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06-02-2018

The agony and the ecstasy

It was a regular Sunday morning in Valencia, with a few hours to kill. A couple of weeks ago I translated a brochure about the city, extolling the virtues of the Museum of Fine Arts (Museu de Belles Artes de València) and its collection of paintings by great masters. I decided to see it for myself.

I’d treated myself to a nice room at the Melia Hotel in Plaza del Ayuntamiento, a mere 20-minute walk from the museum, but my feet were groaning after trudging around the shops the previous day, and I decided to get a taxi. I had been incredibly restrained at the shops. Even though the sales are on and there were so many bargains, I hadn’t bought a thing, so I thought I deserved the taxi. It was an expensive mistake. There was a marathon going on and after driving round and round trying to avoid the runners, I gave up, asked the driver to stop, and ended up walking just as far as I would have done if I had started from the hotel.

Never mind. Entrance to the museum is free. There were two temporary exhibitions. The first, entitled ‘fulgors de protecció’ was a collection of protective objects which have been used throughout history for protection, decoration and as a sign of social standing, often for children. I am not quite sure what these elaborate amulets were supposed to protect against, perhaps evil spirits or the Black Death, but I suppose it is not all that different from the crosses, evil eyes and Hands of Fatima that people still wear today. I wouldn’t have let my son near any of those sharp silver things when he was a baby! The second exhibition was called ‘Unblemished Mary. Politics and Religiosity in Baroque Spain’ and as the name indicates, consisted of paintings and statues of the Virgin Mary showing every imaginable emotion, from blissful motherhood to agonising grief.

Most of the works in the museum are by Valencian artists, and the overriding theme is the Catholic religion, with a veritable cornucopia of gory, disturbing biblical scenes, saints, and sinners. The non-religious portraits and other works by Joaquín Sorolla (such as that pictured) were wonderful, but an hour of the agony and ecstasy was enough.

Out on the streets again, I made my way back towards the Plaza de la Virgen in search of a coffee. The closer I got, the bigger the crowds and, from the carrier bags, I could see they’d been shopping! Attracted like a pin to a magnet, before long I was back in Colón. The street was packed of people wearing colourful woolly hats and puffer jackets, and then suddenly, I was walking through the doors of El Corte Inglés, the thrill of that heady smell of dozens of perfumes, that gust of warm air that greets you as you enter the central heated cathedral to consumerism. Guess where I spent the rest of my Sunday… forgive me!

Juliet Allaway

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