Our first full day in Madrid was forecast to be sunny and so it was; cool, though, topping out at about 8°C. We fortified ourselves at a local café with chocolate y churros – cups of hot chocolate accompanied by deep fried doughnut-like creations. Banish from your mind any thoughts of insipid, thin Cadbury’s Drinking Chocolate still with the smack of powder. I have no idea what the raw ingredient was for this cup of rib-lining chocolate but I did see the café proprietor steaming the chocolate with the nozzle of a barista machine. The result was a cupful of indulgent luxury as dark and thick as crude oil. The churros, oddly unsweetened, are clearly extruded through a star-shaped nozzle and have plenty of deep furrows to hold onto the chocolate when dunked, which is, of course, the whole point. The accepted portion for one person was four churros. That should keep out the cold.
Oddly, despite my guise of self-confessed art numbskull, I was quite looking forward to our first encounter. We were heading about 1km east to the southern end of the Parque del Buen Retiro to a glorieta [roundabout]. In the middle of the roundabout is a fountain topped by an unusual statue by Ricardo Bellver called the Ángel Caído [Fallen Angel]. Yes, it’s a depiction of Lucifer falling from Heaven and is supposedly the foremost of very few statues dedicated to the Devil. Having a perverse side, there are number of aspects which appeal to me. First and foremost is the unusual subject matter but another, I’ve only just realized, is a statue of the devil being positioned in something that the Spanish call a glorieta, which seems a bit ironic. There’s better, though: here is a statue of the Devil at 666m above sea level. How cool is that? [Well, in winter, it’s quite cool.] I had at least to try to check it with my phone’s GPS. Madrid’s altitude is usually quoted as 667m and that’s where my GPS began when it fired up. It did wander up to 676m, as I stood there beside Lucifer, though. Maybe the Almighty was interfering. Still, within the bounds of GPS accuracy, I just love it. I liked the statue, too. Well done Señor Bellver.
We headed up through the park where we encountered another art work, this one unexpected. We were expecting to find the Palacio de Cristal Del Retiro, a Spanish Crystal Palace, though I’m not sure I expected such a structure to be empty, which is how it appeared as we approached. Once inside, however, it proved to be not quite empty. Suspended from the ceiling were three enormous heads fashioned from interwoven stainless steel strands. The heads each have a finger to their lips in “shhh” gesture. It wasn’t easy to get the light right such that they showed up well on pixels; they certainly deserved their name of Los Invisibles. The artist is Jaume Plensa.
All the coffee shops in the park were closed. One looked as if it were preparing to open up but it was beside the large, exposed boating lake with a biting wind cutting across it. We left the park in search of warmth and coffee elsewhere, crossing what appears to be the Spanish equivalent of Marble Arch, also known as the Puerta de Alcalá at the Plaza de la Independencia [it says here]. It is a so-called triumphal arch which predates the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin [it says here, again]. Marble Arch is a mere babe. Educational stuff, visiting a city.
We found our warming coffee near the arch and wandered about gawping at a few more statues, which weren’t going to challenge the interest of seeing Lucifer, and buildings on our way to locating our venue for tomorrow’s visit to the Van Gogh Alive experience. Then we headed for the Museo Nacional del Prado, the Prado Museum. Here, advancing years come in handy. We played the age card, supported by our passports, and got tickets for 7.50€ instead of the normal 15€.
The Prado is a big museum. It is a 200m long building with galleries on three floors. Outside, the whole lot was scaffolded and wrapped in protective, multi-coloured canvass. Inside, there is an awful lot of oil on an awful lot of artists’ canvass. The vast majority of said oil appears to depict either scenes from the bible or scenes from Greek mythology. There were countless renditions of Christ on the cross and Christ’s body being lamented over having been taken down from the cross. I found a little light entertainment with one of the renditions of Christ amongst the doctors ‘cos Christ appeared to be flipping them the bird, until I realized it was the wrong finger. Drat! There was a particularly graphic image of Saturn devouring one of his sons, biting a chunk out of his chest while the hapless infant was still screaming. Apparently, Jupiter was the only one of Saturn’s sons not to became daddy’s dinner. Getting back to the bible, I lost count of the Adams and Eves. There were a pair of almost identical Adam and Eves, side by side, where one artist had copied another. Plagiarism in the art world. One had a Macaw added to a tree, though, probably to avoid copyright issues. In another, Adam was fondling Eve’s right breast, though her nipple was still visible. It made it look as if Adam couldn’t wait to get started. Well, they did have a whole planet to populate, after all. In addition to the gratuitous sex and violence, which gave a little light relief, there were, of course, a bunch of portraits of people I’d never heard of.
The Prado is so vast, one can’t take it all in and it all begins to blur into one. I suspect even those interested would need targeted visits. I couldn’t find a picture that I’d hang on my wall. If I liked anything, it was a sculpture of Hermaphroditus lying seductively, face down on a cushion but clearly sporting both a penis and breasts. The cushion was so well sculpted that it looked soft enough to touch.
Educational but tiring.