hanging out in Plaza Santa Ana
It's always been a cliche to say that there are two kinds of people in the world. Anybody who has spent time in both of Spain's two largest cities knows which one they belong to -- you are either a Barcelona person or a Madrid person. I'm a Barcelona person. I don't know what particular aspect of my temperament makes me that way. I know plenty of people who love Madrid, I get along great with them, and I enjoy visiting Madrid. But somehow, from my first visit to Barcelona, I left carrying a little bit of it inside of me. I can't say the same about Madrid. Maybe it's the fact that Madrid has no medieval past to speak of. Maybe it's the fact that it's bigger, dirtier, uglier, and more chaotic than Barcelona. Or that it leans further to the right politically.
Or that most of its inhabitants speak too darn fast. I dunno. To me, Madrid just lacks a certain intangible spark that it obviously has to other people.
Still, though, I have to give some props to the Spanish capital. I went there for a conference in May -- my third visit, altogether -- and had a great time. Any gathering of historians always involves a bit of pre-conference and post-conference revelry, and Madrid's Fulbright community made great hosts and guides. It was fun! Since I'd already seen most of the stuff Madrid has to offer short-term visitors, I didn't go to any museums or anything. I did go for academic reasons beyond the conference -- to get my researcher's card from the National Library, and also to consult a manuscript at the monastery of El Escorial, outside Madrid. But the highlight was hanging out with friends and colleagues.