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Announcing a 9-day tour of northern Spain’s industrial heritage in September 2012

Being a lengthy and wearisome personal declaration followed by two crucial links and an opera.

Posted by Mr Baldie on Friday March 9th 2012. Comment now

Panorama of the Colònia Sedó near Esparreguera. CC Pepe Cornet. More.

Guides Mr Douet and Ms Criado on this expedition will have different stories, but for Mr Baldie this all started at primary school when Mr Bigley (bicycle, brilliantine, brilliant), tiring of 35 bawling sopranos and a rather miserable classroom, reinvented himself as an urban William Cobbett, and started walking us round the neighbourhood. We inspected late- and post-Victorian houses and churches, workshops and factories, encouraging us to think about our future as well as improving our general education - two of the largest local employers, the docks and the car plant, were then in terminal decline.

The cake department at the bread factory stuck in my mind, but musical diversions meant that - apart from some minor incursions with works bands in Lancashire - I didn't get to meet big machines with numerate owners again until some 15 years later, when I did more or less useful stuff for several American-owned textile businesses in Germany. This was followed by a Dutch industrial and utility power generation manufacturer, and then finally a software startup which ran scheduling and supply chain operations for manufacturers like Heineken and parts of Unilever and GlaxoSmithKline. (It is said that Eastman Kodak at Rochester, NY still recalls a (successful) sales presentation on how our package would enable rapid restructuring of their US business in the face of a Martian invasion.)

In a wonderful letter to his friend Maurice Delage, the composer Ravel describes one of the great discoveries of his 1905 voyage up the Rhine:

After a lazy day on a very wide river between hopelessly flat banks devoid of character, we came upon a city of chimneys and domes spewing forth flames as well as reddish and blue fumes. It was Ahaus [sic], a gigantic foundry in which 24,000 men work night and day.... We went down to the mills at nightfall. How can I tell you about these smelting castles, these incandescent cathedrals, and the wonderful symphony of travelling belts, whistles, and terrific hammerblows which envelop you? And everywhere the sky is a scorching, deep red. Then, a storm broke out. We returned horribly drenched, in different moods. Ida [Godebska] was terrified and wanted to cry. So did I, but for joy. How much music there is in all of this! - and I certainly intend to use it. (Arbie Orenstein (ed), A Ravel Reader: Correspondence, Articles, Interviews)

I'm not smart enough to survive unscathed for very long in a world dominated by the exact sciences, so my clumsy incursions into science and technology have always been accompanied by cultural excursions of this type. I'd read the steamier bits of Zola as a kid, but a serious addiction to Victorian-era industrial naturalism/realism came while struggling (almost suicidally) through the Silesian dialect version of Hauptmann's De Waber, a bleak tragedy based on an 1844 weavers' rising. Then came more Nordics, the French, and the Spanish - my favourite, Baroja, and writers like Pérez Galdós, Pardo Bazán, Valle-Inclán, Blasco Ibáñez, Oller, Vallmitjana...

These two personal streams meet here in what the Germans call Industriekultur, roughly translatable as industrial heritage. This, without ending up as a witless mishmash, seeks to provide a broader context for industrial archaeology: the history of science and technology is related to that of entrepreneurs, finance and labour, of geographical and architectural space, and so forth.

We have chosen to focus on the Bourbon restoration in Spain, which inaugurated a long period of comparative peace, facilitating a great, overdue, and short-lived qualitative and quantitative leap in industrialisation, and a great burst of creativity in which Gaudí is the best-known of many names.

And the two products we earnestly hope to flog to you are:

  1. A splendid 9-day tour of northern Spain's industrial heritage, first scheduled for this September.
  2. A specially published bedtime reader containing freshly translated excerpts from contemporary novels, diaries, industry journals and reports. This is free if you sign up for the tour, and will otherwise be available via the usual online outlets. The model for this is Humphrey Jennings's brilliant Pandaemonium: The Coming of the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers, 1660-1886 (NYT review), although my selections may reflect a slightly less pessimistic view of progress...

We look forward to meeting as many of you as possible, and, although we'll be informing via channels like the AIA (here's the piece from their February newsletter), please do spread the word!

[

Bonus

Ravel attempted to use his Ruhr experience in an opera, La cloche engloutie, "The sunken clock," based on Hauptmann's Die versunkene Glocke, but abandoned the project, although he apparently reused some of the material in his Spanish clock opera, L'heure espagnole. Here's the Glyndebourne version:

]

Background from Wikipedia:
  • Benito Pérez Galdós was a Spanish realist novelist.
  • Emilia Pardo Bazán was a Galician author and scholar from Galicia.
  • Gerhart Hauptmann was a German dramatist and novelist who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1912.
  • Maurice Delage was a French composer and pianist.
  • Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects.
  • Narcís Oller i Moragas was a Catalan author, most noted for the novels La papallona which appeared with a foreword by Émile Zola in the French translation; his most well-known work L'Escanyapobres ; and La febre d'or which is set in Barcelona during the period of promoterism.
  • Pío Baroja y Nessi was a Spanish writer, one of the key novelists of the Generation of '98.
  • Ramón María del Valle-Inclán y de la Peña, Spanish dramatist, novelist and member of the Spanish Generation of 98, is considered perhaps the most noteworthy and certainly the most radical dramatist working to subvert the traditionalism of the Spanish theatrical establishment in the early part of the 20th century.
  • Rural Rides is the book for which the English journalist, agriculturist and political reformer William Cobbett is best known.
  • The Restoration was the name given to the period that began on 29 December 1874 after the First Spanish Republic ended with the restoration of the monarchy under Alfonso XII after a coup d'état by Martinez Campos, and ended on 14 April 1931 with the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic.
  • The Two Cultures is the title of the first part of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C.
  • Vicente Blasco Ibáñez was a journalist, politician and best-selling Spanish novelist in various genres whose most widespread and lasting fame in the English-speaking world is from Hollywood films adapted from his works.

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