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Lonely Planet Western Europe (Lonely Planet Publications, 2005): “The Scottish regard themselves as a separate race occupying the same island as the English and Welsh” (p. 221); “Some 90% of France’s Muslim community are non-citizens; many are illegal immigrants” (p. 264); “Bologna’s reputation for spawning fiery rhetoric and socialist sympathies has mutated into a more agreeable one of open-ness and tolerance” (p. 735). Lonely Planet’s blithe four-column portraits of entire foreign countries may nibble at accuracy but, for Royalist Scots, Muslim citizens of France, and Maoist Bolognese, are difficult to swallow. However, I find it impossible not to add my own observations to Lonely Planet’s overflowing collection of stereotypes: the Spanish love tile.
I am American, and have an American’s appreciation for tile. This hardy building material—-multicolored and often arranged in visually-pleasing patterns—-is appropriate for kitchen floors, kitchen countertops, backsplashes, bathrooms, and, for those who have the means, gardens and outdoor areas. Yet, an American determined to build a rock and roll venue armored in tile might be thought an eccentric fetishist, and be shunned by potential performers and audiences. “That tile-apologist’s rock and roll venue is very cold, and the sound too harsh and reverberant,” someone might say. “Yes,” someone else might agree. “Why have a punk band play in the acoustic equivalent of a swimming pool?”
Spain’s senors, senoras, y senoritas have an answer to this question: “Why not?” (Though, in truth, I suspect the Spanish equivalent of this English rhetorical form does not exist.) In one week, I have played at two ably-tiled Spanish clubs. Intricate mosaics line foyers, stages, backstages, bars, green rooms, and—-if one wishes to go outside—-city sidewalks. Tile patterns of all imaginable shape and sizes delight the eye and amplify the upper frequencies of all instruments, but most particularly the snare drum.
Though tile is less-than-spectacular venue-construction material, my time is Spain has proven less tragic than Don Quixote’s and less painful than George Orwell’s. Promoters have proven well-organized. Audiences have been enthusiastic. In Bilbao, I was taken to a charming cafe to dine on tortillas. In San Sebastian, I breathed the salty air of the Bay of Biscay and scoured bookshops for libros en ingles. If I could stop speaking pidgin Italian to those I meet and begin speaking pidgin Spanish, I would be well off. Again I cannot complain about Spain, but must remark that tile has outlasted Franco.
I thought to provide pictures of explemary Spanish tile, but find that they have been more ably photographed elsewhere. Instead, I post a portrait of a dog I met in Bilbao named Ven. Ven is not an enviable moniker—-it is a verb in the imperative form, the Spanish equivalent of “Come here!” My photo expresses Ven’s melancholy, as he is the tortured king of a three-storey tile realm—-the sole guard of a Spanish concert promoter’s ceramic home. Unfortunately for Ven, this Spanish concert promoter loves Unsane, treble-crazy pracitioners of New York aggro-metal whose music attacks the peaceful, pink shores of a dog’s inner ears, becoming more and more trebly with each reverberation and, finally, driving Ven slowly crazy with penetrating frequencies above and beyond 60,000 hertz.