Ok, first of all. I’m in a bloody foreign country (I mean that it in the British way, not the literal one) and yet I´m the only one to post to this site since I last posted like a year ago. Y’all are a bunch of slackers!
That said, hey from Madrid. I hate postcards, so consider this a mass one. Wish you were here. Actually, I do. And then we would stay. Whoever said this was an ugly city (you know you are) was smoking crack (and you should really give that up) because it´s anything but. Actually, it´s much prettier than Paris in its own way. Much less of that fussy ornate architecture, more interesting and, well, Spanish style buildings. It´s more beautiful in the way that New York is beautiful, except, again, with Spanish style. And the blue and white tile thing that´s all over the place, a holdover from Moorish times, is really working for me.
So, in case anyone was wondering, I did get here. Despite Pete´s valiant efforts at an hour no one should ask their friends to see, I missed my plane. What at that point ensued actually makes a good story, but you need the dialog (which I wrote down before I forgot it), and I’ll post it sooner or later here. But suffice it to say I made it, eventually, and checked into my hotel, which has a glorious Ballard-style Silkwood shower, so I washed off way too many airports and hours in airplanes, (Oh, and Dana would approve of the hotel room. You can close the wooden shutters and it’s completely pitch black. You can’t begin to tell if it’s day or night) and set out to explore, determined to get myself onto the whole Madrid time zone quickly.
Unfortunately, since the average Madrileno apparently considers three am or later to be an appropriate bedtime, I didn´t quite make it. But I came within an hour or so of it.
So far the two best experiences have been the flamenco bar and the bullfight. The flamenco bar was not the sort place where they have dancers and musicians (I did that the following night and it was cool, but expensive and less of an experience), but a bar that happens to attract a flamenco-loving crowd. The place I went, La Solea, is two rooms, one kind of a normal square room and the other a long narrow one. Both are lined with wooden benches and the occasional small table. There is the ubiquitous blue and white tile on the walls, and cheap wine (two glasses and the bill came to 1.50 euros). Anyway, so a young guy is playing guitar in the back room, and men in the bar are taking turns singing while other people clap along and occasionally shout “ole!” The place was packed, and the music was amazing.
The bullfight was perfect. I had intended to go Sunday, but Friday I was walking after deciding not to stand in the half mile long line to get into the Prado, and I happened upon the Plaza des Toros. Which is gorgeous. Really, truly gorgeous. The prettiest arena I can imagine. Anyway, it being the 2nd of May it was the opening day of the Feria de San Isidro, and the bullfight was sold out, but I bought a ticket from scalper for $5. Nosebleeds to be sure, but that was what Hemingway recommended for the first one. (Yeah, I admit it. I´ve been reading Death in the Afternoon in preparation, and I´m glad I did.) Actually, the whole thing was exactly how Hemingway said your first one should be. A hot, sunny day in May. He said go to your first one in Madrid. And have an afficianado there to let you know if it´s a good fight, and if it´s not, if its a malo toro or a malo matador. So this old guy, who reminded me a bit of my grandpa, was smoking a cigar, was in the seat next to me and decided to start explaining to me, in Spanish, what was going on. My Spanish being next to nonexistent this was something of a challenge, but with the help of hand gestures, pointing, facial expressions, and my little phrase book´s dictionary (hey, thanks Peter!) we managed to have a conversation, more or less, about the whole thing.
So my impression of bullfighting. Well, part of the reason Hemingway recommended sitting up in the cheap seats was so that you could take in the whole thing without being too close to the brutality. That makes sense. I´m actually still toying with the idea of going to tonight´s fight and trying to sit closer. I have to say, I was really moved by the whole thing. It´s sort of a strange thing somehow like opera and rodeo at the same time (and we all know Paulette loves her opera). It´s not so much a sport. We all know the bull is going to lose, though there is also room for the matador or the banderillos to get gored as well. Nor is it a spectacle like a gladiator contest. The bull isn´t an object of ridicule. I’m not sure of the best way to describe it. It’s about death and man’s desire to try to control something larger than himself. A good bullfight is one in which the bull dies bravely and the bullfighter kills him quickly and neatly after bringing him under his control. It’s actually very poignant, and the people take it seriously. As the matador is about to kill the bull, the entire stadium becomes very quiet. There are no waves or announcements. Nothing to distract from what’s going on in the ring. Oh, and the place was completely full.
There were six bulls, two bullfighters, three bulls apiece. If a bullfighter is gored, the other one kills his bulls. The man next to me explained that the older of the two (who was born in 1978–God do I feel old) is one of the best matadors today. The other one is more up and coming, but he was the better fighter of the two, the only one to get an ear cut off the bull. I won’t go into the progression of the fight just yet, but it’s essentially broken into three phases: testing the bull, controlling the bull, and killing the bull. There are a lot of people involved in each fight. In addition to the matador, there are several bandilleros, who wave pink capes to test the bull, and two picadors, who ride blindfolded horses and use long sticks to subdue the bull. I can see why Hemingway, a man so fascinated by death and man’s need to exert control over it, would have been so drawn to the corrida. I have a feeling I’ll write about it, hopefully more eloquently and at greater length, someday.
Tomorrow I pick up my rental car. Everyone keep your fingers crossed that my ability to drive a stick shift outweighs my ability to speak Spanish.