Friday, May 27, 2016

A little walk to the Palacio Real

Yesterday I took it easy as I’m still trying to get over jet lag. I don’t know why, but it always seems worse going to Europe than coming back. I was here years ago doing a concert tour with a flute player and we were taking turns driving. Each of us, at different times, usually, would be overcome with drowsiness and switch off driving. We were in Switzerland, just about to enter Italy when Robert, the flute-player, said “I’m getting really sleepy, we should switch over.” There wasn’t immediately a place to pull off and moments later we entered a tunnel in the mountain. I think it was the Durenmatt, which, on the other side of the mountain, comes out in Italy. Alas, this tunnel is about 20 kilometres long, with no pull-offs until you are through. That was a bit of a struggle to stay awake! On the other side, the climate was completely different: suddenly it was the Mediterranean with blue skies where in Switzerland it was a bit cloudy and rainy. That was a lovely tour, by the way, much of it spent playing in northern Italy: Verona, Ferrara, Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca and most of all, Firenza (Florence).

So yesterday, I rather vedged out (do people still say that?) and just took it easy. Today I am planning to do some walking and try and run down the shop of Jose Ramirez, where I bought my first concert guitar way back in 1974. That was the first reason for coming to Spain back then: to pick up a guitar that I had ordered months before. It is on the Calle de la Paz, which is supposedly just off the Puerta del Sol, though in that part of town the streets are so jammed together it is hard to tell from my map. The music shop Union Musical Española is nearby as well, who published a great deal of Spanish music for guitar.

Yes, I succeeded in finding the Ramirez shop. At first I thought I was going nuts because I didn't recognise anything about the neighbourhood. But, it turns out, when I bought my guitar they were in a different location, on Concepcion Jeronimo and now they are on Calle de la Paz. In any case, here is a photo of the shop:

Click to enlarge
Other places on my list include the Royal Palace which, with 2800 rooms, should take some time! I would also like to do a couple of excursions out of town to Toledo, the first big conquest of the Reconquista, and El Escorial. The latter is a place unique to Spain. It was built by Phillip II during the heyday of Spain’s empire in the 16th century and its construction absorbed a good deal of Spain’s economy for a couple of decades. It is a dark, but impressive, monument to the Counter-Reformation and has, among other features, 42 chapels and 16 courtyards. It began as a mausoleum to Philip’s father, Carlos I and to commemorate the Battle of San Quentin in 1557. Ultimately the project came to include a basilica, a monastery, a seminary and a library. Philip’s instructions to the architect, Juan Bautista de Toledo, required that he should aim for “simplicity in the construction, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation.” After a few revolutions and the wholesale re-imagining of the whole social fabric it is hard for us to even entertain the concept of “nobility without arrogance” but for me that makes a place like El Escorial even more interesting.

I think that Felipe VI, the current King of Spain, is the last Bourbon monarch to still sit on a throne. Yes, Spain is now a constitutional monarchy, but its king, along with Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a few other places, is almost the last of the era of monarchy. So today, I did a little walking tour and visited the Palacio Real, built in the 18th century. The king doesn't actually live there these days, but in a smaller palace nearby. The Palacio Real supposedly has 2800 rooms, but the tour only includes a few. Here are some photos.

Part of the eastern facade

The rest of the eastern facade
The courtyard/parade ground looking toward the adjacent cathedral
The grand staircase
and the ceiling of the staircase
After this, you were not allowed to take photos of the rooms. They mostly have ceilings like that, painted by folks like Tiepolo. One room has walls finished in silk with silver thread, another is done completely in the finest porcelain, walls and ceiling. There are 16th century Flemish tapestries all over the place. One room has on display a quartet of instruments by Stradivarius, supposedly the only one in existence. Oh, and if sixty people drop by and you need a table for sixty, they have at least one dining room where that would not be a problem.

What we forget is that during the 16th and much of the 17th century, the King of Spain was the most powerful leader in the world.

For our envoi a good choice would be something by Tomás Luis de Victoria, who enjoyed the patronage of Felipe II and was for 17 years chaplain to the dowager empress at the monastery for the nobility in Madrid, the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales.  This is his Salve regina:


Marc Puckett said...

The reigning sovereigns of Luxembourg, since the early 20th c and someone's marriage to someone, represent a cadet branch of the house of Borbon-Parma, but one takes your point. Would that so many politicians would adopt the ideal of 'nobility without arrogance', or even 'virtue without arrogance', alas!

Glad your visit is going well, and that the jet lag is (surely almost?) done.

Bryan Townsend said...

I did look at the Wikipedia article on the House of Bourbon and noticed that the Grand Dukes of Luxembourg were part of the family--I just didn't think of them as monarchs, per se!

Yes, jet lap pretty well gone. I would be completely up to speed but last night, the first night I got to sleep easily, my cellphone rang at 2:30 am and I couldn't get back to sleep for a couple of hours.