More Madrid

posted 16 June 2005

Written 27 June 2005

On Saturday, 25 June, we flew from Santiago de Campostela back to Madrid to spend a cople of days being tourists. Once again, we took a taxi into the city, and this time we got within sight of our hotel (the Tryp Washington again) before a police car and a parade float appeared to block the street. Fortunately, the delay was minimal; it was just the Hare Krishnas going somewhere on their parade float, with a police escort. The Gran Via is a large, modern shopping street. Fortunately, the modern architects have retained the European habit of capping the corners of buildings with domes and cupolas. The one shown below was about a block from our hotel.

Dancing AztecsAfter dragging all our luggage up all the steps and settling into our room (which faced the Gran Via, this time), we went out and strolled around the old town, reading menus and generally enjoying the sights. When we came to the Plaza Major, some sort of ethic dance festival was going onapparently featuring musicians and dancers from South America. As you can see, we couldn't get very close to the stage, but we admired the facade of the building behind it, which for some reason featured many very large paintings of nude women, between all the windows. We watched part of a traditional Peruvian dance before the over-amplified music got to us and we wandered on elsewhere.

In the end, we went back to Sideria Galopin, where I wanted to order David's starter from last time (the large, red piquillo peppers stuffed with crab meat on a sweetened tomato sauce) and he wanted to order my main course (the mixed grill). At 8:40 p.m, we were again the first and only customers. This time we tried the cider, which was very dry, cloudy, and not at all carbonated (the foam came from it's being squirted into the glasses from a height of four feet).

Gran Via, MadridThe next customer to arrive (and at least until we left a couple of hours later, the only other customer) was a guy who came in alone, and as he walked by our table, David looked up in surprise, and said, "Tony?" It was Tony Koslow, of CSIRO Perth, with whom David had just been talking a couple of days before at ASLO in Santiago! We had overlapped a couple of years at Scripps in graduate school, though I didn't know him then, and after he joined us for dinner, it came out in the conversion that, unbeknownst to either, he and David had overlapped a couple of years at Harvard, too!

Written 1 July 2005

On Sunday, we went to the Prado—a cliché, yes, but it's where you have to start. And once there, you have to start with the big three—El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya—in case your feet give out before you can see the rest. We did them in that order, and for my money, Velazquez is where it's at. All three painted a lot of portraits of royalty and lesser nobility. El Greco's people are all greyish, somewhat elongated, and odd-looking—great art perhaps, but not to my taste. Goya was better, though some of his work, especially the earlier paintings, seemed to have a sort of childlike quality—and I don't mean touchingly naive; I mean they looked as though they were drawn and painted by a child. They were, though, as all the museum guides say, wonderfully expressive. The faces might have been strangely proportioned, but they showed very clearly the subtleties of what the subject was thinking. They also, notoriously, betrayed the painter's feelings about the subject, although apparently nobody minded, even the subjects he didn't much like. Toward the end of his life, after he had gone deaf, he suffered severe depression. He kept on painting cheerful court portraits, since that's what he was paid for, but inside he spiraled further and further into a very dark place, and on the walls of his house in the country, he painted increasingly nightmarish visions completely different from his other work and culminating in a disturbing and gory scene of Saturn (one of the titans) devouring his own infant son. I liked Velasquez a lot, though—beautiful and expressive portraits of a couple of generations of Spanish royalty and the people and pets around them.

After covering those three, we spend a lot more time seeing the rest of the place (fortunately, it's not as big as the Louvre). Wow!

After five hours in the Prado (I can't believe our feet held up that long), we went out looking for lunch, and all up and down the surrounding streets were guys distributing small handbills of various colors and shapes advertising restaurants. We collected a handful, compared the little location maps on the backs, and picked a place nearby that met the hundred-yard rule, where we had an excellent paella (another cliché, but you can't leave Spain without tasting one) of chicken, shrimp, squid, mussels, and several dozen little grape-sized clams, thrown in shells and all.

Then it was on to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum (Madrid's big three museums are all conveniently located next to each other), but our feet only held up for a couple more hours. Wow again.

Finally, after resting our feet for a while (and working on the blog), we set out from the hotel to look for dinner. We decided to try a new direction, away from the old town rather than toward it, and we pretty well struck out (on restaurants only—the architecture and parks were great; we really like this habit the Spanish have of training camelias and ligustrum into trees). Finally, we headed back by a different route, prepared to fall back on the Italian restaurant in the Crown Plaza on Gran Via if we didn't find anything else, and there it was—The Swan Irish Pub. Okay, we had to read the menu, and to our surprise it featured Spanish food of a sort rather different that the all-alike menus in the old town. I had an excellent terrine of shrimp and eggplant, then a slab of cod au gratin with grilled vegetables. David started with Iberian raw ham (don't let them fool you; the national dish of Spain is not paella but ham), then had veal in a mushroom sauce. Flan for dessert (they were out of the more exotic choices). The place looked like an Irish pub (well, a pretty clean and modern Irish pub), and it had all the good Irish beverages (stout, ale, beer, whiskies, etc.), but our waiter spoke only restaurant English, and nobody in the place, waiters and clientel alike, looked or sounded anything but Spanish. Go figure.

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