The Beautiful and Bad Images in Barcelona

The museum housing the works of the 20th century painter Joan Miro (1893-1983) is found in Barcelona, Spain sitting high in the hills of Montjuic, or “the Jewish Mountain,” so named for the historic Jewish presence there in medieval times, before the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews in the 15th century. The museum contains many beautiful works by Miro including paintings, sculptures and tapestries.

The Beautiful

Many of the abstract paintings have no titles, but one beautiful painting does, called “The Gold of the Azure,” painted in 1967.

The painting shows the planet Earth as a large blue oval surrounded by a white halo. It is set against a gold sky along with other planets as smaller black blobs, a distant red smear of a sun, and large but faint black stars represented by four intersecting lines. Across the middle of the painting is a soft black line, the sole element that cuts against the dominant blue image of the painting.

Despite the dominance of the blue orb, the painting is balanced like a mobile by one of Miro’s contemporary artists, Alexander Calder (1898-1976). However, unlike Calder’s physical mobiles that needed to operate in gravity, Miro’s painting of the solar system needed no practical constraints. The thin black line is wavy and did not attach to any objects as opposed to Calder’s taut black wires connecting the objects of the art. Miro’s connective element floated against the gold sky just like the 4-lined stars. The work presents harmony of suspended disparate elements in the universe as visualized by a man who despised the fascism that dominated his country from the Spanish Civil War (1936-9) through the Nationalist government led by Francisco Franco (1939-1975).

The Bad

Adjacent to The Joan Miro Museum is a small tranquil park called Jardines de Laribal. The pretty garden is a quiet place for a nice short stroll.

The garden has just a few entrances, each flanked by two columns. On a sunny day in February 2019, one of the columns to enter the park contained a large black swastika.

Entrance to Jardines de Laribal
(photo: FirstOneThrough February 28, 2019)

The crude image on the right column was balanced by a large green map on the left welcoming visitors to the garden. A harmony of hatred for those pleased that the garden was built atop Jewish cemeteries. Spain, happily Jew-free since 1492.

The symbol of Nazism, fascism and racism may bear passing resemblance to the simple stars in the paintings of Joan Miro located a hundred meters away, but the message could not be more different. In the art inside the museum, the faint images of the smaller and different bodies coexist peacefully with the dominant orbs. But outside the museum, in the real world built atop the graves of Jews, European racism and antisemitism still demands a purely Catholic order.


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Watching Jewish Ghosts

Holy Thursday arrived in Seville, Spain on March 29, 2018 with the traditional pomp and circumstance. Donning capes and tall conical hoods (the capirotes), the nazarenos marched through the streets of the city to the central Cathedral as they have done for hundreds of years.

Holy Thursday procession in Seville, Spain March 29, 2018
(photo: First.One.through)

But the hundreds of men in white hoods held a very different meaning for some people in the crowd. While the nazarenos may have focused on their penitence during holy week (Semana Santa in Spain), the scene meant something quite different to the lone American Jew watching the march.

As an American

Americans have long associated people dressed in white robes and hoods as belonging to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a racist and anti-Semitic group that continues to have some support in parts of the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the group to be both the most infamous and oldest hate group in the USA. The group epitomizes hatred and violence.

As such, most Americans instinctively cringe when they hear about the group or see their members in the infamous hoods.

It is hard not to have the same immediate reaction when seeing that attire in a very different situation.

Marcher in Seville, Spain March 29, 2018
(photo: First.One.through)

As a Jew

Jews cannot come to Spain and not consider how few Jews remain in the country. The expulsion of the Jews in the summer of 1492 is marked in collective memory, much like the Holocaust of 1939-1945.

The cleansing of the Jews in Spain had an earlier start in Seville, as it was in that city that the Spanish Inquisition really got its start. In 1391, a preacher by the name of Don Fernando Martinez lectured his congregants that Jews were evil and were infiltrating Spanish society. While the riots that broke out in March were put down, the mob gathered strength and plundered the Jewish Quarter of the city in June. Roughly 4,000 people were killed. The synagogues in the city were either destroyed or converted to churches and the Jewish community was decimated.

Within two years, King Henry III of Castile (1379-1406) passed judgement on the preacher and the city itself for what had transpired. Few Jews returned and the city. That year, in 1393, the first brotherhood (hermanad) appeared called Las Negras. As a sign of penance during Semana Santa, the members donned white robes and capirotes, and have continued to do so until this day.

In time, other brotherhoods would cover the city. They would wear their own colors of Black-and-white, all purple or green. Over holy week, they would carry large candles and march towards the cathedral, many handing out candies to the children who would normally be scared of such scene.

There were no longer Jews in the city to care or remember.

Nazareno walking in Seville, Spain March 29, 2018
(photo: First.One.through)

This American Jew

I have no doubt that the Catholics celebrating Holy Week in Seville have no idea that the origins of their processions stemmed from their massacre of Jews. I do not even think that they ponder why their region of Spain uniquely uses this custom. The area of southern Spain is known as Andalusia, and is the part of Spain that was under Muslim rule from the 700’s until the Catholics expelled them in 1248. In all, I believe that today’s Catholics’ desire to seek purity is self-reflecting, and does not consider that their ritual comes from evicting all other religions from the province.

But this American Jew observes too many things. Like someone attending a funeral service at a cemetery who looks off in the distance to see cars go by without a care, I do not blame the Catholics for their indifference to my plight as they go about their own day. However, I cannot help see the ghosts of the Jews of Spain as I watch their procession during Semana Santa in Seville.


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