The Problem Posed by Sight-seeing and How We Solve It in Madrid

Sunday 25th October 2009

Madrid. Our hotel is not of absorbing interest. The Gay Mother and I have had to create other diversions. Just across the road from here is the Prado. Well, it’s almost Prada, isn’t it? It’s a picture museum. Do you know it?

For Poor Little Rich Gays, museums are a challenge: nothing is for sale and they don’t even put the value on the labels. What’s more, we are artists of our own lives; with money and other resources, we shape and render and make ourselves other than what we would otherwise be. So all the things in museums are competition.

Back in the summer, when I was in Tuscany and went to Arezzo to see the frescoes of Piero della Francesca, I don’t think I brought this out as much as I should. It must have been the heat. How long ago the summer seems now! But one is much crisper in the autumn.

Anyway, the Gay Mother and I forge into the Prado regardless. Fortunately she has grasped the first principle of PLRG museum visiting. We look at three or four huge rooms of Velasquez – he’s a Spanish painter of the 17th century, if you don’t know. ‘That’s it,’ she says. ‘I’ve had enough.’ No earnest slogging round.  Heaven forbid – no guided tour!  One hour max.

Sebastian Archer, of whom we’ve heard little, the partner of Robert Nevil and first class, high spending Poor Little Rich Gay, long ago laid down firm rules: 45 mins for a museum, 30 mins for a Stately Home, 20 mins for a garden.

It’s the speed-dating principle. And quite grand, don’t you think, as an attitude?

Also, to reduce further any feeling of being held to ransom by the museum, behave as you would at H Nicks or equivalent. In other words, when shopping, you have your catalogue of loathed designers you don’t go anywhere near – in my case, Versace (vulgar, vulgar, vulgar) and Issey Miyake (dull, dull, dull, for men, at any rate. Women – do you really want to look like an accordion?) ? Well, it’s just the same with museums. Arrive with pre-prepared list of struck-off artists. At the Prado, you won’t want to have anything to do with Murillo (ghastly religious kitsch) and another Spanish artist called something like Ribena – can’t quite remember what’s wrong with him, but he’s frightful.

Anthony Mottram, with whom I’ve been bickering for the last 40 years, since schooldays, once devised a system for categorising artworks, which you might like to apply. They are either boiling, stewing or frying, boiling being the worst. Oh the boiling primmies (that’s primitive paintings ) we ached before when young.

In these ways, you can make your own mark on any museum.

On the whole the Gay Mother was superb in the Prado. She only likes the best and won’t have anything swirly or drippy. But she would admire a dubious Guido Reni. And went so far as to buy a postcard of it. The Gay Mother and postcards, and the posting thereof – I digress but she can spend forty minutes choosing and another hour seeking a post box that looks trustworthy. In foreign that is.

But, look, those paintings by Velasquez – they’re absolute fillet steak. You really do have to make an exception. Mostly very plain and even unpleasant-looking people, but rendered sumptuous by art.

We’ve been back twice to the Prado and we went to Segovia, which is a small town outside Madrid. The Gay Mother was there in 1955, had suckling pig and wished to re-visit. In the cathedral there is some fabulous junk and we saw Jesus in a skirt.

Christ's Skirts Do Not Quite Achieve Full Daintiness at Segovia

Christ's Skirts Do Not Quite Achieve Full Daintiness at Segovia

Christ Suffering from Moronism at Segovia

Christ Suffering from Moronism at Segovia

Posted Sunday, October 25, 2009 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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