Five days in Madrid and the case of the mutilated book

chic loft 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 Malva (Jardins Botanical Madrid) 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.

Thyssen-Bornemiszajpg 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.

10 thoughts on “Five days in Madrid and the case of the mutilated book”

    1. I’m sure you’d love it, Claire. The pagination’s probably different in the British edition. There were quite a few mentions of Susan in the framed pages but I refused to become paranoid!

  1. Your mention of introducing children to art reminded me of something I saw at an exhibition at the Royal Academy some years ago. A young French woman was going round with her baby of about six months in a sling facing out so that s/he could see the paintings and she was talking to the child about what they were looking at all the way round. How much the baby was actually taking in, I have no idea but I couldn’t help thinking that s/he was going to have the most wonderful childhood.

  2. I hope my home-country treated you well. And ask me next time you come around and I’ll tell you about a nice, Northern town Woody Allen fell in love with xx

    1. Would that be Barcelona by any chance! I’ve been there several times – my brother used to teach English there. A beautiful city where I had the worst hangover of my entire life…

  3. Wonderful to hear about your holiday – but it’s the framed pages that intrigue me most. What mystery could they possibly allude to I wonder…? That would probably have driven me mad! 🙂

    1. Very odd indeed, and I tried not to let the fact that the character named Susan was mentioned so many times loom too large!

  4. What an intriguing find, sounds like the precept to another novel. 🙂 Were those two pages missing from the copy of the novel left in the apartment?

    No matter where we travel, the lure of a story is everywhere.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Or at least a short story, and they were missing from the apartment copy. A bit frustrating for anyone who may have started it and not noticed the framed pages.

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