Following Maps in Barcelona

I packed a hard-sided journal – 8.5 by 6 to Spain.  Since the size was so accommodating, I glued, taped and stuffed everything I came across that was interesting or evocative.   The larger notebook even accommodated a city map and the full brochure for Casa Batllo  (mom climbed to the very top using the stairs even though many panicked bystanders kept gesturing to the antique elevator).Journal with Barcelona Map

I love illustrated maps.  I know they are not to scale but they are tremendously handy and immediate. I gratefully accept them at the hotel reception desk and allow the receptionist to mark up the directions in blue ink.   As handy and easy and as direct as Google maps are, they are difficult to annotate, cut and paste – save.  Not as fun.

Map in hand, it’s now permissible to get lost. The hotel is circled, here.  The cathedral or castle or department store is circled there.  How you get from here to there is entirely up to you. Yes I know that’s also a metaphor for life.

Since my mother and I made it to the cathedral in record time, I set her down in the shade close to where we were to join the rest of the tour group and  brandishing the not-to-scale map  I wandered as far as I could for as long as I could and still be back at the meeting time (there are many meeting times on a tour, and always, always be on time,).   The sound of Spanish guitars followed me like a soundtrack as I explored the stone-lined narrow streets.  I found the musicians playing in an almost empty courtyard, the acoustics of which were fantastic.     Naturally, I bought their home-made  CDs.  I bought both the red and yellow one.   I stored the CD’s into the back of the notebook and made a note on the map.  That was all I could write in the time allotted.  But it was enough.

There are a couple museums in Madrid. Since I am allergic to following guides through museums like a Celiac is allergic to baguettes,  I would like to personally thank Grand Circle Tour for not insisting that a group of 45 tourists, stay together for four hours as we all shuffle through the Prado admiring enormous dark paintings by El Greco.  This particular afternoon, we were on our own to tour a collection of three museums anyway we wanted.

Our guide, who by Madrid was wise to my habit of wandering, handed me a map marked with a clear highlighted line.  You are going HERE and meeting the group at this TIME.  Mom and I gathered up two other fellow tourists and headed off. 

Mom and I began the museum shuffle at the  Thyssen, which displays many Impressionists and those influenced by same.    

I have visited museums and galleries with my mother since I was old enough to stand still for a lecture on Monet.  If you recoil in horror at the very thought of a museum visit, here is how to make it easier.

  • Don’t walk through the galleries together.  Seriously.  Schedule to meet anyone and everyone at the entrance.
  • For no more than two hours. 
  • After three hours in any museum, your ears will start to bleed, particularly if you are new at this.
  • Don’t feel obligated to like anything.
  • See the most famous paintings in the place, make a note, or if you must, take a photo for proof and if you do not fall in love, or even understand the damn thing, move on.

I am lucky because my mother is very good with time and very good finding the entrance of any building. 

Which left me alone,  cheerfully wandering through the Thyssen enjoying the art in no particular order.  On the third floor, I encountered a woman methodically photographing each painting.  Every painting.  Step, snap, step, snap.  I tend to not take photos of artwork, preferring to buy two or three postcards of my favorites and gluing them into my notebook.  But here she was, cataloging exactly what she was seeing – Step. By. Step.

She paid no attention to me at all, affording me a moment to observe her and wonder about how to see art, how to see the world and the idea of a camera between you and reality, if you will.

I wrote a poem about it.  It was not very good.

It is a short walk from the Thyssen to the Prado. It’s a longer stroll to the Sofia where Picasso’s Guernica is displayed. Mom and the ladies agreed that they couldn’t possibly all the way down that (to me enticing)  that tree-lined sidewalk to the  Sofia.  The  Prado would be enough for them (average age – 80, at least they knew their limits).  Reluctant to abandon them,  I missed, Guernica expressing my dismay by marking the museum on my map with a sad face. 

I scribbled a neutral face next to the Prado.   While Mom and the ladies wandered through the beautiful museum in, I hope, complete ecstasy,  I found that after about seven El Grecos and just as many  Goyas, pausing before The Third of May  1808    because it was famous, I was done. With forty-five minutes left, I escaped to the cafe, bought a cup of tea and created this poem. Which is better than the one about photographing art.

In The Prado

In The Prado

I live
He smiled
on the second floorMadrid map

On the Calle Canaletto de Gracio
Rolling the R relishing
The feel of the name between his lips

She shifted her bag
Squirted another measure of
Hand sanitizer

I live in the US on 5 45th St
Not pronouncing the long E
It took too long

His Greco eyes slowed her
She took his hand – forgetting
To clean

Come I can make for you
An afternoon that will last
Till the death of summer

(Included in Unmasked – Women Write about Sex and Intimacy After Fifty.  Marcia Meier and Kathleen Barry, Editors)

We didn’t realize that after  five o’clock, entrance to the museum was free. As we walked out, we saw an entry line that seemed to stretch to the Sofia.  (which was closed by now).  Since it was only 5:00 and it was Spain, we loathed to just haul off to dinner (a disadvantage of eating with a large group – early meals, so the restaurant can get the unwieldy crowd in and out before the civilized dinning hour). 

The four of us stopped at a cafe the card of which I did not grab.  But we  enjoyed a glass of rose and watched the traffic and people.   Such a lovely way to live!  Only after the wine was finished did we meander towards the yellow highlighted line to our early dinner.  We were late.  We were not sorry in the least.

I made a happy face on the map.