Guernica, through a child’s eye

The Museo Reina Sofia is Spain’s modern art museum, and my son and I went there yesterday to see one thing and one thing only: Picasso’s Guernica, depicting the brutal aerial bombardment of the Basque city Guernica by the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War.

Showing the painting to my son was an antidote to our trip to the National Air and Space Museum in D.C in October.

Of course, an eighteen-month-old can’t be expected to have a sophisticated reaction to a powerful work of art about the monstrosities of the twentieth century.

But he comes close.

My son pointed at the mutilated bodies lying fallen on the ground and he said, “Uh-oh.” And then he made the hand sign for fall down.

Uh-oh is right.

I wonder if right now, somewhere in Falluja or Najaf, an aspiring artist is painting a successor to Guernica, honoring the 30,000 Iraqi civilians killed so far in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

If so, I hope my son sees that painting and is just as aware of suffering then as he is now.

Two Old Women Eating from a Bowl, Goya (1821-1823)

Two Old Women Eating from a Bowl, Goya
(Larger Image)
Posted to Flickr by samplereality.

Yesterday, while my wife was digging through national archives in Spain, my son and I went to the Prado, one of the great art museums of the world.

This was my third trip to the Prado, and every time, I make sure I visit a few key paintings. The Prado has, fittingly, the greatest collection of Goya work, and I am always haunted by his “black paintings.” His Saturn is enormously evocative, and I’ve referred to it before on SampleReality to talk about The Sopranos, of all things.

As long as you don’t use a flash, you may photograph the works in the Prado. I learned this the hard way, when I was almost thrown out a few years ago for accidentally using a flash on Velazquez’s Las Meninas.

So, with my son patiently watching from the stroller, I snapped a few shots, and you can see my Prado stream on Flickr.

Niko and Quijote

Niko and Quijote (Larger Image)
Posted to Flickr by samplereality.

Don Quijote was on our street again, much to my son’s delight. I snapped this photo as my son was dropping some change into the “statue’s” chute. Moments later, Don Quijote was galloping in place and my son was in awe.

I was surprised to find on Flickr, in addition to my own photos of this particular Don Quijote, another visitor to Madrid had taken some snapshots of the very same street performer, a few weeks earlier.

Lo Mejor de Elmo

After much grave, serious debate and heart-wrenching soul-searching, we finally bought Lo Mejor de Elmo from the media megastore FNAC in Madrid.

This was a major decision.

Our son has watched maybe ten minutes of television in his whole life. And we plan to keep it that way. But Elmo is so tempting. Despite never having seen a single minute of Sesame Street, our son knows all the characters by sight and can name them as if they were family. Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, even–and this is eerie–the long-dead Mr. Hooper. It’s as if Sesame Street were in the air, or maybe there’s just something in the water.

Don Quijote “Statue”

Or “Donkey-te” as my son says. This is another street performer on Calle Postas in Madrid. Drop a few coins in the chute and he bounces on “Rocinante” or jousts at imaginary windmills (i.e. pedestrians).

My son goes crazy everytime he sees Donkey-te, and he woke up in the middle of the night last night asking for him. It took a while to convince him that Don Quijote was asleep and he should be too.

Christmastime Crowds in Madrid

The holiday season in Madrid is still full swing and doesn’t wind down until after Kings’ Day, January 6th. Spanish streets are always teeming with people, and even more so in Christmastime. And I don’t mean simply crowded. I mean crowded in the fullest sense of the word: packed with crowds. From Puerta del Sol to the Plaza Mayor, a distance of a quarter mile (with my apartment exactly in the middle), the streets are essentially one surging mass of people.

So I’ve been thinking about crowds lately.

The French poet Charles Baudelaire meditated upon crowds, and the German critic Walter Benjamin used Baudelaire’s reflections to highlight the difference between the manic man of the crowd and the leisurely flâneur, who idles down the sidewalk. In a witty aside in his essay on Baudelaire, Benjamin remarks that Parisian flâneurs often walked through the arcades with a turtle on a leash, nonchalantly allowing the turtle to set the pace.

A turtle on a leash is precisely what walking through the crowded streets of Madrid during Christmastime is like when an eighteen-month-old boy is holding your hand and leading the way.

Our pace was ours alone.

Every interesting piece of rubbish on the sidewalk, we stopped. Every store window with either a soccer ball or Nativity scene, we stopped. Every scooter or motercycle parked, we stopped. Every street performer, mime, or busker, we stopped.

It’s a new way to see the city. A revelation.

Pictured here (Larger Image) is one street performer on Calle de Preciados that particularly drew my son’s attention: a man who, despite the windblown action pose, is standing completely stationary until someone drops a few coins at his feet. Then he moves mechanically like a Disney Hall of Presidents animatronic, only to “shut down” again in a few moments.

It’s the Man of the Crowd as a living statue.

Live Blogging at the MLA

I half-heartedly had wanted to live blog the MLA convention last week, but it just didn’t happen. The last time I live blogged was the 2004 presidential debate, and I guess, in comparison, the MLA just wasn’t worth the effort.

That, and the fact that less than 24 hours after my own MLA presentation I began the first leg of a journey which eventually brought me across the Atlantic to Madrid. So far, things are going better than my last trip to Spain, just sick six months ago.

To make up for the lack of live — blogging at the MLA (as if anyone would care), maybe I’ll try to squeeze in some mobile blogging here in Spain. Full-out Christmas isn’t celebrated here until King’s Day, on January 6, so there are a lot of festivities around worth taking in…

In Madrid…

Sorry, but it’s going to be hard to blog for a while. I’m in Madrid. Plenty of internet cafes around, but it’s not so easy to bring a 1-year old toddler along with me as I spend hours composing deep, reflective posts (yeah, right, that’s what my posts are). Plus, I don’t have any easy way to upload photographs, so I don’t even have any way to share good photos of the trip.

I’ll try to comment on anything interesting that happens, but until jet lag subsides, even that’s going to be a challenge.

For now you’ll have to content yourself with the knowledge that a 1-year old can produce mucho mucho vómito when airsickness strikes in the last ten minutes of a transatlantic flight.