Thursday, 15 May 2014

Madrid Renaissance palaces and Modern architecture

After teaching in Madrid I dipped into the severity of the Spanish Golden Age and contrasted it with 21 c Madrid house.

I was over in Madrid for a weekend, first teaching on Miguel Gorgolas’ DTMH. The students are brave and cope with lectures in English. Many of them will then go for field work In Ethiopia so it is good practice.

After the teaching I had a day as a tourist with Miguel. We drove out on the Madrid plain to El Escorial which is surrounded by the oak trees, the small Spanish variety where pigs are fattened on acorns. El Escorial is an exceedingly severe building with long symmetrical sixteenth century fronts. They are very flat and severe. Inside we walked around the king’s apartments; I liked the tapestries designed by Goya, these had a humane feeling because they depicted life and events. Royal chamber pots were preserved for us to admire. The kings also had a large room for exercise- a renaissance gym, here they could walk around; the walls were decorated with maps of the known world, all surprisingly accurate, so the kings could muse on their possessions as they exercised. The royal family and its vast entourage also changed palace every 3 months which seemed a ghastly upheaval for everybody. We also descended to a chilly mausoleum where the Hapsburg tombs were displayed. Powerful even in death. I was glad to come out into the sunlight.

In the evening we fast forwarded to the twenty first century. We went to a science evening to promote at the home of a Jewish businessman. He had built a new house in the Madrid 7 years ago. It was ultra- minimalist with white concrete walls. No windows were visible at the front of the building but the back had large windows and a living room that opened out and became part of the garden. The swimming pool was next to the house with Hockney blue water and also appeared to be part of the construction. The house also had modern paintings and sculptures in the garden. We sipped wine, ate nibbles from black slate trays. A young Jewish woman scientist gave a talk about her research on melanoma that she was doing at the Weismann institute in Tel Aviv. She had moved there from doing a PhD and post-doc in the US. She was an excellent ambassador about science and talked clearly and enthusiastically about the work, the molecular biology that underlay it and how she was hoping that it would translate into clinical impact.

I also talked to a Spanish neurobiologist about our work on the pain experienced by leprosy patients. I enjoyed the contrasts of the weekend, It is interesting going to Madrid annually and seeing different aspects of the city.

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