Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day Four - more bliss in Madrid

Back in real time (late June, Utah) I start teaching classes again today so I may not get as much detail into these travelogues as I wish. This is good news for everyone since I fear my rambling gets boring. I plan to rely more on the journal of odd notes I took on the trip. It's a bit raw and disorganized but maybe better than the over-processed stuff.

I wake up early, way before anyone else in my family, as I do every day of the trip. When I'm home, if I wake up early, I just crave more sleep, but in Spain, every second is like the finest gelato you've ever tasted--you can't imagine wasting even a drop before it melts.

In Madrid, we're on the top floor of a five-story apartment building and we have two balcony patios (which turn out to be very handy when we start washing laundry later). I walk out on the upper patio and watch the sky lighten. There are clay and stucco roofs all around me -- flat layers and different levels of terraces for every apartment building. The balconies have pots of geraniums and the occasional string of laundry. The swallows are crazy around here -- hundreds of them, sweeping in masses and spiraling above the roofs, eating bugs I assume. They are noisy! Like giant crickets chirping in thick swaths across the sky.

Below on the narrow cobblestone street, a few people walk by, motorcycles and tiny cars work their way down the street. A dog is peeing on a stone berm and then, instinctually, he tries to scratch and kick his hind legs against the cobblestones as if burying his pee in the dirt that isn't there.

I can smell baking bread and diesel fumes.

When the kids are all up, dressed and fed, we walk to Retiro park to catch the "Madrid Vision" bus. This is an incredibly touristy thing to do and my sister (who planned the whole trip, bless her stressed-out little heart) was a genius for arranging it. Really, the tourist bus a great way to see the whole city, all its plazas, incredible architecture, crowds, traffic. It takes a while for us all to work our way up to the top of the double decker bus where we can see well, so once we finally get up there, we have to stay on the bus or lose our seats. We ride around the loop a second time, then get off near the Palacio Real.

McKay on the Bus (say goodbye to that hat; it was McKay's favorite and it's the only casualty of the trip. I still can't figure out at which point it got lost)

We eat lunch at a Turkish restaurant. If I'm not mistaken, this is the only time we eat anywhere that wouldn't qualify as "Spanish Food." We have instituted a strict ban on anything remotely American. I eat a salad that tastes amazing after days and days of bread and meat.

We tour the Palacio Real, which by the way was the former residence of the monarchy and is one of the many places on our trip where they forbid the use of cameras, even without flash. This is irritating and manipulative (we suspect they want to boost sales of their books and postcards) but as we have already had one encounter with a snotty guard (who was ticked that our group has smuggled in deadly baby carriers and diaper bags, even though we got permission at the front gate to bring them) so I obey the rules and take no photos. I wish I had broken the rules. Now I can only say things like: Wow! Opulent! Over-the-top! and Regal. If I can track down the guidebook that I bought (see? It works) maybe I could scan in some pictures.

The Palacio Real is simply another symbol of the overwhelming wealth the royals had during Spain's Golden Age. They had so much money, they really didn't know what to do with it other than commission rooms made entirely of Oriental porcelain. Or surround themselves with nude portraits of themselves as heroes of mythology.

Gabie, who ever since his introduction to Percy Jackson has been infatuated with everything Greek or mythical, is in heaven. He recognizes many of the figures painted on the ceilings. Hercules seems to be a favorite of the Spanish Kings. We see him (and his various labors) many times today.

The armory is surreal. The Spanish kings treated these suits and shields and swords like ceremonial relics--all inscribed with scenes from mythology and elaborate decoration--each a work of art. And they were for war?! It shows you how today's trillion-dollar Military Industrial Complex is just a modern version of an ancient industry: preparation for battle.

What seems funny to me is that the ornamentation does not make the armor more effective in battle; it just makes the wearer more convinced he is powerful, worthy of victory, bestowed by God with special authority to lead and fight. It reminds me of all those lines in Homer's Iliad about Achilles' shield. He describes in detail the sculpted scenes of a city at war and a city at peace (and the peaceful one gets more attention) but in the end, it's just a weapon. These kings had to bend over backwards (or at least their craftsmen did) to justify and ceremonialize their love of war. It's almost like a huge, elaborate distraction from the truth that war is about blood and gore and loss of life. If you can make your armor pretty enough and tie your actions to Hercules and Poseidon, you won't have to worry so much about the troubling consequences of conflict.

End of rant :)

Outside the armory, we see a couple of peacocks resting in the ledge of a window. Appropriate symbols of royalty and not a "No Photos!" sign to be found. Finally.

Teri takes the kids to the park next door and the adults walk through the pharmacy (shelf after shelf of porcelain containers with a million odd ingredients, whale sperm being our favorite). We sit down in the park for a while and watch the kids play. They have made some Spanish friends already (who needs language skills?).

We walk to the Plaza Mayor and on our way wander through a fancy market place. The hanging legs of jamon are pretty typical. I just wish I could also convey the terrific smell of the market: eau de dangling meat, baked goods, fish and more fish.

At the Plaza Mayor, my sister Anne buys me an early birthday present: churros y chocolate for my family. I'm having one of those moments again where I can't believe I'm here. It seems too perfect, like a movie set, the scene where the heroine sits with a whole group of relatives out in the most famous of all famous Madrid plazas and dips her crispy, sugary churro into a cup of thick chocolate.

Then some of the kids start chasing pigeons which infuriates Gabie, protector of all creatures great and small, and the spell is broken. I do take one of my favorite photos from the trip.

Do you think they pose here behind the statue on purpose? I just love the symmetry of the three horses' rear ends.

Some of my family head off to the airport to pick up Anne's husband Scott. Some of us head to the Plaza del Sol (where we see the zero kilometer mark that indicates the center of Spain). Then into the Corte Ingles, which when I lived in Madrid as a teenager was one of my favorite places. Corte Ingles is the largest chain of stores in Spain; they are EVERYWHERE. And the one in Sol is huge--8 stories of everything you could possibly want, from groceries to camping gear. We pick up some food: fruit, eggs, bread, magdalenas, Danup, Nocilla, Natillas, fresh milk (not easy to come by). These are the best food prices we've seen yet so we load up. The only flaw in this plan is that we then we get to carry all our bags back to the bus stop, onto the bus, and up the block to our apartment. Exhausting, but worth it for just a taste of that natillas.


LaughingElk said...

I can smell the churros!

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