More Art, No Palaces

Our second full day in Madrid was all art, all day, yet again. We  went to the Sorolla Museum first. Sorolla was a Spanish Impressionist painter, and the museum is located in his house (well, it used to be his house). Our friend Meg McComb recommended it, and as she is never wrong about these things, we went on faith even though we were both unfamiliar with the artist’s work. We’re glad we did. He was an amazing painter, and I enjoyed his work enormously.

“Mujeres del Mar” by Sorolla

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the museum is the context in which the work is displayed: his home. He had it built once he became successful as a painter, and from the looks of it, he did very well indeed. As in many Spanish homes, it has a shady garden with fountains and flowers and tiled walkways. Inside, the rooms are light and harmonious. The family’s furniture and keepsakes are on display. He obviously adored his wife and three children, as paintings of them are everywhere. It gave me the feeling of a life of contentment and balance, filled with family joy and enjoyment. Many artists lived lives of poverty and desperation, or even chaos and madness, but Sorolla proves that it is possible to be both an artist and a happy person.

Bottle Glass Window, Sorolla Museum

Bottle Glass Window, Sorolla Museum

Whew. That’s a relief. Then we went on the Reina Sophia Museum, which is Madrid’s museum of modern art. Tom wanted to see “Guernica” by Picasso in particular. Guernica is enormous, filling a gigantic wall with its expressive agony. I tried to see the painting as contemporaries must have seen it–something unprecedented and revolutionary. Sadly, I failed. I’m afraid when it comes to modern art, I am kind of a barbarian. I don’t mean to say I dislike all modern art, but the art of the early 20th century, so new, experimental, exciting and fresh to many, leaves me pretty cold. Cubism, abstract expressionism, Dada, mechanistic surrealism, etc. etc.–meh. Picasso does nothing for me. Rothko pisses me off. But I love Dali. They had some of his early work, when he was doing cubism. I have no idea whether it is considered good cubism or not; I can’t tell. But I love his later works in their meticulous rendering of the impossible. The Reina Sophia has several of these paintings, and I enjoyed them. I also enjoyed Dali’s artistic posing, his ridiculous mustache, and his pretentiousness. It was all so–I don’t know–endearing. He appeared on the Dick Cavett Show many years ago. Dali was going on and on about some nonsense, and Cavett leaned over and wriggled his fingers at the artist and said, “Boogie  boogie!” That has been my response to artistic pretentiousness ever since. (I love Dick Cavett, too.)

“Memory of the Woman Child” by Dali

Living wall

We passed this living wall in Madrid several times. It seems like a great idea for cities. It cools the environment and refreshes the eye. Plus, oxygen.

We had dinner at a restaurant called D’Fabula, and it was pretty fabulous. We walked there as my feet seemed to have toughened up a bit. It was still pretty hot, even at night, so we ate inside. Everything was delicious except for the cheesecake I ordered for dessert. It came with a scoop of the most intense and wonderful vanilla ice cream I’ve ever tasted, but the cheesecake itself might have been from Denny’s. The waiter asked me about it and I told him what I thought. He went away and came back with two scoops of the fabulous ice cream, which Tom and I enjoyed together. On the way back, we took a different route and wandered through plazas full of people eating and drinking. There was music, and several of those people you see in Europe who dress up as robots or Don Quixote or knights or whatever and hope you’ll give them money. I think Madrid is a very fun place–for people who go to bed later than we do. Even so, we have rarely gotten to bed before midnight.

Tom being attacked by

Tom being attacked by “conquistadore.” El Conquistadore didn’t like his tip.

Yesterday we had breakfast, did a small amount of shopping, then left Madrid. I say that as though it were easy, but it wasn’t. Tom walked to the parking lot down the street from the hotel–which I was delighted to leave–and couldn’t get the machine there to accept his ticket. Until he asked two Spanish gentleman to help, and then the machine was happy to accept the ticket, but would not accept his EU50 bill. I was waiting at the hotel with the luggage, so he came back and explained he needed to get some change. He had to walk nearly to the Prado before he found someone to break the bill, then came back and we both walked to the garage. So that all took an hour or more. Then our GPS system directed us all over Madrid, down byways and odd little streets, until we finally found ourselves on the road to our next destination, Ezcaray, in the Rioja wine country. The landscape changed very gradually from the flat, red-earth plains of the south to the limestone soil and mountains of the north. We went from olive groves and chaperral to vineyards, forests and green meadows. Ezcaray lies in a deep valley, approached by a steep, winding road that switchbacks down a mountainside. Tom drove white-knuckled all the way. Being brave doesn’t mean you are never scared.

Echaurren, our hotel in Ezcaray

Echaurren, our hotel in Ezcaray

We are staying at Echaurren, a Relais et Chateaux hotel with four restaurants that make it a gastronomic destination. It is housed in a building with an ancient stone exterior, and a very modern and sleek interior. We have a king-size bed. After the muggy postage-stamp-sized bed in Madrid, it feels like sleeping on a football field–only presumably more comfortable. The room looks out on an ancient church with swallows swooping around it. The room has every comfort possible, at least every comfort I could ask for, and I love it.

The view from our room

The view from our room

The only fly in my happy ointment is that when I fell in the parking garage, I dislocated a rib, and it is painful. The nearest chiropractor is in Bilbao, an hour and a half drive from Ezcaray. However, Bilbao has the Guggenheim Museum, which is supposed to be worthwhile for the architecture alone, so I made an appointment for tomorrow and we will kill two birds with one drive. In the meantime, Spain has excellent painkillers, so I am not doing too badly, though I am perhaps a tad fuzzy-brained. Tom assures me that I am, actually.

Bosch and Rubens and Goya, Oh, My!

Today was all art, all day. We first visited the Prado. I had one destination in mind: Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych. I have been fascinated with this work since I was a child. My mom had “Jansen’s History of Art” at home, and I used to leaf through it frequently. Bosch’s triptych was endlessly fascinating, and if you are familiar with the work, you know why. As a child, I found it confusing, fascinating, beautiful, ugly, perverse, opaque, scary, astonishing, and just plain weird. I have always wanted to see this painting (or paintings, technically, as there are three panels) in person–and now I have done so.

"Garden of Earthly Delights" triptych by Hieronymous Bosch

“Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych by Hieronymous Bosch

The colors are as bright and fresh as though it had been painted yesterday. The level of detail is breathtaking–it almost feels as though you could use a microscope on it and see not brush strokes, but further levels of texture and precise rendering.

Detail of "Hell"

Detail of “Hell”

As for the subject matter, I have read that to Bosch’s contemporaries, this work would have been perfectly clear, its symbols well-understood and its messages obvious. I’m not so sure. He depicts pink crystal structures floating in water, strange organic shapes that could be fruits made of bones, but with legs and faces, monsters that make the demons of Medieval paintings look like pussycats, and people doing things to each other so creative in their erotic or sadistic inventiveness that it would make the Marquis de Sade blanche.

"Earthly Delights" detail

“Earthly Delights” detail
















These reproductions don’t begin to capture the brightness of the colors or the clarity of the painting. There is a monster with a human face in the “Hell” panel that some have speculated is a self-portrait. The recorded guide said it is a portrayal of the devil. If so, it’s very atypical for the period, which tended to depict the devil as monstrously as possible. It is a calm, handsome face that observes the chaos and horror surrounding it with unearthly serenity. I have no idea if it is Bosch or not, but it is definitely striking.

To Bosch or not to Bosch?

To Bosch or not to Bosch?









Really, if my feet didn’t hurt so much, I could have stood there all day staring at this painting. But my feet did hurt, and there were rooms and rooms of Velasquez, Rubens, and Goya to see as well. Goya, in particular. He’s one of the few painters who shifted back and forth between almost Flemish attention to detail and the loose, evocative brushwork of Impressionism (long before there were any Impressionists).

Goya in full-on court painter mode with "The Family of Carlos IV." Very fine, detailed brushwork.

Goya in full-on court painter mode with “The Family of Carlos IV.” Very fine, detailed brushwork.












Goya in Impressionist mode. Hard to believe it's the same painter.

Goya in Impressionist mode. Hard to believe it’s the same painter.




























After the Prado, we took a break and had some lunch in a nearby restaurant.On the way, we saw this:

The Beer Bike

The Beer Bi






Actually, we saw several of them, all filled with people laughing loudly, pedaling madly and holding up traffic. It’s the Bbike, described thusly: “Bbike is a Beer Bike, a multi-tandem bike for up to 18 people with a built-in beer tap in which you’ll be able to enjoy Madrid in an original, different and fun way.” Can you even imagine such a thing in a U.S. city? Me neither.

After lunch, we went on to the Thyssen Museum. We were there a bit late, and so didn’t see everything by any means. There were a lot of painters I had never heard of before, which was kind of embarrassing, but then, I never held myself out as an art expert. I have to say, I was delighted when they closed the museum. My feet were killing me.

The lacy decoration behind Tom is composed of oversized white Spanish combs that completely covered the ceiling of the restaurant where we ate lunch.

The lacy decoration behind Tom is composed of oversized white Spanish combs that completely covered the ceiling of the restaurant where we ate lunch.

We rested for a bit and then went to dinner at a restaurant called Veridiana. I refused to walk the half a mile to the restaurant, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. The food was great and our waiter looked like President Obama. I mentioned this and he said he gets that a lot, but that he is a happier person than Mr. Obama. I believe him.