The program took us on a weekend trip to Madrid as part of the Seminario Cultural, and it was one of the most eclectically diverting weekends I’ve experienced. Aside from the brutally early wake up time to catch the train, the travel there and back was fantastic. There is something incredibly soothing about trains; maybe a combination between rhythmic clacking and the knowledge that there’s only room for one high speed vehicle on a train track unlike the thousands of cars recklessly careening down the highways.
Madrid’s city center is exquisite. There are great monuments and old buildings that have been spotlessly maintained and are representative of very specific architectural movements that I don’t know the names of. There is something about European cities, and Spanish cities in particular that gives an impression of wisdom and heritage; these building have overlooked plazas where generations of people have walked off a bad day, or met with friends, or just wandered pensively. Our hotel was very close to the historical center, but was on a street that is home to all of the expensive high fashion stores and theaters. So to ensure that we didn’t spend the whole weekend walking up and down that street that might as well have been Fifth Avenue and Broadway combined, MCP took us to the Prado Museum, and gave us a list of other cultural activities in which we had to participate. My top priority was seeing Picasso’s Guernica in person, so directly after the Prado we went to get lunch and then made our way to the Museo Reina Sofía.
The Museo Reina Sofía is my Tiffany’s. It’s this big square building, with a sculpture patio in the center and 4 floors of exhibition rooms, ranging from Dalí and his surrealist contemporaries to modern photography series and lesser known impressionists. It was incredibly peaceful. Once you enter the doors, time seems to stand still, and you are free to wander to your hearts content. I was also expecting to see more people there, but it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. The art was moving, and intriguing and the whole time I was struck by how grateful I was to be there.
The trip to the museum was wonderful, but because I spent the majority of my time with other students in the program, we were speaking a garbled mix of Spanish and English in an attempt to properly communicate to each other how awesome we all thought the museum was. The language mess managed to untangle itself when I met up with my Madrileño friend from back home. He and one of his friends offered to show me around the city while we were there, and it was phenomenal. I ventured into the metro system and met them in an inexpensive artsy neighborhood in Madrid, near the center, but hidden away enough to be untainted by tourists. The three of us spoke Spanish all evening and wandered around Madrid. We ate tiny tapas sandwiches for a euro a pop, and talked about languages and politics and untranslatable movie humor.
Of the three things that will remain in my mind the most from my trip to Madrid, two of them were from the “real Madrid” segment of the weekend. The first was the old abandoned factory turned art-and-gathering space that we went to first. The building was run down, but all the walls were covered in politically motivated street art and fliers about underground goings-on in Madrid. There was music coming out from under heavy metal doors to a bunch of rooms where rock bands and horn quartets were practicing. The second place that will stick in my memory for ages came after the factory. We went to a small bar where they have live music every night, and although they’re usually jazz bands that Saturday was rock night. First there was a small indie rock band called “No Es Pecado.” I was thrilled, not only because I really enjoyed their music but also because I could actually understand all their lyrics. And the cherry on top was the classic rock cover band that sang top 40 rock singles from 1985 in thick spanish accents. It was intriguing to see American music culture that is so familiar through the eyes of a culture that consumes it from the outside. There was a feeling of camaraderie caused by shared love of this classic music that really reminded me of how minor and changeable cultural differences really are.
I am really grateful for that weekend away. It was incredibly refreshing to see Spanish culture, but not high culture. In the seminar we spent time learning about art and politics and history, which is great for contextualizing the country and knowing what anyone who studies European history would know. What it doesn’t provide is a window into the everyday lives of Spanish citizens, especially young citizens. In Madrid, I got to see and participate in activities that are the equivalent of how my peers and friends would be spending their time. That’s what I came to Spain to learn about, and I really liked what I saw.