Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fourth and Fifth Day: Madrid

American Gothic in Madrid (or Frank and Jeanne looking for a place to have dinner before 9PM when all the restaurants open.)

Day Four and Five:
We're somewhere on the way from London to Madrid - over France?

The Madrid airport is in the middle of a great valley with hills and mountains all around. It feels very ancient.
Frank writes: Once we get out of London, the flight to Madrid is only two hours. What with all the damn connections, though, it is over nine hours hotel-to-hotel.
Graffiti outside Madrid.
We refresh ourselves with smoked salmon and a spot-on Spanish white at the hotel bar, then make a beeline to the Prado.
Wall of greens on the way to the Prado.
A major part of Frank’s vision quest is to see the fabulous collection of paintings by Diego Velazquez, in particular “Las Meninas”, a painting so good, so overwhelming that Manet referred to it as “ the school of painting”. And it is. Frank is slack-jawed and almost in tears. Here’s where you either quit painting or ramp up, big time. Can’t quit now, so have to ramp up. But the Prado is rich beyond imagining, especially in Spanish painting, so we’re lured on and on, gallery to gallery. Jeanne sees wonderful things in the Goyas making Frank thoughtful.
Later, we watch the unfolding catastrophe in Japan on CNN.

Jeanne says: While I haven’t been a big Goya fan, I find myself transfixed by the rich abstractions within the dress of the nasty Queen of Spain, which remind me later of the tree stump destroyed by fungus in the Madrid Botanic Garden:I stare at the expressions on the faces of the rest of the Queen’s entourage – terrified, bored, vacuous, envious, arrogant – there are subtleties, a turn of the mouth, a glint in the eye, you can’t see in reproductions. They come alive as real people, some not very nice people, people you don't want to meet at, say, an immigration counter, but living and breathing and either miserable or making everyone else miserable. Or, like the king, off in another universe. After the Prado, I am feeling exhausted and like the king, in another world,so when we find out that the hotel restaurant opens at 8PM – to paraphrase Frank Sinatra (and Rogers and Hart), “We get too hungry for dinner at eight…that’s why Frank must be a tramp…” – Frank goes out to scavenge dinner and comes back with a cone of shaved meat from the Museo del Jamon (yes, the “Museum of Ham”), a jar of dill pickles, a stiff tomato, and a wedge of cheese. This meal does not sit well with me. Sad, because Frank was so proud of his efforts.Madrid Still Life
We find Madrid to be very noisy after being in Amsterdam, with many cars going very fast and almost no bicycles. It seems wrong, somehow, not to have to look both right and left before you take a step. Outside the Prado, however, the forsythia is in bloom and things looked pretty good.

We sleep until 10 the next morning, but I wake up feeling like crap. (Every time I travel, I get sick. I need to do the vitamin thing, my sister Sherry tells me.) Frank has a hard time getting the hotel restaurant staff to let him take a plate up from the breakfast buffet, but he prevails, finally wresting the plate out of the waiter’s hand and making a heroic run to the elevator. I am down for the count, yet I generously encourage Frank not to worry about me, I’ll be fine, you just go and have fun. So he does, and heads back out to the Prado. We decide not to have people come in to hoover our room and annoy me with dust rags and such, which means Frank has to take out the garbage which fits into a good ol’ American plastic doubled grocery bag (don’t ask how we accumulate so much garbage in one night) but then he has to find a place to get rid of it, eventually finding himself almost all the way to the Prado still carrying his bag which he’ll have to put through security, so in a panic he ends up smashing it into of the many plastic “cans” affixed to poles with three inch slots for trash (actually, Frank reports that he was only 100 feet from the hotel and not completely in a panic ).Obviously they are not prepared for good ol’ American trash here, but again, Frank prevails. A New York wardrobe being washed in a Madrid tub.

While I sleep, dreaming about auditioning to become a comedy star, more wonders await inside the Prado for Frank, including some Spanish 19th century landscape painters of whom he’s never heard. He comes back for lunch, at 3:30, which we do in the hotel, which is hardly mediocre, overpriced, and the hapless, uninterested waiter brings us the wrong stuff, two of the shrimp fried in shredded wheat which I hadn't wanted all that much in the first place, and Frank didn't want at all. Then he tries to overcharge us by 90 Euros ($135 , an error Frank catches and sternly corrects. ) The thing I like best is the dried and salted spinach leaf on my salad. I retreat to the room to sleep away the rest of the day with bizarre dreams while Frank figures out the Madrid subway protocols to go to a wine shop. Thus ends our first full day in Madrid.Madrid man of the street kissing his kitten.

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