I met up with Federico, a guide friend of my dad's, for a guided walking tour of the city. We began at an Egyptian temple that dated back to many centuries before Christ. We visited the palace, where we enjoyed spectacular views of the park to the east of downtown Madrid, as well as the Cathedral next door.
I was curious about the Spanish monarchy. I learned from Federico that they have absolutely no political power, but the people choose to have a monarchy so that the royal family may act as cultural ambassadors of Spain. He said the family moves between nine palaces at certain times of year, but that these palaces are owned by the people — not the monarch. The democratically elected Parliament wields real political power.
Spaniards must really care about their culture, because supporting a fancy royal family and carting them and their 100-plus attendants around the country every couple of months must cost a boatload of tax euros!
Miguel de Cervantes died April 23, 1616 (the exact same day as Shakespeare). Now April 23 is the International Day of the Book. On this day Spaniards buy one book and sometimes a rose to give as a gift to someone else. I thought that was such a nice literacy-promoting alternative to all our commercial "Hallmark holidays" in the States.
A Muslim wall was erected in Madrid in the ninth century to separate Christians from Muslims. People would climb over that wall "like cats" to visit whatever friends and family they had on the other side. Today there is a corollary to that name. Someone who was born in Madrid and comes from many generations who have all lived in Madrid is called a "cat." Federico proudly told me that he himself is a “cat.”
The name of this city is a hybrid of names that different invaders gave to the area at different points in history. In the second century B.C., the Romans named it "Matrice," referring to rivers that run through it. Six centuries later, Muslims renamed it "Mayrit," referencing the area's water resources as a "womb" or a "giver of life."
A name that means "giver of life" is definitely fitting for Madrid. I think I like Madrid better than Barcelona. It is so lively here. The streets are more bustling, with a tourist-local mix. The cafés are more crowded at all hours, and the city breathes, using its huge Retiro Park for lungs. Even some of the squares like Plaza Santa Ana are populated — with trees.
Throughout our tour we dodged many construction projects. The people of Spain call their mayor "Pharaoh" because he has planned so many projects to improve the city in hopes of winning the bid to host the Summer Olympics of 2016.
Zoe and I waited at a restaurant for 40 minutes for their next batch of steaming seafood paella to come out. Terribly oily and absolutely delicious. The waiter of course overcharged us three euros for our wine, but we caught him!
About This Entry
You are reading "The City Run Not by A King, but by a "Pharoah"", an entry posted on 11 July 2009 by Jackie Steves.