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Phespirit goes to Spain
Madrid     November 2007

A brief, unexpected Spanish Inquisition: what was Phespirit's chief reason for visiting Madrid? His chief reason was art ..... art and football ..... football and art. His two reasons were football and art ..... and nearby Toledo. His three reasons were football, art, and nearby Toledo ..... and an almost fanatical devotion to European capitals. His four ..... no ..... Amongst his reasons. Amongst his reasons were such elements as football, art ..... Phespirit'll come in again. (Exit - with apologies to Monty Python.)

Madrid is blessed with probably the greatest collection of world class art galleries to be found anywhere on the planet. Phespirit began his perusals with a visit to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes. This venerable institution would be a leading attraction in most cities but remains something of a second-string consideration in the Spanish capital. After this taster - and an interlude to tour the parliament building - Phespirit moved on to the first of the heavyweight triumvirate: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, home to a spectacular body of fine artworks privately acquired by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. Next up, the following morning, a visit to the magnificent Museo del Prado. The Prado needs no superlative praise from Phespirit to enhance its reputation. The quality of its collection and its meticulous presentation are worthy of all the fame and praise heaped upon it. Very few Old Masters are unrepresented on its walls. There are some legendary paintings among their works, along with less celebrated but equally admirable pieces such as 'The Legend of the Monk King' by José Casado de Alisal, and 'Agnus Dei' by Francisco de Zurbarán.

On his third day Phespirit visited the third of the big three: the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Its second floor represents the most outstanding assemblage of modern art that Phespirit has ever encountered. It fully demonstrates Picasso's genius, along with his frequent attempts to disguise the fact. It also reinforced Phespirit's opinion that Joan Miró is a preposterously overrated garbage monger. The fourth floor, displaying more 'modern' modern art, is for the most part a poor show. Here the point is proven that it is not sufficient simply to adopt or corrupt the styles of original thinkers, or to affect a forced eccentricity, or to be gratuitously provocative. A glimmer of noteworthy ability or quality also needs to be in evidence to justify the awarding of so much wallspace in a major national gallery. Sadly, it seems that the same kind of collective madness that compels the weak-minded to follow unhinged egomaniacs into messianic cults is also responsible for compelling gallery curators worldwide to give generous houseroom to talentless berks like Cy Twombly (to name but one).

Between artistic pursuits Phespirit turned his gaze toward football. Having made his travel arrangements prior to the 2007/2008 Primera Liga fixtures being announced, he could not be certain of catching a Real Madrid game. With a little more attention, however, he might have spotted that his visit coincided with a weekend of international matches. Ergo, no Primera Liga fixtures, but something every bit as good: Spain at home to Sweden in the Bernabéu Stadium. Phespirit set his sights on attending this match. On the advice of a Barcelona-supporting Port Vale fan he did not pre-order a ticket but instead waited until he arrived in Madrid. The game was far from a sell-out so, having been offered a seat in any tier of the ground, he picked a prime location in the east stand (sector 133 row 14 seat 38) for an unnecessarily extravagant €50. Well worth it, however, as the view was excellent, the atmosphere superb, the contest entertaining, and the scoreline a very fair 3-0.

Finally to Toledo, half an hour's train journey south from Madrid. Toledo is a city that demands to be appreciated in brilliant sunshine, not the overcast gloom and staccato drizzle that blighted Phespirit's visit. The rain literally dampened his plans to spend most of the day wandering around admiring the architecture and ambiance, but not all was lost as arguably the best of Toledo is sheltered beneath the roof of its outstanding cathedral. Somehow Phespirit managed to pass almost a whole hour and a half exploring its cavernous interior. The exquisite building alone warrants plenty of attention, but the treasures and artworks contained within its walls make this an exceptional temple by any international standard. It even has an attributed Caravaggio - worth the €6 entry fee on its own - plus some fine examples of the ubiquitous El Greco's work.

Three good reasons to visit Madrid: art, football and a gateway to Toledo. Phespirit's fourth reason - a collector's pursuit of European capitals - is a bit more idiosyncratic. Having visited all but a handful of European nations, he now turns his attention to the capital cities that he's missed along the way. It's a whimsical preoccupation that has developed during the course of 2007. This trip to Madrid leaves Phespirit with ten still to explore: Tirana, Minsk, Sarajevo, Zagreb, Athens, Chişinău, Moscow, Belgrade, Berne and Kiev. All in good time, all in good time .....

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