Five Days in Madrid

Madrid is a city of cultural delights – and you can walk to most of them. Our hotel was in one of the tiny streets near Plaza Mayor so very central and brilliantly located for the Puerta del Sol, the Prado, the Thyssen, the Reina Sofia, the Real Jardín Botánico and the Parque del Retiro to the right, and the Palacio Real, Templo de Debod, and Teatro Real to the left. The weather was beautiful for walking and for showing the city at its best. Have always said I won’t blog for personal stuff but this seemed exceptional – and in any case, it’s borderline of both personal and professional! Highlights were, in no particular order, Guernica – genuinely and deeply stunned by the pain, suffering and intense anger – had to leave Reina Sofia after that – just couldn’t switch to looking at other work; two fabulous exhibitions at the Prado – the Chardin, absolutely beautiful; and the ‘Heroinas’ exhibition: all strong women – works by Jules Breton have stayed with me most strongly, I find – loved Camilla by Sarah Jones – introduced to work by Marina Abramovic. Altogether, made you proud to be a woman. The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, beautiful building, that lovely pink-ish brick exterior, huge inside – felt overwhelmed by the sheer range of the work, apparently collected over two generations but it still seemed a fantastically huge collection for one family – think I have to do galleries in bite sized pieces. But the frequently amazing thing is the shock of seeing the original of pieces you know pretty well through books and prints – there really does seem to be a depth, a compassion almost, that emanates from the work itself – but have to be careful here, I am still a learner in the world of visual arts – serious risk of talking rubbish! (Luckily, mi amiga, ECB, is deeply steeped in this and was a wonderful companion for the tour!)

Nevertheless, I throw fear aside to talk about the next thrill – about two years ago, I was at the Guggenheim in Bilbao (oh, the joys of working in the creative industries!) and came across a small exhibition of work by Sorolla. I just loved it, never having even heard of him before – the sheer joy, the colour, the warmth, all were just wonderful. So when I found there was a Museo de Sorolla in Madrid, we added it to our list of must-see’s and found our way there. Essentially, it’s his house that has been turned into this Museo, at the request of his widow in her will – and it is simply gorgeous! The house itself is beautiful, sandwiched between two rather ghastly apartment blocks, but it is a little oasis, complete with beautiful gardens, not huge but perfectly formed, as they say, complete with enchanting tiled fountains and an immediate sense of tranquillity. In the house, his works hang on every wall – mostly very large canvases, all full of light, colour and an immediacy that draws you in at once – it was absolutely one of my favourite experiences of the week.

The only opera that was on was Damnation of Faust, which somehow didn’t fit our mood, so we went instead to see Carmen, done as a flamenco dance piece to a mix of Bizet and traditional flamenco song. It was, as they say, a collector’s item! But we both enjoyed it hugely – the costumes were stunning and the male dancers wonderfully…….male (of course, the girls were great too!)

On the last day, we hired a car and driver – he was a little disconcerted to find that we had already walked to all the sites that he normally shows visitors, but he knew his city and took us to see Goya’s tomb in the little church, and then to the four Torres in the business area – contemporary huge skyscrapers, side by side, each designed by a different architect – Norman Foster, Cesar Pelli, Rubio & Álvarez-Sala and I.M.Pei. Rather irreverently, it put me in mind of the five towers that make up the Suntec Centre in Singapore , where we had our CIDA Asia office. That was built by five different developers working together for the first time, but inevitably done with much less grace! Actually, the Madrid buildings were pretty stunning and when the new exhibition centre is built behind them, it’ll be an extraordinary site.

As a final and rather delightful postscript to the week, our driver turned out to be muy simpático, as my father used to say, so we got chatting and, with a synchronicity that no longer makes me gasp, he turned out to be an artist, a painter, who does this tourist driving to make ends meet………… for a brief moment, I played with the idea of bartering CIDA services for his! –