Magazine article The Spectator

Museum Distractions

Magazine article The Spectator

Museum Distractions

Article excerpt

I've been in Spain a lot recently, for the bullfighting. As you may or may not know, they do quite a bit of it over there. But, as most right-thinking people are vehemently opposed to the idea of men in tight trousers torturing highly bred animals to death in the name of art, I won't go into any of that here. Instead, I'd like to tell you about my visit to a municipal museum.

I'd popped in because it was a stinking hot day and I thought it might be cool in there - which it was. The marble and stone interior of the Renaissance building was cold and dark and quiet. On the first floor I came across some paintings. One was a blue self-portrait by an artist called Contel. Just his face and a bit of background. I sort of liked this picture and scrutinised it, looking for clues to his personality.

I was just beginning to enjoy my little foray into the art world when the cool and cloistral calm of the building was shattered by the arrival of an incredibly noisy party of Spanish schoolchildren. I could hear them congregating downstairs beside the arches taken from the Arabic baths. Some of them were shrieking with ecstasy. `Please, God,' I prayed, `don't let them come up here.'

The next moment they were thundering up the stairs and streaming into the gallery where Senor Contel and I were staring at one another. They were ten- or eleven-- year-olds - hundreds of them. A party of front-runners saw me and surged over, panting and exultant. Who was the man in the picture I was looking at? they cried. Was it me? `Oh, no,' I said. `That's me over there,' and I pointed to a picture of Ferdinand VII. They looked doubtfully at the ugly monarch for a moment and then changed the subject. It was the day of the England v. Germany match and I was wearing my red England shirt. They had seen the rioting on the news. Was I a football hooligan? they wondered. `Of course,' I said. `We are all football hooligans in England. It is an important part of our cultural heritage.' `Ah!' they said.

Then more of these schoolchildren clustered round me - they were three or four deep in places by now and I was becoming frightened - and a boy with glasses put up his hand and asked me whether or not English people believed in God. …

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