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That Awful Timelessness Of Picasso's Guernica

Sadly, the wall-sized master work says as much about the world's current horrors as it did about the first-ever air raid on civilians 80 years ago.

Visitors walking past Guernica
Visitors walking past Guernica
Aura Lucía Mera

MADRID — Mercy and Terror. That is the title of an exhibition in Madrid's Reina Sofía museum exhibit that depicts Pablo Picasso's artistic progression toward Guernica, his pitiless portrayal of the cruelty of war.

In stylistic terms, it is a journey that may have begun in 1925, 11 years before the start of the Spanish Civil War, which led to the bombing of Guernica, in the Basque Country, by German forces aligned with army rebels against the Spanish Republic.

Picasso's monumental painting, perhaps his most famous work, reuses and magnifies the pained expressions of earlier figures, already distorted within a phantasmagoric pictorial discourse. It was also a premonition of the horrors soon to overwhelm the European continent under Hitler.

When the artist was invited to take part in the Spanish Pavilion in Paris in 1937, he had never before broached overtly political subjects. But his blue period, which conveyed peace and serenity, had long ended, and he was moving beyond his cubist breakthrough. His sketches, paintings and drawings were beginning to speak of tragedies, pain and tears. For Picasso, women had become "suffering machines' and happiness "had never existed."

Picasso concentrated this pain into his merciless depiction of the bombing of a small town. He used shades of grey to depict human (and animal) slaughter, sobbing and the suffering of the innocent. This was the picture he displayed in Paris, perhaps without imagining it would later become a universal symbol of the cruel insanity of war.

Very little on this front has changed since Guernica's creation. The world is equally inhumane: missiles, hunger, terrorism. Blood and more blood. The nuclear threat that persists, child rape and human trafficking, closed borders and oceans turned into liquid graveyards. The shrieking that emanates from the master work still pierces our contemporary ears, in spite of our resolute deafness and indifference to "other people's' tragedies, and the overwhelming sway money, power and ambition hold over our lives.

Reading the news from anywhere now is a veritable trauma: a polluted planet, a heartless world, an insatiable and universal desire to destroy. An unfettered rage seems to have been let loose. It has unhinged the structure of our most elementary values and is leading people toward destruction. There are no winners in sight without a restoration of a sense of pity, forgiveness and love in ourselves.

The new show on display provides renewed impact. It not only reminds us of the past but also reflects our present. And unless we recover a measure of compassion, it may also presage an even more terrible future. Guernica is the inimitable representation of moral duty staring us in the face.

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food / travel

Pasta v. Fascists: How Italy's Staple Dish Became A Symbol Of Resistance

Pasta may not be considered controversial today, but it played an important role during Italy's fascist years, particularly in one family's celebration of community and liberation.

Photo of the Cervi family.

Photo of the Cervi family, whose seven children were shot by the Fascists on December 28, 1943, at the Reggio Emilia shooting range.

@comunisti_alla_ribalta via Instagram
Jacopo Fontaneto

ROME — Eighty years ago — on July 25, 1943 — the vote of no confidence by the Grand Council of Fascism, leading to Benito Mussolini's arrest, set off widespread celebrations. In Campegine, a small village in the Emilian province, the Cervi family celebrated in their own way: they brought 380 kilograms of pasta in milk cans to the town square and offered it to all the inhabitants of the village.

The pasta was strictly plain: macaroni dressed with butter and cheese, seen as more of a "festive dish" in that period of deprivation. As soon as the Cervi brothers learned about the arrest of Mussolini, they procured flour, borrowed butter and cheese from the dairy, and prepared kilos and kilos of pasta. They then loaded it onto a cart to distribute it to their fellow villagers. Pastasciutta (dry pasta) specifically regards dishes with noodles that are plated "dry", not in broth. That would disqualify soup, risotto, ravioli...

Even though pastasciutta is the most stereotypical type of pasta today, it had a complicated relationship with the government during Italy's fascist years.

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