Madrid. My kind of Capital

Metropolis. George Grosz. Thyssen-Bournemisza

When one thinks about it, this could have been my capital -along with all other Brits- city. If only Mary Tudor had lived longer, her pregnancy hadn’t been a false one, or the Armada captains had had more favourable winds, we could have continued under Spanish suzerainty, and all the ramifications that would have ensued. The English would have been better dressed, the settlement of North America would have been under Catholic auspices, our churches would have been more ornate, I would have spent more money on medallions and hair chest? Anyway, none of this happened so I’ll have to visit Madrid as a tourist. Wonderful city, really in my top……top. One of those places where there’s just a good vibe and you can walk for hours and never tire of the place.

One of the best things about flying back to UK from Costa Rica is using Iberia, so every trip is punctuated by a stop in the city. We usually take Airbnb as there are some great addresses available. The last time I was here, I had a super roof top apartment with terrace right next to San Miguel Market, which is really one of the highlights for any trip here.

San Miguel Market

The market is fantastic with so many exceptional products, and where I was introduced to the notion of ‘vertical eating’. You simply walk from stall to stall, finding something you like, eating it there whilst chatting with the stall owner or your fellow diners, before moving onto the next spot. A dozen oysters with a glass of Spanish bubbles, a plate of paella and a glass of white Rioja, a slice of Spanish omelette, some local charcuterie and a glass of Tempranillo. Olives. Sardines. The Bacaloa -Salt Cod- with a glass of Sangria that every does so well. There was one lady who looked like Lita Cabellut, my favorite contemporary (Spanish) artist, doing these excellent Empanadas, which I couldn’t stop eating. I waddled over to the real artery-clogging Banderilla (kind of corn-dog) for a last plate before paramedics intervened and took me back to my apartment. Actually, 50 meters from one of the exits is a great Flamenco bar. I absolutely love these performers. The music, the guttural narration, the intensity of feeling. Every time we’re in Spain we always search out a new venue.

Off to the Prado. Surely one of the top five museums in the world. The collection is amazing, I love Baroque and you’ll find here some of the greatest works from the period. As propaganda, Baroque is surely the most aesthetically pleasing art movement, certainly compared to the Nazi and Soviet art of the Thirties depicting Herculean workers with ribbed bodies and carved jawlines, permanently pregnant maidens and heroic, benign leaders pointing to some spot in the distance, probably a food store that still had produce. Anyway, aside from the sheer beauty of much of the Baroque works, I love the idea of tennerbrism, light and darkness, the eternal Manichean conflict between forces of evil, say, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, the new generation of woke activists who love misery as it gives them an opportunity to accumulate positions of influence and entirely unearned merit, and forces of good, such as regular hard working people who are prepared to take responsibility for their actions and understand and are willing to assume the simple term, ‘democratic duties’. Oh yeah, they also have a great collection of the Hieronymus Bosch, 16th century Dutch artist, who anticipated surrealism by centuries. Philip II, when he wasn’t sulking in the cold and rain of England, or planning invasions, actually collected Busch’s work, hence why there are so many at the Prado.

Cure for Folly. Bosch

Dinner is in Plaza de Santa Ana, and is a veritable feast. At night time the hotel Reina Victoria is beautifully lit and the square is full of people. I sat for four hours and ate oysters, seafood, tasty hams, read a book and watched the Madrideans go about their lives.

Bee Gees in Madrid

Wake up, get breakfast somewhere that serves freshly squeezed juices, has good coffee and decent pastries. Off to the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Excellent museum, easy to get into without tickets, which is a consideration if you’re having a relaxed trip to the city. Check out Meitner’s Corner House and Grosz’s Metropolis. You can have dinner on the terrace at El Mirador after viewing the collection.

Meidner’ s Corner House at the TBM

The Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace are both beautiful and can be visited one after the other, and whilst you have the energy you can take the short trip to El Escorial, another Spanish building that leaves you speechless.

Apparently, no trip to the city is complete without a visit to Sacha Restaurant. We went there and had an excellent evening. Tasty Lamb cutlets with caramelized garlic. The place is one of those timeless bistros that seem to escape the vicissitudes of time and fashion, people keep coming here, I suppose because it rarely disappoints. In a world that venerates newness, this is a sobering thought.

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