Well, I’m in the homestretch of the trip to Madrid and I’m pretty satisfied with how everything has gone. I haven’t wasted any time and haven’t spent too much money. I’ve gotten a lot of research done and figured out how the transportation systems work - at least in and around Madrid. I’ve never been a big-city guy, but I like Madrid. There’s a lot to see and do and it seems like there are little plazas with cafés around every corner. If you get tired of walking around, just fall backwards and you’ll probably land in a chair and soon be attended by a waiter or waitress in an open-air café. The buildings, except for the big main street “Gran Vía,” are ancient compared to what we’re used to in Texas. Not medieval like Toledo, but still, hundreds of years old. Once you get off the main streets where the tourists are, Madrid has a lot of character and charm and seems much more like I thought Spain would be.
One thing that’s been funny on this trip is that people here with whom I interact seem to think I’m from Spain. I pretty much look like everybody else here (every other guy in his late 40’s, I mean), and I don’t speak anything but Spanish here. So I’ll be talking to someone and after a little while they’ll say, “Wait, you’re not from here?” That’s funny to me because I don’t speak Spanish anything like a Spaniard. I’ll never say “gracias” like they do here, which comes out “grathias” in the peninsular Spanish, even if I tried. In Latin America the word “OK” is pretty permissible, and I say it a lot when I should say “bien” or “muy bien.” It’s even written “Hokey” if you see it in print in Latin American Spanish. But they don’t say OK here, they say “Vale,” (pronounced like “VAH-leh”) about five times in every sentence. There are a thousand other differences that separate Latin American Spanish from peninsular Spanish. The Madrid accent is growing on me, though, and I think it sounds pretty slick. Yesterday I was walking down the street and from the other side of the street I heard a guy talking and I knew immediately he was from the Caribbean: Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, probably. The sound was just rounder.
My personal biorhythms still make it feel like it’s midnight when I wake up to start the day here, so I need a little more coffee than the average Madrileño. My technique now is to order a café con leche and a café cortado. I drink some of the café con leche to make room and then I dump the cortado into the space left at the top of the café con leche and drink that. When they make the coffees and bring them out they´re like, “OK, here’s the café con leche. Now who’s the cortado for?” I tell them they’re both for me and they look at me like I’m the biggest coffee glutton they’ve ever seen. I’m almost tempted to give them one of those annoying “in my country . . . ” explanations.
I managed to hit the three big museums here: Reina Sofía, Thyssen, and El Prado. Margaret has conditioned me to always ask for a discount if I have one coming, so I was able to get into the Thyssen for half price and the Reina Sofía for free with my university ID. The girl at the window at the Thyssen looked at me like, “Sure, you’re a college student.” But she gave me my discount. I saw some great art by some of the biggest names. Still trying to digest it all. The biggest lesson learned from all of that was that those great painters really produced a lot. They didn’t just crank out a couple of paintings in their spare time. You could tell they spent pretty much all day every day painting. For years. So, in addition to being gifted they worked hard. That’s how they became great.
I’ve visited two military libraries, one university library and the Mamá Grande: La Biblioteca Nacional (the National Library). Miguel, my classmate who lives in Madrid told me that not too long ago people went into the Biblioteca Nacional and stole a bunch of rare books and documents. They’d go in there with dental floss and, when they weren’t being watched, use it to saw through the pages of ancient books to sell them on the black market. It was a serious financial loss and more important, a loss of national patrimony, not to mention a black eye for the people in charge of the library. In a country with 25% unemployment, you can bet that the people who work at the library now aren’t taking any chances. They’re not going to risk getting fired for cutting you slack. So, like the Registrar’s Office at Texas A&M, they operate under the assumption that you are a charlatan, a fake, a cheater and a thief. For starters, I had to get a letter from my department at A&M stating that I was a grad student in the homestretch of my program and show proof of my permanent address to be granted the status of “Investigador.” The whole thing is understandably extremely bureaucratic, so much so that the employees don’t even know all the procedures once you get in there. The librarian in the Sala Cervantes will send you to an office to buy a card that allows you to make copies, but it’ll be the wrong copy office (reprografía). The security guard at the front door will tell you that you can bring your laptop into the area where you get your permanent ID card issued, but the guard at the next checkpoint tells you that you can’t bring in your laptop until you’ve gotten your permanent ID issued. All you can do is smile and nod your head and say thanks. Well, you can get mad at them but it won’t help anything. And remember, I’ve tried to operate under the patience and kindness model, which should make my sons happy since they’ve been embarrassed seeing me blow up at bureaucratic obstacles on trips Eventually you get to see your books and materials and make your copies. My big fear was that I’d come over here and not get access to the library or that one of these small military libraries would be closed due to budget shortfalls. Those problems have not come to pass and I can honestly say the research has been a home run. I’ve come across some books and images that were exactly what I needed. And I was able to put some ideas together that will be major parts of my doctoral thesis, so the trip has been well worth it.
Gotta come back with the fam, though.
Oh, and the patience and kindness grade - solid A.