Monday, April 30, 2007

Life is like a box of chocolates...

Life can be full of amazing coincidences. I’ve just been away on a belated honeymoon to Bilbao for four days and during that time, I hoped I’d go somewhere near Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium (old romantic fool that I am). Sadly it was not to be. In the short time I was there, I walked around the old town, along the river, visited the Guggenheim Museum, but did not see the home of the Red and Whites.

It’s shame because as your roving reporter I was hoping to tell you all about Athletic Bilbao, their current struggle against relegation, their history, the ground at which they play – all kinds of things. But no. I failed you. It’s inexplicable, and I can only apologise.

Luckily, one of those aforementioned coincidences was just around the corner, meaning I would have something to write about after all.

By the third day of my break, I was staying with friends about fifteen miles away from Bilbao in a beautiful mountain retreat. They suggested we go out to visit a nearby centre which celebrated the life and work of Eduardo Chillida, a well-known sculptor and artist who was born in the area.

We wandered around the huge, green, leafy grounds, permeated as they were by the many stone and iron pieces by the artist who died in 2002. Amid the hazy spring sunshine, we examined each and every item of artwork that crossed our path. It was all very nice, all very pleasant, and by the end of our visit I felt I’d learnt a lot about a man whose work was probably unheard of beyond the country’s borders.

As we left, we passed through the ubiquitous gift shop (that no modern museum or art centre should be without, of course) and I naturally felt it churlish not to pass up the opportunity to survey many of the items of merchandise it had to offer.

All the usual suspects were there – the t-shirts, the coasters, the key-rings – but it was the posters and prints displayed in frames on the wall that got my attention. Chillida’s drawings are largely recognisable as line sketches of the hands and the human form, and one poster encapsulated this in a strangely recognisable way.

I was stopped in my tracks as my eyesight locked onto an image of a clenched fist with a circular shape just above it – a ball, but made up of a series of words. Without my glasses on, it was difficult to see what they were. I squinted, and I just about made out the phrase ‘Bilbao ‘82’ repeated over and over again. It was then that I realised what I was looking at: the official poster for Bilbao as a venue of the 1982 World Cup.

As a ten-year-old, I’d started a Panini ‘Espana 82’ sticker collection when the World Cup was played in Spain but sadly my album never really got anywhere near half-full, let alone completed. I cherished the stickers I had, though, especially as Mum and Dad didn’t have much money to throw around on such luxuries. It’s therefore no surprise that one of the stickers I came to know intimately was that which featured the poster for Bilbao as one of the 1982 World Cup venues.

Without realising it, I’d had my first sight of Chillida’s work all those years ago when I didn’t even know who he was, and here I was staring up at a huge version of that same poster. I felt like I was ten years old again, staring at that picture in my sticker book.

It may not mean much to anyone else, but that amazing coincidence had the power to make me smile and think about a happy time in my childhood when I least expected it.

I’ll be talking more in future articles about the 1982 World Cup and the pastime of collecting football stickers, but as I sit here back in London, I think about Bilbao, Chillida and the great connection I made with both over this weekend just passed.

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