Friday, November 27, 2015

The Bull Ring, El Prado and Chocolate Madrid day 2

Since our last visit to Spain  my mother has been embracing her inner Hemingway.  Swapping white wine for red and wishing to view a bull fight.  (Luckily for me , I was reliever to find during our last visit to Spain that bull fighting is now illegal in Barcelona.  The city's former bull ring converted into a multi level shopping mall.).  However, for almost a century Mardilenos and bull fight enthusiasts have flocked on Sundays to the Plaza del los Torros de las Ventas just out side the city center to see if this week will the matador be victorious and be carried out through the Puerto Grande on the shoulders of his fans. Again luckily for me, this is only during bull fighting  season March to October.  So a compromise is met and we head out to  Las Ventas for a behind the scenes self guided audio tour.  (like most compromises no one is happy in the end. My mom misses out on blood and gore and I have to walk around in a place that even though intellectually I understand other cultures etc, I just see a big cow being hurt).  Despite my own personal misgivings I do have to admit the 1920s structure which mixes Spanish and Moorish influences is really quite lovely.   Just before we depart we are guided down to the actual bullring.  Standing there on the sand looking up at the thousands of spectator seats;  the residual feeling of excitement, danger and pageantry permeate the building.

An artist's work often starts out as a commission, a request to record an event or capture a person at a certain time or simply create decoration.   Centuries later those humble beginnings are now a moment captured in time. A country's culture and history as told through the paint brush.  Velazquez, El Greco and Goya, Spain's three greatest painters. Today Madrid's El Prado museum is home to these three.  Professional Spanish historian and art historian Ivan met us at the Pardo to help not only provide historical and political context but also help us understand each painter's obvious and not so obvious symbolism.  My takeaway was the literal history of a country.  From El Greco who played with anatomy and perspective to create his 16th century religious  works. To  Velazquez painter of the Spain's golden age of world dominance and whose "Las Meninas" was considered by his contemporaries as well as those who followed as the greatest painting ever created to Goya whose personal depression combined with the horror of the Napoleon's reign of terror in Spain created some of the darkest and most disturbing images I have ever seen. These works are interesting on their own, but when combined with the historical perspective they become so much more than a canvas on a way. ...and now for something completely different - Guest blogger David waxes poetic about chocolate and churro.

When I read about a chocolate/churro shop around for 120 or so years one of my first thoughts is that they must know their way around a hot chocolate and a churro. I have my trusty map, old school with the hard copy version and marker colors to light my way, and I am off to see what generations of fuss is all about. Walking along the narrow street, Calle de Arena, I hear the sounds of a man's voice and reggae. At first I think it is a record then I realize it is his voice, where is Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine - at least two of them are probably together somewhere in St Bart enjoying their new love - but I degrees. The mans voice, that's right, is very good and the song catchy. I turn down an alley where the Chocolateria is found but first another surprise a bookstore, but not the B & N produced option but instead the outdoor old world Paris version - I know more about rare books than you do - where the smell and the feel is intoxicating and oh yes there are rare books and of course postcards. Moving down the alley San Gines I see the light at the end - the Chocolateria San Gines since 1894. The shop is bustling and the crowd thick excited to have churro and chocolate hot. Mike and I place the order. I am about to espouse my best Spanish order phrases and the lovely lady behind the counter stops me. She says, "Dos Chocolates y unto churro y unto expresses?" I am amazed and say, "Senora, you are a mid reader." She smiles and we sit. As I look around it does also strike me that the green and marble tiled shop is quite efficient in all phases of operation not only in reading my mind. Well staffed, placement of materials and supplies with a reach, and energetic. The feel is that you will not only enjoy this but you will not wait long and not want to anything. I suppose they have seen it all in a hundred years. The hot chocolate and the churro were certainly to write home about - maybe we do not do that anymore - there is only writing in blogs or on Facebook - but that's another blog I think. However, the facet of the experience that stays with me is the overall efficiency and attention to detail. I can certainly see why this place is a staple of life in Madrid and has conquered time.

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