I woke to rain drumming on the roof. Rolled off my hostel bunk for my complimentary croissant and coffee and decided it was a good day for museums. With my hood up and my toe still tender on the cobblestones, I walked to the Prado. When I arrived in Madrid yesterday, it was one of the most immediate and intense first impressions I´ve experienced when coming to a new city. Love at first sight. The fabulous, stylish people in the subway after the serious faces on the Krakow trams. The flood of sun. The balconies hanging over the calles, lined with plants and drying laundry. There´s a certain epic grandeur to Madrid that registers with the usual ideas of European cities-- the palaces and parks lined with classical statues and fountains, like Paris, like London-- but it seems more easy-humored, more colorful, more sincere somehow. On my meandering walk to the Prado, snapping pictures as I went, it occurred to me: why have I never been to Spain before? This is my 4th time leaving Michigan for Europe. In 2004, England, Ireland, France, Poland, Czech Republic. In 2006, England, Ireland and Poland. Then in 2009 with B, England, Holland, France and Morocco. Why have I never ventured toward the sunny (with some exceptions for museum-going days), stay-up-late-with-wine-and-friends, lust for life kind of places? Why so much Britain, so much Eastern Europe, but no Spain, no Italy, no Portugal? Because I´ve never fallen in love with any Spanish writers, perhaps.
So into the Prado, and an item crossed off my art snob bucket list. The in turns celestial and bloody sprawl of Spanish art: all those Madonnas in the lapis lazuli folds of their robes attended by the seraphim and cherubim, all those Christs bled white on their crucifixes and the martyred saints I never remember. Those artistocratic Goya ladies with their fluffy black curls and corseted waists. Velazquez´s peculiarly beautiful dwarves. El Greco´s elongated faces and vivid colors. Those chubby Reuben nudes. Threading through the Saturday crowd of tourists, I found myself drawn, perhaps predictably, to those sad-eyed portraits of women, inevitably the story of their widowhood adjoining. Like Goya´s "Maria Teresa de Vallabriga." I kept thinking of Auden´s "Musee de Beaux Artes":¨ About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters."
In my 11th grade humanities class at Central High School (another hollow structure on the Flint landscape now), Mr. Eufinger said something that has always, always stayed with me: art never gets better or worse, it just changes. I find that calming. Even in those colder climates of my previous travels, whether at the Louvre or the Tate or the Metropolitan Museum, the idea of art and the echoing voices of creative expression provides my greatest solace. I think Auden was quite right. We happen to share a birthday, Auden and I: the 21st. Perhaps Monday night in Granada I´ll raise my sangria for him and toast the poets and the Old Masters and the young literary aspirants attempting to find a place among them.