Dateline – Cordoba and Madrid, Spain
And on to the last leg of the tour… The intrepid eleven (twelve if you include Fernando, our guide, font of all knowledge, translator, and general herder of squirrels or thirteen if you add in Armenio out stoic Portuguese bus driver) headed out of Granada as the sun rose. Spain is on the same time zone as France and Germany but significantly farther west which makes the sun come up late as it should be at least an hour earlier. After battling rush hour traffic in the suburbs, we entered hilly country, marked mainly by commercial olive groves of gray green trees with the occasional small town in the distance. The towns all look about the same. Whitewashed houses clinging to the side of a hill with a church and citadel on top, the citadel usually in a state of some disrepair as castles haven’t been terribly useful since gun powder came on the scene in the 16th century. According to Fernando, there are more than 2,000 castles in Spain, most of them in various states of decay.
After a couple of hours, we arrived in the city of Cordoba and were dropped near the old city. Armenio and the bus kept heading towards Madrid with the luggage while we had several hours to explore the town. Cordoba was a Roman town way back in the day and, under the height of the Moorish occupation in the 10th and 11th centuries, was the largest city in Europe with a population in excess of a million while London and Paris had fewer than 20,000 apiece. It’s wealth was fueled by its prominence as a river port, complete with Roman bridge across the Guadalquivir, and from nearby gold and silver mines. The Sultans built an enormous mosque on the banks of the river, enlarged it multiple times, and, when the Christians reconquered the city, rather than raze it as happened in most other Spanish towns, they kept it intact and converted it into the cathedral. Over the years side chapels were added and eventually, during the renaissance, a complete Latin cross nave, apse and transepts were plunked down right in the middle of the building. The end result, the mosque-cathedral, is highly unusual with elements from Arabic/Byzantine all the way through Baroque in the same building, but it kind of works in an endearing way. The old town is similar to Granada – lots of twisting alleyways with house abutting the street opening into interior courtyards with fountains and flowers.
Then, on to the train to Madrid. Non stop express of less than two hours. We arrived just after the bus and luggage and checked into the Palace Hotel, just off the main boulevard, across the street from the parliament building on one side and the Prado museum on the other. It was nearly 6 PM when I got settled and dinner was at 7:30 so not a lot of time to explore so I walked around the immediate neighborhood and ended up at the Reina Sofia museum, home of Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica. As it’s free admission after 6 PM, score! And in I went. I’ve seen the painting reproduced many times over the years but nothing quite prepares you for the monumental size of the canvas, as large as a wall. It’s displayed in the midst of a series of galleries that puts it in context, both historic and artistic that make it even more powerful. Paintings from what I suppose is the Spanish equivalent of the Ashcan school of the early 20th century depicting the brutal conditions of urban life and factory work. The explosion of new ideas in the years leading and following World War I – Cubism, Surrealism, Dadaism. Galleries of how art was used as propaganda including posters and magazine covers. Galleries devoted to the decadence of between the wars society including a whole lot of Grosz and loops of Bunel film clips. As I was passing through these, all of the parallels between those times of wrenching change and our own came leaping off the walls so by the time I got to the Guernica canvas itself, I was in a heightened emotional state. I had to walk around a couple of blocks after to maintain equipoise. Dinner, in the gorgeous hotel rotunda, was a bit unnerving after – a sort of pleasures of the bourgeoisie built of the backs of the suffering of the proletariat moment. I had one more glass of wine than usual and toddled off to my room to ruminate.
I’m sure there’s some sort of grand meditation on the nature of society, my place in the world, and how life works germinating in my brain but I’m not sure tonight’s the night to get it out. It’s been a long day and I’m going to settle in to mindless TV dubbed into some language I don’t speak very well. As one does…