Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Museums and Marrow - Madrid

Day 4
Lasting Impression: Visual caffeine washed the walls of Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, where contemporary angles weren’t only architectural. Along with housing all the big wigs of impressionism (Monet, Van Gough, Degas), more recent works like Edward Hopper’s lonely Hotel Room and Lichtenstein’s pop-art kept us buzzing*.

Freeze Frame: How Bazaar…how very Harper’s Bazaar. Mario Testino and his camera were well-known for capturing notable persons (supermodels, celebrities), for notable publications (Vogue, Vanity Fair), but his grand-scale, photo exhibit (All or Nothing) in the museum’s basement elevated his altered “apple of my eye” images to the highest level.

Taking the ordinary and making it jump, shaping the odd and making it human: a waif wearing underwear and hip padding in a deserted mannequin factory; the close-up of a tanned, woman's face removing a fake eyelash in her floppy sunhat; a dog winding its leash around a blonde’s floor-length gown as she stood on the outermost point of a boat (you wanted to scream, “Don’t fall in!”).

And when the exhibit was over, I wanted to scream, “Don’t end!” Testino fabricated intricate worlds and spun their story, flawlessly, in one frame. He shoots…he scores**.

Local love: The cold had started seeping into our bones, so we were overjoyed to find a place, not only open (around 4pm when most close before dinner), but lit up like a birthday cake. La Daniela Medinaceli was crowded with a band of rosy cheeked locals who wouldn’t surprise me if they burst into simultaneous song. It was like everyone was in on the same joke here with knowing smiles passed around like punch-lines.

Maybe the joke was on us since our sub-par Spanish was of no use against the rapid-fire repartee flung at us with the intensity of ninja stars. An awkward dialectic dance ensued, but brought us to the understanding that La Daniela’s special was a soup loaded with beef, chicken, chorizo and veggies. Did we want that?

Soup was exactly what we were looking for – nothing warmed you better from the inside out – and we nodded approvingly. So we were a bit surprised when our waitress brought the bulbous tureen boasting a flavorful broth containing thin noodles, but void of any meat. Where’s the beef?

How can you have any (black) pudding, if you don't eat your meat? What we hadn’t understood was that “the special”, was a list of courses: the first course was soup…the second course was the meat and veggies.

We figured this out when a behemoth platter of brisket, bone marrow, black pudding, chicken, chorizo and some gelatinous fatback thing was plunked down at one end of the table, and a heaping mound of chickpeas, carrots, cabbage, potatoes and falafel at the other.

We marveled at our table, wide-eyed, before digging in with the wonder of archeologists. Bubba was the most adventurous and even gave the fatty blob a try. The best part was that we never would have ordered this if we knew what it was (blood pudding wasn’t necessarily a favorite of mine), but as we looked around, everyone else was enjoying the same feast…and now we were in on the joke too.

But the real reason for all those sideways smiles and rosy cheeks was revealed when our waitress cleared the dishes and brought over two enormous, glass bottles containing what appeared to be oil and vinegar, but were identified as after-dinner digestives – Spain’s answer to grappa. The “oil” was similar to Limoncello and the “vinegar” was anise-flavored.

Either/or, I felt like Alice accepting her “drink me” directive in Wonderland, but rather than shrinking, we left 10 feet high…and a bit dizzy (suddenly it didn’t seem so cold outside anymore). One of my most cherished memories of the trip. Be sure to fall down this rabbit hole.

*photo#1 - Woman in Bathroom, 1963- Roy Lichenstein
**photo#2 - Todo o Nada (All or Nothing) exhibit brochure cover - Mario Testino

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