September 21, 2021

Dateline – Madrid, Spain

Today was our full day in Madrid. It’s a large city of roughly four million people, but the historic center where most of the interesting sights are located is much smaller and easily walkable. Cities have always been constrained by time. The inhabitants don’t want to spend more than 90 minutes a day in a commute, no matter the technology. When transportation was mainly on foot, cities could be walked across in 30=45 minutes and were limited to about four square miles (two miles in diameter). The horse and carriage opened that up some. In the 19th century, the invention of the street car and public transportation allowed for things to expand greatly and then, finally, the private automobile took over in the mid 20th century with the development of endless suburbia. It’s less of an issue in Europe than in America, but even European cities have their more modern high rise districts, usually a ways from the historical center and their far flung suburbs, usually small outlying towns incorporated into burgeoning metro areas.

I have always loved visiting the historic centers of European cities as they are designed around the pedestrian with cars as an afterthought and I have always enjoyed just walking. (My pedometer is very happy with this trip as I am averaging 16,000 – 20,000 steps a day). On my first trip to Europe, when I was 22, I crammed as much into eight weeks as I could, often sleeping on the train overnight between destinations and then covering things on foot at a fast clip. My knees are no longer that age and are complaining a bit as we approach the two week mark, but I only have a couple of days to go – they’ll make it with the help of some Arthritis strength Tylenol. I just have to keep reminding myself that 22 was nearly four decades ago. Most American cities were laid out later in historical development than European ones so they aren’t walkable in the same way. They came to be after public transportation or the car were well established and took primacy and few of them are walkable. I treasure the exceptions – Boston, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans.

The first part of the day was a bus tour of the city including some of the outlying districts. It’s my least favorite way to see a city and I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much but it did give me a chance to get properly oriented. After an hour, we ended up at the Prado Art Museum, one of the few great museums of Western Art that I had not previously been to. Multiple masterpieces of the great Spanish painters – Velasquez, Murillo, Goya, El Greco. And some decent Italian post Renaissance art commissioned when Spain was the richest country in Europe during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Also some interesting Dutch pieces as Spain ran those at the time including most of the masterworks of Bosch. It was great fun to finally see ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ in the flesh for the first time. I have long been familiar with it, having had a poster of it up in my college freshman dorm room, as one does….

After the Prado, Fernando, our fearless leader, who lives in Madrid gave us a walking back streets tour of his favorite haunts. This was much more to my taste than the bus ride, as I was able to get more of a feel of the look and the rhythms of the city when not seated at a height, sealed away by air conditioning and glass. We ended up back at the hotel where I got a brain biopsy of a Covid test so I can fly back to the US in a couple of days (negative again) and then we were on our own until tomorrow morning. I used my time to do a little shopping, to wander some back streets in more usual residential areas, and to have dinner and a margarita in a little hole in the wall that turned out to have really good food. We’ve got one more tour day, tomorrow, and then, on Thursday, I have to surface back in reality. I was originally supposed to stay in Madrid until Sunday but I canceled the extra days so I would be under the care of the tour operators regarding Covid testing and flights home. After logging in something over 24,000 steps today on the pedometer, my legs are tired so I have gone back to the room early so I can be refreshed for the trip to Toledo in the morning.

There have been a bunch of Covid vaccine headlines over the last couple of days. I don’t have complete information but here are my takeaways. 1. Kids – Pfizer has released study data showing it’s vaccine is safe and effective down to five years of age. This is drug company data that has not yet been vetted by the FDA so don’t bother your pediatrician for shots yet. If the data is as clean as it appears to be, the FDA will approve shots for children 5-11 in a couple of months, at least on an Emergency Use Authorization. Moderna hasn’t released their data yet but it is likely to be similar. I haven’t seen anything about J and J for kids but it’s likely being studied. 2. Boosters – Get one if you’re immunocompromised in any way or if you’re over 65. While it’s recommended you remain on the same team, it probably doesn’t hurt to switch hit. J and J released data today showing that a booster of their formulation is helpful, but there are no formal instructions yet as we are, again, still dealing with drug company data. (I have learned over the years to take drug company data and press releases with a very large grain of salt).

We have officially passed the 1918-1919 flu pandemic in terms of numbers of deaths. Covid is now the greatest mass casualty event in the history of the US with deaths of 675,000 and climbing. The Delta spike will continue to add to the death toll at a rapid pace over the next couple of months, then there may be a lull. It’s really hard to predict. There could be a new variant with significantly higher transmission or mortality. We could have a new outbreak of politically fueled negative behaviors. A variant could outsmart the vaccine. Then there’s the whole question of Africa. A continent of poor countries that has had little luck getting any vaccine whatsoever for its populace giving a huge potential population in which trouble could lurk. We tend to forget that a pandemic is global and, for it to be brought under control, will require global solutions which means more than just the wealthy countries of the world taking care of themselves.

Tired. Must get some sleep…

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