The last few days I have been heading down to the center to make sure that everything is under control there. Without my keeping an eye on things, God knows what sort of havoc could break loose. Things for the Olympic team in Spain could not have started more disastrously. Things have perked up a little in the past 48 hours, but up until the eleven days, this country had only three medals to its name. Calamity after calamity befell the national team. In the cycling time trials, Luis Leon was a major candidate for the podium, and the minute the whistle blew for him to race out of the gate, his chain broke, that’s right. What is the likelihood of that happening, my friends? They quickly rushed substitute bike to him and that got him started, but about seven miles later, he got a flat tire. Now, tell me, what was the likelihood of that happening? It can believe it or not…but both incidents? And at the final? This is the old-style buffoonish sports screw up that I figuredSpainhad begun to overcome, but I guess with the crisis here and everything, I guess with the government up to its armpits in debt, I guess with the threat of a financial rescue around the corner, just about anything is possible.
In the evening I met some friends at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. It’s the world’s largest private collection turned semi-public on a permanent basis. Everyone calls it the Thyssen (pronounced /Teeson/) for obvious reasons. The museum itself its pretty topnotch foe being a private one, but one of its best attributes is the great exhibits it hauls in from arounf the globe. This year it was Edward Hopper. Most of his works are scattered around museums from my home regions ofNew YorkandNew England, but it was nice to see a majority of them pooled together in one show.
The exhibit was crowded. Not bad for the end of July. Tickets cost what they cost and the good residents who have stayed inMadridto keep order too, have not cut out culture from their budget, despite the millions of destitute people in the streets that everyone from abroad is expecting. Much of his work was there, the most absence being “Nighthawks”, but you can get a good idea of the trajectory of his work, especially if you are scattered-brained, Gemini or just plain thick. Whoever came up with the setup must have felt they were pretty clever, but I found it all very frustrating. Early works from 1910 were placed next to engravings from the 1930s, then followed by some sketches from around 1918. His final painting from 1967 suddenly appeared right in the middle.
I went for one of those audio guides, something I rarely do, and thank God because otherwise there was absolutely no information provided about hardly any of the works. The others who did not opt for this system, drifted around from landscape to landscape as lost and solitary as the characters on the canvas themselves.
On the other hand, they were spared of a certain degree of torture. You see, my advantage was only relative, because the audio guide was hardly anything to write home about. It was a tape of the most ridiculous and childish scripts you’ve ever heard. The ones that you feel as if you are supposed to be eight years old. The ones that say, “Hi my name is Leonardo da Vinci, and this is my friend, Mona Lisa. Do you like her smile? I painted it myself!” You want to just throw up over and over again. I got so fed up I started barking out loud about how worthless it was, and the guard in the room came and, clearly bored with having to spend hours wit nothing to do, admonished me for making too much noise. I replied, “Have you listened to this? It’s junk!”
“Please, you can’t make noise. That’s all I ask.”
“Try listening.” I put the phone to her ear but she shoved it away.
“If you don’t stop, I’ll have to have you removed.”
Now that was a first. Never in my life have been threatened with ejection from a gallery. Getting booted from a bar might be one thing, but it takes skill and art to be asked to leave from the Thyssen. I gave up and behaved myself lest I distract the others. Afterwards we went out for dinner, snacked on some raciones and wine and went out around theSanta Ana area to go for a drink.
If there is anyone who does not appear to be suffering, it’s the cocktail bars. A mixed drink of even the most basic kind will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of 10€ and upwards. I rarely go out for them anymore. But I can’t say the same for the rest of the city.
Not a table was available. What day was it? Wednesday? I felt like taking out a megaphone and shouting “Why are you here? Don’t you know that you don’t have any money? Haven’t you heard? You’re broke and your nation is on the verge of collapse. Please, now, go home and mope. Thank you, and have a good night.”
I didn’t really mean it; all I wanted was a table. But eventually we had to head to some other part. The outdoor cafés were packed.
We rested our bones at a cocktail bar near the Calle Toledo. We had tow rounds apiece and that came to 60€. That’s more than the price of a monthly public transportation pass. The average salary inSpainis about 1600 euros per month. In theUnited States, if they earned euros, it would be over 2,500.
How do they do it here?