Weekend in Valencia: From Bang to Hush


The peaceful Jardin del Turia on Sunday afternoon

THE VALENCIA TRIP, which started with so many bangs, ended with the pleasant Sunday hush common to most European cities. Doubly so, because it was the day after the culminating ceremonies of the five-day Fallas festival (pronounced FI-iss, by the way). I’m glad I had at least one day to experience the city at its most mellow, after the insanity of Fallas.


The festival ended Saturday night with the crema, or burning, of hundreds of massive but lightweight sculptures that decorated many of the city’s blocks and squares during the week I was there. These dubious works of satirical art were torched city-wide on Saturday night, above, along with, of course, more fireworks.

But let me backtrack a bit, for the sake of continuity…


Saturday began on a civilized note with a visit to the Museo Nacional de Ceramica, above. It’s housed in a palacio with an astonishing Baroque exterior and second French Empire interior (the building’s Gothic origins have been thoroughly obscured by a series of remodelings).


Inside are furnishings and decorative arts through the ages, 19th century period rooms, including a characteristic tiled kitchen, above, and cases of ceramic wares from pre-history through Picasso.


A street in Rusaffa strung up with lights for Fallas

We walked through Rusaffa, an attractive 1920s neighborhood of student bars, Middle Eastern cafes, and at least one butcher shop-turned-bookstore, and checked out a couple of boutique hotels for future reference. We hoped to do some shopping, but — it being the last day of Fallas, a national holiday — stores were closed.


There was one notable exception, above: a store selling fireworks and other noise-making explosives – yes, in plain sight and perfectly legal.


Valencia’s over-the-top Arts and Crafts era train station, Estacion Del Norte, above, merited another look, this time to view the stained glass and mosaics, below, in the lobby and waiting rooms. (High-speed train service to and from Madrid, which takes just 90 minutes, started last December.)


Onward to the 3-year-old L’ Almoina archaeological museum, below, built over the city’s most important ruins, from 1st century A.D. Roman roads and the earliest Christian cathedral of 304 A.D. to an almshouse of the mid-6th century Visigoth period, which gives the museum its name. (Almoina is the Arabic word for charity.)


Photo: holavalencia.net

Glass walkways suspend visitors over excavated floors and roadways, which would mean little were it not for the fascinating animated video displays that take you up from ancient foundations to watch how the city grew.


Outside the archaeological museum, above

A last-minute invitation to a VIP luncheon for Fallas bigwigs and beauty queens at a magnificent 1909 exposition hall, below, turned out to be a highlight.



Queen of the Fallas festival

The hall is an exuberant Valencian version of what they call Modernismo, hardly as austere as that which was going on simultaneously in, say, Vienna. I couldn’t get over the sight of women in costumes that must have cost thousands, smoking cigarettes and talking on cell phones. I enjoyed the company of Brazilian and Mexican journalists at our table, and there was another welcome opportunity to eat paella, below.


Dinner was at Aarop (“Syrup”), near the archaeological museum,with sections of flooring removed to reveal Roman cobblestones. The chi-chi restaurant has a Michelin star and serves a 10-course tasting menu of dishes like chilled vegetable and tuna soup, fried ray with artichokes, and snail risotto.


Then a race through the streets, dodging crowds, to the city’s main square, Ayuntamiento, above, where the biggest conflagration of all was to take place at 1AM. This post-9/11 New Yorker is not especially fond of crowds, sudden very loud noises, or massive fireballs in my vicinity, but I have to admit I had a pretty good time. As a VIP with a coveted press badge, I was on the roof of City Hall, looking down on the action, and then in a cordoned-off press area most of the time.

Fallas is extreme. It is astounding that Times-Square-style crowds, explosives, fireworks, and bonfires in very tight quarters come off without a hitch. Fire fighters from all over the region converge on the city for this night; we saw them hosing down nearby buildings before setting alight the wood and polystyrene fallas sculptures. Black smoke billows into the air, but fortunately it seems short-lived.


If Saturday night was sheer Fallas madness, Sunday morning was eerily quiet, as the city slept off all the excitement. Nevertheless, a small pack of American travel journalists just had to get a couple more items ticked off their lists. We taxied to the University of Valencia botanical garden, above, founded in 1597, moved several times, and refurbished most recently in 2000.


It’s another green respite where gravel paths wind through endemic Mediterranean plantings, with a cast iron ‘shade house,’ above, that’s a re-creation of an 1897 structure designed by Merida, the same architect who did the majestic Norte train station.


Next, we explored the city’s Museo de Bellas Artes in a blue-domed former monastery, above, Spain’s most important fine arts collection after the Prado in Madrid. The ecclesiastical art comes mostly from churches closed in the 19th century.


I spent more time on the top floor, above, among the Valencian interpreters of Impressionism and Post-impressionism, admiring landscapes and domestic scenes by artists entirely new to me.


“Las does Madres” Vicente Gomez Novella, 1873-1956

We strolled once more through the Turia riverbed park, stopping to see Santiago Calatrava’s Alameda metro station, whose swooping parabolic shapes and white broken-tile decoration echo those at the City of Arts and Sciences.

There was one last blow-out dinner at a well-known but authentic Spanish restaurant, below, tucked in a narrow lane of the city’s historic center.


The ceiling of Palacio de la Bellota (chestnuts) is hung with ham hocks. That didn’t seem promising to this lapsed-but-still-trying-vegan, but ultimately I loved the restaurant for its vegetable tapas, as well as its traditional décor and friendly red-scarved waiters. Not to mention the wine: Spanish rioja has become my new favorite red.


Lighting My Cottage Bathroom

Z008418TIME WAS, you could turn up a great Art Deco lighting fixture at a flea market for $3, but you’d have to look long and hard, and maybe re-wire. I’m thinking of something like the one at left. We do indeed have that exact fixture in its original incarnation in one of the bathrooms in Cobble Hill. Found it years ago for a few bucks, with a pull chain (that tends to stick).

Well, no more of those hassles. Now you can simply go to Rejuvenation Lighting’s online catalogue and pick and choose from reproduction retro-inspired lighting of all eras. The offerings start in the Victorian age, and move up from there through Arts & Crafts and Art Deco into the 1960s. You get to choose the finish, the shade, the projection from the wall (in inches), and so on. They’ll custom-build it for you, and ship it out in 2-3 weeks.

I’ve just done that. I was in search of a fixture for my East Hampton cottage bathroom, and under a mini-gun, since my contractor said he would throw in the installation if I got it to him at the right time — in about two weeks — and centered it above the sink, exactly where the previous one was.

Here’s the ‘before’…


I’m replacing something ugly but effective, above. I always felt four bulbs was overkill. It’s going, along with the inset medicine cabinet, both remnants of the bathroom’s last re-do in the 1970s. Staying, however, is the white-painted carved mirror at left, which I bought at a yard sale last summer for $20 <yay>.Z006063

Here’s where I initially thought I might go — something like this frilled fixture, right. It reminds me of Paris, somehow, and would have been fun.

But ultimately I chose the good old American-style chrome fixture with an 8″ white satin glass shade, below (boring, I’m afraid), for about $100.


I like that it can also be used facing up, if it’s too busy with the carved mirror, or if I decide I prefer more flattering (i.e. less illuminating) indirect lighting.


Do check out Rejuvenation’s catalogue. It’s fun to browse, and has the potential to solve a whole lot of problems.

Nancy’s New Kitchen


WHEN I PHOTOGRAPHED my friend Nancy’s house in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, for a Brownstone Voyeur post last spring, I scrupulously avoided the kitchen. At the time, it was badly in need of a re-do, not befitting the rest of her elaborately detailed 1870s row house.


With the help of a contractor friend, she has now succeeded in creating a warm, inviting kitchen that blends with the architecture of the house and reflects the antique look of her decorating — a look that harks generally back to the Arts and Crafts era. Nancy has a serious collection of vintage copperware, so she went with a deep, hammered copper sink bought on eBay, and a gooseneck faucet in a similar finish from Rowe & Perrins.

Several decorative tiles bought in Amsterdam — some from the 1920s, others 1960s re-issues of earlier patterns — are set in a backsplash of celadon-green crackled glass tile. The spectacular light fixture above the new granite counter, which is a deep brown laced with coppery tones, was also found in Amsterdam, shipped here in parts, and reassembled.



Off-white wood cabinets and a matching island, from Lowe’s, have vertical grooves that suggest period-appropriate wainscotting. Nancy even found hammered copper cabinet handles at Gracious Home to tie things together.

Brooklyn ‘Gingerbread House’ $12M

YOU HAVE TO SEE IT to believe it. I once drove to Bay Ridge specifically looking for this odd Arts and Crafts-style house I’d heard about, just to prove to myself such a thing could exist in Brooklyn. It does.

Now it’s on the market for the first time since the 1980s. If it brings its asking price of $12 million (highly unlikely), that would set a record for the borough. Designed by James Sarsfield Kennedy in 1917 and built of uncut stone, its most amazing feature is the roof, which looks a lot like a thatched roof on an English cottage out of the Doomsday Book, but is in fact artfully rounded asphalt shingle.

People have taken to calling it the Gingerbread House for some stupid reason. The 5,800-square-foot, 6 BR house, on 1 acre near New York Harbor, is coffered and paneled, with huge fireplaces, a “fountain room,” whatever that is, a chauffeur’s room, a theatre and more. For more info and pictures, see the realtor’s listing.

A New York City landmark, it was originally built for a shipping magnate and has been owned for the past 25 years by Jerry Fishman, who grew up in the neighborhood and wanted to own the house since he was in high school. His mother even claims he tried to crawl out of his stroller at age 2 to get to the house. Really. The whole cockamamie story is here.

Southampton Sojourn

I LIKE SOUTHAMPTON. I hadn’t been there in 25 years till the other day, but now that I have, I’ve been back twice. Retail-wise, it’s pretty much a replica of East Hampton. Jobs Lane (now home of Diane von Furstenberg, Ralph Lauren, et al) goes back to 1640, when Southampton was first settled, which is pretty impressive.


It also has the Parrish Art Museum, above, which I’m saving for winter. And an old-fashioned department store called Hildreth’s, still in its 1842 location with interior cast iron columns, full of useful, tasteful, sweet-smelling things. Haven’t seen anything like it outside of London.

There’s a major building restoration going on next to the First Presbyterian Church at South Main Street and Meeting House Lane. Last year, the 1843 church and its clock tower were stripped of paint for the first time in a century and repainted.


Now it’s the turn of the building next door, above, a c.1825 bay-windowed mansion once the minister’s home, but since the early 1980s, split into rental apartments.

So far, they’ve stripped off the vinyl siding (horrors!) to reveal the original pine planks underneath, which were set at an angle to overlap each other and nailed to studs with no sheathing. The pine will be covered with a penetrating white stain and the house insulated.

It’s also getting a new foundation; the back half of the house never had a foundation at all. Right now, the house is raised several feet above the ground and those who are interested can peek underneath, with no fence or security to stop them.


Above, the former Rogers Memorial Library, now an annex to the Parrish Art Museum — an outstanding Arts and Crafts building. Love the cloud-pruned yews and junipers.

If it’s Friday, it must be time for the Hooked on Houses blog party!