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Saturday, September 18, 2010

A trip to Madrid with a Graffiti Lover

So here I am in our 800 square foot aparthotel with the anonymous furniture. Matt has gone to the office. The kids have gotten on the bus. We have long since unpacked at this point. I don’t have a job or an art project to work on, nor a studio, little in the way of art supplies, and no car. Not even my sewing machine to do a project or fix some clothes. What is a girl to do?

Remember “I Love Lucy”? What did Lucille Ball do in that apartment all day?
And particularly when there was no Ethel?

I was feeling a lot like Lucy here. Though, actually, her apartment looks pretty darn good. Maybe I am feeling more like Alice Kramden from the “Honeymooners”:

What did she do all day, while Art was driving the bus?

Of course, I could go to the Prada, or one of the other museums in Madrid, but this was not feeling compelling. Most of the art that I have seen since coming here has been graffiti. Not that most of it is art by a long shot, but some of it is quite good. What I really want to do is get some spray paint and do some of my own.

Hmmm….This seems a bit risky. It has been a lot of trouble getting here, and being shipped back because I was caught doing graffiti would be pretty bad.

So, I decide to go shoot some graffiti and learn something about the bus/metro system while I am a it.

Taking pictures in public without creeping people out is a bit tricky.

I am quite familiar at this point with bus #162, but always going the other direction to Hipercourt-Court Ingles, the absolutely massive grocery/department store. Happily, I am not headed there. I am heading to Moncloa Station in Madrid, which seems a reasonable direction for finding good graffiti.
The black arrow shows you where I have arrived on the city metro map. It was about a 10 minute bus ride.

The station is enormous, or seems so as it is my first time trying to make sense of it, with several levels of buses and subways. But, for now, it is a simple matter of getting up to the street. Here is the view when I emerge.
Here you see the Arco de  la Victoria (Arch of Victory). I disliked this monument from the first, I am proud to report, as I learn, in looking at my guide, that it was built by Franco to honor his Nationalist army for their defeat of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.  For those who prefer not to be reminded of this event, the monument is more often referred to now as Puerto de Moncloa, or Gate of Moncloa.

Here is a more grandiose view of it:

 Looking about I see the people in the following photo. Nothing exciting, but I include their image as they illustrate two common fashions here in Madrid – suits and ties for men at work, and Roman sandals for most women:

Ever mindful of my future visitors I offer this image of the many cabs that may await you should you venture into Moncloa station from our house in the inner suburbs.

but, alas, the graffiti around Moncloa is quite poor.

And so I descend back into the earth to consider the transport system.

I am trying to guess by looking at the maps on display in the metro where I should go to find good graffiti. The names of Metro stops don't seem to correspond with the names on my map of the city. This one shows street names and points of interest as well as the metro stops, but, even with my reading glasses I can not make anything out:

Hoping for a better map, I approach this representative of Madrid’s public transport system.
I have found most Spaniards to be friendly and helpful, but it turns out I have run into a member of that distinct subset who don’t seem to feel that a no calls for any elaboration what so ever.
First I try out the phrase that I am best at saying in Spanish: Habla usted Ingles? (Do you speak English?) (and, btw, I do know about those upside down ?'s, but my computer does not)


I check a few words in my Simple Sayings in Spanish book, and say, in perfect Spanish I am sure, “ Do you have a map of the metro?”
I stand waiting for some explanation of this curious fact. Finally, a bit irritated at my presence, she babbles rapidly in Spanish and gestures to the other side of the barricade of metro gates. Okay, so I have to get through those gates. I turn my attention to deciphering the ticket machines:

I really do not posses the best system of neurons for this kind of task, even in English.
It must be time to eat. Those neurons could definitely use some glucose, and help was at hand:

The Spanish love “pasteles”. Croissant and the like are never far from reach. And they are unfailingly excellent and usually inexpensive.

Here is my repast from Alpunto: a Napolitanas de jamon y quesa, or a croissant with ham and cheese, and the ubiquitous Fanta.

Back to the ticket machines. I managed to decipher that I could use credit cards, coins, or bills up to 50 euros. I try a few cards and they were spit back. I had used most of my coins and my only bill is a 50 euro, and that was similarly rejected. I am skeptical that the machine would take a 50, but I could see no machine for making change.

So, restored with glucose, and armed with a new phrase gleaned from my electronic dictionary (Thanks, Mom!)
 I am ready to return to the unhelpful woman downstairs.

“Tiene cambio?” (Do you have change?)
Again, I stood there, thinking -- surely I am going to get more instruction than that. She wasn’t budging and I finally came up with a phrase on my own.
“Nada en absolute?” (Nothing at all?) As I gestured about, thinking she would point me to a change machine.

Okay. Back upstairs to find a place to get change. Many small stores look askance at a 50. I have to really buy something. Ah! A Papeleria. I can always find something I want at these small stationary/art stores.
For an office/art supply junky, this was a fabulous find.  Very cool Faber-Castell eraser and sharpener that I did not have!

At this point I have decided that, if all I do is successfully get on the metro and back home – that will be success. I am on my way; two new 5 euro bills are quickly eaten by the machine which spits out a pass for 10 trips, plus a euro change. Fabulous, I go through the gates, past my taciturn friend.

Now which of the many trains shall I take? Where do they go? And how am I to find out where some decent graffiti is anyway? Public displays of information are noticeably unhelpful in this regard.

I could make out that there was a train going toward a University. That seemed like as likely a place as any for some good graffiti so I got on

Woman on the train
Please note, once again the Roman sandals. They are as common and varied as jeans in the States. And jeans are less common here.

There is nothing quite like arriving on a University campus for making me feel I have suddenly aged dramatically.

I am arriving at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid which, thanks to Wikipedia, I can tell you is the top public university in Spain and one of the oldest universities in the world, with its foundation dating back to the 13th century.

In the late 1920's and until he was deposed in 1931, His Majesty King Alfonso XIII

bequeathed vast amounts of land and undertook an enormous building project with the object of making the university one of the best in the world.

During the Spanish Civil War, 1933-1936, the campus became a primary front in the battle between Franco's Nationalists and the Republicans (no, nothing like our Republicans). The students, professors, the many distinguished visiting intellectuals, were all forced to flee, unless they chose to stay and fight.

Here is a passage, also thanks to Wikipedia, from John Sommerfield's "Volunteer in Spain":

When we next came back to University City we were put into the Philosophy Building. We built barricades with volumes of Indian metaphysics and early nineteenth-century German philosophy; they were quite bullet-proof. (...) Life here was quiet, orderly. On clear mornings, about eleven o'clock, we were bombed. A few shells came over late in the afternoons; the rest of the time we sniped, read, talked, studied Spanish, or dug trenches. (...) We explored the library; in the great reading-room anti-tank guns stood on the tables; the valuable books and manuscripts had been taken away, but there was plenty to interest us. (...) On a cold morning I found De Quincey's Lake Poets and rolled myself up in a carpet and read voraciously; the day passed in a stupor, I was with Wordsworth and Coleridge, in another place, another time...

Little of its past glory or suffering was evident at the metro stop where I emerged. Mostly I noted a great quantity of university students and of notices for letting  or looking for apartments  and selling one thing or another.

I half expected to see the notices on people’s backs. The graffiti that I managed to see on a fairly brief foray into the campus was quite disappointing.

The sort of thing that makes one feel maybe they should all be sent to the lock up.
Well, it was time to get home in time for the kids getting off the bus. Making my way back to dear old bus #162 was smoother.
Thanks to my camera's self timer, here I am having successfully returned to the Moncloa station after my first successfully navigated trip on the Madrid metro.

But I did feel some sense of disappointment not to have gotten a photograph of anything decent . About 2/3rds of the way home, the bus passed over the A6. There along the highway is a wall of reasonably good graffiti. Clearly a place that the artists have designated to show off.

I hopped off at the next stop and estimated that I had just enough time to go back and take the photos and get back in time for the next bus which would be there in 13 to 17 minutes.
Here is the ledge the graffiti artists are going out on to do their work.

This is my favorite. I like how the artist modulated the colors and forms in such a way that they appear to be rising out of the wall.
And then I race back to the bus stop. AND……….

I just missed it.
Me at the bus stop where I will wait another 13 to 17 minutes

But, hey, it was a great trip. I got some decent graffiti photos; I am no longer feeling intimidated by the bus or metro system; I know how to say "Do you have change?",  and I got a great eraser and pencil sharpener.

If you got all the way through this post and would like to comment. Please, leave a comment here on the blog, or send me an email:

Till next time!


  1. That's an adventure! The pencil sharpener didn't turn me on, but those Roman sandals! I want a pair. Re. the metro, you put me to shame: I haven't braved the Boston subway yet, and it's in my language.

    I find the Spanish mean "No" in more than one way. Your ticket agent said "no," and that meant negative no. Have you run into my favorite remark: "si, como no," in which the no means yes? I suppose it's the same as our "yes, why not," or some such thing, but it breaks me up.

    Great lesson on Franco, the king, and the ancient university, too. My guess is that the university was founded by the Muslims who i think owned most of Spain in the early middle ages. If I recall my history, they were planting centers of learning all over the Mediterranean and points east, while Christian lands were still barely literate.

    The graffiti you finally found is colorful -- chunky. The one you say you really liked is hard to figure out. Are the bushes below the quasi-letters part of the painting? All four examples of graffiti seem to be cardboard cutouts. They are fun.

  2. Hi, Margot dear!
    You are brave! I would have melted in the face of the taciturn ticket agent -- even with a shot of glucose. I look forward to learning where the best graffiti resides.

  3. This is so great to read!! I know what you are doing with all that time in the apartment: writing! Can't wait to read more. Will email too.

  4. I also say bravo for braving the subway! You go, girl!

  5. Dear Margot,
    I have always known you were a genius, and here you go again - I can think of no better response to museumed art than a desire to get a can of spray paint and become a graffitti artist.

    Pirate Goat hails you as a true adventurer (Goat's highest praise)and says that your adventure in the subways sounds as thrilling as the voyage of the small submarine called the Argonaut that the animals took into the sewers of Council...or even the time Goat had to solve the mystery of a plague of invisible ladybugs on Summer Island, when you and I were really no help at all... I hope all this adulation doesn't go to your head!

    I'm so much reminded of our travels together in younger years as I read this. And you refresh my awareness of my own exotic explorations in Adams County, Idaho. This morning John and I ventured out on our second field-recording adventure, the first having been to record a hermit Catholic sister who taught herself Hebrew so she could compose music for the Psalms in the "field" was not a chapel surrounded by 100 acres of sagebrush and bitterbrush, but a pink house on the road to Hell's Canyon with shag carpet, an electric organ, and many statues of the Virgin Mother.

    I agree with Morwen - keep writing! I make my own request for more drawings too. I loved the one you did on the plane.


  6. Go Margot, you are making it happen! Overcoming grumpy ticket agents in a single bound! Who is better than you, says I?? Keep writing, I'm enjoying the ride from our own mini-adventure right in your neighborhood. We are well in WCon and have had a wonderful Thoreau experience so far, kids love it. McKenna and Marotta. All good. Still unpacking. Totally get the comment about deciphering the packing list--we, too, are trying to leave stuff in boxes that will just get packed up again in a year. Good luck, and the city adventure sounds great. Glad everyone's game. Big hugs from your old neck of the woods. We miss you guys! Love, PIna

  7. hi margot tell iris to check her email