Al Gore is reputed to have said that “airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo”.
Quite apart from the fact that airplane travel is completely unnatural, in my case at least it makes me look not only post-mortem, but also having been the subject of an exhumation order.
This look, and the feel that goes with it is like an exceedingly bad hangover. You know it will pass and you will swear never, ever to drink, or fly long haul again. About the only thing that does any good is a nice bracing walk and doing one’s best to get into the rhythm of whichever resort-city-hell hole you have fetched up in before collapsing, exhausted, at somewhere approaching bedtime, or 4pm, anyway.
When we closed our last missive we had finally been granted ingress to the less than salubrious Hotel Praga, an establishment that has grottiness and charm in equal measure – rather like that shitty old car you cannot bear to part with even though it is full of the detritus of takeaway food, has beer/coffee/bodily fluid stains on the upholstery, has doors that won’t lock and a funny smell that won’t quit. It is loved dearly and desperately and it won’t be time to say goodbye unless and until a good friend torches it for you and you split the insurance money.
It struck us as odd that there were no tea/coffee facilities in the rooms. After getting over the shock we thought it downright outrageous, as, being critters of habit, there is something civilised about a cup of char while watching some shite on ITV of an evening following a yomp around the sights, sounds and smells of Madrid. Eventually, and noting there was one of those discount general stores across the street next to a Lidl, we thought bollocqueros and went and bought a little kettle, teabags, coffee and the other necessities of life. We were not sure if it was actually prohibido to make our own hot brews, so we hide the kettle every morning, where no-one could find it, except the cleaning staff. It has not been confiscated as yet.
The virtue of the Praga is that the wi-fi is unbelievably good, it is close to some of the most charming pieces of parkland imaginable, town is but an easy walk, there are cafes and bars in abundance and it is the staging post for the coach tour we are departing on in but 3 days. The tour itself shall be related anon, but the long and short of it is that the Hotel Praga was the only choice, unless we wanted to stay elsewhere and schlepp ourselves back to meet the coach.
The parkland. Some fun facts. Madrid, a city of 3.2 million, give or take, is a centre of European commerce, being the 3rd largest city in the European Union, with the 3rd largest GDP in the EU, with a high standard of living and a bucketload of cultural stuff. However, so far as cities go it has the highest number of trees and green surface per inhabitant in Europe with each person having about 16sqm per inhabitant (WHO recommendation is 10sqm) and since 1997 there has been a 16% increase in green space. That is as against the usual population growth and the preservation of cultural icons. This begs the question – Mike Baird, are you even bloody listening?
Near what I have come to call the Hotel Yorba is a delightful park called Parque de la Arganzuela. This runs along the Manzanares River and apart from the immaculately laid out gardens, winding walk and cycleways (pedestrians with right of way and the lycrists be damned) and stunning water features there is some brilliant kid’s play equipment. One that impressed greatly was what I initially took to be a modern objet d’art of a criss-cross of essentially telegraph poles, laid out as if by a gang of beavers following a few beers approximating a question mark shape. This being Spain, however, the damn thing could be upside down or the right way up depending on your perspective. Closer inspection, however, revealed some ship’s rigging here and there and it was clear that it was to climb on, and, inevitably, race along without falling down and very likely breaking several bones. It was utterly stupendous. The following does not do it justice and if you’re lucky I’ll do the course myself and shoot a movie, or die trying:
And no, we can’t have one in Australia, least of all Canberra. The safety Nazis of the 4th Reich of Zer Nanny State off Zer ACT Governmentaplatz will see to that.
Having exhausted the possibilities of navigating the architectural efforts of pissed beavers it was time for some kulcha and we hied us along several streets and through a couple of parks and up a sodding big hill to the Catedral de la Almudena. It is a handsome gaff by any measure, but while it looks as historical as all heck, it was only commenced in the 1870s and not consecrated until 1993. A couple of things were significant. First, the characters surrounding the cupola. One seems biblical enough, but the one on the left looks like he’s having problems with flies:
Second, the cathedral was built on the site of a mosque that was part of the caliphate of that well-known ISIS bastard Emir Mohommed I. The mosque, the UPF and Reclaim Australia knob-jockeys will be glad to hear was destroyed in 1083. What the aforesaid knob-jockeys won’t be pleased about is that the old mosque walls are being preserved and the street where all this is on is named after the Emir his bad old self. Not quite Bendigo or Eltham but I am sure that they’ll club together and send three or four over there for a protest, and they might be able to borrow a staffy or two (Madridians love their dogs and it is practically compulsory to own one, just quietly) to make up the numbers:
Suitably enlightened we wove our geographically embarrassed, for Madrid is harder to navigate than Canberra is for anyone not born to the place, or pathologically stupid, way to the Musea Nacional Centro de Art Reine Sofia. Which is an art gallery (of modern stuff). En el camino, as four persons in a mass of thousands we passed through the surrounds, and the square itself, of the Plaza Mayor. And I am here to tell you it is charming, splendid, old world – everything. Even the massed lycrists hammering down the streets on their two wheeled willies, screaming abuse at pedestrians and looking like a yellow version of Spiderman gone to seed, could detract from the utter loveliness of the place. And in nooks and crannies various were some really quite charming art-forms. You know – statues of everyday people doing everyday things. Precisely the sort of public art we cannot have in Australia on account of drunken bogans destroying it.
Anyhow, I espied one bronzed old chap (and by which I mean he was made of bronze rather than being a Bondi Iceberg), leaning over a balustrade, watching eternity go by, entirely peaceful, and a lovely counterpoint to the mayhem not 15 yards away. It also appeared that the cult of rubbing some part of a bronze statue, presumably for luck, was alive and well in Madrid. This poor sod was copping it on the backside:
As if in anticipation of what might occur, the sculptor had given your man a look of utter resignation:
And which is fair enough. You’d probably look the same way after being felt up every 15 minutes everyday by strangers. However, given that this chap did have a rather shiny bum I am thinking of crowd-funding getting him sent to Canberra, perhaps to grace the environs of the Australian Public Service Commission as a perpetual memorial to those in Government employ. The look on the face would not be inappropriate either, particularly given the current round of Enterprise Bargaining.
Incidentally, at the ANU Law School there was a bust of Sir Robert Garran, a luminary of the law and the first Secretary or some such of the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department. He was on a plinth half way down the stairs in the library. Garran’s nose was shined to the max, it being considered good luck to give it a quick polish as you trudged off to an exam, or death, one having something to do with the other.
But we shall not dally with shiny-arsed, or nosed, statues. Nay, we must hurry up and wait in a queue to get into Queen Sophie’s art gallery. Why? Because after 1:30pm on a Sunday it is free to get in and all the cheapskates in Christendom will have the same idea, and Picasso’s Geurnica hangs out (literally) there!
What was also there was a retrospective of Marcel Broodthaers, described by wikipedia, the font of all knowledge for lazy buggers and lazy bloggers as:
Marcel Broodthaers was a Belgian poet, filmmaker and artist with a highly literate and often witty approach to creating art works.”
No he wasn’t. He was a complete fruitcake obsessed with eggs and mussels. No. It’s true. Some of the pieces were merely collages of eggs that someone had blown, and I use the term advisedly given this was a modern art gallery, accompanied by some words of wisdom that the earth was an egg, or we all were or some such:
The defence rests.
WTAF is it with modern art anyway? I mean, all you have to be is barking mad and tie a few sticks together and stick them in a marshmallow and dangle a tampon off it and get someone equally barking but richer than God to buy it and all of sudden you are dressing in a black jumper and all sorts of profundities are being written about you and your “challenging and confronting work”. Note for file, whenever this correspondent hears those words about film, literature, music or art, one word crosses my mind: “crap”. Then, of course, there is this endless meme on Facetube and Twatter: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” – which is about as facile and inane as you can get short of believing in trickle down economics.
This is not to say all modern art is that way. Last year I was at a conference whereat the dinner was at MONA. This place is the absolute bomb it having such fantabulous things as the Poo Room where the digestive process is replicated by a series of machines that get fed and produce faeces. Now that is actually quite clever.
MONA is also famous for the corridor where the wall is decorated with plaster of paris moulds of the female genitalia. This, of course, has many names, all too rude to replicate here. But while the aim may have been to shock, challenge or confront, it didn’t do anything of the sort for me. There was something quite normal and natural about the whole thing:
Which probably has more in common with the classic art, particularly the nude stuff in any event, although there is a school of thought that this is but an early form of sexting:
“Hey, Helga, I want to send my boif something of me in the nick, know anyone?”
“Ja, try that Rubens bloke”
Which clearly makes Michelanglo’s David one of the first dick-pics.
And so to Geurnica. Too much has been written and said about this iconic work for me to do it justice and it was just a rare pleasure to spend some time in its company, having read up on the history of the atrocity that inspired it and despite the fact I find Picasso’s style to be a bit on the whacky side the work does capture on a number of levels the utter horror of that tiny part of a war – and in so doing captures the utter horror of all war. Nevertheless, whatever Picasso was smoking or dropping it should be made available to the general public. For mine, I actually think they might give it to matadors. I mean, for the appalling thing called bullfighting this is what we see:
Get in the plaza de toros with one of those bloody things? Not on your nelly. Given what the idiot fighting the bull is dressed in, he must be completely whacked. I reckon this is what they see:
As you can probably tell we are having enormous fun. There is something, as Bill Bryson observed, about wandering around not knowing what anyone is talking about. Mind you, you can get that experience in a University Refectory. The lingo? We are doing our best to get a handle on it, but where the Irish and Scots might go at it like machine guns the Spanish are lasers. I can understand some written Spanish (except the instructions on some instant Chinese food vide 5 minutes in a microwave – which we don’t have as we only run to a kettle) but in shops etc I have utterly no idea. However, I am delighted to relate that it is absolutely permissible to use the expression “hasta la vista”.
Just don’t put “baby” at the end, while sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger.