29 April 2009

The Prado + Parque del Retiro

After trekking for twenty-four hours, LB + I slept in today. Though simple + almost staid, our little room has charm. Part of it is our balcony on the third floor that gives a stunning view of Sol, a swarming, hip barrio in Madrid. After taking our sweet-ass time, we got dressed, went to a café to jump on the wifi train for a couple of hours + drink possibly the most delicious juice cocktail I’d ever had, freshly squeezed pineapple, banana, strawberry + orange juice in this large glass goblet large enough to satiate every member of the Spanish Academy.

Finally, after realizing that Spaniards can—and do—smoke anyplace they damn well please, we decided to leave the café + walk to the Parque del Retiro, eat some bread + olives, and drink a caribe drink that tasted exactly like a virgin piña colada. Then we strolled around the lake as clusters of koi formed pockets of red-orange gelatin underneath the water. Then, we took some pictures of the memorial for King Felipe IV, bought a Lime-Pineapple popsicle + sat down on another bench, marveling at how clean the park was. Compared to most parks in Buenos Aires where dog shit + piss forms a protective barrier over the topsoil, + garbage + cigarette butts are littered everywhere on the lawn + sidewalk, Parque del Retiro was insanely clean + well-maintained in comparison. I saw no less than two sanitation workers emptying + collecting errant garbage in the two hours we were there (which is two more than I ever saw in an Argentine park, hate to say it).

Finally, we were ready to hit the Prado. Even though the security guard harassed me for having a mate bombilla in my satchel (I forgot to unpack it when we were in Chicago for those six tiny hours), a fact that’s even more ironic considering that LB was carrying a fucking Swiss Army Knife in her purse, even so, the Prado was impressive. I admit, I’m not a huge fan of art before the 19th century. Even so, the Prado had a small + excellent collection of paintings by Goya, Velázquez, Rubens, El Greco + Carvaggio. I’m not a huge fan of blood’n’guts Catholicism + portraits of European aristocrats tend to bore the living hell out of me, but that said, I thought the collection was extensive + fairly impressive. And despite the fact that the security guards (and some stared at my tattoos (this happened every time I went into Coto in Buenos Aires too, for reasons I never really understood), LB + I saw some of the most famous Spanish art in the world, which was rad. Afterwards, we were mad hungry so we went to a supercheap Thai restaurant + then walked around Sol for an hour, taking multiple shots of Madrid to get that perfect slow-shutter speed shot that makes you feel—no matter how impermanently—like a professional.

Streets 1
Streets 2
Streets 3
Streets 4
Entrance to Museo del Prado
Tribute to Goya
Second Entrance to the Museum
An Old Church Across from the Prado
Sign for Parque del Retiro
Entrance to the Park, Formerly Known as El Parque de Madrid
Strolling through the Park
Beautiful, Sculptured Trees
Architectural Tribute to One of the Great Spanish Reyes
Front View
Part of Me Wanted to Believe this Was a Commemoration for the Importance of the Patata in Spanish Cuisine, but No
Lake + Koi in the Distance
Back When It Was Parque de Madrid
LB in Front of the Prado
Metro Map
Sol Metro Entrance
Streets 5
I Love the Neon
Graffiti 1
Streets 6
Sign for Gran Vía
Streets 7
Instituto Cervantes
Palacio de Telecommunicaciones--Madrid's City Hall
Palacio de Telecommunicaciones 2
Palacio de Telecommunicaciones 3
Spanish Flags
Streets 8
Chilling in Our Hotel Room
Kiss Kiss

28 April 2009

First Day in Madrid


When you rattle off those names, it evokes something cosmopolitan, like say, the life of a jet-setter, who flaunts his inner European by bathing in brut champagne + suddenly wearing scarves and smoking after fatty meals. The reality for us was anything but luxurious.

After returning to Paris for five hours, LB + I came up with a plan: we needed to buy some healthy snacks, and we refused to pay 20 Euros to store each of our two large suitcases at Gare d’Austerliz for three measly hours, so instead we decided that she would sit in a bistro with our luggage while I went out into the feral majesty of Paris, making my way to Biocoop on la Rue de la Glacière to buy organic juice, nuts, bean pâté + non-hydrogenated cookies. Ah fuck, so much for plans.

As it turned out, Rue de la Glacière was a lot farther than it looked on our crappy map. In map reality, it looked four or maybe five blocks away. But, drawn to scale + injected with reality, Biocoop was actually more than twenty blocks each way. After passing L’École Normale Supérieure + Le Monde, I found the store, walking inside in a complete daze. I slowly picked up the things on my list (juice, nuts, vegetarian pâté, healthy* cookies, olives) when I got to the counter. Then the cashier asked me:

--Votre numéro de compte?
--I don’t have an account here, I explained.
--Okay. 21.50 Euros please, she said.
I handed her my debit/credit card
--Is this a debit or credit card? She asked.
--It’s both, I said. It depends.
--On what?
--On whether the machine accepts debit cards or not.
--But, can you enter in your password, I mean?
--Or can it be used as a credit card?
--Both. I think it should work, not trying to explain anymore.
She inserted the card and absolutely nothing happened. I mean, nothing. You could hear the sound of locusts serenading the cold air. Then she tried swiping the card again: nothing.
--Shit, okay, I said, in that case, I’ll go find an ATM and return.
--So you’re American? She asked.
--Yeah, I explained. The truth is, in that one moment, I forgot the French word for ATM, even though I’ve used it a million times, so I actually used the word ATM, instead of distributeur automatique.

I walk through the door, ignore the people staring at me, and walk back to a main street. I ask a random woman on the street where an ATM is (and this time the right word pops out of my mouth). She confesses she doesn’t know that arrondissement very well, but she knows one fifteen minutes away. I thank her + say, I’m going to see if I can find one a little closer. Then I ask a random man, who happens to know that neighborhood well. He points across the street. I thank him, wait for traffic, take out a hundred Euros, run back to Biocoop, and then I stand next to the cashier awkwardly. She explains to the man at the front of the line that I was already there. He frowns. I pretend to whistle. It gets weird, in a cultural way, I mean. Then I hand her money, realize she wants to give me a box for my food, I tell her I’ll buy a bag, she re-adjusts the total, and then I walk into the street with a paper bag full of food: a delicate relationship for sure.

And then it starts raining. Fifteen blocks later, I’m drenched, not to mention worried that LB is waiting at the bistro with tears in her eyes, not understanding a single thing the waitress is telling her as she uses exaggerated gestures to translate—Madame, you have to move your luggage (she points to the luggage), we have a five Euro an hour minimum (she pulls out three Euro coins from her pocket, and starts pointing at them madly), did you order flowers Madame? (she pretends to inhale a bouquet of invisible roses, which confuses her even more). Even so, I have to buy a baguette, and to sweeten my two hour absence, I’ll buy LB something sweet with coconut + chocolate. I finally enter the boulangerie, drenched + dripping like a used bath towel and the woman behind the counter speaks to me in curt sentences, and I start to wonder if this is just how she talks normally, or if she’s trying to get the American with the shaved head, the strange lip-ring + the soggy grocery bag,who’s leaving a slug trail on the floor out of her store before customers start opening up their umbrellas inside. I buy the baguette + the triangle de coco, speedwalk to Gare d’Austerlitz as the rain gathers confidence, breaking the sky with fresh layers of steely, hard water, and then, three, maybe four blocks before I get there, the bag, being paper and all, it just splits apart. So I stuff my jacket + pockets, my satchel, anything that can be filled, I fill it with groceries, holding the rest in my arms. Because I’m an environmentalist at heart, I can’t litter, so I drag the broken, soggy grocery bag with my pinky, with my arms crammed with groceries + my pockets bulging with mysterious sharp boxes. I get started at, I get leered at, a homeless man sees me + turns away like I’m embarrassing him. I want to scream, or break down + cry, anything except walk through that terminal with groceries in my arms, but it’s raining, I’m cold + angry + pretty much pissed off but determined to bring back something for us so I keep walking until I’m in the bistro, and then LB gives me a look like what- -happened-to-you-I-feel-so-bad kinda look, and everything calms down, it's all okay, at least until I realize today, at the Spanish/French border, that I somehow lost the change from my grocery bill( 80 Euros). Then, of course, I felt like an asshole. Again.

But that’s where the drama ends. LB + I take a charming couchette train from Paris to Irún where we slept for almost seven hours, and then we take a Spanish train to Madrid, and they serve us tortilla español, coffee, whole-wheat rolls, with tiny containers of olive + oil, salt + pepper and jam (which we immediately confiscate). LB and I fall asleep again, finally arrive in Madrid, before gathering our wits and figuring out how to use the Madrid subway. Once we’ve arrived at our hotel, we take a deep breath, eat some healthy snacks + then we go out and buy a map of the city. I have to say, Madrid is so much cleaner than Buenos Aires, and their subway is immaculate, air-conditioned + even more odd for me, punctual.

Goodbye Land of Rich Chocolates, Perfect Watches + Clean Air
French Countryside
Paris School of Design
The Great Trek to Biocoop
Paris Streets 1
Sartre's Hood
L'École Normal Supérieure
All the French News that's Fit to be Printed
Paris Streets 2
Our Couchette Car, and We Were Lucky: We Didn't Have Bunkmates Either
My Bed
LB Lounging + Radiating Some Kind of Beautiful
Passing into the Night
Spanish Countryside 1
Spanish Town
Spanish Countryside 2
Spanish Countryside 3
Spanish Countryside 4
¡Por Fin!, Madrid
The Madrileño Subway
The View from the Balcony in our Hotel Room: to the Left
To the Right
Madrid Streets 1
Madrid Streets 2
Madrid Streets 3
Madrid Streets 4
Graffiti 1
Madrid Streets 5
For A Second, I Had an Amsterdam Flashback: This is a Seed Bank for Serious Pot Smokers, Which We Are Not
Madrid Streets 6
Madrid Streets 7
Graffiti 2
Madrid Streets 8
A Question I Ask Myself All the Fucking Time
Madrid Streets 9