After only a little more than 48 hours in this great city, I believe that I am beginning to understand the majesty of it all. When people speak of Europe, there is almost always a childlike adoration within their speech, and rarely, if ever, do you hear a gloomy tail of European travels. And now, in just the infancy of my stay, moments after my European birth, I think I get it...or at least part of it.
The inherent beauty of it all lies in the infinite dichotomy that is Spain, and to my understanding, Europe in general. It is the juxtaposition of the old with the new, the ancient with the modern that uniquely sets this place apart. On the same street, most often in the same building, there is a marriage of antiquity and modernity that is almost inexplainable. Cars, buses, motorcycles, and taxis race around the city, often dodging centuries-old statues and architectural masterpieces that are almost as ubiquitous as cell phones and laptops. Shopping malls are housed in buildings that have lived through the invasion of the Moors, the reign of Charles V, and the exploration of the Americas while selling the latest in technology and fashion to a people who are as modern as they come. The fast pace of the madrileño metropolis is countered by the relaxed attitude of a culture that has even gone so far as to institute a designated nap time as part of its daily routine. The food is cheap, very cheap. But, somehow, this doesn't surprise me. Spain is about enjoying life, and food is a staple of human enjoyment. And, since you can't enjoy what you can't afford, food is purposefully less expensive.
This romantic dance of history with the present day is something that the United States just doesn't offer. The youth of America itself does not allow for this type of contrast, and while I do not hold the U.S. responsible for its lack of historical presence, I would be lying if I were to say that it is not immediately noticeable once you cross the Atlantic. In America, we tend to replace what little history we do have with the offerings of modern design and discovery, and this, I am learning, is a mistake. Modernity does not have to replace history. In fact, to replace history with modernity is a blasphemous move of 1st world arrogance that slaps the faces of the institutions that have allowed these progressions toward modern day life to happen. Here in Madrid, modern life simply intertwines itself with the days of yore. Like japanese ivy on a deserted brick wall, present day advancements slowly make themselves at home in and around what was already there. Of course, too much ivy, and the wall looks like a disgusting mess of an unwanted weed that has rendered the wall useless and stripped it of its beauty. But, with the right amount of ivy, you have a spectacular blend of red and green, brick and foliage, antiquity and modernity that cannot not be replicated but that should appreciated for its enchantment.
With ivy throughout, yet with enough brick showing through so as to allow one to appreciate the history that birthed the present, the image of this wall, my friends, is the essence of Spain.