Valencia’s sign of the times

I was taking one of my strolls through the huerto at the edge of the city, where most of the produce that fed Valencia was once grown, and I took a short cut along the edge of one of the irrigation channels that criss-cross the area. I spotted a sign partially buried under a pile of old hedge clippings that perfectly sums up the state of Valencia for me. Like a street sign for Broadway sticking out of a pile of New York rubble in a post-nuclear attack film, the yellow sign covered in dried mud bearing the emblem of Valencia, and the words Ajuntament de Valencia is almost apocryphal in its significance, given the disastrous state the city is in, both financially and the incestuous, slithering corruption of its politicians that is coming to light.

I was heading in the direction of the City of Arts and Sciences, the building I have the greatest love-hate relationship with in Valencia – more hate than love, admittedly, particularly for the shambolic way the place is run and the vast amounts of money that have been, and continue to be, squandered there. 

I’d read of late that the mosaic of broken tiles that cover the new Opera House were beginning to lift, and there is raging dispute between the Town Hall, Santiago Calatrava, the one-trick pony architect that is – or more correctly, was up till now – the city’s favourite son, and the contractor who constructed the building. In a typically finger-pointing, foot-stamping, petulant show of name calling, each is blaming the other for the fact that the wrong type of adhesive was used and they unfortunately didn’t seem to take into account that metal expands when hot and contracts when cold, so if you use a glue that lacks expansive and contractive properties you’ll end up with a ripple effect in you tile work, not to mention bloody great gaps in the grouting. And guess what’s happened?

What was once a pristine curvature glistening in the noon-day sun, which, I have to admit, even I admired, is now bubbling and lifting to the extent that the surface resembles that of an albino crocodiles. The grouting between the broken tiles has discoloured badly over almost the whole of the building, creating a mucky mottled effect where once the sun reflected off a surface as sparkly white as a Presidential candidate’s teeth. This shows itself most in the joints of the panels, so what originally appeared to be a vast mosaic of tile pieces actually shows to have been laid as a series of one-metre square panels.

Rust stains run from joints, flaking paint patches and dirty water stains decorate the underside of the arched peak that caps the building, and as if showing that the Town Hall has totally given up the ghost as far as this once jewel in the Valencian crown but now more of a white – sorry, dirty grey – elephant, the pool that once mirrored the architectural glory is now so filthy that it reflects nothing more than the waste, overspending, and monstrous self-aggrandising that has plagued the city for decades.

For a building that started out with an estimated budget of 84,3million euros but ended at an almost quadrupled figure of 345.9million, of which around 40million was trousered by Calatrava, we now find out that the only recourse it to strip the whole external surface, remove the degraded glue, and do the job properly this time. Think of the last time you had to remove old Bostik from something and then imagine what a job a couple of million times the size will entail. And you can bet that at the speed ‘justice’ works in Spain – witness the nine years it has taken to almost get the Corrupt Cowboy of Castellon, Carlos Fabra, to anywhere within spitting distance of the courts – and you can virtually guarantee than the tiles will have shed themselves from the building before anyone parks their arse in front of a judge to make a decision. And on one thing you can be sure, neither Dickhead Calatrava, Bolloxhead the Builder, or the dinero-pocketing corrupt bastards at the Town Hall who awarded the contract will part with one centimo. It will be paid for out of the public purse, in other words, me and thee and everyone else in Valencia with pay it by way of taxes, further depleting the pittance available for schools, medicine and services for the disabled.

And one final bit of nonsense. The City of Arts and Sciences, that symbol of Rita Barbera and her crooked cronies in their bid to make Valencia a city of the future, doesn’t have, and never has had, a Licencia de Actividades, that essential bit of paper that says a building is safe and allowed to be open to the public, the same as required for every bar, restaurant and disco. And do you know why? Because Santiago Calatrava, that high-steppin’ son of the Valencian range, forgot to get a Licencia de Obra, a works license, when he began the work on the project, without which no building can be given the Licencia de Actividades when it’s finished. So now you enter the building at your own risk, and that’s how you get out of it, as well, because he also forgot to add escape routes to the building, and when the error of his ways was pointed out, he hastily bunged on the two stairways you see at either end of the building, but designing them at such a rake that they are illegal and you are is as much danger using them in an emergency as you would be staying in the building itself. That’s why they are permanently roped off.

It’s sad to think thank the once glorious Opera House will become as filthy and indicative of Valencia’s image as the old sign I saw sticking out the pile of rubbish.