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Showing posts with label Elche. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elche. Show all posts

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Pusol Museum and School

El Museo Escolar de Pusol. Photo from its website.
A group of some 50 adult students--mostly northern European and of retirement age--from the Centro de Estudios Hispania in Algorfa came to the Museo Escolar de Pusol one morning in April and were met by a somewhat smaller and much younger group of Spanish students. The students, you see, are the docents at this rural teaching museum, which also houses a small colegio (elementary school) for the children of residents in the surrounding area.

Before arriving, I had envisioned the museum as a sort of mini Old Sturbridge Village, a Massachusetts open-air museum that reproduces and reinterprets life in 1830s New England. It is similar, though on a much smaller scale, and on the day we were there all activities took place indoors.

We divided into two groups; mine went first on a tour of a dozen or so galleries that showed implements used in farming, carriage-making, shoe-making, wine-making, and other occupations formerly important to the area, as well as typical rooms from the farm and village houses. Before each tableau stood two or three very young students--usually age 7 or 8--who, at the signal of their teacher, gave us an introduction to what we were seeing and what life was like in their home area in "the old days." The exact era of the old days in question never became clear to me--they seemed to stretch anywhere from 19th century to the 1950s--but they were definitely in the past, and in the long-ago past for these children. The students spoke Spanish, of course, and very quickly--they obviously wanted to get through their memorized speeches before they forgot them--so there is a limit to how much information was taken in by us old people, but we all recognized many of the artifacts shown and described, and the youngsters were earnest and adorable.

After a mid-morning rest break and light "pic-nic" we proceeded to a classroom and were instructed in the art of making braided white palm (palma blanca) decorations for the upcoming Palm Sunday celebrations. Though seasonal, this braiding of palm leaves is a long-established tradition in the greater Elche area, usually done by regular inhabitants in their homes, with the products sold in florist shops all around Spain and exported even farther afield.  We had good teachers, but I decided right away that I was not going to wear my little palm flower for Palm Sunday.

Then we switched guides, and my group went through the exhibits showing a large variety of commercial establishments typical of the geographic area in days gone by, including a shop, drugstore,toy store, and an office. This museum and its incorporated school were established in 1969 by the idea of a young teacher in the school who wanted to introduce new teaching methods while maintaining memory of the early life and culture of the area. The idea was successful, and the museum and school were recognized by UNESCO in 2009. Rather than slipping into being a backwater country school in a forgotten rural pueblo, the school now attracts students from far outside its geographic catchment area, becoming a sort of magnet school in Spain.

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, and news reports all over the world show Pope Francis clutching braided palms that, we are told in Spain, were hand made in Elche, a city just 45 minutes north of here. Ten days ago I went on an excursion with other students in my Algorfa municipally supported Spanish class to Elche, and we saw one of the studios where people were making the braided staffs out of white palm leaves (bleached intentionally through preventing sun from reaching the leaves by covering them in plastic for a whole year). Some of the palm decorations are more than a yard long. They can be extremely elaborate and difficult to make--I know because we were each invited to make just a tiny one-inch flower out of a bleached palm and mine was a miserable failure.

The article here tells about the Elche tradition of making braided white palms for Palm Sunday. The photo above, from, shows some of the more elaborate palm decorations.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Palms of Elche

In 2000, the city of Elche became a UNESCO World Heritage site for its palm groves. There are about 200,000 of them, according to our guide, and that is about equal to the human population, too. It's the largest palm plantation in Europe and one of the largest in the world. We had walked through some of the palm gardens before, but this time we went to the Huerto de Cura, the Priest's Garden.

It is a beautiful garden, indeed, and we saw lots of palm trees and other botanical marvels during our one-hour visit. One of the notable sites is the Imperial Palm,  which was named for the Empress Consort of the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, who visited the palmera in 1894. It has multiple stems in the shape of candelabra, or perhaps a crown, and it's held upright by metal bands and wires.


The Lady of Elche

When I headed off to the city of Elche on a day bus trip with the Danish Friends Club last Thursday, I thought I was going to see some of the 200,000 palm trees in that UNESCO World Heritage city. But three kilometers before getting to Elche proper we stopped at an archeological site in L'Alcúdia to see the Dama de Elche (Lady of Elche), or at least, a reproduction. According to our two guides, the Lady of Elche was discovered by a sixteen-year-old boy in 1897 who was working on the private farm where the museum and archeological site now are situated. He thought he had encountered a very large stone while digging in a field, but carefully unearthed a polychrome stone statue of the head of a woman. Shortly after the discovery, the bust was whisked off to the Louvre in Paris, but returned to Spain in the 1940s. The statue is noted by experts as a well-preserved piece of Iberian art dating from the 5th century BC and is key in claims of Spaniards that there was an Iberian culture here before the Romans, Moors, and Christians.

The original now is displayed in Madrid in the national archeological museum, so we saw a reproduction. In fact, we saw many reproductions, because part of the hundred-year anniversary celebration in 1997 was the creation and placement on the grounds of several imaginative larger-than-lifesize artistic interpretations. I've since read about art historian John Moffitt's claim that the Lady is a forgery--a controversy that neither of our guides mentioned--but the family on whose farm it was found preserved the location and privately financed archeological excavations through the next three generations, before getting public authorities to take over the project. There are lots of artifacts in a small museum today; archeological work is continuing with the University of Alicante. A pre-Roman temple has been unearthed and we were cautioned not to take anything from the grounds, as it could be a relic.

It was an unexpectedly delightful morning adventure, even though it did delay our arrival at the palmera. The grounds are extensive and it was a beautifully crisp fall day. We walked a lot, and you can even rent bikes to get around. Perhaps next spring we'll take a picnic and go visit the Dama de Elche again and see what else has been found.