Friday, April 3, 2009

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in Deutschland

The album of Madrid. You saw most of it, but again, it probably makes more sense now with the rest of the story.

Sunday morning in Madrid is as sleepy as any other European city on the Lord’s Day. Stores shutter, and some restaurants don’t open their door. Because of the lull in commerce, Madrid is also home to another European Sunday tradition: The Flea Market. The first Sunday of every month, the shopping center near my dorm in Bonn is host to a flea market (Floh Markt, literally “flea market” in German) where venders sell cheap clothing, jewelry, antiques, and toys. I’ve also walked through Sunday markets in Brussels, Frankfurt and Cologne. But Madrid’s market is supposed to be the largest in Europe. So, we were up and marketing while most of youthful Madrid was sleeping off the night before. The heart of the flea market is in Plaza Mayor. Rick Steves and Lonely Planet warned us the pick-pockets would be out in force, so we consolidated our wallets and I packed by travelers waist pouch (skinny fanny pack), and we took off for the Plaza.

We were expecting roaring crowds of hagglers, eclectic street performers, and overwhelmed tourists. We saw a couple old men.

The legendary market seemed to be composed entirely of coin sellers with a few historic postcard stands and stamp collectors. There was plenty of room to spot pick-pockets and there weren’t many buyers. Were we in the right place? The guidebook described the market as springing from the Plaza Mayor and flowing down slope towards the palace. We tried to follow this track, but the only stalls we were able to find were on the Plaza.

We were disappointed, and a little peeved about how much the event had been built up. One of the things I constantly need to remind myself is this is not peak traveling season. Really the “off-season” perfectly describes my tenure in Europe: October to April. So, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but flea markets also tend to be local events. Families, couples, and older folks with nothing else to do (and no hangovers to sleep off) tend to wander to the market as a Sunday excursion. So why would this one be so small? Lent had begun the previous week, maybe the devout Madriaños dial down their bartering during the solemn season? Maybe I’ll find myself in Madrid on a Sunday again, and I’ll be able to compare the experiences and solve the mystery. Until then, I remain baffled.

Haggling and trading extinct coinage (like the Deutsche Mark)

There remained one museum that Shane and I wanted to visit, the third in the “Golden Triangle” of Madrid’s art museums: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Originally a private collection accumulated by Count Thyssen, the museum fills in the gaps missing in the Prado and Reinia Sofia by providing Impressionist and Expressionist works along with stuff by lesser known masters such as the Italian Primitives and a sizable collection of American art. We wanted to see some Monet to complete our art binge of a trip, so we made our way to the museum.

We would only have about an hour-and-a- half in the museum and weren’t sure if we should spend our Euros to get in. After glancing through the museum’s catalog in the gift shop, we decided our souls would be better for even a short time with the art.

We saw Winslow Homer and cityscapes of Bonn and Munich. We saw Monet, Manet, Rodin and even an El Greco. But we had to fly through. Our mantra became, “Next time, next time, next time.” Next time we’ll see a bullfight. Next time we’ll club until 7. Next time we’ll speak Spanish. I say that as if I didn’t enjoy, even treasure, the things we did do in Madrid or Barcelona. Spain is a vast, hugely diverse place with a complicated history that’s complimented by its incredible artists who have given the deserts, mountains, and vineyards a voice. The place just requires more than six days.
A victory shot after touring the Prado, the Regia Sofia, and Thyssen. What do you want to know about Spanish art history? We can now BS and answer.

Reluctantly leaving the museum, we headed back to the hostel for our bags, but as we wove through the old town, past the site where the massive line on Calle de Jesus had formed up we were met with another befuddling mass of people. They were preceded by police and a dull roar of chants and singing. Then this line appeared:

A scaffold was erected along the street to repair the façade of a crumbling building. Shane and I climbed up a few feet and saw the parade of people disappearing into the distance. Most of them were women, and purple seemed to be the color of choice. Banners and flags proclaimed equal rights (we think). It wasn’t a violent protest (maybe violet). It actually seemed pretty laid back as older women taught teenage girls the words and gestures for the chants. There were also men mixed into the crowd, wearing purple, presumably in support of sisters, wives, friends and girlfriends. We watched in awe of the mass of humanity, guessing at what would have triggered the protest. We came up with nothing. Back in Bonn I would see a news clip in the train station documenting the events of International Women’s Day. I had no idea, but then I also have a Y chromosome. Maybe next year I’ll be more attuned to the date.

A parting shot of our federally protected hostel.

With our luggage reclaimed and the chants echoing through the subway station, we rode to the freshly completed Madrid Airport. We checked-in and cued up for the security check. We hadn’t grabbed lunch and just planned on doing that when we were at the gate. The security check was a mess. I expected a post-9/11 and 3/11 airport to have an incredibly efficient security system. Most airports have cobbled together their pre-gate checks and are still trying to adapt to new security standards. But Madrid could build with these security expectations in mind, but didn’t. After waiting in line, you were given a plastic bin. You put your belt, your change, your coat and bag into the bin. Normally this step simply involves rolling your bin up to the x-ray and sliding it onto the conveyer belt. Here you carried it for twenty-five feet before putting it on the conveyer. Bins were dropping and older passengers with canes were trying to juggle their bins and infirmity. People tried to lend a hand, but had their own awkward bins to keep track of.

As I watched controlled chaos unfold, the security guard grabbed my water bottle. I had forgotten to dump it out. Crap. Normally I remember to empty it, but on the occasion where I forgot to do so, I was told to take a sip, then it was dumped out. Not so in Spain. I had to hop our of line, reload my pockets and jog out to the taxi stand, which was a bit of a hike, dump the bottle, then get back at the end of the line. I was behind a group excursion of seniors. The bin juggling I just described went on at a grand scale. The security gate also beeped continually as people forgot to remove watches, belts, or change. By the time Shane and I were reunited, we had to bolt for the gate, our stomachs growling.

But we didn’t have to worry. We were flying LAN air, a Spanish-language airline based in Buenos Aires and Santiago. They happened to have the cheapest flights out of Madrid to Frankfurt. Instead of flying budget, where you need to pay for every convenience, we were served soda after boarding and Spanish wine with our lunch, I watched part of the movie “Cadillac Records” and got the Blues stuck in my head for the next week. It was worth the stress of chaotic boarding.

Back in Frankfurt, I felt like I had arrived home. I understood all the signs. I knew what I needed to do to get to the train. I felt…relaxed. Deutschland has become more than a place I stayed for a year. Like Columbus or Cincinnati, I have a place here. It felt good. That’s not to say I wouldn’t take another opportunity to wander further the next chance I got, but first I had claws to work on.

I hope your weekend will offer some time to explore, but you find the satisfaction that comes with arriving home. Until next post…


The album again. Enjoy!


colnector said...

Stamp collectors don't fear the rain :)

Ashlan said...

I like your new layout. It's Springy.

Matt said...

I thought I might let a little blue onto the background since the sun suddenly appeared a few weeks ago.