Tuesday, October 04, 2005


So Madrid is experiencing a drought. I had noticed the signs around the hostel saying "please conserve water," were replaced yesterday morning with signs saying "PLEASE conserve water - Madrid is in a level one draught." I guess they´re coming out of their dry season, but the season has lasted longer than expected...

It was noticable this afternoon. I took a bus out of the city to nearby El Escorial to visit the palace/monastary of King Philip II (1527-1598), a man who took his religion seriously enough to share his home with over 100 monks. However, his home was about the size of your average shopping mall, so he could probably get away from the monks when necessary. These monks lived in opulence, too. The monastary portion of the palace was huge, light, and airy, decorated with El Greco paintings and furnished with marble floors.

But I´ve veered from draught to excess. Spain can do that to you. The ride on the bus to El Escorial was through a land that looked like the southwest: groves of withered trees, odd vegetation, and slender livestock trying to feed on arid grassless land. It was beautiful in its desolation, but I was happy to reach the town of El Escorial, with its cobblestone streets, close houses and sidewalk cafes.

The palace itself is an enjoyable walk, and I got to see two Bosch paintings without getting yelled at (not that I would hold a grudge), but on the whole, it is a rather sanitized tourist attraction. Beautiful, yes, but a little too clean, both physically and in its approach to history. On part of the tour, you go through the royal catacombs, the crypts that contain the bodies of la familia royale. The rooms are eerie, but beautiful. There is a large, circular, ornate tomb that contains the bodies of the numerous royal children who died in infancy. It resembles nothing so much as a large wedding cake, yet the representation of infant mortality, even for those who had (literally) all the money in the world, is heartbreaking.

But there is something satisfying about the bodies of a king and his family serving now as a tourist attraction. The people worked and gave their lives for the comfort of Philip II, now it´s his turn.

Entropy seems to be hitting in ways other than the drought. The shoulder strap on my bag has broken,and even though I´ve jerry-rigged it to last the rest of the trip, I wasn´t thrilled when it happened. Even more annoying was when I got a pen out of my bag, and discovered that it had broken. It didn´t leak ink in the bag, just on my sweater when I picked it up. The subtitle of this online journal has now proven true.

Before leaving El Escorial, I stopped in a local bar to have a beer and a sandwich before taking the train back. The sign on the bar showed a bowling ball and two pins. I love it when foreign places adapt fundamentally American iconography. When I got inside, I saw that they do indeed have two small bowling lanes, similar in size to skeeball on an amusement pier.

While eating my late lunch, I watched a Spanish soap opera, which was crazy in the way of most soap operas. There was a character who was supposed to be an old infirm man, but the actor playing him was 45 at most, and had "old man" white powder in his hair and moustache. It was like seeing a high school student play Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman." Even without being able to speak the language, I could tell what was happening because of all the soap opera "acting" - meaningful looks and stares as the music swells. The music in this case contained the familiar "stings" but spiced with twangy guitars, Herb Albert trumpets and I thought I heard some flute in there.

I´m leaving for Portugal tonight. I had checked my bag into a locker at the train station this afternoon so I wouldn´t have to cart it around all day. This evening when I went to get my bag, the big beefy security guard said something to me. After saying "Que?" he repeated it, and after a few minutes of pantomime and repeating words, I figured out what he had to tell me: the lockers are too expensive. They shouldn´t charge that much for people to check their bags.


Miss Stambaugh said...

Hey John,

I never received any helpful travel advice from my Portuguese friend. Oh well. I do know that the food is fabulous in the south - or really all over the country. Lots of fish fish fish, beans, cheese made from sheep's milk, stews...I never visited the country, but my friend is obsessed with the food from his homeland and pines for it regularly.


Iva said...

Hi, John,
Wasn't Phillip II the one who was married to Mary Tudor (aka Bloody Mary) of England? I guess he must have high tailed it back to Spain when Elizabeth became queen.
Sorry to hear about the drought, we here in PA can emphasize with that. We are supposed to have heavy rain here tomorrow for the first time in at least 3 months.
Your Aunts are heading to W-B tomorrow. Bobbi and Gavin will be here for a week, and I am not sure how long JuleAnn will be staying. I am looking forward to their visit.
I hope that you enjoy Portugal...I love you,