A Visit to Madrid

We arrived in Madrid at 9:30 a.m., which was just enough time to go from the airport to a Civil War tour starting at 11 a.m. if we were to walk briskly. However I sprained my ankle three day ago, causing me great pain when walking. The pain was so bad that Josselyn offered to push me around in a luggage cart and the strange stares didn’t dissuade me from this course of action. By the time we’d left the get and the luggage cart, however, we changed our plans and went to visit the airport doctor rather than trying to rush to the tour.

Two different doctors checked me out, each telling me to stay off my feet for a few weeks then wrote a prescription for an anti-inflammatory to help with the swelling. My response that I was on vacation and wouldn’t miss out on seeing the city elicited a laugh as well as an advisement not to push myself. While it’s true that I could always return, the idea of being bedridden over the next two weeks that we’d planned on traveling was detestable and I decided to grin and bear the pain as much as possible.

We took the train in and got off at Sol stop, in the middle of the plaza of the same name. The plaza was huge and filled with vendors selling lottery tickets for Navidad. There were also several people in children’s costumes encouraging tourists to pay for a photo with them and beggars with physical impediments. This last category was somewhat shocking as it’s something that I hadn’t seen in Barcelona at all.

After dropping off our bags we walked over to the Prado Museum. The Prado, like many of the other museums that visited this trip, has an extensive and impressive collection of art too numerous to examine in any detail. What I found to be the most enjoyable, however, was Carvaccio’s, the Goya’s and the one Picasso that they had in “Acrobat on a Ball.” Several of the Romanesque style commemorative sculptures made for Spanish generals in the 18th century, a form of art not normally to my liking, impressed me as well.

A few hours into exploring the museum, the peckishness that we quelled with mini-wraps and carrot cake at the café gave in to a full out hunger. We were both tired and got some empanadas and pizza and went back to the hotel. While eating we flipped through the television in our room and happened to come across the movie Everything is Illuminated. As it was the first movie that Josselyn and I watched together some three and a half years ago and we weren’t interested in experienced Madrid’s famous nightlife while I had footpain, we watched it again.

We had a refreshing sleep, prepared for our day and had some pastries and mulled wine from Mercado de St. Miguel. After the enjoyable Sandeman’s tour we went on in Dublin, we decided to go on their NewMadrid Spanish Civil War Tour. While our guide, who was Irish, was extremely well informed and didn’t rely upon notes at any time for dates or names, the actual sites were less than compelling. This is of course understandable, however, as being that it happened so long ago and is an occurrence many are eager to forget the architectural traces of it are few.

The tour started off in Plaza Mayor and continued to Plaza Sol, the main site for populist political life in Madrid. After this we walked to a rather undistinguished bar. Here it was, we learned that the first Spanish socialist party was formed. Anyone familiar with the origins of other socialist parties will know that beer hall origins are a common denominator, this being one of the few spaces open and available for workers to have the space to talk. I was somewhat disappointed that this wasn’t explained.

Another issue that I took with the tour was the guide’s use of the terms Nationalists and Republicans. While there were certainly groups within this denomination that were of an internationalist orientation, such terms present the Republican’s as somehow fighting against the interests of the “nation” per se. Each group was fighting for a different notion of modernism and how the “nation” of Spain would be organized. Going into this makes it more of a lecture than a walking tour, though a passing mention of this would have eased my historian’s sensibilities.

Following this we went along the main street that the German airplanes bombed and there was cursory talk about Fourth Internationalist involvement in the war. We went to a cite commemorating an attack on Nationalist soldiers and some remnants of pillboxes in a park which was near by a statue that had gunfire markings on it.

One of the aspects of the tour that greatly pleased me was its use of comparison to one of the other main sites of the Civil War – Barcelona. While Madrid had many more Communist cadres that were disciplined and open to military organization the rebellious citizens in the capital of Catalunya were predominantly anarchists. This orientation had a profound effect on the manner in which each city was defended from the Fascist army. How it was that the city managed to defend itself longer and stay a more cohesive unit was gone into in depth and this was pleasant, however

This tour is somewhat of a paradox: those that are interested in this period will know much of the information and, like myself, while finding it enjoyable will feel as if is lacking the physical qualities as the actual traces of the war are so few. While those that are uninformed may find the material interesting, finding the sites less than compelling they will view this struggle as something essentially Spanish rather than relating to the entire economic world system that would lead to the eruption of World War II. For those that are interested in touring the sites of Madrid I’d simply recommend skipping the tour and mapping out a few sites to visit yourself.

After this, I went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum on my own as Josselyn was tired from the previous days perambulations. On my way there I took a non-direct route and discovered a plaque commemorating Filipino author Jose Rizal. To say that a non-violent anti-imperialist activist against Spanish rule in the Philippines had a plaque in the capital city surprised me is an understatement.

While I’ve not read his most important books Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)
or El Filibusterismo, he featured prominently in Benedict Arnold’s book Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination, which I read for my Global Histories class.

Once arriving at the museum I was delighted to discover that there was a special exhibition on the Russian Avant-Guard. The security there was much more lax than at Prado and as such I was able to take pictures of the better works on my phone to share with Josselyn. I hobbled back to the hotel and as we were both hungry we went to eat at an Argentine steakhouse.

Now with the exception of Colombia, which I didn’t visit during a festival season, I’ve never spent much time in Catholic countries. Because of this seeing the Christmas spirit in Madrid was a unique experience for me. Like Barcelona there were lots of lights atop the streets showing with themes of wreaths and decorative balls, however the sheer number of people in the street, many with ridiculous hats, singing with others was completely unique.

Our last day in Madrid, Josselyn and I went to the Museo Reina Sofia. We left to get there shortly after it’s opening as I’d heard the Guernica room filled up very early and didn’t stop until close and I wanted to get some “alone time” there. However this didn’t happen. I was grateful for seeing it as well as the other wonderful pieces of art and photography there.