My son and his partner live in an apartment on a side street just off Paseo de Recoletos, a wide, handsome boulevard that runs from Plaza de Cibeles to Plaza de Colón. The apartment is less than a mile from the Prado and a tad farther to the Reina Sofia, both world-class museums. Picasso’s Guernica, only two years younger than me, hangs at the latter. At the Prado you will find Goya’s incredible black paintings, the series that includes Saturn Devouring His Son.
The apartment has a spacious living room and large white walls just made for the kinds of photographs my son and his partner go in for: a fully clad couple dancing underwater, an announcement of a Dwight Macintosh exhibition, the remarkable artist treated for mental retardation for most of his life, a poster for the Almodóvar movie, Mujeres al borde de una ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown).
The kitchen is small, too small, but that doesn’t stop my son and his partner from creating incredible meals. These are normally taken according to the Spanish clock, which means dinner at 9pm, preferably 10pm. That leaves plenty of time for a couple of glasses of wine, especially during the preparation, to say nothing of the consumption. If the Spanish do this all the time, they must be the most sleep deprived nation in the world.
We didn’t spend all our time in the apartment. My wife and I travelled to Córdoba to see the mosque, to Granada to see the Alhambra, to Seville to see the Alcázar, to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry and to Barcelona to see La Sagrada Familia by the remarkable architect, Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí I would rank up there among the architectural geniuses of the world. It is incredibly hard to be original. He managed it. Over a hundred years later his work is still as surprising as the day he conceived it.
Having said that, my mind still goes back to my son’s apartment. I think I know why. I have always thought it would be splendid to live in a completely different culture, one where you would always be on the outside looking in, trying your best to move inside but never quite making it. The essence of that feeling is the language. Every day that I went out into the city was a linguistic adventure. I wanted to try out what I’d gleaned from the grammar books, overheard conversations, the TV. I did that for two weeks and it was exhilarating.
For one thing the Spaniards liked the idea that I was trying to learn their language. Taxi drivers gave me grammar lessons. A guide at the Alhambra taught me the difference between estaba and ha estado. For me going out into the streets of Madrid was like opening up a set of nested dolls, each one bringing me a little closer to the impossible goal of fluency, but closer nonetheless.
I envy my son and his partner. They are living my dream.