It seems like an eon since I last created an entry here and much has happened since I did!
New York wound up in an inimitable fashion - I caught up with Nik for dinner in the West Village before he led me to a divey bar on the Lower East Side where we drank a few beers and tried valiantly to ignore the hideous sounds of air hockey (the worlds most aurally offensive amusement!) I managed to see some great avant-garde film in the last couple of days - the kind of films you just know will never make it to Melbourne (even in MIFF). Lastly, my best discovery of the week: Strand Books!! This is a veritable mountain of second hand books. There are also new copies that are extremely well priced. I was in Emily heaven, attempting to weigh up (literally) how many books I could realistically cart around Europe and Morocco. I decided that, for me, a holiday involves copious amounts of reading and I´d be glad of something to accompany me.
So I bid farewell to New York with a last dash to MoMA and Central Park, ready for Madrid. Short flight (7 hours, seems like a walk in the park when you become accustomed to long-haul flights from Australia)....then Madrid´s gorgeous new airport. Yep, it´s new, beautifully-designed and I loved it for about 30 minutes. Until I went to get out cash in Euros (having proudly disposed of all my US dollars so I didn´t have to change a tiny amount). My ATM card didn´t work. I tried 7 ATMs and no love. AT this point, I was getting a little cross. So my Production Management brain kicked into gear and I began coming up with increasingly-ridiculous plans of how to get cash. I discovered that in Madrid you can´t buy a train ticket, a phone card, ride in a taxi etc etc using a Visa card. This is a bad thing. With no actual cash and no place to use plastic cash, I was stuck. Actually stuck, faced with the possibility of living in the airport. I wandered around for 5 hours (yes, 5 hours) trying to use my horrendous Spanish to get people to help me. It didn´t work. The police laughed at me. I´d hate to have been in actual trouble. Finally, as I was contemplating flying to London to use an ATM (and I´m not kidding here), the lovely lady at Iberia Air let me use her phone to call the bank and see if they could sort it out. They did, in about 15 seconds. I hate Westpac.
So finally I could leave the now-loathed airport, after hours of wandering and at least one fit of tears. My first night was spent in a little town about 45 minutes south - for reasons unknown) but maybe to do with the big fiesta commencing on the Tuesday), I couldn´t book a hotel room in central Madrid for the first night. So I caught a bus to Chinchon, a little village that apparently is the home of the liqueur Anis. I didn´t drink any but I did crash out in the hotel for about 12 hours to rid myself of the airport horror. The next morning, I wandered the village and checked out their local castle. The castle looked out over a valley that was alternately crops, grass and olive trees. It looked like a giant patchwork quilt.
I caught the bus back to Madrid later that morning and checked into my hotel. I promptly fell in love with Madrid. A lot of people aren´t that impressed by this village-like city but it really resonated with me. I particularly enjoyed that everything worth having was within a 2km radius of the central plaza. Bars, museums, cinemas, shops...you name it, it didn´t take more than half an hour to walk there. I holed up for several days visiting musuems in the mornings, siesta-ing in the afternoons, seeing films or theatre in the early evening before holing up in a bar somewhere to read and generally chill out. Seriously, I could grow to like this lifestyle of nana-naps being a national past-time and dinner being at 10pm. I found a fabulous little bar that seemed to always be playing Billie Holliday or Ella Fitzgerald, so that became my surrogate home for the week. I ate meals that consisted entirely of cheese (and regretted it later!) I found a Museo de Jamon (thats Museum of Ham - actually just a shop specialising in ham) that my mother and sister Anna would have LOVED! And I´ve come to view tortilla as a foodgroup (who needs fruit when you have potato and eggs!)
The Museo de Prado was excellent, with queues to get in on a Sunday. Grandparents, mums with toddlers, hip cafe-dwellers who looked like they just woke up.....here is a nation that has perfectly blended their love of art and sport. Everyone goes to a museum for a wander around and a chat and then sits in a bar to watch the football. Cool.
The Museo itself was great, mostly Old Masters and a focus on Spanish greats like Velasquez and El Greco. Best of all was their focus on Hieronymous Bosch - all of his best works are held at this museum.
But for my money, the Prado has nothing on the Centro de Reina Sofia. This contemporary art museum, housed in a former hospital, is the home of Picasso´s Guernica (it has a whole floor dedicated to works about/contributing to/inspiring/cataloguing Guenrica) plus volumes of work by Miro, Picasso, Dali and other luminaries of contemporary Spanish and international art. It was incredible....I spent 6 hours there (admittedly with a mid-museum nap in the downstairs courtyard, as much to clear my brain as for any newfound dedication to siesta).
Time came to leave Madrid and return to the hell-airport for my quick flight across to Barcelona. Alejandro met me at the airport: for those of you who don´t know, Ale is a good friend of mine who works for a theatre company here in Barcelona. He´s going to be my unofficial tour guide around Southern Spain. Sadly, while I was in Madrid, his mother had a stroke, so he is going between here and Sevilla helping to care for her. She is apparently bearing up well but has lost her motor skills and speech. Anyway, I´m staying in Ale´s apartment and will hopefully meet up with him when I get to Sevilla at the start of next week.
Barcelona is proving a little more difficult to navigate than Madrid, being a lot more spread out, but equally fun. This morning I explored an ancient ruin situated under one of the plazas in the Gothic Quarter. Sadly the magnificent gothic Cathedral is being renovated so is shrouded in scaolding and fabric but there´s so much to see just wandering around. I feel very much at home in Spain: the focus on the arts and literature, as an inherent part of the culture, makes sitting in the street just watching people or reading a book, a perfectly acceptable pastime. I´m hoping to get the chance to see a little more theatre while I´m here, but we´ll see how we go. In some ways, it´s nice to have a break from it!
But it´s getting on for 6pm, and time for more cheese. I´ll check in again from Sevilla.