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. 

1 comment:

  1. I think you need to ask someone about a great old custom that went out in the 70's. I will have to check on that one. The person involved was called a "sereno" because he walked his beat keeping all "serene". Before electronic entry to apts, the key to the main door was not handed out to all so a young person coming past 10 or 11 would clap for the sereno in the area to appear with the key for "portal"/main door in the apt. houses on his watch. Usually these guys were retired and lived off tips. I believe the custom stopped when a crazed citizen assaulted or killed a sereno. That's something to google.

    During the daytime the "portero" watched the door to see who was coming and going while the portal was open to the public.

    This system was still in place when I lived in Madrid in the 60's.