By a 5 year old
01.11.2012 - 04.11.2012 14 °C
Que tal? It has been a while since I last wrote, so as usual I hope that everyone is doing well and has recovered from the hurricane/election/nor'easter combination. Although I am sure you are interested in my history-filled trip to Madrid and Toledo, the most humorous thing to have happened to me the past week was my encounter with an intrepid young'n. This Monday after work, I came out of the paneria (bread store) near my house and mishandled 10 cents as I was stuffing the coins back into my pocket. The coin tumbled out and of course rolled away. I suddenly found myself in a footrace with a tiny kid (parents (s) went unidentified through the whole encounter). He beat me to it and picked up the coin. I held out my hand, expecting him to return it, but instead he looked directly at me and then at the coin, and then turned and ran away, giggling. Apparently my speed did not impress him and he figured he was safe. And after realizing I had no idea what to say if I did catch him, I decided he was right and I turned away and headed home. I hope he spent it on something amazing.
Whew, now that I got that off my back, I did, in fact, have an awesome time in Madrid. I went to visit a fellow Whitaker Fellow who is doing stem-cell research there before med school next year. Even though we didn't know each other well beforehand, he and his roommates were extremely accommodating and we all had a great weekend. First, some general thoughts about Madrid. It is a huge city, sprawling across the plateau in central Spain. It is a relatively new city in comparison to the rest of Europe, having been moved from Toledo only several hundreds of years ago (1500s). There are some historical landmarks, but it comes across as a modern city. That said, it is completely different from Barcelona. First, let me say how nice it was to be able to read all of the signs around the city! In Barca, all of the signs are in Catalan primarily, so unless the words are similar in Catalan and Spanish, I am sunk. It was a huge breath of fresh air in Madrid. Also, it is an extremely regal city. Due to the independent leaning in Catalonia, you won't see any reference to the throne. In Madrid, meanwhile, reminders are everywhere; from lines of statues in Park Retiro to the massive statue in the pond, to the ever massive-er Palacio Real. Here is the lake in Park Retiro with the monument of Alfonso XIII (most likely built by himself).
In wandering around the city, I also got to see the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), the huge arch Puerta de Alcala, and of course the Palacio Real, among other things. Time for a bit of Spanish history, and I will highlight what I found to be the two most interesting parts. First, the time immediately surrounding the 'discovery' of the new world was fascinating for Spain, because wealth and status exploded. And by wealth, I mostly mean the wealth of the kings. The rulers during this time were the Habsburg kings, starting in about 1500. At the beginning, the kings had great work-ethic and were largely responsible for the huge cultural boom in Spain. However as the sons got more entitled, the work ethic decreased and the empire fell apart. Let me introduce them to you. In order, the six Habsburgs were: Filipe, Carlos, Felipe, Felipe, Felipe, Carlos. Clever men they were. So clever, that they prescribed to the habit of marrying only trusted bloodlines. And by that, I mean they married their cousins. Of course at this time, the genome had not yet been mapped and people didn't understand the dangers of in-breeding, so when Carlos II was born impotent and forever drooling, the Habsburg dynasty came to an end. One of the results, though of their efforts was the Palacio Real in Madrid. A truly unbelievable building.
I promised one more tidbit-- Spain was in a state of civil war very recently. The dictatorship of Franco began in 1945 after he successfully led troops to victory in the brutal Spanish civil war and continued until his death in 1975. It is hard to believe such an open and welcoming group of people were so recently being oppressed by a dictator. And although Franco identified with fascism, he refused to become involved with World War II. This, however, proved to also distance Spain from the rest of the world in terms of the economic internationalism that sprang forth among the victorious countries after the world war ended. As such, Franco's reign was marked by a stagnancy in economy and culture, that only his death repaired. The current King of Spain, Juan Carlos, was appointed only after promising to Franco to continue his idealogy. King Juan Carlos had other ideas, however, and the first ever democratic elections were held in Spain just months after Franco's death. Predictably, King Juan Carlos, by popular vote, remains Spain's most influential figure ever.
So there's your history lesson-- not so bad, right?
I also had the pleasure of visiting El Museo Reina Sofia, which is one of the plethora of world-class art museums in Madrid. The main reason for visiting was a first-hand look at Picasso's 'Guernica'. Unfortunately pictures are not allowed, but a quick google search can enlighten you-- the painting was commissioned by the Spanish Republican government in response to the German and Italian (who supported Franco) bombing of the Basque town of the same name during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. In real life, the painting is absolutely gigantic, and the agony portrayed so brilliantly by Picasso is almost palpable in the room. The entire museum was excellent, with haunting works by Dali in the surrealist style as well.
Whew, it is getting late here, so perhaps I will leave Toledo for another post. This weekend should be more relaxed, so keep an eye out then. Also, I promise to get some more pictures uploaded to flickr... manana... so have a look at some point.