Madrid, España (Spain), 2000

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This is an excerpt from our ezine Degeneration Excerpt, a semi-weekly and semi-weakly ezine on Atlanta's music scene, random travel tales, blasphemy and prophesy. If you want to subscribe to that broadcast just contact us!

Chapter 1 - Madrid

Chapter 2 - Granada

Chapter 3 - Barcelona

"I'm going away to Spain
when I get my money saved
I'm gonna start tomorrow"
Jane's Addiction

I was dreading that long flight across the Atlantic. It's damn 9 hours of discomfort and boredom and, combined with the time change, makes the day of your arrival pretty much useless.

"What kind of music are we going to here there?" asked degenerate SW.
"American slop 40 crap." I replied.

Sure enough, the first song in the airport in Frankfurt was Brittany Spears. We caught our connecting flight to Madrid, where there was a muzak version of Al Stewart's The Year of the Cat.
We were too beat to brave the metro with our packs so we caught a cab and got our first view of Madrid.
It's ugly.
Lots of massive, blocky apartment buildings, crappy graffiti, and everything has a used, worn feeling. But you have to cram 4.5 million folks somewhere and the outlying areas of Madrid look like an insect hive jammed to capacity.
But the farther into Madrid you get the older and prettier it gets - beautiful old buildings, bronze sculptures here and there, lush parks and spacious plazas. It's still no Firenze (Florence) - non-stop glory. It's more a Chicago - generally ugly but with enough gems to encourage you to explore.
We caught a siesta then headed out. We figured we'd start things off right with the first thing you think of when you hear the word "Spain" - bullfighting.
Madrid's metro is efficient, but often confusing. There's maybe a dozen different lines that connect randomly. Add that, the foreign tongue, and the construction that has random sections closed and it's easy to get lost, but never for very long. Soon we found our way to Plaza de las Ventas where there is the largest bullfighting ring in España. They hold matches every Sunday evening at 7, but there's a pre-game parade you'll miss if you don't arrive early. (The locals say bullfights are the only thing that starts on time.) We got cheap seats in the sun, sol, instead of the slightly more expensive ones in shade, sombra. We settled in just in time for the opening match, or corrida.
Before you go off about how cruel these things are, you'd better tell me you're a vegan 'cause we slaughter cattle by the thousands every DAY to feed the McU.S., whereas the matches in all of Spain kill probably less than 1000 in an entire week. And I could go on about tradition and "Who are we to judge?" etc. etc. (If you're interested in a little history of the sport check out http://www.mexicofile.com/bullfightinghistory.htm)
The reality is it's beautiful. It's an incredible ballet between partners, one of whom happens to be a huge, pissed off bull who is slowly tortured to death. And I mean it when I say "beautiful." You can't believe what these guys can do with the bull. The poses, the choreography, the costumes - it's a dusty, bloody, macho ballet. And I mean it when I say "tortured to death." The bull is basically stabbed repeatedly, then when it's not worth fighting he's finished off. But let's start at the beginning.

The bull comes in full speed. He's teased for a while by the picadors, guys with pink capes, until he's huffing. The picadors are basically matadors in training. There job is no less dangerous, however. The bull is very unpredictable at the beginning of the match and the picadors often hide behind wooden barricades while the bull runs amok in the arena.

A picador on an armored, blindfolded horse comes out with a long spear. He taunts the bull until the bull slams into the horse, sometimes lifting the horse's legs off the ground. The picador spears the bull and kicks him in the head a few times until the bull backs off.

The horseman trots out to let the guys on foot take over.

A picador comes out with two long pokers, banderillas, and jabs them into the bull's back while the bull charges. If he's successful the pokers stick. If he's not, they sometimes fall out. If he's really unsuccessful he's gored and trampled. Another picador stabs another pair into the bull.

Now the bull is bleeding profusely and pissed. This is all designed to bring the bull to a certain level of anger and energy so that he is predictable for the matador's show.
The matador comes out to the cheers of the crowd. He tosses his hat down and throws his head back. He taunts the bull until the bull charges. He twirls his red cape around and basically dances with the bull for a long time, sometimes so closely that he gets blood and dirt on his costume.

The dance continues until the bull's tongue is lolling out of his mouth and there's blood all over.

Once the bull is too tired to play any more, both from the exertion and blood loss, the matador goes in for the kill. He swaps the dancing sword for the killing sword, a long steel blade with a slight bend at the end. The goal is for him to ram the blade down into the bull's back and into the heart. In the 5 or 6 matches we sat through we never saw it happen. Instead, the sword was just plunged in to the hilt and the bull kept coming. Then the picadors help distract the bull so that the matador can free his sword. The matador gets yet another sword, this one with a funny, cross-shaped tip that only allows the blade to sink in a few inches. By now the bull can barely stand, sometimes it's even kneeling. The picadors corner him and the matador attempts to finish him off with a quick stab to the back of the skull. Often this fails as well and the matador leaves, to the scattered hisses and whistles of the crowd. Then another guy comes in with a knife and finishes the bull with jabs to the back of the skull, however many it takes to finish the beast.
But if the matador is successful, the first sword thrust goes strait to the heart. The bull staggers, looks around sadly, and falls. The crowd cheers and the band trumpets the matador's victory while he stands proudly in the ring.
A horse team comes in and drags the carcass out and the next match starts up moments later. It's quite a spectacle. You could call the matador's dance "a feat of bravery" but the matador is well trained. The bull himself is trained as well, so combined you get a fairly predictable show. For me, it was like watching NASCAR - you're really just waiting for a crash, and they don't happen often enough. But the real show is in the matador's grace and poise and in the way he interacts with a 1200 pound, angry dance partner.
We'd hit the jackpot on our hotel, Hostal Villar. It's smack in the middle of the theater district, Los Huertas, crammed with the best tapas bars and restaurants. I discovered we were right around the corner from Museo de Jamon, a tapas bar/restaurant I'd seen on Univision's Fuera de Serie. Tapas are various finger foods, everything from a plate of cold cuts and/or cheeses to sandwiches to seafood to fried foods. Museo de Jamon specializes in various pork items. Rows and rows of hams, complete with the foot still attached, hang from the ceiling. The floor is littered in napkins, a sign of a good tapas bar, and the place is loud and crowded. It's like the counter at the Varsity here in Atlanta, but the food is better, and cheaper. We picked up a couple of ham sandwiches and beers for $5 total. Later we returned for dessert and sangrias, totaling $4. That was for the counter service, we didn't hit the restaurant side, but even still we realized we could live like kings, or at least princes, on our meager U.S. incomes.
We wandered the neighborhood. It struck me how similar it was in look and feel to my nights in Roma (Rome) and Firenze (Florence) in Italia. Same late-night crowds, same bars, similar architecture (our hotel building in Madrid was a dead-ringer for our hotel in Roma last year.) The women are slightly less made-up in Madrid and I personally found the average woman there more attractive than the average Italian woman, but that's a matter of taste. The overnight plane ride had us beat so we hit the hotel early.
We slept off the jetlag then hit the streets in search of breakfast. A couple of tasty pastries and café con leche later, we started a long walkabout, starting at Parque Retiro, Madrid's Central Park.

It's pretty and has some nice buildings used to house art shows. Then we trekked back across town to Plaza Mayor in the Bourbon district. The buildings there have a decidedly medieval look and it's a fun place to walk around. After sandwiches and a siesta we hit the shops. We'd been told to visit Zara's, a trendy place full of the latest and greatest fashions. We didn't find it so great, so we hit Leftie's, basically Zara's close-out store - yet more Eurotrendy club kiddy clothing, and crammed with ferocious bargain hunters, so we beat a retreat. It was early for dinner in España - 8:30 - but we were hungry so we hit the tapas bars. Tapas here, tapas there, tapas tapas everywhere, followed by cookies from the local pastry shop, then off for drinks at a small hole in the wall bar, all less than 100 yards from our hotel. Location location location!
A combined hangover and unadjusted biological clock kept us in bed until after noon again. Eventually we got down to Museo Prado, one of the largest collections of paintings on the earth. It's not something you can do with tired eyes or tired feet, so make sure you have plenty of time and gusto. Lots of Renaissance works, Roman sculpture, Flemish paintings, and a magnificent, recently restored Bosch. Degenerate SW was stunned and only the Vatican Museum tops it on my list.
A quick siesta and we're back in search of food, which is where I'd like to pause for a warning - do not travel to España with a xenocomestiphobe - someone with a fear of strange foods (yes, it's a made up word, thanks to degenerate SL.) SW is a Texan and if it don't moo it ain't food. Spaniards eat a lot of pork and seafood and not much else. So we frequently ended up walking for hours in search of a meal. But better that than to return from España saying "McDonalds saved my life", as did a non-degenerate we know.
After dinner we cruised the tourist district surrounding Sol, the center of Madrid. It's packed with mall-like stores that fortunately were closed by the time we arrived. The sidewalks were still crowded though. I'm sure at any given time in Madrid a large percentage of the 4.5 million people are out walking around. It makes for great people watching.
We got up at a reasonable hour so we could hit Palacio Real, the royal palace of España. It's titanic, unfinished, and unused for state functions except generating massive tourist pesetas. It supposedly compares to Versailles.

I've seen something similar in Napoli (Naples), but even still I was impressed with some of the rooms, such as the one done entirely in porcelain - fixtures, walls, ceiling and everything. But we wished we'd opted for another museum instead, such as Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia where Picasso's Guernica is housed. But we were out of time, so we toted that barge and lifted that bail back to the airport to catch our flight to Granada.
Which is where I'd like to pause for another warning - traveling with a woman is a lot different than traveling with the guys. My toiletries weighed total maybe 6 ounces. But the combined toiletries of me and my girlfriend must've been 50 pounds easy, more than the combined weight of the rest of my luggage, clothes, camera and everything. Foolishly, I'd agreed to carry them instead of giving her a lesson in how to pack by making her haul the stuff across the continent.
We caught the metro to the airport to save the cab fare. In one of the stations a guy was playing Lennon's Imagine on the pan flute. At the airport it was Captain and Tennille's Do That To Me One More Time, muzak version of course.
From the air it's clear that the rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plains surrounding Madrid. It's a vast, arid wasteland of tan. SW called it "pretty" but she's from central Texas.

Next episode: Granda

 


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