Everyone believes in the right to criticize a novel; rightly so. Everyone has a right to criticize a film, and uses that right. Only those acutely lacking in self-confidence resort cop out with a noncommittal "interesting." Everyone has a right to judge an opera, though opera-goers are in general more cautious. On the stairs after an opera it is often on the tip of my tongue to say that the thing might have ended after two hours - but for a certain type of spectator, even to suggest that you found it too long is a sign of rusticity.
This does not apply to novels. You will often hear someone say that a novel "was 100 pages too long, but the publishers couldn't be bothered to cut it." Even when the total length was 150 pages. What a thing for a writer to hear; for it usually reaches the author's sensitive ears.
"Tough," as Bogart said.
Now that his roofs are collapsing, it seems easy to criticize Calatrava
So, as it goes, for years I have done my best to armor my thin skin with rhinoceros hide.
But I have observed how there is one public profession - architecture - which amateur critics are strangely shy of dissing; treating it with a respect bordering on veneration. Precisely because it impinges, for good or ill, on our lives in the most direct and everyday manner, you would expect more tolerance of unfavorable opinions. But no: architects are armored with a culture of protection which cows "the layman," who fears he is simply too ignorant to opine.
I remember one occasion seven years ago. I went to Valencia, to the College of Architects there, to speak about my home town. Most of us in Madrid have a home town in the provinces, in most cases where our mother lived. Mine is called Ademuz. It belongs to the region of Valencia, but is closer to Teruel, and the local speech is resonant of the tones of Aragon.
I was at the college to speak of the work of two architects, Fernando Vegas and Camilla Mileto, who had lately completed an exemplary job of restoration in a village near Ademuz. The round-table format offered a lot of latitude, and in my case I expatiated on my love for the district, expressing local concerns about a depopulated but lovely corner of Spain that deserves more attention than it receives, being a sort of neglected child of the Valencian region.
The next day we walked through the Cabañal, the old seaside quarter of Valencia which the regional government wants to bulldoze to extend, quite unnecessarily, a broad, grandiose axial avenue to the seafront. On the way there we passed the "city" of Arts and Sciences built by Santiago Calatrava - that great tract of land that the politicians gave to a single man as a huge playground in which to exercise his plastic art with public money.
So overwhelming was the presence of this single signature, that in my next Sunday article I allowed myself a few jokes on the excess, the squandering, and the boorish vulgarity of wishing to adorn your city with a whole precinct of buildings guaranteed to be hailed as epoch-making from the very day the first load of concrete is poured.
Now that his roofs are collapsing, it seems easy to criticize Calatrava. The crisis has resuscitated our critical sense. But only seven years ago I was stoned alive, with most of the brickbats being thrown by architects, for giving a mere touch of irony to the matter. Others, however, said nothing, though abundantly aware of the absurdity.
In those days (only yesterday) it was sacrilege for someone outside the profession - a public one that affects us all for good or ill - to cast doubt on the beauty or utility of a building. As for myself - one of the profanum vulgus, a joker and, why not say it, a woman - more than one of them patronized me with the Bogartesque line "Shut up, sugar."