far too much writing, far too many photos

Three nights ago, Monday: the season’s first sweater weather. Genuinely chilly — the kind of air that blows in open windows and makes you notice it. The real thing, suggesting the slow turn of seasons. Tuesday turned out to be brisk, with an unforgiving breeze. Since then it’s warmed a bit, but the mornings have been genuinely overcast. Not a big deal somewhere like London, Dublin, northern Vermont. Here, after literally months of blue skies/no rain, it’s a sign of change on the way. The interesting part to me was the kind of overcast — like the morning overcast you get living near a beach, only here without a beach in sight. Clouds thick and low, moving noticeably across the sky, hints of diluted sunshine swirling through them now and then. The kind of overcast that gives way over the course of a morning to sunshine. A kind of overcast that feels comforting to me.

When I went down the street to the plaza earlier today for the papers, I noticed another for-sale sign had appeared on a balcón. That makes three now, all on the same side of the plaza. All, in fact, in the same building. It’s a handsome building, really, in an old architectural style that can be seen all around Madrid. With what might be called French windows — a set of doors with windows from top to bottom and curtains inside, opening out onto a balcón. With just enough room to step outside, watch the scenery, get some air. Enough room to put out a few plants, hang some clothes to dry, but not enough for a table and chairs. One could open the doors, drag a chair to the opening, stretch their legs out into the Madrid air, but that’s about it. Still, it’s nice. The building I’m in has them, too, on the floors below mine. For some reason, this one, the top floor, doesn’t. This floor has normal, smaller windows overlooking a ledge. Sometimes I lean out and watch the scene below, local life passing by in all its colors.

Two mornings ago: got myself up and out at a unreasonably reasonable hour for a trip to the post office. On the way, I followed an impulse to head down a side street I’d never explored before. At the end of that street I found myself facing an old building bearing a sign that read “El Museo Romántico.” A building I’d actually passed months ago, more than once — for whatever reason not registering then. This time, though, it caught my eye, maybe because it’s been given a face lift. The sign appears new, a large banner hangs off to one side announcing a current exhibit (’Love and Death in the Romantic Age’), a collection of art and articles that currently takes up all the open rooms on the second floor of the museum.

Two mornings ago, I had no time to check the place out. Yesterday, I went back and snooped around. This place, it turns out, is a small, understated treasure.

This is what the Time Out Guide to Madrid says about this museum:
“Location: c/ San Mateo 13, Chueca (www.mec.es)
Metro Tribunal [Note: the Metro station Alonso Martinez is actually closer]/bus 3, 37, 40, 149.
Open: 9am-3 pm Tue. Sat., 10am-2 pm Sun, public holidays. Closed Aug.
Admission: 400 ptas, 200 ptas students, free under-18s, over 65s, & for all Sun.
[Note: admission was free (gratuíta) to all yesterday, Wed.]

“This rather weather-beaten museum has been undergoing slow restoration in recent years, but it now seems that the green light has been given for thorough structural repairs to go ahead from some time in 2001. This may mean that the upper floor will be closed, during which time a selection of the exhibits will be moved temporarily downstairs. The museum is (until now) a slightly grimy but charming reflection of the Romantic era in 19th century Spain — its previous neglect and creaking floor adding to its nostalgic feel. The period is evoked through furniture, paintings, ornaments, early pianos and memorabilia associated with various writers, most especially the journalist Larra. The Romántico is another museum set up by a private collector, the Marqués de Vega-Inclán, an antiquarian who was responsible for the first conservation of many of Spain’s historic monuments and also inspired the creation of the Parador hotel chain [low-priced hotels around the country in beautiful, old buildings, run by the government]. A whole — rather unexciting — section is dedicated to him on the ground floor downstairs. The house itself, from 1770, is of great interest.”

There’s no way of determine the last time that a representative of Time Out went to the museum — they might want to consider a return trip to update their blurb. From their description I was expecting something slightly sad and melancholy. Instead, it was like walking into a gracious old home from 19th century Madrid which someone has thoughtfully filled with artwork and memorabilia, someone with an ability to walk the line between affectionate appreciation and camp. The open rooms on the first floor are all currently devoted to the Marqués, housing plenty of artwork, with many portraits of family, friends, arty-types — the Marqués was a devoteé of the arts, apparently studying for many years in the hope of being able to produce great art himself, though never quite making it (a fact endearingly acknowledged midway through the rooms dedicated to his life). There is beautiful old furniture, kept in top condition, and tourism memorabilia from the years of his involvement in conservation and so on — exhibit cases of photos, old guidebooks. Great stuff.

There are also two lovely old garden/fountain areas. The fountain in the nicer of the two was working, with birds in attendance, but that room was closed to public access. The other looked less welcoming, though the open area above it was covered with bower greenery, a nice touch.

All the currently-open rooms on the second floor (and there are rooms not open to the public) are now devoted to the exhibit on Love and Death in the Romantic Age — a genuine hoot.

They were a madcap bunch, the Romantics, with a Gothic outlook and a melodramatic, less-then three-dimensional sense of life. Big into the madonna/whore image of women (the good wife/perfect mother or THE SEDUCTRESS!); big into titillating, illicit romance; big into death — noble death in battle; noble death of nobles; noble arty-type death, slow and tragic, as in tuberculosis or suicide. The contents of the exhibit — artwork of various types, mostly with objects of different kinds thrown in here and there — are nicely broken down, room by room, into one concept or another, all adding up to a picture of the Romantic view of life. The rooms having to do with death are both genuinely interesting, at times producing amazed laughter, and also truly morbid — portraits of dead infants come to mind, apparently a common phenomenon with infant mortality as high as it was.

The whole place took an hour to go through. On the off-chance someone reading this actually finds their way to the museum, be advised that the exhibit on Life/Death etc. only runs through this month. Also, though the museum has versions of its pamphlet (containing a basic description, floor maps and the basic info. re: hours, location, all that) in Spanish and English, you’ll need to know at least some Spanish for the explanations within the various rooms/exhibits.

I know I say this a lot, but I love Madrid. There are quirky finds like this museum tucked away all over the city. Probably true in any world-class city, that, but Madrid is not any other world-class city. It’s Madrid.


A few hours ago, I came across someone in the act of pasting more posters to the wall across the street — turns out it’s pretty much a free-for-all there, some posters disappearing under new ones only a day or two after their first appearance. The universe of advertising: aggressive, with little respect for what came before.

The new posters are all theatre-related, including one marginally erotic specimen of a bare-footed woman in student clothing sprawled out in a chair on an empty stage before an empty theatre — an ad for acting courses based on The Method.


A large gathering took place earlier this evening in La Plaza de la Puerta del Sol in the heart of Madrid — ‘for peace and against terrorism’ — carried by Channel 1, one of the two government stations. The gist of the event was mourning for those killed in the attacks on 9/11, along with a call for careful reprisal, to seek justice in accord with international law. It included a minute of silence — total enough to be a bit startling given where it took place (except for Channel 1’s commentator, who couldn’t seem to quiet herself down).

Spain is a country that has suffered through many, many terrorist attacks over the last 20 years — bombings and assassinations. Their response comes from the heart.


Today’s headlines from two Spanish newspapers:

From El Mundo:
“U.S. Prepares the War Sending Another 100 Planes to the Persian Gulf”
“Afghan Refugees — The Khyber Pass: Flight Without Escape”
“‘U.S. Asks Our Support — We Must Defend The Just Cause’ — The President of Pakistan Prepares His People to Aid Washington While Popular Discontent Grows”
“The Taliban Announce Today If They Hand Over Bin Laden”
“The World Leaders Alert Bush Against the Effects of An Attack”
“The European Commision Approves Two Initiatives Against Terrorism”
“Gorbachov Believes A War Will Worsen the Situation”

From El País:
“U.S. Deploys 100 Warplanes In the Persian Gulf”
“Boeing Aggravates the Crisis in the Aero Sector With the Elimination of 30,000 Employees”
“U.S. Launches Operation Infinite Justice”
“Pakistan Cedes Its Air Space to U.S. At The Risk of Islamic Rebellion”
“Iran Asks for ‘Severe Punishment’ for the Instigator of the Attacks”
“Sudan Affirms That U.S. Has An Antiterrorist Group In Its Territory”
“Israeli Military Intelligence Accuses Iraq of Sponsoring the Attacks Against the U.S.”
“The European Union Wants to Extend A Bridge to the Arab Countries In Their Extraordinary Summit”

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