madrid, day two

Today was the second half of our Madrid art tour.

We were out early again, went back to the same local joint for breakfast (the counterman remembered what we wanted, which we enjoy), and were once again at the museum before it opened. This was Reina Sofia, the national art centre and museum specializing in 19th and 20th century art, and home to Picasso's "Guernica".

Finally seeing Guernica in person was, for me, a highlight of this trip and one of the most moving art experiences I've had. I was quite overcome - in tears - both at the power and emotion conveyed in the painting, and by what it symbolizes. I felt the way I feel when people sing The Internationale; I am usually too choked up to sing, with tears streaming down my face. (I cry super-easily, so perhaps for someone else this might be shedding a tear or two.)

Just as the Spanish Civil War became a symbol for the international fight against fascism, for autonomy, for democratic ideals, for social justice - and the recognition that the struggle transcends national boundaries and identities - Guernica has come to symbolize genocide, oppression, and freedom struggles everywhere.

If you are not familiar with the painting Guernica, the Wikipedia page is a good place to start. The Picasso website's Guernica page is also good. It's hard to overemphasize this painting's importance, both politically and artistically, and I felt its full impact as an appreciator of art, a huge fan of Picasso, a socialist, and a soldier in the struggle for social justice.

Reina Sofia has one-page, laminated information guides in most rooms, and their page on this painting was excellent. There were also photos from Guernica's famous world tour, letters to and from Picasso's people and various art museums, and a famous set of photos of the work in various stages, taken by Picasso's partner at the time, Dona Marr. Having seen Goya's "The Third of May" yesterday at The Prado, it was easy to see Picasso's reference to that iconic Spanish painting in his own.

Eventually I tore myself away to see more from the permanent collection. There is a huge Dali retrospective at the Reina Sofia now (thank goodness we didn't go to Figuerres!), so the crowds were reduced, as most visitors were at the Dali show.

I have been on the lookout for Spanish Civil War history on this trip, especially in Barcelona, but have found none. This museum filled the gap. The permanent collection is very political, largely about the artist's role in revolution and resistance, and different ways art has been used in the service of politics, war, and freedom movements. It's also a good solid collection of Picasso, Miro, and Gris (all Spanish), and many other non-Spanish work of the same period. In another part of the collection, short films by people like Dali, Bunuel, and Antonin Artaud run in conjunction with paintings, models of theatre sets, magazine covers, and architectural models.

Before we left, we went back for another look at Guernica. I thought I could look more dispassionately now, but in a moment I was mesmerized again.

There is a lot to see at this museum, and I would like to go back one day. The museum itself, though, is poorly organized, with inadequate and confusing signage, and unfriendly, unhelpful staff - exactly the opposite of the Prado.

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We learned from our guidebook that the place where we found our cheap chicken dinner the other night is a Madrid institution with several locations: El Brillante. I think it's the Spanish equivalent of a diner or a New York coffee shop - a place where you can order anything, anytime of day or night, at reasonable prices. There is one on the big plaza near the metro stop for all the big museums, so we went in.

This one was decidedly more upscale than the one in Cuatro Caminos, but still totally down-to-earth. We sat at the huge counter. Allan ordered a grilled sandwich and I noticed a gambas (shrimp) special, so I ordered it and a plate of patatas bravas, fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce, which we had eaten in Barcelona. The shrimp comes with the shells on, including the eyes. They are delicious, but a mess to eat. The potatoes were perfect.

The restaurant appears to do a brisk business in calamari sandwiches - fried squid on a thick baguette. The special is two shrimps, a fried calamari sandwich, and a glass of beer for 7.50 euros. As I was piling my own shrimp shells on a plate, I noticed a man nearby wave away the extra plate for shells... and throw his shrimp shells on the floor. We looked around and saw that was what most people were doing. Yuck!

* * * *

After our lunch break, we walked a short way to the final side of Madrid's "golden triangle" of museums, the Thyssen Bornemisza. This is a small private collection of paintings with a huge chronological span, from medieval art through the late 20th century. Many great artists are represented, usually with more mundane works, along with many also-rans and wannabees. It's a very impressive collection for one individual or family to own, but as museums go, I was underwhelmed. I wonder if it weren't in physical proximity to The Prado and Sofia Reina, if it would be considered a great attraction.

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After a brief rest in the room, we managed to connect with our friend David, who is staying with a friend on the same street as our hotel! (David gave me a link to this hostal, so it is not entirely a coincidence.) We were hoping to have dinner with him, but that didn't work out, so we just had coffee and dessert - what Spanish people do between lunch at 2:00 and dinner at 10:00 - and walked around the neighbourhood. We told David we'd go back to his favourite spot for dinner, but pooped out and spent the evening in the room, blogging and reading.

Tomorrow we drive north for the final leg of the trip. We hope to see the aqueduct at Segovia on the way to Santillana del Mar.

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