Well, the weekend is here and so I have wrapped up most of the official part of my visit to Madrid. Lest you think that I spent most of my time eating (not that there’s anything wrong with that), let me mention that I ended up, from Monday to Thursday giving about eight hours of detailed exposition at the board and fielding questions (the lectures and seminar), umpteen (an official number, I’ll have you know) hours of preparation of the notes needed to do this in a successful and clear way, and several more chunks of time in private physics conversations of various sorts. Quite fulfilling, tiring, but worthwhile for all concerned. (I even heard that various people liked the lectures and the seminar, so that’s a real bonus!) It has been a good week.
Thursday night saw me wandering the city streets in the drizzle for several hours. It all started out with a quick walk near my hotel to see if I could stumble on a restaurant, but eventually turned into a longer walk and then an epic quest, as happens to me so often in such situations. I start applying a list of criteria for what I want (must be Spanish cuisine, must allow me to actually try saying a few words in Spanish…) and this list grows and gets more and more refined and specialized and so the few places I found locally got ruled out. To be fair, although my hotel is not in a high-restaurant-density area, some were maybe fine, but at various points in the evening either I’d not decided what I was in the mood for, or my criteria were too specific, or I’d already passed them and thought I’d press on just a bit more to see what may lie around the corner. (Not the first time it has occurred to me that perhaps I should take note of this pattern when considering my dating life…)
Eventually I found myself several miles away and things began to look strangley familiar. I realized I’d wandered all the way back to almost the Old Madrid part of town, and so I thought I’d go all the way and explore there again. Then the whole business turned even more specialized because my full-blown Shangri-La syndrome kicked in, big time. Now I knew exactly what I wanted and nothing else would do. I wanted to find a specific one of the excellent places that my hosts took me to on Monday night because I suddenly decided I wanted more langostino (large shrimp) tapas. This meant wandering a ton of side streets in search of various landmarks that would bring me to this place. Now, not without cause, I have some confidence in my ability to find places again even though I’ve only been to them once (let me tell you about locating out of the way local restaurants in the off-tourist-track parts of Venice (Italy) some time), but this time I was at a disadvantage because I think I was distracted by talking and taking photos during the first part of Monday night’s wander, or maybe I must simply accept that my superpowers are waning with the advance of years, but I did not manage to find the shrimp place after the first few tries. Pragmatism eventually kicked in, thank goodness. It was getting late and given that I could work out where all the other three or four places we went to were (they were mostly clustered together over at another side street that I could reconstruct the path to easily), I decided to give up and head to one of those for some glasses of wine and a hearty snack (since it was by then just about midnight and I’d not eaten anything) and a read of a book I’m thoroughly enjoying right now (Rings of Saturn, by W. G. Sebald, which is, ironically, about a lot of wide ranging wandering and writing about the wandering that sometimes reminds me of my own ramble-filled blogging, although Sebald is much better written, of course). It was 1:45am or so when I returned to my hotel, after a very pleasant wander, and meal.
Friday I spent my last full day at the University and Institute. Now I am determined that Saturday and Sunday will involve no lectures, no lecture note preparation, and no physics conversations! I am going into full play mode, with all the art treasures of Madrid to explore. And more tasty food, I imagine. A student even told me about the location of a Jazz club, so I may well go and sit and listen in the late evening when my legs have got too tired of the wandering. On this matter it is notable that my ipod has served up tracks from Sketches of Spain twice (on shuffle) since I’ve been here. Perhaps I will also seek out some good Flamenco music in a club somewhere, and maybe as a bonus it’ll turn out that in the audience will be some similarly musically inclined raven-haired beauties who are not too afraid to talk to unusual-looking foreigners… Oh, wait. This is the real world… I was forgetting: My dreaming/imagination chip must need rebooting again.