Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Spain

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Madrid and its art - Day Three

Ivan Acebo-Choy '08 - Walking along Calle de Atocha at nine in the morning proved informative. Smiling kids were hoping on school buses, restaurants were opening their cheap breakfast to tourists, men and women, coffee in hand, hurried to their offices, and the noise escalated as the hours passed, inaugurating one more week in the busy Spanish capital.

We arrived at Reina Sofia’s Museum of Modern Art. The tall gray building houses several key artworks of the history of Modern Art, and we were all lucky to sit in front of them and discuss their importance. Two pieces caught the group’s attention: Picasso’s Guernica and Dali’s The Great Masturbator. We lingered around them and talked about their possible interpretations, their stylistic characteristics and their place in the history of art. Professor Jaen-Portillo’s mother, a practicing painter, and I helped the group to understand the paintings and their contexts. Picasso’s works extended through white rooms full of people and young kids asking eager questions about the figures they saw. Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko, Man Ray, Juan Gris, Georges Braque and other notable artists offered our class a glimpse of art, and the opportunity to learn about the history of Spain as expressed through the eyes of these fantastic artists.

At lunch time, the city calms down. Students went different ways to take advantage of the diverse cuisine of Madrid. Some had some wonderful local dishes, such as empanadas, morcillas and paella, at an All-You-Can-Eat restaurant near the hotel. Others tasted some national treats and enjoyed the casual ambiance of the local bars, where the Spanish converse out loud while the beer and wine, the bocadillos (baguette-like snacks stuffed with ham, squid, local sausages, etc) come and go. After lunch, the city seems to stop. It is siesta time. Most places close their doors, and tourists go back to their hotels or sit around waiting for the city to come alive again. All you see is the old buildings bearing the sun, the empty streets looking heavy and distant, their doors closed, the people away.

In the evening, we all met at the National Library. We walked down to Casa de las Americas, where we saw a fascinating art exhibit by Brazilian artist Miguel Rio Blanco. He insists on showing the face of marginal Brazil. Through photographs, installations and a short film, Rio Blanco disturbs, evokes, provokes and confronts his audience with bodies that bespeak of poverty, forgetfulness and marginalization. After this exhibit, some of us headed to Café Gijon, one of the most emblematic cafes in the city. According to Professor Jaen-Portillo and Professor Gomez, most of Spain’s famous literary figures have met and continue meeting at this place. We had coffees and ice-cream, saw famous Spanish actors (as identified by Prof. Jaen-Portillo) and talked about the world, books and experiences, cultural misunderstandings and other observations.

“Cervantes would smile at us,” I thought, as we talked about books that some of us had bought. Hopefully none of them will burn in a giant bonfire. Such is Madrid: Art, literature, and amazing food.


Top left: The Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art

Bottom left: The class sits at the steps of Spain's National Library.


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