Monday, October 31, 2011

Where Ronaldo Showers: Real Madrid Stadium and Museum

10/31/11 - Stadium Santiago Bernabéu

"Welcome to the stadium of the 20th century's best football club," the brochure for the Real Madrid Stadium Tour proclaims. Sons 1 and 2 have already seen a game here. Their excitement is more muted today, but who can resist the rhetoric?  Surely not the hundreds who stood in line with us for almost an hour. To prepare for your visit, I suggest this 2-minute version of the team song "Campeones."  Once inside, visitors follow a set route through the stadium at their leisure. First we ascend to the top, where the brochure tells us we'll "touch the sky and listen to the echo of a million cheering hearts." 

Stadium panorama
Americans, believe me when I say that the Vomitorio is an exit ramp, not a purging room for Ancient Roman-style excess.

Next, we file through the Trophy Room, and gaze at row upon row of silver cups, a parade of cleats and historic jerseys, and other football memorabilia. 

Trophy in an unusual form--a ship

The score for the team anthem "Hala, Madrid"
"Hala Madrid" plays in the background, to great effect. Further along, we try out the cushy seats in the stadium's most exclusive area. "Today," we read, "it is reserved for you."  Another descent, and we reach the pitch where, for over 60 years, the "'white legends' have fought, wept and rejoiced."  We're allowed to graze the sideline with our feet, then sit briefly on the opulent players' bench.  And life is sweet.

Players' bench on sideline, Stadium Santiago Bernabeu
On the way back from the pitch, we pass through the players' tunnel to their Dressing Rooms. "Great players, legendary teams... They have all been here, in this same spot." We see their other facilities as well.

The Real Madrid showers. Let your imagination run free.
We traverse the Press Room where players face the media. Everyone wants to sit where Ronaldo declared he's the best player in the world, and best-looking, too. Then we stop in a passageway while folks are photo-shopped. "Maintain that starring role by having your photo taken with historic Real Madrid players or holding up some of the sport world's most coveted trophies."  There's no escape hatch for detractors, so I'm forced to blunder past this station, mortified teens in tow. Not to worry: throughout the tour, free photo collages can serve as backdrops for our own fantasies.

The current Real Madrid team
It was interesting to learn about the ancillary facility "La Ciudad Real Madrid"--the largest sports center ever built by a football club. "A youngster can join the first module and eventually reach the first team without ever leaving the site," a poster informs. Many on the tour would find that prospect most appealing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Consider the Bull

Bullfighting Museum / Museo Taurino
10/28/11 - Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas

Early morning is brisk in late October.  By noon, sun warms the stands of Madrid's world famous bull ring, the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas.  It's a beauty, this stadium built in 1929, with Moorish arches and hand-painted tiles.

Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas
In the world of spectacle, things haven’t changed much since Roman times.  Commoners sit in concrete rows in “sun” or “shade”; corporate interests fill red padded benches; the King of Spain graces a royal box (without his vegetarian Queen, who refuses to attend, we’re told).  The ring is sandy, and strewn with beer bottles and trash left over from a Cold Play concert two nights ago.  

Standing in the famous Plaza de Toros
Entrance to the "enfermeria"
Our interlocutor for the guided Tauro Tour (in Spanish and English, 7) informed us that only four people in 80 years have been killed here by bulls.  Wounded toreros (or toreadors) are quickly attended to by “the two best surgeons and seven best doctors in Spain,” with operating rooms just inside the main gate.  In 80 years, only one bull fought so bravely that spectators demanded an official pardon, and the lucky animal left the ring alive.  Dead bulls—there are 6 per corrida when the season’s in full swing—are butchered, and their meat is sold for charity.

Tourists being toreros. Cape weighs 8-10 kilos
The Bullfighting Museum (free) complements the tour.  Colorful posters, and paintings of the most famous toreros from the seventeenth century to the present, line the walls.  The torero Manuel Domínguez (1816-1886) went by the name of “Desperdicios,” translated as “Worthless Waste.”  One story says his eye was poked out by a bull and left dangling.  With macho aplomb he pulled it free and tossed it to the ground, claiming it was "just waste."  A few of the best bulls on record stare down from their mounts, bulls-eyes intact, reproachful.  

‘My God! he’s a lovely boy,’ Brett said. ‘And how I would love to see him get into those clothes. He must use a shoe-horn.’  (Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, 1927)

The torero’s traditional, bedazzled “suit of lights” is well represented: capes with embroidered violets, skin-tight capris with sequins, jackets with tassels and gold.  We can view the blood-stained breeches of the great matador Manolete (1917-1947), one of four human deaths at Las Ventas, in the afternoon, at the horns of a fierce bull named Islero.  

The first female toreador seen at Las Ventas, Juanita Cruz is a curiosity: born in Madrid the same year as Manolete, she was granted special permission to perform in major arenas.  But that’s all we learn from the Bullfighting Museum.  Her “suit of lights” looks like an early prototype for the dreaded “skort” one finds now in trendy outdoor clothing catalogues.  Later banned from bullfighting by General Franco, Juanita Cruz moved to Mexico, where she performed under the name “La Reina del Toreo.”  Where is Juanita’s image, I ask you, curators of the Bullfighting Museum?  I had to seek out other sources. 

Juanita Cruz, "La Reina del Toreo"

Forty etchings by Goya on bullfight themes (1801-15) fill one room, where a short video also presents highlights of the ring, interspersed with glimpses of bully art by Spanish notables—Picasso, Dalí, Goya, Miró, and a few contemporary artists.

Bullfighting was just banned in Catalonia—the last fight ever in Barcelona took place September 25, 2011. Many will mourn the passing of a tradition, its rituals and pageantry.  Will Madrid see the light, and follow suit? 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Face of a Castrato, the Bite of Fiery Serpents

The Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando / Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando

10/25/11 - Alcalá, 13
The face on the wall of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts tells a story.  That much is evident at first glance.  Red lips, beauty mark à la Cindy Crawford, dark eyes gazing with feminine allure directly at the viewer.  The c.1750-52 portrait by Italian artist Jacopo Amigoni depicts “Carlo Broschi, called Farinelli”—rock-star castrato of eighteenth century Europe.  The celebrated voice of Farinelli was credited with curing the melancholia of Spain’s King Phillip V.  The singer came to Madrid for a gig and spent over two decades here as a royal favorite (1737-1759), organizing operas and court spectacles, and singing duets with music-crazed members of the royal family.  Elsewhere in the museum, two paintings capture the elaborate stage sets of Farinelli’s operatic productions.  

Portrait of Farinelli, c. 1750-52

The Royal Academy houses three floors of paintings and sculpture, mostly Spanish, Italian and Flemish from the XV to the XX centuries.  Among them one finds a stunning “Last Supper” (Tintoretto); several canvases by a master of human flesh (Peter Paul Rubens); a portrait of King Carlos III (Andres de la Calleja) that is the spitting image of Rubalcaba, candidate for President of Spain in next month’s election; a portrait of Barbara de Braganza (M. Van Loo), whose diamond-studded hair-do can’t hide her double chin; an exciting view of Mount Vesuvius erupting (Antonio Carnicero) while a lone artist calmly sketches in the foreground and others look on in wonder; and a small, creepy painting by Alessandro Magnasco, showing “A Community of Capucin Friars” as they participate in a public act of self-punishment, or capitulo de culpas.

Excellent descriptive labels in both Spanish and English accompany the majority of works.  I would have been most grateful, though, for a label on Jose Leonardo’s shudder-worthy scenario of my nightmares: “The Metal Serpent” (NOT pictured), in which writhing snakes bite half-naked people with tenacious glee.*

Guiseppe Arcimboldo, "The Spring"
Numerous works by Goya in the collection prove why it’s not a good idea to start with his Black Paintings and work backwards from there (see my earlier visit to the Prado Museum).  I especially enjoyed the self-portrait, the only image of Goya wearing his notorious hat with candles, allowing him to paint into the dusky twilight hours.  

Finally, a visit to the Royal Academy is not complete without a careful look at Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s “The Spring,” c. 1563.  The only Arcimboldo painting in Spain, it’s a gorgeous riot of flowers and vegetables, forming the profile of a smiling man.  Lettuce leaves for shoulders, rose cheeks, and petal skin.  His eye’s a violet, sweet of Madrid. 
*It’s a scene from the Old Testament, Numbers 21, I later learned.  The Israelites, frustrated by their long march in the desert, started to “murmur” amongst themselves.  God punished this act of murmuring with flying fiery serpents.  Then Moses revived the victims with a metal serpent.  Yes, it all makes sense in the end.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Art for the People, and It's Free

Museum of Public Art / Museo de Arte Público

Jose Maria Subirachs, Al Otro Lado del Muro, 1972
I’ve heard that Madrileños don’t go trick-or-treating, but they must throw Halloween parties--the stores in October are stocked with bloody scythes and devil horns.  Today I ambled through the tony neighborhood of Salamanca, enjoying the scent of privilege and luxury.  Imagine a soothing melange of bath soap, cake shop, and new-car leather.  I like to think I’m wearing my own disguise, the “frumpy American,” and that someday soon I’ll take it off and find my true self revealed: that woman who just walked into Prada, with matching bag and heels, and statement jewelry.  Dios mío, on these streets, even the seriously gravid are camera-ready.  

People-watching is a bonus at the Museum of Public Art.  The thoroughfare, located in an underpass and dotted with abstract bronze, cement or limestone sculptures, connects the busy Paseo Castellano to Calle Serrano. 

The overpass with part of the Museum of Public Art

Business people in smart suits hurry through on their way to important meetings.  A stately older man has taken refuge behind Pablo Serrano’s bronze Unidades-Yunta (Unities-Yoke).   

Unidades-Yunta, 1972

All sculptures are from the early 1970s, when the idea for converting the urban space to an open-air gallery was conceived.  The artist Eduardo Chillida created the seven ton La Sirena Varada (The Stranded Siren) to hang from four massive supports of the bridge overhead.  After extensive debate and technical study, the sculpture was finally hung in 1978.

La Sirena Varada, 1972

Juan March Foundation / Fundación Juan March
Aleksandr Deineka (1899–1969): Avant–Garde for the Proletariat
Further east in the Salamanca neighborhood stands another 1970s landmark: the building of the Juan March Foundation (1975, architect José Luis Picardo).  

Juan March Foundation at Castello, 77
A fantastic exhibit on the Soviet artist Aleksandr Deineka opened in the Foundation’s art gallery earlier this month.  It’s free, and runs until January 15, 2012.  If you have any interest at all in Stalin era history, art, politics, socialist realism or the avant-garde, this show is worth your time.  In addition to supporting materials and a video presentation, over 80 of Deineka’s works from Russia, Europe and the U.S. are on view, covering his entire career from the 1920s to the 1950s.  For more information, see the Foundation web page.  The gift shop carries a nice selection of inexpensive posters from this and past exhibits, as well as art catalogs and books.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hard Times in the (Museum of the) City

Museum of the City / Museo de la Ciudad
10/13/11 - Calle Principe de Vergara, 140
Madrid is splendid, but its tired municipal museum is not. Was all the best loot parceled out to flashier venues?  Numerous pictures along the walls, back-lit in plexi-glass, have faded. The empty hull of the foyer lacks all appeal. Upstairs, a tiny glass case holding mineral specimens whispers “please redirect your gaze to the Museum of Geology.”  The mannequins in Franco-era uniforms are muttering about their more fortunate cousins in the Museum of Costume.  The toreador wonders why his legs went missing, leaving their slippers behind. 

Municipal guard uniform, 1950s

Yet, there are things to be learned at the free Museum of the City. The history of the area is covered on three floors, chronologically, from prehistoric times through Roman, Muslim and Christian occupations.  A group of well-behaved school children was examining a detailed model of city sprawl. They seemed intent. Indeed, scale models of famous buildings are  the most compelling objects here. 

Model of Royal Palace, with Sabatini Gardens in foreground

If I were more technology-oriented, perhaps I’d have lingered at the 3-D exposition of the modern city’s water system.  Some grand, old streetlights instead caught my attention.

These lights once graced Madrid's boulevards

It’s difficult to understand how people traversed cities at night, before gas and electricity.  (I read somewhere that the Spanish habit of dining late, when most Americans have already gone to bed, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Without widespread illumination, Spaniards retired earlier).  

The Museum of the City could be improved, but not anytime soon.  It awaits a thriving economy, a creative thunder bolt, a labor of love.  For now, the city itself can show us more. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fragments of Patrimony--A Historical Crime?

Museum of the Sewers of Peral / Museo de los Caños del Peral
10/12/11 – Plaza de Isabel II
For almost 3 months I’ve been living north of the heart of Madrid.  A downhill stroll to the center takes half an hour.  If a monsoon of biblical proportions suddenly were to hit Madrid, the flood waters would gush down Fuencarral Street, cross Gran Vía, and carry everyone—tourists, shoppers, men hawking gold, French bulldogs, and the dozen prostitutes on Calle Montera who lean against spindly tree trunks waiting for something, anything, to happen—into the Puerta del Sol.  Fat chance. It hasn’t rained a drop since I arrived on August 1.  

Portion of the aqueduct
In the olden days, ground water flowed down through various aquifers and ravines, and some of it surfaced at a wellspring where the metro station Opera now resides, in today's Plaza de Isabel II.  In the middle ages, this fountain was a handy source of water for the nearby Fortress, later the Royal Palace.  Waters from the “Fountain of Peral” were harnessed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by a system of sewers and an aqueduct (the latter in use until the XX century).   

Old sewer, very clean, in the Museo de los Caños del Peral
A massive public fountain, designed by royal architect Juan Bautista de Toledo in the second half of the sixteenth century, catered to the needs of a growing city.   
Small section of the original fountain on display
For unknown reasons the fountain was buried in the nineteenth century when the Plaza of Isabel II was constructed.  In 1925, builders of the Madrid metro rediscovered it, along with the aqueduct and sewer, but bypassed them all in pursuit of progress.  Then, in 2008, the historical structures were rediscovered during renovation of the Opera station.  This time archaeologists intervened, and prepared some fragments for inclusion in the tiny, subterranean museum that opened earlier this year.  It's free once you have entered the Opera station; the museum entrance is near the escalators that lead to line 5.  A 5-minute video presentation in Spanish provides welcome information about how the structures looked several centuries ago.  Above ground, in the Plaza, there's a modern reconstruction of a portion of the fountain, as well as a plaque with the whole design in miniature.

Computer rendering of the site (from poster in metro)
The Museo de los Caños del Peral is not without blogtraversy. To wit, in Pasión por Madrid, J.J. Guerra Esetena wrote:
The Aqueduct of Amaniel has been brutally truncated.  Only a small fragment is shown, while the rest of the structure, as we have read in other forums, lies in pieces in a municipal warehouse. Nor is the fountain shown in its entirety; only five meters of the original 34 are present.  We are told that the section not in the museum has been reburied.  Is it true?  If this can happen to one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the history of Madrid, judging by the scale and condition of the find, what will happen to other, more minor discoveries? (, 23 March 2011. My translation.)
Lola Madrid commented:
Yesterday I saw the . . . mutilated remains of our historical heritage. . . . Any other European country would have sought a more honorable destiny, where [the remains] could shine in splendor for all to enjoy, not buried or abandoned to their fate at some local warehouse, to further deteriorate... What they have done with these archaeological remains is a real shame. I'm feeling great indignation. ... [t]hey have committed a historical crime. (8 Sep. 2011. My translation)
The Spanish architect Juan Bautista de Toledo also designed El Escorial, the historical residence of the King of Spain and a World Heritage Site. What do you think? Perhaps all 34 meters of his fountain deserve a place in the sun.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday in Madrid: Picasso, Dalí, Protests, and Squid Sandwiches

Reina Sofia Museum / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
10/09/11 - Calle Santa Isabel, 52
Last Sunday we arrived minutes too late for the Reina Sofia (closing time 2:30) and walked instead through Retiro Park.  The turtles were sunning themselves as usual, packed in a traffic jam on the little gangway by the Crystal Palace pond.  Even though chestnuts were dropping from the sky, it felt too hot for a row on the lake. 

Calder at the Reina Sofia
Today, however, was the kind of fall day I live for—brisk air, bright sun, French bulldogs, giant donuts, and a well-timed visit to one of Madrid’s most famous museums.  The Professor and progeny like to digest art in bite-sized chunks, so we zeroed in on Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica, a roomful of Dalí, and the Calder sculpture in the courtyard.  

Because the Reina Sofia is free on Sundays, happy throngs stood four-deep in front of Guernica, Picasso’s elegy for the Basque village bombed at the behest of Franco’s Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War.  Picasso was working on a different mural for the 1937 Paris World’s Fair when he read an article about the aerial bombing that decimated the village, killing innocent civilians.  He stopped what he was doing and made the tragedy of war his theme.  Eleven feet tall and twenty-six feet wide, Guernica is big enough to engage us all: tourists, students, locals on a jaunt, teens quoting South Park but regarding everything from the corners of their eyes. 

The nearby room of surrealist paintings by Salvador Dalí, Magritte and other contemporaries, holds psychosexual surprises for those who pay attention.  On this day, Dalí’s composition The Great Masturbator (1929) was a popular backdrop for tourist snapshots. 

Back outside, a crowd of demonstrators against poverty was gathering steam in the square below the Reina Sofia.  Son 2 recognized one of his school-teachers among the drummers, and then a duo onstage began to sing.   

"Spanish Alliance against Poverty"
We walked north toward the Puerta del Sol, through narrow streets and small squares with outdoor cafes.  A woman on a bench—strung-out, troubled—taunted a gay couple with insults, and they moved silently away.  

I’m on a constant French bulldog watch, and soon enough I spotted one. Spanish friends told us that the breed has become popular in Madrid over the past 3 years; I see these cute dogs trotting at the ends of leashes wherever I go.  

French bulldog du jour
As we entered the Plaza de Santa Cruz, the smell of sugared almonds filled the air.  Stalls were offering foods of Spain for tasting and sale: parmesan-like cheese from Murcia, raisin bread, chocolate-frosted donuts that resembled Entenmann’s but were five times the size.  Farther along, at a corner of the bustling Plaza Mayor, we pressed into Casa Rua for glasses of cold beer and hot bocadillos.  These bocadillos are made fresh, with good bread and plenty of salt; as far as we know, the best fried squid sandwiches in town.   

Casa Rua for bocadillos de calamares

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Collectors: Cerralbo Museum & Museum Lázaro Galdiano

10/04/11, 10/05/11
In the U.S. today, many of us feel overwhelmed by inanimate objects.  Witness the scolding television show Clean Sweep, or the horror stories of Hoarding: Buried Alive.  We’ve developed a narrative of simplification, exhorting us to jettison clothes we haven’t worn in the past year, to discard one item for every new thing we bring into our home, to re-purpose the attic storage space as a meditation room.  The modern aesthetic craves clean lines, and I hasten to agree in theory—it’s much easier to dust an empty sideboard.

Then again, it’s easy to accumulate when you have servants to do the dusting for you.  The seventeenth Marqués of Cerralbo, don Enrique de Aguilera (1845-1922) and the financier/publisher/art critic José Lázaro Galdiano (1862-1947) were both avid collectors of fine objects: paintings, books, arms and armor, ceramics, bronzes, antiquities…the list is long.  The aristocrat Cerralbo inherited wealth, while Galdiano made it and then married into more.  Each man sported the whiskers of a Victorian gentleman, built a mansion in Madrid around the turn of the twentieth century to hold his treasures, and later gave everything to the nation of Spain. 

The Marques of Cerralbo
The Cerralbo Museum (calle de Ventura Rodríguez, 17) preserves the original decor of the 1893 mansion as it looked in Cerralbo’s day.  In his bedroom, we can see the stylish chair in which Cerralbo expired in 1922.  The main staircase was built to impress, and it does.  The art collections are displayed throughout the rooms and hallways, but the function of each room, from billiard to ballroom, is clear.  The moviemaking team of Merchant and Ivory could begin filming a period drama tomorrow.  Lovely chandeliers of Venetian Murano glass adorn the ballroom and several other living spaces.  Their pastel colors, delicate flowers and airy glitter provide visual relief from the heavy, ornate furniture and draperies.  We get a peek at a powder room just off the ballroom, and another bathroom with a massive marble bathtub, a rare amenity for the time. There is no spigot, and one wonders how the hot water was provided.  (In fact, the only glaring omission from this museum is the servants’ quarters—the folks responsible for all that dusting).

Lazaro Galdiano
By contrast, the Museum Lázaro Galdiano (calle Serrano, 122) has remodeled the former living spaces of the 1903 building into four floors of galleries.  Like Cerralbo, Galdiano collected fine examples of just about everything.  From a church that was being remodeled—much to Galdiano’s dismay—he rescued the towering XV c. choir stall seat of the Count of Urgell, carved in oak and walnut.  There are paintings from the XV to the XIX century, including the artists Goya, El Greco, Velazquez, Bosch, Boltraffio (from the Milanese circle of Da Vinci), and Brueghel the Younger.  Even British artists make an appearance: Lely, Reynolds, Romney, Stuart and Constable.  Boltraffio’s Young Christ (1490-95), pictured below, has a haunted expression, and is painted in a style that closely resembles Da Vinci’s.  I was surprised to find here Brueghel’s mid-XVII c. painting The Animals Entering Noah’s Ark—a reproduction of this very picture has been thumbtacked to my garage wall in Wisconsin for years. 

Young Christ (1490-95)
After his wife Paula Florido died, Galdiano continued to travel the world, collecting and exhibiting his finds.  He lived in Paris and New York following the Spanish Civil War, and returned to Madrid in 1945.  On the top floor of the museum is a collection of rare textile fragments, some from as early as XIV c. (Granada), showing the influence of Moorish design. On the ground floor we can gawk at Paula’s jewels.  Her modern-looking lariat necklace by Cartier, with two huge diamonds, is the cat’s meow.  I’d gladly dust it.