Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Freeway Free in Spain: Toledo Transit

Bus to ToledoWe started off at a good hour for our expedition, arrived at the station in plenty of time to catch the 9:20 train, only to find that it was sold out. Next available train on a busy commute and tourist day was at 12:20. Scratch.

We went back to the hotel by Metro to save energy, I said something about our failed plans to the desk manager, and he replied quickly, “Why not go by bus?” Turns out the express bus leaves every hour, from a station about a half hour away by Metro.

With one thing and another we got to the bus station in time for the 11 AM bus and we were in Toledo by noon. A wonderful town for traipsing around.

The Last Supper - Toledo Cathedral facadeWe started with the awesome (in the original sense) cathedral, a soaring flamboyant Gothic/Baroque structure on the outside, with a wonderful Last Supper going on in sculpture across the front above the main door. If you look at it from the rise of steps across the plaze, you can see down onto the table where the sculpture was careful to provide both bottles of wine and a plate of rolls as required.
On the inside more of the same – a LOT more. In addition to the profligate use of gold from the New World to decorate altars, clothe icons, and create 10 foot-tall monstrances to hold the Host between communions, it contains more great paintings than they have room to hang or light or even identify decently – a whole set of Christ and the apostles by El Greco hung kitty corner to the viewer behind a grate, Titian, Correggio, and Rembrandt hung in a half-lit chapel on a temporary scaffold in front of the altar and again behind a grate.

St John and Cousin Jesus

St John and Cousin Jesus

The most awesome thing about the Toledo Cathedral is the detail – everywhere you look there is an artwork that would be worthy of its own exhibit in any other context.  For example, this mosaic of John the Baptist with his young cousin Jesus – at least 30 feet tall over the door of the cathedral – not even mentioned in the audio guide or anywhere else – but so powerful!

We got halfway through the audio tour and elected to pause for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant Winifred had located online nearby. (We are on a veggie kick since being greens-deprived in our first day in Madrid.) There are good and bad veggie restaurants – Madre Tierra  was excellent – a wonderful salad and then a cream of spinach soup so thick and rich I could have eaten it with a fork.

Virgin and Unicorn - Choir stall - Toledo Virgin M crowning a saint in ivory - Toledo Saint and demon contending- choir stall - Toledo Jacob and Esau? Choir Stall - Toledo

Then back to the cathedral for the rest of the tour of amazing carvings and sculpture.  (See some of the amazingly evocative carvings in the choir stalls above)

The art highlight – the Sacristy- was closed for renovation, which was probably a blessing in disguise. Otherwise we would never have made it to the El Greco Museum, which had a different set of apostles, much better displayed, hung in a setting designed to recreate a 15th century home such as El Greco might have lived in during his time in Toledo – quite charming.

Back to the bus, stopping for Winifred to pick up some mementoes and gifts. The express bus was full, so we took the milk run, whistle-stopping through a series of villages and small towns, letting off matrons who had been shopping for their week’s supplied in the supermercados of Toledo, taking up young people who had been visiting their families for the holiday and were headed back to Madrid – it was fun to make up stories to explain the meetings and partings.

Evening on the bus

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Freeway Free in Spain: Madrid and its Museums – El Prado

El Prado 3D galleryEl Prado

At El Prado you can thrill your fill on the Big 3 of Spanish painting: Goya, El Greco, Velasquez.  Wow!  I warmed up with a roomful of Hieronymous Bosch (inspiration for every sci fi paperback anthology cover ever printed).  The Garden of Earthly Delights is enough to give one nightmares for a week.  On the wall catty corner is Breughel’s Triumph of Death  with Death leading an army of skeletons against the doomed remainder of mankind – the original zombie apocalypse.Bosch - Earthly Delights and Torments After

Unfortunately, a guard informed me that photos are not allowed soon after I left Bosch and Breughel, so I will have to link you to websites for you to get your tastes of G, V, and el G.

I was headed for Goya but got side-tracked by Velasquez.  Three hundred years before the Impressionists, this man knew exactly how to make light shine out of a picture.  I could have looked at his portrait of the Infanta Maria  and her handmaidens and dwarves for hours speculating on what was happening in each person’s mind, but the traffic of Japanese, German, French, and Spanish tour groups impeded reflection.

So I proceeded on my search for Goya but went the wrong way and got caught by El Greco  – even earlier than Velasquez, and combining use of light and of exaggeration to portray emotion and character in a way that prefigures Toulouse-Lautrec by 400 years.

W and I had split up after Bosch and Breughel.  When we reunited for lunch I was ready to babble about El Greco while she had found and been immersed in Goya, especially the “black Goyas” from his late period.  We exchanged enthusiasms, and then went out to explore again.

This time I found the Goyas and worked backward from the black period all the way to when he was hired to do “cartoons” of designs of frolicking gypsies and children,  to be used as patterns for tapestries at the local royal weavers workshop.  Amazing.  Age and war do alter one’s  point of view, and to go backwards in his career, from the murals of massacre and the blindness of fate to these sunny comic scenes, was especially poignant.

So which was the greatest painter of the Big Three?  Impossible to choose.

 

 

Freeway-free in Spain: Madrid and its Museums: Reina Sophia

Line for Dali

Madrid is a big city, the largest we have visited in Spain. Unlike the other largish cities we have visited, it does not seem to have a historic center; the Plaza Mayor is a nice place in daylight, but in the evening it is a haven for the homeless who are sheltering in cardboard boxes left over from the day’s sales of tidbits and trinkets for tourists. The main gathering place for events is the Puerta del Sol, site of the city hall and of Madrid’s civic mascot, the statue of a bear reaching for fruit on a strawberry tree (obviously not the kind of strawberries we grow for shortcake in the US).  Unlike other European capitals, it does not have an iconic identifying landmark, like the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben  or the Brandenburg Gate or St. Paul’s Cathedral.  What Madrid has is Art, in three world-class museums, and in Madrid we looked at Art, with an occasional eyeball-break in the lovely Parque del Buen Retiro.

Here are our experiences with the Big Three (spreading over a couple of posts):

Museo de la Reina Sophia
Reina Sophia focuses on  Spanish modern art with the jewel of the collection being
PIcasso’s  Guernica Pablo-Picassos-Guernica-001.  The museum was having a special exhibit of Dali
which had started two days before our arrival and despite the drizzle the line to get in there was across the plaza  when we arrived at 4:30.  We decided to do the rest of the museum and come  back later for Dali.  We worked our way up in the general admission line, and  discovered gleefully that as seniors we qualified for free admission to  everything but Dali.  W had done her prep and started us on the second floor, but even  then we wore out our feet and our brains before we got to Guernica.  

Two days later we came back to the Reina Sophia for a second go-around.  This time we let ourselves drown in the overwhelming torrents of Dali and Picasso. These had never been my favorite painters, but after learning of the background against which they lived and painted I am more favorably inclined.

I did not know that Guernica had been painted on commission by the republican government of Spain to show at the Spanish pavilion at the 1936 World’s Fair in Paris.  I did not know it  was part of an attempt to win world sympathy for the republicans in the Civil War against Franco. (They got a lot of sympathy, but Franco still won). And I did not know that during World War II Dali had to flee Spain for France, then for the USA. There he became the first performance artist/career celebrity, perfectly reading the needs of the host country, anticipating Paris Hilton and Madonna by a half-century.

After drinking from the fire hydrant of history and art at Reina Sophia, the park was a chance to stretch our legs and our eyes over some longer distances.  There is something very refreshingly basic about a vista that includes a little girl and a pigeon.

Park and Pigeon

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