There's only one word to truly de­scribe Spain: spell­bind­ing!

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - BY SID­DHARTH DHANVANT SHANGHVI

Ilanded in Barcelona to ac­quaint my­self fur­ther with the pain­ter Joan Miró’s work. I went to the Fun­dació Joan Miró, which houses his iconic works such as The Morn­ing Star, 1940. Walk­ing through the spec­tac­u­lar pale grey build­ing – de­signed by Joseph Luis Sert – my ad­mi­ra­tion for Miró’s bold, sin­gu­lar vo­cab­u­lary am­pli­fied; his ge­nius, crit­ics be­lieve, places him in the Span­ish pan­theon in­clu­sive of Pi­casso and Dali. Born in Barcelona and sub­se­quently domi­ciled on the is­land of Mal­lorca, Miró in­vented a par­tic­u­lar lan­guage – whim­si­cal, cryptic, brash, sub­stan­tive, re­ver­ber­at­ing child­hood in­no­cence. His id­iom drew from what might be the Jun­gian ‘col­lec­tive un­con­scious’ but it also gave re­lief to his spe­cific, elab­o­rate way of in­hab­it­ing the world.

I flew to Mal­lorca to study more key works, in­clud­ing lith­o­graphs pro­duced on the is­land, at the Fun­dació Pi­lar i Joan Miró a Mal­lorca, a mod­ernist mir­a­cle of mu­seum architecture, hinged on a cliff. That evening, at my ho­tel – the mag­nif­i­cent Bel­mond La Res­i­den­cia – I met with Miró’s grand­son, Joan Pun­yet Miró, a friendly, re­fined man, who has ad­vanced works from Miró’s es­tate to the re­sort’s Café Miró (in ad­di­tion to his lends to ma­jor mu­seum shows). It was a spec­ta­cle, as well as a pro­found im­mer­sion, to dine amid the artist’s work, which only re­minded me of art’s im­pact on Mal­lorca over the years: The pi­anist Frédéric Chopin and the writer Robert Graves led part of their lives here.

I en­coun­tered more of Miró works in Es Balu­ard, a small, splen­did mu­seum of mod­ern art, where I was im­pressed by an el­lip­ti­cal, poignant video art work Fer­vor by Shirin Ne­shat. Twin screens are used to ex­plore the di­vide be­tween men and women in the Is­lamic so­ci­ety. One sees the back of a hec­tor­ing preacher lec­tur­ing on sin, while men and women in his con­gre­ga­tion ap­pear frozen by his di­dac­ti­cism. But in a dra­matic mo­ment, one woman in full chad­dar rises, turns, and aban­dons the as­sem­bly. I re­turned to the Bel­mond in a per­sonal dis­quiet of Ne­shat’s af­fect­ing video. Here Mal­lorca’s as­tound­ing land­scape ran its ca­ress­ing hand over me. In the stone clad bal­cony of my im­pec­ca­ble room, the sounds of dis­tant church bells were en­veloped by spar­rows trilling col­lec­tively. Yon­der, an oys­ter grey sea, over which sus­pended fiery orange clouds.

The re­sort, like much of Mal­lorca, fos­ters art. Not only can you move about a miscellany of Miros, the La Res­i­den­cia has a col­lec­tion of im­por­tant, mu­seum-level sculp­tures

on their grounds; they reg­u­larly host mu­sic recitals and a writ­ing work­shop is on the cards, giv­ing this lux­ury re­sort the sta­tus of a lo­cal arts hub. Over the next two days, driv­ing through Mal­lor­can land­scape, I went from flaw­less beaches (Es Trenc is the best, all Caribbean blue and pine tree copses) to Valldemossa and Sóller’s rolling hills, and landed one morn­ing at a monastery (many on the is­land of­fer eco­nom­i­cal, aus­tere rooms to rent for soli­tary con­tem­pla­tion).

In Palma, Mal­lorca’s thriv­ing cen­tre, I rec­om­mend The Lab, where the ta­pas nou­velle are dra­matic, daz­zling re­minders of Spain’s culi­nary bril­liance; for a more mod­est, hearty meal, stop by Es Recó de Randa, and or­der their de­li­cious fish and lo­cal pep­pers, while in the vil­lage of Deia, I had a meal at the ex­quis­ite Miche­lin­starred Es Racó d’Es Teix (one of my best din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences ever). THE FOOD OF LOVE I went out to Madrid on an im­por­tant task: to eat!

Spain, af­ter all, is a global food hub. And I flew aus­pi­ciously, on Turk­ish Air­lines, not only for their ex­cel­lent con­nec­tions from In­dia to Spain but also be­cause their Is­tan­bul pit stop lounge en­joys a menu so delectable and ex­pan­sive that you feel like you gate­crashed an In­dian bil­lion­aire’s ex­trav­a­gant wed­ding (the kind likely to end in a tabloid di­vorce).

In Madrid, Ta­tel is a trail­blazer, with an equally fab­u­lous base in Ibiza. Both blast the sort of en­tirely in­ap­pro­pri­ate dance mu­sic that makes you feel younger than you re­ally are, and I no­ticed sev­eral se­nior din­ers com­mit or­tho­pe­di­cally fa­tal head move­ments to Justin Beiber. The best oc­to­pus I ever had was at Ta­tel, full of rich, ma­rine flavour, lashed with smoky flames. It was ex­pertly paired with a wine so fruity and light I could down it like water (and, reader, I did).

Bibo is the Per Se of Madrid, a top­notch menu with a chef who thinks of his menu as if a phi­los­o­phy. Bibo is also a peo­ple watcher’s par­adise, I no­ticed sev­eral front­page va­ri­ety Span­ish politicians in rusty blue work suits and WAG’s with deal­ers on speed dial – the dé­cor is de­signed to make you feel you’re daz­zling by os­mo­sis. Af­ter my third day, I was aching for street chaat and I headed to Surya, which has an older home in Barcelona, and is get­ting into the smooth sail of things in Madrid. I thor­oughly en­joyed their del­i­cately-laced bhel – and de­li­cious but­ter chicken! – at the en­cour­age­ment of at­ten­tive, dis­creet owner, Ke­tan Trivedi.

A friend rec­om­mended Diego An­toñan­zas de Toledo, who helms Madrid’s best guide ser­vice,

Madrid & You. De Toledo is not only a paragon of charm but also a canny in­sider for the city’s cru­cial wa­ter­ing holes. El quënco de Pepa, near the Bern­abeu Sta­dium, is one of his cho­sen restau­rants and he in­sists on ‘co­cido’ – Madrid’s three course win­ter spe­cial – at La Bola. He’s cap­ti­vated with his na­tion’s fab­u­lous pro­duce at Mer­cado de la Paz and shop­ping here must be fol­lowed by quick lunch at Lhardy, an in­sti­tu­tion for 175 years (ask for their Ibe­rian ham cro­quettes). To wind up sweet, there’s no equal to

canu­til­los de crema at Pastel­ería del Pozo, coun­selled the sea­soned Madrin­leno who showed me around town with aplomb.

The en­tranc­ing so­prano in the opera of Madrid ho­tels is the La Or­fila, el­e­gant, pow­er­ful, dis­creet, set in one of the city’s finest neigh­bor­hoods and sur­rounded by prom­i­nent gal­leries (the Marl­bor­ough Gallery is right across). I en­joyed my stay at this grand dame ho­tel as it harked back to a for­got­ten world, with its ex­trav­a­gant, rest­ful suites, pa­tio water foun­tains and old-fash­ioned tea ser­vice (it’s so ab­surdly ro­man­tic I urge you stay here only with a lover). Be­cause I was on a foodie trawl, I’d dined at its cel­e­brated restau­rant, El Jardin de Or­fila, un­der the glo­ri­ous stew­ard­ship of Miche­lin star-win­ning chef Mario San­doval. At this classy eatery, the gon­dola of nephrops with sherry was a di­vine rev­e­la­tion, while the sea bass with onion chips would win over even the harsh­est critic. Chef San­doval is, in­deed, press­ing all the mar­vel­lous but­tons.

Near the La Or­fila is the Prado Mu­seum, which used to be a bit of a dump, but has un­der­gone some­thing of an over­haul to match Spain’s daz­zling mu­seum cir­cuit (many be­lieve the Guggen­heim Mu­seum Bil­bao upped the ante and roused older sleepy­heads to ac­tion).

The Chueca neigh­bour­hood will set off any­one’s cool radar – de­sign bou­tiques, or­ganic cafés, cold press juice sta­tions – and sex stores re­tail­ing that black leather whip you al­ways wanted to buy (yes, for your boss). I stayed at the Only YOU Bou­tique Ho­tel, where the per­sonal wel­come card in my room with quotes from my books moved me tremen­dously. Just when I thought, with some cyn­i­cism, no one reads any longer, I was heart­ened to find ex­tracts from my nov­els in a fine room in a far away city. Mod­ern, pro­fi­cient, smart, this Pre­ferred Ho­tels prop­erty also has one of the swanki­est stores in town, show­cas­ing some of Spain’s cut­ting edge de­sign tal­ent.

As I strayed from my lovely ho­tel – and yes, went straight to the sex stores, for my Di­wali shop­ping – I was taken by Chueca’s mis­chievous, bub­bly mood that re­minded me of New York’s Chelsea as well as Lon­don’s Soho. Strolling down the streets – pass­ing dive Ja­panese restau­rants and dodgy-look­ing florists and the city’s bomb-dig­gity bar, Kike Keller – I re­called my con­ver­sa­tions with lo­cals. Whether it was de Toledo, the charis­matic guide, or the Only You Bou­tique Ho­tel’s ami­able man­ager, Sam Bath, or mu­seum cu­ra­tors I had met – all spoke of Madrid with lam­bent, loyal af­fec­tion. How nice, I thought to my­self, to live where the res­i­dents love their life, and their city, and where the thought of leav­ing home fills them with dread. Af­ter the flush of my first week in Madrid – where the en­ergy is em­brac­ing of for­eign­ers and ad­mir­ing of the ec­cen­tric – I be­gan to see why they felt like that.

In Palma, Mal­lorca’s thriv­ing cen­tre, I rec­om­mend The Lab, where the ‘ta­pas nou­velle’ are dra­matic, daz­zling re­minders of Spain’s culi­nary bril­liance

SPAN­ISH SO­JOURN The beach of Es Trenc in Mal­lorca, Spain

Surya in Madrid of­fers au­then­tic In­dian street food

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