Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Closing Thoughts on Spain

  • International Travel makes you a time traveler—waking up in Barcelona at 6:30 AM and going to bed after 10:30 PM in Colorado on the same day actually covered a span of over 24 hours (almost all of which I was awake for).
  • I do not care if you are some high and mighty international airport: if you are playing the Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love,” you do NOT pause. Ever.
  • Madrid is a better vacation spot than Barcelona.
  • Stores are complicated; rather than a big store there are lots of little stores, and even the “supermarkets” aren’t big enough for two people to walk abreast.
  • Smoking is everywhere, and I hate it.
  • Eating a burrito bowl at Burrito Elito is a lot like dumping Mexican food into a Subway salad.
  • Little kids at the airport are hilarious.
  • Sleeping on trains is fun.
  • Americans export music like nobody’s business—I only heard, like, seven songs in Spanish while in Spain.
  • People don’t like to talk to you in Spanish, they would rather talk to you in English.
  • It’s weird, because you can go somewhere five hundred years old and five years old on the same day.
  • The Mediterranean is cold.
  • Spanish tortillas are officially now one of my most favorite foods.
  • When traveling, it is nice for your Dad to be willing to let you stay up until 1:15 AM to let you finish your books.
  • It is okay for a dinner to consist of a sixth of a watermelon and a large carrot, or occasionally have chips, or granola bars, instead of official Spanish food. Then you don’t have to talk to people!
  • Watching Fringe in Catalan was fun.
  • It is indeed possible to watch Princess and the Frog, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Forrest Gump, and half of a Sherlock episode on a flight back to the States.
  • It is good to be home.

Well, that about wraps up my thoughts on Spain for now! I’ll get back to a regular posting schedule starting Thursday. ¡Nos vemos!

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Tale of Two Metros

I do not like the Barcelona metro.
Flickr Credit: VivirElTren.es

Actually, if we are completely honest, I do not like the metro in general. My dad thought it was cool that there was cheap public transportation available to the people, but I mostly felt train-sick and felt proximity-swiped as more and more people crammed in.

But the Barcelona metro was worse.

Before going on either, though, it would have been nice to know a few simple things about them. Therefore, wary travelers, if you ever decide to get on a Spanish metro, keep these things in mind.

Madrid Metro
Barcelona Metro
  • The Platforms Are Open—if you realize that the platform you’re on will take you in the wrong direction, you can go up an escalator and through a hall to come back down and get to the other side, quickly and easily.
  • There Is a Wall—you generally only see one set of tracks, and if you realize you’re in the same place you may actually have to go outside again to find the right platform (which could cost you a couple of Euros)
  • Crowded, but manageable—there are lots of people, always, but there are usually enough cars and frequent enough trains to give you a little elbow room.
  • Sardines—with the exception of early morning, when most Spaniards aren’t out and about yet, the metro is cram-packed, and sometimes morning isn’t even a guarantee. It is terrible.
  • One Pole—if you hold onto a pole, there will be one pole that other people may hold onto as well.
  • Pronged Poles—sometimes there would be two or three bars on a pole so that more people could hold on, or you could have extra space, which was nice.
  • Beep—when the doors are about to close, there is a single, loud beep. It’s okay.
  • Death Noise—when the doors are about to close the doors go BLUR BLUR BLUR BLUR and you have to hold on for dear life because that was terrifying. Or at least it was the first time. It was always annoying, though.
  • Street Musicians—sometimes there would be musicians who would play and their songs would echo through the halls. Some were good, and some were bad.
  • Street Musicians—there were also street musicians, and they were about the same as Madrid.
  • Occasional Air Conditioning—air conditioning doesn’t really seem a thing there, and the metro is hot. Sometimes you would step onto a cool train, but other times you’d just have to boil in your sweat.
  • Less Occasional Air Conditioning—there was maybe one train with air conditioning, and zero platforms. It was almost always hot and stuffy.
  • Smells Funny—sometimes like poop, and other times like cigarettes. If Febreeze is as great as they say they are, then they could make a great partnership with the Spanish metro.
  • Smells Funny—more like poop than cigarettes.
  • Dual Escalators—if there was an up escalator, there would be a down escalator. It was nice.
  • One-Sided Escalators—usually the escalators just went down.
  • Quiet—almost no one talked or looked around while we were on the metro; usually they were occupied with a phone, Kindle, book, or regular paper and pen.
  • Loud—there’s very little individual time on the Barce metro, mostly everyone is looking around and talking during the ride.
  • Smooth Transitions—newcomers wait for people to exit before getting on the train.
  • Rough Transitions—you scramble for an open space in the door, and try to get a good spot before all the other people do.
  • Sort Of Clean—the Clean Fairy hasn’t been around, but it’s for the most part bright and generally good looking.
  • Sort Of Not Clean—it’s darker and dirtier, and the design is rougher, which gives it a yuckier feel.

All things considered, I know that Madrid is less a crash site for tourists and more a grand compilation of business, politics, history, and people whereas Barcelona is where introverts go to die, and I think the metros represent that.

It was an interesting experience, not one I’m eager to try again, but it will remain very much linked with all my memories of Spain.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

La Reina Sofia

El Prado. La Reina Sofia. The Dalí Museum.

Click to visit La Reina Sofia's website!
That’s probably the order I liked them in. The ambiance of El Prado trumped both of the others—a formal, magnificent hall of history that waited for you to sit and visit. Perhaps it was the benches. They were very inviting. I could have sat down and looked for hours. At the people. At the pictures. At the guards as they made their rounds. It’s a palace of masters, and it was plenty to keep me in wonder.

La Reina Sofia does not have benches—an investment I would fully recommend. We looked at most of the second floor in a matter of hours, and by the end my legs were dying, and I understood why people can use standing as torture. God gave us butts with good reason. Also, I am not always the most appreciative of modern art, so there’s that.

The Dalí Museum was the worst. There was probably a smaller amount of people in total that could fit into the museum, but rather than a huge gallery he renovated an old theater, and so we were cramped and caught in a current that was brisk and unforgiving. Stop, take a picture, move on. There was no time to really appreciate his art—it was a tourist attraction, not a monument. It was probably a mistake to go.

But though I love El Prado, La Reina Sofia did hold one of my favorite excursions while in Spain: La Guernica.

Now, when I first saw that picture, I was like, “Wow, that is crap. Why does anyone think this is art?” because I was unschooled, and Picasso is Picasso, which is all I have to say about that.

And then my teacher taught me. Her job, of course, but a favor to me as well. We talked about the history: there was a man who took over Spain, and he permitted Adolf Hitler to come and kill his own citizens. They died. But not just die—they were brutally murdered. Slain. Obliterated. And that was an atrocity.

She pointed out the figures: the bull protecting a woman and her dead child. A bird. A light bulb. The house on fire. An injured lady. A dying horse. The shapes slowly came into view, until I could see that what used to be mystic shapes were symbols and nouns. Proper nouns, that were no more.

He made it as a call—for Spain to rise up at this injustice, and for the world to see that something had to be done.

Instead they hung it up on a wall and it has been hailed as the mighty kahuna of all the art made in the twentieth century.

I saw it, and it was shivery. I got it, and I got it good. It made me sad to see, and yet it was probably my favorite experience in all my time in Spain.

But still. Benches. Benches, benches, benches. For serious.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

El Escorial

So I went to El Escorial.

I’ve spent a lot of my life dreaming about living in a palace, as I’m sure many others do. There are always those thoughts of having sweeping staircases, enormous hallways, grand throne rooms, and fancy dresses in which to swish. But mastering the scale is difficult—I live in a house. I have my own room. I go to a school. I go to a church. Comparably, these things are all very small, but when dreaming up my castle, I have nothing else to work with.

Needless to say, it was sort of breathtaking to see what Phillip II made. It’s enormous. If we are to trust Wikipedia, then it has 86 staircases, 9 towers, 1,200 doors, and 2,373 windows (Source). For comparison, my house has 1 staircase, no towers, 19 doors, and 26 windows.

Crazy. But I loved it.

As I said, it was huge—my house could have fit inside a courtyard. Ginormous rooms, full closets, paintings out the wazoo, and two churches. It was meant to be the center of an empire, and while inside, I did not doubt it.

It was history—we were looking at a thing in Latin, understanding it with no success. We gave up, and I commented, “Well, I can read you the Declaration of Independence.” My country has a short history. The native people, though here long before, have been washed aside, and our roots come from Europe. Seeing where those roots had their roots was different, and even a little bit scary. Time is big.

Flickr Credit: Sean Munson
Like in museums, there was art—despite the fact that my dad and I were snarky little tourists (when we came to the big closets full of relics, I said, “Hoarders: Catholic Edition.”), much of the art really was beautiful. An incredible amount of time, detail, and effort was
put into making El Escorial magnificent, and they succeeded. Especially those ceilings—those were insane.

You could fit a T-Rex in there—I asked my dad, and if I thought about the skeleton at the museum, you totally could. Beautiful palace that it was, I also liked the image of a T-Rex on the rampage and destroying everything in sight. So there was that.

And the intent was both political and religious—this palace was meant to be the hub of an empire and a church. The grand scale gives no question. And even though Phillip II was probably a snob (as one might see in the case of Mary Tudor) the fact that he looked to a God and a nation greater than himself amazes me. The overwhelming majority of the art was for his religion, not his own glory. And seeing that come out of a powerful monarch gave me a little bit of hope. Power isn’t everything.

It’s an hour out of Madrid on a turbulent bus ride, but it’s well worth the travel time. I’d go again—and I’d love to open all 1,200 doors, however long it might take.

Have you ever visited El Escorial? What about another palace? Share your thoughts below!

Friday, July 25, 2014

El Prado and La Reina Sofia

 July 7, 2014—a revised excerpt from a journal written in Madrid, Spain

We went to El Prado yesterday, and El Escorial and La Reina Sofia today. Paintings, portraits, statues, the like.

May I just begin by saying, it was a doggone miracle knowing the number of Biblical figures who looked like rich, white European nobles. It’s crazy that people born in Egypt and Jerusalem had such fine blond hair, blue eyes, and remarkably well-tailored clothing to boot. In fact, poverty looked like a pretty good place to be, if you looked at the way the artists told it. The only time it did not look fun was when Jesus was dying, which was frequent.

Okay, I get it. They weren’t trying to be historically accurate when these were painted. Maybe it never even occurred to them that God might make his Son brown. But please—is it too much to ask for some variety? Jesus being born, sitting on his mom’s lap, Epiphany, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection. Maybe Noah’s Ark or a prophet if they decided to go really crazy. But still. Christmas. Easter. And that was about it.

Chubby, blond Jesus, sitting up in his mom’s lap in front of some amazed shepherds while kings (one of whom was occasionally black) gave him presents. (Note: I do not care what anybody thinks, but if Jesus was as human as he said he was then he was NOT like Spencer from Studio C, and probably needed people to hold his head up and change his diaper and all that other good stuff.) (Note note: Also, why does Epiphany always happen in the stable? Didn’t they leave?) (Note note note: WHO THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE A BABY WITH ANIMALS STILL IN THE STABLE? IT WAS JERUSALEM. IT’S NOT LIKE IT WAS GONNA SNOW.)

I’m over it.

At this point, I want to see something else.

I want to see Mary bone tired, dragging Jesus around the market and knowing that everyone thinks he was a very sinful “accident.” I want to see her crying, not because of some miracle but because she’s a new mom, and she’s tired, and she’s going to have to do it again tomorrow. I want to see her with Joseph. Making food. Giving Jesus to the neighbors for a minute because despite being the Son of God, Jesus is making too much noise and they really need to think about how they’re going to pay the rent this month.

And I’m not saying it really happened—but it’s not like the medieval or renaissance artists knew any better.

They didn’t try to capture real life at the time. Christmas and Easter are supernatural, to say the least. But the reason we are saved is because Jesus didn’t have a perfect life. I want to remember that—about everyone, not just Jesus and Company. Their bad days have turned into my religion, and Jesus’s last turned into the world’s best.

Or, you know, we could do the nativity again. You can never have too many sheep.