Look very closely at the picture on the left and you can see why I might have been swayed to rent this apartment for our hols in Madrid. Not just a book lover, I thought, but one with taste – that’s Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys thoughtfully placed next to the bed. It was sitting on the living room coffee table by the time we arrived, an American hardback edition with those rough-cut page edges that I’ve never quite got used to. It wasn’t until H was putting together an evening meal that he noticed two pages from the novel framed and hung next to the worktop, pages 104-5 to be exact. Nothing particularly significant about those pages – no hidden message as far as I could make out and I’d reviewed it here only a few weeks ago – just two pages cut seemingly at random and framed. A little puzzling, it has to be said. Other than that, the holiday was a straightforward case of enjoying ourselves.
Madrid is far greener that I expected, although what it’s like after a bout of the 40C heat that hits it in the summer is hard to imagine. We spent a good deal of our time outside enjoying the lovely JardÍns Botánico and the Retiro Park – just the ticket after a wet British winter. We did manage to fit the three main galleries into our wanderings. The first one was the Reina Sofia and should you ever visit on a busy weekend there’s a very handy back entrance, found by H who’s an assiduous reader of guides, where there was no queue whatsoever. Reina Sofia is home to Guernica which has to be seen if you’re in Madrid. It was housed in New York’s MOMA for many years as it was Picasso’s express wish that it should not be shown in Spain until liberty and democracy had been re-established after Franco’s long dictatorship. A tapestry reproduction, with its own interesting history, hung in the United Nations for many years. It seems an entirely appropriate site – a reminder of an atrocity that stands for so many – although you might argue that the power of a piece of art lessens the more familiar it becomes.
The next day we went to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza , a private collection and treasure-house of work by artists you may never have heard of such as William Michael Harnett’s Materials for a Leisure Hour, one of my favourites. Sometimes it’s better to see unfamiliar art than stand in front of the world’s most feted works seen reproduced so many times that we stop really looking at it. That’s if you can actually see them, of course. Our third day was Prado day. I wanted to see Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights but so did at least fifty other people, many of them considerably taller than me. After trying, and failing, to find someone short to stand behind I gave up. According to H I’d missed a treat. He’d managed to get there when a group of school children were settled on the floor in front of it. We’d seen this at the Thyssen, too – young children being taught about a particular work in both English and Spanish, then asked questions about what they thought of it. It seemed like an excellent introduction to art.
The last gorgeously sunny day was spent wandering along tree-lined streets from plaza to plaza, looking up and spotting beautiful tile work, elegant wrought iron balconies and impressive statuary for which previous generations clearly had a weakness. What a lovely city! That’s what I did on my holidays – back to (unmutilated) books later this week.