Refuge and Resistance

Tertulia, vol. 4

Hola. This is Barbara again. I have some cultural news for you from Spain, Colombia, and an obituary from the United States that leads us to Bosnia.

Most popular cultural events of Spain in 2020

We are heading into spring, but are still not finished with doing lists to chronicle the past year. With respect to cultural locations it is not surprise that the list of most popular cultural events in Spain looks pretty conservative because so many innovative or grassroots events had to be cancelled. I also assume that these pillars of the official culture had more financial means and political support to stay open even with restrictions and be a refuge for those who are interested in the arts. Here’s the list:

  1. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (Reencuentro, Invitadas) 43,6%

  2. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Mondrian y de Stijl) 34,9%

  3. Zinemaldia. Festival de San Sebastián 15,9%

  4. Teatro Real, Madrid 15,3%

  5. Museo Nacional Thyssen – Bornemisza (Expresionismo alemán) 13,4%

  6. Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao (Kandinsky, Olafur Eliasson) 12,8%

  7. PHotoEspaña, Madrid and other cities (Desde mi balcón) 11,2%

  8. CaixaForum, various cities (Vampiros, El sueño americano) 10,6%

  9. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao 8,1%

  10. Festival Internacional de Teatro Clásico de Almagro 7,8 %

Which one do you like best? I admit I am also a big fan of the Prado and try to visit every time I am in Madrid. I have a nice souvenir from the museum shop that reminds me of my many visits and of one of my favourite painters . It’s a case for my sunglasses with an imprint of Goya’s “Perro semihundido” (“The half-drowned dog”).

BTW, if you are a student (<25), a teacher, a journalist or you’re already retired, admission is free. So, take your badge with you on your next trip. Once, we’re all vaccinated we can hopefully resume our travels.

The ranking was published by Fundación Contemporánea. The survey was done in December 2020. I was wondering a bit why Barcelona does not play a major role in this list. Catalonia contributes 15 cultural institutions and activities to the national ranking. Details can be found in their yearly report titled El Observatorio de la cultura.

Medellin’s botanical garden shouts SOS

Another venue that I love very much is Medellin’s botanical garden. It’s incredibly beautiful. The garden includes a butterfly house, cactus garden, various exhibition spaces, a library, a pond, a bistro-style restaurant. Architecturally, the most noticeable place is the orquideorama where you can see many important types of orchids. The space below the wooden canopy of the orquideorama can also be used for all kinds of open-air yoga and zumba classes, or simply hang out.

The garden is an ideal and quiet place to recover from the many impressions of the nearby Parque Explora, an interactive science museum nearby, or simply recover from the noise of the city. It’s a venue, the locals of all social classes are proud of. Entrance is free (unless who ask for a guided tour). However, I have noted in my Twitter timeline during the last fortnight that this presumably unbiased place of natural exuberance has come under political fire. Recently, the Botanical Garden of Medellin launched an SOS to avoid bankruptcy because the pandemic of covid-19 has been hitting them hard and contracts traditionally signed with the Mayor's Office have been cancelled. Here is a video in which Claudia Lucía García Orjuela, director of the botanical garden, turns to the public for help.

The first reason for financial stress is easy to understand because the garden was closed for more than three months and many events got cancelled. The financial situation is critical and many employees got laid off. While in December 2020 there were still 540 employees, there are currently around 230 left. Those that remain accepted a salary reduction. The second reason came as a surprise to many inhabitants of the city because they had considered the botanical garden a public place. As a matter of fact, it isn’t. The garden is managed by a non-profit private foundation, but has been sponsored by the city council in the past. The city council under the new mayor Daniel Quintero has changed its contracting rules and reduced the garden’s budget. I am not sure I have fully understood the process because I am not familiar with legal and administrative proceedings in Medellín (background here), but it sounds very much like a neoliberal effort to presumably reduce costs by making deals with other private contractors instead of giving them - as was the custom - to the foundation directly. On a side note, they also changed the contract mode without enabling transparent bidding processes, which gives the whole thing a somewhat bad taste.

I really hope city council, citizens, and the foundation get their act together to save a place that is very significant for the history, culture, and the social life of Antioquia’s capital.

Flory Jagoda - the nona of Sephardic songs has died

Flory Jagoda, a US-American guitar player, accordionist and singer-songwriter, died at the age of 97 on January 29, 2021. She is mostly known for her efforts to preserve the songs of her childhood, but also composed and wrote many new songs in her native Ladino language. Many Jews know her Hanukkah song “Ocho kandelikas” and often think it is a traditional folk song. However, she composed it in 1983 only.

Flory Jagoda was born in 1923 into a Sephardic family in Sarajevo, then known as “chico Jerusalaem”. They later settled in Vlasenica and then in Zagreb. When the Nazis invaded the Balkans, the family sent their daughter to Split where they re-united with her and continued to flee to some Croatian islands until they finally escaped to the liberated Italy. An anecdote from her trip to Split has often been narrated to explain her joyful music and personality despite experiencing the tragic events of World War II: Her step-dad gave her false identity papers for the trip. All the ride she played her beloved accordion and so entranced passengers and the conductor with her song-playing that they started to sing along with her. The conductor never asked for her papers. While in Italy, she fell in love with a U.S. soldier, Harry Jagoda, and settled with him in the U.S.

She was a very prolific writer and composer. As the NPR obituary remarks, she only started to revive her Ladino heritage once her parents had died because her mother did not want to be remembered of the past. The title of one of Jagoda’s last albums, Arvoliko (“little tree”), is an allusion to a small tree that marks a mass grave in Vlasenica where 42 murdered members of her family had been thrown into. Besides preserving Sephardic traditions through music, she also founded the Jewish Folk Arts Society and Las Vijitas de Alhad (“Sunday visits”), a monthly gathering of descendants of Sephardic Jews of the Old Ottoman Empire interested in speaking Ladino and rescuing its traditions. She gave an extensive interview to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to preserve her legacy. May she rest in peace.

That’s all for today. The next newsletter ist about to be published on March 12th, 2021. If you like the type of news I curate, please, share freely and widely.
As writer Jordi Soler reminds us his his weekly column, our weak social ties are also important to protect our well-being. So, let’s keep in touch.

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