08 June 2009

Outside the Prado

I absolutely love being outside the Prado. When in Madrid, my favorite museum is actually the Reina Sofia, which is the modern art museum there, famous as the home for Picasso's Guernica. As a big Pablo fan, it's the obvious choice for my painting-hopping that I consider a necessity while traveling in Europe.

But it's the spirit AROUND the Prado that gets me. If the walls contain past accomplishments by the country's artists, then the land surrounding it is the living, breathing pulse of Madrid's art scene. I absorb more about this city by wandering through the sidewalks here than I did in hours walking through the hallways.

At first glance, it simply looks like hawkers trying to sell as many cheap trinkets to tourists as they can—but if you get past the enormous collection of Don Quixote and bull images, you can actually meet local artists as they guide you through their collections or paint new additions.

I was happy yesterday to meet Yonathan Haroch again, an Israeli who has adopted Spain as his home. Yonathan started by painting the more generic Madrid scenes and has branched out into more abstract, colorful expressions featuring Hebrew letters. I have bought from him before, and I am glad to say that I made additions to my collection of his art. Over a coke in the plaza, he introduced me to Carlos Alvarez, who does limited edition prints made with thin pieces of metal that he etches and then presses into the paper.

Walking around with my new acquisitions, I took some time to watch about a dozen other artists with their easels set up, deeply intent on creating their first (or next) masterpiece. Undisturbed by the onlookers, they spend all day soaking up the sun and the atmosphere. I told one woman I liked her work, and she jumped at the chance to tell me about several of her paintings, some with acrylic, others of watercolor, and some with both mediums intertwined.
One of the gentlemen on a bench got his current project and showed me how he used his black, grey, and cream paints and small pallette. A thick layer of paint was applied in a block, and then he would cut back through with the tool and the ridges added the contrast. It is the definitive Spanish spirit; they bend over backwards to be friendly to everyone.

I love to take a few extra minutes while there in the warm Spanish sun; see the artists; be in the midst of the lovers on picnics all around; watch the tourists waiting for the newest temporary exhibit. The atmosphere can't be beat.

Here Piggy Piggy

Okay, I don't eat a whole lot of meat on a regular basis, and I'm definitely not a huge fan of pork—but when you are in Spain you do as the Spaniards do. In this case, you eat jamon.

I have had ham every day. Almost every meal. And it is delicious! The thing to do here on a special occasion is buy a whole leg of air dried Iberian ham, prop it on a special serving piece, and cut paper-thin slices to eat as an appetizer. I am with a small group of folks from the U.S., and while we will visit a total of 14 wineries while we're here, each of the proprietors only has one impression to make. So they all bring on the bacon.

Iberian ham is delicious. The most famous kind is pata negra, or black-hoofed pig, and it's a couple hundred dollars for one of them (not one pig, mind you, one hoof). I wish I could cash in the total of what I've consumed and put it into my IRA account.

If I owned a bed and breakfast, we would serve something very similar to the spread I've seen in every Spanish Parador—there is always fresh fruit and fresh-squeezed juice, shirred eggs on toast, and cafe con leche; fresh local queso, aged manchego, and membrillo always starts the day off right.

But at each buffet, there is one more major component: you can have pork eight different ways before you even touch your first cup of coffee. Maybe you're in the mood for sausage; prosciutto; salame; with or without paprika? The list appears to be endless.

I'm not complaining—it is certainly worlds better than the baked beans and tomatoes I was served for breakfast in England. I simply find it hard to fathom that most of the Spaniards I have seen are skinny. Proof indeed that they're doing something right. And while I don't know exactly WHAT the secret is, I'm going to start by having a big plate of ham. Ole!