Madrid, Spain. February 2014. Hungry but not lost, for once.
It was like suddenly spotting a long-lost friend from my childhood or seeing someone in person whom I’d only seen in pictures. Vividly, happily blue and speckled with flecks of pastel, she seemed ready to dance right out of the frame. In fact, I was surprised at how much was cut out of the canvass, though I am told that this is one of Degas’ special tricks to make paintings seem alive and in motion. She has always been in motion to me.
Edgar Degas’ Ballerina in Green from 1880 first came into my life in the form of a glossy bookmark at an age when I could not begin to appreciate art, Degas or bookmarks. But I appreciated ballet.
If you’re going to meet a city for the first time, do it in the rain. Take away the pretense that either of you are anything other than wet and miserable. Wash off the initial awkwardness, the tentative “are you the one?” feeling that every travel secretly harbors in their search for that place.
I already have my place, but I still like my first encounters with new cities to be has haphazard and rocky as possible. Adventure is best served wet with bad directions.
So as I meandered down Gran Via, the bustling main avenue of Madrid, trying to keep my hand-drawn maps from getting wet and wondering if my luggage was even a little waterproof, I thought to myself, It’s been too long since I’ve been lost in a city.*
Petr Ginz, February 1, 1928 – September 28, 1944
During the Fall of 1942, in the middle of cleaning a typewriter as part of his rounds for work, fourteen year old Petr Ginz received a call from his boss. Come back to the office right away.
Petr responded to the unusual request immediately and trekked across the streets of Prague to the office where his coworkers waited sadly.
“You’ve been put on a transport,” they said. “You should go home.”
All the way back to his house he absorbed the city, the cobblestones and the beautiful buildings, hiding his yellow star before turning the corner onto his street so neighbors wouldn’t know Jews still lived there. He told his mother not to worry. He told his father he’d be fine. That same evening he was put on a train and spent two years in Terezín, the infamous Czech internment camp called “the Ghetto.” And then he was sent to Auschwitz where he died in the gas chambers.