Thursday, June 21, 2012

School's Out, and a New Museum Opens

Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions / Museo de Artes y Tradiciones Populares
06/21/12 – Calle Carlos Arniches 3-5

As June winds down, only a month remains of our year in Spain. S1 and S2 finished Madrid public school this week.  S2, in seventh grade, took part in an English bilingual program—the result of a new campaign to encourage English at a time when many young Spaniards will have to seek jobs abroad.  The school’s American teaching assistant, a recent college grad from Maryland, introduced his charges to lacrosse.  He brought all the equipment to Madrid.  Though lacrosse is a Native American sport, my son had never seen it.  On the last day of school, rival classes faced off in an epic match.

On the other hand, after only one month of language study, S1 plunged into tenth grade last fall: an all-Spanish curriculum of math, Latin, music, history, literature, computers, ethics, gym, and classical culture.  For two weeks he didn’t say a word, and teachers just thought he was slow—no one told them about the foreigner in their midst.  Now at year’s end S1 has passed his classes, and is fluent in Spanish. On a recent medical visit, I strained to understand the doctor while my son chatted away.  Later, he coolly informed me that the doctor's accent marked him as a northerner, from Basque territory.

My kids will tell you school is different here.  Some stories they bring home have raised my eyebrows.  A sampling:
A child received a "Fail" on a color-contrast exam, even though the teacher knew he was color blind.
Gym students were graded on whether or not they won. (Victors in a badminton match received 10 points, the losers: 0).
A boy was harshly admonished and sent to the principal’s office for the offense of involuntary flatulence.
Teachers told vulgar jokes.
During a biology lesson in English on the dung beetle, the struggling teacher used the word “shit” over and over, for lack of a more scientific term. 

They will never forget their year in Spanish public school.  We also saved sixty thousand dollars, the cost of educating two children for one year at the private American School of Madrid, not even including materials, lunch or transportation (I think I hear you gasp).

Meanwhile . . . a new museum quietly opened this month in El Rastro, Madrid’s old market neighborhood.  The free Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions occupies a true nineteenth-century corrala, typical housing for the masses in centuries past. The first corralas were built in the sixteenth century.

Museum blends into the surroundings on Calle Carlos Aniches, 3-5

Museum patio: the renovated 19th c. "corrala"

Footnote: La Quinta motel, USA, 1973

A corrala is characterized by several floors of open galleries surrounding a common patio. The ground floor would house workshops and stores, with dwellings above. I’m tempted to reference a two-story La Quinta motel from the 1970s, without the parking.  What the heck: for all I know, motel architecture owes everything to the corrala.

The museum draws on a collection of folk art, both rural and urban, of the Autonomous University of Madrid. Currently, an exhibit of the yearly festival cycle has been mounted: “El Ciclo Festivo del Año.”   

Carnival costumes from various regions of Spain

Giant papier mache heads, paraded during the celebration of Corpus Christi

Afterwards, a stroll through the hilly streets of El Rastro will lead you past dozens of vintage furniture and antique stores, as well as photographs, waiting to be shot and framed.   

Across the street: impromptu exhibit

The Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions is open Mon. - Fri. 10-2 & 5-8; Sat. 10-2.


  1. Loved your summary critique of the sons' year in Madrid public schools. Hope to see you soon? or are you traveling before returning home? Over hundred degrees today in Madison, WI.

  2. Arriving in time for school. Great!