Hieronymus Bosh worked as a Dutch painter at the beginning of the 16th century. Religious iconography and biblical symbolism were obsessively represented in his work. Clearly aligned with the Christian ideology Bosh had an unusual style entangling scholars in heated debate still today. One triptych has received special attention; being picked over, dissected, and analyzed as only art historians can do. Each fingertip or fold of cloth a vital part of a deeper message. Clearly the debate is self-indulgent as even the original title for the triptych was lost years ago; The Garden of Earthly Delights (it’s posthumous title) was enshrined at the Prado Museum in Madrid.
I was sitting at the counter in the dining car, sipping at my already cold instant coffee when the sun rose. Somewhere after 12 hours I had given into the offensive prices in order to save myself from the florescent nicotine-saturated box of hell. We were cruising on a flat stretch of track and the sun seeped its golden hue into the dry grassland like honey, it was beautiful.
I sat entranced, possibly delirious, absorbing the sweetness deeply and the announcement was made – we were approaching the station in Madrid.
Still aching from the unexpected expense of the dining car and fueled by honeyed sunshine I strapped into my pack and sought out the very cheapest hostel I could find… with a hot shower. Bathed and paid for, I slept for the rest of the day. Only after the sun had returned behind the horizon line was I able to collect myself enough to find some bread and cheese for my dinner – the struggle to find a more interesting option not even registering as a possibility.
Completely recovered the next morning, I walked from my hotel through the city until I found my way to the “Paseo del Prado”. The canopy occasionally breaking for a fountain, affording me a nomadic afternoon – traveling bench to bench, I stopped to enjoy the sunlight filtering through the leaves overhead. Eventually, the benches led inside the Prado museum and the pedestrians transformed into patrons, the trees into painted canvas and I continued to move through the building much the same way I had traveled along the Paseo outside.
The Prado is said to own over 21,000 pieces of art, while at any given time only about 1,300 are actually on display for public viewing in Madrid. An additional 3,000 are on loan internationally. That means that over 17,000 pieces of artwork are merely stored, in warehouses unseen. One of he lucky works that make it onto the wall permanently at the Prado is a triptych painting depicting the Garden of Eden, humanities lascivious fall, and then realms of hell. Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is an immense, some may say surreal, painting usually interpreted as a loose story-line beginning on the left panel in the Garden of Eden idyllic, peaceful and serene. For the middle panel, Bosch featured strangely erotic menageries of animal and fruit, humans and fantastical architecture. The final panel depicting images crafted to cause a sense of unease in the viewer; dark, infused with demonic reference, a portrayal of a nightmarish inferno. When ‘reading’ the painting in this order you are suggested a sense of pity, as ultimately paradise is lost.
After a few days walking the scorching streets of Madrid I pointed towards north.
It was very early in the morning when I squeezed up the stairway, trying not to scrape off the carelessly posted flyers that haphazardly climbing their way towards the ceiling. On my way from Madrid to Barcelona I had identified this as the ideal hostel, ideal location for experiencing the festival.
Sonar is an event spanning three days and nights in locations across Barcelona. Touted as a hyper cutting-edge mixture of live acts and multimedia art pieces, every year it attracts tens of thousands of people from all of over the world. Logically accommodation was in high demand, and even arriving before 7am only got me onto the waiting list. The construction was in full swing all around us, electricity cables hanging unattended, plastic sheets draping the hallways – all setting the stage for the loud and very loud power tools busy transforming the environment. I was directed to a small seat in the closet-sized entrance joining a dozen other hopefuls lining the walls…waiting. Mine was the last name they called at the 10am check-in.
My good luck continued, the room I would be sharing was filled with other travelers planning on attending the festival and quite naturally joined forces. That afternoon after eating falafels we crossed the city and entered the Contemporary Art Museum for the afternoon concert. An artificial picnic style atmosphere had been constructed with Astroturf and lawn chairs. That afternoon I was looking forward to seeing DoseOne and Sage Francis a couple of hip-hop MCs and the intimate uber-relaxed atmosphere was a perfect compliment to their politically charged densely spoken-word style show. Before the evening set began we returned to the hostel, napped and then returned to the streets to drink a never-ending stream of cheap beer sold by peddlers in the plaza. That evening the event was held in a much larger arena, a network of giant, people-filled rooms opening onto people-filled rooms, spilling lasers shows and baselines into each other seamlessly. The hostel clan was on the patio eating doughnuts in between Giles Peterson and house music inspired dance sessions. For a couple of hours I joined them before re-submerging for a low liquid set performed by Dj Krush- a Japanese hip-hop DJ I had loved for years…. finding my way to the hostel bunk bed sometime after breakfast.
Sonar closed with Bjork’s mega production and her show was the most chaotic, the doors opened late and by the time they did the line had metamorphosed into a sea of anxious fans, indistinguishable form one another as the pressure behind them built. I had managed a spot near the coned-off police line and was able to maintain some breathing room before the floodgates opened and we all filled the enormous warehouse. I had attended the evening alone and because of this was able to maneuver my way towards the stage and achieved a great perch from which to watch the grand finale. Bjork is as famous for her unique scream-sing style and unusual Icelandic accent as she is for her powerful visual productions and the show exceeded all expectation.
Perhaps inspired by the afternoon concerts, the next day I left the market with a picnic and sought out grassy hills facing the ocean. The weather was fantastic … a fresh breeze swooped over the hills and I sipped a plastic cup of supermarket wine, sliced another piece of cheese and sunk my toes into the grass. A kaleidoscope of images from the past three-days of debaucherous combinations still rotated through my mind and I was reminded of the Bosch painting in Madrid. For a moment I contemplated my progress across the triptych and decided that my journey was moving in the opposite direction. I had been delivered from the hellish realms into an explosion of hedonism. It was then that I decided it was time to seek out the third panel and regain paradise.