Spain
Valencia Spain
Valencia 2
Canvas

TALES FROM THE ROAD

Valencia is the capital of the region of the same name on the east coast of central Spain. It's the country's third largest city and although it boasts many great historic, cultural and modern visitor attractions this is one of the least tourist-oriented cities to be found in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula. The outskirts consist of an unimpressive collection of modern, sprawling and industrialized areas but the historic heart of Valencia is very beautiful and still very Spanish, almost untouched by mass tourism.

There are many delights to this fascinating city. It's awash with museums and art galleries, and is now home to the futuristic Arts and Science Centre which is fast becoming one of Spain's top visitor attractions.

The state-of-the-art center was conceived as one of Europe's most imaginative Millennium projects and consists of four main buildings occupying 90 acres of land next to the dry bed of the River Turia. Together the buildings look like something out of a James Bond movie set. There's a wonderful inter-active science museum, the "Hemisferic" planetarium where you can make a virtual trip through space, an oceanarium consisting of an underwater city which recreates the habitats of all the world's oceans and the Palace of Arts, equipped with all the latest technology to support performances of theater, opera and music.

A rather more ancient attraction is the fabled sacred chalice, alleged to be the holy grail, housed in the Sala Capitular of the city's Gothic cathedral. The relic, claimed as the cup of Christ’s last supper, is considered christiandom’s most holy prize. Its authenticity is, unsurprisingly, a matter of hot dispute.

The ancient and modern are combined in Valencia's annual "Fallas" celebration when the city becomes a spectacular ball of flame as hundreds of paper mache figures are set on fire to commemorate the feast of San Jose on March 19th. It's one of Europe's biggest and most extraordinary festivals. noisy, exuberant and at times downright dangerous!

 In 1961, Hollywood stars Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren put Valencia firmly on the world map, with the lavish epic movie El Cid, which told the story of how Spain's greatest ever warrior recaptured the city from the Moorish invaders in the 11th century.

 

Canvases of various sizes crowded the walls and floor of Agustí Puig's studio. Arms folded across his chest, he stood in the middle of them. Behind him, his artwork exploded with color and bold lines. He seemed nervous in the unaccustomed role of a photography subject as I watched him through my camera's viewfinder.

After a film shoot in Valencia, I ventured to Grenada, Andalusia, Seville and Barcelona, one of the world's great art centers, to tour and touch and taste the exuberance of a place known for sensory overload a century after Antoni Gaudí and the Modernistas turned this seaside Mediterranean city into one of Europe's most charming centers.

Visitors strolling its wide boulevards find much to admire in its history, food and Catalan culture. But at its heart, Barcelona is a place where art and architecture rule. And so I plotted an itinerary that would let me see it through the eyes of its artists.

That's how I wound up at the three-story studio of Puig, an internationally prominent Spanish painter, sculptor and printmaker known for his abstract, figurative style.

He's also known for his close encounter with Hollywood: Puig's studio and paintings were featured in Woody Allen's film " Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Penélope Cruz, who won a supporting actress Oscar for her role as an artist, became Puig's student before the film was shot, visiting his studio to learn how to paint in his forceful, energetic manner so she could emulate his style.

Now it was my turn to become his student, if only for a moment. Puig showed me around his studio, a former textile mill, and we talked about Pablo Picasso, who moved to Barcelona in 1895 when he was a teenager and was Puig's inspiration. We also talked about Puig's fondness for Barcelona's liveliness and artistic culture.

While he talked, I photographed him. He tried to ignore the camera, but it made him nervous.

Suddenly, he threw a blank canvas on the floor and said, "Let me show you how I work."

Released from his role, he relaxed, splashing white and black paint on the canvas, then etching fine lines onto it.

Within a couple of minutes, he was done. I put down the camera, looked at the canvas and gasped. He had created a figurative painting of two men engaged in conversation in the time it would have taken me to sharpen a couple of colored pencils.

"When I start a painting, I never know how it will turn out," Puig said, smiling at my surprise. "The worst enemy of a painter is to be bored with his work."

  Click to watch video: The Romance of Seville

      Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things – a chance word, a tap on the shoulder, a kind gesture – I am tempted to think …there are no little things.