2012 Spring Arlene Reich Temple in Spain

Madrid: Seeking Inspiration in the Sprawl

Spain is a country for pleasure seekers founded firmly on aesthetic pillars.  Both natural beauty and human creation are celebrated and considered to be core values of this civilization.  Personal style in itself appears to be a representation of a collective respect for the beauty of the human figure instead of pure necessity.

I spent the time in Madrid wandering in a haze due to both sublime awe towards its sprawling beauty and extensive dehydration, the result of the near exclusive consumption of espresso and wine. It was easy to get swept into the sprawl, though a challenge presented itself in avoiding getting hit by taxis on walkways that would turn out to be streets.  The narrowness of these walkways/streets accommodates the smaller scale vehicles of Madrid including a slew of Vespas, Mini Coopers, and Smartcars.  The sunlight was strong and long-lasting in the winter days, though the city runs without regard to the rising and setting of the sun.  When sitting on the balcony at 5 am, I watched los Gatos (a self-designated nickname for those living in Madrid) continue to enjoy the precious hours marking the end of their holiday season.  Many were cheerfully boisterous en route to the chocoleteria for some post-disco/pre-work churros.


The presence of aesthetics in public spaces is emphasized in Madrid more than in most cities in the Western hemisphere.  This emphasis transforms the atmosphere of these spaces; for one thing and most crucially, the parks and squares are occupied.  The people choose to spend time near the large fountains, embellished bridges, the colors, the light, and the designated garden and green spaces.  Because the public squares are well-lit, and include restaurants and bars, they are crowded at all hours.  And in the design of these spaces, there exists the constant interaction between human creation and natural order.  Most notable is the Parque de Retiro.  I enjoyed spotting the various manifestations of lions around the city, in stone and in scrawl, as a symbol of loyalty also present in Spain’s national flag.  Their figures flanked the lake in El Parque del Retiro, and were a distinguishing feature of the Royal Palace.

Photo Credit: Jessica Arce

The Royal Palace, however, seems to be a representation of the emphasis on aesthetics gone horribly, horribly wrong.  The noisy and claustrophobic color and pattern arrangements make each room uniquely hideous.  And with over 2500 rooms present in the now unoccupied structure, there are plenty of nauseating combinations of this extreme showcase of royal wealth to be seen.  I did appreciate the crystal chandeliers present in almost every room (thus equating to a total of 2500 altogether), the five original and priceless Stradivarius stringed instruments, and the large stone courtyard.


Done right, aesthetic value is emphasized in Flamenco dance.  We enjoyed tapas and a show at Los Carboneros in Madrid, an intimate venue for these performances.  The depth of the dancers’ facial expressions, the lighting, and the stirring guitar worked to create a dramatic scene.  The movements were mystifying and sensual, adorned by lace, black, ruffles, and roses.

Some museums of note found in Madrid are the Reina Sofia and the Prado.  The Reina Sofia offered free nighttime admission to those seeking to explore its six expansive floors.  This experience commenced with a feeling of confusion among the abstraction and coldness of postmodernism and then running excitedly pell-mell towards the sign pointing to the surrealism exhibit.  The works of Salvador Dali are housed in this second floor gallery, which I wandered through starry-eyed due to the influence of his work in my own aesthetic value.  In the Prado, we explored the work of Goya, of Velazquez, and El Greco.  These Spanish powerhouses are considered to be the cornerstone of art in Spain, thus the influence of the pieces found in the Prado drench the streets of Madrid.  The beauty of the human body continued to be a prevalent theme among the exhibits, presenting the timelessness of this value in Spain. 

Below is a link to Destino, a collaborative work between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney; it is representative of Spanish aesthetics and values during its period of Surrealism.

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