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Published: July 27th 2008
I've not been to Spain for a few years now, and I was given a reminder of the Spanish way of life when I arrived a the airport. As 100 of us stood by the conveyor belts waiting for our luggage, only 6 cases made the slow journey around, like sad sushi rejects. As a little black case went past me for the 25th time, I suspected something was wrong. It did provide a moment of comedy as a confused old man checked to see if it was his EVERY time it went past. Then we were reliably informed our cases were on a belt 200 metres away. Cue a stampede to rival the opening day of the Merry Hill Boxing Day sales. That's what Spain is like - calm and serene, then periods of franticness. Anyway, the rest of our first day was spent trying to locate the hotel. There's nothing like being made to feel welcome, and our quiet late night drink was accompanied by a bowl of what seemed like pork crunch (it was just like being in West Bromwich - except for the heat). I say "seemed" as the last time I was confronted with a bowl of snacks in Spain they looked suspiciously like onion rings, only to turn out to be calamari.....
You can add a nother name to the great Englishmen who have graced the Santiago Bernebeu - McManaman, Beckham, Owen, Woodgate and now.... Jenks. Unfortunately, Real Madrid haven't seen sense and offered me a contract - we were on the tour of the ground, and for €15 we were given access to everything: pitch, stands, dressing rooms, press area, museum - absolutely brilliant to see the history and achievements of one of the biggest clubs in the world. Puskas, Di Stefano, Raul, exhibitions and trophies galore.....
Strange day today, really quiet for a Friday, and then the city explodes into life at around 7-8pm. Good job I´d had a siesta then! We spent the day visiting the sights of Madrid - the Retiro, Palacio Real, Plaza Mayor, all fabulous places with years of history behind them - the Spanish love a statue or two to commemorate things! what does need a mention though is the fabulous underground Metro system - lots of colour coded lines and stations that seems an incomprehensible maze at first, but I have perseveredand am now an expert in train-hopping my way around the city. I have also made an effort with the language as well, normally I am useless at languages but after 2 rehearsals I managed to order a large diet coke perfectly (it might not seem much but I am proud of myself!) Tomorrow is art and culture day, 3 art galleries and a late night bullfight - yes, you heard me right. In my attempt to immerse myself in all aspects of Spanish culture, I am going to see what the fascination is. Hemingway once said that "Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honour". It seems like a piece of theatre, split into three acts, and the posters show glamorous pictures as if it were a movie from the 1950s - I doubt the reality will be the same, and I am simultaneously apprehensive and excited...
I'm afraid I don't know enough about art to truly appreciate it, but I was impressed with some of the offerings at the Reina Sofia museum. If you like your Dali then there is plenty of surrealism on offer, but for me the highlight was the Guernica - Picasso's huge painting depicting the Nazi bombing of Guernica in the 1930s. It wasn´t quite what I was expecting as a depiction and there are some interesting images hidden if you study hard enough - I would recommend a holiday to Madrid just to see it. What I wouldn´t recommend, however, is going to see a bullfight. Sport? No. Art? No. Theatre? No. Well, not for me anyway. I can finally see the fascination in an event that British people would struggle to connect with culturally, and if it's all the same with you, I'll stick to football. Thousands of people packed the Plaza del Torres, and what really shocked me was how many families were there with their small children. The night began with a sort of "Matador Idol" where 15 men (or "idiotas" as I like to call them) took it in turns to goad and wind up the bull, waiting for it to charge at them, and then diving out of the way at the last minute. The crowd were either rewarding bravery or stupidity (I still can't work out which) and some of the men even had their own little fan club - number 3 won, much to the delight of his supporters. I found it hard to engage with, watching poor bulls taunted, slapped and provoked to the amusement of the crowd, and I was probably the only person in the arena who was supporting the bull and wanting him to gore one of the arrogant prats right in the backside - Viva los Toros! Due to having to catch the Metro, we left just before 1am as the Matador finally took to the floor. Watching the first part was upsetting enough, so I think I am glad I didn't stay to see any bandilerras shoved into the poor bull's neck, or the final, brutal, estocada.
Anyway, off for a siesta now before our flight home tomorrow. ¡Buenas Noches!...
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