This will be a short post but yesterday might have been my favorite day, unexpectedly.
I went to school to become a historian (that didn’t pan out, obviously) so I probably enjoy museums and cemeteries more than the next person but those were the two highlights of the day: the Municipal Cemetary of Our Lady of Almudena and the Madrid History Museum.
First, I took the Red Line to La Almudena, out in a working-class neighborhood east of the city called Ventas. Originally I decided to go to the cemetery because I am interested in Filipino and Cuban history and there is a mausoleum dedicated to Spanish soldiers who fought there. I’m obviously interested in contemporary memory and the history of colonialism so I wanted to see what was going on. It was a nice monument–I obviously cannot deliver commentary on its existence since I’m neither Spanish nor Filipino/Cuban but I am glad I saw it.
I read an article about the cemetery and to quote: “Alien to ideology, its streets are inhabited by tributes to war heroes, Nazi pilots, hustlers, and innocent martyrs of Francoism.”
That’s the interesting thing about cemeteries. We spend our lives separating ourselves and others based on a host of labels and categories but you wander through a cemetery and you don’t know one grave from another as they relate to those categories (except maybe class since the rich have their own tombs…there’s a lesson to be had there too).
The cemetery was deserted and HUGE. I saw a few famous graves marked on Google Maps and obviously went to see the mausoleum. I made a mistake and didn’t check my camera battery so I was only able to take pictures with my phone which was a bummer. So many of the graves were in serious disrepair which was ironic because many of the inscriptions said things like, “Your wife and kids will never forget you.” etc. I have been to a lot of cemeteries in the US and I’ve never seen one in such horrible disrepair (I’m sure they exist) so it was a little strange for me.
After an hour or so of wandering around the cemetery, I realized I hadn’t eaten and found a neighborhood spot close to my train stop. Bar El Rincón de Juanca was a great choice. Unfortunately, the kitchen was closed for siesta (I was really looking forward to the bacon and cheese bocadillo) but I had a couple of beers. It was a Filipina-run bar and the ladies were singing karaoke in Tagalog which made me nostalgic for Hawaii and high school. They were super friendly and the place also has a terrace so it would be perfect in the late spring and summer. I will definitely go back when I’m here again.
After a couple of beers (€2.50), I got back on the train and decided at the spur of the moment to go to the Madrid History Museum. I’m not a huge fan of art museums but I usually enjoy other museums. This one DID NOT disappoint and I would recommend it to everyone. I took a couple of classes about Enlightenment-era Europe in graduate school so these exhibits were right up my alley! It was also free because it was Sunday night, so win-win.
The museum follows the history of the city chronologically from 1561 to the 20th century with special emphasis placed on the Enlightenment and societal changes as they related to gender and urban planning (two of my favorite subgenres of history). Also, if you like fans, curiosities, and material history, you should definitely stop in. It’s an expansive exhibition with paintings, maps, objects, photos, and a really well-done and extensive narrative that guides you through each hall and helps to put everything into context. My favorite parts were about coffee houses, paying calls, promenading, women at work, and other aspects of social life during and after the Enlightenment.
The last exhibit was a temporary one dedicated to Arturo Soria and the urban planning of his Ciudad Lineal. This was also interesting because he created the Madrid Company of Urbanization in 1824 and helped conceptualize this planned city. They had pictures and different things that were part of the plan (most of the buildings are gone now) but he was a really smart guy. This was probably one of my favorite things I’ve learned about on the trip. I love being taken down rabbit holes of previously unknown topics and subject areas and this one combined a LOT of different ones.
After the museum, I realized I was in a part of the city I hadn’t gotten to explore yet (between Malasañ and Justicia) so I decided to walk from the museum, in Justicia, back down to my AirBnB. On my walk, I happened to stumble upon what appeared to be a hipster area full of little bars with different themes and an upper-middle-class area with eateries, stationery shops, and lots of young people. I ended up back in my neighborhood and decided I finally needed to eat.
I have discovered that even devoid of a man asking me what I want to eat, it is SO hard for me to choose restaurants and commit to eating somewhere. Last night, I chose a Mexican spot called Patron Taqueria, and yet again, it was completely worth it. First and foremost, they had margaritas with a chamoy rim–and those are one of my favorite things ever. Second, they served Mexican-style tacos for €1.50 each. But the star of the show was something they called a gringa which was like a combination of a quesadilla and taco. It was one of the best things I’ve eaten here, by far! So, I got 3 food items and two drinks and it was only €15.50. The more Mexican food I eat, the sadder it makes me that NYC’s Mexican food is so different (and not to my liking). A group of guys came to the counter to check out when I was ready to leave so I got up to go and I was already outside when one of them yelled after me to stop. The waitress wasn’t paying attention when I paid her colleague and she had these guys stop me because she thought I was dining and dashing, LOL!
After the restaurant, I decided to stop at a little mini-mart and get some beers and ice cream (since I won’t be able to stay out late tonight as I need to leave for the airport tomorrow morning). Then I went back to my place.
This was another absolutely perfect day: slept in, saw some historical graves, found a woman+immigrant-run neighborhood bar, got to learn some things, had some amazing food and drinks, saw a slice of life in the suburbs, and only spent € 30!
Today is my last day and I need to go get a Covid test to reenter the US so fingers cross. Come back tomorrow for one last rundown!