48 Hours in Madrid — Olé!
We wanted to see Sara Baras perform so badly that we booked tickets to go to Madrid for just that pleasure (just two nights). Sara Baras is one of the world’s most formidable flamenco dancers. Flamenco might not wow you, but that’s likely because your idea of the Spanish dance is not the same as Sara’s, nor mine, now that I’ve seen her perform (many times). Flamenco for Sara Baras is a contemporary kind of ballet set to music made mostly by guitar, but with other simple instruments, hand-clapping and “cante flamenco” — a kind of singing which is considered the heart and soul of the art form. Baras is not like any other flamenco dancer I’ve ever seen — a very contemporary version that rivals none. Let’s put it this way: I am smitten.
Flamenco is not as old an art form as one might suspect. Developed in the late 1800s, it became popularized as late as 1910. I became fascinated with it after first seeing Sara Baras perform at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées 15 to 20 years ago from the nosebleed seats that were as little as 20€ a ticket. A Mexican friend invited me to go, I said yes and got hooked from that moment on.
Baras has performed many times in Paris, which I attended at every opportunity. Since there weren’t any performances on the immediate horizon here in Paris, my friend, Barb, and I decided to make the trip to Madrid where she is performing for several months at the Teatro Nuevo Apolo.
I’d never been to Madrid before, with the exception of flying through the city and maneuvering the expansive Terminal 4 of the airport. There’s a restaurant in the airport called The Eating Point where we discovered a whole grilled chicken (but small, like a Cornish hen) served with yummy fries and aioli sauce for a whopping 12.35€ that we found memorable. So much so, that when Barb’s flight from Marseille to Madrid was delayed, she suggested I go have lunch there while I wait for her — and what a brilliant idea she had! I even ordered it up during the return flight to Paris so that I could have it for dinner upon arrival at home Saturday night. It sounds nuts to love airport food, but considering the quality of food in Madrid in general, this deserves a thumbs up.
Our culinary adventures in Madrid were a bit hit and miss. We made the mistake of dining al fresco at one of the outdoor restaurants at the Plaza Mayor, the arcaded square in the heart of the city built during the reign of Philip III. The atmosphere was lovely, but the food fair nothing to write home about. Clearly, you go there for atmosphere, not for culinary delight. What we failed to realize was that if we had walked a few steps further, we would have landed at the Mercado de San Miguel. This 100-year-old newly glassed-in wholesale food market-turned-tapas-extravaganza is Madrid gastronomy extraordinaire: Iberian ham, fish and shellfish from Galicia, Mediterranean rice dishes, exquisite cheeses from Castile, Asturias, and the Basque Country — more than 20 stands devoted to tapas. In spite of our dinner, we couldn’t help but taste a few goodies until we couldn’t breathe just to taste as much as we could. Next time you go to Madrid, don’t miss this adventure into tapas.
During our 48 hours in Madrid, we had only two memorable and delicious culinary experiences:
1) At Celso y Manolo — a casual spot of simple, but authentic cuisine that the locals frequent for just that. Their online menu needs updating, but we can attest to the yumminess of “Seven organic seasonal vegetables from La Trailla farm in Tudela Navarra. Slowly cooked in an iron casserole, 11 euros;” “Atún rojo a la plancha (seasonal) grilled bluefin tuna with a Caribbean mixture of avocado, papaya and mango, 18 euros;” and “Alcachofas (artichokes) fried in organic flour with romesco sauce from Tarragona, 12,5 euros.”
2) At Museo del Jamón, a wonder world of Spanish hams, to be purchased or eaten there on the spot, the hams hanging cost as much as 149€ per kilo! Standing at the bar, along with the locals who were having a beer with their tapas, we tasted a small variety of slices of Iberian ham, then took home the rest for a morning snack.
One thing for sure, Madrid cuisine is all about bread, cheese, olives, anchovies, ham and a lot of fried foods. At one local restaurant steps from the theater, we were served fried lettuce — leaves of lettuce dipped in batter and fried. I sadly removed all the batter before eating it (not on my diet!). (The chef must have been very upset to see my plate piled with the mass of leftover batter.) Just keep in mind that vegetables are reserved mostly for salads, and is certainly not a Spanish specialty. So, if you’re vegan, you may be in big trouble in Madrid.
Each morning we visited one great museum, starting with the Museo del Prado, ending with the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. At the Prado, I was fascinated by the Rosa Bonheur painting of a lion titled “El Cid” (1879). According to the story, Rosa Bonheur was so fascinated by the primeval energy of animals that she began to study them at fairs, “which she visited in trousers to observe horses and cattle. Her choice of clothing required a ‘transvestite permit’ from the authorities, as only men could legally wear trousers.” Bonheur is considered to be the most famous female painter of the 19th-century.
We didn’t allow enough time for the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza the next day but got there early enough to avoid the big crowds. Plan ahead and get your tickets in advance, take your time to see it all, as it’s overwhelming how much there is to take in. It’s not very old, established as early as 1992, by Heinrich, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon with over 1,600 paintings from the second-largest private collection in the world after the British Royal Collection. I did a B-line for the Kandinskys — one of my favorite artists. His paintings somehow tell the story of my life, a sentiment I cannot explain, although an art expert may be able to shed light on why I relate so profoundly with this artist’s works.
Sadly, we ran out of time to go to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, walking distance of the other two major museums, in what they call the Golden Triangle of Art. Next time for sure…
The first thing I did when we landed at our hotel on the Gran Via (the Hyatt Centric, thanks to my friend’s hotel points), visited the Desigual store just one block away…and it was a BIG one. With three levels of clothing that suit my style to a tee, I piled up a fine selection of dresses, jackets and other great garments that would make a perfect wardrobe for House Hunters International shows or 50th High School Reunion parties (coming up in May). (It’s a good thing I took along a duffle bag that unfolds from a small pouch just in case I got lucky…and I did!)
We found the city pristinely clean and well kept. The Madrilenians are very tastefully and well dressed, as neat and tidy as their city. The architecture in Madrid is stunning, reflecting a number of styles from various historical periods. The Gran Vía, where we spent most of our time, showcased patterns ranging from Vienna Secession style, Plateresque, Neo-Mudéjar, Art Deco, and others. The view from our hotel room was of such buildings, against a very blue and bright sky.
But, best of all was Sara Baras. She did not disappoint. I cried throughout the performance, overwhelmed by her talent, the sheer beauty of the scenes, and the sounds of the sexy Spanish guitar. Our view was drop-dead perfect, on the second row of the first balcony, but in the corner. I had no one in front of me blocking the view. I bruised my hand-clapping and never stopping calling out, “olé, olé!”
Baras mixed-gender norms, opening the show with both the men and the women dancers in suits, as was she. Was the dance itself more masculine in form or did the costumes make it feel that way, I wondered? That whole scene lacked the flared or ruffled skirts that show off the movement. There was another scene where the male dancers wore an elaborately full-skirted costume and again I wondered what made the dance masculine or feminine, the movements or the costumes? And of course, she wore dresses laden with fringe, or ruffles or flares, and then moved in a way that, in some scenes, the dancers looked like feathered birds, others that looked like spinning tops, and regardless, each was more beautiful and exciting than the next. You can’t see her feet move, she can tap them so fast, so that her body literally vibrates. She slams the floor so powerfully that I could almost feel my own feet screaming in pain. But, for her, it was a total pleasure, as was the performance for me.
Here’s a trailer from the show, just to give you a taste: youtube.com/watch.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
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