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Friday, June 23, 2017

Adiós, coche

The good news is that Madrid, the largest city we’ve visited so far on these travels, is friendly, accessible, and not (yet) too crowded—just as well since it’s also the hottest place we’ve been. The bad news is that we are saying goodbye to T’s old car.
Well, maybe it’s not such bad news. We always intended to give it away to someone, and in Yvonne and her family, we’ve found people who 1) think they can fix it (eventually) and 2) will give it a good home. We weren’t going to drive it to Africa anyway! So Vaya con Dios, coche, and Gracias to our new friends!

“Every Peruvian I’ve ever known was super nice,” I said. “Like Sra. Bingham, my Spanish teacher (and how I wish I remembered more). And of course my guinea pig, Woozy.”

T. looked thoughtful. “Wasn’t Paddington Bear from Peru?”

I actually do remember more words in Spanish than I did a week ago, but we were both relieved to find one of the familiar yellow-umbrella guides in central Madrid, giving a walking tour in English. (Irina, of course, is Romanian.) If you’re ever in a city like Krakow or Madrid where they have these yellow umbrellas, I cannot recommend them highly enough. You just follow along in your own language and at the end of the tour, pay a recommended amount or whatever you think it’s worth. They are technically “free,” but I think they’re incredible value. So much knowledge and, luckily for us, it was also cloudy that day, so we didn’t suffer too much in the hideous heat.
It just happens to be World Pride 2017 in Madrid this week.
As a bonus, Irina recommended a couple of places in Chueca, the gay neighborhood, that still serve the traditional way—tapas included with a drink. So we made our way to El Tigre and had a very enjoyable and cool afternoon. That fortified us for the Museo del Prado, one of the world’s great art museums. We couldn’t possibly do its collections justice before we ran out of steam, but we did see a lot of works by Diego Velázquez and Doménikos Theotokópoulos, known in Spanish just as “the Greek” (El Greco). 

El Greco whetted my appetite for Toledo, the city where he did most of his work, but first we had the adventure of el coche and, of course, more art. The Ermita De San Antonio De La Florida is a royal chapel, free to enter and, it seemed, little visited (fortunately we finished our visit just as a big busload pulled up). It has the distinction of frescoes painted by Francisco de Goya, which you can see in their original setting on the ceiling of the royal chapel. Goya is buried there, too.

And then there was the Museo Reina Sofía. As with the Prado, we managed to hit this one for the free evening hours, along with a large number of other people in Madrid; but it was worth it. I happen to be a Picasso fan, and the central display of the Reina Sofía are works connected to and drawings for its showpiece: Guernica.
by Pablo Picasso. Oil on canvas, 1937
I have a long history with this painting. My father had a large reproduction of it on his office wall when I was growing up, and along with other Picasso works, it features in my favorite novel, My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. But nothing could prepare me for its size. Whereas the Mona Lisa is a surprisingly small portrait around which everyone in the Louvre crowds, visitors to the Reina Sofía couldn’t dwarf a painting 25.5 x 11.5 feet in size. It is not a beautiful painting, but I can’t think of any art work that is more powerfully antiwar.

(Guernica was a village in the Basque country whose destruction was a test drive for World War II. The Nationalist side in the Spanish civil war, i.e., Franco’s people, got their Nazi and Fascist friends to bomb the place to smithereens. That is what Picasso depicts.)

The museum also has works by Salvador Dalí and many other modern painters, and once again, we couldn’t hope to view them all. 

The other Toledo, that is
One of the things I like most about traveling is arriving in a new city and figuring it out on foot. There’s also the guilty pleasure of not having to see, or not having to see certain sights in, a city I’ve already been to. Of course, taking a bus to Toledo is nothing new to me; I’ve done that more than once before.

My interest in Toledo was not principally El Greco, although some of the works on view in the sacristy of the cathedral were familiar to me. Toledo, in Castilla-La Mancha, is the city of tres culturas. Its urban structure is Arab: narrow, winding streets in which one can, and does, easily get “lost.” Its Gothic cathedral, the primate cathedral of Spain, is unusually wide because it incorporates the original Friday mosque. It is also home to synagogues, one of which, the Sinagoga del Tránsito, is now the Museo Sefardí—the museum of Sephardic Jewry. It all came back to me—the name Samuel ha-Levi, whose synagogue it was, is a great one in the heyday of Muslim-Jewish relations, when Jews played important roles for many rulers in Spain. If you want to find out more about how they continued to do so for Christian rulers and, eventually, how it all went wrong, the museum costs only €3. 
"This is the bread of affliction": Babylonian exile
No visit to Toledo would be complete without views from its highest point, the Alcázar. It was a 3rd-century Roman palace, a Holy Roman Empire palace (where the conquistador of the Aztecs was received), and, in the civil war, withstood the Republicans to become a symbol of Franco’s dictatorship. Despite all this, it has great views. A sign in multiple languages helpfully advised that if I went to the third floor of the library located in the building, there is a cafe where I could see out three sides, the finest views of Toledo. All for free.

We are getting good at this free stuff. Too bad bus tickets aren’t free, but there were hidden costs associated with driving, too. If our next bus trip is anything like the short day trip to Toledo, we should be in good shape.


Anonymous said...

Another fine verbal and pictorial account of fascinating places. And you got to see the real GUERNICA, with its horrifying denunciation of war--a very powerful moment, indeed. Groove & Pop

Unknown said...

Thank You for the retelling of the Guernica story....In my history studies I kind of focused on the Spanish Civil War and the Rise of Franco as a precursor to WWII....another great Post! UB