something fishy


A free morning in Bilbao commenced well in a palatial bathroom under a Grohe shower which was more like a massage under the Victoria falls than a routine morning ablution. At breakfast "Good Morning Darling" in the velvet of Alan Ewing's delectable bass had the same effect. I was beginning to recover from the yo-yoid travel of the day before.

On then to the Guggenheim. This building, with rippling wavelets reflected on it's canape, it's shifting crescent- moon shadows and the hourly mist swirling up around it from an aqua marine pool, reminded me of a magnificent battered steel lily rising out of an Icelandic hot-spring; a silver fish floating on a cloud; a great peace boat launching the city into a better mobile, so playful, so calm, so huge and yet so intimate. I don't think I have experienced any architectural thing so alive as this, or so soulful.

Apparently Gehry's design was influenced by the shimmering scales on the silver fish in his mother's stall and, placed in Bilbao with it's bustling mercado de pescado, this made total sense. Wandering around this slippery ode to the sea I realized that not only are dogs like their owners, but fish mongers also resemble their fish: The sardine seller dark and oily; the cute shrimp gal tinted with rose lippy, pink highlights and blusher; the monkfish trader long in the jowl and whiskered, the octopus merchant capped with hair-tendrils in a purple bubbled top and the plaice man flat-faced and mottled.

The concert was in an auditorium from a world of chamber music rather than divas and diamonds. Unlike the massive performance which was demanded of us in the Grosses (an understatement) Festspeilhaus, the concert in Bilbao had to be a more intimate. The Maestro described it, curling his hands tenderly around the imagined phrases like he might a newborn child, as a 'bonsai' performance or, in the more energetic arias, 'semi bonsai'. Unfortunately my diva- self decided to pop up in the rehearsal: Squished on a bonsai stage, my view of the three most important people - the section leader, the Maestro and the concert maestress - was blocked by a tall Japanese violinist and her big-haired desk partner and I caused a bonsai fuss. Consequently in the concert my colleague and I found ourselves on podiums. Playing on a podium feels to me like trying to tango on a paving stone. My feet, whom I have rigorously trained to rest flat on the floor and ground me in their Camper non slip unco-ordinates, were sliding around and flipping off the cliff-edge like sardines trying to get back to the water and consequently my knees, trying to keep them in order, felt the strain.

A (very) late night, a (very) early morning and two flights (north south north, naturally) later we were happy to find ourselves in another 5 star hotel for a couple of hours before the rehearsal in Valencia. The huge dustbin bags under my eyes were slightly reduced by an ipod moment by the pool (Thank you Kate Rusby) and my body, having been glued to various forms of synthetic upholstery of dodgy design throughout the day, grateful for the chance to breathe, stretch and float. The acoustic in the hall was perfect and we rocked. I was on a high and it was delicious to run off stage into the palms 'n sun, and the arms of three graces - my three Valenciana nieces whose sensible parents had hijacked the school bus to make sure they heard and shared paella with their Aunty Ruth.

In Paris Orly, three gospel singers (watch out for them in Paris, they're good!) were quietly working out their harmonies on 'Amazing Grace' and this fish, though battered, was transformed into a magnificent lily, at peace and floating on a cloud called nine.


I am utterly blissed out, Ruth, by this post and your flickr photos of the older Bilbao buildings.Almost 20 years ago, I saw an exhibit of work from Gehry's early fish period at Houston's MOMA. I was enthralled with the fishy forms and textures of his room-sized sculptural pieces. (Computer design software hadn't yet developed the sophistication necessary to translate his sculptural forms into large buildings.) I have mixed reactions to Gehry's recent buildings: I love the photos I've seen of the Bilbao museum and the new LA symphony hall, but I loathe Seattle's EMP building (which a witty friend describes as looking like the discarded wrapping paper that the Space Needle came in). I hope to see Bilbao - both city and museum - someday.As usual, your writing about musical performance is delightful and evocative. Like trying to tango on a paving stone brought immediately to mind (and body!) the unsteady sensation I feel whenever I play on a riser. I imagine that sensation would be even stronger playing the cello than the voilin.

The Guggenheim is amazing ... transcendent and inspiring. And your words once again are a joy to read.

Ruth,I love the description of the fish sellers resembling their fish. That's priceless!

Wow, your writing just gets better and better. You've convinced me I must visit Bilbao and the Guggenheim.And, by the way, I keep encountering your dad, on the radio, in the national portrait gallery... don't know why it makes a difference, but it does: this artist is a person, has a daughter who said this about him... I suppose once it was always like that, and we don't realise what we've lost...

yeah, jean, my pa's a bit of a gem. (now you see where I got it from!)

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