bars and a second rate pizza parlour to the east, the solid baroque almshouses of the Casa Fragela to the north and, returning to the theme of salubrity, the University School of Medicine to the west, the oldest School of Medicine in Spain, despite the functional 50's building, begun in 1973.

The Shock of the Hue
click to see 
El Gran Teatro Falla 
in all its glory Its garish rose brick exterior, unrelieved by the occasional patch of white, is fundamentally rectangular and in that immature style of Art Nouveau known as Mujahedeen (like Mudejar but more forceful). However, once inside this box of Turkish delight and to either side of the would-be-magnificent atrium, the visitor is surprised to find gently curved corridors, leading round to the various entrances to the oval auditorium. This contains stalls surrounded by tiers similar to those in London’s Royal Albert Hall, to which this building seems like a kind of kid brother, with the stalls circle and grand tier entirely given over to boxes. The sides of the upper circle are similarly boxed but with a set of more democratic seats to the rear, more like the Royal Opera House (for the benefit of all you insular bloody Poms).

The ‘Gods’ or Paraiso (Paradise) contains precipitous wooden box seating. Individual places are unreserved and interesting melees ensue, as punters form different ideas about which steps are for buttocks and which for feet. On busy nights, this regularly leads to bodies plummeting down into the stalls, causing general amusement, shouts of olé from the boxes as they pass, and a hasty visit from an usherette, to collect a surcharge for the unintended upgrade.

The Shock of the Pew
The ceiling is a gloriously naff affair painted in a mock-rococo 18th Century style by a frustrated impressionist. Like the seating and the boxes, it obviously reflects the tastes and pretensions of the Gaditano bourgeoisie of those days a damn sight better than those of the artist or the truly cultured world to which he yearned to belong but which increasingly lay on the opposite side of the globe. It provides a pretty good trompe l’oeil effect for one lucky person sitting in the dead centre of the stalls and a feeling of slight vertigo for anybody else who looks up — without being caught smack between the eyes by a falling pauper.
The stalls seats are solid, dark wooden affairs with a comfortable art deco feel to them. Nice seats but covered with fading plush red velvet, when, as the old pre-PC joke says, the management would no doubt rather see them covered with arses.

The Shock of the Few
click to see 
El Gran Teatro Falla 
in all its glory On my first visit, there was an excellent gig, given as part of the Festival Internacional de Musica Manuel de Falla, a series of four concerts containing no music whatever by their namesake and indeed, precious little by any of his countrymen or mine. But it was Internacional and the combo that evening was the Chamber Orchestra of Kiev who gave a fine rendition of various numbers ranging from Mozart to Shostakovitch . But despite this and the absurdly low ticket price of six dollars, the good burghers, and I did say burghers of Cádiz couldn’t get a party together to fill more than a sixth of the 1,200 seats (that’s about two hundred backsides, for the benefit of all you stupid Poms).
The stage had been boxed in with some charming plywood partitions to improve the acoustics but the warm sound this provided was more than compensated for by the insulation of the building as a whole. It could be said that in a hot climate there is a balance to be struck between letting air in and keeping noise out and the Falla’s builders had obviously gone for a compromise solution, failing equally spectacularly on both counts. The shrieking of swifts did nothing for Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro; and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence was not improved by the ubiquitous motorbikes — not only their unsilenced engines but also their riders’ belching demonstrations and the fits of girlish laughter this invariably induced from the pillion.
The dour conductor had looked a bit peeved to see such a small turnout and it was a relief that we were only faced with a chamber orchestra. Even then, had they decided to attack, it would have been a pretty close fight. Nonetheless, neither this nor the fact that the hall only seemed able to afford enough chairs for the cellists, prevented them from giving us a selection of lively encores to send us home smiling.

The Shock of the True
look, you Pommy bastard; 
stop sticking that picture 
all over my bloody article 
or I'll break your fucking neck! This being Spain, there were plenty of latecomers, despite the concert not starting until the relatively cool hour of nine. The woman next to me had taken her seat at the same time as myself, with a quarter hour to go before the start and I asked her how come she could be on time when so many of her compatriots considered this a thing of no importance.
“Oh no, Señor,” she replied, “my ticket is for last night’s concert but I met a friend on the way and we got talking and …”


[Watch out for more in this series … Brian Sewell on Why Cádiz Cathedral Should be Towed into the Atlantic and Sunk and Charles Windsor on Monstrous Carbuncles of the 20th Century No 273, The Balneario de la Caleta]

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