March 3, 2010
I got up early this morning (5:30am) and caught a taxi from my hotel to the main train station, the Atocha, in downtown Madird. My train departure was scheduled for 7:20am. Boarding a train in Spain is quick and easy so long as you have ticket, even though you must have your bags scanned and you must pass through security. The Spanish have made the process extremely efficient. No other place in Europe checks your bags as you board a train. In spite of the security you only need be in the station 15 minutes before your train. It had been raining most of the night so everything is wet and cold, but once inside my carriage everything is warm, clean, and modern. Train travel in Europe is the best way to get from one place to the other. This train will attain speeds exceeding 340 km/h. Yet you hardly feel that you moving! There is nothing in the US like this. We are far behind Europe in many ways, yet we pride ourselves as being advanced. It is just not true.
The Spanish countryside between Madrid and Barcelona is trim and neat. Once outside of Madrid the countryside is snow covered, but as you get towards Barcelona the snow slowly vanishes and the countryside becomes mountainous and even green! What a change. The green color reminds me of Southern California in winter. One thing I note over and over, the countryside of Spain and all of the Europe that I have seen is never plastered with bill boards. The Spanish countryside is clean and prosperous. People in America do not realize just how much their mental peace is affected by the visual pollution created by outdoor bill boards. Such things are terrible.
Train travel always puts me into a contemplative mood. Perhaps it is the rocking sensation, although this high speed train is absolutely motionless. Today I am thinking about the paintings I have been seeing. Madrid is at least as good as Paris and London for paintings. As I travel from gallery to gallery throughout Europe–the Louvre, the Uffizi, the National Galleries, and now the Prado and Reina Sofia and other places in Madrid–I am gradually building up my range of experience in art. What a blessing this is. I sometimes think of myself as the Flaneur to the world. I am of course thinking the French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire who fashioned himself as Le Flaneur de Paris, the city stroller of Paris. My journey through the museums and art galleries of Europe, through the cathedrals and churches of the Western world, and through the streets and cafes of so many major cities is my attempt to study life in all its facets and from as many points of view as possible. Baudelaire could walk the streets of Paris and London of 150 years ago, but in my times I have the luxury of traversing the countries and cities of the whole world. This is a huge blessing.
When I travel I feel absolutely free and happy. Sitting in this train and speeding through the Spanish countryside towards the Mediterranean coast is a dream some true. I am at peace.