Madrid for writers


Just back from a few days in Madrid. A bright and lively city, it's a great place for a break. Pack in one of the great art museums before lunch (which starts around 2pm) and you've more than justified taking the rest of the day to hang out in the grand squares, and follow the crowds between the the restaurants and bars. I first knew Spain in the days of Franco. It's like moving from winter to spring to go there now.

This journal's about the writing side of life - so how was that?

I like finding the best 'literary cafe' in a new city if one exists. My happiest recent find was one near the university in Grenoble, still with some sense of Stendhal in its old wood pannelling. The Cafe Gijon carries that literary reputation in Madrid, though it seemed far more corporate than bohemian on eating there. Hemingway proclaimed its customers to be snobs, which still seems on the mark. Two other Hemingway haunts have fared much better. The Cerveceria Alemana claimed Hemingway as a regular, and this has the dark wood and more wayward crowd to give the place a true arty feel. The Museo Chicote comes with Lana Turner and Grace Kelly associations as well as Hemingway, a cocktail bar that never closed while the Civil War raged along the streets outside. It has stayed unchanged while bars have evolved so seems a little bare, but good for its museum quality and wonderful for its cocktails.

My favourite literary touch came from a visit to the Casa Lope de Vega. I only know his work from one production of a play seen in London, though he counts as Spain's most prolific playwright and poet. He lived in this house from 1610 to when he died in 1635. We knocked on the door and a gracious old man let us in for a free conducted guided tour, all as reverential as a pilgrimage. The house has been stocked as close as possible to the descriptions left in Lope de Vega's will, the gardens outside planted to resemble the garden he knew. It's a peaceful place, and a rare treat to pass through rooms in which so many masterworks were spun. The remains of Cervantes lie behind the walls of a monastery on the same street.

Now it's back to my own writing. I woke on my last morning there with a decision for a new non-fiction book surprising and clear in my mind. I shan't declare it yet though - as decisions go it's wispy, likely to fly out the window if challenged too hard.

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