Our EU Austerity Drinking Tour continues this Monday back in Madrid. Alcohol intake remains on hold until Tracy feels better. After culture-packed Toledo, we wake up sober in our shed on top of a deck.
It is humble but warm and cheap. Lovely crêpes wait for us in our host’s kitchen (which taste better than those in Bordeaux). It may be winter, but the sun shines, so we decide to hike the city.
Tucked in a park hides the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod.
It feels alien here, but familiar. Like mini-temples at the MET or in Berlin, Debod was saved block by block before the Aswan Dam created a lake out of the desert.
Past chubby columns, the cultural dislocation gets weirder inside…
Depicted above is the Roman Emperor Augustus. My geeky Roman Archaeological heart flutters.
But Debod’s temple doesn’t belong in Madrid, or anywhere. Augustus seems out of place as well. But we feel affinity for them. We too are foreigners in Madrid: out of our time and place.
Through the trees, we spot the Royal Palace.
Not drinking for a few days saved us money. So we head over to tour the palace.
The complex sprawls, empty, tidy, and blue: like a statue of an elephant. We strain to imagine these courtyards filled with multicolored troops on parade or red cardinals in religious procession.
However, inside, increasingly ornate rooms flow into each other.
No photos were allowed, but postcards lack that sense of “Oh gods! The guard will see me! Quickly!” Luckily, few tourists were here, so security relaxed.
The floor-to-ceiling room made entirely out of glazed tile was most impressive.
Nothing here screams Spanish. The Royal Palace showcased a Spain in step with the trends of Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo Europe. The royal’s apotheocary showed an extreme level of early modern interest in science and the wider world. However, we find a uniquely Spanish Catholicism in the private altars.
After the many shiny and pointy things in the armory (where they delete my photos), we stroll through this city. Like the palace, Madrid looks generically European: the capital of any nationalist, imperial center. It impresses us but lacks Barcelona’s flair or Toledo’s amalgam of ancient or modern.
Maybe over 110 days of travel have jaded us. Nevertheless, Madrid feels beautiful, yet orderly, sprawling, yet intimate. We end up in a park peppered by romantic couples. At its far end we even find a miniature copy of England’s Crystal Palace:
Dark creeps in and we hike home. Starving, we order our first pizza in four months. The Columbian immigrants making our Italian cheese pizza discuss how life is better in Spain. At least in Madrid the recession doesn’t bite as hard. They laugh that we lived in California and speak such crap Spanish.
Finally home, our hosts surprise us with fabulous tortilla patatas, and, knowing we like our drink, crack a few cans of their favorite beer (a malty, decently high alcohol ale and eggy potatoes make for heaven). Embarrassed, stuffed, and exhausted we crawl back to our deck shed and sleep.
We merely scratched Madrid’s surface. Like so much of our trip, we dip a toe in, taste the place, then move on. Like Debod’s columns, we are unfinished.
We don’t belong here, but by being here, we get closer to completion, or at least our next destination.