Madrid is beautiful no doubt, but it’s hot and desultory, and almost sullen. The temperatures were hovering between 40-41 degrees, not a soul could be seen out on the streets except mad tourists, and as a woman on the flight had said, “No one is there in Madrid; it is empty as it’s so hot.” How hot can it be for us Indians, one thought, but soon realised that she was right. It was hot in a different way, so different that it became almost impossible to cope. But interestingly the shade was tolerable, as there was no heat hitting you from the ground, and in the evenings the city livened up with music, Sangria, and what have you into a general bustle.
The art museums had some absolutely great works. One was surprised to find the then Picasso’s works strung in between other paintings, in what was so obviously a bad job in curation. And I have to confess that I have seen better works from him in other European museums. But the Spanish artist, Goya, was a revelation, at least for a hack who looks for a story even in art. His Black Period, that a friend alerted me to, is absolutely amazing in its desolation, fear, and a strange haunting that stares at you through the art works, many of which he had put up in his own house. It made one curious about his story, as the contrast between the despair visible in these works and his other paintings commissioned by the then Spanish royalty was stark, to put it mildly. And yes, he had this fear of insanity that was reflected in these paintings, great art works that stay with you in their impact.
And then of course there was Bob Dylan playing in Cordoba. What a magical place, where there was clearly no language barrier-the Spanish are what the French used to be like, dismissive of those who do not speak their language- as the venue was packed with locals listening to Dylan in his elements. He focused on his new music, which by the way, was great with a big touch of the old Dylan, but for the encore ,sang Blowin in the Wind in what was a new arrangement altogether. Dylan was great as only Dylan can be. It was a memorable experience, not just for this visitor to Cordoba, but for the locals as well, who had queued up patiently two hours before it began, to be able to stand close to the stage.
Cordoba itself is a charming little town, with a big history. And the impressive and absolutely stunning Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba reflects the history of conquests. It is still known popularly as the Great Mosque of Cordoba, in a secular interpretation of history that perhaps many at home can learn from. It boasts of Moorish architecture. It was originally a Catholic Christian church built by the Visigoths. The Muslims captured Spain in 711 and divided the Church into Christian and Muslim halves. Abd al-Rahman I purchased the second half 70 odd years later, demolished the entire structure, and built the mosque. After the Reconquista, this again became a Church in 1236. Lovely architecture, at the centre of the old town, with intriguing alleys, now of course occupied by cafe’s and little shops selling local artefacts.
And there was Toledo, not as pretty as Cordoba, but with a past that has now made it a World Heritage Site. It clearly impressed UNESCO with the historical co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures – an ‘imperial city’. It has a history of producing bladed weapons that now flood the tourist shops in the little town. Unfortunately at this time of the year, it was as hot as Madrid, with indoors being the only option for visitors wilting under the heavy sun.
India is not well regarded, or should one say, not regarded at all, in Madrid. People interested in knowing where you came from are not particularly delighted with the response. And one middle-aged lady, more conversant with English than others, said she had visited New Delhi but would never do so again. As she so elegantly put it, “to visit India you must be very strong”, and then recounted her many encounters with beggars during her short stay. “We are told it is a big country, developed, but no, no not at all.” she said with an expressive shrug of the shoulders.