Thursday, May 11, 2006


Day-tripped to Altamira (cyberspace gods' command :P). But guess what? Huge disappointment: the cave has been closed to visitors since 2002 (perhaps this too is why Let's Go forgets to mention it?)! What a waste of time and effort! The consolation prize for the rare visitor that actually manages to make the trek there shunning other more well-known sights of Spain is the "Neocueva", a reproduction of the cave complete with reproductions of the paintings by modern-day volunteers.

Are the gods laughing yet?

Yeah, I was rather crest-fallen, even though nearby Santillana del Mar (the nearest town to the caves) is rather quaint and pretty. Quite frankly, to see reproductions they could've easily put the whole museum somewhere more accessible in a big city like Madrid or whatever. There seems to be (or I seem to be encountering) a lot of "paper tigerness"/gilded/mirage-like stuff here in Spain (the Roman Walls of Lugo with no history blurb signs posted or any good reasons to see, the Cathedral of Santiago in honor of its saint who may or may not be the real saint, the holograms in Oviedo, now this). I hope it gets better in larger cities as I head towards the capital.

So, now what does one do? You visit the "Neocueva". {sigh}. The museum was nice. Good exhibit about how man evolved. It is, if you think about it, kind of cool how far man has come along, all in the blink of an eye, in cosmic time. Why, if you think that homo habilis (the first kind of man that could use tools) appeared 2.5 million years ago, and between the beginning of the industrial revolution with the invention of the steam engine, and supersonic flight/the microchip/supercomputers/lasers/genetic engineering (our modern age) only about 150 years passed, it is incredible, what man has achieved in the last, proportionally speaking, few milliseconds (if 2.5 million years were an hour, the last 150 years would equivalently be the last 216 milliseconds of that hour!).

As for the paintings (or copies of the paintings, more properly speaking), it was kind of interesting to see how the cave dwellers used the features of the rock to guide and emphasize the depictions (round protruberances were taken advantage of to form the humps of the bisons, for instance). Also, all this time I had been taught in school that these paintings were supposed to be ritualistic, perhaps as a prelude to a hunt, but as the museum exhibit pointed out this is not a good theory since most cave paintings of this sort (not just the ones found at Altamira, for there are other similar ones all along the Cantabrian coast and in France, for instance) depict animals that were not hunted for consumption given the remains of the animals found near the hearths of the caves. Personally, the more I saw the variety and "spirit" of the paintings, how, for instance, they used spray painting techniques by blowing paint through bones to paint the famous hands in negative, or how they arranged the animal figures, or how they took advantage of the natural formation of the rock, the more I became convinced that this was actually an artistic effort, for the enjoyment of both the painter and the (eventual) viewer. Quoth Picasso: "After Altamira, everything is decadence".

Well, not sure I agree. Look how far we have come since then. Though who knows, I have heard that some of my friend's boyfriends still grunt and behave like cavemen. Ha ha. :) But I'm sure that's just an old wive's tale. ;)

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