no matter how your heart is grieving, if you just keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true
It was yet another busy week in Madrid as students, professors, professionals scramble to finish exams, papers and projects before springtime, sunshine and Semana Santa limit our planning abilities to long walks in the park, weekend trips to the beach and strawberry-gelato-runs after dinner. Fortunately for my very wild imagination, this week Madrid was cold, rainy and dismal, which made studying just a bit more appealing than running around Retiro. The rain also brought a great time for reflection on what I have learned, seen and experienced in this first half of a semester abroad and what I am looking forward to during the remainder of my time here.
This week, I have been preparing for the final presentation that accompanies my internship. Along with our internship credit hours, students must prepare a 15-page paper on the research topic of their choice and explain their findings to a small interested audience in a 20-minute oral presentation. Although at first glance, I was entirely overwhelmed by this idea, I realized that this type of preparation, especially in Spanish, is truly invaluable for my research skills, professional career, and bettering my vocabulary and fluency. Although I must admit that this week the ominousness got to me, I also realized how much I’ve learned and grown from this internship in just two months and how the lessons I have learned within this sector of my abroad experience have already begun to shape where I see myself professionally in the future.
Once the workweek came to a close, it came time to explore this city I call home. A couple friends and I were interested in seeing Matadero Madrid, a former slaughterhouse that has been converted to a center for music, art, design and film in the past half a decade. There are a number of exhibitions, theaters, music venues and libraries to peruse and explore within the sprawling space. Recently, Matadero has been connected to the path alongside the river so that during weekends, creative arts aficionados can take a break from a bike ride along the shore for peak into this collective space. When get got to the Madatero, however, it was rainy and worse yet closed (not to self, check opening times on weekends, oops!), so we decided it would be best to return on another spring weekend, perhaps after a rollerblading by the river…that will be an adventure worth writing about!
About a month ago, the same group of girls and I stopped into the Thyssen-Bornemisza art museum for the Cartier exhibit. While we were there, we really did not get to see a large part of the permanent collection, so we decided to return and check out what we missed. I was pleased with this idea, especially since my museum attendance in Madrid has been embarrassingly low thus far! We started in the temporary exhibit Impressionism and Open-Air Painting: From Corot to Van Gogh that absolutely blew me away. I had no idea that I would have such a connection to this type of art, but as we meandered through the exhibit rooms, I was totally enraptured by Rousseau’s “Study of Rocks and Trees”, Gustave Courbet’s “The wave” and Van Gogh’s “The Stevedores in Arles.” I think I was most intrigued by the idea of using the natural world as a subject for unparalleled artistic expression. Above some of the paintings (I believe in the landscapes room) an excerpt of one of Van Gogh’s letters to Emile Bernard, circa 1888, caught my undivided attention. It read:
“Others may have more clarity of mind than I for abstract studies…I’m still living off the real world. I engage it, I sometimes make changes to the subject, but I still don’t invent the whole of the painting; on the contrary, I find it ready made, but to be untangled in the real world.”
This idea of “untangling” a masterpiece from the real world really spoke to me during this visit. As a global studies student, living in a country where political conflict and protest has become more or less a thing of daily life, my optimistic mentality has been hit with some pretty debilitating blows. While it is true that yes, the world can look pretty tangled: full of corruption, of sadness, of injustices, of pollution, of commercialization, of industrialization, you name it, there is still some salvaging hope for a masterpiece once the complications of life are untangled. The difficult thing is that creative minds cannot be dissuaded by the “knotty” reality, but rather view it as a puzzle, something that must be sorted out in a totally original manner in order to bring forth solutions that the future will regard as inventive masterpieces!
After my surprise moment of optimistic enlightenment, we stopped into the Thyssen’s café for a renewal of caffeinated energy. The dining space is just as beautiful as museum itself and the coffee tasted exceptional! We could not have picked a better place to spend a rainy day in the city. After our coffee break, we toured through the permanent collection, yet another goose-bump-inducing experience…note to self, I have to do this museum thing more often!
Last time I was here, I saw my first Dalí entitled “Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before waking up” (gotta love those surrealist titles ;)). This time we saw, Degas’ 1879 “Dancer in Green”, Jean Metzinger’s “Bathers” (1905) and Edward Hopper’s “Hotel Room” (1931) among other works by Georgia O’Keefe, Pablo Picasso and Richard Estes….maybe you’ve heard of them? Although not the most famous collection in Madrid, the Thyssen is truly vale la pena for every visitor of this city.
I found yet another quote, this time by Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza that spoke about the “remarkable capacity that works of art have to move and unite human beings.” I could not be more in agreement with this idea and as I sipped a glass of white wine that night with friends, talking about how much we loved our Friday, our friendships and the fact that we LIVE here, I felt that capacity in action.
Segovia on Saturday
The following morning, we awoke early for the trip to Segovia. Segovia is a small town located just about an hour outside of Madrid and is home to 36 Roman churches, an impressive Roman Aqueduct, one of the last Gothic cathedrals built in Spain, and perhaps most famously (okay, what I was most excited to see) the Alcazar de Segovia that the construction of Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle is based on. N.B. : the Cinderella castle is the castle at the center of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Construction of the Cinderella castle at Disneyworld was completed in 1971, and is more than 100 feet taller than the Sleeping Beauty Castle located at the original Disneyland in California (based on the Neuschwanstein Castle castle in Bavaria, Germany, for those who are interested). Being an unapologetic Disney princess aficionado, I was beyond thrilled to see this city and visit the castle of a Disney princess.
We began our tour at the bus stop with a cup of café and a piece of bizcocho, or sponge cake (a typical Madrileña breakfast, I was told), before starting our tour of the town. We began at a church in the Barrio de las Brujas. Interestingly, because the towns in this old city hold so many churches, the barrios are traditionally named after the church in its center. This church was constructed in Romanesque architectural style, complete with tall apses on both ends. The spooky barrio name is not due to any sort of haunted nature of the church’s edifice, however, but rather in reference to the women of this area who would wear black dresses and hats when they went to mass on Sundays. When the wind passed through the church’s plaza, the women would look like witches casting spells among the town’s inhabitants.
We then ventured to the Aqueducts of Segovia. These aqueducts are some of the most well preserved ancient structures that remain on the Iberian Peninsula. Although we observed just a small portion of the structure from Plaza Azoguejo, the aqueduct extends for about 16km in its entirety. Its construction of granite blocks carefully arranged in a pattern to sustain tons and tons of weight (oh yeah, and moving water) is an incredible sight to see from below. At its tallest, the aqueduct is 28.5 meters tall (almost 100ft). I was most intrigued by the many arches constructed with the same heavy granite blocks that make up the pillars….how the Roman’s managed to formulate that architectural plan, build the aqueduct to such height and keep it functioning for the length of an empire is beyond me…maybe we should start looking for creative solutions to global change with them…or learn from their mistakes (just a thought!).
We then walked over to a part of the city with incredible views of the mountain range that separates Segovia from Madrid. The mountain range, called la mujer muerta (or the dead woman), has a few legendary stories defining its origin. One speaks of two sons of a chief fighting for the power to rule. The mother of these two warriors did not want to witness the fratricidal battle and instead sacrificed her life for peace in the kingdom. After she died, the gods created a mountain range in the distance in the shape of her body. Once the brothers saw this and realized the sacrificial act of love of their mother, they stopped fighting and peace resumed. It is said that at 6pm each night, the two brothers send kisses down to their mother in the form of a cloud that drops down to touch one of the peaks.
Behind this stunning vista is a very interesting building known as Casa de los Picos, although the origin is not known for sure, a plausible story says that the home was owned by a rich Moor. Rather than being known for this, at that time, derogatory title, the owner changed it to Casa de los Picos, a definition based on the architecture, not necessarily the owner’s background. We then passed by the Cathedral, a truly magnificent and almost magical structure that, as I mentioned before, is one of the last Gothic cathedrals constructed in Spain.
And finally, we made it to Alcazar de Segovia! The castle, the moat, the romantic gardens and the spectacular views make you feel like Prince Charming is waiting just around the corner! The castle is constructed on a point above the Eresma and Clamores rivers and this nautical proximity is tied into the castle’s construction through its shape: a construction that looks very much like the bow of a ship. It was originally built by Arabs as a fortress in the early 1100s and soon became the residence of Castilian monarchs of the region. Each king that lived in this castle added to its structure, creating the grandeur that stands today.
One very important historical fact about this castle is that it served as a fortress for then princess Isabella, who was crowned here on December 13, 1474 as Isabella I of Castile. This coronation is depicted in a painting inside the castle in a super creepy manner (so much folklore in this city!). The work depicts Queen Isabella proceeding into the streets with the townspeople surrounding her. Although it looks like an encapsulation of any historical event might look, it lacks one minor detail…. not one person has eyes! This is because Isabella was crowned queen on December 13, the day of St. Lucia, patron saint of vision. The artist chose to remove vision of his subjects, just as the royal court removed any sort of remembrance of this saint on the day that this powerful woman was brought into power.
Later we looked at the royal bedroom, a museum of armor, and a number of great rooms where the royals would hold meetings with their subjects and contemporaries. I was most impressed by the room with two thrones and a banner above with the motto of los Reyes Catolicos (Isabella and her husband Ferdinand) “Tanto Monta” which means basically “they amount to the same” or “equal opposites in balance,” confirming the fact that the two monarchs ruled their kingdoms with equal joint power. We then climbed the 157 stair tower to the top of the castle where we witnessed ridiculously stunning views of the cathedral, the valley and the city buildings below…seriously, where was Prince Charming and his fleet of musicians to serenade me and present me with the glass slipper?
We concluded our trip with a lunch at a local restaurant, where one of my friends tried the food Segovia is most known for: cochanillo. What may you ask, is this food? Cochanillo is suckling pig, or baby pig not yet weaned from its mother that is roasted in its entirety and served on a large plate, usually for large social gatherings. While the concept of eating a baby pig did sort of freak me out at first (hello? baby Wilbur!) I did try it and found the meat rich and delicious and the crunchy skin much more appetizing than I thought it would be. While I don’t plan on making a habit out of eating this type of food, it was certainly an experience worth having. I also tried the traditional Segovian dessert, called tarta de ponche, which basically just tasted like a marzipan-coated cake. Not anything to write home about (figuratively speaking, since I guess literally I am) but again, worth the experience. On the bus ride home, exhausted from an action-packed day, I took a quick nap, and if I’m being honest, tuning into the Disney princess soundtracks on my iPod most of the way home…what can I say, You can take the girl out of the castle, but she’ll still be a princess (yes, I know, corny…but accurate )
After a weekend that I did not think could get any more wonderful, I had a surprise visit today from one of my best friends from Providence, Kaitlin! It was so wonderful to meet up and talk about our new Spanish adventures over a glass of wine. Although we didn’t have long to catch up, it was wonderful to have a quick conversation and see a familiar face after such a long time. As we casually exchanged words in English transitioning into Spanish, transitioning back into English, it was clear that the both of us have already learned and grown so much.
In the second half of this trip (SO crazy that we have already been here two months!), I am excited for new adventures in Madrid, warm weather, St. Patrick’s Day at Irish bars in Spain (a distinct experience of globalization), my twenty-first birthday, trips to other countries and along the Spanish coastlines, yoga in Retiro and Sunday afternoon walks…. wow, this place really is a dream come true.