One museum I had never gotten around to seeing until this morning that is was the Naval Museum just a cannonball’s throw from the Cibeles Square in the heart of the city, in the Navy’s Headquarters, approximately 200 miles from the nearest navegable body of water. As to be expected, you can’t just waltz into the place unnoticed. They notice you and notice you well. They ask for a legal form of identification, your monthly bus pass does not count, and be stripped temporarily, albeit thirty seconds, of all your worldly possessions just to make sure you are not going to do some harm to the interior.
This is logical. Although it has been years since the Basque Terrorist Group E.T.A. has been violently active in many ways, it has yet to lay down its arms for good. And fanatical Islamists in the name of Al Qaeda so it was necessary for these kinds of institutions to keep the guard up. Having said that, I may have inadvertantly scared a few potential visitors away, which was not my intention at all. I was just hoping to explain why you had go through the checkpoint on the way in, not that there is any real chance of being blown to smithereens. That is most likely to happen in some other unassuming place. So, anyway, they checked me out and I guess found I was spotless, at least from a legal standpoint (if they only knew what I had heard the evening before from my friend Scott) and I went in.
You go up some stairs and then reach a small gift shop and a desk which acts as the ticket booth. Here came the second surprise. A pay-what-you-wish entrance fee. The woman on duty was a very attractive blonde and facing the very remote possibility of our going out for a drink later on after she got off I decided to fork over the suggested fee of 3 euros with a well vocal “Yes, I might as well make a contribution.” In this sense I was helping out the of pure male insinct rather than any care for the upkeep of the navy’s museum. The woman seemed extremely unimpressed by my generosity.
The exhibit is displayed in a long set of old traditional rooms with high ceilings. It is a traditional museum with and old-fashioned set-up, which is what I would expect to find in a place like this. Little has been done to make the place interactive or to cater to the monolingual tourist. If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re done. But if you like excellent model ships and large old oil paintings of nearly forgotten sea battles, and there are many people with those affinities, then this is the place for you. The are rooms and rooms of them. You can see cannons balls until you drop. One surprising detail was the number of references made to ships and battles where the the Spanish got their asses whipped. One particular model goes to great length to describe the desperate attempt by the Spanish fleet to escape from Santiago de Cuba Harbor and is practically annihilated. Five of six ships were sunk. It made the Charge of the Light Brigade seem like a fairly reasonable tactical decision. I felt sorry for Spain.
Part of the fun of going to these kinds of museums is discovering just the kind of visitor enters its halls too. Rarely a foreigner, and hardly a progressive-thinking Spaniard, most fellow viewers tended to be large families and young men who got a kick out of galleons, flags and wooden models. They came with the scenary too. And all for the same price.
Speaking of which…the blonde didn’t even look up at me to say goodbye when I left. I surely hope they invest my money wisely and not just one wood polish.