Thursday, February 12, 2015

Roaming Madrid

Rio Manzanares with Teleferico cars above and Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena Cathedral
in the distance

Seeking Solo Adventures

Rich was in the U.S. for three weeks recently, so I truly rambled solo. The first week was perfect; I love having alone time to do exactly what I want within reason without compensating for a companion, even one I love. You know the drill: eat when and what I want, go where I want...etcetera. 

It was definitely a boon for my Spanish speaking, not my strong suit and Rich has no problem speaking -- in any language. I walked about the apartment talking aloud to myself and felt the need to stuff caramels in my mouth on the street to quell the incessant chatter. I formulated questions and comments for waitresses; I translated witty comments for bartenders; I entered tiendas (small shops) to inquire about té negro con fruta (tea with fruit) or aquellas botas en la ventana (the boots in the window). I still have Spanish class four hours a day, Monday through Friday, and speak English to a fellow student from England during our 30 minute break. My mind roils in constant translation. The persistent problem is that I invent new Spanish words in my dreams and spend nights trying to translate these nonsense phrases. ¡Qué horror! 

Rich with better Spanish listening skills than I, usually responds to the occasional language challenge. During his absence, The water meter reader arrived at the door and let go a staccato of words. Reacting to my blank stare, he slowed the short burst somewhat. Realizing that, too, wasn't working, he simply said, "Agua!" That and the uniform got him in the door. At least, I know where the water meter is.

Click once or twice on any photo to enlarge the image.

Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena Cathedral
houses the Almudena Virgin attributed to
Diego Copin of Toledo (16th C.) and known
as the Patroness of Madrid.
Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida

Almudena Cathedral cupola
 Almudena Cathedral window
Almudena Cathedral detail

Off the Tourist Track

After multiple visits to Madrid I've seen many of the major tourist venues; visitors give me opportunity to go again. One advantage of living here is the time to explore the less touted places. My recent solo rambles have included Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena Cathedral (constructed 1885-1993), which sits beside the Palacio Real, a major city site. Stunning frescoes of Francisco de Goya plus his remains, minus the head, reside at Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida. Both sites are lovely surprises in their beauty and simplicity and almost touristless. I also visited the Museo de América with a group from AIL Madrid, my Spanish language school. We rushed the visit because we arrived an hour before closing, but that was enough to get the gist of the museum, an interesting venue for native Indian objects from the Americas extending from Tierra del Fuego in the far south to the Arctic.

Outstanding in the Almudena Cathedral, completed in 1993, are the ceiling of multicolored panels that resemble kente cloth from Africa, the stained glass windows in geometrical designs, the contemporary flavor of the sculpture and other art, and the peace of the interior on a rainy Sunday afternoon. However, one madrileña finds the building itself a disaster with no grace or majesty (my words; hers were in passionate Spanish accompanied by hand gestures and facial grimaces.)

I recommend the Ermita first for the stunning Goya frescoes in the cupola and surrounds. The colors are soft and clean and vibrant. As in a recent exhibit at the Prado, Goya's models include nobles and common folk of the day. The ceiling in the Ermita is playful with children draping a curtain for hide and seek. The story goes that Goya's head was taken by scientists for study when the body was interred in the Ermita. Venture into the Prado's tucked-away room displaying Goya's dark work, such as "Saturn Devouring His Son," and understand the compulsion for the brain study. 

Granddaughter Emily walks the line
Rio Manzanares
One additional reason to trek to the Ermita is its close proximity to the pathway along the Rio Manzanares offering walking or bike riding. And for children of all ages, the playground on the west side of the Rio offers adult-sized seesaws, climbing structures and high rope walks to test your balance. 
Emily and her mom, Heidi, on the seesaw 

Other recent ramblings include: National Archaeological Museum and a lovely guided walk on a cold, sunset brightened late afternoon in search of the Austrian/Habsburg influence in Madrid, also a complement of AIL Madrid.

From Telly to Oscar

On the exploration side, I've begun to watch Spanish television news. Here, prime time begins at 10/10:30 p.m., the news at 9 p.m. With my bedtime at 10:30, TV is not truly an option. However, I have seen movies that would never make Rich's list. A few
One of those Austrians Philip III, in Plaza Mayor,
was honored for transforming the once medieval
market into a Baroque plaza
theatres show films in original language with Spanish subtitles, and thus I've seen "Siempre Alice" (always Alice or "Still Alice") with Julianne Moore, Oscar nominee for best actress, and "Into the Woods" with Meryl Streep as the bruja, nominated for best supporting actress. Anyone--Joe Burch--with a love of the dark, dark Grimm's fairy tales and an overall knowledge of the tales, needs to see "Into the Woods." I love the songs in English with Spanish subtitles; I love the dark side of the fairy tales; I love the literary comparison to Shakespeare's
Puerta de Alcalá near city center towers over traffic
and flowers blooming in February.
characters who go to the woods where magic happens--"Midsummer Night's Dream." It's an adult fairy tale with no promises in the end. (An aside: Just learned in class that Spanish fairy tales end with the line, "
El resto de sus vidas son felices y comen perdices." [The rest of their lives are happy and they eat partridges.] "Felices" and "perdices" rhyme. Gotta love this.)

From the other side of the movie pendulum, "Still Alice" tells the horror story of early onset Alzheimer's disease and its affect on a brilliant linguist and her family. Sad, sad sad. I have also seen "Alma Salvaje" (wild soul or "Wild") and "Birdman." I am fascinated by the Spanish translations of the titles, but can't explain why some titles are translated and others not. The Pacific Coast Trail is the real star of "Wild," from the Mojave Desert to the rain forest scenes in Oregon. "Birdman" gets the honor of the moment as the most interesting creation, but I was only convinced after The End. Although firmly set in New York City, the film reflects the influence of much Hispano American literature with magic and fantasy weaving through the action. I would be very tempted to look for other films from the Mexican director and co-writer, Alejandro González Iñárritu. I recommend all to avid cinema goers depending on likes/dislikes, but be forewarned, I'm an avid attendee with little discrimination for all Oscar nominees.

I also watched on CD "El Secreto de sus Ojos" (2009) in Español, no subtitles available. Amazing how much you can understand from expressions alone.

At the end of my solo ramble, I felt satisfied that I had continued to entertain myself, but I was so bored with my one on self discussions. Any conversations with depth were carried out via Skype, not exactly an intimate vehicle. As much as I love this city, without close friends, without heart-felt conversations, it can indeed be lonely. I love this adventure, but I do miss you all and am happy to have Rich home. 


  1. How beautiful--Almudena included. Definitely not a "disaster." Glad Rich came home, but I'm amazed at how much you do on your own. Here, I keep watching Rick Steves, and wishing I had someone to travel WITH (at least, after I pay off my car repairs!). Keep writing!

  2. Hi Sallie, I love reading about your 'adventures'... I admire you and Rich for doing this... Such a great opportunity... Hope you two can continue to see more and more of this beautiful world... Some of us waited TOO long to do it.. We do travel quite a bit--but usually, fairly short trips.

    We are having a bitter cold and snowy and ICY week here in TN.. That makes me wish I were traveling somewhere WARM right now... ha

    Keep enjoying and sharing... Glad Rich is home --and proud of you for working on your Spanish.