Today was gorgeous. At times like these, I forget we are already in November (however, this can also get me into trouble, since I sometimes don’t wear socks, and then my feet get cold. It is November, I should know to wear socks, me.) The sun was shining with only a light breeze as we left the hotel and walked to a nearby pastry shop. The staff was a bit grumpy and impatient, I was grateful for my Spanish-speaking Dale to help me get their yummy goods from behind their glass counter and into my mouth. Luckily their unfriendly manner in no way effected the beauty or deliciousness of their treats.
We took a bus to the Plaza Mayor. Travelers, tourists, locals, street performers and venders filled the square. Since it was November 2, that could only mean one thing—Ham Fair! A huge white tent filled the center of the plaza, and out of sheer curiosity, we wandered in to find the festival of ham. As far as we were concerned, Ham Fair (or vacation, take your pick) is reason enough to enjoy a beer at 11:30 a.m. No judgements. From here, we began our Dannon-led-slightly-convuluted-walking-tourish-journey to the Reina Sofia.
I love contemporary art. I took modern art/art in the twentieth century history classes back in college for my art history minor. I have always been drawn to surrealism, but had easily dismissed many other aspects of contemporary art such as cubism, expressionism, abstraction, etc. simply because I didn’t fully understand their narrative role in history or their context in developing the art concepts we encounter today. The Renia Sofia museum has a marvelous collection of works from many influential artists such as Alexander Calder, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Francis Bacon, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst.
Viewing art museums and galleries is always strangely exhilarating and inspiring for me. It seems to have a vaguely physical influence on me (beyond making my feet ache after hours of walking). My heart feels full, and I actually get slight shivers up and down my arms in response to viewing some artworks. I love it.
Granted, our lovely Dale doesn’t quite find the art museum as intensely fulfilling as I do–which is understandable, because I am a bit of a dork that way. But she handled our hours spent wandering through galleries with elegance and grace.
Picasso’s Guernica has held a special place in my memory for years. I always wanted to see this piece in real life. I remember tearing up when I first learned the depth of this work, its historical references, symbolism, cultural relevance and statement Picasso expressed through his monumental artwork. I vividly remember the impact of simply learning about this piece—the way it made my heart ache and my stomach sink. Guernica is a truly immense work of art, I had known the piece was large, but walking into that gallery–I felt my stomach drop. I must have stood in awe for several minutes, taking in various details of the work–and listening to the narrative (and extended narratives) of the audio-guide. Of course a sizeable crowd had gathered around this famous work which was somewhat distracting, but it made the imagery no less powerful or heart-breaking.
Our group reconvened for a late lunch on the patio of a charming little café in the small square outside the museum before we headed to the Royal Palace. Dannon is a great leader at this sort of thing—which I loved, because he moved our little group from place to place with ease. I didn’t have to bother reading a map or keeping our group on track. I was able to simply enjoy the walk, and take random photos. So—Thanks Dannon for being organized.
It has been several years since I have been through a European palace. I had forgotten the intense opulence of these places. The experience of walking through these rooms was a little mind-blowing—we only saw a small faction of the palace. One can only assume the rest was equally as lavish, ornate, and beautifully detailed as the twenty or so spaces on view to the public. Based on craftsmanship and aesthetic, the Royal Palace is utterly magnificent—that fact is undeniable. These rooms house stunning tapestries, elaborate chandeliers, embroidered wall coverings, gorgeous paintings and elegant inlaid woodwork. Every detail in this vast palace seems to have been attended to. I can fully appreciate all of this from an artistic perspective.
However, the human-me, just felt sad as I toured the grand space. It seemed rather appalling that this was a home for anyone. This place was a residence—for humans. Think about that. Humans, who were essentially like anyone else except chance and circumstance allowed for their incessant opulence and wealth lived there. As I walked from room to room, I could only think that such extravagance could only be achieved through the suffering and manipulation of others. I think my husband summarized the monarchy fairly well—“This is amazing, but if this place is your house, you had better make damn sure not one of your people is going without food—ever.”
We had reservations at Torres Bermejas for dinner that evening which included a traditional flamenco show. We arrived a few minutes before our reservation, which gave us plenty of time to admire the exceptional decor of the restaurant–seriously, this place was incredible. The food was spectacular (and beautiful) and the dancing was phenomenal (and also beautiful). I had never seen flamenco dancing in real life—it is basically super badass tap dancing with this powerful raw emotional element. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. The guitar musicians and singers were equally impressive. I don’t know how a humans body or vocal chords could withstand such intense use.
This was a splendid beginning to our trip–Madrid is amazing.