Diane and Paul in Madrid


 *MADRID(11-14) *SEGOVIA (14-17)*VALENCIA(17-19)*BARCELONA(19-23)*MADRID AGAIN(23-25)

2007: Where We Stayed, Ate, Went

***Where We Stayed For affordability and location, we recommend

the Hostal Armesto which we chose for its terrific location, near the three art museums and the Literary Neighborhood, and its modest price (about $70 a night for a double). But then we found it so clean and politely managed by Juan Miguel that we chose it again when we returned to Madrid.

***Where We Ate Among restaurants, we'd recommend two:

Al Natural - This was the best vegetarian restaurant we encountered in Spain, with a calming, classy atmosphere and a wide variety of items, well-prepared. We received a complimentary appetizer of wonderful gazpacho, then had a Caprese salad revved up with pesto. Paul had a vegetarian paella and I had a three-cheese pizza. Then out came our waitress with her beautiful biceps and a complimentary liquer. The owner stopped by to ask how everthing was. It was wonderful! The restaurant's slogan translates, "May your food be your medicine, and may your only medicine be your food," and while it wasn't a cheap meal, the prices were appropriate and certainly cheaper that a visit to the doctor, though we felt quite healthy afterwards.

Finca de Susana - This was the classiest place we went to in terms of the food, which was amazing, and for the price, miraculous. The wine prices were so low, we thought we were ordering two glasses and had actually ordered two bottles, so scaled back to one bottle of Luberri Rioja 2006, a nice choice. Paul had gazpacho and fiduo (a noodle dish), and I had an appetizer of asparagus with brie, salmon, and tomato, followed by an entree of duck with plum sauce and couscous. We wanted flan for dessert, and we placed an order for it but never got it, in part because the weakest aspect of the Finca was the wait staff, who seemed untrained, disorganized, and delirious. Many many of the staff waited on us, as there was no assigning of tables or roles. But the food is soooo good. This place is very popular and there are no reservations, so it's worth it to wait in line before the opening hour.

Paul & I at Finca de Susana

***Where We Went

Three art museums

The Prado

Our plane landed at 7:00 a.m., and we were at the Prado by the 9:00 a.m. opening.  The usuals were as wonderful as ever: Las Meninas was surrounded by people standing near and far, trying to see what Velazquez saw, and Saturno devorando a su hijo (Saturn Eating His Son) and all the other Goyas and El Grecos and Velazquezes were glorious. But, too, since I was with Paul, I saw an artist I might have missed, Bosch and his "Garden of Earthly Delights," and then more Bosch, the supreme surrealist, centuries before Dali.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

It's new and huge and exciting and just catty-cornered from the Prado, and though we spent two days here, we didn't see one-fourth of the collection, most of which belonged to a German magnate whose family collected European art, both old and modern and sold it off to Spain because his last wife was a Spaniard (and because Spain said please and paid a LOT of money.) The second day, there we saw a special exhibit of Van Gogh's last paintings, a very moving experience.

Reina Sofia National Center of Art

Named after the Queen, this museum's most famous piece is "Guernica," back home after years in NYC, where I first saw it decades ago, before the years of wrangling. But in addition, the museum has THREE paintings by Maria Blanchard, a Spanish painter I grew interested in fifteen years ago and wrote two poems about, though I had never seen any of her paintings except for black and white copies in old books, sent in overexposed photocopies in interlibrary loan. One of the poems, Marie Blanchard 1914 was published in Slant magazine, then reprinted in Letters to the World, the Women-Poets List Serve anthology coming out in 2008. It was so exciting to see Blanchard's huge, cubist works, then to buy a huge $150 book in the bookstore with prints of all her works, from her childhood paintings of dogs, to the paintings at the end which Lorca called her "dry search for God."

Parks, Plazas, and Stores

The Retiro

Before we went, Paul read about the Retiro's "Fallen Angel" (Angel Caido), the only statue in the world to Lucifer, and we looked it up first at one of the park entrances: huge, onyx-black and definitely a gorgeous winged guy on the way down. Then within moments, Paul found "The Rose Garden," which has existed all along. I just had to find the prince to take me there. (It only took 36 years! See my story, "The Fallen Angel," to the right here, about my first visit.) This weekeday, the park was nearly as quiet and empty as it was 35 years ago, though there were packs of lunchtime joggers. On our returned, we visited on a weekend, when it was crowded and lively. (See Madrid Again.) On the way out, we saw a relaticvely new statue to novelist Pio Baroja on the street of used book vendors. (Newstory of the Baroja statue and the street, in Spanish.)






I finally find the Park of Roses                                                        Two fallen angels

Barrio de las Letras ("Literary Neighborhood," or "Writers' Quarters")

This area, from our hotel to the Retiro and around Santa Ana, was supposedly home to Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderon de las Barca, and not to Lorca, but there is a great statue of him there, as well as of these and other authors. Many of the streets have been embedded with large bronze plaques engraved with quotes from great works: the first sentence of the Quijote, a stanza from Espronceda's "Cancion de la pirata," (Here is the whole poem, one of my favorites.) and many others. (Here is a brief video tour of the neighborhood. Click "Writers Quarter")

Plaza Santa Ana
I love the plaza's statue of Lorca, and we had several hours of sangria, tapas, and dessert here, none exceptional, but all pleasant, as is this small plaza.

Plaza Mayor
And this is a lovely big plaza. The Turista Office folks, located in a former bakery, were among the best we came across in Spain despite the throngs they waited on. The plaza has some good artisan shops (mostly jewelry, fabric, and fine pottery), and the streets leading into this plaza have lots of  stores, from El Corte Ingles (the major department store, where we got some CD's) to a traditional candy store with those lavendar violets, to shops of touristy castanets, shawls, and fans, which I bought tons of, both there and in the parks along the Prado.

We spent many hours walking these neighborhoods over and over, breakfasting  in the Starbucks, which we usually hate but here appreciated for its cheerful staff and the lack of cigarette smoke. We caught Ballet Flamenco de Madrid on a rough night (only 8 people in the sudience of the Teatro Arenal),  but the corps danced and played hard and the lobby staff were friendly and sweet. Afterwards, we watched all the dogs in the tiny plaza near our hotel in the evening as the lights came on and Calderon gleamed white and dramatic.



My Life as a Student

My college I.D. in Spain



Three accounts written

 about that year

  • My story, "The Fallen Angel," is  here.  Written and published in my twenties, it is an  account of a day in Madrid in 1971.Sol y Sombra: travelling compas
  • A college journal on a class trip to Madrid                                     *Saturday, 4 November 1971:
    Today was a glorious day, untitled “Five Hours in the Prado with Peñalosa.” The Velazquezes & Goyas are the best. "Las meninas" with mirror provided, is worth the whole trip, as are Goya’s black period paintings. I especially loved "Saturno devorando a su hijo," and my heart actually aches at the pen sketches, seeing how terribly depressed he had become. I decided I definitely do not like Rubens, fat white people surrounded by flowers. Lunch break was with the now usual Laurie, Carole, and Mark-of-the-gastronomical-experience, this time paella for 25 pesetas.
                         (So that lunch was less than 50 cents. Reading this 36 years later, I  recall that after lunch, I got fixated on finding a postcard of "Saturno devorando a su hijo," ("Saturn Eating His Son") and when I had found and bought it, I returned to the bus to find all my classmates long-seated and waiting for me. When Sr. Peñalosa heard what I had been looking for, he rolled his eyes and muttered, as he muttered everything. On our return, Carole told Sofi about the hold-up, and Sofi laughed and began calling me “Diana la loca,” from then on, after “Juana la loca,” whose story I was also fascinated by.
  • A college journal on a visit to Madrid with three friends From college diary, (Tuesday?) November 14, 1971
    This weekend the class went to a play in Madrid, and seven of us remained overnight. The play was excellent, a very heavy drama and a brand new one, Llegada de los dioses by Antonio Vallejo. It was like seeing an Albee play in Spanish, I believe, and I enjoyed it immensely but thought the Spanish audience acted very disinterested. The plot involves a father and son, both artists, vacationing in Spain. The son has gone blind two weeks past and during the action we find out it is because of his terrible insecurity, his knowledge that his father tortured people during WWII, his fear of living, his constant pessismism. His art has become totally unacceptable to the public because of his black view of life, and all he sees is pollution, drugs, and the havoc that his father’s generation has wrecked. His only hope is his lover, Veronica, and when his father dies of heart failure or drug overdose, the son agrees to live a life of hope and sun with her. The dramatist captured the son’s fantasies of paranoia very well by placing the set dark and having the characters wear masks and perform one action while they were saying another.

    We found a great hostel right across the street from the theater, Teatro Lara, on Bajo Street. For 50 p we had satin spreads and a chandelier in our room. Of course everyting was very old and musty but for red velvet and tapestries, we won’t worry about age. We had a fair pizza then the four of us went to The Caves, a series of little nightclubs where we made the mistake of ordering sangria and pinchos of the casa and the bill came to 350 p!  (2007 Note:  This would have been about  $6 at the time, with the hotel room for four about $1. Is that possible?)            

    Saturday Mark and I walked all morning trying to cash checks and find flights home. We got little else accomplished but we managed to see a lot of Madrid that way. We stumbled upon a really good restaurant, Valencianoon at Calle Jose Antonio, where, for a buck fifty I had bread, wine, and more paella than I could eat, chock full of little shrimp, jumbo shrimp, a crab, a lobster, chicken, and mussels. We split up and I bought a coat, then we took the others to our restaurant for dinner, but they weren’t as impressed by it as we were. This morning we went to the Rastro, the most gigundo flea market in the world but didn’t stay along and decided to return for Christmas shopping.