Gypsies: the nomads of the world that brought with them a unique, blended culture which is something all its own. Middleburg Academy is a culture all its own, but within it we have our own gitanos, our own gypsies which have taken the world by storm. Though it was our final day in Spain’s capital, yet we did not let that discourage us. Instead, we were energized to see and do all we could before we, much like the beautiful gypsies, moved with the wind to our next home.
Our day’s introduction began at one of Spain’s cultural monuments, the Plaza de los Torros, the principal bull fighting stadium in Madrid (and the third largest bull fighting stadium in the world). Here the students immediately noticed the dramatic architecture of Arab inspiration called neo-mosarabe, or Neo-mozarab, which was a Christian turn of the century interpretation of elements of Arabic architecture. The incredible painted tiles and horseshoe shaped arches were spectacular on such a grand scale.
In contrast, we then continued on to visit the Monument of Miguel de Cervantes, which recreated the whimsical images of caballero and loyal squire, Don Quijoe de la Mancha and Sancho Panza. We could also see here the true love of Don Quijote (Alonso Quijano), “Dulcinea de Toboso” in her true form as Aldonza Lorenzo and in her genteel persona as created by the imagination of Quijote.
Our morning was concluded with the crown jewel of Spain, the Palacio Real-the Royal Palace. With over 3,000 rooms we were able to see the opulence of the Royal Families of Spain’s history, which was incredibly influenced by other royalty of Europe. Student were able to see the crown jewels of Spain, as well as the Golden Fleece-the highest royal honor bestowed by the king of Spain to his subjects. It was here at the Royal Palace, however where students were introduced to the contemporary politics of the Peninsula and how they are changing today. Our guides expressed the critical point in which the country currently finds itself, and students were able to draw parallels from the past they were witnessing, to the life on the streets of the nation’s capital that they were experiencing.
Being in the United States, it can be difficult at times for the students to truly understand the point in which the world is at this critical time in history. Thus, these discussions and these experiences spawned interesting conversations about world politics and what needed to happen in order to create a more successful global future. With these thoughts in mind, the students hit the streets of Madrid to explore their curiosities and see first hand what makes this part of the world tick. They came back with incredible stories of visiting art museums, walking through the beautiful Retiro Park and paddling there in the lake at the Monument for Alfonso XII. Others went shopping and incorporated Spanish clothing, art, jewelry, and shoes into their own styles (which many then fashioned later in the evening at dinner). It was during this time that everyone found their own little piece of Madrid, a special memory they they would take with them as we moved on.
In keeping with our medieval theme, we then concluded the evening with a dinner worthy of any fine lady or gentleman in the caves under the city from the early centuries of Spain. Here we enjoyed a traditional tapas dinner at which we celebrated the birthday of one of our travelers, Alex Hess, with the traditional Spanish dessert of churros and chocolate. An award-winning medieval performance group “La Tuna” performed many favorites, and we even had a person or two dancing to both classics and some modern favorites.
Our evening came to a close with the breathtaking performances inspired by true gipsy culture of Andalucia, Spain: the flamenco. An incredible combination of Jewish, Christian, and Arabic culture, the flamenco is truly Spain and truly nomadic, taking with it pieces of different cultures as it developed and traveled, eventually settling in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. It was through their interpretations of this music and dance that they found their duende: their uncontrollable passion in the moment of performance that lead them to create a beauty that can not again be replicated. Each show its own. Each experience different. That’s what it is to be a nomad-to create oneself through the pieces we find and take with us along the way. To live a life of moments that cannot be recreated. To start each day and leave each day with duende as we uncover our life’s path.