Art Courier from Bilbao
When Art Museums lend works for exhibitions overseas a courier usually must travel with the work, both over and back. These trips usually get offered to curators and registrars, but occasionally a lowly preparator such as myself gets an opportunity when no one else wants to make the trip. So when I was asked, “do you want to go to Bilbao, Spain?” I said, “you bet!” Art courier is no glamor trip. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait kind of stuff, but it’s an expenses paid trip to Europe, so I can’t complain. Okay, maybe I can about a few things, like the airlines.
My Flights started in Ithaca, NY and on day one our plane to Philadelphia was held for four hours while they waited on a mechanic to drive from an hour away only to tell them he couldn’t fix whatever the problem was with the brakes on the plane. Flight canceled! No way to make my connection so I’m already a day late. US Air arranged for my tickets the next day as far as Madrid, but the final leg was on Iberia whom they do not partner with so I had to get the people in Bilbao to make that new fight arrangement. Next day I left on time but in Philadelphia the plane to Madrid was held two hours because someone couldn’t figure out the problem with the air conditioning was a circuit breaker that had to be reset. So finally in Madrid, too late. Missed the flight! And I have to say that the people in Madrid at Iberia are not the easiest people to deal with although their terminal is striking. Long story short, I got to Bilbao about 28 hours late. From there on it was a breeze. Great hotel and the people at the Guggenheim were fabulous.
The painting got packed on Tuesday and wasn’t due to leave for Madrid until Thursday, so I had all day Wednesday to myself. Once I found my bearings I found my way around a small part of town easily and found Bilbao, in the heart of the Basque region, to be a very beautiful city. It was once a very industrial town with the Ria de Bilbao, which flows through the middle of the city, lined with shipping docks and factories. But as manufacturing has left and the shipping industry has declined in Bilbao, the city has rebuilt along the waterfront with a huge initiative to become a major tourist attraction. At the heart of this new rebirth is the Guggenheim Museoa Bilbao. A massive sprawling sculpture sheathed in titanium, designed by architect Frank Gehry, it commands the center of the new waterfront district. The entry is flanked by a huge sculpture by Jeff Koons known as the “Puppy”. It’s a giant West Highland terrier planted all over with flowering plants. It began as a temporary piece but was so popular it was kept permanently. Unfortunately it was being totally replanted when I was there so was surrounded with scaffolding. I believe it’s popularity has made these tiny white dogs very popular in Bilbao, because I must have seen a dozen of them on the streets while I was there. People in Bilbao are big dog fans and walk their dogs constantly along the city streets, most running free off leash, but well behaved and under control.
I’ll post more Guggenheim photos in my next post, but back to Bilbao. Never having been to Spain before, I found Bilbao a very attractive city, but was told that since it is a Basque city, that it’s not typical of most other Spanish cities. The food is very different and the basic architecture of the houses is somewhat unique. They have more of a chalet look such as you might expect in Switzerland or Austria.
There was a beautiful old square very near the hotel with a grand old church. The streets were clean and the parks very beautiful. And all through the city a great juxtaposition of old and new, and construction going on building and renovating. the architecture alone is worth the trip there. Like most old European cities, many of the streets are narrow and paved with cobblestone.
The people were gracious and friendly, and despite not knowing the language well, I had little trouble communicating. The city also has great public transportation. My only regret is that I had only one full day to visit the city on my own because there was much I didn’t see that I would have liked to.
More in the next post.
All images Copyright © George Cannon, All Rights Reserved.