Sus­te­nance for the soul

The Span­ish cap­i­tal has long been a haunt of artists, cul­tural rene­gades, writ­ers and great col­lec­tors

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Special Report Madrid - TONY PERROTTET TONY PERROTTET

THE adopted home of film di­rec­tor Pe­dro Almod­ovar, fa­mous for its round-the-clock nightlife and out­ra­geous fash­ions, is also sat­u­rated with old-world theatres, art gal­leries and mu­se­ums, scat­tered along grand boule­vards built when Spain ruled a vast em­pire. The Hem­ing­way trail: Ever since his first visit to Madrid as a young, un­known writer in 1923, the city had the power to draw Ernest Hem­ing­way back. So it’s un­sur­pris­ing that just about ev­ery other bar seems to boast a con­nec­tion with the so-called Don Ernesto.

Dur­ing the Span­ish Civil War, the art deco cock­tail bar Museo Chicote, at 12 Gran Via, was a pop­u­lar hang­out for for­eign correspondents (Hem­ing­way favoured its sharp-tasting ne­groni). A more rus­tic choice was the beer hall Cerve­ce­ria Ale­m­ana, in Plaza de Santa Ana, where Hem­ing­way was given his own mar­ble-topped ta­ble for writ­ing; it is still proudly dis­played to the right of the en­trance by the win­dow.

But the wa­ter­ing hole that feels as if Hem­ing­way might walk in at any mo­ment is La Ve­nen­cia, in the cob­ble­stoned Calle de Echegaray. Here, el­derly gents in flat caps still sip their man­zanilla sherry as they did dur­ing the civil war, when the at­mo­spheric bar was the turf of Repub­li­can sym­pa­this­ers and Hem­ing­way would drop by to get news from the front.

Even to­day, drinkers who fail to hold their sherry glasses by the stem are re­garded with a de­gree of dis­dain by bar staff, since that was once con­sid­ered a tell­tale sign that the strangers in ques­tion were Na­tion­al­ist spies. Sorolla Mu­seum: At 37 Gen­eral Martinez Cam­pos, this is one of the most ex­quis­ite house­mu­se­ums in Europe. It’s the for­mer home of pain­ter Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida and was built in 1910, at the peak of his fame.

Al­though lit­tle known out­side Spain these days, Sorolla once en­joyed in­ter­na­tional celebrity for his lush, sun-dap­pled lu­min­ist paint­ings, many set on the beaches of his na­tive Va­len­cia.

He de­signed his own man­sion us­ing Moor­ish ar­chi­tec­tural flour­ishes from the Al­ham­bra in Granada, and planted a gor­geous gar­den where he spent his days paint­ing fam­ily and friends.

A visit to this idyl­lic en­clave is the per­fect in­tro­duc­tion to Sorolla and his works, which are com­ing back into vogue af­ter gen­er­a­tions of be­ing over­shad­owed by the French im­pres­sion­ists. His airy stu­dio con­tains many of his key pieces, as well as his easel and even half-squeezed tubes of paint, as if he had just put them aside.

But it is in the gar­den, with its trick­ling foun­tains, ce­ramic tiles and shady nooks, that the artist’s spirit is most pal­pa­ble. This is a tran­quil en­clave in a busy city. More: museosorolla.mcu.es. The Goya crawl: Madrilenos are still de­voted to Fran­cisco de Goya, the bril­liant, trou­bled pain­ter who is con­sid­ered the bridge be­tween the old masters and mod­ern art. While many of his im­ages from the Napoleonic wars are in the Prado, his op­er­atic life can be traced through land­marks in Madrid’s his­toric cen­tre.

The spec­tac­u­lar, newly re­stored Real Basil­ica de San Fran­cisco el Grande houses one of Goya’s ear­li­est works, an altar piece in which he in­cluded him­self, young and curly- haired, gaz­ing out at the viewer.

The small cathe­dral of Er­mita de San An­to­nio de la Florida of­fers spec­tac­u­lar, light- filled Goya fres­coes, an up­lift­ing change from his many darker MANYvis­i­tors flock to Museo Reina Sofia just to see Pablo Pi­casso’s mon­u­men­tal Guer­nica, one of his­tory’s most renowned anti-war art­works.

Some view­ers gasp in recog­ni­tion, oth­ers are stunned, a few older Spa­niards might burst into tears. The enor­mous can­vas, in which twisted ab­stract fig­ures cas­cade across an ex­plod­ing land­scape in agony and con­fu­sion, also cap­tures the tragic his­tory of Spain’s bloody civil war, which raged in the late 1930s and still res­onates to­day.

Span­ish-born Pi­casso was liv­ing in Paris when Spain’s Repub­li­can gov­ern­ment asked him to cre­ate a paint­ing for the works. Two of his most in­ti­mate and un­spar­ing self-por­traits are in the Real Academia de Bel­las Artes de San Fer­nando, where Goya was di­rec­tor for sev­eral years from 1797.

And a for­mer royal hunt­ing lodge, Pala­cio Real de El Pardo, dis­plays in­tri­cate ta­pes­tries based on Goya’s de­signs. The palace also con­tains a mod­ern ex­ten­sion with pri­vate rooms de­signed in the 1950s by the dic­ta­tor Gen­eral Fran­cisco Franco, who resided there af­ter win­ning the civil war —a tragic con­flict filled with bru­tal mas­sacres that seem to have been plucked from Goya’s bleak­est vi­sions of hu­man­ity. More: re­al­fab­ri­cade­tapices.com. Con­vent of the Royal Bare­foot Nuns: For cen­turies, what lay be­hind this con­vent’s heavy wooden doors on Plaza de las Descalzas Reales, in the me­dieval heart of Madrid, was a mys­tery.

Founded in 1559 by the Haps­burg royal fam­ily, the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales soon be­came enor­mously wealthy by at­tract­ing aris­to­cratic women as nuns; they brought their ex­ten­sive dowries, which of­ten Paris Ex­po­si­tion of 1937. He had al­ready be­gun work when he read a news­pa­per re­port about the bomb­ing of Guer­nica in the Basque coun­try.

The town was con­sid­ered a so­cial­ist strong­hold by Spain’s right-wing Na­tion­al­ists, who were sup­ported by the Nazis. in­cluded artis­tic trea­sures. Four cen­turies later, the fortress-like con­vent was in fi­nan­cial dif­fi­culty and yet legally un­able to auc­tion off any of its col­lec­tion. So, in 1960, the then pope granted per­mis­sion for it to open to the pub­lic as a mu­seum.

Its 45-minute tours must be one of Spain’s most un­usual artis­tic ex­cur­sions. The ad­mis­sion process it­self is mys­te­ri­ous, as vis­i­tors have to line up in the an­cient al­ley­way out­side at er­ratic hours, and al­most all tours are in Span­ish. But the ef­fort is worth­while.

En­ter­ing the hushed in­te­rior of the con­vent is like step­ping back into the 16th cen­tury. The aus­tere stone walls are adorned with mag­nif­i­cent paint­ings by the likes of Ti­tian, Raphael and Bruegel, and lov­ingly tended chapels house an­cient Catholic reli­quar­ies (one con­tain­ing pieces of the True Cross) and ta­pes­tries based on draw­ings by Rubens.

About two dozen bare­foot nuns re­main in the con­vent, and they can be glimpsed work­ing in a veg­etable gar­den in the court­yard or flit­ting in the shad­ows be­hind smoked-glass win­dows. More: pat­ri­mo­niona­cional.es.

On April 26, the Ger­man air force swept down on the town, rain­ing bombs on its civil­ians. Guer­nica’s men were fight­ing on the front lines and the at­tack tar­geted mostly women, chil­dren and the el­derly, all of whom were strafed mer­ci­lessly. Tem­ple of gas­tron­omy: How can you re­sist a res­tau­rant were Goya once worked as a dish­washer? The most sto­ried din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Madrid is El So­brino de Botin, at 17 Calle de los Cuchilleros, which claims to be the old­est eatery in Europe.

The for­mer car­riage inn first opened in 1725, when Madrid was over­flow­ing with gold from Mex­ico and Peru.

Al­though it has be­come a lit­tle touristy in re­cent years, rich his­tory still oozes from its wood­pan­elled walls and an­cient wine cel­lar. And, of course, it has its Hem­ing­way link — when in Madrid, Don Ernesto spent many morn­ings writ­ing at an up­stairs ta­ble, stop­ping at noon when his friends would arrive for lunch.

Like Jake and Brett at the end of The Sun Also Rises, Hem­ing­way favoured the roast suck­ling pig, washed down with sev­eral bot­tles of rioja alta. (A nearby res­tau­rant has a sign: Hem­ing­way Never Drank Here.) More: botin.es. Museo Cer­ralbo: Few nonS­pa­niards have heard of En­rique de Aguil­era y Gamboa, the 17th mar­quis of Cer­ralbo (1845-1922),

Pi­casso was deeply af­fected and aban­doned his ear­lier project, throw­ing him­self into paint­ing Guer­nica and cap­tur­ing the bar­bar­ity of the at­tack.

Af­ter the Paris Ex­po­si­tion, the paint­ing toured the US. By 1939, Europe was en­gulfed in war, so Pi­casso re­quested the work be kept at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York, and not be re­turned to Spain un­til the Na­tion­al­ist leader Fran­cisco Franco had been re­moved from power.

The dic­ta­tor not only won the civil war but con­trolled the coun­try un­til his death in 1975. MOMAeven­tu­ally re­turned Guer­nica to its per­ma­nent home in Madrid in 1981.

muse­o­r­eina­sofia.es but his man­sion, at 17 Calle Ven­tura Ro­driguez, has been turned into one of the most en­chant­ing refuges in Madrid.

The mar­quis was a lat­ter-day re­nais­sance man, a lead­ing politi­cian, in­sa­tiable art col­lec­tor, arche­ol­o­gist and pa­le­on­tol­o­gist, and he de­signed his house to serve as both a home and a mu­seum for his in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion.

It was do­nated to the state on his death in 1922, on con­di­tion that no ob­ject be moved from its orig­i­nal place and no in­for­ma­tion be added other than that al­ready pro­vided by the mar­quis.

Re­cently re­opened af­ter a fouryear ren­o­va­tion, the man­sion is a fas­ci­nat­ing repos­i­tory of more than 50,000 relics, in­clud­ing about 700 pieces of ar­mour and weaponry, splen­did Mu­rano glass chan­de­liers and master­pieces by El Greco, Ti­tian and Van Dyck.

The ex­pe­ri­ence is less like vis­it­ing a mu­seum than an im­mer­sion into the rar­efied lives of Europe’s ul­tra- rich of the 19th cen­tury. More: en.museo­cer­ralbo.mcu.es. Tablaos de fla­menco: Late at night, dozens of tablaos de fla­menco (restau­rants with stages for fla­menco danc­ing) come alive across Madrid, show­cas­ing the fa­mously pas­sion­ate dance of the An­dalu­sian Gyp­sies.

Avoid the touristy es­pec­tac­u­los and head for the more in­ti­mate and authen­tic Casa Patas Fla­menco en Vivo, at 10 Calle Canizares, where ex­cel­lent ta­pas plates are served and fla­menco per­form­ers from other venues gather af­ter their shows. Try to choose the later of the two evening per­for­mances, when the dancers are loos­ened up and the spec­ta­cle is at its most thrilling and blood-pump­ing.

For 90 min­utes the dancers, singers and mu­si­cians all com­bine to build the ten­sion to­wards a hyp­notic crescendo, or duende, when even the wait­ers stop work, mes­merised by the drama and skill. More: cas­ap­atas.com. Matadero Madrid: For a for­mer slaugh­ter­house and livestock mar­ket, Matadero Madrid has a sur­pris­ingly el­e­gant de­sign. When it opened in 1911, the vast sys­tem of in­ter­lock­ing pavil­ions in the Ar­ganzuela dis­trict was con­sid­ered a mar­vel of ra­tio­nal ar­chi­tec­ture. Tourists — the young Hem­ing­way in­cluded — would arrive very early in the morn­ing to watch the novilleros (bull­fight­ers in train­ing) prac­tise killing bulls, while old women waited in line to drink the an­i­mals’ nu­tri­tious fresh blood.

Since its clo­sure as an abat­toir in 1995, the in­dus­trial com­plex has been con­verted into a sprawl­ing lab­o­ra­tory of Span­ish con­tem­po­rary art, with cine­mas, gal­leries and mu­sic and the­atre venues. There is also a great bar area where one can watch the less blood­thirsty spar­ring of Madrid’s mod­ern in­tel­li­gentsia. More: matadero­madrid.org. Palaces and pa­trons: Museo del Prado is only one cor­ner of Madrid’s aptly- named Golden Tri­an­gle of Art. Museo ThyssenBorne­misza, at 8 Paseo del Prado, con­tains the pri­vate col­lec­tions of the Thyssen-Borne­misza fam­ily, lead­ing art pa­trons of the 20th cen­tury. The build­ing is pala­tial, with a clas­si­cal fa­cade, a state-ofthe-art mod­ern ad­di­tion, a won­der­ful gar­den cafe, and a ter­race res­tau­rant over­look­ing Madrid, which is open un­til late in sum­mer. More: museothyssen.org. Museo Na­cional Cen­tro de Arte Reina Sofia: On the third cor­ner of the tri­an­gle, at 52 Santa Is­abel, is an equally spec­tac­u­lar build­ing, with three glass tow­ers grafted on to its tra­di­tional ex­te­rior. The col­lec­tion con­cen­trates on the 20th cen­tury, with a strong con­tin­gent of Span­ish artists, in­clud­ing Joan Miro, Juan Gris, Sal­vador Dali and, of course, Pablo Pi­casso (who, in­ci­den­tally, dropped out of art school in Madrid at the age of 16). More: muse­o­r­eina­sofia.es.

AFP

A poster ex­hi­bi­tion at Matadero Madrid, which served as an abat­toir un­til the mid-1990s but has since turned into an arts precinct

ALAMY

Cerve­ce­ria Ale­m­ana was once a favourite Hem­ing­way haunt

ALAMY

Sorolla Mu­seum houses the works of Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

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