Monday, 13 October 2014

The end of the ride

When we said we would take stock after a week away from the boat - Claudia in Vienna while we were  in Madrid - what we had in mind was a considered weighing up of the evidence to date, an "on the one hand, and on the other hand" kind of discussion. That's how it's been thus far. That's not what happened. Life sometimes outpaces you.

Small dog in a hurry - Madrid

The girl who met us back on the boat on Friday afternoon was radiant. She exuded calmness and sense of contentment. She had a different energy. Whatever she found in Vienna, it should be bottled. After breakfast the next morning, we convened the Planning Meeting. Claudia took the initiative. It was time, she said, for her to pick up her own life again.  Much as she loved being on the boat - and much as she would love to go straight back to Vienna - she needed to go home. Sort out her stuff. Get herself back on her feet. She was ready for that. She would not be coming down to the Canaries with us.

Less than 24 hours after that decision was made, we were putting her in an early morning taxi to Malaga airport. She was on her way back to Sydney, via Auckland, and whatever life awaits her there. Hers to make.

Alex and I are alone again. We have no immediate plans. Every plan we had made this season was contingent on Claudia's well-being. Now that is no longer our immediate responsibility. It's hers, which is as it should be.

Spanish sky - through museum window in Madrid

We haven't had another planning meeting yet. I've been a bit sick, and the weather is rotten anyway. Another few days in the marina won't matter a jot. We need to collect our thoughts. Claudia has left a big hole, one that I keep falling into. Being away from our family has always been the hardest part of this "adventure" of ours. Alex is keeping himself busy doing "jobs" - setting up the preventer lines, pulling out all the spare lines and measuring off their lengths. I am reading. Delaying tactics. We should be booking a marina somewhere in the Canaries, or at least in Gibraltar. We should be thinking ahead. Tomorrow.

But let me backtrack a few days to Madrid.

Madrid streetscapes (and below)

Atocha railway station, central Madrid (and below)

The four days we spent there are already contained by a closed pair of brackets. Perhaps it's because of how we travelled - by very fast train, with no stops in between (Spain has a great train network). When you are used to marking off sea miles in units of 10 minutes, the rapidity of air and fast train transport can be a bit dislocating. Or perhaps that's just tourism - your holiday has a beginning, a middle and an end. Travelling by boat is different. The beginning is long ago, and the end too far away to imagine. On a boat, you're just living.

Henry VIII, painted by Holbein
In Madrid, there are three superb art galleries which, even if you go for nothing else, are worth the detour. We picked them off a day at a time, pacing ourselves according to the state of Alex's back ("museum back" is a condition which varies from irritating to excruciating, depending on the length of the visit). First stop was the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza which is a bit like a very sumptuous box of mixed chocolates, a private collection which, given the deep pockets of the collectors, can just about do as a complete course in Western art history. I would compare it to the Frick collection in New York. Frick made his fortune out of coal, the Thyssen-Bornemiszas made theirs out of steel and armaments. The number of paintings which the fifth and last Mrs Thyssen-Bornemisza, a former Miss Spain, collected between 1987 and 1993 suggests there's a lot of money in the kitty. I liked her choices. Surprisingly distinct from those of her husband and his father.

In the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (and below)

Velaquez, outside the Prado
Then we fronted up to the Prado, which has been on my bucket list for many years. Goya isn't a painter you can see anywhere else other than the Prado - or that's my understanding - and Goya, as I've come to realise, is one of those mysterious painters who inspire devotion. Robert Hughes and Siri Hustvedt have both written very passionately about him. I wanted to know why. One viewing isn't enough, but since the Prado has a lot of Goya works, you can at least start to think about the man. Take away something. His complexity, his exquisite portraits, his dark private murals, his brutal etchings. Alex loved Ribera even more. So strongly Spanish. I was surprised by Velaquez, who came a century before Goya, and by the Prado's massive collection of Rubens - Phillip IV was a huge fan and patron of Rubens who was a prolific painter and shrewd marketer.

Prado exterior (no photos allowed inside)

I expected to be overwhelmed by the Prado, but it wasn't the case. Overjoyed is more like it. Alex too, even through the pain haze created by "museum back".

San Miguel "market"  - tapas and drinks

Plaza Mayor

Planting a wall

Just what we saw (and below)

That left the contemporary art museum called Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Its prize exhibit is Picasso's Guernica. That's some prize for sure, but in fact the whole place is intoxicating, offering surprising new perspectives and brilliant use of space. We spent an entire day there.

Reine Sofia museum (and below)

Museums aren't to everyone's liking. You can make a case for visiting a big city like Madrid and wandering the streets, talking (ah, the language) to locals, sitting in bars, soaking up the buzz. Or in the case of the few days we were there, the panic - because the first case of Ebola contracted in Europe was made public during our stay. You could hear the headlines screaming. But in museums, if you put in the time, you get a sense of perspective that an afternoon spent soaking up the sun in the Plaza Mayor and digesting a platter of tapas doesn't give you. History comes in all sorts of guises, but one way to approach it is through art. For example, once you've seen the big history paintings in the Prado, the impact of Guernica - the last large-scale European history painting - is even greater. Picasso was painting in the tradition of Goya and Velaquez, for all his individual genius.

Now we've taken Madrid, what next? Odds are on the Atlantic.

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