Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Touring Spain


AIRPORT Madrid was already a marvel before we left the airport. We walked up a ramp and snaked back and around a few turns before getting into the building. Once there, bright red support beams held up a curving roof. The curve and lilt of the roof was intriguing and then I realized that the supporting beams were turning orange. It’s true. They gently became orange and then yellow and in the distance we could see green, blue and violet. The whole length of the building (It wouldn’t surprise me if it was half a mile.) spanned the rainbow with each set of beams a slightly different until all of ROYGBIV was there.
Then, this huge building wasn’t enough. We took a train to baggage claim. How big is this place?
Landing and customs and baggage claim were all in terminal 4 but we had to find terminal 2 to pick up our tourist Metro passes. We rode a bus for about 5 miles to get to the other terminals. Terminals 1-3 are not impressive but older, industrial spaces.

THE CITY We checked into our hotel and went out for a walk. The buildings aren’t as ceaselessly amazing as they are in Prague but there are some wonderful structures. Many have ornate doors or elaborate painted tiles. We admired one building with gears and architectural equipment adorning the windows and grates and then looked into the windows of the next building to find Flamenco dresses.
The manequins were decked out with shawls wrapped around their shoulders and fans laid at their feet. Inside a rack of dresses showed very few alike. I picked up a skirt and found it amazingly heavy. It would be work to dance with all those pounds of fabric flapping at one’s ankles.
A wall held glass fronted drawers full of fabric roses for the hair and another held a case of fans in more colors than the airport support beams. There were men’s suits and hats and women’s plastic combs and tiaras. The store offered both children’s and adult sizeas for dancers able and willing to pay.
Two dresses I liked were 335 and 510 Euros. I didn’t see the price on the men’s clothing but I did take a photo of the rack of dresses before we moved onward.

FOOD There are a few Spanish foods we meant to try and one of them is a ham, jamon serrano. These are salt cured and mountain air dried and priced at between 40 and 15 Euros per kilo. Traditionally it is served in a paper thin slice with a fried egg. The promise of another taste would not bring me back to Spain.
The color is of burgundy with translucent white fat on the edge. The texture is of stiff leather, unyielding in the mouth with a lingering sense of grease. Perhaps one develops a taste for it over time.
The hams stand in stainless steel or wooden racks in store windows or on restaurant bars. The toe aims upward in a delicate point that makes me think of both a dainty ballerina and someone from Robin Hood’s band who might have carried it on the shoulder through the woods. Often a multi-colored, braided rope is looped at the ankle. In stores they hang by the rope forming a salt-cured décor overhead and are often accompanied by huge wheels of cheese.
Eating here, at least at the start, is difficult. I tend not to enjoy expensive meals and they seem to be the only kind available. Eating in Madrid is not about nutrition but rather about entertainment and a gentle passing of the time. We stopped for a glass of lemonade for Rick and a glass of horchata (Almond milk, I think.) for me and it cost $12.
We almost ate at the world’s oldest restaurant, as designated by the Guinness Book of World Records. Botin seemed small, at least from the outside where it is oak and glass. Inside we were told there would be a 20 minute wait so we left since we were hungry then but I did snap a few photos and we found the menu in the window. Perhaps their ham would have been better than what we found that morning but it looked the same standing in its rack and I don’t think the cute chef’s hats in the kitchen would have made me feel any better about it.
Botin was established in 1725 so maybe Robin Hood’s buds did make a delivery. We also learned from the guide book that the eating area occupies 4 floors so it is larger than it looks.
We ate instead at Café Vergara where chicken and French fries were more to my liking. The oak wainscoting was up over our ears and the wonderful plaster molding gave the room a very nice sense of style. Visiting the rest room required walking through a curving tunnel reminiscent of some of the restaurants we ate in while in Prague.

ROYAL PALACE On our second day we went to the Royal Palace, the Spanish king’s primary residence. It is so ornate that it seems there could me no ornate item, or Spanish money, left in the country for others. The throne room was red velvet – furniture and walls. The ceiling was painted fresco and the rest of the room was gold leaf. Anyone sitting on those thrones would have to feel above the rest of humankind.
Other rooms were painted, tapestried, frescoed, carved, marbled and parquetried within an inch of their lives, The king’s dressing room was about 30 by 50 feet and he also had anti-chambers and sleeping rooms and a study and I don’t know what all.
The “simple” chapel was scaled back from original plans because the king decided he needed more living space but it was pretty large and ornate just the same,
The royal armory is a bit empty just now. Most of it is in Beijing for an Olympics “Spain in China” celebration. We saw samples of armor for horses and men – parade armor, jousting armor and battle armor.

STYLE One thing that captures my attention is the “style” of the people. Shoes, for example, are very interesting. Mine are Asolo approach shoes of sensible Gor-tex with rubber soles that grip. They fairly shout, “If I wore anything stylish, my feet would hurt up to my knees so I’m wearing these instead.”
I am willing to admit that I may be the only one who can hear this conversation with my shoes but the word clodhoppers comes to my mind anyway. My shoes are the only ones in Madrid suited to the term. The rest of the city wears shiny, pointy-toed shoes (even the suits of armor had pointy shoes) that make me wonder if they’ve had toes shortened or amputated to get their feet inside. A foot doctor wanted me to do that once so that I could enjoy fashionable shoes. I found another doctor.

Many women here wear strappy shoes with more open area than leather. There are several boots about town and many have pin-point spike heels that require the foot to maneuver a very steady and straight step in order to allow the walker to maintain upright position. In such shoes, I would fall on my face – or whatever.
I start and end the day by flossing my toes. This is not the correct term but it is a toe stretch taught to me by Norma and it seems to eliminate foot and leg fatigue. In combination with my shoes it has allowed me long (unstylish) hikes across Madrid.

OUR NEIGHBORHOOD We easily found our apartment and sat at a table just outside the door to wait for our contact with the key. This is where we first met Vintecinco, but I digress.
We called the apartment contact from the hotel and the phone was out of service. This made us briefly concerned since Rick had made reservations and a significant deposit. The hotel’s receptionist helped us to understand the message and then Rick found another phone number on the Internet. It seems the contact’s cell phone was stolen. They gave us the new number and we arranged to meet him at the apartment at 4.
We arrived there, in Lavapies, a multi-ethnic, working class neighborhood with an active public square, at 3:40 so Rick went in the bar below the apartment to order a beer. We sat on a sidewalk table, inches from the road and waited. A man in T-shirt and jeans stopped and talked while shrugging his shoulders and smiling. The only thing I understood was vintecinco. He eventually gave up and left.
Our contact arrived at 4:10 and showed us the apartment, explained the rules (no fiestas, take out the garbage, wash the dishes, don’t use the dishwasher because it is broken but a man may come to fix it tomorrow) and took a stack of euros.
We moved in and then walked to the grocery store. On the way, we saw Vintecinco. A boy was sitting a a table with a half eaten plate of food. He motioned to Vintecinco who came to the table, took the boy's fork and sat to finish the plate of food.
At the grocery store we found salad greens and fruit and wine but we did not find peanut butter. We brought the food to the apartment but were too hungry to cook so we went just over to the square for a meal. The entire area buzzed with activity from cars, motor cycles, street sweepers, kids at play, neighbors visiting, brightly dressed people walking through and plenty of barking dogs and chirping birds.
Someone arrived with flattened cardboard boxes and plopped them on the pavement in front of an occupied bench. Immediately another man sat heavily on one end, beer bottle to lips. Both of those men seemed to know all those on the bench – a big bellied man in a pink shirt and bald head, two laughing women and a man with two dogs who were leashed together at the neck. Those dogs went wild when other dogs walked through their square.
All the benches held people – sitting and talking or deep in siesta. Vientecinco stopped by and this is when I named him. Again, all I understood was the vinetecinco but Rick gave him some money and he shrugged and went to repeat his tale at other tables. I expect to see him again.

We took another city walk in the evening and sat for a while in another square where the children were wildly playing soccer and roller skating. A chair at the table next to ours went flying once and, while the ball wasn't really that low, we both accepted the urge to duck.


Emilie said...

I'm glad you got into your apartment ok and that you're finding interesting things to do and look at. Sorry the food is so expensive, I know that drives you crazy.

Madrid seems like a fashionable city...looking forward to joining you as an unfashionable American in Barcelona.

carolyn said...


Your descriptions make me want to jump on a plane now. I never liked the jamon serrano in barcelona either. I remember the fried little fishes, I think called chicharones...phonetically...more fresh seafood in barcelona b/c of the Sea!

ciao, kymberli

kymberli said...

I am not sure how I became Carolyn