Tag Archives: Madrid

A Crippled Angel


A crippled angel taught me a hard and precious lesson this morning.  Carolyn and I were walking toward the Madrid cathedral when a badly crippled beggar, his mind a bit addled by his traumatic life, held out a cup for money.  I only had 20 cents in my pocket and I dropped them into his cup.  He took one look and went ballistic.  He got right in Carolyn’s face and yelled “Por que? Por que tan poco dinero?”    (Why so little money?!!?)  He scared me badly, and my husbandly conditioning prompted me to feel protective toward Carolyn.  My heart closed, and with a stone face I fairly yelled back “Es todo lo que tengo!” (It is all I have).   He continued to shout, attracting a crowd.  Just then a lovely woman of about 60 came up behind us.  “Calmate, probrecito,” (be clam, poor fellow) she said, and dropped some money in his cup.  The young man’s anger was immediately diffused, and Carolyn and I moved on with shaken hearts.

We sat on a bench in the sun for a long time, feeling, and thinking, and talking about what had happened and about our fearful and closed response.  It seemed to me that the young man and the older woman were sacred gifts–he to challenge us, and she to show us the power of caring and empathy.

About three hours later, with a pocket full of change and more open hearts, we passed the young man again.  He held out his cup.  We both dropped in an amount we thought appropriate, and I said “Bendiciones y buena suerte, hermano mio.” (blessings and good luck, my brother).  He looked me in the eye and gave  me the sweetest of smiles: a gift far beyond money.  “Gracias, senor,” he said from a deep place.

Those two angels this morning taught me again the deep truth in this famous poem of Rumi:


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Joaquin Sorolla

Yesterday, Carolyn and I visited the wonderful museum of Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923). He was the most celebrated Spanish painter of his day. You can read about his life and career on Wikipedia, so I will simply share some subjective impressions of our visit.

The painting at the top of this post, of the boys at the beach of Valencia, shows Sorolla’s love of people, and his ability to express the magic of color and of life itself. A commentary on the walls of one of the rooms underscores Sorolla’s “ability to capture a fleeting impression, a momentary reflection, of vital and continuous movement.” This seems to me to be an exact description of haiku poetry, and it brings home again the understanding that all the arts–verbal, plastic, dance, and music–have this in common: that they capture the pathos and the beauty of the universal by an exquisite depiction of particular detail.

Here is another example of his love of people and the swirling colors of water:

imageI apologize for the poor quality of the photo, but this painting was high on a wall.  Still, you can clearly see the amazing movement of the water as the girls wade hand in hand.

Many of his paintings are depictions of women at once beautiful and strong:


He once said that the weariness and patience of the women who fished translated directly into the tenderness and care of motherhood.

Sorolla was also most sympathetic to the hardship and contributions of common laborers, as exemplified by this famous painting hanging in the Prado:

imageIt is entitled Y aun dicen que el pescado es caro: And they still say that fish is expensive.  The young man is clearly dying, hurt in the line of work, demonstrating just how expensive fish really are.  I was particularly struck by the compassion on the faces of the men attending the young man.

Finally, the museum is actually the home in Madrid that Sorolla shared with his beloved wife Clotilde and their three children.  Even if there were no paintings, the house itself is an oasis of tranquility.  Here is Carolyn resting in the garden:


Some of Sorolla’s most impressive work can be seen today in New York City, at the Hispanic Society of America’s building in Manhattan.  There are 14 magnificent murals of the various provinces of Spain on permanent display.   His home here in Madrid, however, is a gem well worth visiting.