Talking about Miro’s paintings with my six year old

Fundacio Joan Miro Barcelona

August 8th 2013:

“What have you seen today?”

“A bird that ate the sun.”

“What is your favorite painting in the museum?”

“There are two of them. The firebird (The Firebird) and the white bird. The white one with two color spots (The bird of the paradise).”

….

August 11th 2013:

“What do you remember from today?”

“Not from today. From the first time we went to the museum I remember two things. I saw them again today. The yellow egg on a chair, because of the color. And the second thing is a painting of woman, flower and fire.”

“What painting are you talking about. I can’t remember it.”

“It has a woman looking sideways, fire, flower. There is a red wall behind the woman. I can draw it for you. It has lots of red and yellow.”

(Flame in space and naked woman)

….

August 24th, 2013:

“What did you like today the most?”

“The two drawing of the garden” (Personajes en el jardin II and Personajes en el jardin IV)

“Why did you like them?”

“Because the garden was full of fruits”

“Those were not fruits, those were people’s faces”

“They looked like fruits to me”

….

“My favorite three paintings are of the birds and the sun. I like the one where the bird ate the sun.”

“What do you like about them?”

“All three paintings have a bird, a blue rectangle, a sun and a star. The star is important and easy to draw.”

….

Miro's painting

“I know how he did this one. He used cotton swabs. I am going to do one at home too.”

Lorena's painting ….

“Can we lick the mercury fountain?”

‘No.”

“Is there fish in the fountain?”

“No.”

“Hmm. Let’s stay here for a while and look how the water falls.”

….

“I do not know whether I want to be an artist or a horse as a grown up.”

and a little bit later

“… I think I can be both. I will be an artist in the mornings and horse in the evenings.”

Las Montañas de Nieve

The salt mountain, Cardona“Where will we go today?”
Miro is three years old. It is August and we are in Spain.
“I do not know. Let’s look at the map and see what is around here.”
“Let’s go see another castle.”

After we pass Montserrat the main color is yellow. Sunburnt country. The hills before the Pyrenees are green. We stop at Cardona.
“What language do we speak here?”
Lorena is six. She has asked me this question many times this summer. Every time the car stopped in a new town.
“Spanish or Catalan. Whichever you prefer.”
“Catalan.”
“Good.”

“The fence is from the 12th century. The frescos have been removed, you can see them at MNAC.”
It is cold in the crypt. I sit on the stone and watch my children run around the crypt and the church. We are the only visitors here. The kids are playing horses. The guard, who opened us the church door and is standing next to it, smiles at me. The church is cool and empty. After the hot August sun the air inside is like water.

“Salt.”
“The white mountains?”
“Yes. We call them Las Montañas de Nieve. What you see from this window is salt.”
We buy a card and a book from the guard and leave.

The entrance hall is empty. We are the only visitors again. We are charged 28 Euros to be taken inside the salt mine. The kids are excited. We board on a 4×4 and drive to the mine. The road is made of salt. Then we walk on salt.

“All the mountain is salt. There is no rock or other elements inside of it. It consists of three types of salt, potassium, magnesium and the regular salt. Magnesium salt is mostly orange.
It breaks easily. Miners hated it,” Monica, the guide, is taking us on a walking tour inside the salt mountains.
“Can I lick the wall?”
“Yes.”
Both kids are licking the walls with enthusiasm.
“Umm. I love salt.”

It is cold inside the mountain.
“We are 46 meters deep now, the temperature is stable at 17C here.”
“Was the temperature an obstacle to the mining?”
“It was, but not here. The mines go up to 1300 meters deep inside the mountain. It is all salt. The miners were only interested in potasa (potassium). It was used for gunpowder. In this mine about 30% of the salt is potasa. Every time there would be no more left, miners would go deeper into the ground. At 1300 meters the temperature of the earth is 50C. Miners worked at these conditions with ventilation installations. Also, the ground waters were dripping non stop and it required a lot of machinery and human labor to keep the mine dry and in working conditions. In 1990s the mine was closed as the operating costs surpassed the profits. Ten years ago it was opened for tourism.”

I ask Monica how did the city life changed with the mine closure.
“I think it is good that the mining was terminated here. Otherwise in 50 years there would be no mountain left. We would have lost all the resources and the scenery.”
“How do the people live here now?”
“Tourism.
“Does it give enough?”
“Not yet. Tourism is a longterm investment. We are very young in this sense. We have the castle (Cardona Fortress) and the mines. In 20 years from now it will be better. It will give us profit while conserving the heritage.”

Living off the heritage. I fall silent. I look at the mines. They are beautiful and motionless. The quietness of not living. My eyes see people working. The effort and excellence of human mind and body created kilometers of tunnels, clogging the salt rock with the machinery noise and dust. You must be good! You must be damn good at what you do in order to do it! Otherwise you would not touch this mountain.

While we are waiting for the 4×4 Lorena talks to Monica in Catalan. I can’t hear her. I am surrounded by the absence of sound that comes from inside of the mountain. I can see Lorena hugging and kissing Monica on the cheek.

“I have seven horses. Come to visit me and you can ride there. I live close to Sant Llorenç de Morunys. There is a swamp called La Llosa de Cavall. You will find me there. There is only one house along the swamp, this is where I live. And I have a 10 year old daughter. Come over for a visit.”
“Can we visit Monica?”
“Of course.”

In the car I write down the name of the town and the place.
“You do not need my phone number. If I am not at home, go to the town and ask for Monica de las Casas, this is how they call me here. You will find me.”
“We will. We will come over next Saturday, will you be there?”
“I will.”

“Mom, I love Monica. What color do you think are her horses? Will she have white ones? I do not like white horses.”
“Neither do I.”
“I know. This is why I do not like them too. They are awful, right?”
I look at her and laugh.
“Nope. Some of the white ones must be fine. It is just the one that I rode was bad-tempered. Almost broke my hands once. Others must be good. Do not be afraid to ride white horses.”
“I am not.”

We drive in silence. Then kids start talking about the salt mountain. They want to go there again.
“Are you tired?”
“No.”
It is close to midnight when we get on B-20 towards Barcelona.

Cardona FortressCardona Fortress.The church, CardonaSan Vicente church within the castle.CardonaThe view from the castle.Salt MountainThe Salt Mountains, CardonaInside the salt minesInside the Salt Mines, Cardona.salt mountainsSalt Mountains CardonaSalt Mountains.San Vicente churchInscription on the floor of San Vicente Church within the Cardona Fortress: Valer o Morir.

Where the Wind is Dry

Alquézar, Aragones, Spain

We stood on the top of the hill and the wind was dry. It was dry and it blew hard. The wind is never this way in the city. It was neither strong, nor noisy; you could not even say it was windy. All you knew was that it was very quiet. Just the burning sun over your head, and the wind that dried the hills in this part of Aragon. The Somontano region. Your skin was being burnt, acquiring the color of the red sandy rocks that surrounded you. The wind blew hard till you seemed to have no flesh left on your face and hands. You touched yourself: skin and bones. And the hot rocks under your feet. This is how the wind was in August in this part of the country. It made you become quiet and not feel anything except respect for this land and its people, it made you be strong.

You walk uphill. Burnt by the sun. The stone paved road to the castle is steep and hurts your feet. You turn again. All you hear is the silence of the dry wind. You want so much to walk this road.

This land is not mine, but I would fight for it. With no emotions, no feelings, no patriotism. I would fight for it willingly, consciously, with precision, like operating a delicate machinery. With passion for living. This is the only thing one can do under this dry wind and the burning sun.

I like to walk the roads that are hard. I do it purposefully. When I hurt myself, I neither complain, nor feel the pain; I appreciate deeper that I live, and learn to walk better. I attached myself to people and things, only to realize that I do not love people and things, I have nothing in common with them. They became a burden. When you walk uphill you know that the only thing one can be passionate about is walking. The dry wind and sun burn your skin; they also burn the grapes in Somontano. The wine carries the silky taste of strength and you are not thirsty or tired any longer.

Years before you came here, you knew you walked in the land where the roads are steep and the wind is dry.

AlquézarAlquézar townAlquézar rocksMonzón castleMonzón towerMonzón castle detailMonzón entranceVineyards in SomontanoPomegranate tree in Alquezar