New Year’s Eve 2009

This year was rather dull, so I am revisiting a previous New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve 2009
Christmas and New Year are quiet times in France so, faced with the prospect of yet another New Year of watching Jules Holland, we thought we would go to somewhere which is always lively and fun – Spain….
Going away for even a short time involves something that is anathema to me –preparation. Because we were only going away for one night I dispensed with the planning aspect even to the extent of forgetting to set my alarm clock and was woken up by RJ at 7.45.  Horribly dark still so we ran around packing for an hour.  Shutters were closed, plugs checked (many times), radiators turned off (and on and therefore had to be checked again) and various expensive items from the unlockable outbuildings had to be hauled into the sitting room (rotavator, strimmer, lawn mower, bikes), the computer had to be covered up with a towel and finally we thought we were ready and actually set off when the sun put in a brief appearance and the driver decided he needed sunglasses which necessitated a trip back to the house and setting off again, by which time the sun had gone in. The dog and the cat were left out and the chickens were left in.  We set off for the last time and hit the road.
The communes we passed were waging war on the escaped Pampas Grass that romps in gay abandon over the banks of the Autoroute.  Large amounts of it had been scraped away in preparation for the enlarging of the motorway and the few clumps that were left hung like dead chickens next to the fresh brown cleared earth.
Traffic was light and in less than four hours we were crossing the Bidasoa – the river that marks the boundary between France and Spain. It sparkled in the early morning sunlight and was dotted with brightly coloured boats, their flags waving gently in the breeze.  The change was immediate.  On the motorway, the cars are smarter and the pace is quicker; Basque houses with their fresh-faced white facades and red shutters are replaced by concrete apartment blocks.  The rolling hills of the Pays Basque transform into sharper, harsher forms, their sides scoured of vegetation and colonised by advancing columns of Christmas Trees.  Pasted onto the lower slopes are narrow strips of allotments, bright with cabbages and leeks.  On past San Sebastian we continue and signs for Bilbao/Bilbo start to appear on the overhead signs.  The Autoroute snakes round the side of the city and the groups of apartment blocks thicken.  Exit 116 appears and damn, we are not in that lane and have to take the subsequent exit.  Traffic is dense, with traffic lights every 100 metres.  Honking is a strategy that actually seems to work.  We get enmeshed in a particularly immobile lane and I am sent out to ask directions – a taxi driver in a proximate lane tells me to turn left and head for the river (he tells me a lot of other stuff too…. alas it is all in Spanish over laden with a sacreBasque accent which is lisping and profound.  We finally find a left turn and hurrah, the river is there and we cross and follow the bank. OH has had a stroke of genius and booked a hotel that is recognisable by its multi-coloured façade and we find it almost immediately.
After ten minutes wrangling about who gets which room, we emerge to find the Guggenheim is just on the opposite riverbank and so we pile into a nearby bar to refuel on tapas and coke.  There is a beautiful new bridge with a high elliptical arch and coloured glass cubed walkway.  Sickeningly, the waves are still visible through the blue cubes.  The floral bear at the entrance of the Museum is bejewelled with many tiny pansies.  The boys elect to go and investigate the City.
 “Art is all about glue and twigs,” observes WF, in what proves to be a prophetic insight.
We get inside and give Richard Serra’s exhibit A moment in time a miss and head off to the main exhibit by Cy Twombly.  There is a very large room which is filled with very small exhibits of half whitewashed pieces of wood, cemented together with old pieces of broken machinery and topped off with a wooden flower.  We hope it is going to get better and go up to the next floor.  There is another very large room filled with very large canvasses covered in infant scribbling, drawings of breasts and random splashes of paint.  A further room reveals canvasses with virtually nothing on them apart from a couple of horizontal and vertical lines and again, the scribbled writing.  We decide that estate agency is just too hard a way of making a living and resolve to take up art.
The day is saved by the third floor that has the most beautiful 16th century paintings of Spanish nobility.  There is the Holbein portrait of Jane Seymour (looking rather grim and serious and not at all like the floozy portrayed in many a TV production), another of Catherine of Aragon; surprisingly red headed.  Her face is round with rosy cheeks and she has a gentle look in her eye.  Several paintings are of Infantas, their faces frames with golden curls and hands resting delicately on their oversized farthingale skirts, small smiles playing on their lips and unaware of the shortness of their lives to be.  A small picture of an ugly woman in a black dress turns out to be the adolescent Charles II, his long chin unhidden by the beard that he adopted in later life.  He sneers at the viewer.  Rubens women romp richly over other canvasses and Mary Magdalene seems to have trouble keeping her clothes on.  Again, she has ginger hair…
And that is it, so we go out into the winter sunshine and spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city on various buses and trams before going back to the Hotel to crash for a couple of hours, retrieve the boys and hit the streets again.

It’s 7 o’clock and I want to rock; want to get a little action here…

At 8.30 we were dressed and ready for fun and go into a nearby bar for tapas and drink and then follow the river uptown into the Casco Viejo.  Open bars seem mysteriously hard to find.  I ask a passing couple and they tell me everything is shut. We find the main square which is covered in confetti and debris and completely empty of people.  We wander slowly back to the Hotel, getting temporarily lost in a shopping (and bar free) area and having to refuel from a vending machine.
Finally we arrive back at the Hotel to find absolutely everything shut apart from the Hotels, which have packed restaurants.  We go to bed, very disappointed, at 11 pm and are awoken at midnight by explosions.  From all of the surrounding apartment blocks, people are throwing lit fireworks  – bangers, fountains, firecrackers, fizzers flash from the skies, bouncing off lower apartment windows before landing on the dancing people below.  And ten minutes later; silence.

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