Captain’s Log: Day Two

A new day, but with the same hard dry cough.

We breakfasted at 7:00 a.m., and then I took my antibiotic, and I went back to bed. I wanted to store up as much energy because, according to our set-in-Wisconsin itinerary, today in Madrid was Prado day. I knew I wouldn’t be returning to Spain any time soon, so today I would visit the Prado or accept as fate that I would never have a chance to visit the world’s greatest collection of Goya paintings.

We must remember here that I grew up in New Jersey, and as a teenager, I worked in a supermarket that catered to a large Hispanic clientele: Cubans escaping the Castro regime, and Puerto Ricans seeking a better life in these northern climes. The A & P I worked at had a long aisle devoted to Spanish foods, including two long shelves stocked with Goya brand products. Each Goya label reproduced one of the master’s paintings. And I loved them all–all those Spanish beauties in their lacy head-dresses and scarves; all those courtly gentlemen in their majestic uniforms; all those peasant heroes fighting for freedom. I loved stocking the Goya line almost as much as I loved doing the aisle of detergents, which was by far the most colorful of all supermarket aisles, and still is.

These Goya tins may be an object of my imagination, however, since I cannot furnish any proof of their existence. I have searched high and low on the internet and found no evidence of their existence. I’ve slogged through pages of Google Search Results; I’ve tried finding the picturesque cans on ebay; I’ve used other search engines. I’ve found plenty of delightful pictures of Goya brand foods in cans with Goya’s distinctive label, but none had any of the painter’s great works, and yet I know in my heart of hearts that I shelved such cans when I was a stocker for the A & P.

In any case, no sickness was going to prevent me from my duly self-appointed task: to visit the Prado. And oh what a visit. Mr. Skelly, Anna and I were escorted to the Museum by our personal, local tour guide, Al, ever available, ever helpful, and with a knowledge as wide as it is deep. He walked us to the correct door for entree with our pre-arranged tickets. Before we got there, I had to stop and take a picture from beneath a grassy knoll that climbs from the Prado walkway to a church overlooking us, where we stood.

Beautiful, but I don’t yet knowits name.

We passed without hitch through the Museum’s security, found the floor plans and made our way the Spanish painter we wanted to see.

The layout of most museums never made much sense to me. Even armed with a floor plan, I find the great museums Anna and I have visited in New York, Chicago, Paris and Kenosha to be confusing. Rooms seem to flow into other rooms without much transition as if gallery designers have no idea of what a corridor could do; they simply line up room after room–and worse, they assign room numbers that hardly seem consecutive and then fail to consistently post those room numbers.

The Prado is a big place. BIG! And it has a huge collection of exquisite works, and so, as Mr. Skelly wisely pointed out, you find yourself quickly moving through a room of masterpieces, hardly noticing the wonders surrounding you. As a case in point, when Anna and I visited the Louvre, we couldn’t understand why other visitors were running past us as we slowly walked through the gallery of Renaissance art. We soon found out. People ran frantically to get to the Mona Lisa, which is wonderful to look at and it’s famous, but it’s nothing compared to the great paintings by, say, Montegna.

So we’re in the Prado with a mission to see the Goyas and the Grecos, but we’re walking through the splendors of other artists. So we tarried and saw things we hadn’t thought we had time for. things such as Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights:

This picture calls for more than a fleeting glance

So, out of necessity we let ourselves slowly progress toward the Goyas. Albrecht Durer has long been one of my favs, but I had never seen any of his works except in reproductions, in books and online. But the Prado owns a Durer Self-Portrait:

DurerĀ“s Self-Portrait in the Prado

One of the amazing things about this painting and the other Durers nearby is that the surface of the painting is entirely smooth. There are no visible stroke marks, no places where the paint is thicker than in other parts, no lunar surfaces. The painting is an artistic statement, in an untranslatable sense, of how socially important the artist is: Durer is decked out quite elegantly–note the gloves–like any other aristocratic subject of a portrait beside a window with an incredible view. Interestingly, the frame of the Self-Portrait adds a kind of earthly craftmanship combined of carpentry and sculpture that harkens back to ancient architecture:

Image result for durer self portrait prado

I could go on. The Prado is so big, so full of the art of the world, but I think we should turn to the object of my quest: Goya.

(to be continued.)


Captain’s Log: Day One

We set course at 4:35 p.m. from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

The group of travelers included me, your humble narrator; Anna, my beautiful Armenian princess of a wife; a Mr. Skelly, a short, charming ne’er-do-well well-known for his incursions into the theatre-building trades in Colorado; and sweet Ms. Judith blue eyes, the wife of the aforesaid Mr. Skelly.

We went through security quickly enough, which is a rare treat in O’Hare, but the pleasure of that rarity was seriously undermined by a security guard getting a bit too inquisitive physically with one of our party. I won’t mention who it was, but the security guard’s zeal put a damper on our excitement as we waited the three hours for our boarding time. We read, we ate pizza, we took little strolls; we read some more, we ate more pizza, took more strolls.

Boarding was easy on a plane that had a capacity for 480 passengers, but was only 2/3 full.

Everything seemed to back on track, and our spirits were high and happy again. There was no long wait on the runway. The seats were cozy, with lots of foot space. Anna and I were in a column of two-seat rows, as were Mr. Skelly and the missus in the row just behind us. An hour or so into the flight, I began to cough every so often. The food came, such it was, and my cough kept getting worse. It became a harsh, hacking, dry cough that strained my entire torso. I became highly dehydrated and I kept asking the stewards for more water–I must’ve been a difficult case because they kept forgetting to bring me any liquids, and when they did, it never was a full cup of water, not even half.

This flight of 4195 miles last for seven and a half hours. Anna slept a little, Mr. Skelly and Ms. Judith managed some sleep after watching a movie. I read most of the way–I always carry on flights magazine from home that I haven’t gotten to. So I read two issues of the New York Review of Books, each page being also used to cover my dry cough. I watched two movies: Bad Times at El Royale, and Will You Ever Be Able to Forgive Me. Both movies were diverting enough to make half the flight fly by.

We were greeted at Madrid airport by Ms. Judith’s brother Al, an American living and working in Madrid with his beautiful Galician wife, Yolanda.

The Madrid Airport is a huge spacious place with long frightfully angled escalators. The angles are so fierce that the airport’s luggage carts have brakes so that they don’t roll backwards when you’re going uphill or forward when you’re going downhill.

Anyway, Al had arranged to pick us up, and when we exited through Customs, by golly, there he was with a cooler filled with bottled water. I drank mine in one long slug. I was clammy and enervated, but being in the cool morning air of Madrid airport fooled me into thinking the worst of my coughing was over.

The ride to our hotel was a good hour, which meant that, by the time we reached the Mercure, we had been traveling a good 12 hours, if we include our ride from home to O’Hare. But we’d made it.

Anna and I have visited cities around the US, and most of the time, in recent years, we stayed at what we call Hipster Lodgings. You know: An old high-rise building has been gutted and converted to a hotel with rooms about a half sizd ie larger that the double bed. The design calls for lots of mirrors and chrome; the bathroom is sleek and modern with postmodern variations on old items like toilets, sinks, showers and bidets. I feel as if Anna and I have stayed in the same room in San Francisco as in New York as in Cincinnati as in Louisville, and now as in Madrid. The clientele is predictably young folks, not families, dressed in dark solids and having distinctive hair preference. Their luggage is often individualized with some artistic flourish–a young fellow at the Mercure was standing beside his large, black suitcase attached to which was a painter’s palette, with dried spatters of purple, cherry red, and orange. He used that as Anna and I have always used bright ribbons on our luggage handles to distinguish our cases from all the lookalikes that come floating on the conveyer belt at the airport.

We arrived at the Mercure in time for breakfast, so we decided to drop off luggage in our rooms. While we signed in, someone took our bags up, and then we followed in the elevator. In Hipster Lodgings, rooms are small as I have already said, but elevators are even smaller. Little did we know that our elevator had a capacity for four persons a trip, but we were five and didn’t see the small sign Otis 320kg. 4 Pers.

Our elevator took off with 5 passengers: our party of four and Al. We moved upward about six feet, and the elevator came to a loud halt. The five of us were crowded as if in a Marx Brothers’ movie. The small space rapidly became overheated. I began to sweat again, and my coughing increased. Al or Mr. Skelly used the emergency phone, and after 10 minutes or so, we could hear our rescuers banging around outside. They finally opened the door, and it was obvious that we were stuck between floors. Our knees were level with the ceiling of the lower floor, and that 2 and a half portal was our escape hatch.

Al is a fit man, thin and healthy looking. He had no trouble bending and turning to squeeze through the portal. Mr. Skelly, despite having lived a bacchanalian life of dissolution and self-indulgence, had no trouble either. Ms. Judith, a notable dancer and dance instructor, used her flexibility to get through that rough passage, and Anna, the epitome of energy and lithesomeness, had little trouble. But I, I faced some realistic infractions against my self image. Just as a point of reference, when Anna, who walks straight and with nobility, walks with me down the street we resemble the number ten. Thus my escape from the unyielding elevator required me to kneel on one knee, then fall back on my rump, and then shimmy toward the portal. Now, with my legs hanging out of the elevator, I had to duck my head, and lean into the shoulders of the young man and young woman who were our rescuers. I worried that I would crush them, or falling from my perch, I would drag them to the floor six feet below us.

But I and they survived. Our room was just as Anna and I had expected when we arrived at the Mercure.

At breakfast, I was still harshly coughing, and wracking my ribs and stomach muscles (such as they are) and

Al left and went to a pharmacy to get me some he bottle, for Anna and I had concluded that I had had some sort of allergic reaction to something on the plane, a sort of mild Legionnaire’s Disease, if you will.

Al returned, after consultation with Yolanda, with some product I was supposed to take three times a day, two teaspoons. I drank some straight from the bottle. It was a cross between what I imagine cod liver oil and canine phlegm.

We finished breakfast, and I went to our room and slept for 12 straight hours, which is why this Captain’s Log is so late. I’m on antibiotic meds now, and I am on the mend.

Captain’s Log for Monday April 2, 2019–Patrick McGuire