Madrid: Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Royal Botanical Gardens, Plaza Mayor

Today’s jaunt in Madrid included visits to Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the Royal Botanical Gardens and Plaza Mayor.

Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is a modern art gallery. Wait. That was a tad ambiguous, wasn’t it? That is to say, it’s a gallery that displays modern art. I don’t know when the building was built, but the old section (there are two connected buildings) didn’t seem particularly modern to me.

But you’re likely not interested in the claptrap of the preceding paragraph. On to the important stuff. Like the Prado, entry to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is free for people 65 and over.

So far on my visit to Spain, some attractions have been free to everyone at certain times. Examples were yesterday’s visits to Synagoga del Tránsito and the El Greco Museum in Toledo. But even when most people have to pay, seniors get in either free or at a discount at most of the attractions I’ve visited here.

Young people think they have it so good, what with possessing youth and all. But, ha! Being closer to death gets me free or cheap stuff. Take that, young whippersnappers!

Wait. Where was I? At my age, I tend to journey off onto verbal tangents, get lost, and forget where I was headed. I did it when I was younger too, but never mind that.

Oh, yeah. Art at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.

A piece at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
A piece at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

Oh, yeah. Modern art. The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is big and has lots of it. The numerous rooms in its confusing layout display many media, modes, and materials of modern art. The gallery presents some of the leading names in that genre, including Picasso, Dalí, Miró and Kandinsky, not to mention a few I’ve no doubt forgotten.

The offered art forms include paintings, drawings, etchings, videos, photographs, sculptures, and one or two forms that defy classification by the likes of me.

Another piece at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
Another piece at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

Regular readers of this blog or anyone who knows me in the least knows I’m not a discerning art viewer. Nevertheless, after my visit to Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, I’ve come to a conclusion. (Right about now, regular readers and people who know me are bracing themselves for whatever cringingly asinine thing I’m about to say. Or, if they’re not bracing themselves, they should be.)

My conclusion is this: I’m not a fan of Joan Miró’s works. Not at all. A number of times, I looked at a painting and thought, “what an incredibly childish piece.”  Invariably, when I looked at the placard beside the painting, it listed Joan Miró as the artist.

Understand, when I say “childish,” I don’t mean “childlike.” It’s the difference between “silly” and “whimsical.”

God, do these pieces at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia never end?
God, do these pieces at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia never end?

Most of the Dalí works I’ve seen here and elsewhere are intricately whimsical. Sometimes darkly whimsical (if that’s not a contradiction in terms), sometimes playfully whimsical (if that’s not redundant), but, as far as the works I’ve seen, generally whimsical and often exceptionally complex. I enjoy most of his work.

With two or three exceptions, the Joan Miró pieces I saw at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia were, to my plebeian eye (the left one), just facilely childish. My philistine right eye concurred, so it’s unanimous.

I suppose I should try to be a tad more discerning. To my mind, the most emblematic of Picasso’s various styles seem silly to me too. (I’ve seen other Picassos elsewhere that I looked at and thought, “Whoa, that’s a Picasso? Why are there the appropriate numbers of eyes, ears and mouths? They don’t seem silly to me.) But at least he appears to have put some thought and considerable work into most of those of his emblematic style.

Those two or three exceptions noted in the previous paragraph notwithstanding, I didn’t get that sense with the Joan Miró paintings I saw at the Cento de Arte Reina Sofia.

Please don’t hate me, Joan Miró fans.

Royal Botanical Gardens

At the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid
At the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid

If you’re looking for bright, colourful flowers in an outdoor setting, late October is probably not the best time to visit Madrid’s Royal Botanical Gardens (Real Jardín Botánico). Who knew? Then again, I imagine it’s worse in mid-winter.

There were still a few flowers still in bloom, but they looked sad and very, very lonely.

When I said “in an outdoor setting” above, you might have thought I was foreshadowing the brilliantly vibrant flowers in the couple of small greenhouses in the Royal Botanical Gardens. If so, ha! You’re soooo gullible.

More at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid
More at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid

The greenhouses contain desert plants, tropical plants, and palm trees. None of them were in bloom when I was there. You’d think they’d have flowering plants in the ever-tropical greenhouse for my pleasure, if for no one else’s. But, no.

It was still worth the visit. The gardens are large and relaxing. The plentiful trees and bushes were still mostly green. A few had turned yellow, adding that colour to the garden’s palette.

Plant Illustrations

Still more at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid
Still more at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid

In addition to the plants, the gardens also includes a couple of fountains and a building that contains a café, gift shop, and an exhibit of plant illustrations. A temporary exhibit in a separate room displayed plant illustrations along with some text in Spanish and English explaining that they were by a key figure in the gardens’ history.

An employee of the Royal Botanical Gardens stood at the entrance to the room and asked to see my ticket. I figured I wasn’t going to get in. My ticket was the standard senior’s ticket. I didn’t see any signs indicating there was a separate admission for a special exhibit.

Proof that at least some of the flowers in the Royal Botanical Gardens were still in bloom in late October.
Proof that at least some of the flowers in the Royal Botanical Gardens were still in bloom in late October.

The reason I didn’t see such a sign was there wasn’t one. After fishing through my pockets, finally finding my ticket, and showing it to him, he waved me in. The same thing happened to other people, non-seniors, who likewise seemed to be surprised to be asked for their tickets.

The building is well inside the grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens. You can’t get there unless you bought a ticket. So why did they employ someone to check tickets when everyone presenting themselves to him had to have one to get that far? Oh, well. As long as it keeps him busy, I guess.

The funny thing is, the exhibit in the special room was kind of small and, in my opinion, not very special.

Hmm. A thought just occurred to me. Maybe it wasn’t an employee checking tickets. Maybe it was someone who gets his kicks hassling strangers. It could happen.

Plaza Mayor

One corner of Plaza Mayor, with equestrian statue in view

Plaza Mayor is a rectangle, commonly known as a square. According to Rick Steves’ Spain tour book it measures 140 by 102 yards. (I looked it up. For benefit of the metrically inclined, that’s 128 by 93 metres.) The rectangular square is surrounded on all four sides by four-storey buildings. (Or maybe they’re five-storey buildings. There were what could have been dormer windows at the top in a possible fifth floor, but I wasn’t sure.)

An equestrian statue lords it over the square.

The few portals allowing entry to the square have round tops. The portals puncture only first two floors of the buildings. (The first floor is quite tall.) The upper two (or maybe three) storeys continue uninterrupted around the square.

The non-monochrome section of wall in Plaza Mayor, as seen from a good place to sip a glass of wine and eat almond cake.
The non-monochrome section of wall in Plaza Mayor, as seen from a good place to sip a glass of wine and eat almond cake.

The top three (or maybe four) floors of the buildings are mostly monochrome red ochre colour. The exceptions to that colour are, obviously, the windows and, not obviously, slate-grey roofs and one section of the wall of the north side of the square. That section is decorated with subtle illustrations of the human form rendered in pastel colours.

The first floor of the building has grey stone pillars at frequent intervals holding up the buildings. The pillars are necessary because the lower levels are set back to create porticos surrounding the square. Shops and restaurants reside behind the porticos.

The restaurants had tables in the square in front of their establishments and spilling over to the front of any adjacent stores. This allows people to enjoy the square, and the activity in it, over a meal or a drink. A glass of wine and a slice of almond cake come to mind as a nice accompaniment for square-watching. Although, it might not have come to mind at the time of writing if I had more than one glass of wine while in the square. I’m a cheap drunk.

When I was there, Plaza Mayor was busy with buskers busking, entrepreneurs trying to encourage tourists to take tours, people milling about, and people quaffing glasses of wine and eating slices of almond cake. Albeit, that latter one might have been just me. 

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