Non incautus futuri

A Washington & Lee junior and Marine Officer Candidate in Spain

Archive for August 2011

Lee Eats Crow

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Every time I go home, it seems my dad and I are always having this conversation:

DAD: You really ought to take an art history class, you know. Broaden your horizons blah blah blah.

LEE: Ha, yeah right. I’ve seen the homework those guys have. My buddy took that class, and he had to memorize like a thousand slides a night.* Plus last time I took a class to “broaden my horizons,” it was music appreciation and I did worse than I’ve ever done in any class, ever.

* I have a tendency to exaggerate in arguments.                                                                                                                                                                     

Well, a gentleman is graceful in defeat, so yes, Dad — I concede. I should have taken art history, and I resolve to take it once I get back to the United States. This sudden change of heart was prompted by my visit to the Prado today in Madrid.

The Velázquez Entrance

The Jerónimos Entrance

The Prado is hands down the coolest museum I’ve ever been to, with the notable exception of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, VA. This is not a fair comparison, because they are two totally different museums. At the Prado you walk around and look at art. At the NMMC, you get to put on an 80-lb pack and walk through chilled rooms that simulate the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. This, and many other such exhibits, have the ultimate effect of making you hyper-motivated. How is the Prado supposed to compete with that? I will revise my earlier statement: the Prado is hands down the coolest art museum I’ve ever been to.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia — the other big art museums in Madrid — have some cool exhibits. The Thyssen-Bornemisza has a bit of everything, and the Reina Sofia has an impressive array of more modern art fare. But the Prado is all about the old stuff, and the old stuff is my favorite. The Prado features European art from the 12th century to the early 20th century, but with a special focus on Spanish paintings. All the masters are represented here: El Greco, Titian, Francisco Goya, Diego Velásquez, Hieronymus Bosch, and many, many more.

In fact, there are so many incredible paintings here that the place is a little overwhelming. I did the first floor in two hours before realizing how tired/ravenous I was. This was bad, because I still had another two floors to go and I really didn’t want to leave. So I ate the most overpriced lunch of all time at the museum cafeteria, and pressed on.

In fairness, it was delicious. Pictured: Rioja wine, a fish empanada, a roll, and a bottle of water. Cost about 13 Euros, or $18.

The thing about seeing all this incredible art was that I realized how little I actually know about art history. I don’t know anything about the techniques these great artists employed, I know precious little about the historical/biographical context of their work, and my knowledge of the Bible, ancient mythology, and the canon of saints is barely sufficient to grasp the general themes of the artists’ works. Who is this Saint Jerome I keep seeing? What is the fascination with the Immaculate Conception, or with the lance that pierced Jesus’ side? What is naturalism?

I’ve got a few tidbits stored away in the brain-box that I’ve picked up from books and various history classes, but it is grossly insufficient. For example, I took a class on Spanish Civilization and Culture, which briefly touched on Francisco Goya’s work. From that class, I learned that Goya suffered an illness during Napoleon’s invasion of Spain that robbed him of his hearing. The war, coupled with his infirmity, prompted an extraordinarily dark turn in Goya’s painting. As a result, Goya produced the “Black Paintings” and later, “The Disasters of War.” This is useful stuff to know! But Goya is the exception, not the rule, because I know absolutely nothing about Sorolla, or Bosch, or Titian, or really 95 percent of the famous Western artists. Es una lástima, a real shame.

So yeah, this was just a long-winded way of saying that I’ll be taking Art History pretty soon.

On the bright side, once I become appreciate of and knowledgeable about art, I will only have to learn how to cook in order to become irresistible to women. Just kidding.

I'm already irresistible to women. Who could say no to those glasses?

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Written by Lee

August 30, 2011 at 13:58

Posted in Spain

Madrid

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I’m in Madrid! In twenty years, I’ve been fortunate to have seen some pretty cool cities: New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Quebec, Seoul, Mexico City, San Juan…but this week has just put Madrid at the top of the list. Madrid is hands-down the nicest city I have ever been to.

This is a BANK. Why don't banks in Lexington look like this?

In fairness, I’m in the most touristy part of the city: el centro, or “downtown.” So my view of Madrid is probably somewhat idealized. I’m like the tourist who has been to Manhattan, but not Staten Island, or perhaps a tourist who has seen Washington’s Mall, but not Pentagon City.

Pentagon City: Welcome to paradise.

Still, despite my limited perspective, I love Madrid. This city is beautiful. Even aside from all the historical buildings and the winding, cobbled streets, there’s something about the atmosphere here. The city feels alive. Everywhere you go, there are fruit stands and flower vendors. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of bars and cafés with terrazas (outdoor seating).

Some of the things I’ve done:

– Plaza de Cibeles: This is the place where mobs form after a Real Madrid victory. Cool fountain, right?

– Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Awesome art museum. It’s got a little bit of everything, from 16th century Dutch paintings to 1950s pop art. My favorite piece was Picasso’s “La comida frugal.”

– Parque de Buen Retiros: Picture Central Park, but a thousand times cooler. There are fountains, tree-lined avenues, gardens, candy vendors, portrait artists, and aggressive flower vendors everywhere. Actually, one of the aforementioned flower vendors called me “cara de loco” (crazy-face) after I politely declined to buy a flower from her. But I suppose that’s pretty mild invective for street vendors.

– Plaza de la Independencia: Huge, flower-lined arch dedicated to King Charles III.

– Librerías de Cuesta de Moyano: Nestled right behind the Prado is a side street, Cuesta de Moyano. The whole street is lined with used book vendors, sort of like the booksellers along the Seine in Paris. You can buy 2 books for 1 euro! I bought a play by Jacinto Benavente.

Thus far the only disappointment with Madrid is my timing…apparently like half the city leaves for June and August, so there are a bunch of restaurants closed. Also, there are renovations ongoing on two of the museums I wanted to see (el Museo Naval y el Museo Arqueológico Nacional). Bummer.

Well, this post has gotten ridiculously long, so I’m going to end it here and make another Madrid post at the end of this week. ¡Hasta luego!

Written by Lee

August 28, 2011 at 14:52

Posted in Spain

Travel: Part I

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I’m in Madrid! This place is awesome, but it deserves its own post. I’ll write about Madrid later.

Getting here was something of an odyssey. I had an inauspicious start when I managed to leave my passport at home on the way to the airport. Then there was the issue of the malfunctioning check-in kiosks: nobody could get their boarding passes, so everyone had to get on a long line staffed by a loquacious ticket agent. By the time I had checked my bag and received my boarding passes, it was 1:49 PM. My flight was boarding at 2. I said a hasty goodbye to my parents and moved to security.

During the screening, the TSA pulled me aside for a “random inspection.” No surprise, I guess. I’m a young male (dangerous looking, I might add…) traveling alone on an international flight. But by the time I got through the body imaging machine, it was 1:58. I looked down at my ticket and saw that my gate was at the far end of the terminal. There was no choice. I stuffed my laptop into my bag, crammed my feet into my shoes, grabbed my belt, passport, and boarding pass, and started to run.

Running with unsecured pants is not a good idea. With my belt still in my hand, gravity inevitably took its hold on my jeans. I could feel them beginning their downward slide as I sprinted down the terminal. My shoes weren’t really on properly — my heel stuck out of one of them, and both pairs of laces were untied. I was about to be a pant-less, shoeless traveler. Worse yet, I was about to miss a $1200 nonrefundable flight. But I made it with my dignity only slightly compromised. I boarded my flight, put my belt and shoes on, and settled down for the short connecting flight to Charlotte.

If the passport fiasco and the TSA were my personal Scylla, then the flight to Charlotte was my own little Charybdis. I had an aisle seat, right next to a man who was easily three hundred pounds. Now, some travelers push the limits of personal space. I admit it: sometimes my elbows make incursions into the neighboring armrests. But this fellow wasn’t merely raiding my personal space: he was invading it and pillaging it for good measure. This man was for air travel what Attila the Hun was for Europe. His knees, arms, and stomach all protruded over the borders of his own seat and occupied my seat. I seethed for the whole flight.

Thankfully, the flight from Charlotte to Madrid wasn’t bad at all. I slept for a good part of it, and I befriended a Spanish couple returning from vacation on the West Coast. Approximately eight hours after stepping onto the plane, I was in Madrid.

Written by Lee

August 26, 2011 at 16:47

Posted in Spain

Here we go

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Well, I’m leaving for the airport in approximately eighteen hours. In a somewhat lackluster display of procrastination and poor planning, I didn’t start packing until today. Not surprisingly, I had a hectic day. US Airways made things worse, since you can only check one bag that weighs less than 50 pounds. One bag for four months abroad? Roger that, US Airways. Thanks.

This is probably more than 50 lbs.

I’ve heard that Spaniards dress up a lot more than Americans, so I’m basically counting on wearing dark jeans, khakis, and collared shirts just about all the time. I didn’t even bring any casual shorts — just athletic shorts for working out. I am sure that I will regret this decision right around the time I’m slogging around in Madrid’s sweltering heat.

Anyway, I’m thinking that I’ll actually be blogging pretty regularly. My folks are empty-nesters now, and they’ve demanded regular updates. I’ll do my best, Mom.

The plan for this week: Madrid and Toledo. I’ll be hitting a LOT of museums, including the Reina Sofía, la Academia de Bellas Artes, the Naval Museum, and of course the Prado. And I plan to do a lot of walking, trying to get a feel for the different barrios of Madrid: Malasaña, Sol, Puerta, Lavapiés, and the others. Unfortunately I’ll be doing this little Madrid excursion on my own, since the timing didn’t really work out to get a travel buddy. But there will be plenty to do, and it’s only going to be a week before I’m in Alicante starting my program.

Wish me luck in Spain! Un abrazo fuerte – Lee.

Written by Lee

August 24, 2011 at 17:47

Posted in Spain

Sunday Night Motivation

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This post is completely unrelated to Spain, but whatever. This post is about Private First Class Oscar Austin.

PFC Oscar Austin

In 1969, Oscar Austin was 20 years old. He was my age — just another young Marine serving with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. On February 23, Austin’s unit came under attack by a large force of North Vietnamese sappers. The observation post he was manning was under heavy fire from enemy small arms and explosives. During the intense firefight, PFC Austin saw another Marine fall injured. The man was unconscious; his body was dangerously exposed out in the open.

Austin jumped out of his fighting hole (Because “Foxes dig holes to hide in; Marines dig holes to kill the enemy from!”), abandoning his relatively covered position in order to rescue his fallen buddy. As he ran, he saw an enemy grenade fall in range of the wounded Marine. Without hestitating, Private First Class Austin threw himself between a live grenade and a wounded Marine. He was badly wounded, but ignored his injuries and focused his attention on the other Marine. It was then that he saw an NVA soldier aiming a rifle at his unconscious buddy. Once again, Austin threw himself between enemy fire and the incapacitated Marine. But this time, he did not survive. His Medal of Honor citation concludes simply: “He gave his life gallantly for his country.”

Marines like Oscar Austin are not uncommon. Marines are willing to fight and die for the Marine on their left and the Marine on their right. Marines know that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend.”

I still have to make it through one more summer in the hills of Quantico, but my motivation comes from stories like these. I know it will be a distinct honor to share the company of men like this. It will be a great privilege to share the company of United States Marines.

Written by Lee

August 1, 2011 at 01:39

Posted in Marine Corps