[Leer cuento en español]

Kawa yowls mantras from outside the screen door, and Akiko weaves in these meows bestowed upon her by the Eternal Now, kan-ze-on, na-mu-butsu, and intones the chants that she has recited every morning before dawn for more than thirty years, yo-butsu-u-in, yo-butsu-u-en, with deep concentration rooted in practice, bup-po-so-en, jo-raku-ga-jo, strict discipline, cho-nen-kan-ze-on, bon-nen-kan-ze-on, and an energy redolent more of a brash girl than a septuagenarian, nen-nen-ju-shin-ki, nen-nen-fu-ri-shin.

The Hawaiian sunrise reveals in fits and starts an exuberant explosion of verdure, and the crickets and frogs who have been gossiping all night cede to the birds, who will not rest their throats until the sun sets. Akiko loves this silence full of melodies that makes her home, and for a few stolen moments before the day begins, she pauses to savor it.

For a couple of days now, a niggling concern has been creeping to join her even in the meditation room — she is only human. A truce must be negotiated in the war of the shi-shi before it tears apart the big house, that ramshackle dwelling sufficient for a family of nine when the Hakalau sugar plantation was still active, but apparently too small for these four coddled oafs.

To the stoicism of Buddhist philosophy, Akiko adds the finely-honed patience of someone who has been managing her business and hosting querulous haoles on her property for three decades. She started back in the early nineties, when an acquaintance asked for accommodation in exchange for a few bucks, and Akiko slept on the floor to give him her own futon and a delicious breakfast and reinvested that money in another futon and leveraged that into a bed and then fixed up the plantation house and then built the cabins in the back garden and is now tackling remodeling the whole village. That little empire in the middle of the jungle that she is so proud of is now under assault from a dude who has been prolonging his stay in the house for months because “it’s not safe to look for an apartment with all this shit going on” and who refuses to make the effort to project his piss at the correct angle or at the very least clean the shi-shi that puddles obscenely in front of the toilet. On top of that, the girlfriend of that overgrown lolo has circled the wagons with him. Yesterday, the couple suddenly appeared with a clipboard with a dozen tightly-ruled sheets of paper and mutely presented it to Akiko. In confusion, Akiko glanced down at the pages, which it quickly became apparent contained a painstaking accounting of their housemates’ most lurid crimes: “12/21/2020, 8:37 AM – Knife with traces of raspberry jam discovered in sink, unwashed; “12/21/2020, 2:46 PM – Three anomalous crumbs, likely whole-wheat, detected on southeast countertop. Heightened ant activity.” Flipping impatiently, “12/26/2020, 3:04 PM – Left-side toilet paper roll contained only 1.5 remaining sheets, further search revealed no backup roll queued up on toilet tank,” etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. “Intriguing,” Akiko murmured to herself, one of her repertoire of factotum responses, but perused no more of the densely-inked pages, because one’s time on this plane is short and because, to tell the truth, this lout’s handwriting left a lot to be desired and was not worthy of any additional scrutiny. If she had set eyes on this crooked scrawl before renting the room to them, Buddha knows she would not be here now suffering through this. 

This unhinged list was the last straw in a year full of tribulations, a counter-barrage after the girls had left a note gently counseling him not to pee outside the toilet, leaving the 45-year-old sputtering with incredulous indignation at the sheer manifest injustice of it all before retorting that his mother taught him very well to take care of his business correctly. He’d grown up in a house with his mother and four sisters, so do you really think he could have survived ’til now otherwise? Why pin the blame on just him for bad aim, the girlfriend interjected, ignoring the inconvenient fact that the rest of the house relieved themselves sitting down. In fact, he’d even called his mother to report the persecution and vile accusations, and she’d merely cracked up laughing, which proved that the real culprit must be faulty toilet design. Since the urine is no likelier to be his than anyone else’s, he refuses to clean the floor, not with his bad back, so the rich bouquet of piss permeating the entire first story has forced the girls, barely twenty years old, to submit to phallic mandate, regularly scrubbing the moist, fragrant tiles. 

Akiko, who thrives under the rigidity of routine, has suffered through enough changes already this year: first she had to stop taking in guests entirely for a few months — if only her fixed expenses had paused as well — then she’d started receiving people on the sly, for long stays only, strictly enforcing quarantines and instructing each newcomer to use a rickety, rusting ladder instead of the path visible from the road to avoid the prying eyes of suspicious neighbors who prowl the town with engraved frowns. After only three decades here, to some she is still suspect, an outsider from Oahu bringing in a parade of strangers with outlandish customs. 

The whole situation had discombobulated her to such an extent in the first few weeks that there were days when she didn’t hear her alarm that rang at 4:44 every morning for meditation, and her one unflagging companion in this ancestral practice had to come to her room to wake her up by tenderly twisting her big toe. Thanks to him, she’d been able to cling to routine left tottering by the pandemic.

But one deprivation stings her more than anything else: having to cancel the mochi festival that she has been celebrating on her property for more than two decades, in recent years attracting more than six hundred people from the Big Island and from the whole archipelago, a fixture of more recent guidebooks. How she would like to gather with her whole spiritual ohana at 5 AM to crush the rice for the cakes, prepare floral decorations, chat with the fortunetellers and the breadfruit and poke vendors who never fail to appear, listen to the elders recount fading tales of the plantation, seize the microphone and hold forth on whatever subject crosses her mind to a laughing, appreciative audience, in her element, on her day, at her estate, shaking to the beat of Japanese drums, all while raising money for the cemeteries, the school, the village, her legacy. Unofficially, Akiko is the mayor of Wailea. No, no: the queen of Wailea.

She misses the wonderful year-end festival, but accepts the change stoically, releasing her melancholy to focus instead on osoji, the Japanese tradition of cleaning thoroughly in the final days of December in order to receive each new year with the emotional purity it deserves. It will start in the garden. She has already switched out her meditation kimono for everyday attire — loose, worn clothing, a scarf around her head with a yellow flower attached, long hair gathered in a bun with a straw hat perched on top of everything. She grasps the chainsaw firmly to rip apart the palm tree toppled by last night’s powerful gusts, now blocking one of the dirt paths. Akiko knows that she is six feet tall and 200 pounds of pure muscle, and she is astonished each time to see the tiny, thin woman that the mirror invents. 

The queen of Wailea hasn’t set foot in a doctor’s office in 27 years —why would she need to, with a vegetarian diet and monthly acupuncture and massage? — and she not only draws on her strength to take care of her house, but also, as a born leader, she organizes efforts to clean the town’s temple annually and to go every month to hack through the jungle and restore the overgrown Buddhist cemeteries hidden in every corner of the island. She is especially grateful for the last meeting of the year, which coincides with the tradition of osoji, and which, being outdoors, buffeted by the cleansing Hawaiian winds, she has been able to maintain despite the coronavirus. 

Surrounded by roosters and hens promenading in the shade of the palm trees, Akiko hefts the shattered trunk into her wheelbarrow, telling herself she will ask the plumber to come around this very afternoon so she can stop thinking once and for all about that puffed-up pissant who should be old enough by now to have learned to make shi-shi.

Her favorite guests are, without a doubt, divorced women in the assuredness of middle age, like the two currently staying in the part of the property where Akiko lives. These women emerge unbowed from atrocious marriages and are filled with an inordinate strength. They know how to change their own diapers, without whining incessantly that their bedroom door won’t stay closed, that the internet is slow, that their housemate is hogging the fridge. Independent and unstoppable, Akiko is reflected in them, and they share energy: there is no woman stronger than one who does not depend on a man. If she only rented rooms to divorced women, she could live the Zen existence of her true inner being and, of course, she wouldn’t have to worry about what proportion of shi-shi ended up in the toilet. 

She rings the bells in gratitude and warm aloha for the Wailea ancestors and to summon the ever-growing herd of cats, conditioned to know this clanging is synonymous with bowls of fresh food. Kawa, that immense gray mound whose meows seem infused with plaintive longing, always gets there first, his majestic stomach a bottomless pit. She tells herself that she has forsworn travel in order to care for these creatures, but in reality it is because her soul is tied to the branches of the avocado tree that towers over the back garden, waking her up every morning with the ringing caress of its colossal two-pound fruits on her brass roof.

A couple of nights ago, however, she alone had continued sleeping unfazed when the goddess Pele, after an unaccustomed respite of two years, had roared into alertness, spewing plumes of lava 400 feet into the air, vaporizing an entire lake in a fraction of a second, and rattling every window in Wailea, 40 miles away. Akiko maintains the customs of her Japanese ancestors because of her respect for the blood that runs through her veins, but she is also a third generation Hawaiian who knows all too well the Kīlauea volcano’s cravings for fire, so she doesn’t even blink an eye. 

The plumber, a stolid, laconic Hawaiian, arrives at the agreed-upon time because he knows that Akiko values punctuality. He unhurriedly examines the toilet in silence for a few minutes, then finally asks, “So, what is it that you want me to do?” Akiko heads to the kitchen and beckons to the girls. “Honey, honey,” she calls explosively, “it’s time for a shi-shi convention,” taking it as a matter of course that these two coronavirus refugees from California will understand this Hawaiian term of Japanese origin without further elaboration. Somewhat bemused, they follow her, but the import becomes clear as they are led into the bathroom and spot the plumber. “Apparently there is some kind of problem with the toilet, but I don’t understand it too well. Can you kids explain it to the plumber?” They would love to say straight out that, well, the problem is pretty simple — we’ve got a guy here who seems to regard a bathroom as a personal challenge to piss over the largest possible surface area, but politeness grabs their tongues and stymies them. Fortunately, the ever-attentive couple emerges self-importantly from their bedroom at that moment, and the girls are able to refer the inquiry to them. They clarify that the toilet is either badly designed or damaged, so whenever anyone uses it, the pee ricochets and manages to splash between the bowl and the seat, wetting the floor. Fortunately, they have managed to lay their hands on a second-hand toilet of more appropriate design which they have been conveniently storing outside the back door. The plumber need merely swap in this wonderful new toilet and every issue will be solved. 

Akiko, with her usual boundless energy, springs into action to verify this unfortunate artifact of physics. She fills up a glass of water and decants it into the bowl to simulate an ordinary male shi-shi. As there doesn’t seem to be any perceptible splash to the fallible human eye, she drops to the floor and pats every square inch with her hands in search of fresh puddling, to the amazement of all present and the contained retching of the girls, who know all about the daily rain of shi-shi that falls in these parts. She invites the plumber to check the floor with his own hands, in case his greater expertise in the field will allow finer-tuned detection, but the man begs off politely.

The tenants begin to discuss the conundrum of the dry floor in a civilized manner, but little by little voices rise and accusations start to fly. The micturating martyr defends his honor vigorously, and remarks start to get personal. The plumber shifts his weight awkwardly in the background. Akiko suddenly gives two authoritative slaps and the group instantly falls silent. “Let me think for twenty seconds; twenty” she orders with her index finger pointed and immediately the woman enters into a state almost of trance, unconscious of the ten eyes trained on her. The idea comes to her at once, as in a revelation. It is brilliant. Yes, yes, of course: brilliant. How could it not have occurred to her before? Why on Earth were they fooling around with glasses and water? Soon the mystery will be solved, and she will be able to spend time on matters that are truly worthwhile, like petting Kawa.

“Honey,” she says to the titanic tinkler — she knows the name, age, and profession of every guest with precision, but she always reverts to this universal form of address, “Honey,” she repeats, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. Can you just quickly do a little shi-shi in front of the plumber? Then he can see exactly where things go wrong, and he’ll be able to fix it.” Akiko pronounces this with the rigor and conviction with which she guides her meditations; and only amazement paralyzes the girls’ laughter, while the girlfriend and the plumber don’t know how to react, and merely turn expectantly to await the the response of the ungainly urinater. He totally freezes for a few endless seconds, the tortured inner workings of his thoughts playing out on his face, before, finally, he mumbles in that slightly-addled baritone that drones for hours each day to an apparently enthralled audience, rumbling through the walls of the house: “Oh, hell no, hell no, I’m not going to do that”. Akiko cannot fathom this refusal, so convinced is she of the faultless logic of her solution. 

As the eyes continue to bore into him, the lavatory lawbreaker nervously fills the silence, tripping over himself to give explanations. Sure, he has to go to the bathroom three or four times every night, and sometimes he feels a little pee trickling down his legs in the dark, but that doesn’t mean it gets on the floor and hell no, he’s not going to clean it, the same thing happens to everyone. And of course he can’t pee sitting down because that’s undignified, and it would be completely unfair to single him out and make him go to the outside bathroom, plus it’s impossible because he might step on slugs. 

As he rambles idiotically on, the words blur into a senseless hum in the background of Akiko’s thoughts. She jerks herself from her musing to abruptly stem the chaotic, splashing stream of words with a “mahalo, honey” and appears in another place, because it is time to light the candles and incense in the shrines she has scattered around the property and to ring the bells for the cats to feast once more. 

After the evening yoga session, her ideas on dealing with the situation finally crystallize completely. If she were to think purely in economic terms, after almost a year of operating losses, perhaps the wisest thing would be to keep tenants no matter how boorish, but Akiko grounds herself in the plane of the immaterial: she is breathing, so she is blessed. And, since she requires nothing else, she sends off an e-mail to the couple announcing that for next month, they will have to find accommodations with a toilet more suited to their needs. On December 31st, osoji is at last complete: Akiko has finally fully cleansed her house and is ready to welcome in the new year.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.

Art Bites Paris

The Oath of the Horatii
Jacques-Louis David, 1784, Louvre Museum

Let’s face it — most visitors go to the Louvre Museum to see the Mona Lisa (or, more specifically, to take distant blurry photos of this overrated painting). Most of them also leave the museum without seeing many important works of art, amongst them The Oath of the Horatii. This is one of the greatest works of Neoclassicism, a movement based on the aesthetic values of old Greece and Rome for which symmetry and detail were paramount. In this huge painting, David depicts a 7th century BC story with only nine characters: the three overly-patriotic Horatii (on the left) lift their swords and swear to their father (in the middle) victory or death, leaving their mother, wives, and kids (on the right) in sorrow, perhaps for the last time. The tension is eased by the geometry, and the intricacy is simply breathtaking — one could spend hours merely contemplating the details on the leg of the first Horatius.

Luncheon on the Grass
Édouard Manet, 1863, Musée d’Orsay

Parisian salons in the 19th century had the crème de la crème of French society and no shortage of scandals — especially in the Salon des Refusés, to which the worst works were banished. Luncheon on the Grass was rejected by the biggest Parisian salon, but even in the Salon des Refusés, it had a lot of detractors who insisted that it be taken down. Perhaps it was the first time they’d seen a naked woman in a painting? Well, obviously not, but always before it had been an idealized, unreachable goddess. Their impression from this painting was that that naked woman was nothing more than a prostitute, and that was outrageous — at least, to show. The alleged infamy of the piece didn’t stop it (or maybe helped it, actually) from becoming one of the most iconic paintings in the history of art, and one of the most imitated. There is, for example, a 1964 version of Luncheon on the Grass (with the same name) in the Centre Pompidou, by the French pop artist Alain Jacquet.

A Box at the Theatre des Italiens
Eva Gonzalès, 1874, Musée d’Orsay

Even if she never exhibited any of her works with the Parisian impressionists, Gonzalès’ style led her to be considered part of this movement — after all, even her teacher, Manet, was excluded from these exhibitions. Very few women are acknowledged as part of the history of art, but there were some bright lights amongst the impressionists — most notably three, Eva Gonzalès, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, and many of their works are in the Musée d’Orsay. They normally depicted women in a domestic atmosphere (many times with children), since that was, after all, their main role in society. Gonzalès learned from Chaplin and Manet, but she soon developed a very personal style, creating intense portraits full of emotion. In A Box at the Theatre des Italiens Gonzalès chose a public atmosphere but made it very intimate, due to the black background and the amazing detail in the clothing and accessories of the two people depicted. These two characters — in reality, her husband and her sister — seem to have a distant relationship and to be very close at the same time, and the woman’s expression is especially interesting due to its ambiguity. Unfortunately, the artist died after giving birth to her child when she was only 34, and her husband actually ended up marrying the sister pictured in the painting!

A Box at the Italian Theatre, 1874 - Eva Gonzales

Dada Head
Sophie Taeuber-Arp, 1920, Centre Georges Pompidou

Even in the frantically hyper-modern 20th century, only a few women were allowed into elite artistic circles. Painter-dancer-weaver-designer-photographer-etc. Sophie Taeuber-Arp was one of the lucky ones and was accepted in the male-dominated Dadaist world. One of her most famous works is her series of heads, some of which can be seen in the Centre Georges Pompidou. The Swiss artist considered these colorful wooden heads on pedestals to be parodic portraits and functional hat-stands. Apart from mentioning Dada in some of them — as all dadaists tended to — she simplified the main concept by creating abstract geometric interpretations of reality, avoiding any physical or real resemblance. Some of them also resemble African masks, an influence on many artists of the day, starting with Picasso.

Water Lilies: The Clouds
Claude Monet, 1920-1926, Orangerie Museum

In the last 31 years of his life, French artist Claude Monet painted around 250 versions of the water lilies of his garden in Giverny, in the north of France. Nowadays many are scattered across the the important museums of the world, but one of the most impressive ones is the one in the Orangerie Museum, with dimensions of 2 x 12.75 meters. The immense size is not the only factor that makes one feel inside the work, as the amazing technique irresistibly attracts the viewer to its beauty. Monet’s Impression, Sunrise was the painting for which Impressionism was sarcastically named. This movement was mainly based on capturing light and studying how as light changes, vision (and thus the artwork) changes correspondingly. He also painted 30 different versions of the Rouen cathedral between 1892 and 1894, some of which can also be enjoyed in Paris, at the Musée d’Orsay.

Water Lilies, The Clouds, 1903 - Claude Monet

Ingres’s Violin
Man Ray, 1924, Centre Georges Pompidou

One of the main practices in the explosion of artistic creativity in the first half of the 20th century was appropriation, which essentially means transforming an artistic reference piece into a new work of art. Emmanuel Radnitzky, better known as Man Ray, did this — many times — including in this 1984 work where he modified one of the most famous representations of an Odalisque (the original work, by Ingres, is currently housed in the Louvre).

In a punny reference to the French idiom “le violon d’Ingres,” meaning a hobby, the American Man Ray painted the characteristic f-holes of violins on the French artist’s photograph of a practically naked woman (his lover, Kiki), her whole back exposed. Then he photographed the slightly altered photograph and, voilà, his glorious new interpretation was complete.

The modernist American artist spent most of his career in the artistic circles in Paris where he experimented alongside Dadaists and Surrealists and created his famous Rayographs, photographic images made without a camera.

Plaque décorée d’une Infante (Les Ménines)
Pablo Picasso, 1957, Picasso Museum

“Good artists copy, great artists steal,” Picasso said. He was obviously a genius, so he stole a lot — as well as creating, of course. In the museum dedicated to his work in Paris (a city where he spent many years of his life), one can admire a lot of his works, both original and stolen. Picasso is known worldwide for his great contribution to the development of modern art, especially cubism, and applying his characteristic style — solidity, flatness and different perspectives — to reimagine old works of art. In this case, Picasso made a series of 58 paintings of the famous Las Meninas, by his compatriot Diego Velázquez, whom Picasso admired deeply This entire series is in Barcelona, but he also painted some of the characters independently on different materials, like ceramic here, some of which can be found in Paris. And though he termed it stealing, these versions of Las Meninas have strong character and a whole new perspective, breaking all rules of representation.

Portrait relief de Martial Raysse
Yves Klein, 1962, Musée d’art moderne

Yves Klein was linked to movements like Pop Art and Neo-Dadaism, which was actually a reaction to the introversion of Abstract Expressionism. He quickly became one of the most influential artists in the 20th century — not only influencing art but fashion! In 1960, he created and patented a color named IKB (International Klein Blue) and used it in a lot of his artworks, such as in his bronze and gold paper Portrait relief de Martial Raysse, where he recreates a classic sculpture giving it a powerful new meaning using only IKB. The color has become very common nowadays. In the late 1950’s, he also did a remarkable performance called Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle, which consisted of exchanging “zones of immaterial pictorial sensibility,” certified with a cheque, for gold that he immediately threw into the Seine. So Dada!

The inhabitants of the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan in 1939
Christian Boltanski, 1998, Jewish Museum

The half-Christian half-Jewish artist Christian Boltanski was born in 1944 in Paris, and he met many Holocaust survivors growing up, so the terrible European genocide — alongside memory and human nature — is the leitmotiv of his work. In The inhabitants of the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan in 1939, he created an installation in the former hotel, then Jewish residential building, then Jewish Museum in the Marais, the Parisian Jewish, and now gay, quarter. His work doesn’t directly confront the unfathomable killing, but instead suggests and personalizes it. It consists of small signs, each containing a person’s name, job, and origin. Sometimes there’s also a date of death, but when there’s none, this may mean the person either escaped or disappeared — it is certain that a total of thirteen inhabitants were arrested and killed. This installation has been part of the museum since its opening in 1998, and the signs are made using ink on paper, so deterioration forces them to be replaced regularly, creating a beautiful and intense metaphor — after all, memory works that way, with the past needing to be constantly relived in order to never repeat it again.

The Thinker
Auguste Rodin, 1903, Rodin Museum

The Thinker — originally named The Poet — is one of the most famous and most influential statues of all time. Even though it may seem like the figure is anonymous and independent, it was originally imagined as something much more specific. It all started in 1880, when Rodin planned to do a sculpture of The Gates of Hell, inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy — a task which would end up taking him 37 years to complete. In the gate — which the first version in plaster is in the Musée d’Orsay — one of the 180 figures is The Thinker, placed on top of the door panels, and there are several interpretations of who it is: Dante looking at the Inferno, Rodin himself contemplating his own work or even Adam, shocked at the consequences of his sin. Anyway, Rodin decided to sculpt a larger independent version of The Thinker in 1888, ultimately completing a total of 28 versions, in which a naked muscular man sitting on a rock in a twisted, unbalanced position is, of course, thinking deeply with his whole body, now to be found all over the world, literally (the Cleveland version even suffered a terrorist attack in 1970). Nowadays, it is often used as a representation of the discipline of philosophy.

Information about museums in Madrid

Louvre Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €15, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 9 am – 6 pm, Wednesday and Friday 9 am – 9:45 pm, closed on Tuesday
Address: Musée du Louvre, 75058 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Palais-Royal/musée du Louvre)
Bus: 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, 95
Batobus: Louvre stop, quai François Mitterrand

Musée d’Orsay Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €12, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 9:30 am – 6 pm, Thursdays 9:30 am – 9:45 pm, closed on Mondays
Address: 62 rue de Lille, 75343 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 12 (Solférino)
Train: C (Musée d’Orsay)
Bus: 24, 63, 68, 69, 73, 83, 84, 94

Centre Georges Pompidou Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €14, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 11 am – 9 pm
Address: Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris – France
Getting there:
Métro: 1 (Hôtel de Ville, Châtelet), 4 (Châtelet), 7 (Châtelet), 11 (Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville or Châtelet), 14 (Châtelet)
Train: A, B, D (Châtelet Les Halles)
Bus: 29, 38, 47, 75

Orangerie Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €9, Visitors aged 18 and under (26 and under if residents in the EEA) – free, free the first Sunday of each month
Opening hours: Daily 9 am – 6 pm, closed on Tuesdays
Address: Jardin des Tuileries Place de la Concorde, 75001 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 1, 2, 8 (Concorde)

Picasso Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €12.50, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 11:30 am – 6 pm, Weekends 9:30 am – 6 pm, closed on Mondays
Address: 5 rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Saint-Paul), 8 (Saint-Sébastien-Froissart or Chemin Vert)
Bus: 20, 29, 65, 75, 69, 96
Batobus: Louvre stop, quai François Mitterrand

Musée d’art moderne Tickets and Hours

Admission: Free for the permanent collection
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm, Thursdays 10 am – 10 pm.
Address: 11, avenue du Président Wilson 75116 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 9 (Alma-Marceau or Iéna)
Train: C (Pont de l’Alma)
Bus: 32, 42, 72, 80, 82, 92

Jewish Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €10, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 11 am – 6 pm, Wednesday 11 am – 9 pm, Sunday 10 am – 7 pm, closed on Saturdays
Address: 71 Rue du Temple, 75003 Paris – France
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Hôtel de Ville), 11 (Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville)
Train: A, B, D (Châtelet Les Halles)
Bus: 29, 38, 47, 75

Rodin Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €10, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if residents in the EEA) – free
Opening hours: Daily 10 am – 5:45 pm, Wednesday 10 am – 8:45 pm, closed on Mondays
Address: 77 rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France
Getting there:
Metro: 13 (Varenne, Invalides), 8 (Invalides)
Train: C (Invalides)
Bus: 69, 82, 87, 92

[Article originally written by Patricia Martín Rivas for travel company Wimdu.
The images in this article are from Wikimedia Commons and copyright-free.]

Art Bites Madrid

The Hermitage of the Vera Cruz de Maderuelo
unknown artist, 12th century, Prado Museum

This is definitely the best place to start your visit to the Prado Museum, to directly immerse yourself in the history of artistic representation. This wall belonged to a small hermitage in Segovia, a city 100 miles from Madrid. Its fresco paintings were transferred to canvas in 1947 and brought to the Prado Museum, where they were displayed in faithful imitation of the original layout, so visitors can walk amidst it. Of course, the theme depicted is unoriginal for its time — after all, we’re talking about the 12th century here. However, its religious scenes — the creation of Adam, the original sin, Mary Magdalene, etc.— are very interesting when viewed through the lens of perspective. Its fairly crude perspective provides a starting reference for the progressive refinement of perspective by painters in the subsequent centuries, and it should be kept in mind as you progress through the rest of the gorgeous works in this museum.

Table of the Seven Deadly Sins
Hieronymus Bosch, 1505-1510, Prado Museum

One of the artistic jewels of Madrid — and the world — is The Garden of Earthly Delights, a magnificent and still-mysterious work by Dutchman Hieronymus Bosch. However, in the very same room where his famous triptych lies, there are several more of his works that are worth focusing on. One of them is the Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, dominated by Jesus Christ, in a central circle, warning of his constant vigilance. Around him, there are several scenes of sin: lust, gluttony, sloth, etc., are everywhere, and they reflect eternal punishment. Of course, this punishment takes place in hell, and for those who can’t take a hint, there’s also an image of hell on the table, with all those sinful souls receiving their just deserts — everlasting torment. The table is both a marvelous artwork and a creepy piece of furniture — who could really enjoy brunch with so much guilt?

Las Meninas
Diego Velázquez, 1655 – 1660, Prado Museum

If there is any must-see when visiting Madrid’s museums, this is definitely it. Diego Velázquez had a good job and universal recognition as an artist, since he worked as the royal family’s official painter. Despite the heavy responsibilities and strict constraints of such a position, his creativity flourished. Las Meninas is a good example of this — instead of merely painting a typical family portrait, Velazquez added touches of the bizarre. The painter himself appears on the left of the work, in the midst of painting Princess Margarita (in the middle), interrupted by the arrival of the king and queen (in the mirror), while one of the several servants or ‘meninas’ uses that precious moment to offer a drink to the princess, no doubt thirsty after posing for such a long time. First, the quotidian is key here, since the people depicted are taking a break and thus relaxed, with unusual stances. Second, Velázquez was very bold, painting himself alongside the king and queen — as much as he could, since he’s technically alongside the reflection of the monarchs. Lastly, the characters are looking at us — in the conceit of the painting, at the king and queen — seeming to break the fourth wall. This is one of the most oft-studied works in the history of art, still mysterious, and definitely one of those masterpieces that should be seen at least once in a lifetime.

Miguel Cabrera, 1775-1800, Museum of the Americas

In addition to all the other Spanish atrocities during the colonization of the Americas, they established a system based on the so-called castas, which codified ethnic inequality — of course, white people were at the top of this racist hierarchy. This system was thoroughly represented in art, even leading to the creation of a new genre called pintura de castas. The Mexican Miguel Cabrera was one of the main artists to depict this system, and the Museum of the Americas houses many of his paintings. This racial classification is thus much in evidence, and it is certainly very interesting to view because it shows clearly how race is an arbitrary concept to impose social superiority. The system shown in the paintings is often ridiculous to the point of laughter, with racial categories bearing names like “wolf,” “floating in mid-air,” and “throwback.”

The Drowning Dog
Francisco Goya, 1820 – 1823, Prado Museum

This magnificent work is part of the fourteen Black Paintings which Goya produced during the final years of his life. Practically deaf and holed up in his house in Madrid, he painted a series of works on the very walls of his house. These were later transferred to canvas by a banker who, not finding any buyers, donated them to the Prado Museum. These paintings depicted powerful and horrible human feelings, like anguish, fear, and despair, a far cry from his previous trite neoclassicism, leading him through a carnival of horrors and, at the same time, amazing, groundbreaking creativity. The Drowning Dog is not only strikingly beautiful, but it is probably the most interesting work in the series from a historical perspective — painted in the early 1820s with such lack of perspective and detail, it’s a harbinger of styles which wouldn’t arrive for nearly another century, like impressionism and abstraction. The poor dog is trapped in the sand, trying to escape that terrible fate of drowning. Other gorgeous Black Paintings, like Fight with Cudgels, are in the same room in the museum.

Mata Mua (In Olden Times)
Paul Gauguin, 1892, Thyssen Museum

Paul Gauguin had several exhibitions when he was alive, but his work found its true audience after his death — in fact, in 2015, one of his works was bought for $300 million, becoming the most expensive painting ever sold. Both this painting and Mata Mua are part of his body of work from when he lived in Tahiti, his most characteristic works. Gauguin went to Tahiti to flee modern civilization, but he didn’t find the primitive society he had dreamed of, since French Polynesia had more colonial influence than he had expected. Still, the artist fell In love with the island and created works that mix reality and fantasy, western and eastern concepts, modernity and primitivity, creating an extremely interesting document of life in Tahiti. He also gave Tahitian names to his paintings — though sometimes not 100% correct, admittedly. In Mata Mua, Gauguin depicts an impossible yet captivating and dreamily colorful landscape, with idyllic scenes of women playing music and dancing around an idol, idealizing the noble savage in the untouched paradise of “olden times.”

Photo Report of the Evolution of “Guernica”
Dora Maar, 1937, Reina Sofía Museum

Like many other photographers at that time, Dora Maar’s work was less valued than that of painters, since this new form of expression was considered a lower form of art. However, this French painter, sculptor, and photographer is nowadays considered one of the most outstanding artists in the 20th century. Among many other things, she photographed the development of one of the most popular modern works in Madrid, Picasso’s Guernica, a masterpiece depicting the horror of war. It’s really interesting to turn around when seeing that painting, since Maar’s photographic documentation of the work, which she did between May 11th and June 4th, 1937, is truly impressive. Given the lack of light in the studio and the immensity of Guernica, she had to retouch every photo to make it perfect, and due to this, nowadays we can see all the changes, modifications, additions, and elimination the Spanish painter made. More of Maar’s works can be seen in the Reina Sofía Museum, great photographs with very high contrast of quotidian street scenes.

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening
Salvador Dalí, 1944, Thyssen Museum

When eccentrical Salvador Dalí met Gala for the first time, his world collapsed, and the focus of his paintings turned almost exclusively to her. She soon divorced her first husband and married Dalí, becoming his muse for life. Of all the paintings starring the eternal Russian muse, this is probably the most interesting, because of the mixed feelings it inspires (and definitely the one with the most charming title). One feels a certain peace at first glance, due to the colors and the balance of the work. However, upon closer look, the calm shatters — the violence disturbing Gala’s serene and deep dream is simply breathtaking, with the cold-looking stone over which she’s lying naked, a shotgun touching her skin, and two tigers striving to reach her while one of them is eaten by a fish. An elephant with impossible legs and a bee flying around a pomegranate make the scene even more disturbing. Is she dreaming about those strange things, or they are happening around her? That’s open to interpretation — this is surrealism in its pure state!

Know Your Servant #1
Martha Rosler, 1976, Reina Sofía Museum

The work of American conceptual artist Martha Rosler focuses on social and political themes. Through different forms of expression, such as video, photo and performance, she criticizes aspects of life, often quotidian, usually from a feminist perspective. In the series Know your Servant #1, Rosler combines text and photography — something that has grown increasingly common since the beginning of the 20th century, and ever present in conceptual art — to sarcastically discuss American waitresses and the physical and behavioral requirements they must follow to be perfect menials. She uses an old drawing of a perfectly beautiful waitress to present the instructions, like “stocking free of wrinkles,” “make up simple” and “nails manicured.” There are more documents with rules and instructions, in a serious, believable tone, and pictures of waitresses (and of a male client staring at one of them), creating a profound, pointed criticism.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay, 1978, Reina Sofía Museum

Serbian Marina Abramovic is the most important performance artist of all time. In the late ’70s and the ’80s, she had a turbulent relationship with German artist Ulay, and they did many performative works together before breaking up in a very poetic way — they walked from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, met in the middle and said goodbye. While together, they recorded and photographed themselves in very extreme situations, both physically and emotionally. The performance video of AAA-AAA starts with Abramovic explaining the action: “We are facing each other both producing continuous vocal sound, we slowly build up the tension, our faces coming closer together until we are screaming into each other’s open mouths.” That’s exactly what they do, in a 9-minute-long sequence where tension is slowly built up until it reaches a level that is truly hard to watch, because of the powerful feelings that are aroused — feelings that bring us closer to the purity of life and art.

Information about museums in Madrid

Prado Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €16, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if students) – free. Free every day from 6 pm to 8 pm and Sundays and holidays from 5 pm to 7 pm
Opening hours: Daily 10 am – 8 pm, Sundays and holidays 5 pm – 7 pm
Address: Paseo del Prado, s/n 28014 Madrid – Spain
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Atocha), 2 (Banco de España)
Train: all lines (Atocha)
Bus: 9, 10, 14, 19, 27, 34, 37 and 45

Museum of the Americas Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €3, Visitors aged 18 and under and students – free. Free on Sunday
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9.30 am – 3 pm, Thursday 9.30 am – 7 pm, Saturday and holiday 10 am – 3 pm. Closed on Monday
Address: Av. de los Reyes Católicos, 6 28040 Madrid – Spain
Getting there:
Metro: 3 (Moncloa), 6 (Moncloa), 7 (Islas Filipinas)
Bus: 1, 2, 16, 44, 46, 61, 82, 113, 132 and 133

Thyssen Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €12, Visitors aged 12 and under – free. Free every Monday from 12 pm to 4 pm
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 7 pm, Mondays 12 pm – 4 pm
Address: Paseo del Prado, 8 28014 Madrid – Spain
Getting there:
Metro: 2 (Banco de España)
Train: all lines (Atocha), C-1, C-2, C-7, C-8 and C-10 (Recoletos)
Bus: 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 14, 15, 20, 27, 34, 37, 41, 51, 52, 53, 74, 146 and 150

Reina Sofía Museum Tickets and Hours

Admission: Adults €8, Visitors aged 18 and under (25 and under if students) – free. Free every day from 7 pm to 9 pm and Sundays and holidays from 1.30 pm to 7 pm
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10 am – 9 pm, Sunday 10 am – 7 pm (no all collections on view). Closed on Tuesday
Address: Calle de Santa Isabel, 52 28012 Madrid – Spain
Getting there:
Metro: 1 (Atocha), 3 (Lavapiés)
Train: all lines (Atocha)
Bus: 6, 10, 14, 19, 26, 27, 32, 34, 36, 37, 41, 45, 59, 85, 86, 102, 119, C1, C2 and E1

[Article originally written by Patricia Martín Rivas for travel company Wimdu.
The images in this article are from Wikimedia Commons and copyright-free.]