|September 6, 2000
Think about it: It's warm, there's no A/C, we're in a room that faces Spain's equivalent of Times Square, and Madrilenos are much bigger partiers than New Yorkers, literally any day (or should I say, night!) of the week. Face it, I should have gone to sleep with my ear plugs, and the hell with worrying about waking in time for breakfast! Between the partying, street-cleaning, and sirens, not to mention the "New Years clock"'s habit of chiming in each quarter hour, I'm way behind in my beauty sleep. Uglier than ever! Brigid's being brought up the youngest of 5 kids means that she slept like a baby!
We get ourselves over to breakfast in the hotel cafe's balcony. Our plates come loaded with a delicious-looking croissant, but there are no signs of a waiter. Someone spots caraffes of coffee and juice, and we begin pouring for ourselves. Suddenly, our bullet-headed waiter roars in, in a huff because we're horning in on his job! He seems genuinely pissed off! We make private jokes about residual traces of fascism, but by the end of the meal, little Mussolini is being quite reasonable, and even calling me amigo.
Our very attractive and witty local guide, Marta, meets us outside the hotel, and we walk over to the Palace. This place has Versailles beat by a mile. It's still in use for state occasions, and in excellent shape. Then again, it was rebuilt in the 18th century, after the old palace burned (much to the relief of the king, who disliked the drafty old place anyway). (Say, how did that fire get started?)
After the tour, we stop at the nearby Cafe Orientale for a quick drink.
Then, we take the Metro to the Museo del Prado. I most appreciated the work of Hieronymous Bosch ("El Bosco", to the Spanish), which I had been looking forward to seeing for years. This fellow was truly twisted! His most famous work is The Garden of Delights, ostensibly a morality play that teaches what happens in the next life if you give in to sinful temptation in this one. In fact, it's unclear to me that this was ever El Bosco's intention. I think he was just exercising an incredible imagination. For years, when I would see the bizarre broken-eggshell body that appears in the "consequences" pane of the tryptich, I had always assumed this was by Dali, or some 20th century surreallist. Far from it. The Garden was painted around 1510! It includes all manner of incredible scenes, including one poor tormented soul who is farting blackbirds and smoke! I think I need a full-size print of this work. No wonder the king of Spain gave him unconditional sponsorship. What a bottomless pit of entertainment!
At around 2:30, we're "museumed-out" and starting to get hungry. We had managed to convince Tooraj that we really do want to have paella more than once during the trip. He gave us the name of Champagneria Gala, a purveyor of paella y cavas. It's at 22 Calle de Moratin, very near to the Prado. We agreed that Tooraj is 2 for 2 on restaurant recommendations. We gorged ourselves on:
Lettuce with vinagrette; mixed pickles (olives, tiny peppers, pearl onions, and cabuchon), roman and aioli sauces, a huge paella mixta (or negre, with squid ink, or Madrileno, with tripe and chickpeas, or... ); a huge glass of red wine for each; a dessert (choice of pastry covered by chocolate reminiscent of pudding or a relatively loose version of sabayon, but with cinammon; a glass pitcher of sweet, fragrant muscatel wine (a trick to pour directly into one's mouth without spilling. Here's the amazing part: What would you pay for such a fabulous meal? $30? No! Would you believe 3,500 pts? Yes, that's right, under $10 each! And it was all delicious!
Lunch over with, we decide to bypass Picasso's Guernica, and arrange for a siesta. Passing the Plaza de Santa Ana on the way to Hotel Europa, I think I spot Fagin again, but with a new crew. The square is pretty quiet at the moment, though.
After our siesta, we take a brief walk. Near the hotel, we encounter a trio of musicians, playing Bach, Strauss, and other classics. Brig takes note of a couple of young women, and a young man who seem to be taking an inordinate, and perhaps a trifle too nonchalant interest in me. I insist that perhaps they are simply attracted to me. (Hey, stop laughing!) Anyway, they eventually lose interest, and move on. Eventually, we also move on. Suddenly, we notice the young ladies again, following us. Their gentleman friend passes us in the other direction. I try to make eye contact, but these guys are pretty good about using only peripheral vision. With our ladyfriends remaining in tow, we turn a corner, and stop. We turn around to meet the ladies, who -- nonchalantly, of course -- notice us, cross to the other corner, and stop, window-shopping. We turn back the way we came -- and there's the controller again. He continues past us, and they finally give up. We finish our walk and retire for the night.