Four Days in Madrid

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Madrid was good, and it has the distinction of being one of the only cities I did NOT get lost in*. I did a lot of walking, and had a great long run that I mentioned earlier, and ate weird things and tasty things, and visited some very some nice galleries. And I found a couple of paintings that I would take home with me if the offer were made.

Many sights in Madrid (well, in all of Spain) are closed on Mondays, but one that isn’t is the Centro Reine Sofia, the national museum of 20th century art. It’s most notable as the home to Spain’s most famous piece of art, Guernica, by Picasso, but also has a large collection of Dalí and other surrealists. I wasn’t particularly taken with the surrealists, but did like Guernica.

“Guernica”, with appropriately sour security detail.

What I actually found more interesting than the painting itself, though, was the display of photographs shown along with it. They were taken by Picasso’s wife/mistress/insert-other-euphemism-here of the time, and showed the evolution of the canvas from the time he first started painting to its completion. (I took a few photos, but they really didn’t turn out well, so you have to use your imagination.) Suffice it to say that major elements of the painting changed significantly during the process. The bull on the left side of the canvas started out with its body to the right of its head, but ended up in the other direction. And the horse in the middle started out with its head pointing down. In the final version the horse’s head is one of the most powerful images, so it was really interesting to see how a major element like that changed during the painting.

In the room next to Guernica they was a display of smaller canvases that were some of Picasso’s studies for the different elements in the larger composition. Among those was my favourite painting in the gallery – the one I would find space for in my carry-on if it were offered.

Cabeza de cabollo, Boceto para Guernica.**

Of course, I also visited the Prado, probably one of the top five galleries in the world. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed in places like this, especially since I’m not at all well-schooled in art history, and have only a layman’s interest in anything on display. Rather than wander aimlessly, I followed a tour from the Rick Steves Spain guide that I’d acquired at my first hotel in Barcelona***. This, coupled with the ever-present audioguide, gave a good overview of the major works and artists in the gallery – lots of Goya and Velázquez and El Greco, and Bosch, along with a smattering of Rubens and Raphael and Caravaggio, among others.

However, my favourite painting in the gallery was one that didn’t appear in the tour or on the audioguide, but hit me as soon as I saw it.

El Perro Semihundido

It’s a Goya, and is classed as one of his fourteen “dark paintings”, though I didn’t find it particularly dark at all, especially compared with the other canvases in the room (like “The Witches’ Sabbath” or the charming “Saturn Devouring his Son”). One commentary I read called it “a disturbing and undecipherable painting” but I found it more poignant than disturbing, and liked it very very much. I went back to visit it a second time before I left the gallery. And I even bought a postcard of it.****

One nice thing about many of the sights I visited in Madrid (including the Prado and the Royal Palace) is that they did not allow photography. This meant that I didn’t have to bother taking pictures, which leaves one a free to simply move around and enjoy the place. More importantly though, it means that you aren’t fighting through crowds of people posing with every bloody painting, chair, chandelier and other bit of miscellaneous what-not. It was really refreshing.

However, despite the world-class museums and gilded palace and excellent 30km run and, of course, the pig ears, the best time I had in Madrid was on my last day. I managed to connect with the sister of a friend and she and I spent much of the day together, mostly drinking and eating, with a bit of sight-seeing thrown in too. I’d been living a pretty solitary existence for the previous weeks so it was a great joy and relief to connect so instantly and happily with someone else who seemed to have nothing better to do on a Thursday than to take me to her favourite middle eastern restaurant, and sit on terraces drinking beer, and invite me back to her apartment to sit and relax a bit before my overnight train.


And now I have a request. You all sort of know where I’m headed, and if you’re an astute GSRED reader you know what kind of person I am. So if you have a sister, or cousin, or uncle or friend or whatever who lives somewhere I’m going, and who you think might be amenable to having a coffee or a drink or a meal or something with me, by all means please get in touch. The best times I have on this trip are with other people. The email address is Help me out here. The next stop is Italy, and the Go See Run Eat Drink lines are open…

*Well, ok, there was one small incident when I set off to run to Retiro Park for the first time… but it was somewhat quickly remedied, and really, I was surprised at how well I did navigating as I was walking around. It was almost like Glasgow never happened...

** Is it just me, or does this remind anyone of Dudley Doright’s horse (Incidentally, named “Horse”)? I know that’s probably sacrilege to say, but come on…

Dudley and Horse

*** This particular guidebook did not get the hack-and-slash treatment that I usually give guidebooks as I progress through a country. I figured that since I’d benefited from the fact that someone else had been generous enough to leave it behind for those who came after, I should do the same. I left it, intact, at my hostel in Madrid, where I hope it was snapped up quickly. And I’m now mourning the fact that it seems I’m doomed to travel Italy without Rick’s assistance.

**** The Prado had a very clever system near the gift shop that allowed you to buy high-quality ink-jet printouts of almost any painting in the place. Prices started at €10.00 for a 5x8-ish version, and went up to €110.00 for a large-scale printout on canvas. I was tempted, but didn’t feel like dealing with caring for or mailing something like that. The postcard will have to do.


Unknown said...

I see you are in Portugal try the local bacalhao. Several versions exist, and I loved every one I tried in Portugal last summer.

Unknown said...

Don't be too hard on Glasgow. It is never the fault of the city, only the bad luck of the visitor. Give Glasgow a second chance. Besides, that is where you met my wonderful Cousin Anne and Gordon.

For visitors in Italy, I have no contacts for visiting, but I will give the matter some thought and will send names for future people to visit. Will you ever get to Hong Kong on your trip?

Best of luck and keep up the people pics.

Rob H.

Unknown said...

If, for some reason, you find yourself diverted to Geneva, I can give you an in with some family, one of whom is a cdn diplomat about your age...
Jeff S.

Happy trails kiddo, enjoying the trip vicariously!

Nomadic Matt said...

you got to see a lot more than i did! looks like a great city but i was sick when i was there. glad you enjoyed it more!

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