This was oh my god so unplanned that I kept improvising throughout the whole day! It all started because a Spanish publisher decided to translate a non-fiction book I’ve loved for ages – Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein. The publisher flew the author in for interviews, and I guess I was disappointed that no signing event was organised. I asked the author once and the publisher another time, then shrugged it off when I got no answer. There were some interviews scheduled for him, and a book fair coming up. I guessed it was just not meant to be, but I did feel disappointed.
And then, on the 7th, Mr Adelstein shot me a message that he would sign my book if I could go to Madrid and meet him at one of his breaks. As you can imagine I just… said yes (I could not meet him that very same evening because of travel times, but I could make it on the 8th. And there I went).
It was the first time taking the train since the whole pandemic thing (hell, I had not even been on a train since Paris 2020), and a weekday so I chose the times carefully to hopefully get close to as few people as possible – it worked, as both rides nobody sat next to me.
I arrived in Madrid and transferred easily, then got out at a new station in the area of Gran Vía. The Tokyo Vice book came out that day, so I wanted to go to a big book store that would hopefully have it already. My first stop, FNAC, failed miserably, so I went to La Casa del Libro, where they told me I would find the book in a completely different section where I actually did. But at least I had it in my hands, even if I had apparently not used my credit card for so long, I got the right PIN for the wrong card (≧▽≦).
After I had the book in Spanish – I’ve owned a first edition copy in English since 2010 – I had thought that I should get a small detail for the author as he was making time for me. As he had to continue on his travelling, I decided to do something small and “consumable”, so I came up with buying some typical Madrid candy – violet sweets from La Violeta. I’d never been inside the shop, but it’s an adorable little place dating back to 1915.
It was still early for my appointment at 14:00, so I decided to head towards a square that hosts an Egyptian temple of all things. On the way I made a stop at a Starbucks for a Vanilla Frappucino, I figured out that the amount of calories would get me going and I would not have to eat until I was back – looking back it was a weird thing, but it made sense in my head at the time. I strolled around the park next to the palace Palacio Real.
The way to the temple was completely blocked off due to construction, so I decided to backtrack. I walked up the great avenue in the middle of the city Gran Vía. As I walked around, minding my business and listening to music, I kept remembering a comic by Sarah Sanders, in which she makes fun of how people won’t leave you alone when you’re wearing headphones and, well, minding your own business.
I reached the square with the fountain to the goddess Cybele Fuente de la Cibeles and the related Palace. The fountain dates back to the 18th century, when king Carlos III revamped a lot of Madrid trying to make it more beautiful and similar to other European capitals.
Carlos III is also responsible for the design of the modern version of one of the former wall gates, called the gate to Alcalá, the nearby town, Puerta de Alcalá. This area was declared Unesco World Heritage Site in summer 2021 as Paisaje de la Luz, so Madrid was in a celebratory mood.
I headed into the park Parque del Retiro, which is also included in the Heritage declaration. The park was initially built in the first half of the 17th century, as part of the royal recreational areas. Carlos III opened it up as public park a hundred years later. Aside from the obvious green areas, the park features fountains, palaces and sculptures. I walked past some of them. First I came across the fountain “of the turtles” Fuente de los Galápagos.
There is also a large pond, aptly called the big pond Estanque Grande del Retiro populated by carps, to whose side stands the monument to Alfonso XII – Monumento a Alfonso XII.
Nearby the pond stands the fountain called the artichoke fountain, Fuente de la alcachofa.
I walked to the fountain that depicts the fall of Lucifer from Heaven, Fuente del Ángel Caído. The fountain itself was built in order to exhibit the sculpture by Ricardo Bellve, who originally created it in plaster. The figure would then be cast in iron for the World Exhibit of 1878 in Paris, and eventually placed in the Retiro.
I strolled back towards one of my favourite points in the park, but that’s because I like iron-and-glass architecture – a little building called Palacio de Cristal, which has a small pond around.
Finally I headed over the little café where I had arranged to meet with Mr Adelstein. He arrived shortly after. He signed my book, but truth be told, I had also brought my first-edition copy, which happens to be full of post-its from the first time I read it. He was happy to sign that one too, and to my eternal mortification… he went over all the notes. I almost died right then and there. We chatted for a little, I gave him the violet candy and he had some umeboshi sweets for me too. I babbled that I was very happy that he had made some time for me, and he told me “but you were so polite on twitter and the publisher said no signatures!” and I kind of died again.
In the end, our meeting was only 15 minutes, but I have not felt so happy in a very long time – that he specifically took time felt amazing. We took pictures and even had a safe mask-hug. Afterwards I headed towards the nearest train station so I could be on my way before the afternoon rush came through, so that was it for the day.
Walking distance: 12.39 km