Thursday, June 18, 2009

Valencia per favor...

I feel embarrassed to admit that I had barely heard of Valencia before... in honesty, all I knew about the city was that it is located south of Barcelona, some place midway the Spanish coastline, at the Mediterranean side of the Iberian Peninsula. That's all I knew! Cross my heart! Maybe, I have also reasonably inferred that it must have been a place of long and glorious history starting with the Romans, or perhaps some ancient colonial Greeks before them. No idea how large it was though and how unique. I mean, unique in the sense that I am pretty convinced now that I've been there, that you can't easily find some place else with a similar combination of old and new, traditional and modern in all colors of the rainbow, anywhere in the world. And all this portrayed in a scenery of blue of the most wonderful sea of all seas, the Mediterranean, the Mare Nostrum!

It made me feel proud again, having seen the beauty of Valencia, to know that I was also born in a country, on the other end of the same pond, Greece, and look and feel like one among these Mediterranean cousins, with similar looks, habits and behaviors, in so many ways. "The world is divided in two", said one Israeli customer once to me in Tel-Aviv... "Those who eat olives (us, Mediterranean folks) and those who don't". Yep, we ate plenty of olives and calamari and drunk wine made by Olympian Gods, here in Valencia, as we sat by the palm trees, a few yards from the breaking waves of the magic sea of our forefathers.

I arrived in Valencia and stayed here for three days and three nights to attend a rather heavy couple of days of (FP7) project reviews during multiple non-stop sessions at the City Polytechnic. Nevertheless, in the few hours left at the end of each day before dark, I took my courage and my compact point-'n-shoot Nikon P6000 under my arm and, sweating heavily under the late afternoon / early evening sun that still forced a pressing warmth upon us, I wondered around, alone or with my colleague Johan, to enjoy as much as my eyes could see and suck-in from such a wonderful place.

Having visited Barcelona a few times before and having seen the works of Gaudi, I thought I had seen all that was possible in the architectural vision of a human being. Until I came here to Valencia. Our hotel, Aqua 3/4 was located at the Alameda roundabout just right off the Calatrava bridge, connecting what was left of the two dried-up river banks. In less than 10 years, supported with funding from the budgets that feed regional development by the EC, the place was converted from a deserted area into a role model urban development project from the year... 3000 AD. La Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Sciencias! The eighth World wonder.

As a Greek, I'd even dare admit that you could eventually afford not having visited Acropolis or the Pyramids and still feel culturally fulfilled. You can't afford not visiting the Ciudad de Las Artes though and still maintain that you've seen what was possible in human architecture. We have all seen the Dubai ad campaigns on CNN about the extended city that was artificially built with Arab petrodollars. Fine... it looks impressive alright, but 'culturally' clashing with the local traditions and religious beliefs. You'd never expect to see what they did there in the middle of a desert. Too kitsch for my taste. However, despite the gazillions they spent, the result is nothing close to the Ciudad de Las Artes by any means.

Here, you find yourself in the middle of an area surrounded by divine and endless turquoise water pools out of which submerged controversial palau's are rising as present day Loch Ness monsters. In your mind's eye you see Wil Smith and his iRobot clones dancing on the white tile plateau to the rythm of a Leonhard Cohen song... You hear the music and your ears suck-in impatiently the first two lines of his lyrics :

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,
Dance me through the panic till I'm gathered safely in...

You feel like you've been dropped somehow into the seventh 'Myst' world, and your senses fake you into a state of nirvana where nothing in the world seems to surprise you anymore. I told friends that it felt like I would have easily believed it if suddenly a flying saucer landed next to me, as I was wondering around the Ciudad's walkways, and a bunch of 'Aliens' walked out. It felt so much like the stage of a George Lucas movie...

And all this was the result of the vision of one man. Santiago Calatrava. A pur sang son of the city! An architect for all seasons! The Gaudi of Valencia! Or, was it that Gaudi was the Calatrava of Barcelona? Like comparing Aristoteles with Plato, that is. What a genius! What a monstre sacré of endless creative architectural vision and engineering masterhood!

I eventually shot more than 500 photographs for sure, in just two evenings and an afternoon. I later (Photoshop)stitched many of them into panoramic views in a modest attempt to reproduce what I felt when capturing the moment itself. You can watch the resulting compilation by clicking here. Pardon me please for the myriad shots of the bridge... that was my personal favorite structure after all... a sample of intrinsic strength and power dressed-up in the divine feminine beauty of a giant Lyre instrument. I felt like photographing a beautiful woman over and over again, until I dropped!

I'm definitely coming back here! Sure thing!

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