Summer in Spain: Madrid

by kangcuzzi

A day in Spain may start out slow, but a clock face holds enough.

If there’s one thing I learnt from my first day in Madrid, it was that. After having started the day at an alarmingly premature time – 5:30 in the morning! – my jetlagged parents and I spent two hours basically trying to a) keep ourselves distracted until breakfast opened at 7:30 and b) find a convenience store that was open. What with the suitcase conundrum that had transpired at dawn, we were left void of sanitary equipment (sans the complimentary towel, mediocre shampoo provided by the hotel, etc etc) and therefore in need of something to wash ourselves with after an exhausting 18 hours of travel. The results of our little early-bird walk weren’t as bountiful as we would have wanted, but I gathered from that trip a lot more than I had hoped for. In the absence of life in early morning Madrid, the serene peacefulness I felt walking past silent graffiti and stoic buildings was enough to refresh us all. I found it incredibly beautiful how Madrid worked; with its tangle of calles, or roads, each labelled with an ornate plaque, it was so easy to get lost but find yourself at the same time.

Anyhow, after a little while more of jaywalking and peering into half-open fruit vendors, we eventually got to breakfast, got out, and began our trip into downtown Madrid.

Seeing as it was a Sunday, we first meandered through the El Rastro flea market. Amidst the plethora of genie pants and leather bags were a few interesting finds: at one point, we came across a man who was selling paintings on behalf of the artist, his friend. Apparently the artist had been there, creating his masterpieces, in the same spot for many years; but due to the onset of old age, he could no longer continue the job. There was one particularly interesting painting of what seemed to be a tinged road within a burning village, which was smaller than the others and infinitely intricate. According to the man who was selling the paintings, this particular one was special as it was the last the artist could create of that caliber due to his eyesight. It was painful to think about how life’s most precious things elude us at one point or another, but it was also heartwarming to hear this vendor talking about the artist with such zest, passion and genuine pride of his work. It’s how we are remembered that matters in the end.

After our little stint at the flea market, I marched out with a straw hat and a growing contentment with the weather. It was getting warmer out, and at long last the kimono cardigan I had draped across myself for the plane ride would now suffice.

We then walked all the way to Plaza Mayor, where I continued to gaze at the numerous collectors who had come together to play their tricks of the trade. There were coin traders, card traders, stamp traders… they were all so engrossed in their business. I wondered if they even noticed the shining goats that were scattered around the vast expanse of the plaza: dressed in ostentatious suits of reflective streamers nicely finished off with a hard-mouthed goat head, some performers were clacking away in their desperate calls for attention. I personally found them quite intimidating, because how often do shining goats  not come with some strange, pseudo-scientific mystical connotation? Anyhow, despite the clacking distractions, I was still able to pop some humor out of the situation by wondering what it would be like if an entire chorus of partygoers had lined up behind each and every one of the balconies that overlook the main grounds of the plaza and simultaneously surprised a lucky birthday guy/girl, who by then would be completely stranded in the middle of the square. Now wouldn’t that be a pleasant birthday surprise! Much pleasanter than the notion of having your streamers magically join together to create an alarmingly terrifying goat.

After Plaza Mayor, we then went on to Puerta del Sol, where I was finally greeted by the bear (el oso) I had always glued onto my Spanish textbooks at my teachers’ requests for decoration. It was quite fascinating to find that I finally found myself beside that very bear, looking upon its surroundings, being part of where it was and what it stood for.

The rest of the time my parents and I spent looking through the Palacio Real, a palace adorned with so many festive and luxurious appendages I wondered why anyone would need to have a separate dressing room fitted in chinoiserie style. But despite the overwhelming sense of decadence that filled the place, I was still awed by how it retained its quiet, untouched air – the whispers of Spain still exist upon its streets, and as I walked through the Palace there were moments when I thought actual royalty were going to emerge from stray doors and entrances.

After a quick look around the palace, we then decided to go check out the Golden Triangle: a series of three museums world-renowned for their extensive artistic collection. The constituents of this grand trigonometric wonder are the Museo del Prado (a museum housing many classical pieces from the 13th century and the like), the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía (a museum housing more modernist, 20th century pieces) and the Museo de Thyssen-Bornemisza (a museum housing the best of both worlds). Unfortunately, we just missed the Reina Sofía due to awkward timing so we decided to make our way first to Thyssen-Bornemisza instead. There, I opted to take a look at the Pop Art Myths (Mitos de Pop Art) gallery that was up temporarily, in honor of the brief Roy Lichtenstein obsession I had in Year 3. At the moment, I am immensely glad to have had made that choice because I learnt so much not only about pop art in general, but also what it truly means and signifies. For example, I always thought pop art followed the distinctive, grid-like style of Lichtenstein and rarely took other forms. But after the hour well spent peering at the magazine cutouts by Richard Hamilton, a physical piece entitled ‘The Red Seesaw’ and even a porcelain pancake (?), I learnt how the everyday could tie into the timeless and become something, both artificial yet real, we remember for a long time.

One thing that’s very different between Hong Kong and Spain is that there is a lot of remembering here. Remembering people, remembering works, remembering times…  when I finally finished the day at the enchanting hour of 8PM, remembering was all I had in my mind.