December 8, 2007
Duque de Liria 3, Madrid
We're now in Madrid, in an apartment 5 minutes from Plaza Espana. Maeve's napping, Mike's reading about the Prado collection, and I'm blogging.
Last week we were in Valencia, and had a chance to visit with my host family from 20 years ago. the Villas let us stay in their "chalet," an apartment that they kept after having built a neighborhood on the outskirts of Valencia, near the Palacio de Congresos, or Convention Center. Salavador Vila, the father of the family, owns a real estate/construction company and is building like crazy as Valencia is booming. This "chalet," which is primarily used by Salvador Vila, the son, to store his jet ski equipment, had 4 bedrooms over 3 floors and was much nicer than many of the apartments we'd been staying in. Esperanza, my host mother, had stocked the kitchen with tons of food, so we had fresh squeezed orange juice once or twice every day, making use of the juicer and the two big bags of Valencia oranges in the kitchen. Maeve slept on a mattress we took off one of the beds and put on the floor, with another bed and a couple of plastic fences to keep her in. All the windows had the typical roll down blinds, so it stayed dark in the AM so we were all able to sleep in. Which was good, as we often didn't get Maeve down until 9. Crazy Spanish hours.
We took the train down to Valencia from Barcelona, a nice 3 hour ride last Sunday. When we got in, the Vilas met us at the train station and took us out to the chalet, where we put Maeve down for an hour. The whole family was meeting up at 2PM for lunch at a restaurant in El Saler, a beach between Valencia and La Albufera, a huge freshwater lake, used to irrigate acres of rice paddys and the home of lots of birds. We finally made it to El Saler, with Salvador and Esperanza, the parents, their daughter Esperanza, her husband Rafe, and their two kids, Rafito (12) and Esperanza (8). There's lots of naming kids after their parents. Also there was their daughter Cris, who spent a year with my family in SC 20 years ago, and her two sons, ?? and Rodrigo. Last but not least was Salva, the little boy who was 8 years old when I was there as an exchange student and is now 28, working for his dad's company, and a world-class jet skier. Crazy how we grow up. For lunch, there was a plethora of appetizers, including tuna with tomato, olives and little pickles - we'd determined that Maeve loves black olives so she got most of those. Then there was calimari and an egg wrapped in filo dough that wasn't completely cooked through, This filo dough package sat on top of a mixture of baby octopus and veggies. To eat this, you cut through the filo dough package, mixed the backed dough with the mostly raw egg and the octopus and veggies below. Very interesting. The sea food was apparently good there. We ordered a paella for the main dish, and since Mike, Maeve and I don't eat fish or meat, the whole table ended up eating a veggie paella. It was good - there's tons of rice grown in the Albufera, and the Valencians know how to cook it well. After about a 3 hour lunch, we called it a day and headed home.
The first couple of days in Valencia Mike spent at an Internet cafe finishing up a grant proposal. Maeve and I wandered around town, visiting the basilica of the Virgin, which was packed with people listening to a mass and pilgrimaging upstairs to see the icon of the virgin and sit and pray. A big change from many churches that don't seem to get used much. The evenings were generally used for a quick shopping run to the Corte Ingles. On Tuesday afternoon, we went over to the Villa's for another family lunch, this time without the kids as they were in school, except for Rafito who had a head ache and got out early. This was another crazy long family dinner, though a bit less so as everyone did have to go back to work. Maeve was super hyper active and did not take a nap that day, but did not completely implode until about 7 pm. Amazing. The Vilas had redone their house, which faces onto Plza Alfonso el Magnanimo. The plaza is much nicer than 20 year ago, when it housed and informal street market of north-african origin that sold lots of pot and hash. Now there are kids running around in it, like a regular Spanish square. Calle de la Paz also had no prostitutes, and the alleys of the old town in general were undergoing a good bit of construction, but were clean and busy. A nice area to walk around. In the house, the room where I stayed as a kid has been turned into a wardrobe, as the kids, except for Salva, have left the house and there's more space for the parents. It's neat to see how things have changed.
As for the people, many of their characteristics I had forgotten I know remember again, like their mannerisms of speaking etc. It cracked me up when Espe Jr left the house on Tuesday and said, pues, nada. She always said that before and still does, exactly the same way. It was great to see them all again.
On Thursday, we spent some time with a professor at the Polytechnical University of Valencia who'd interviewed Mike for a local cable access TV program. He showed us around the new Palaces of the Arts and Sciences, which is almost through being build in the old riverbed of the Turia. It was build by Calatrava, who was born right outside Valencia. It's almost all white, very modern, and car-free, which was great. The three buildings, a music hall, a hemispheric (IMAX/planetarium), and science museum, are all white, curvy, and have surfaces that change with light, reflection, and movement. I personally liked the hemispheric the best - it's in the shape of half of an eye, and the curved theater surface is the iris. It's reflected in a pool, which makes it a whole eye. Pretty neat. Apparently the original design was to have a complete eye that looked up to the sky, but this was to be visible from a tower next to it. When the government changed, the new government wanted to have a hand in the project, so they ixnayed the tower and put in the music hall instead. This took away the possibility of seeing the eye from above, so Calatrava changed the design and added the water to get the complete eye effect. There's also a shady park promenade area with sweet smelling herbs as well as lots of open park space in the Turia bed. Altogether a great public space, none of which was there 20 years ago and is apparently, along with the America's cup, helping to revitalize the Valencia tourist economy.
Fundamentally, Valencia was a debacle, as Mike says. We spent good time with the Vilas and had a great tour of the new Cuidad de Artes y Ciencias, designed by the architect Calatrava, but we also managed to scratch the Vila's car getting out of the parking garage, loose a cell phone, and I lost my wallet. Not the best track record for one city.
On Friday, we took the train here to Madrid, another nice 3 hour ride. This morning we went out, planning to spend the AM walking around the old city, but it was foggy so we went into the Royal Palace and checked that out. The first half of the tour is the most impressive, with amazingly decorated rooms from the floors (some marble inlay, lots of beautiful rugs) to the wall decorations, to the chandeliers to the ceilings. This afternoon the plan is to hit the Reina Sophia and check out Guernica on the free Saturday afternoon.
In Barcelona, I really like the church of Santa Maria del Mar, which was built outside the Roman center city but inside the medieval walls by people who had made their money from the sea. It had been burned, and was starkly beautiful. I liked the contrast between the soaring gothic columns (and the fact that there were only three apses so the church wasn't so wide) and the modern glass entry doors, modern pews etc. It's clearly a church that gets used and has managed to make an inviting space for reflection that blends gothic beauty and modern functionality. And there wasn't as much ornate gold leaf, which old churches here are often overwhelmed with, and that is not as appealing to me.