As part of the grand prize I won after winning the nationwide essay writing contest on Europe and her influence on Rizal, I was able to visit the capital of Spain, Madrid, last September 2009. On those brief days, I, along with the three students who won the European Union Quiz Bee, were able to have a taste of the life of the Madrileño. Being hosted by a caring and hospitable Peruvian woman, our stay in Madrid, although very short, was memorable and most importantly, insightful.
On our first night in Spain, Mr. Sabarillo, our host from the Knights of Rizal, toured us around Sol and Plaza Mayor. Before that, we came directly from the airport and we had to take the Metro to Sol but we had no complains because the metro was attached to the airport! There was no hassle. We have been to Paris and Prague but that was our first time in Europe to actually take the Metro right from the airport and it was such a nice experience – we felt so cosmopolitan! In fact, the first thing I would be mentioning in this essay is Madrid’s efficient and clean Metro system. Unlike in other metro systems where there were a lot of graffiti, vandalisms and dim areas, Madrid’s well-lit and seemingly safe Metro is actually a testament of the city’s pledge and mission to constantly improve itself. I heard from Mr. Sabarillo that since 1992 when it refurbished the stations in Atocha Renfe, Madrid was on the warpath of vigorously making it a competitive European city that is efficient, beautiful and safe. Yet also, on our first night in that glorious city, Mr. Sabarillo explained to me and the others how Madrid suffered tragically those inhuman bombings that occurred in Madrid’s own Metro. While the group was in Sol, he explained how the people of Madrid set an example to the world by how private citizens voluntarily donated blood and helped each other recover from that dreadful experience. He also pointed to the marker that commemorates the martyrs of the city when the French invaded it and took it violently from its rightful owners. On our first night, we didn’t only get a free historical lecture but also experienced the efficiency of its public transport. At around past 12 in the evening, we arrived at the small but very comfortable flat of our second host, Señorita Susana Álvarez, a hospitable and muy simpatica Peruana, in Calle Galileo.
Our first whole day in Madrid was scheduled to be a re-tracing of the steps of Dr. José Rizal in that same city he lived in more than a century ago. The guy who guided us students that morning was Mr. Jaime Marco, a Filipino historian, who is presently an English teacher in Guadalajara. He guided us as we followed the footsteps of the national hero of the Philippines, from showing us Rizal’s first apartment to his medical school, where I was personally in awe at how beautiful the school’s grand lecture hall was. How I wished my own university, the Ateneo de Manila, would be more patient with making its lecture halls more aesthetically appealing!
On that trip through Rizal’s Madrid, we were also able to try, in this brightly lit and relatively cheap tapas bar, the best patatas bravas and orejas we have tasted as of this time. I can never forget the warm red-orange sauce and how it masterfully complemented and not overpowered the grilled pig ears. After that brief but hearty snack, Mr. Marco brought us to the Ateneo de Madrid, and then on our way to Plaza España (where Mr. Sabarillo would be meeting us), we passed by Gran Vía. Gran Vía was breathtaking. It was a busy thoroughfare with plenty of chic shops and magnificent buildings. I marveled on the different exquisite facades and remembered the facades too in Escolta and Binondo. Upon meeting Mr. Sabarillo, all of us went to this Peruvian restaurant where Señorita Álvarez was already waiting for us.
Another first for us that day was ceviche, fish cooked in lime juice. It was very much like our kinilaw! After our heavy lunch, we headed for the Museo Antropoligia near Atocha for an afternoon in the museum. In that museum, we saw different artifacts brought by Spanish friars from the Philippines back to Spain. It was amazing reading about the Philippines inside a museum in a country that used to be the Philippines’ colonizer!
The day though was capped by a most memorable experience: watching live flamenco in Madrid! With the titillating music and the fantastic moves of the dancers, we weren’t able to notice how the hours flew quickly (the show began past 10 in the evening and ended at around past 1!). By just enjoying that beautiful show with glasses of sangria, the hours we spent in the pub were very memorable. That was a recuerdo we would never forget.
Our second day was a very important day because we started it by having a courtesy call with the new Ambassador of the Philippines to the Kingdom of Spain, Her Excellence, Señora Ana Ines de Sequera-Ugarte. In the embassy, we student winners, accompanied by Mr. Sabarillo and Ms. Álvarez, spoke with Her Excellence and with Ms. Celia Anna Feria, the Cónsul General.
After our courtesy call, we headed for Avenida Islas Filipinas where we would be caught by slight surprise at the sight that we saw: a monument to Rizal in Madrid, capital of Spain. Moreover, the monument was an exact replica of the one found in Luneta. Personally, I really thought I never left the Philippines upon reaching the site. After a few photos, we laid a wreath (well, we actually hung it because there have been several cases of theft) and paid respects to our beloved national hero. It was a very edifying and inspiring experience to see our national hero honored in the city where he used to study and live.
After that, we were treated by Ms. Álvarez to the Museo Sorolla. It was a museum dedicated to the life and works of renowned Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla, whose paintings of Valencian and country Spain were really captivating. We noticed how he loved to play with lights and shadows and how his paintings exude youthful joy, serenity and peace. For me, I didn’t see anything “disturbing” or “morbid” in his works. The structure itself that houses the museum was Sorolla’s own home and it did not disappoint. It was as if it was an Italian villa, spacious and elegant with a manicured garden complemented by fountains and busts.
After our museum visit, we had hearty lunch of paella at nearby Arrocería Costa Blanca. We ordered two kinds actually, paella mariscos and paella campera that had conejo in it! Again, another first in Spain – first pig ears, now rabbit! The meal was sumptuous and filling. Lunch ended at around past two in the afternoon and we were given a choice of either having a free afternoon of shopping or of sleeping and resting. Unfortunately, the three other students opted to sleep and it was only I who wanted to go out. We went back to Quevedo to rest (I didn’t though) and prepared for a very important meeting in the late afternoon.
That afternoon, Ms. Álvarez had a very important meeting with her jefe, Don José María Ruiz Mateos and she wanted us to be able to meet her boss after their quick meeting. For us though, we needed some sort of explanation: Who is Don Ruiz Mateos? Well, Ms. Álvarez was able to explain to us how important a business man and a social icon he is in Spain. She told us of his diligence, the wealth he accumulated and how this was unjustly taken from him and how he has recovered valiantly. With a very colorful story to tell, indeed, it would be a shame not to take the opportunity to meet such an important person. And so, as planned, we were able to meet the muy simpatico Don Ruiz Mateos and even gave us students besos! We were so giddy at the thought of how a billionaire gave us a peck on our cheeks!
We capped the night by heading to this Filipino couple who prepared for dinner for us. We ate roasted chicken, paella Filipina, morcon and some steamed veggies. For dessert, we had some sweet leche flan. Indeed, we felt the warmth and love from that well-prepared dinner by a couple though advanced in years, is still very much, young at heart.
For our third day, Sir Sabarillo fetched us students and brought us to Plaza del Oriente to see the Palacio Real and the adjacent Catedral de la Nuestra Señora de la Almudena. The Palacio Real reminded us of Versailles, one of the places we visited when we were in France. The Cathedral too was very imposing but it was quite evident that it wasn’t as old at the Notre Dame de Paris. But more than anything else, we were treated that day to some royal pomp because it so happened that on that day, there was a presentation of credentials for some new ambassadors to Spain and so, we were able to see the beautiful horse-drawn carriages with the ambassadors inside, as well as marching bands and cavaliers.
We then walked to the Museo del Prado where we would be guided by no less, Señora Perla Primicias, daughter of former Senator and renowned Hispanist Cipriano Primicias. Inside the Prado, Señora Perla shared anecdotes and historical narratives about the paintings. She guided us through the museum, and since we were pressed for time, she made sure we didn’t miss El Greco, Velásquez and Goya. Although we only had three hours that day for the Prado, and we almost had information indigestion due to the immense number of paintings in such a short period of time, the trip was surely something we are forever grateful because of the cultural exposure we got. Personally, when I finally saw the Las Meninas, I got goose bumps because it really was captivating and mesmerizing.
After our fast-paced (ergo, tiring) visit through the Prado, we headed to Plaza Sta. Ana to eat in the cerveceria of the jefe of Señorita Susana. In that cerveceria, we got to tour the basement where the cerveceria actually makes its own beer! It was the coolest thing ever. Our meal too was made more delicious by having their beer, which we already knew was their own original concoction. After our very filling and delicious al fresco lunch, the group decided to have an hour’s worth of shopping in Calle Presciados, accompanied by Señorita Susana. We dashed through H&M (there’s not H&M in the Philippines, unfortunately), El Corte Inglés and other nearby stores. Such a shame though that we only had a measly HOUR for shopping. Well, it was well compensated by the very enlightening lecture, which followed after, at the Consulate.
Consul Marciano de Borja, after welcoming us students who came with all our plastic bags, gave a lengthy lecture on the relationship of the Basques to the Philippines and to the national hero, Dr. José Rizal. After the lecture, I on my part, read excerpts from my winning piece, Europe’s Finest Gift to the Philippines. Afterwards, the group departed for dinner in Casa Mingo.
Apparently, the dinner for that night was really the welcome dinner of the Filipino community to the Philippines’ new Ambassador to Spain, Ambassador Ugarte. However, Mr. Sabarillo pointed out that it was also considered as our send-off dinner. I, in particular, felt very touch by that move of our host in Madrid, a sign of true hospitality and of recognition. At Casa Mingo, we met different Filipinos, from mestiza Doñas retiring in Madrid to Filipinos who are married to Europeans. Likewise, we filled ourselves with chorizo, ensalada, pan and their delicious fried (or asado?) pollo, which actually reminded me of Max’s in the Philippines. We washed these down with bottles of Casa Mingo’s signature sweet apple cider. It was also there in Casa Mingo where the muy simpatica Ambassador gave us Spanish-Philippine friendship pins, a memento that we students would always be thankful for because of the strong message it sent to us, that of the mutual relationship between Spain and the Philippines. We spent the rest of the night chatting with other Filipinos in Casa Mingo, walking through the streets that lead to Plaza Mayor and lastly, having hot churros con chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés.
On my last two nights in Spain, I spent lively night-outs with friend Mika Oca, some Ateneans on JTA as well as relatives. Those were the times I got to walk through Madrid in the cool Spanish nights. I enjoyed those moments. In fact, on my last night, I went back to Srta. Susana’s flat just in time to pack. I had no sleep whatsoever.
Early the next morning, around past five, Mr. Sabarillo, with a Filipino friend of his who owns a van, fetched us students and of course, our very caring Señorita Susana, and brought us to the airport. They waited and monitored us up until we passed through Immigration. We all felt the familiar love and care common among Spaniards, Latin Americans and Filipinos, noble values we should all keep. Despite the unseen events, which hampered our schedules (lunches that were scheduled for one hour and half extending to three hours, meeting Don Ruiz Mateos, etc.) in not-so-negative ways, our trip through the Spanish capital was enlightening that in a sense, among all other places we’ve been to Europe, it felt more like home, a profound reminder of the undeniable connection between Spain and the Philippines. We may have been in Spain for only four days but for some reason, it felt, to a certain extent, that we never left the Philippines.
On our last day in Spain, we waved our good byes and sent our flying besos, all with the ardent hope that one day, we would see each other again in the beautiful and familiar country we experienced briefly in four days – Spain.
As we approach Christmas, all the more am I reminded of Spain’s better aspects of Spain’s influence on us as a people. I am grateful, totally grateful, they brought Christmas to our islands. May we remember with gratitude and joy the Hispanic aspects of our Christmas celebrations.