So at the end of the last post, Amy and I were dragging kids around the Prado and I could not shut up about how un-crowded it was compared to the Louvre. As a reward/bribe for good behavior, we let the kids pick what to do the following day and they chose a visit to the zoo/aquarium.
While I'm not a huge zoo fan, there are worse ways to spend a day than walking around in the sunshine looking at animals. Despite its relatively small size, the zoo had a pretty wide selection of fauna and the added advantage of letting you get much closer to the critters than you can at either the LA or Santa Barbara zoos (the ones I'm most familiar with). So much so that I thought the hungry-looking brown bears were gonna leap across the narrow divide separating us and have the kids as tapas.
After a quick stop back at the apartment to regroup, we headed out to our evening at the Corral de la Moreria, which bills itself "the most famous Tablao Flamenco in the world". Having been visited by everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Sandra Bullock y Hugh Grant, and mentioned on one of those 1,000-places-to-see-before-you-die-lists, I'm not in a position to argue. Is it fair of me to say then that I was a bit disappointed by it?
Part of the problem was the food. Despite me having called ahead to ask about bringing kids and being assured there were things on the menu for them, there really weren't (they ended up having the most expensive bowl of gazpacho ever, plus a pretty nice dessert). The second thing was my mistake in thinking that because the reservations were at 8 for dinner and a show, that the show would start before 9:30. Consequently, after a day of running around pointing at animals, Alexandre promptly fell asleep at the table just as the show started.
On top of it all - and this is my mistake again - I didn't quite realize what flamenco is. I had in my head a picture of castanets and flouncy skirts and while there was a bit of that, Flamenco is much more about rhythm than actual dance. Consequently, the singers, musicians and clicking heels of the dancers are the thing, not the choreography. I should stress this isn't exactly a criticism - all the performers were first rate and if Alexandre missed most of it, Julia loved it (and was particularly thrilled to get the autograph of one of the stars after the show). It just wasn't quite what I had imagined, would should teach me a little something about cultural expectations.
If the Tablao Flamenco didn't quite live up to the hype in my head, our visit to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza the next day pretty much blew my mind. This is a museum I had heard nada about and it wasn't even initially on our list of things to do. But the kids had seen posters advertising an exhibit about Chagall there and really wanted to go.
I should point out that I wasn't uninterested in Chagall. In fact, he's my favorite artist, which is partly why the kids are familiar with him. But I had actually seen a version of the same exhibit here in Paris, so it wasn't a high priority for me. In any case, the exhibit was beautiful, featuring a wide range of Chagall's work from Russia, France and the US and I find it particularly gratifying that Julia and Alexandre seem to respond to his use of color, his themes and his surrealistic touches as much as I do.
The real surprise, however, was the rest of the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum. Built around the private collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza family, who apparently were/are wealthy industrialists, it is one of the finest small museums I have ever seen. It not only includes a selection of 16th and 17th century Italian, Dutch and Spanish paintings to rival the Prado, but an amazing collection of post-impressionist and fauvist paintings and a some stunning examples of work by Mondrian, Hopper, Freud and Bacon to boot.
In addition to all that, I thought the Picasso and Gris works on display there were arguably better (Guernica aside) than the ones in the state's official modern art museum, the Reina Sofia. My only regret is that we didn't set aside more time to explore this amazing place. (An added bonus - across the street from the Museum was a nice little playground that kept the kids happy while Amy and traded off going around the permanent collection).
Next up: our day trip to Toledo and one last sangria in the sun...