Madrid is all grandiosity. Great statues soaring in the sky atop practically every other building you pass. Not just some meek, chaste Madonnas but fabulous sweeping chariots and horses chafing to get underway, towering muscled Hercules posturing to the masses below, winged creatures of vast imagination in frozen animation. If that?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s not enough, the buildings themselves are adorned with further flights of fancy ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú dancing cherubs, leering gargoyles, gilt angels, wrought iron vines just for the hell of it. Even the post office looks like a palace. It?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Michelangelo gone mad. It?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s a Roccocophile?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s paradise. Compared to Florence, with its glow of ochre and sienna and age-old Renaissance style buildings, Madrid feels more brash and daring. It grabs your attention and demands a response, an interaction. It asks you to dance, and a strong partner it is.
Dave and I glided into Madrid on a hotel night train from Marseille, France the day before Easter. The streets were quiet in those early morning hours, as the Madrile?É¬±os were catching some shut-eye from their late night out as usual, no doubt, and week-long festivities of Semana Santa, the week leading into Easter. Our first walk that morning out of our Gran Via hostel took us past the Metropolis building, with a winged statue atop, and through the winding streets of the Centro into the Puerta del Sol. Considered the place to start your exploration of the city, Puerta del Sol is the true center of Madrid, as well as Spain, as it is from this point that all distances are measured. Before travel exhaustion overtook us, we managed to make our way along the Paseo del Prado past the Prado museum itself, the holy grail of artists, just to get a glance at it and breathe in the atmosphere, saving its exploration for later. By the time we trundled back to our room for naps, Madrid had taken claim to our hearts.
Besides the architectural art and world-renowned institutions, Madrid also has its share of quirkiness. One of the most popular spectacles is the Sunday Rastro, a weekly flea market that stretches for blocks on end and attracts locals and tourists alike. It?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s wall-to-wall people on the order of Taste of Chicago, and not for the faint of heart. You can get every kind of clothing as well as knives, jewelry, Spanish linens, small electrical components, and you-name-it, besides having keys made on the spot. We joined the strollers while keeping a close eye (and hand) on our valuables but took a pass on the merchandise. Another form of entertainment we found was running the gauntlet up our street from the Puerta del Sol to our hostel on Gran Via past the working ladies who positioned themselves along the way both day and night. Juxtapositioned across from them were almost always 3 police cars and 6 municipal police who plied the street as well. Their simultaneous presence would suggest some unspoken truce or understanding. After all, the ladies simply stood, leaning against the buildings or talking among themselves. All those restive women with nothing to do. Which is not to suggest that we selected a less-than-desirable part of town. Granted, besides the shoe shops and cafes there were a number of sex shops as well. But this was no Combat Zone of Boston fame. All of the above rubbed shoulders with four-star hotels and pricey department stores, along with a constant throng of people moving about the whole gamut every night as part of the dance.
One night on our way to find some little place to eat, out and about at the earliest possible hour of 8:00pm for dinner fare, we came across a violin, cello, and viola trio unceremoniously positioned against a department store, adding a classical air to the early evening. The music glided and swept around us, and we stopped to the side along with others to listen. Dave seemed to think the piece was Pacabel. ?¢‚Ç¨?ìWhat does it sound like??¢‚Ç¨¬ù he asked. To my ?¢‚Ç¨?ìear?¢‚Ç¨¬ù it sounded like the wonderful strings of viola and violin with the bass of the cello. But not recognizable as Pacabel, which I know. ?¢‚Ç¨?ìIt sounds like something classical?¢‚Ç¨¬ù, was all I could say. Soon the song ended and they began another. ?¢‚Ç¨?ìVivaldi?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ç¨ÀúFour Seasons,?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢?¢‚Ç¨¬ù Dave informed me. I couldn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t recall ?¢‚Ç¨?ìFour Seasons?¢‚Ç¨¬ù though I knew I had heard it many times before. Suddenly there came a little flourish of notes in a marked cadence, the sound of strings in a familiar coupling, and what before had been merely pleasant became a memory released, a lost friend found. Without thinking, the tune sprang from my lips surprising even myself, and Dave and I embraced to share this unexpected poignant moment.
Ah, surprising Madrid. It swept me off my feet.