What Makes Madrid “Madrid”?

This item appears on page 47 of the April 2010 issue.
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In a writing “contest,” ITN posed the question “What makes Madrid “Madrid”? The window for submissions is closed, and in last month’s issue we named prize winners and printed a few of the entries. Here are a few more. Other cities will be the subjects of future essay contests, with more prizes.

Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica” brought me to Madrid, and if I’d seen nothing else during my two weeks in Spain in April ’09, it would have been enough.

I’d wanted to see this painting since the 1970s, when a small copy hung on my dorm room wall. The symbolism that emerged from my cheap print was mesmerizing, but I found that although I’d remembered every detail, the impact of seeing the real “Guernica” in Madrid for the first time was breathtaking.

This enormous, 25-by-11-foot painting hangs in the Museo Reina Sophía, Spain’s national museum of modern art, in the center of Madrid. It rubs shoulders with many other important works by Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and other Spanish artists, but “Guernica” is undeniably the most famous exhibit.

It’s one of the world’s quintessential graphic depictions of the atrocity and destruction of war, and the story behind this painting is as tumultuous as the scene it depicts.

Picasso painted a jumble of disjointed people, animals and flaming buildings, with sooty blacks and somber shades of gray, to tell the story of a peaceful Spanish village that was destroyed in 1937 by Hitler and Mussolini’s warplanes.

The painting hung at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, but Picasso refused to allow it to return to Spain until Spain was free from tyranny. While Picasso didn’t live to see this happen, “Guernica” did come home to Madrid in 1981, where it is a stunning eternal reminder and message for all generations.

Christine Beebe

Solvang, CA

Madrid is the Parque del Retiro on Sunday, watching families riding bikes, and enjoying mimes and jugglers. It’s young couples courting in rowboats on the lake, portrait painters sketching while couples just stroll the promenades lined with trees, and tourists with cameras getting their best shots of the huge, white Monument to Alfonso XII.

Madrid is a collection of world-class museums, beginning with Museo del Prado, housing the works of Velázquez and Goya; the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, showcasing 20th-century art; the Museo Sorolla, representing Impressionist Joaquín Sorolla’s paintings, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, with a variety of European artists in its collection.

Madrid is wandering the streets of Old Madrid, having coffee in the 17th-century Plaza Mayor, stopping in the Puerta del Sol to see the statue of the bronze bear eating from the strawberry tree (a symbol of Madrid) and taking a tour of the Palacio Real, the impressive royal palace.

Madrid is art everywhere — fabulous fountains and statues (like the Fuente de Cibeles), churches and cathedrals (like Nuestra Señora de la Almudena, across from the royal palace), doorways and windows with intricate carvings adorning them, even the government buildings with their stately columns.

Madrid is the upscale boutiques on Gran Via; the tempting items in El Corte Inglés, the fabulous department store chain, and Spanish hams, cheeses and wines in cafés. All of this, and much, much more, is Madrid!

Claudia Gerardsmith

Rio Rancho, NM

(September-November ’09)

Ahh, Madrid! Even 20 years after our visit, I recall our stay at an inexpensive hotel near Madrid’s airport prior to an early-morning departure the next day.

Unfortunately, after a two-week tour of Spain, our family of four was out of money. Everybody was getting hungry, and with the banks closed and none of the nearby restaurants accepting credit cards we were becoming desperate. Pooling our remaining cash, there was just enough to purchase some soft drinks at a small tapas bar on the grounds of the hotel.

The young bartender took an immediate shine to our 19-year-old daughter. Flashing a beguiling smile, he gallantly presented her with a tray of free goodies. His English was as limited as our daughter’s Spanish, but both managed to communicate quite well in the universal language of “flirteo.” Meanwhile, the rest of us eagerly dug into the food.

Other edible offerings quickly appeared as the bartender sought to delay our daughter’s departure. Only after his hunger was appeased did my husband put an end to the flirtations by hustling the family back to our room. And I think that even after 14 years of marriage, our daughter still has a soft spot for Spanish men.

Carol H. Probst

Bethel Park, PA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

In a writing “contest,” ITN posed the question “What makes Madrid “Madrid”? The window for submissions is closed, and in last month’s issue we named prize winners and printed a few of the entries. Here are a few more. Other cities will be the subjects of future essay contests, with more prizes.

Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica” brought me to Madrid, and if I’d seen nothing else during my two weeks in Spain in April ’09, it would have been enough.

I’d wanted to see this painting since the 1970s, when a small copy hung on my dorm room wall. The symbolism that emerged from my cheap print was mesmerizing, but I found that although I’d remembered every detail, the impact of seeing the real “Guernica” in Madrid for the first time was breathtaking.

This enormous, 25-by-11-foot painting hangs in the Museo Reina Sophía, Spain’s national museum of modern art, in the center of Madrid. It rubs shoulders with many other important works by Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and other Spanish artists, but “Guernica” is undeniably the most famous exhibit.

It’s one of the world’s quintessential graphic depictions of the atrocity and destruction of war, and the story behind this painting is as tumultuous as the scene it depicts.

Picasso painted a jumble of disjointed people, animals and flaming buildings, with sooty blacks and somber shades of gray, to tell the story of a peaceful Spanish village that was destroyed in 1937 by Hitler and Mussolini’s warplanes.

The painting hung at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, but Picasso refused to allow it to return to Spain until Spain was free from tyranny. While Picasso didn’t live to see this happen, “Guernica” did come home to Madrid in 1981, where it is a stunning eternal reminder and message for all generations.

Christine Beebe

Solvang, CA

Madrid is the Parque del Retiro on Sunday, watching families riding bikes, and enjoying mimes and jugglers. It’s young couples courting in rowboats on the lake, portrait painters sketching while couples just stroll the promenades lined with trees, and tourists with cameras getting their best shots of the huge, white Monument to Alfonso XII.

Madrid is a collection of world-class museums, beginning with Museo del Prado, housing the works of Velázquez and Goya; the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, showcasing 20th-century art; the Museo Sorolla, representing Impressionist Joaquín Sorolla’s paintings, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, with a variety of European artists in its collection.

Madrid is wandering the streets of Old Madrid, having coffee in the 17th-century Plaza Mayor, stopping in the Puerta del Sol to see the statue of the bronze bear eating from the strawberry tree (a symbol of Madrid) and taking a tour of the Palacio Real, the impressive royal palace.

Madrid is art everywhere — fabulous fountains and statues (like the Fuente de Cibeles), churches and cathedrals (like Nuestra Señora de la Almudena, across from the royal palace), doorways and windows with intricate carvings adorning them, even the government buildings with their stately columns.

Madrid is the upscale boutiques on Gran Via; the tempting items in El Corte Inglés, the fabulous department store chain, and Spanish hams, cheeses and wines in cafés. All of this, and much, much more, is Madrid!

Claudia Gerardsmith

Rio Rancho, NM

(September-November ’09)

Ahh, Madrid! Even 20 years after our visit, I recall our stay at an inexpensive hotel near Madrid’s airport prior to an early-morning departure the next day.

Unfortunately, after a two-week tour of Spain, our family of four was out of money. Everybody was getting hungry, and with the banks closed and none of the nearby restaurants accepting credit cards we were becoming desperate. Pooling our remaining cash, there was just enough to purchase some soft drinks at a small tapas bar on the grounds of the hotel.

The young bartender took an immediate shine to our 19-year-old daughter. Flashing a beguiling smile, he gallantly presented her with a tray of free goodies. His English was as limited as our daughter’s Spanish, but both managed to communicate quite well in the universal language of “flirteo.” Meanwhile, the rest of us eagerly dug into the food.

Other edible offerings quickly appeared as the bartender sought to delay our daughter’s departure. Only after his hunger was appeased did my husband put an end to the flirtations by hustling the family back to our room. And I think that even after 14 years of marriage, our daughter still has a soft spot for Spanish men.

Carol H. Probst

Bethel Park, PA