A Fantastic Art Sandwich

What is it about walking on stone-paved streets that makes history come alive for me? It probably has a lot to do with living in a concrete city of a very young nation where a mid-century house (as in 1950s) feels ancient. And any structure constructed in the 1800s is practically pre-historic!

Here, in the middle of a city born some 1,500 years before Los Angeles, it is more rare to find new construction, but it does exist. High along what seems to be built on medieval ruins is an infinity escalator…

that takes me up to a site that looks like it might become a shopping mall or multi-level parking structure. But when I reach the very top, it’s just a big open square:

I really can’t figure it out and my fear of heights is keeping me from looking down too closely. I’m much better at navigating the lower, albeit steep, roads below even if it means sometimes having to press myself against a wall so that a car can pass through the narrow streets without crunching my toes:

After dodging a few cars in Toledo, I learn to maneuver these tiny paths by ducking into doors when I hear an engine closing in on me:

Now about the new constructions, they are there if you look hard enough. This is one of my favorites:

So I’ve been showing you Toledo in the last few blog entries, but you should know that I get to spend only one day there. I’ve booked the 7.30pm train back to Madrid, and just before sunset I manage one last stop that turns out to be a great way to see Toledo’s light shift from day to dusk.

The Museo de Santa Cruz, just near the Zocodover Square where I began my tour of Toledo with you, is a city museum full of artifacts, industrial art (textiles, metalwork, etc.), and archeological remains that trace the city’s Roman, Mudejar, Visigothic, and Moorish roots. It was constructed in the 16th century after the Spanish Renaissance style and served as a hospice. The Plateresque doors and exterior are quite spectacular on their own,

but it is the large, open courtyard, flanked by ornate stairs leading to three floors of exhibit rooms, that makes me gasp when I step inside. These are photos I shoot in rapid succession, in what little natural light I have left, as I rush from floor to floor (I have only 20 minutes here before closing time):

Statues and sarcophagi lids exhumed from centuries ago are on open display in the courtyard:

El Greco’s The Assumption of the Virgin, believed to be his last work, is also found here. I wish I had more time. I vow to come back here again, maybe one weekend when the weather is warmer.

All the way back to Madrid I am antsy. It will be 8pm when I get there, and I’ll only have 1 hour left to get to the Reina Sofia Museum before they close at 9pm. Luckily the Atocha train station is just minutes from there on foot, and I actually have 40 minutes left to dash around the museum. I don’t even have time to take off my hat and scarf after I clear security, but there, finally, finally, in front of me, in all its stupendous glory, is Picasso’s Guernica. Gulp.This art history student wants to cry. I know, you can’t take me anywhere.

Pablo Picasso was commissioned by the Spanish government to paint this gigantic mural to commemorate the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The mural was displayed at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1937. The colors of the painting are somber, in black, blue, and white. It would take hours to study the painting and debate all the anti-war messages Picasso left here. All I know is that the longer I look, the more pain seems to ooze out of the canvas amidst all the chaos of civilian suffering. War isn’t at all romanticized here, but I do find heroism and strength in its agony. Perhaps Picasso was a cranky old man by the time he worked on this mural, but what’s immediately clear here is the distress felt by all Spaniards at this time, regardless of where they lived (Picasso had moved to Paris some 30 years before). It is an incredibly moving painting. And even if you hate Picasso’s art, I would submit that you can’t walk away from this mural without it lingering on your mind for a long while after.

So there you have it, in under 12 hours I started my day with El Greco’s The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and ended it with Picasso’s Guernica. It’s like being in a fantastic art sandwich. As I leave the museum, I tell myself it would be hard to beat this day for me. I almost tear up again, so happy to be in my own shoes, and there hasn’t even been any sighting of Chanel anything anywhere today!

But the day is not quite over till some kind of food happens. Now I don’t know if I can believe the hype, but I’m supposedly having the best calamari bocadillo in all of Madrid at this joint:

It has an entrance door at both ends of the restaurant to catch customers on two busy streets–a clever strategy–and judging from the continuously swinging doors, I’m not the only tourist who’s fallen for the hype. I actually manage to finish my giant sandwich, and now I’m so full I think I will cry.

See you back here tomorrow on our last day in Spain.


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