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Day 7: El Prado y mucho mas!

in which your author sees great art, eats great food, drinks great things and thinks Madrid is great

sunny 89 °F

My first morning on the continent begins late; I fear this is becoming a steady refrain, though at least I have staying up late to watch history being made at the DNC as a reasonable excuse. By 1pm or so I walk back in the direction of the Metro stop and find a cute café to order some food. After establishing neither I speak good enough Spanish and the barmaid speaks enough English, I manage to point and stumble through enough to order some chocolate pancakes and espresso with crushed ice and lemon. The idea of a quick bagel and coffee place is pretty foreign here – when people go to cafes, for the most part they’re sitting and reading the newspaper or chatting with friends, rather than using them as quick carbohydrate/caffeine filling stations. I like that.


I’ve determined that para mi, Madrid is to be a walking city. Overall, I feel a bit unhealthy after inconsistent meals, not much sleep, and a total abandonment of my professed desire to go running every day. I am still glad I brought sneakers (“trainers!”) though because it’s far more comfortable to walk distances. I walk… and walk and walk… headed to the Prado, whose reputation as one of the world’s finest art museums I aim to investigate. It’s hot out but invigorating to be in an entirely new place.


The very first painting I view in the Prado is actually in the lobby, a work by Jose de Ribera, responsible for my favorite work of art in the National Gallery in DC, the one I always loved to show off to visitors. There are in fact two Ribera works in the lobby, and an enormous section of the museum dedicated to his work, which I find appealing for the same reason I love Caravaggio: intense drama and spiritual anguish, captured at the precise moment of dramatic catharsis.

The Prado is truly an epic place which lives up to its reputation; I can’t imagine any serious visit to Madrid would be complete without seeing its voluminous collections. Apart from Ribera’s works, some highlights for me include: Velasquez’s Las Meninas, one of the most discussed paintings in the world, in part due to the way it positions the viewer almost within the scene. The sizable crowd surrounding the painting adds to the complexity of subjectivity. Photos are definitely not allowed in the Prado – I think mostly so they can sell more postcards? – but I quickly grab a few iPhone pics to capture the ambiance. A few other highlights include: Strozzi’s Tobias Heals His Father, Weyden’s Durán Madonna and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Descent_from_the_Cross_(van_der_Weyden) (< ERROR: the link title is too long!), Miguel Bley’s early 20th century sculpture Blossoming of Love, Goya’s The Straw Manikin, as well as his Goya’s magnificent room of “Black Paintings,” which include this famous image of a dog. (I bought a poster!) Here’s a reminder to check out the Prado’s Google Earth project, which uploads a number of its masterworks in incredibly high resolution!


Stopping into the museum gift shop, I think of Walter Benjamin’s infamous early 20th century writings on “aura” (a term he introduced) from The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Whither the unique sense of experiencing an original artwork (whether visual art, music, or other) in person when the image (or in music, the recording) is so easily “reproducible” in the form of posters, mugs, magnets, handbags, etc., all part of the selling of art via capitalism. (In the 1920s, Benjamin could hardly have predicted the full explosion of this phenomenon, though his essay remains so widely discussed in academia because of its foresight.)

I spend about four hours in the museum, soaking in much more than I did during my unfortunate touristic driveby of the Louvre six years ago. I was particularly looking forward to seeing Hieronomous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, but am disappointed to find out it’s part of a special Bosch (‘El Bosco’ in the local parlance) exhibit which requires a special ticket; they’re also sold out for the rest of the day. I grit my teeth and decide to buy a ticket for 2pm the next day, costing 16 Euro. There’s no way I can pass up a chance to see that work!

I leave the museum quite hungry and go in search of food and wine, stopping into a picturesque sherry bar recommended by Tom in Ireland. As I sit at a table in the back, I hoist my camera up to take a photo and am immediately, harshly reprimanded by the bartender: “Photo, no!” Hrm. I appreciate not wanting to ruin a locals-only vibe, and yet I find the admonition unfriendly enough to simply leave. (I’m not about to sit and chit-chat with a bartender who just yelled at me.) It’s a new feeling, being such an unremitting tourist; I know in American cities I’ve lived in, it’s easy sport to make fun of tourists, and yet at the same time, when I encounter tourists I also try to go out of my way to make them feel welcome. The heavy door slams as I exit; unintended on my part, but feels satisfying.

I find another café with outdoor seating and manage to order two plates and a glass of Albariño, the delicious and refreshing Spanish white wine. The patatas bravas, served with two sauces, are cooked with garlic, supple and crusty, and the tortilla is the most delicious thing I’ve encountered on this trip. Made with apples (manzana), onions, and bleu cheese, it’s smoky and flaky and pairs perfectly with the snappiness of the wine. It’s great to finally sit and relax, especially in a great people-watching spot, soaking in the air of this country I’ve only spent a handful of days in prior. I have another glass, this time of Godello, which is new to me. I pay my tab (leaving a tip, so as to reflect well on we undesirable American tourists) and keep walking, passing by crowded food marts, wide cosmopolitan streets larded with advertising and tourist traps, and a long line to get into El Rey Leon!


I come upon a massive public square featuring street performers, men wearing sandwich boards and hundreds of people walking around. I weave my way through and end up back on a quiet side street (much more my speed), stopping in to a small, inviting café, with boisterous women sitting in the window. The bartender doesn’t speak English but I struggle through enough Spanish (and “the pointing system”) to order a Caipirinha, the traditional summer drink of Brazil, made with cachaca. I ask for a glass of water in Spanish, and the bartender instead gives me the ingredients of the drink. I’m learning that water doesn’t really seem a thing around these parts!


I arrive back at Isabel’s place, settling in to some writing and scheming. After realizing the folly of waiting and assuming travel plans will come together, I’m resolved to square away my itinerary for the rest of the trip. I know I’m to go to Lisbon next, and had assumed I’d be able to pick up a train or bus there. However, booking these things online only two days in advance is a dubious prospect – all trains appear to be sold out. I’m at a loss, and very annoyed at myself for not squaring this stuff out earlier – please remember this for the next trip! – but I remember a service Leo had mentioned to me the previous night (which thankfully I had made note of) called BlaBlaCar, basically an Airbnb for car trips. By some strange stroke of good fortune, I’m able to book a ride for Monday morning at 9am with a 24-year old driver named Miguel. Success!

After writing for a couple hours, I head back out to return to the Malasaña neighborhood. I make it about ten feet from Isabel’s front door before stopping and realizing it’s now 1:30am, and though I know the bars will still be hopping for at least another 30 minutes, I’m a 15 minute walk away, and am tired. I turn back around and resolve to get a halfway-decent night’s sleep, especially if I want to see more of Madrid tomorrow. Adulting en España!

Posted by coolmcjazz 04:35 Archived in Spain Tagged prado madrid Comments (0)

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