They Don’t Speak English? Then Let’s Speak Italian!

Madrid is in the same time zone as Rome, which is weird because they are a long way apart. There is something right about its location at the far west of the time zone, however. The sun is just barely risen at 8 am, but it turns out that’s ok. The Spanish morning operates at its own pace. The hotel offers breakfast until noon. I take my time – and at 945 when I finally leave the hotel there is still hardly a soul in the streets. 

First stop today is the Reina Sofia, a museum of modern art. This museum gets attention from many people for one thing – Picasso’s Guernica. But in truth the collection is remarkable. If they took out Guernica it would still be a standout. They have rooms of works by Miró, Dali, and Picasso (amongst others). The pieces grab us, with styles and images imprinted on our cultural memories. We recognize them instantly even if we don’t know them.

It is a breathtaking museum.

Picasso’s Woman in Blue glares out at us unhappily. And just for the record, the dress is bluer than the picture shows.

I still don’t know what to think of Dali’s “Enigma of Hitler.” It was painted in 1939, but the more I read about Dali the more puzzling he is.

And of course there is “Guernica.” According to yesterday’s guide, it was painted after Franco agreed to let Hitler bomb the small Basque town of Guernica as a test of carpetbombing. The tale is horrifying. Wikipedia differs somewhat, but in any case the town was defenseless. I have seen this work hundreds of times before in print and on the web. But until today, I had never before really seen it. No reproduction does the work justice.

I walked in and out of the room repeatedly through different doors, each time finding something new. It is massive. The destruction portrayed and the suffering are overwhelming. It is an exhausting piece. It is spectacular.

I stopped for a Pre Fixe lunch (arroz banda with calamari, and Galician pork knuckle), after which I decided to go to the Prado. That’s a lot of museum for one day, and I was loathe to do both, but this fit the needs of my time constraints most closely so I went there anyway. Truly they have an outstanding collection, one of the best in Europe (that’s what the books say). Even my jaded eye can see that. Perhaps on another day I would have been enchanted by the Prado, but the Reina spoke to me on a much deeper level, so here I went through quickly, seeing much only briefly, focusing on the compulsory works.

A funny thing happened in one of the El Greco rooms. The area was packed, so I went where things were clear. Suddenly I found myself on the wrong side of a barricade with a docent yelling at me. I quickly apologized in Italian and she walked brusquely on. One of the students nearby looked at me and asked if I was Italian. I confessed to being American but speaking a little bit of Italian. He explained to his compatriots and we all went our own ways.

It turns out I’m speaking a lot of Italian here. Sometimes it helps, mostly it is useless. Sometimes it is even counterproductive. I tend to do this, however, whenever if I’m somewhere where people don’t speak English. I move to Italian – that way neither of us knows what I’m saying. Most of the words I know in Spanish relate to pregnancy so Italian is probably a better choice.


Dinner consisted of a first course of beans with ham. Theyre little fava beans, I think. I can’t imagine how long it took to peel them.

This was followed by a stewed Iberian pork cheek. The pork cheek is incredibly tender and delicious. But see above it on the plate? Those aren’t potatoes – it’s a cauliflower and celery purée. I’ve had cauliflower puree as a replacement for potatoes a few times. It’s usually OK but not great. The flavor profile is different and I can tell they aren’t the same. This was a a revelation. The flavor of the celery was a perfect foil for the cauliflower, giving a fresheness the latter lacks on its own. 

Dinner finished with a digestif of some unidentified booze. I didn’t know what they were serving me, but that didn’t stop me from drinking it – and it was delicious. As it turns out it is something called Pacharan, and I need to bring some home.

For tonight I will rest, and tomorrow yet one more museum becons. Goodnight my friends!

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