A reflection on our time spent in Spain’s capital city.
¡Hola a todos!
Sorry for our long delay in posting, but we’ve been busy researching and whatnot. We don’t want to bore you with all the gory details, but here are some of the highlights of the first half of our trip.
Early Thursday evening, Stephanie needed to meet up with a Spanish playwright, Susana Sánchez, with whom she had been corresponding. We met her for drinks at a café near our apartment. Although it was difficult to find her…because speaking in foreign languages on phones would be harder than you might expect…we finally tracked her down, and sat down for a cerveza and a chat. She gave Stephanie a DVD and a text copy of her play, Donde Desdemona, which is about domestic violence in Spain. Susana was a super nice person, and even though our Spanish wasn’t as fast as hers, we all got on famously. We promised to watch the play, and meet up later that week to discuss it. On Thursday night, we went to see the play La Estrella de Sevilla. It is a play by Lope de Vega, so I figured I needed to go see it as part of my “research”. It was actually really interesting because it was a contemporary interpretation of the text. All of the characters on the stage wore modern-day business suits, even though the play is originally set in the 1500’s. This is just more evidence of how Lope de Vega’s legacy is still present within Spanish society today. He’s more than just a memory: his works are still relevant, and evolving, being interpreted for modern-day audiences.
Friday was the feast day for San Isidro, patron saint of Madrid. I’m not really sure what to compare it to, maybe our 4th of July? Anyway, we were told that the best way to experience this holiday was to just be out in the streets. Everything was closed for the holiday, so we took a day off researching and wandered into the Madrid streets. A few blocks from our apartment, we ran into a cultural performance in the middle of the street. Check it out:
Then, we went to this awesome market near Plaza Mayor (the largest plaza in Madrid), called El Mercado de San Miguel. You all know how much I love markets! We decided to participate in the festivities by trying the traditional pastry of the feast, rosquillas de San Isidro. Roscas are doughnuts, so these were like little doughnuts with a bit of lemon flavored icing in honor of San Isidro.
Delicious! After a little souvenir shopping (of course those places were open), we also took part in the Madrileño (Madrid-ian) lifestyle by stopping at an outdoor café on Plaza Ángel for a pre-dinner aperatif of cerveza. There were some street musicians playing flamenco guitar nearby, so overall, it was a very relaxing experience. Ironically, for dinner, we made Italian risotto…I just can’t escape Italy! Steph is definitely enjoying my newfound love for Italian cooking!
On Saturday, we decided to do a small excursion to the medieval town of Toledo. Unfortunately, trains in Spain are the only things that do leave on time, so we missed our first train! I had gone to Toledo about 5 years back, on a high school trip, but Steph had never been. Toledo is a really, really small city, surrounded by walls and a moat. Notre Dame’s Spain study-abroad program was located in Toledo, and we’re not sure how they managed to survive out in the middle of the countryside with nothing to do! Like in my Siena adventure, we arrived in Toledo without a map, however, unlike in Siena, we didn’t get lost and managed to find our way around just fine.
We hiked up to the city, and stopped at a tapas bar for lunch to recuperate our strength. We ordered a large pitcher of Sangria: it was refreshing, and better than the sangria we attempted to make at home!
The rest of the afternoon, we went on a (crazed-according to Stephanie) hunt for damasquinado jewelry. Damasquinado is the art of pounding 24kt gold wire into iron in intricate designs. When I was last in Toledo, I had purchased some damasquinado earrings, and had always wished I picked up a matching necklace. This was my chance to make those dreams come true! On our 27th tiendita (little store), we met a nice gentleman, who was willing to help us search for the holy grail of damasquinado: the perfectly matching pendant to go with my earrings. He went back to search the recesses of his shop, and managed to find a pendant that was pretty darn close. I was happy as a clam, and Stephanie was ecstatic that we got to go home. On the way back to the train station, we ran into an impromptu parade to one of the cathedrals…we weren’t really sure what they were celebrating, but it was entertaining nonetheless:
When we got back from Toledo, we made a quick dinner of sautéed chicken, potatoes, and asparagus. Yes Stephanie’s mom, we are eating our veggies!
Sunday was a busy day for me research-wise. First, I went to the Casa-Museo Lope de Vega. The house is completely restored to the period-style. In our little tour group were some Spanish moms and their kids, me, and an older gentleman who didn’t speak Spanish. Our tour guide didn’t really speak English, so I had the fun task of translating when necessary. After the tour, the older man asked me why I was touring Lope de Vega’s house, it’s not really the #1 tourist attraction in Madrid. I said I could ask him the same question, considering he didn’t even speak Spanish, and he replied that he was there because his late-wife wrote her PhD dissertation on one of Lope de Vega’s plays, Tobias. His wife had died 10 years earlier, and he decided to take a sort of memories tour around Spain to relive their travels. I explained to the gentleman that I was here working on a research project for ND, and told me that he had actually received his doctorate in history from ND as well. What a small world! We spent the next 20 minutes chatting about the commencement at ND that day, and the Obama controversy surrounding it.
Lope de Vega's Garden, the only thing I was allowed to take pictures of!
Afterward, I went back to the Biblioteca Nacional for a special presentation. Like Mayor Daley’s One Book, One Chicago, program, each month, the Biblioteca Nacional selects an important Spanish work as the “Piece of the Month”. They host special conferences about it, and have presentations at the library every Sunday. This month’s piece was Lope de Vega’s Arte nuevo de hacer comedias, which explains his new method for writing plays which made the theater so popular in Madrid, and made him eternally famous. The woman who did the presentation gave me a copy of her notes, which will be very useful for my research project.
When I returned to the apartment, Stephanie and I went for a Sunday stroll, and stopped for a tapas dinner at her favorite Madrid restaurant, Casa del Abuelo. We tried a bunch of small Spanish dishes, including gazpacho, cold tomato soup, patatas bravas, fried potatoes with spicy sauce, tortilla española, which is a like a potato-egg frittata, and gambas al ajillo, shrimp in garlic sauce. We finished the night by watching Susana’s play, Donde Desdemona.
On Monday morning, Steph went to the Biblioteca Nacional to watch another video for her research, and I went to the Reina Sofia art museum to study modernist art. There, I saw Picasso’s most famous artwork, Guernica.
Later that evening, we met up with Susana and her husband, Ismael, the lead actor of the play at their home, which was only a short walk from our apartment. They were very gracious hosts, and Ismael was very anxious to show us all of their collectables from their careers in theatre and drama. Ismael not only acts but also makes recycled art, and he made an awesome dress for Susana made out of blue plastic water bottles. It was so cool. Steph almost asked to try it on! They set out drinks and tapas for us and we sat and chatted about the play and the domestic violence situation in Spain. As the night continued and we were still talking about all things under the sun, Ismael decided to make us some homemade pizza for dinner. Susana was showing us pictures of all the travels she had taken when she was our age, including a trip to Cuba. We got some very rare (truthful) insight into the embargoed country. It was such an interesting experience to be able to sit and talk about cultural differences and similarities. We might (I hope!!) have convinced them to visit the U.S. But we also learned a lot about Europeans’ perspective on Americans. We were there for over four hours and finally walked back to the apartment after midnight. Susana and Ismael walked us part of the way to point out the Royal Textile Factory (still in operation). There were remnants of the Spanish Civil War (the 1930s) left on the building from artillery fire. It was fascinating to see that they had not tried to restore the building, but rather just left it as a fresh reminder of the bitter conflict in the country.
Us, Susana, & Ismael
The next morning, because we were working so late the night before, we decided to sleep in a bit. I headed to the Prado for the day, a museum I have wanted to visit for the past five years because we were not able to go on my last trip to Spain. Steph headed up to the University to check out the library resources at the IUEM (Instituto Universitario de Estudios de la Mujer) (University Institute of Women’s Studies). She was reading books and doing research most of the day, and we met back up in the apartment for dinner. We decided to make paella one last time before we left Madrid! It was yummy!
Steph really likes taking pictures of every dinner...
On Wednesday, our last full day in Madrid, we decided to stick together and walk around to check out a few last places for both of our research. First we headed to a few women’s shelters around the city for Steph and then we decided to walk to the Royal Palace and the theatre district for Alyssa. We took some good pictures, and just strolled around and soaked up the Madrid atmosphere. Mid-afternoon we stopped for a refreshing drink at Faborit, a Spanish response to Starbucks. We headed back to the apartment and stopped at a cool-looking bar on our street. We have walked past this bar countless times per day since we have been here, and were saving a drink here for our last day, but we were greatly disappointed with our daquiris ☹. That evening we made an easy spaghetti dinner and started packing and cleaning up the apartment. To finish the night, we watched the movie “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” People have been telling us to see this film because the plot is about two American girls in their early twenties, one blonde, one brunette, who go to Barcelona for the summer to do research. Although not many other people would appreciate the movie (it’s a Woody Allen film…), we thought it would be fun to watch a film related to our upcoming travels. Hopefully, we don’t have quite as much adventure while we are in Barcelona!
This morning, we are traveling to Lisbon, Portugal for the weekend. We were running around frantic this morning trying to get all of our stuff into our suitcases. Hopefully we have a nice person working at the check-in desk who will let our suitcases on the plane a few kilos overweight… otherwise we don’t know what we will be throwing out!
Here’s a few last photos of our small, but quaint, Madrid apartment:
Our apt. building
I am pretty sure clothes dryers just don't exist in Europe. This is how everyone dries their clothes...
¡Adios! See you in Lisbon!
-Alyssa and Stephanie