Blogging From Berlin and Madrid, October and November
Just wanted to announce that starting October 1st, I will be spending a month in Berlin followed in November by three weeks in Madrid with a short visit to Barcelona. I plan to keep an on-line journal with some reflections about gay life and literary life in these cities.
Arrived in Berlin on October 1st, an overcast Sunday. This is the view from my apartment window. There is also a terrace with chairs. I am very content to be here after a long journey. Have spent the first two days getting settled. Did some shopping for food and supplies. Convenient shopping in the neighborhood. Have tickets to "Eine Frau, die Weiss was sie will" as well as "Die Schone Helena", both comic operas. Two wonderful dinners out with my sister, Mary, who has also come along to Berlin. She has her own apartment several blocks away. Today, Tuesday, is a German holiday. All the shops are closed. The church bells are now ringing to announce the holiday and celebrations. It is 8am. Berlin is a fantastic city.
Today I strolled through the Berlin Zoo. I also revisited Fasanenstrasse, the street on which I first stayed all those years ago on my first visit to Berlin. At that time it was a divided city. I stayed at the Metropol Pension on Fasanenstrasse. It was run by an eccentric German lady named Frau Bergi as I recall. The pension was frozen in time---Weimar period furniture and decor. My second visit I stayed at another pension on the same street, the Pension Funk which is still there. Another place frozen in time. Wonderful to reminisce. Now I am staying the whole month in Berlin. Staying in a different neighborhood but nonetheless enjoying it very much.
A morning spent perusing the farmer's market right outside my door. Food booths and booths selling flowers and clothing sat on the perimeter of the church. I ran some errands, buying more supplies for the apartment. I bought two magazines requested by my friend Chrystoph back in the States. They are called Tip Berlin and Groove. Mary and I met up and took the bus to the area around the Berlin Zoo again. This time we visited the Helmut Newton Collection, his photography museum. High fashion photography in black and white and color hung on the walls. Many nudes. Very trendy, edgy. Then we took ourselves to KaDeWe, the giant department store. The sixth floor is the gourmet foods floor. We had lunch at a counter and had a nice conversation with a Frenchman and a Berlin native who now lives in San Francisco. She was quite negative about the current state of affairs in the U.S. The lack of gun control, the poor leadership, the violence. Dinner this evening is solo at home. I cooked a wonderful meal courtesy of the microwave. Tomorrow Mary and I have made a date for afternoon tea and a sweet somewhere in the neighborhood. All and all quite a nice day.
Night here.A little rain and wind. Very quiet.Tomorrow I hope to explore the eastern part of the City. When I was last here it had become a vibrant section for artists and writers and the young. It had many aspects of the East Village back in the 80's in NYC. Real Bohemia. I believe it was 2008 when I last visited Berlin. Almost ten years now. I look forward to catching up with my friend Frank Dodge who came here as a musician in the 80s and has made a life, a quite successful one with his chamber group, Spectrum. We are to have dinner this Friday night. Much to talk about. He makes me think of my early days in NYC, when NYC was in default and graffitti was everywhere. Still I met wonderful artists, dancers, writers and musicians through his influence. Over the years since coming to Berlin, he has championed American composers and American musicians such as Robert Helps.
Well to bed now and rest.
Today was rainy, cool and very windy. I traveled east in search of Shakespeare's & Sons, an English bookstore. I found it after a ten minute walk. The shop also held a bagel cafe. The new releases were extensive but I did not find the book I was looking for. Very bohemian atmosphere---East Village feel---as I have written above. Many students. Many small start-up stores, galleries, cafes, etc. Later in early afternoon I joined my sister for lunch at Cafe Lubitsch (named after the film director). It was fantastic. We lingered for over two hours savoring our food and the nice ambience. It is back in the western part of the City near Savigny Platz. Afterwards I went shopping for dinner and bought vodka and tonic for Howard. He arrives in little over a week and a half. Quiet evening after the rain and wind.
Friday night I had dinner with Frank Dodge and his partner Adil. A wonderful meal and lots of catching up. Memories of NYC in Frank's early days as a cellist there. Several bottles of wine later, I made it home. Next morning, today, I got up early and took myself to Motzstrasse, the old gay neighborhood of Berlin. Lots of rainbow flags. I went to Romeo & Romeo, a small, charming cafe. I had my coffee and people-watched. Then back to Nollendorfplatz with its memorial to the homosexuals exterminated by the Nazis during WWII. A simple engraved triangle, but powerful nonetheless. From there I went to the Berlinische Gallerie and saw a retrospective of the art work of Jeanne Mammen. Jeanne was a Berliner who lived in Paris for a time only to return to Berlin during WWI. There she continued to document life in the teens, twenties and grim thirties. Her figurative drawings of the "Golden Twenties" were particularly strong. She also documented the lesbian nightlife in Berlin. After the exhibit I went to the Gemaldergallerie and immersed myself in the 15th, 16th and 17th century masters. The austerity of the religious works showed a sharp contrast with the modernity of Mammen. I enjoyed especially the still life, landscape and interior paintings of the Dutch masters. Now it is back to the apartment for a short rest and then on to the Komische Oper. I am seeing "Eine Frau, die weiss was sie will" (A Woman Who Knows What She Wants). It is by Oscar Straus and is from 1932. Hard to believe a comic opera could have been born out of those dark times.
Spent the morning at Museum Berggruen near Schloss Charlottenburg. The sun has finally come out. The Museum has a small selection of works by Matisse, Cezanne, and an extensive collection of Paul Klee. I bought an English copy of Walter Benjamin's "Berlin Childhood around 1900" at the bookstore. Across the street from the Berggruen the exhibit continues with the Scarf-Gerstanberg Collection at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Dubuffet, Klee, Magritte and a few more modern artists rounded out the visit. A long walk back to the apartment and then a burger at Berlin Burgers around the corner. Berlin Burgers has "the best burgers in Berlin" and I must say the guidebooks were correct for once. Very American vibe in the restaurant. It is small and lively. Then off to the German Opera where I saw the world premier of "L'invisible" by Aribert Reimann. It took as its themes, Death and Mortality. In three acts it portrayed three deaths and the attendant sorrow and human dread surrounding them. It was very powerful and avoided sentimentalism. The staging was amazing. Fascinating projections of shadows depicting the action in some scenes dwarfed the singers on stage---i.e. the shadow of death approaching and overpowering the characters in the opera. An early evening. Planned a weekend trip to Hamburg and Lubeck.
Attempted my laundry this morning. It was my first time confronting a German washing machine. Let me tell you, a daunting task. There are so many options on the dial, so many variables, so much specificity, that I was totally stopped in my tracks. American washers are idiot-proof. You just turn it on to the one setting available and that is it---end of story. An hour later the wash was finished. The dryer proved hopeless---hopelessly energy efficient; not like the American dryer which goes full blast, wastes all the heat it wants, and finishes the job after twenty minutes. Anyway from this mundane chore, I chose to head for Unter Den Linden and the heart of the City. My first visit was to the "Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism." Inaugurated in 2008 it consists of a block of stone with a window behind which plays a film of same-sex couples kissing. Across the street is the controversial "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe." Consisting of 2711 dark grey oblong pillars or stele it spreads across a wide area. Acting like a maze there is definitely a feeling of isolation and loneliness. From the monument I could see the famous Brandenburger Tor or Gate with the Quadriga on top. As I grew closer I could also see the Reichstag, which was burned in 1933, an incident that propelled the Nazis to power. An unsuspecting ex-communist Dutch bricklayer was accused of the arson and executed, although it was probably staged by the Nazis. Heading toward the Reichstag one encounters the "Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism;" a monument to the gypsies who were exterminated by the Nazis. Walking through the Gate, I continued along Unter den Linden and reached Humbolt University, the Staatsoper and Bebelplatz, where in May of 1933 twenty thousand books that conflicted with Nazi ideology were burned. The "empty library", a monument, lies below street level. After finishing my walk I joined Frank for lunch at an Indian restaurant and then came back to read my books. All in all a busy day.
Started my German lessons with a former journalist who was born in Berlin but grew up in Israel. I take my lessons at her apartment on Fasanenstrasse. Everyday I politely review my grammar until she begins to talk up a storm about German politics and social issues. I took Mary to a German doctor in a clinic to evaluate her severe flu symptoms. The clinic was hardly as pristine as the ones in New York. It was housed in an old residential building with a tiny, ancient elevator. The doctor's actual office and examining room was more like someone's study in a house. Very informal looking. Old wood paneling, etc. Mary, however, got excellent care and we went to a pharmacy and filled out her prescriptions. Today, I attended my German lessons and then went to the grave of Marlene Dietrich, my diva. It was a very simple grave, deserted of visitors. The tombstone just says "Marlene," which threw me off first. I was expecting a more extravagant display. There was a nice bed of flowering foliage over the grave and numerous candles had been left, but also, in the Jewish tradition, numerous pebbles on the marker. I found a stone and added mine to the mix. My German teacher tells me Berliners shun the grave. It is mostly foreigners who visit. Even in death, Marlene remains a controversial figure because she deserted the Fatherland. Anyway, it was cool and damp and the leaves had all turned and mostly fallen. The cemetery itself was small, two or three city blocks in a square, but very peaceful. She was a firestorm of talent. So it goes. Bought Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks" as we are going to Lubeck this weekend. Don't know if I shall ever finish it. It is enormously long. Anyway, my sojourn in German Kulture continues.
Visited Lubeck. A really charming city surrounded by rivers and an inlet to the sea. We went to Buddenbrookshaus and saw the Thomas Mann exhibit. Learned a great deal about his family. I had already read a wonderful and tragic bio of Klaus Mann's life (wrote "Mephisto"). One floor tried to recreate the fictional rooms in the house taken from the novel. The house was actually the home of Mann's grandparents. He lived in another section of Lubeck a few blocks away. Went to the Willy Brandt House and the Gunter Grass house as well as the Katherine Church. Much to learn about the politician and the writer and the local religious history. Then went to the Museum Behnhaus and Dragerhaus. There we found a collection of 19th century local artists, a few works by Munch, and much to my delight some of the German Expressionist painters---Nolde and Kirchner my favorites. The weather had lifted and we had a sunny day for a change. The night before we had dinner at "Grenadine," a restaurant I'd highly recommend, located on Wahmstrasse. After two days Mary and I headed back to Berlin. Monday, we walked the Tiergarten from one end to the other and had drinks at an outdoor cafe on Unter den Linden. Then went back to Dussman's bookstore and I bought another German study book. Earlier in the day we had breakfast at the Literaturhaus. I had told my German teacher about Isherwood. She had never heard about him. Neither had Mary! So I bought at the bookstore there, in German, a copy of his "Goodbye to Berlin" for my German teacher and took it right back to her as a gift. She was delighted. Mary bought and English edition of the novel. A wonderful day.
Howard has arrived. Met him at the airport. Foggy weather delayed his flight. But later in the day the sun lifted and after he rested, we went to buy provisions. Then went to a bar for cocktails and returned to our favorite restaurant, Lubitsch,on Bleibtreustrasse. After a full meal walked back to out apartment along Kantstrasse which has become an area for Asian restaurants. Next morning, we went to Museum Island. Again there was a faint mist in the air. The Berliner Dom was in silhouette against a blue sky. Fall leaves on the bridges and walkways. First stop was the Alte Nationalgalerie.The neoclassical building houses a wonderful collection of 19th century German artists. My favorite, besides the Impressionists--Degas, Monet and Renoir---is the Galerie der Romantik. Here I revisited both Karl Friedrich Schinkel's work and my all-time favorite, Caspar David Friedrich. His "Gothic Church on a Rock by the Sea" presenting the most moodily dramatic and powerful landscape. Friedrich's religious approach to landscape is so mysterious and moving. Adolph von Menzel's work is also widely featured in the museum. Menzel is of particular interest as he presented Berlin on the verge of the industrial age. His depictions of court life under Friederick the Great are well-known and admired. Bocklin's "Isle of the Dead" is also on view. A boat eerily approaches a dark island with a wide copse of dark trees, which appear to form a gate or portal. On the boat appears to be a coffin. It is all very intense. After the museum we had lunch outdoors--Die Berliner Currywurst of course---and then it was on to the Pergamonmuseum. The altar is not on view at the moment---it is closed until 2019---but there are the gates of Ishtar and the Market Gate from the town of Miletus now in Turkey. We had the good fortune to visit Miletus several years ago. I wrote a poem about it's partially buried stone lions which guarded the port city. The bay silted in and the town was no longer a thriving city.
Upstairs the Museum for Islamic Art provided an assortment of rugs, wall carvings, pottery and a few miniatures. After leaving there we had to see the 3300-year-old Bust of Queen Nefertiti at the Neues Museum. She has not changed, still as exquisite and haunting. Unveiled in Berlin in 1924 she has remained ever since. Finally we finished our day, by having dinner with Frank Dodge at a Vietnamese restaurant in his neighborhood. A book will be out next fall (in German) about the history of his musical group, Spectrum Concerts. CDs are available from Naxos records. I viewed Adil's photography. Black and white photos showing scenes from the Spectrum auditions held in Kosovo several years ago. The auditions were for young musicians who eventually performed in a group in Berlin, all under Frank's direction. Tomorrow, a visit to the Feuerle Collection, a private art collection housed in a former bunker. More to follow.
Yesterday, we visited The Feuerle Collection. The Feuerle is a private art museum located in Berlin Kreuzberg. It is housed in an old WWII concrete communications bunker. The Collection juxtaposes contemporary artists such as Anish Kapoor with Imperial Chinese furniture and Southeast Asian sculpture. The setting was renovated by John Pawson. It consists of two floors. The art works are each perfectly lit from above in an otherwise dark interior, almost pitch black. This heightens the drama of the pieces. The sculptures consist of ancient Hindu deities to serene Buddhas lost in contemplation. The upstairs houses ancient Imperial chests of drawers, day beds with marble inlay and ornate wooden chairs as well as an assortment of contemporary photography. Emerging afterward into the light of day is a real shock. The interior is so sensual and mysterious, making it difficult to jump on to the U-Bahn for the trip home. From the sublime to the ordinary, we returned to our neighborhood in Charlottenburg and ate burgers at Berlin Burgers, which is written up as the best burger place in Berlin. It did not disappoint. Today it is on to Leipzig, Dresden and perhaps a quick visit to Meissen.
Arrived in Leipzig. Not particularly a pleasing city to the eye when you first arrive, but later as you explore the city center and see the older parts of the city such as St. Thomas' Church where Bach is buried and the Old Town Hall as well as the Market Square, it begins to win you over. There are numerous "passages" as well---indoor commercial arcades---which are quite old. The Bach Museum is a wonderful visit. Very informative about the man and the music. Also the Mendelssohn House with its small museum and displays is a great visit. The other interesting museum was the Stasi Museum, dedicated to exposing the repressive workings of the East German police. Concealed cameras, wigs and disguises, mail and phone monitoring equipment, holding cells, secret records, it is such a sad collection. There is much about the 1989 peaceful revolution, when townspeople from Leipzig took to the streets to protest the regime and defy their oppressors and caused the collapse of the Stasi. From Leipzig we went to Meissen, a small hillside town near Dresden. It's main claim to fame is the Meissen Porcelain Works. It also has charming streets which preserve the medieval feel of Old Germany. From Meissen we went to Dresden and took a long stroll along the Elbe on the Bruhlsche Terrace . We started at the Semper Opera, walked past the Zwinger to the Frauen Kirche, finally ending up at the Albertinum. Dresden was destroyed by fire bombing in 1945. The older buildings that survived (and there are few) are still singed in black. There is an attempt underway to restore some of the exteriors and interiors, though the majority of buildings remain bleak reminders of the terrors of warfare. Our visit quickly ended as we returned to Leipzig. There we went to the "Karli" neighborhood of the city. This is their "East Village" and has many small cafes, restaurants and shops. It is a young area although it appears to have somewhat faded---many storefronts are closed. That evening back to Berlin from Leipzig. Met on the train a lovely German woman who talked politics with us. Mutual feelings of despair about the United States. Anyway, we did talk all things Berlin as well and received some tips for "things to do." Today walked in Prenzlauer Berg and went to Pasternak for lunch. Earlier we had visited the old Jewish synagogue on Oranienburgerstrasse. We had seen it some years ago, but each time, it still moves us greatly---its enduring history even after terrible tragedy.
On Wednesday we traveled north of the city to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. A long journey on the U-Bahn followed by a short bus ride to the Museum and camp site. Incredibly moving visit. Established in 1936 the Nazi camp was a prototype for other camps. The camp started out as Oranienburg Concentration Camp situated in an old brewery in the center of the town. Here personal and political feuds were revenged by the Nazis. Artists, dissidents, communists, socialists, were persecuted. Then the camp was moved to the outskirts of the city. Here a large perimeter wall with a high-voltage fence confined nearly 204,000 prisoners. The watchtower and camp entrance had the ominous sign "Albeit macht frei". Here, the homosexual prisoners wore their pink triangles and were forced to work in the clay pits. We saw a uniform with the pink triangle sewn on it. There was much tragedy. Many groups were persecuted. Later the Russians used it as a camp of their own. An exhibit in the museum shows the rise of the Nazis and Nazi ideology. It seems unfathomable how such intolerance and ignorance could overtake such a cultured and intelligent society. The sheer level of immorality and cruelty is stunning. Walking the camp grounds under gray skies with the wind blowing from the north, one smells a certain damp earthiness in the air,an odor, which is strange---almost like the smell of fear itself. It still lingers here. The gallows where executions took place, the crematoriums, the medical clinic where experimentation occurred, the mass graves; it is a haunted place. In 1941 alone, ten thousand Soviet POWs were systematically executed, and at the end of the war, the day before the Allies arrived, death marches took place in which the camp prisoners were evacuated and lead north on a march which killed thousands---a harrowing walk through the cold and damp, sleeping at night in the open, exposed to all the elements---shot for collapsing at the side of the road. I took no pictures. One hardly feels compelled, given the remote site and its lonely atmosphere; although, local townspeople lived a few yards away from the camp walls and yet still denied their knowledge of what was going on.
Took a boat ride on the Spree. Toured the old Imperial Prussian sights. The Cathedral, the former Palace, the Nicholas Quarter, Museum Island, all presented a different view from the boat deck. Then we passed the Reichstag and finally the more modern government quarters. After the boat ride we visited the German Historical Museum. That museum housed an extensive collection of artifacts from the birth of the country to the growth of the empire to through World War I, the Weimar Republic, the rise of Hitler and the divided country. The most compelling exhibits were those showing cultural views of the Weimar years and artifacts of propaganda and Nazi ideology. The audio guide in English was a great help. The next day Howard and I returned to the Jewish Museum after several years. It offers a complete history of the Jews in Germany and, of course, deals with the Holocaust. Of course Daniel Libeskind designed this extraordinary building. A small empty room, or Holocaust Tower, presents a void, an eerie space which is only lit by an opening at the top of the building and serves as a reminder of the isolation the victims endured and their erasure from history. Again, after, we returned to KaDeWe and explored its various floors. Then in the evening a visit to the Boros Collection of art. This is housed in a former Nazi bunker. It was a shelter during the bombing of Berlin. Then in the 80s and 90s it was an after-hours club and finally today it houses and extensive collection of contemporary art amassed by the Boros family, who live on its top level. The tour in English ran an hour and a half. The collection has sought out young artists only and many who represent the post-internet era. Everything from installations, sculptural pieces, conceptual pieces, video art, back to pop art. Berlin is a dynamic city with a great art scene.
This weekend visited with my friends Benno and Ronnie who live in Potsdam. We tried to visit Bablesberg Film Park as I had read one could visit the old movie sets from the twenties, but I was misinformed. We did not buy tickets in the end, and turned around and went to visit the Cecilienhof Palace where we saw the conference room where Truman, Stalin and Churchill met to discuss the fate of Germany after its defeat. It was there that the idea of a divided Germany into sectors was hatched. Also Germany was demilitarized, disarmed and recast as a democracy. Later in the conference after Churchill's defeat, Clement Attlee returned in his place at the table. After Cecilienhof we took a walk in the park surrounding the palace. Later we drove to the Neues Palais, constructed at the orders of King Frederick to mark the end of the Seven Years' War. What a stunning piece of architecture. Hundreds of statues adorn its cornices and roof and the elegant rooms are lavishly furnished and decorated. It stands in the Park Sanssouci. Benno's dog had a great time of it as well, running free through the park. Finally we returned to Berlin, not before passing the Hollandisches Viertel or Dutch Quarter where Dutch builders were put up after being invited by Fredrich Wilhelm I to work in Potsdam and create its magnificent residences. Sunday, Howard and I had brunch at Cafe Einstein and after that we went to Romeo & Romeo on Motzstrasse for a coffee in the gay establishment. Rainbow flags were in abundance and the place proved to be a major hang-out. We finished off the evening by going to the Komische Oper to hear "Die Schoner Helene" by Offenbach. Again, the staging proved how Germany is keeping alive the traditions of comedia del arte. Also, the cabaret traditions of the Weimar Years.
With a farewell to Berlin after one more visit to KaDeWe and dinner at Good Friends, a Chinese restaurant on Kantstrasse, we left for Spain. Arrived in Madrid to overcast skies. After settling in to our hotel (Hotel Preciados on Preciados 37) we walked to Plaza Mayor and took in the busy square at night. It reminded us of Place des Vosges in Paris. A square surrounded by stately mansions with a broad colonnade. Dinner was in a side street. The following day we walked to the Prado and took in the many historical paintings and masterworks. It was a magnificently sunny day as we strolled the avenues afterwards. That night we had dinner at the La Gastro Croqueteria de Chema in the gay Chueca section of the City. The next morning Howard and I discovered a bakery cafe off of Puerta del Sol called La Mallorquina which was wonderful for a morning bite. We had a haircut on Calle Preciados and bought some items at the Pharmacia. Later in the day Howard and I took the Metro to Parque del Retiro, the grand central park of Madrid. We watched boaters on the lake and sat outdoors in a cafe where I could write. Next day, visited the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. It has the most extensive permanent collection of painting I have ever seen. A fantastic array of historical periods, styles, and movements. Next we saw their temporary exhibition on Toulouse Lautrec and Picasso---Lautrec's influence on Picasso. Fascinating the connection between the two artists. At a travel agent we arranged a trip the following day to Avila and Segovia. There was so much to see in the two cities. The ancient walled city of Avila was home to Saint Theresa. The fortifications around the narrow streets is impressive from a distance and close-up. We saw many religious relics including a piece of the saint's finger. Segovia had its famous aqueduct and palace. That evening it was back to Madrid by bus where we discovered the most wonderful Italian restaurant--Trattoria Malatesta. We were so pleased with the guided tour we took to Avila and Segovia we arranged a half-day trip to Escorial and to the Valley of the Fallen. Escorial Monastery's vast library and the royal crypts were most impressive. The royal apartments and Basilica were also wonderful. In the Valley of the Fallen is Franco's grave. Franco was the dictator of Spain throughout the 40s, 50s, 60s, until his death in 1975. It was not a particularly worthy stop, given Franco's fascist government and authoritarian rule.One felt rather compromised viewing the enormous Basilica surrounding his grave. Some Spaniards still worship the man. Back to Madrid and we ate Chinese. Tomorrow Mary sets off for a tour of her own of Cordoba, Sevillia, and Grenada. All in all a very busy and rewarding week in Spain. Two more weeks to go.
Now back in NYC but wanted to finish out the Spanish trip. Howard and I decided to make a two night visit to Valencia on the coast. We took the high speed train from Madrid. We stayed on the Plaza de la Reina in the heart of the Old Town. The plaza is directly adjacent to the cathedral. After arriving we explored the Central Market, a covered market with stalls selling ham, chicken, cheese, pastries, fruits---anything one can imagine. We also took a taxi to the beach and strolled the promenade along the ocean. There were many outdoor restaurants serving paella. We found a bar and had cocktails while soaking up the Mediterranean vibe. Next day we walked with a private guide around the Old City taking in the Serranos Tower and Gate in the old Christian fortifications. We also saw the Virgin Square which was once the site of the ancient Roman forum. From there we visited the National Ceramics Museum housed in a palazzo from the 15th C. We also saw the Silk Market which was housed in a gothic building known as the Lonja. After two nights it was back to Madrid where we met my sister back from Cordoba, Seville, Granada and Toledo. Together, the three of us packed up our things not before having a cocktail at the Museo Chicote Bar on the Gran Via. The bar was a hotspot for American writers and film stars. The next day we left for San Sebastian in the Basque country. San Sebastian is a beautiful city on the North Atlantic. It was charming. We went to many of its restaurants and found a watering hole we rather liked. It was called Dioni's. John Travolta supposedly visited the bar as well as Mel Gibson. It was a gay-friendly place with music videos blaring on the TV screens. We also went to the San Telmo Museum with its exhibit on the early history of the region and of Basque culture. From San Sebastian we took a day trip to Bilboa and went to the Guggenheim Museum. Of course, the architectural design by Frank Gehry is the main attraction. There was a rather interesting exhibit of Hockney portraits. While in Bilboa we also managed to visit the Museum of Fine Arts. This was spectacular for its holdings of paintings from the medieval period to the late 20th century. After returning to San Sebastian on a rather treacherous bus ride---driver was in a hurry as he drove us up and down the mountainsides--we went to Hondarribia, a small town to the east of San Sebastian near the airport. Here we indulged in pintxos or tapas and a lot of wine in the middle of the afternoon. The old city with its winding medieval streets and cathedral was a rare find. Soon it was back to Madrid via the train. Failed to mention in Madrid we took in the Reina Sofia art museum with its contemporary art including the famous "Guernica" by Picasso as well as the Miro Foundation. There was a special exhibit of Belle Epoque paintings by the Spanish artist Zuloaga. Then we took in an exhibit in the same building of "Toulouse Lautrec and Picasso" and the influences and similarities between their art (the two artists were good friends). Finally the trip was over and we returned to NYC, back to an uncertain future in a very divided country.