Our roving reporter continues his global journey.
|Don Diego Lopez Da Hora V probably stood very close to where we were, on the banks of the Rio Bilbao when he decided to establish a city, and named it Bilbao. On the other side of the river at that time, in 1300 AD was a fishing settlement, later named old Bilbao. The legacy continued and still there is an old Bilbao, and Bilbao, the capital of the famous Basque Country of Spain.|
I arrived in Bilbao with my fiancé by bus from the western side of the country. The first thing we noticed was there were two names for everything. The Basque language is given the same treatment as Spanish, unlike in the Franco era when the Basque language and identity were suppressed. Our friend greeted us at the terminal and declared "Let's walk!"
On one of the bends of the Rio Bilbao, in the southern part of the city, stood a rusting building, in what appeared like a blend of communist and colonial architecture. Without any title or number on its doors, it found its identity in this neglected neighborhood as the government building next to the river. The buildings around it were 6-7 stories, apartments with small bars and shops on their ground floors. The colors and the ambience of the place seemed like from a time capsule. In 1983 floods devastated several iconic structures like the
Moving northward along the river, the city changes its shape. Post medieval, flat buildings, give way to 20th century multi storied industrial apartments, haute couture shopping malls, metro entrances and finally the Guggenheim Museum.
"Whether you like modern art or not, you are gonna like the Guggenheim," said my host. Covered with splendorous 30,000 sheets of titanium, the museum became Basque's primary tourist attraction overnight. An enormous atrium, more than 150 feet high, connects 15 galleries. Following its completion in the late 1990s, it put Bilbao on the international map. The Arcelor Mittal Gallery (yes, we are talking Lakshmi Mittal here) is a permanent exhibit of disorienting art made of huge steel sheets encircling each other. Once one walks through the iron art, the sense of direction and location is lost. I thought looking at the structure of the building itself was disorientating with its sliding walls merging into each other. A guide said, "You may divide Bilbao's time line in BG and AG." Which I reckoned was before and after Guggenheim.
In the Basque spirit, friends of friends extended invitations for food and drinks. The gourmet Basque food was not only more diverse and colorful than the rest of the country; it was also exceedingly interesting in the form of food clubs, where men gather to cook and enjoy their own food. Until recently, women were only allowed in one day in the year. The cooks prided themselves on the art of making pintxos, which is a small slice of bread on which various ingredients are held with a stick, which gives the food its name.
Our next destination in Spain was San Sebestian, or Donostia in Basque. As we left Bilbao, I saw its river flow with us along the road. I wondered if I would ever be able to compare Bilbao with any other place on earth.