Sunday, June 05, 2005

Last month in Madrid

Another page of my May blog, retrieved from cyberspace...

3 May 2006, Madrid

Sally N., mother of three and expat from Pittsburg, picked me up in a taxi outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel. She lives in Madrid but says taking taxis is cheaper than parking. She had her eldest kids with her. Her ten-year-old son Ricky has read one of my books. His little sister Sophia has not. So Ricky was quite interested when we went round the Roman rooms of the Archaeological Museum but Sophia was not. So she sensibly started hopping over the cord roping off the mosaics. Luckily a good friend of Sally's, Monica from Scotland, turned up just then by pre-arrangement to take Sophia. Meanwhile, Sally's husband was at home watching the toddler. What an operation! Visiting authors can be such a pain!

Anyway, the Archaeological Museum had some good stuff, including about half a dozen pendents like the one Lupus gets at the beginning of Colossus. But nobody ever notices these things. There were some nice mosaics, including all twelve tasks of Hercules.

Later we caught up with Monica who had taken Sophia to a chic Madrid eatery where you can get any kind of specialty of Madrid. These specialties consist mainly of various bits of pig, or of sweet pastries. I settled for a kind of cold pizza/quiche with asparagus and courgettes on top. Hmmmn... Only been in Spain two days and already I'm bored with the food. I had jamon serrano for breakfast and jamon serrano for lunch. Dinner will be peanuts and an orange. I honestly dont see anything I want to eat. Salads? They are almost non-existent. Or full of strange ingredients. I pointed out one salad to my guides and asked what the white meat was. Monica said a kind of fish, Ricky said chicken, Sally said it was a kind of partridge. Even they don't know! When I asked Ricky what he liked to eat he replied with real enthusiasm: 'Squid sandwiches!' QED.

After the specialty snack we walked along leafy boulevards towards the Prado Museum and the Van Thyssen Museum which everybody says I must see. It has a small but eclectic collection. On the way we had popsicles. I had one called horchata which is the flavour of some kind of root that tastes a bit like almond. Actually I've probably misunderstood and its actually some part of a pig, but nobody's had the heart to tell me. Anyway, it was nice.

The Van Thyssen looks good from the outside but I decided not to go after all. Instead I went to the Prado, which is having an exhibition of Durer. When I used to teach art at a small independent primary school in London, they let me write my own curriculum. So we spent a different term studying and copying the work of one artist. One term we did Cezanne, another we did El Greco. We also did Greek Art, Disney, Matisse and Albrecht Durer. So I had to go.

There was a long queue but it was a beautiful afternoon, in a beautiful setting and a man was playing Spanish acoustic guitar as the line of mellow Madrillenos filed by. When we got to the entrance I discovered why the queue was long: entry was free. Gratis. Nada.

I scurried past the masterpieces, slowing down in front of Velazquez, Goya, Caravaggio and my fave Zurbaran, then went round the Durer with an excellent audio guide.

By 2.30 I was ravenous so went to the cafeteria in the Prado. It is downstairs and at the far end. Pretty grim. The Van Thyssen cafe looked much nicer. The only thing that looked edible at the Prado Cafe was the jamon serrano, thin slices of bright-red air-dried country ham, not unlike jerky. (I would love to read A.A. Gill's review of Spanish food). I also bought two oranges. One was my dessert and the other will be my dinner.

When I got out it was still a glorious afternoon so I plugged in my walkman and wandered up to the Park Retiro, huge gardens with a boating lake, semi-circular semi-facist collonade and lots of cafes. I had a horchata drink at the cafe. It was nice. Kind of like a pork-bits frappuccino. (Just joking: Im pretty sure its vegetarian)

Then walked back down towards the Gran Via. Got sidetracked by a book fair of antequarian books. Books are my weakness. If I have a vice of any kind it is buying too many books. But I did manage to resist.

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