In a few minutes I’l be lugging my bike down the stairs and out the door to the annual Bike Day Festival in Madrid (known as the Fiesta de la Bicicleta). It’s held on the first Sunday of October which is today, if my memory and calender serve me. Ten of thousands of people participate in the 21 km fun ride…and I’m late…so I’ll add on to this later. I really need to start up with Twitter…
Well, tens of thousands did end up taking part. It was like I-95 on Thanksgiving weekend. But once things opened up, it was fine. The course takes you from the Retiro Park all the way up to the Plaza de Castilla, then down to the Castellana Avenue to the Plaza de Colón; then you turn right and ride by Bilbao and San Bernardo and over to Princesa Street and down to the Plaza de España; then the mighty Gran Vía hill to Callao and down the other side to Cibeles; from there it you take a right and carry on all the way to the Carlos V, then back up the other side of the street by the Prado Museum to Cibeles again, and finally one more climb to the Puerta de Alcalá before returning to Menéndez Pelayo next to the Retiro Park. It’s a great tour of the city and a fun morning.
Traveling around Madrid’s streets on a bike allows you to appreciate some of the sights and sites that you normally wouldn’t have a chance to do if you were driving a car. And even so, it ain’t that easy. When you are surrounded by a million other bikers, many of whom are swerving kids, you can’t take your eye off the road for too long.
My main conclusion of the day was a negative one. It regards the golden Caja de Madrid Obelisk which was erected about three years ago as a gift from the bank to the city to celebrate 300 years since the institution was founded. After three centuries of making money off the local economy and its contributors, you would think that Caja de Madrid would have shown a little more appreciation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as it is responsible for having built the ugliest monument in the city…well, there are a few serious competitors, but I think this wins it. I came to this determination as I approached the Plaza de Castilla where the phallus stands. I took a good look at it and said to myself, “Yeap. That is damn ugly.” That was how I felt about it the first time I laid eyes on it, but sometimes I give these novelties another chance because you can’t always trust your first impression. Sometimes you have to let things simmer a while. Not a chance. I like it even less the more I look at it.
On top of that, it was Spain’s most international architect, Santiago Calatrava, who designed it. Apparently it was his first work in Madrid, and judging from the final product, I get the feeling he doesn’t like this city very much. From an engineering standpoint it is supposed to be a marvel. 150 tons are distributed among the three massive legs of a huge tripod at the base. Then the column soars up 92 meters into the sky. It was originally supposed to be 120 meters (400+ feet), but for structural complications (namely the weight), it had to be chopped down some 30 meters. I don’t think they went far enough. Architects who describe its construction admire its complex nature; but they ignore the larger picture. It’s an eyesore. What’s wrong with it? It’s gaudy, tacky and plain doesn’t fit in at all with the surroundings…well actually nothing fits in with the surroundings in that square, so maybe that final point is moot. It’s almost worth it for tourists to go out of their way to see it just so they can say, “Ah man, what the hell were they thinking? There outta be a law against doing things like that.”
The point is, I believe I have a right to complain about these things because they cost a lot of money and are very public. We had no say in the matter (I don’t even have an account with that bank, so I have even less of a say), and we are forced to look at it. I bet if I stuck it in the architect’s backyard he’d have a different opinion of it.
Oh, well. Just bitching a little. Other than that, I had a nice day.