Saturday, 30 April 2011

Inescapable celebrations, unavoidable sorrows

The tourist experience is exhausting, isn’t it? I think it’s that slow walk, particularly if it’s on city streets. It leaves you footsore and worn out.

If I’m in that state at the moment, it’s because we’re back in Madrid visiting two sons and two charming daughters-out-law. Our third son, or in a strictly chronological sense, the first, lives near another beautiful city, Edinburgh. He’s the one who only had to put up with my parenting, not my genetic material, while the two here got the whole package, or so Danielle assures me.

Being in Madrid is partly a political statement, a self-exile from that wedding. This was the event that gave the British establishment the opportunity to direct a calculated snub to the two most recent former Prime Ministers, who weren’t invited, though the previous two both were. Blair and Brown, the snubees, represented Labour while Thatcher and Major, proud recipients of their embossed cards, were Tories. Coincidence? I leave it to you to judge.

Not that we really got away from the wedding. Two of our friends came with us and as one of them pointed out, ‘if we came here to get away from all that fuss about the royal family, why do we keep talking about it all the time?’ Somehow it seems to have become the unavoidable subject, and not just among us exiles – the young Spanish woman who served us in a bar yesterday had spent most of the afternoon watching the wedding on TV. She’d been a little surprised.

‘There’s been a bomb in Marrakesh, you know,’ she said, ‘but I couldn’t find out anything about it – they’re talking only about the wedding. So congratulations.’ We smiled, happy to take credit for the very event we had fled.

It’s the presence of our friends that has led to our tramping the streets, though I’m not complaining. Apart from the pleasure of their company, their being here has also provided the opportunity to do some of the touristy things we hadn’t done before. That has included walking not just on pavements but on the sand and beaten earth of the great parkland of the Casa de Campo, inexplicably missed on our previous visits. It’s extraordinary to find quite so much open country in the middle of a city. At one end it’s dominated by the mass of the royal palace, where the Kings lived up until the 1930s, at which time the park was their own private grounds – a backyard the size of a small nature reserve. Come to think of it, enjoying a great popular amenity made available by a reduction in royal privilege gave us a valuable history lesson for this particular weekend.

Today it’s time for the galleries. This morning I’ve ducked out of a trip to the Prado, but this afternoon we’ll be heading for the Reina Sofia. So I’m missing a Velazquez painting of apparent domestic bliss in a royal family, instead admiring Picasso’s evocation of the bombing of civilians in Guernica.

Guernica - may capture the spirit of the times better...

... than Las Meninas and royal bliss – if that's what it shows...
Maybe that won’t be entirely inappropriate, given that despite all the distraction of the latest royal happening, there really has been a bombing in Marrakesh in the last couple of days, and it’s claimed more civilian lives.


Malc Dow said...

"The tourist experience is exhausting, isn’t it? I think it’s that slow walk, particularly if it’s on city streets. It leaves you footsore and worn out."

Especially when one is a resident trying to get somewhere in a hurry and finding yourself behind a gaggle of them... (Is 'gaggle' the right collective for tourist?).

Mark Reynolds said...

@ Malc: I called them stunned cattle when I was living in Strasbourg, but that was generally when they were milling aimlessly between me and the entrance to my favourite café. I was much more charitable after my coffee.

David Beeson said...

Would they form a giggle in certain less exasperating circumstances?