Tuesday, April 17, 2007


(since Beautiful Girl has been visiting lately...)

This is the Hallucinogenic Toreador, which means, the bullfighter that you see in your imagination. Can you see the woman in the blue bathing suit on the yellow raft? That’s Dali’s way of saying that the tourists are ruining Port Ligat. And here, where the artist has signed his name: Gala Salvador Dali. He wrote his wife’s name first, to show that she inspired all of his paintings.

In Museo Sophia Reina, the labels are less explanatory than my fifth-grade self on Student Docent Day, my whole gifted program class each given a painting to memorize, me with the longest one, a page and a half single-spaced. The parents and teachers and the unsuspecting public subjected to our practiced spiels followed floor paths of red and green tape from painting to painting, stopping off at the ones with a sweaty-palmed grade-schooler standing in front, carefully not fidgeting in our dark pants and white shirts. Beautiful Girl and I have only two days in Madrid, Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, and we are not going to waste it on minor paintings by minor artists, for us it’s the Lichtenstein special exhibit, the Guernica room, Dali, only as much as our attention spans can handle before going back to the hotel for siesta, late dinner, coffee, and the street of clubs that beckon with Spanish techno and Euro techno and American techno which is really Euro techno at its heart, remixes and dance mixes and Kylie, Kylie, Kylie.

Here, there are three Venus de Milos. Notice how they fade into the background and become less complete. This is Dali’s way of showing that classical art is disintegrating, and it reflects his earlier painting, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. The first Venus de Milo is next to the cliffs. See how the fabric draped over her hips is also part of the cliffs, and at the same time, it makes the cape of the toreador.

I say to Beautiful Girl, do you want to see a bullfight? It is Spain, after all. She does not. I do not. I've heard you have to buy a really expensive ticket to get a seat in the shade, and we are both nearly broke, I’m charging the hotel on my card and Beautiful Girl can pay me back in the fall. She would be shamed if she knew I wrote that, as much as she loves me, as much as she knows she would do it for me if the situation was reversed, as much as we are the kind of friends who do that for each other, there is still shame packed in the imaginary backpack she still carries despite her transition to a rolly suitcase, to big-girl luggage, to traveling in skirts and the pretty heeled thong sandals that hurt her, so she will not look like a hippie any more. Beautiful Girl is also a vegetarian. Compromises have been made in Morocco, where it is almost impossible to get food that is only vegetables, you would think that a couscous country would have dishes that are only vegetables and grain, but even the lentils are flavored with fat. A bullfight would not be a compromise. It would be a capitulation. I wish that I felt as strongly about something, that I was able to stick to my guns on one thing, one lousy thing that I wouldn’t give in on, no matter what.

The toreador has a pink cape, with gold sparkles, and the curve of the arena above him is also the curve of his hat. Here, below him, you can see the bull, his shape emerging from the cliffs. The straight lines sticking out of the bull’s shoulder are banderillas, long spears with hooks in the end that the bullfighter’s assistants use to distract the bull and tire him out. The bull is kneeling, which means that he is very tired.

Guernica, what we came for, the one thing in Madrid I really want to see, is huge and in black and white, a surprise. I have been imagining blood and gore and Bosch-like excess, but it is spare and cubist and terrifying. Beautiful Girl comes over to me, and says in a whisper, “It’s Picasso.” I don’t know why she’s telling me this, is it a joke I’m not getting? I give her the “and?” look. She says, “You’re looking for Guernica. This is by Picasso.” I say, “Beautiful Girl, Guernica is the name of the painting. I know it’s by Picasso.” There must be something in my tone (shame again), because she looks around at the room of people gazing at Guernica, gazing at a painting finally freed from bulletproof glass with the change of government, a painting whose commissioners’ sole instruction was “Make it big,” a painting famous enough to be our reason for this museum, and says “Oh.” I have already shamed her once, refusing to put our things in a pay locker when there was a free coat check, saying in front of the clerk who almost certainly spoke very good English, “They’re employees of a national institution, they don’t make their living robbing bags.” In Morocco, it’s a legitimate worry.

Later, I shame her yet again, walking down the street, handing her a condom just in case, saying, “Maybe I should be passing over my vibrator instead?” She shushes me and scolds, “Mandy, you’ve got to stop assuming that no-one here speaks English!” I say, “I’d say it in New York.” But that is later. That is on the way to the airport, on my way back to Prague, on her way to the Prado that turns out to be closed on Sunday afternoons. How do you go to Madrid and not see the Prado? How do you go to Amsterdam and not see the Rijksmuseum, to London and not the Tate or the British Museum? In the end, it’s not really what we’re there for.

Notice the collar button here at the toreador’s neck. It’s painted so realistically that most people think it’s real. You can see that it’s not by moving to the side of the painting and looking for the edge of the button. Below the button is the toreador’s tie. See how the vertical dark line of the tie leads your eye to the blue water below. The water is in the place that the bull’s blood would be, but it’s a swimming cove in the cliffs instead.

We see one more room of paintings after Guernica, that’s all we have the eyes for, we’re cloudy with images and need ice cream to revive. But we’re here, and we might as well, room 12 has the Dali’s and the other Spanish surrealists. I recognize them from down the hall, the first glimpse through the doorway. There’s something snobbish in knowing a painting’s artist from across the room, I can do it with Vermeer and Hals and Renoir and Monet (Impressionists are easy) and sometimes Judith Leyster although of course the opportunities for recognition there are much fewer, but Dali is the easiest. It’s not the brush strokes or the colors or the subjects alone, it’s all of those, recurring images, recurring themes, the nurse from boyhood and the cliffs of Ligat and the Venus de Milo and drawers in bodies and Dutch merchants and Gala, Gala, Gala.

We stand for a long time in front of Bust of Gala, her head an island of light in the low right, the rest of the board black as ink. I softly read the signature aloud, “Gala Salvador Dali.” Beautiful Girl looks at me, and I say, “do you know why?” I hope to ask the right question, I hope not to shame her yet again, to presume ignorance instead of enlightenment as is my wont. She does not know. She would like to know. I say, “Gala was his wife. He wrote his wife’s name first, to show that she inspired all of his paintings. As if she was part of him.” Outside the museum, we eat ice cream, Magnum bars with truffle and dark chocolate and the tiny paddle-shaped stick inside after the last and best bites. When we sit on the bench, the men turn to us like sunflowers as they pass. I cannot kiss her, so I take her to a sex shop filled with the same plastic as Amsterdam, equally out of our price range. I cannot kiss her, so we siesta from eight to ten at night, dress, make up, tell each other you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful.

At the first club, I realize, this is what the man feels like. She’s lovely and fun and smart and I can’t keep my eyes off her breasts and while part of me knows she’ll welcome it, I’m afraid to kiss her in case it’s wrong, in case it wrecks everything. We hold hands, we dance together, we see the sunflowers turning towards the only blondes in the bar. We walk, hand in hand, to the big club, the twelve Euros cover even with our discount flyers club, the club we really cannot afford to go to. We’re on my money. I am already planning to tell her not to pay me back until the fall, I am already hoping drinks will be bought for us. They are. And in the end, we walk home as the sun rises. I make Juan Carlos say the “star light star bright” rhyme in broken English and Catalan, and she falls behind with Santiago, so far behind they finally call us on Juan Carlos’ mobile to find out where we are. We are on the way to the hotel. We are in that hazy morning place after dancing all night. We are safely away, safely averting danger, the kind of danger that comes when you kiss someone you really like instead of someone you met in a club.

Here is the curve of the toreador’s face. His chin is the stomach of the second Venus de Milo. His nose is her breast. His eye is her face. Below his eye, you can see a single tear. Perhaps he is mourning the fate of the bull, or perhaps he is sad that the tourists are ruining Port Ligat.


Tom Paine said...

Gifted. That explains it. That explains a lot of things.

Anonymous said...

Excellent. You write very well. Your blog is interesting and is oftentimes the highlight of my day.

ravenous said...

wonderful. . .

Anonymous said...

sigh. i knew you were going to tell the guernica story when i saw HT at the top of the page, before anything else displayed over my too-slow connection. you are a punk, and i adore you. and it was better before you edited it to soften the sting. and i adore you. and you know, of course, that madrid was the reason for the art history courses, the subsequent museum trips, the increased interest. i defend myself in my mind (taking comfort where probably no comfort is necessary) by telling myself that i've been too busy making a lifetime of music to pay attention to other (dead) people's art, a cursory glance and a moments awe overshadowed by the hearts rush to melody, to harmony and verse, voice raised to goduniversedaospirit. and that only goes so far, of course. not an excuse. much. but i do take some comfort.


you will be amused to know that for several months now i also have been paid to be beautiful and naked. i've been sitting for several rather well-known artists, am now hanging in the kemper, on display in _this city's_ museum of fine arts, have been posing for painters and sculptors and classes, my own little breath of earthly immortality. as it were. other (living) people's art. the irony is not lost. and i adore you.

Al Laddin said...

How cool, Mandy, to write so well. And how great your "beautiful girl" is to you. Such a wonder it is to be such friends. Sigh.

We are blessed that you share.

Mandy said...

I'm so pleased to have a class of readers that appreciate the non-porn posts, too :)

BG, thanks for being OK with me sharing - and no, I didn't know that Madrid was the reason. Of course your beautiful body is being immortalized! I want copies...or the original...