Big day, Number Three. Where do I start?
Went to sleep around 2am – blame it on those nightlife loving Madrileños and tourists on perpetual spring break. Instead of being woken up, I just wait until it starts to slow down.
Left the Prado to the amateurs on the weekend, I headed West, towards the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida with ceiling frescoes painted by Goya and where he is buried, planning to stop along the way to see the Museo Cerralbo. It’s the collection of Don Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, XVII Marquis of Cerralbo, left to a dazzled nation with the proviso that it be kept intact, each painting and object exactly where he placed it. http://translate.google.es/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://museocerralbo.mcu.es/&prev=search
Along the way I saw an Easter window – it’s not about fluffy bunnies and peeps over here.
Then I walked into the Cerralbo.
The good stuff. Some inherited, some acquired. What centuries of influence, conquest and wealth can accumulate, and edited down to what he could shoehorn into a mansion in town. What the Hearst Castle yearned to be but emphatically isn’t. More than the Frick. More even than Isabella Stewart Gardener, before the heist. Every square inch of it the best money and power could buy. After the initial string of wow wow oh wow moments, it was like eating buttered foie gras in Béarnaise sauce smothered in whipped cream. Rich.
Where to start. Okay, how about he never met a mirror he didn’t like. Five seemed to be the minimum for every room. We’re talking large, in ornate gold leaf or Murano glass frames.
My favorite was an enormous Murano glass chandelier in pastel party colors, shaped like a gondola.
And sometimes you see both, like this chandelier mirror combo.
Then there was the art. Every wall was crammed with paintings, not an inch to spare. In the dining hall – too grand to be called a room – mostly still lifes of flowers and fruit, with the puzzling exception of a large painting of porcupines fighting vipers. Not something I’ve seen before.
Just when you think you couldn’t possibly have anything in common with the Marquis, you notice the ceiling frescoes above the table, celebrating the Goddess of Chocolate and the Goddess of Coffee. Kindred spirit!
The adjoining billiard room doubled as a portrait gallery. It also had raised settees, so the ladies could watch the balls in play. Thoughtful.
There was one hall dedicated to his collections of drawings – closed off by a velvet rope. Sad for me.
Three floors of rooms meant there were withdrawing rooms for ladies, smoking rooms for men, morning rooms for flirting, bedrooms, dressing rooms, even bathrooms (with servants for plumbing), a library and his private office where he kept track of his realm. No doubt paid the bills and filled out his 1099s.
The public reception room and hallway were lined with armor, plus the weaponry to go with. Ceremonial swords as a centerpiece? Check. Suits of armor complete with leather gloves and fringed skirts? Check.
Scimitars, sabers, pikes, spears, knives, claymores, pistols and daggers? You bet. Samurai armor? But of course. The message –
I may be rich, but I am still a bad ass sonofabitch, from a long line of stone-cold killers. I can afford to lose more on one game of billiards than you will earn in your lifetime. Deal with it.
The marquis collected clocks – there is one in every room, all working and they strike the hours merrily as you wander, dazed, though this dragon’s dream of a hoard.
He backed the right horse – King Carlos – and won big. Having done that, he retired to enjoy his chosen passion, archeology, collecting art and objets d’art. Lots and lots of art.
It’s sumptuous and luxe on a grand and unrelenting scale. After a while, you yearn to rest your eye on nothing much. A blank wall. Some white space. Apparently, the Marquis felt the same way.
There is only one room on the tour that isn’t jammed with loot, and that is the bedroom of Marquis. It is austere, with plain painted blue-gray walls, a white spread on a black wooden spool bed of medieval design, a small bedside table that held a chamber pot, a shaving stand, and a wardrobe.
I left after four hours because they close at 3pm. I was reeling. I wanted to go sit in an empty room for an hour. I’d still love a month in the place, with access to really look at everything. I just sent them an email to beg for an English tour, which their website says starts in April.
Off I staggered, hungry by now, and after passing several deserted places nearby went into a pretty little bakery. Alas, it looked better than it tasted. Everything was dry as day-old bread and the coffee tasted like instant, even though I saw her make it.
Walked on to the chapel, passed the Temple of Debod, through a park and then on to a path that wound downhill, faithfully following the iMap on my phone. The next thing I knew I was crossing a ramshackle bridge, rusty and trashy, over multiple train tracks, with every surface sprayed with graffiti as far as the eye could see. It was dirty and deserted and I was very glad I had didn’t try to walk to this chapel at night.
When I walked up to the chapel, I found it was closed until 7pm. I was tired and sweaty and disappointed. Before I quit, I looked around and discovered its had a twin across the street and sure enough, that was where the Goya chapel was. I went inside the very small church and looked at the glorious frescoes and ceilings and his tomb, simple and roped off. Strategic mirrors allowed the visitors to gaze at length without neck strain. There were also plain walls and plain stone floors. What a relief. I ended up sitting on a bench and drawing his tomb and a lamp held aloft by three cherubs for about an hour. It was perfect. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/madrid/sights/museums-galleries/ermita-de-san-antonio-de-la-florida
Here’s a glimpse of the reflected glory.
When you think about it, that’s what the accumulated treasure of the Marquis was meant to achieve; to reflect his glory. And what Enrique really wanted was to potter around in the dust and rubble of archeological digs.
Started back keeping an eye out for a taxi but saw none for about four blocks. I was still a 45-minute walk from my apartment and was very happy to finally see a vacant cab and grab it. Of the miles I walk, at least a third are backtracking because I turned the wrong way. I do not lie.
Decided to swing by the famous Mercado de San Miguel, a sort of upscale food/tapas court, in a cast iron framed pavilion. It was lively and crowded and touristy, but in a good way. I bought some acorn fed jambon, a wedge of Brie cheese, and a cup of ceviche I ate on the spot.
Not far to get to my apartment after that but I manage to find some Limon gelato to eat on the way. Yum.
Cup of tea later I’ve been writing this for a couple of hours. Time for some peppermint tea. Tomorrow the famous gigantic outdoor flea market, El Rastro.