Friday, February 29, 2008

Madrid: Day 1

So we arrived this morning in Madrid at 9:13 am. Catherine's seat on the plane did not recline at all—this was not a good way to begin our journey. She didn't sleep much, I didn't sleep much (although even after we realized that we'd had only 3 fitful hours sleep, we had to admit—at least we sort of slept for 3 hours!). From that moment onward though, the day has been pretty much a perfect day.

We had no trouble with the subway—a moment's hesitation when we had to decide which ticket to buy, but  a helpful Madrileño pointed us to the correct single ride. We figured we'd be walking pretty much everywhere until we head back to the airport on Monday and, if today is any indication, we're right about that. The last leg of the 3 part journey to the city center was rough only because the car we rode in was not air conditioned—we were still wearing a good portion of our NYC winter attire and it was probably close to 60° F here by 10am. Found the Hostal Gonzalo, where we're staying, with no problem; unfortunately, our room wasn't going to be ready until about 7pm (unless we wanted to sleep on twin beds—which we don't), so Javier, the owner, took our bags for us and we headed out into Madrid.

The first part of the day was your usual sightseeing: Plaza Mayor, Puerto del Sol, Plaza de Oriente, Palacio Real: the equivalent of checking out Times Square/Fifth Avenue/Rockefeller Center in New York, really. But it was all amazing and beautiful: the architecture, the feel of the city, the way everyone moves in the space. I find every city we visit has its own energy and its own rhythm that you can tap into, if you try. Obviously, we don't speak Spanish well enough to fit in, but maybe it's trying not to look too much like a tourist. I don't know, but it's something that always excites me about travel. 

We had lunch at the Circulo del Bellas Artes, an experimental performance space with a very stylish restaurant in it—I swear there was a guy a table over from us who had to be somebody, he just exuded some kind of confidence that I equate with celebrity... but maybe he's just a schmo who's full of himself. Who knows. There's a lot of cool stuff happening at CBA: we're seriously considering going back tomorrow night for a production of play Picasso wrote. I'm sure it's all in Spanish and we won't understand a word of it, but it just seems like the thing we should see.

After that we went to El Museo del Prado, which is all classical art and has an amazing collection of Spanish artists like Velazquez and Goya. We decided, after so little sleep that we were going to do the Greatest Hits: the famous paintings that you'd feel a fool for not having seen when you had the chance. And while we pretty much did that, some of the most memorable works were ones that probably don't fit that category. There was a series of Goya paintings from 1820-23, just a few years before he died, that were amazing and not at all what Catherine and I expected. The brush work was reminiscent of what the Impressionists would do over half a century later and the content made me think of the Surrealists 100 years in the future. I'm sure the website can't do it justice, but I'd say seeing them online is better than nothing.

By this time, our room was ready so we came back and tried to nap a little but really only dozed off for half an hour or so. Finally we got up and took the showers that we'd been wanting for 8 hours and felt a little revived. Our concierge had recommended a paella restaurant not far from here, Arroceria Gala, that he said the locals went when they want good food at good prices. I have very little paella experience but price-wise he was dead on and we both loved the food and the sangria (of course, if the sangria is good enough, who notices the food?). We'd also discovered that a place that the NYTimes recommended for good flamenco, Casa Patas, was only a few blocks away from there. So we wandered over around 11pm and got reservations for the midnight show.

Now we had an hour to kill. Background: we both quit smoking on May 3, 2005. We've split a few cigarettes since then, but nothing more. Our one concession when we quit was that we could still smoke when we visited Europe, if we wanted to. So, with everyone smoking all around us all day, of course we wanted to. We got a pack of cigarettes (Marlboro Lights, not our brand, but good enough) but didn't have a light. Since we still had some time to kill and there was no smoking at Casa Patas, we walked down the block a bit to where a group of young people were smoking in front of a club. As we approached, we realized the two women and one man were all speaking English. We got a light from them and, naturally, struck up a conversation.

And then, it got really interesting....

The man was from New Zealand, but finishing his last two years of high school (or the equivalent) at an international school in Wales. The two women—one from Nigeria by way of Washington, DC, the other from the Caribbean—were also at the school. They're in Madrid for a school trip—museums and culture during the day, whatever they want at night. The man, Elroy Finn, was telling us about his brother, Liam, who is a musician. As he's saying this, I'm remembering hearing something about the son of Neil Finn being a musician and starting a solo career. I thought I'd play it cool and not bring this up, but as we keep talking about his music and influences, it turns out that this indeed is the same person. So we had nice long chat with Neil Finn's son about Crowded House and music and history and US politics and then we exchanged e-mails. Elroy said he's not sure where he's going after graduation—a gap year in New Zealand and then he may study history in university or maybe go into the family business. But we had a great NO WAY! moment in Madrid.

Finally, we went back to Casa Patas for the flamenco performance. My first acting/touring job after I arrived in NYC was actually on a tour with The Boston Flamenco Ballet. It was a hell tour that I may discuss later, but basically, I was familiar with flamenco and some of the traditions, as was Catherine, but she'd never seen it performed live. Normally, if the Times is writing about a trend, it's actually already on the way out. But I have to say they nailed it this time: the crowd was as authentic as I'd imagined, the dance and singers and guitarists were superb. We were both completely blown away by how much we enjoyed the entire performance. The hostess had seated us near the back and while I regretted that Catherine wouldn't really be able to see the dancers' feet, we both agreed that this was a good place in case we got too tired and had to cut out early (it's already midnight, mind you, and we've been going pretty much non-stop since 8am on Thursday). You couldn't have forced us out of the place until the last encore was performed (and boy, did they do encores!). 

The dancers were Carmen "La Talegona" and David Paniagua. Carmen was a few years older and more traditional in her dance but had such amazing skill, control, passion and stamina—she was breath-taking to watch. Paniagua seems to be early in his career but he was no less impressive. Catherine compared him to Johnny Depp in his looks and sex appeal, and he made me think of Savion Glover in his unconventional approach to the traditions. From his clothing—untucked dress shirt and black velvet sports coat and slacks, as opposed the very tight-fitting bolero jacket and pants that male dancers usually wear—to his energy and enthusiasm, he seems to really be pushing the boundaries of expectations, at least what I expected. But what I found most interesting was that he was completely at ease with the older, more traditional musicians—the youngest of the three singers was clearly in his forties and the other two were probably well past 50—and they also seemed to embrace his challenges to the traditions. I wish we were going to be here another few days; I'd love to see what other performances at Casa Patas are like.

We'll it's 9:07 pm EST, which means it's well past 3am here. Time for me to get a little sleep so that I can get up and see what happens next. I'll have to put all the links and photos into this post at a later date... to many to do a google search/upload tonight!

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