In Barcelona we went to one of the best comic book shops I have ever seen: Freaks. It’s actually three shops (same owners) side by side. They’re like walking into a Bud Plant catalogue. They had everything!
After two weeks in Spain I thought it might be interesting to check and see what was going on back home in the good ol’ US of A.
We had been mistakenly lulled into thinking that as the Bush administration’s time in office had been winding down that there wasn’t much more damage that could be done to the United States. Wrong! How about overseeing the collapse of our economy and financial institutions? Yikes! It shocked my friends in Spain even more. As wacky as Bush and his ill-advised policies were, the Spaniards thought they knew they could at least count on the United States for financial stability…
…I was really happy to be in Spain. My wife and I briefly contemplated not returning home.
From Barcelona we took the train to Valencia. My main reason for visiting Valencia was because of its proximity to the little village of Albaida. That small town contains the Casa Museo Jose Segrelles. Segrelles is Spain’s greatest fantasy artist. Heck…he’s one of the greatest fantasy artists who ever lived. Al Williamson turned me on to his work (I searched for the two separate illustrated editions of the 1001 Arabian Nights for twenty years after seeing Al’s copies. Amazingly, I found them both the same week. One was in Portugal, the other in Argentina).
My Valencian friend Carlos Durbán Colubi promised me two things if I visited Valencia.
1) He would take me to the Casa Museo Segrelles (about an hour’s drive out of Valencia).
2) He would treat me to the best paella in Valencia (hence, the world).
In Valencia we stayed at the Expo Hotel. Good location (just outside the old section of Valencia) and service, crappy food. This is the hotel that lower middle class Europeans stay at for getaway weekends; lots of girlfriends-on-the-town groups at that hotel. It would have been better to stay at Carlos’ recommendation, the Hotel Husa Reina Victoria. I checked out that hotel on Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com); it was way too expensive. I should have gone to the hotel’s own website instead where the rates were half of what was listed on Trip Advisor.
Carlos really came through (Carlos and I met because of our association with Guillermo del Toro. Carlos has put together an exhibition of props and artifacts from Guillermo’s movies. I created the poster for Carlos’ traveling show). He and his friends Daniel & Chris picked us up at 10:00 AM at our hotel and the we drove to Albaida. Carlos surprised me by having Jose Segrelles’ nephew, Juan Carlos Tormo, personally greet me at the Segrelles museum. The nephew presented me with a beautiful book on the house/museum, then gave me the most thorough tour imaginable of his uncle’s home. He insisted I look at Segrelles’ work using the master’s own magnifying glass. He had me sit for a photo in Segrelles’ favorite chair with a cast of Segrelles’ hands in front of me. He showed me all of the secret rooms hidden throughout the house. It was amazing!
My wife, Kent, was somehow unfamiliar with Jose Segrelles’ work (I have been neglectful of my duties as a husband). She was (rightfully) blown away by the quality of his paintings, the color, the imagination, the skill and the craftsmanship.
After several hours there we made the journey to an area in the state of Valencia famous for its paella (paella was invented in Valencia). We arrived at an unbelievably beautiful restaurant. We had a table reserved for us that overlooked the water and hundreds of seabirds. The food was terrific, the view was fabulous and the company was the best. We headed back to the city of Valencia and stopped at a couple of comic shops where at one, Futurama, I completed my collection of Carlos Jiménez books. I consider Carlos to be the Will Eisner of Spain. His Paracuellos and Barrio series (about Carlos’ growing up during the brutality of Franco’s Spain) are some of the most deeply moving (and funny) comics I have ever read. Carlos’ art highly influenced the visual storytelling of one of Guillermo del Toro’s finest films, The Devil’s Backbone (Carlos storyboarded the movie).
The next day my wife and I hit all of the art museums I wanted to see. I was stunned to find not one but TWO huge books (loaded with hundreds of color reproductions) on one of my absolute favorite Spanish artists, Mariano Fortuny. Fortuny singlehandedly began the Orientalist movement in Western art; he was forty to fifty years ahead of his time. Sadly, he died young, was given a national funeral in Rome and is now pretty much forgotten (the fate of most artists who die young) outside of Spain.
The city of Valencia is picturesque during the day and stunning during the night. There is a huge lit fountain near the center of town that constantly changes its color patterns. We ate at 100 Montaditos, one of a chain of restaurants that literally offers 100 different kinds of montaditos (a kind of small but long Spanish sandwich). We ordered one of their specials: a plateful of 12 different montaditos, a dish full of Spanish olives (you haven’t tasted olives until you’ve had them in Spain), French fries and drinks.
From Valencia we traveled back to Madrid…