Costly white ele­phants

Friday - - Leisure -

his­tory mu­se­ums and art gal­leries do. With a taste for some­thing ab­nor­mal, I hire a car and de­cide to go on a road trip with a dif­fer­ence – rather than look­ing at great tri­umphs from the guide­books, I’ll be look­ing at great mon­u­men­tal tragedies in the real world.

My jour­ney will take me up Spain’s east coast. Benidorm is my start­ing point: the town it­self has shed its toxic rep­u­ta­tion for loutish be­hav­iour. Its seafront has been re­built, crowned with a sin­u­ous prom­e­nade that sweeps up and down like a wave. Its beach is clean and child-friendly, its town cen­tre is tacky but wel­com­ing. It’s not as bad as I feared. Yet, those huge tower blocks are op­pres­sive. And the 47-storey Ed­i­fi­cio In­tempo is the most sin­is­ter of the lot. Its odd­ness fu­elled crit­ics to spec­u­late that the ‘11’ and ‘M’ many claim you can see on the front of the build­ing is a macabre me­mo­rial to the ter­ror­ist at­tack car­ried out in Madrid on March 11, 2004 – where 191 peo­ple were killed when a bomb ex­ploded on a train in the cap­i­tal. If true, it’s a re­minder many re­sent. To­day Spain’s econ­omy is in melt­down and many Spa­niards blame the city, re­gional and na­tional gov­ern­ments for spend­ing too much on white ele­phant projects.

Up the AP-7 mo­tor­way in Spain’s third city, Valencia, Eu­ros have been burned through left, right and cen­tre. The Valencia street-rac­ing cir­cuit hosted pres­ti­gious For­mula 1 races, the last of which was last sum­mer. The cir­cuit twists and turns around the port and al­lows spec­ta­tors to get up close and per­sonal with the ac­tion as never be­fore. Yet to­day, the cir­cuit is bar­ren and empty. There was a plan on the ta­ble to share the Span­ish Grand Prix on al­ter­nat­ing years with Barcelona, but at the mo­ment it looks like Valencia’s street cir­cuit will never see another F1 race. Span­ish news­pa­per Marca re­ported ear­lier this year that thieves have stolen any­thing of worth and that the pit build­ings and ac­cess tun­nels are be­ing left to fall apart.

Nearby is the City of Arts And Sciences. When I visit, it is empty. Wind whips in across the eerie, flat, for­mer bed of the Turia river, which was re-routed in the 1950s. This is where ar­chi­tect San­ti­ago Cala­trava was al­lowed to in­dulge his ev­ery whim. And it pos­si­bly teaches us that no sin­gle ar­chi­tect and no sin­gle city plan­ner should be al­lowed to have ev­ery­thing they want, all at once.

If you eat too much at the buf­fet, you feel sick. To look at the City of Arts And Sciences is like a space sta­tion – su­per-mod­ern on one level, and yet the ex­cess of sand-blasted con­crete harks back to an ear­lier, post-War age. The shapes of the huge build­ings evoke hor­ri­fy­ing gi­ant in­sects – like the Ed­i­fi­cio In­tempo this is ar­chi­tec­ture that’s prob­a­bly not suit­able for kids of a sen­si­tive dis­po­si­tion. The com­plex com­prises a sci­ence mu­seum, green­house, aquar­ium, opera house and Imax cin­ema – though what’s in­side is not re­ally the point. The point, for Cala­trava, was to con­struct a world. A world of his own. Its size and scope cer­tainly im­presses. But the ra­tio­nale be­hind it? Not so clever.

Its con­struc­tion costs have left city and re­gion alike in dire fi­nan­cial straits. There’s a reg­u­lar tour run by the city’s ‘in­dig­na­dos’ – the up­set pro­test­ers – which takes in Valencia’s white ele­phants, with the City of Arts and Sciences as the coup de grãce; the fi­nale of fis­cal folly. Ask a lo­cal what they think of this place and the chances are they’ll be so fu­ri­ous they’ll risk chok­ing on their paella.

I press on north, through low hills, over green and orange

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.