Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Day Five - Birthday

If I were to create a recipe for the perfect birthday, it would have to include the following: 1) wake up in Spain (and already you'd know that it's one of those recipes, the ones with totally unreasonable ingredients, like fresh fennel or grouse or Egyptian limes), 2) wander around for a few hours in a world-class art museum, 3) do at least one thing that feels completely surreal, 4) eat something delicious, and 5) spend the whole day with people you love.

So that was my birthday this year. I can't remember a better one. And I'm getting to that stage in life where I dread getting older, so it feels good to think back on a birthday and experience happy thoughts rather than a tightening in my chest.

We spent the morning at what is now my favorite of the three great art museums of Madrid: The Thyssen-Bornemisza. Sure, Lady Prado flaunts all those masterpieces. And Queen Sophia has her Ultra-Famous Guernica. But in her four floors, their less-assuming sister Thyssen covers the whole history of art with the most beautifully eclectic collection I've ever seen. From glowing wooden triptychs to hip modern canvases, it's all there. My favorites were the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, of course. I can't get enough of Matisse and Van Gogh.

Berthe Morisot's Psyche (at the Thyssen)
Someday I'll write about this painting!!!

The pleasant surprise of the visit was the temporary exhibition called "Monet and Abstraction." It was a stunning collection of Monet's paintings interwoven with abstract works by Turner, Rothko, Frankenthaler, Krasner, etc (the whole concept being to show Monet's influence on later movements). We knew it would be beautiful, but I was truly in rapture through every room. We even turned one corner and found ourselves facing two Jackson Pollocks. I had not expected that at all, but to see them mixed in with Monet made total sense. My boys were awesome through the whole museum (and Ken is totally used to my slow museum pace so he was patient and helped keep the boys within sight). McKay later listed it as one of his favorite places in Spain.

After lunch, we visited (along with my sisters Teri and Anne and my brother Jim and their families) some old haunts. The first and second times I lived in Spain (when I was about 4 and 9 years old) we spent a lot of time at a "Residencia."

This was where the students in the BYU group lived and ate and studied. My family lived in apartments not far away, but we hung out at the Residencia plenty. It has changed, of course, and no longer belongs to BYU (which still makes me cringe because they should never have let this property go!) but it was a surreal feeling....stepping into the past a bit by walking on familiar but not familiar ground. The place is now subdivided into a bank and an engineering firm. They have changed just about everything except the basic structure of the building. But I could picture my brother Steve and I rolling our oranges down the marble stairs so they would be all mushy by the bottom and we could suck the juice out of them. Teri and I reminisced about walking around to the back kitchen door to ask the cooks for the feet off the chickens so we could turn them into animated claws. We remembered the little chapel tucked under the bottom of the building and the slick part of the back landing where we could slide. It's a little sad to see only traces of a building that holds such a permanent lease in my memories. And I'm worried now that the new images of the place, all fresh and repopulated, will taint the old ones. Maybe it's better just to stay away. But I couldn't resist. I've dreamed about going back to Spain for more than 20 years. And in my dreams, I often am walking down that street, looking for those columns, turning back the clock.

Anne (and her husband and the most adorable baby on the planet) went with me and Ken and the boys to see our old apartment (where we lived on our third trip to Spain when I was 15). It's in Moratalaz, if that means anything to you, but when I lived there, I knew it by its metro stop. I knew everything by its Metro stop. My mental map of Madrid is entirely based on the colors of various lines and their station names. After all these years, I remembered that we lived on the Purple line (lower right hand corner of the map) and the Vinaterros stop. However, I confess that without a quick phone call to my Mom, a little google-earth research on my brother Jim's cell phone and Anne's amazing homing skills (my heck, she was only 6 years old when we lived there but she remembered better than I did which apartment was ours) we would never have found it.

The place has gone down hill a bit (Ken's comment: "I didn't know you grew up in the hood"). There's more graffiti than I remember. The planters are a bit weedier, the buildings not as well maintained. But it was a kick to see it again. Our old doorman--Juan Carlos--is still there after all these years and he recognized us and even remembered our apartment number. I'm hoping this is because we made a good impression, not because we were a crazy, huge American family living in an otherwise ordinary Spanish neighborhood.

We ate chocolate-covered donuts from the Tienda where we always used to buy treats. I walked around to the side of the building where my old High School was (and still is).

I won't launch into all the details here, but just imagine if you were a year ahead in math in the US and then you went to a new school where everyone was two years ahead. And, oh yeah, everything, including all the math terms, are in a foreign language that you are still struggling to master and your teacher talks a hundred miles an hour and the numbers don't even look the same because ones have a long tail like sevens and sevens are crossed and commas are decimal points and...well you get the idea. I looked up at the bars on those windows and flashed back to the times I sat inside, staring up at those bars, wishing the class were over and feeling utterly, utterly stupid. I did have some good friends in that school, though. I wish we had keep in touch. The flow of correspondence trickled down to nothing within several months of my departure.

The last thing we did that evening was visit an old friend of the family. Fé is a Spanish grandma with infinite charm and warmth. She has hosted BYU students in her home for many years, starting with my older sisters Teri and Kathy back in 1985. And the first thing she showed us when we arrived was her book of Americans, a scrapbook filled with photos of my sisters (and their families, including me, although I had never met Fé before) and every other person from the US she has embraced in her generous life. What a delightful lady. She fed us dinner. In fact, had it waiting for hours (because we were late), spread out on a table squeezed into a corner of her typically tiny apartment. And you have never had a Spanish tortilla until you've tasted these. My gosh! Salty and slightly gooey with egg and fried potatoes. I've tried these at home a dozen times, but they don't even come close to Fé's. In fact, my boys--who have never liked my tortillas--were snarfing them down and saying "Mom, you should really try to make these some time."

We chatted with Fé for a couple of hours (my Spanish was improving!) and then rode home on the Metro. Yes, I meant to say "home." How funny that Madrid had already started to feel like home again. Shows you how strong those memories are...how deep an impression Madrid made on my little girl heart.

1 comment:

Nan Sheppard said...

My middle son and I went to the National Gallery the other day (London) and we are longing to go back. You need a LOT of time to really get the most out of those visits! During the summer holidays, (which start in a few weeks here) we will spend plenty of time standing still in front of paintings!