Jan 27 2008

Café Life in Madrid

Published by at 8:51 pm under PSO 2008 European Tour

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is just one of the books along for the ride on this trip. The New York Times best seller, subtitled One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, is in the hands of several musicians. Someone else is reading a book on spirituality by Pittsburgh’s Abraham Twerski, guru and head of Gateway Rehabilitation. There’s John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels from the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and many more.

train station in Atocha

train station in Atocha

The books were out for the train ride from Madrid to Valencia. It’s a little odd to return to Valencia, where we were for the hop to Castellon just a few days ago, but that’s the way tour schedules work out. The Spanish high speed Renfe train was wonderful. The Atocha station in Madrid is fantastic with a lush indoor botanical garden steamed by spritzers.


train station

train station

The train pulled out smoothly, on time. Pickpockets managed to smoothly remove one cellists’ wallet though–eyeing the group making its way to the tracks as out-of-towners, even though it was a very small number of steps into the station. Bassoonist David Sogg had his Dad along for several stops on the tour. Mr. Sogg was relieved of his wallet in Madrid when he stopped to give a donation to a busker playing in the subway. Several people created a disturbance as he stepped on the subway car and the wallet was gone. Mastercard FedExed a new one, but it took till Monday to get it so he had to spend an extra unplanned day in Madrid.

aboard the train

aboard the train

The front page of El Pais featured a story on the CIA and FBI warnings to Madrid that Al Qaeda sympathizers in Pakistan were landing in Madrid in greater numbers than anywhere else in Europe. Also figuring in the story was the Diplomatic Security officer who had a major role in the case of the captured Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whose terrible story became a movie starring Angelina Jolie.

Violinist Peter Snitkovsky watched a set of DVDs he’d brought along on Russian history from 1961 to 2003. The train seats were roomy and comfy. Lunch included bacalao (cod) with salsa Americana and black rice.

The Prado

The Prado

The Pittsburgh Symphony’s day off in Madrid had wonderful weather for a look through one of the most famous museums in the world, the Prado Museum, featuring Velazquez’s Fables including the sexy Venus looking in her Mirror and the Three Graces Giving Acceptance in which he used his wife Helen as a model for the three female nudes. An organist and I liked Venus.
Statue of Goya

Statue of Goya

It’s a little like trying to describe what is great about the Louvre. Grecos and Titian and Goya with a special highlight on Goya’s The Butterfly Bull, which was recently acquired. Spain knows him as Bosco, but Hieronymous Bosch is represented here by his master work, The Garden of Earthly Delights. I loved the extra space in the new addition, which connects to the reconstructed Cloister. The Café is new, too, with a buffet line or a two-course lunch for 15 euros. There were dozens of players there. Principal Piccolo Rhian Kenny walked the three miles from the hotel in an hour and a quarter.

Cloister

Cloister

Then it was on to the contemporary art collection at the Reine Sofia Museum a block away to look at Picasso and Miro with Guernica a special highlight. There is a small Alexander Calder as a tribute to Picasso. Admission was free after 2:30; the Prado charges 8 euros.

When we arrived, there were hundreds of art lovers in line, but it moved pretty well and later in the day the wait was considerably less. A guitarist and a violinist serenaded the line. The violinist seemed to be playing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik all day long, as he was still at it three hours later when we left the Prado.

I took the 27 bus part way back up the tree-lined, fountain festooned Paseo Castellon which intersects with the Paseo Recoletas. I stopped at the Espeja café with its outdoor terrrazo. It’s an early 1990s addition to this main artery in Madrid, but it looks like 19th century France. I had a Trufo chocolate and raspberry cake and café con leche, coffee with cream.

Cafe Gijon

Cafe Gijon

A block away I stopped at the Café Gijon, where Madrid’s literary and artistic intelligentsia gather. It’s been a hangout for a century and Hemingway made it famous in his circle. It was Almond cake and coffee at the Gijon with lots of second-hand cigar and cigarette smoke.The waiters wore white jackets with red epaulets. Then I hiked back to the hotel. It seemed not so far on the bus, but on foot it was like walking from the US Steel Building to the Cathedral of Learning.

Cafe Gijon sign

Cafe Gijon sign

After a short rest, I joined Bass Clarinet Richard Page and Cellists Hampton and Lauren Scott Mallory and their friend Peggy McNeal who was along for part of the trip. Peggy works for the Frick in Point Breeze. We talked about the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Frick were booked on the Titanic, but canceled at the last minute. I asked what is stored on the off-limits floors of Clayton — floors three and four which are closed to the public due to fire regulations. Lots of clothes and the steamer trunks made by Louis Vuitton are piled in a room up there. The Pittsburgh Symphony Brass told me they’re scheduled for a concert next August in the First Fridays at the Frick series. There won’t be a July “First Friday” because it falls on the Fourth of July.

Hampton Mallory was born in Hong Kong because his Dad was a member of the CIA. I asked if he knew any double agents or if Dad had secret drops to exchange intelligence with operatives from China. I’ve met Hampton Mallory’s Dad (he’s a regular WQED-FM listener.) You couldn’t know a nicer CIA agent. He doesn’t seem in any way tortured by secrets. Hampton found some special familiar moments in The Good Shepherd, the Matt Damon movie about the early years of the CIA. His favorite spy movies are Hopscotch and The In-Laws.

We took the subway to dinner in Madrid with a line change. It’s clean and new and we didn’t see any troublemakers even though composer Leonardo Balada told me he’d been hit on a subway train in Barcelona. After dinner I suggested we check out one last café, the Oriente next to the Opera. The Madrid Opera is producing Tristan by Wagner with Jesus Lopez-Cobos conducting and starring Rene Pap and Waltraud Meier.

dining out

dining out

At the Oriente, I ordered a Café Madrileno concoction of cream, brown sugar, whiskey and dark coffee. Along with it a Palacio, strawberry and vanilla ice cream with fresh fruit. It was our day off–what can I tell you? I did it for you! I can recommend the Oriente. Now it was 1:30 am and time for the taxi, but Madrid is the Spanish city that never sleeps. The traffic was heavy all the way back to the hotel. The taxi driver was listening to a radio special on John Denver for the entire ride, so we heard Calypso, Annie’s Song and Perhaps Love with Placido Domingo as we paid the driver.

The weather was perfect in Valencia on the Mediterranean with clear blue sky and 70 degrees. With only a few hours before the 7:30 concert at the Palau de la Musica, I walked across the street and behind the concert hall through the botanical gardens where Valencians were strolling and sunning themselves on the grass, kids playing, joggers, bicycles, tandem bike carriages, African drumming, skateboards and a general mood of a Sunday afternoon out. But just ten minutes’ further walking brings you to the astonishing City of Arts and Sciences designed by one Spain’s most famous architects, Santiago Calatrava. An Aquarium, IMAX Theater, Opera House where Lorin Maazel is in charge, and much more, with additional construction still underway. The Opera House looks like a Conquistador’s hat, and the garden and aquarium like the skeleton of a whale.

opera house

opera house

Valencia gardens

Valencia gardens