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Architecture: The ‘salt curse’ threatening Cádiz cathedral in southern Spain | Culture

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An overhead net prevents pieces of the vaulted ceiling from crashing down on the floor, or on visitors.
An overhead net prevents pieces of the vaulted ceiling from crashing down on the floor, or on visitors.Juan Carlos Toro

In 1838, just three months after the consecration of the newly completed cathedral in the southern Spanish city of Cádiz, the cleric Domingo González Villanueva raised the alarm. Referring to its brand new vaults, he warned officials in the cathedral chapter that “stone slabs and somewhat larger pieces are falling.” What should have been a glorious celebration of more than a century’s tortuous work was undermined by concern. Now, 183 years later, salt continues to erode the 3,100 square meters of roofing. On January 29, a piece of masonry came loose from the façade, in a reminder to the authorities that it has now been a decade since any significant restoration work has been carried out; and that the blueprint to tackle the issue drawn up at the request of the Andalusian regional government is still to be executed.

The piece of rubble from the façade, which landed in the cathedral’s courtyard without causing injury, is not the only sign that the salt curse still threatens to wreak havoc. Repeated instances of falling masonry led to the building being closed between 1969 and 1983, and also to the installation in 1989 of a large net that stretches under all its interior vaults. The decision was made after the fall of a large block of masonry that shattered one of the pews mere days before the celebration of a First Communion mass.

The crumbling of the vaults can be seen at a glance. The corroded blocks of stone constantly cause pieces of rubble to fall into the net, which is emptied periodically. Juan Jiménez Mata, the architect who installed the net over 30 years ago, is unable to say how much weight it would stand in the event of a major incident.

The net that catches falling rubble.
The net that catches falling rubble.Juan Carlos Toro

Building work on the cathedral began in 1722 as a project that would reflect the prosperity of a city enriched by trade with the Americas. But it wasn’t finished until well into the 19th century, using a poorer type of stone as the city was entering a crisis from which it would never really emerge. As Juan Alonso de la Sierra, one of building’s top experts, says: “The cathedral reflects the city’s own trajectory.”

The cathedral was built with 24 different kinds of stone, first under the direction of architect Vicente Acero, who introduced hints of the Baroque style though later architects would tend more to neoclassicism and academicism. But it is specifically the kind of building material known as Estepa limestone that has plagued the edifice. As Juan Jiménez Mata, the architect behind the last 16 major restoration projects, explains the problem. “When there was less money, this stone was used in the areas above the cornices. The trouble is that this stone is softer and reacts far worse to the weather.” The damage would be similar to that endured by many other great monuments if it were not for the salt in the air that penetrates the walls. “The cathedral is an immense salt factory,” adds Jiménez Mata.

The building was constructed using mortar made from beach sand and water extracted from a brackish well located in the crypt. According to the architect Alberto Jiménez, the son of Juan Jiménez Mata, “when the tides were high the mortar did not set, and the lime turned to dust.” This caused the vault’s ashlars to be held in place by nothing more than fragments of material used to fill gaps, generating tension and causing the soft masonry to break. The proximity to the sea does the rest: the salt dissolves with the humidity, penetrates the ashlars and breaks them when it crystallizes again on dry days.

A plan of the Cádiz Cathedral drawn by the architect Juan Jiménez Mata, showing the vaults and roofs.
A plan of the Cádiz Cathedral drawn by the architect Juan Jiménez Mata, showing the vaults and roofs.El País

The salt curse could have been contained if the cathedral had not also had long periods when it was open to the elements. Between the 18th and 19th centuries, it spent 40 years without a roof. Then in 1947, an explosion left the building without windows for years.

There is a laborious and expensive solution to the problem, which involves filling the empty joints with new mortar and replacing the lost stones with new pieces of masonry. It is the solution that the Jiménez Mata studio has resorted to for the last 30 years during which some sections have been restored, such as the lower sacristy or the Chapel of the Relics. Extending this solution to the 3,100 square meters of vaults would cost €15 million. At least this is the sum that Juan Jiménez Mata calculated in 2009 when the Andalusian government’s department of culture commissioned him to draw up a blueprint listing priorities and laying out how the restoration work should be tackled. It has been more than a decade ago now since the architect delivered the document to the cathedral’s college of clerics and to the regional government. When questioned on the matter by EL PAÍS, the culture department’s representatives in Cádiz had no idea why the architect’s master plan has still not been approved.

There is an evident contrast between the dome of the cathedral, which has been restored and is now free from falling rubble, and the lateral vaults, which are crumbling.
There is an evident contrast between the dome of the cathedral, which has been restored and is now free from falling rubble, and the lateral vaults, which are crumbling.Juan Carlos Toro

It is also more than 10 years since the cathedral last carried out major restoration in its battered vaults. During this time, neither the regional nor the central authorities have come up with the necessary funding, although from 1998 to 2009 they invested €1.5 and €2.3 million respectively in other restoration projects.

Meanwhile, the cathedral chapter’s efforts have been focused on annual maintenance for the roofs and on emptying the net installed by Juan Jiménez Mata 32 years ago to catch falling debris, as well as occasionally restoring chapels and sculptures. The Cádiz Culture Delegation has authorized various restoration projects during this period, the last of which concerned the Chapel of the Assumption, the first in the cathedral to be built. But tackling the damage to the stones in the various vaults does not show up on the to-do list of the last 10 years.

Fabián Pérez, who has regularly collaborated in the cathedral’s restoration work as part of the Ars Nova studio, defends the work of the cathedral’s officials. “The chapter’s efforts to restore movable and immovable assets is remarkable. It hasn’t stopped even with the pandemic.” However, the institution has rejected three requests by EL PAÍS to explain how much it has invested and whether it is following the blueprint’s list of priorities.

Meanwhile, the Jiménez Mata family is concerned about the absence of major work on the increasingly ravaged vaults. “There should be a group of contracted masons, led by an architect, constantly reviewing roofs and cornices,” says Juan Jiménez Mata. “We are not asking for the work to be entrusted to us, but we do ask that the people who intervene in the restoration of historical heritage be assessed with transparency and a public tender,” adds his son Alberto.

Almost two centuries after the cleric González Villanueva realized that the cathedral’s construction was riddled with problems, the curse of the salt continues to eat away at it with no solution in sight. As Alberto Jiménez Mata says, “pieces of rubble continue to fall, but the size of them is a lottery.”

English version by Heather Galloway

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Sex education: The creator of CLIMAX: ‘Good sex is like cooking, but there aren’t recipes for female pleasure on the internet’ | Society

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Our ways of watching television have changed. No longer do we sit down to see what’s on TV, instead subscribing to platforms where we can watch our favorite content. But can that formula translate to content beside series, documentaries and movies? Can it be used to change the way we experience sex education? CLIMAX, a platform of sex education videos, is trying it out.

The platform started as an explicit educational series dedicated to female pleasure. Far from pornography, it was particularly directed towards women and sought to give advice and ideas for greater self-knowledge and sexual enjoyment. But that was just the beginning. As Camille Mariau, CLIMAX’s director of projects, explains, they are currently working on “a monthly membership platform dedicated to sexual wellbeing. The users will ahve access to periodic new content, ordered by topic (pleasrue for people with vulvas, for those with penises, tantric sex, oral sex, post-partum sex, etc.). We really want to create the perfect guide to help our users deconstruct their ideas about sexuality.” Currently, the platform has partnerships with educational and healthcare institutions, in order to bring education about female sexuality to all parts of society.

Laurène Dorléac is an expert in the technology market and co-creator of CLIMAX. “Not only is female pleasure little understood, but I also realized that taboos around the subject are still very present.” That’s why, despite her lack of experience in the area, she decided to venture into the topic. “Good sex is like cooking: it’s a creative process that requires practice, experimentation and care to have a good flavor. There are plenty of recipes and cooking classes, but we can’t find anything satisfactory about female pleasure on the Internet! That’s what led me to create the platform, so that we can all have access to better sexual education.”

The project brought together international studies, advice from psychologists and sexologists and over 100,000 testimonies. “Pleasure is a very serious thing, and it deserves a very rigorous approach,” she says.

CLIMAX comes to Spain

While the project was founded in France, currently, 40 percent of its subscribers are outside of the country, largely in the United States and United Kingdom. The team is optimistic about the Spanish market. “The market seems to be ready for a project like this. More than talking about pleasure, we really want people to have easy access to safe information about sexual education,” says Camille Mariau. Since the project launched in Spain just a few months ago, most of its users are between 28 and 45 years old, and, surprisingly, they are divided 50/50 between men and women.

To spread the news about the project, they have the help of Teresa Riott, known for her role as Nerea in the Netflix series Valeria, who narrates the videos. “It seems to me like a new idea in education, and it’s very necessary in order to better understand all the possibilities of our pleasure. CLIMAX has also had success in other countries. I’ve learned a lot about female sexuality in the process,” the actress explains.

She emphasizes that “they are videos that you can watch alone, in private, and you can experiment,” which “gives people confidence to explore their bodies without concerns.”

The platform’s content is explicit, but tasteful; obvious, but well-presented. It repeats explanations we have read in plenty of books, but which acquire a new dimension when we can see them on a screen: without drawings, diagrams or taboos, simply showing how to stimulate a vulva. The videos are meant to educate, not to excite, and they have no resemblance to porn. The images are accompanied by Riott’s voice, which explains each step in a clear and simple way, adding touches of scientific information. It explains not only how to stimulate the vulva, but also how and why the stimulation works.

We’ve learned that it’s much easier to exercise at home, or even to do home improvement projects, with the help of a Youtube tutorial video that shows us each step. So it makes all the sense in the world that we can use tutorials to learn how to excite our bodies, moving step-by-step over each part of our anatomy.

The platform is also notable for its diversity, not only in the appearances of the vulvas on screen, but also in the techniques proposed. It includes videos of 19 different masturbation techniques. In Spain, female masturbation has experienced a revolution in recent years. The brand Lelo, specialized in clitoral suction toys, increased its sales by 440% in 2019. The Satisfyer toy was even more popular: it registered an increase in sales of 1,300% in 2020, to the point that it had to resort to European countries to restock the toys during one of the busiest months of the year. Those toys finally normalized female masturbation. Vibrators themselves have also experienced their own revolution. Their technology and shapes have become more sophisticated, and they have become more effective and discreet. And Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop now features Viva la Vulva, an “extra-silent” vibrator model that can be used at any time without making any noise. Such devices are proof that manufacturers have taken pains to innovate their products for female pleasure, until recently a forgotten sector. Gone are the old dildos and penis replicas.

Beyond masturbation, with or without the help of toys, the content of CLIMAX “is like an encyclopedia of ideas that you can choose and use to enrich your sexual life. It can help you be more creative, learn moves that women with vulvas might like, etc. It can also be used as a basis to start a conversation with your partner about what you like, what you want to try or not. We want to give people the opportunity to get to know their own body or the body of their partner better,” explains Mariau.

To that end, the first two seasons are entirely scientifically based. To develop the content, 74 international scientific studies, widely referenced and accepted by the scientific community, were consulted. “There is one study that I find special: Shere Hite’s ‘The New Hite Report,’ a bestseller that has sold tens of millions of copies, which describes how women feel during different sexual activities and when they orgasm with greater frequency,” Mariau says.

In addition to a surge in vibrator sales, women have been consuming more porn than ever in recent years. According to a study by Pornhub on porn consumption in the pandemic, women increased the amount of porn they consumed by 17.5%. Audio porn, one of the latest developments in the industry, is particularly popular among women. And websites for pornographic content aimed at women, taking into account the tastes and aesthetics that female arousal requires, have proliferated in recent years.

Mission: equality in pleasure

The work of Shere Hite is one of the great sources of inspiration for CLIMAX. The late writer and sexologist was especially interested in the female orgasm. She interviewed some 3,500 American women, from prostitutes to former nuns, to create ‘The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality’ in 1976. Among her conclusions stood out two ideas: first, that few women reached orgasm through intercourse (only 30%), although they did through masturbation. Secondly, the clitoris was the key to climax.

CLIMAX is organized into several themes, which are available in different subscription packs: external pleasure (10 episodes), internal pleasure (11 episodes) and tantra exercises (7 episodes).

“Our mission is to equalize pleasure in a world where women report being less satisfied than men in their sexual activities, feeling less pleasure and having fewer orgasms. Education will make it possible,” the expert concludes.



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Sonny Barger, founder of Hells Angels, dies at 83 | USA

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Hells Angels founding member Sonny Barger in 1979.
Hells Angels founding member Sonny Barger in 1979.Janet Fries (Getty Images)

Sonny Barger, the founding member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, died on Thursday in California at the age of 83. Barger was the face of the biker gang that became one of the main counterculture movements in the United States in the 1960s. Barger’s family confirmed his death in a message on Facebook. “Please know that I passed peacefully after a brief battle with cancer,” the message stated.

Sonny Barger – whose real name was Ralph Hubert Barger – was born in northern California, and taught himself to ride a motorcycle when he was 11 years old. It was an American-made Cushman scooter. From that moment on, he tried to only assemble motorbikes with parts made in the US, a task that became increasingly difficult as the world became more open to international trade.

In 1957, he founded the Hells Angels chapter in Oakland, California. This chapter was founded nine years after the first one opened in Fontana, in the same state. Barger was the national president of the Hells Angels, a group that became notorious for its links to violent and organized crime. Barger was arrested more than 20 times and spent 13 years of his life in prison for different crimes. In November 1992, for example, he was released from federal prison after spending four years behind bars for organizing to kill members of the rival Outlaws Motorcycle Club. When his parole came to an end in 1994, 700 bikers came out to celebrate the news.

Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969.
Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969.

But the darkest chapter of the Hells Angels took place on December 6, 1969. That night, the biker members were hired as security guards at the Altamont Free Concert in California, where the Rolling Stones performed. Representatives of the band reportedly offered the Hells Angels $500 worth of beer in exchange for providing security. Members of the biker gang had worked without incident as security at concerts for bands such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. But at the Altamont Free Concert, which brought together 300,000 people, the situation became violent. During the Rolling Stones’ performance, fights broke out in the audience. Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old concertgoer, was stabbed to death by a member of the Hells Angels after approaching the stage. The incident was caught on camera and became a central scene in the Maysles Brothers documentary Gimme Shelter, in which Barger admitted the bikers did not have the training to do security work. A few days after the concert, in a call to a local radio station, he said: “I ain’t no cop. I ain’t never gonna police nothin.’”

The incident stained the image of the Hells Angels and Barger – who had the name Hell’s Angels Oakland tattooed on his right shoulder – struggled for several years to change the gang’s violent reputation. “Catholics probably commit more crimes than we ever thought of,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 after being released from prison on parole. “Probably politicians commit more crimes.”

Writer Hunter S. Thompson compared the biker gang to the student protesters of the 1960s, who paved the way for civil rights in America. “The difference between the student radicals and the Hells Angels is that the students are rebelling against the past, while the Angels are fighting the future. Their only common ground is their disdain for the present, or the status quo,” he wrote in his book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.

The Hells Angels were one of America’s most striking subcultures, and their influence can be seen in many areas of society. In one of his books, Barger claims that Harley-Davidson – the motorcycle brand favored by the group – adopted the gang’s ideas into its models. Barger played himself in the 1967 film Hells Angels on Wheels, where he appeared alongside Jack Nicholson. He also had a small role in the TV show Sons of Anarchy.

Barger was a difficult character to define. He got up at 4.30am to feed his dogs and horses, then worked out for three hours, doing weights and going jogging. By 8am, he was on his motorcycle and driving down an off-beaten track. Unlike the stereotypical biker, he wore a helmet that covered his entire face. This was due to the fact that he had his vocal cords removed in 1982 after suffering from throat cancer.

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Art fakes: Disputed ‘Basquiats’ seized by FBI shake the US art world | Culture

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While New York surrenders once again to the genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat with an exhibition of unpublished work curated by his family, in Orlando (Florida), there is considerably more controversy over the work of the artist who died at the age of 27. An exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art dedicated to the former close friend of Andy Warhol, entitled Heroes & Monsters, has cost the head of that gallery his job, while the FBI investigates the authenticity of 25 of the works, not to mention the threats made by the director against an expert who had been commissioned to evaluate the authorship.

Although the scandal began to take shape in February, when the exhibition opened, the FBI raid took place last Friday with the seizure of the paintings with a contested attribution to Basquiat. Aaron De Groft, director and chief executive of the museum, has relentlessly defended that these are genuine works, while emphasizing that it is not a museum’s role to certify the authenticity of the works it exhibits. “[The paintings] came to us authenticated by the best Basquiat specialists,” he told the local NBC television station in February.

De Groft had for months championed the importance of the paintings, asserting that they are worth millions of dollars, until an expert showed up who’d been hired by the owners of the paintings and she began to question his version of events. The director was fired on Tuesday, just two business days after agents seized the 25 suspicious works. The museum’s board of trustees met for hours that day, but not before warning employees that anyone who dared to discuss the matter with journalists would suffer the same fate as De Groft. Hence, it is impossible to know the version not only of the former director, but of any worker at the center. Nor can any information be gleaned at the New York exhibition, a mixture of unpublished work and memorabilia, where organizers are fearful of the devaluation caused by the Orlando scandal.

FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.
FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.Willie J. Allen Jr. (AP)

“It is important to note that there is still nothing that makes us think that the museum has been or is the subject of an investigation,” Emilia Bourmas-Free told the local chain on behalf of the art gallery. Cynthia Brumback, chairwoman of the museum’s board of trustees, expressed itself in similar terms in a statement, saying that the board of trustees is “extremely concerned about several issues related to the exhibition Heroes & Monsters,” including “the recent revelation of an inappropriate e-mail correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition,” as reported by The New York Times.

The statement refers to a disparaging message sent by De Groft to the specialist hired for the expert opinion, cited in the FBI investigation as “Expert 2″ but who the New York Times has confirmed is Jordana Moore Saggese, an associate professor of art at the University of Maryland. This expert, who received $60,000 for a written report, asked the museum not to have her name associated with the exhibition, according to the FBI affidavit. Angry, De Groft threatened to reveal the amount of the payment and share the details with her employer, the university.

“You want us to put out there you got $60,000 to write this?” wrote De Groft, according to the affidavit. “Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.” The board said it has launched an official process to address the matter. The scandal was precipitated a few hours after the closing of the exhibition, which had originally been meant to travel to Italy.

Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.
Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.John Raoux (AP)

The mystery of the cardboard box

But how did the paintings get to the Orlando Museum? The museum and its owners maintain that the paintings were found in a Los Angeles storage unit in 2012. The New York Times reported that questions arose over one of the paintings, made on the back of a cardboard shipping box with FedEx lettering in a typeface that was not used until 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death, according to a designer who worked for the company.

Both De Groft and the owners of the paintings maintain that they were made in 1982 and that Basquiat sold them for $5,000 to a famous television screenwriter, now deceased, who deposited them in a storage unit and forgot about them.

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