Monday, December 29, 2008


"When you get to know it, it is the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people. It is in Madrid only that you get the essence."

- Ernest Hemingway, lifted from a travel article

For a city with such a big reputation, Madrid seems awfully quaint. The heart of the city's a plaza called Puerta del Sol, and it's really just like a friendly little shopping arcade. It's the geographical and cartological heart of Spain (all distances are measured from a little bronze plaque in the ground), but there's nothing there but a statue of a king on a horse (Carlos III) and a statue of a bear eating a tree. 

It's a brilliant little town, though. They have pub crawls for 10€ a night, with free shots in every bar. They have "museums of jamon" (my translation) which treat the stuff like fine vintage wines instead of just legs of cured pork. They have museums with almost endless galleries and paintings which would be the envy of any in the world. And yet somehow, they've retained the ambience of a lazy little outpost town. 

It's really quite fascinating. 

I saw the Guernica the other day. It was a bit of a shock, just bumping into it in the Reina Sofia. I wasn't prepared to see anything interesting in that museum, and all of a sudden, I'd seen more Picassos and Dalis than I could imagine. It's a stark little painting, the Guernica. Emotive, too. I think every Spanish artist of that generation must've tackled the Spain Civil War, but the Guernica tops them all. Also saw El Bosco in the Prado. Even if he wasn't a great artist, El Bosco would be famous for his name. The Spanish have got a way with nicknames, don't they? 

But I can't stay in Madrid for long. It's New Year's soon, and the place is booked out. Decided to go south to Andalucia instead. Sevilla first, then Cordoba and Granada. Orange trees, balmy days, Moorish architecture... it sounds lovely. After the cold of Madrid, it'll be good to walk around without a scarf, a beanie and a permanent shiver. 

I feel a bit guilty leaving Madrid because I haven't seen much of the city, but I'll be coming back to Madrid at the end. So I can still see Real Madrid and Atletico, see the Prado and the Reina Sofia again, walk through the royal palace... 

But it'll have to be manana - definitely manana. 

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