Millions of Americans have come to Madrid, enjoyed themselves immensely and then departed. It’s a safe city, I tell you; it really is. The last thing to ever cross my mind here is that something fateful is going to befall me. But a few, a very few, mind you, have had a notably rougher time of it. The worst that comes to my mind was the time two young college students and Italian suffered a horrific death in a car on the Gran Vía. The Italian was at the helm of the vehicle and, from what I imagine had more alcohol in his body than the car had fuel. And he was also commandeering a car far too potent for the circumstances. Well, they came roaring up Alcalá from the Plaza de Cibeles and veered right onto the Gran Vía. That’s it; it’s not a sharp 90º turn but rather a wide curve will plenty of road to invite the Formula 1 pilot in you to pull all sorts of insane stunts. That’s what they did. But they failed; and the car slammed right into a street light. A thick one. I am sure they were having a blast up until that point, but things only got worse. The car burst into flames and the occupants were pinned inside. Unfortunately they had not been killed during the initial impact and unfortunately they were far from unconscious. The ensuing helpless screams for help and the helpless cries of helplessness from those who happened to be nearby and were trying to do something turn the tragedy into a horrific experience for everyone. The commotion woke up nearly half the neighborhood, many of the buildings themselves were hotels and the balconies filled with stunned tourists in pajamas and mouths agape and hands on heads and eyes turning away and ears seeking silence.
I wasn’t even there and I still never fully recovered from the thought. I recalled the film The Great Waldo Pepper, a 1970s movie about a famous barnstormer. In one scene, another pilot crashes his biplane and gets caught in a similar situation. Robert Redford, who plays Waldo, has to club him to death to put him out of his misery. I was about eight years old when I saw the movie. It must have made an impression on me.
Anyway, I hadn’t started this section of the guide to discuss stories about madmen and their flying machines nor young collegians who get burnt alive beyond recognition.
I came to talk about the Prado Museum. (I’ll tell you more a little later)