Postcard from Madrid, Spain: Paradise found in parks

Better to reign in Hell,

Than to serve in Heaven

Lucifer in John Milton’s Paradise Lost

There he is, the fallen angel himself, painfully ensnared atop a beautiful fountain, guarded by gargoyles, in the heart of Madrid’s Retiro Park. John Milton’s Paradise Lost inspired sculptor Ricardo Bellver to create a monumental depiction of the devil in 1877. Both widely acclaimed and highly controversial, the statue is regarded as the only piece of major public art dedicated to the devil.

Anyone bedeviled by the artwork can easily avoid it, as Retiro Park is huge and is only one of many found in the capital city. Madrid has more parkland in its center than any other major European city, and Madrilenos take full advantage of them any time they are free.

These photos are from Retiro Park and the Jardin Botanico next to the Prado.

Totally swooned for the handsome tuxedoed birds. Exotic in my mind, but considered nuisances by many – common magpies. As with the storks earlier in our trip, never recalled setting eyes on them before, which might be lucky as a multitude of legends portray magpies as harbingers – or at least a single magpie – of ill will.

With his theft of glittering objects, the magpie envisioned by Gioachino Rossini in the plot of an 1815 opera almost caused an innocent maid to swing from the gallows. And the magpie’s reputation surely was not enhanced by the inclusion of the overture to signify impending over-the-top violence by Stanley Kubrick in his 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange.

Coming home to roost to celebrate San Jacinto Day?



Thence up he flew, and on the Tree of Life,
The middle Tree and highest there that grew, 
Sat like a Cormorant; yet not true Life
Thereby regaind, but sat devising Death
To them who liv’d….

Paradise Lost, John Milton

Satan disguised as a cormorant to spy on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden seems apt to me.


USDA photo

The gloomy-looking double-crested cormorants always spook me. They love to pose on the chains by the dam by the marina, stretching their pterodactyl-type wings as though offering to lift the chains for the barges to cruise right under, dramatically plunging to the level below.

I feel a little bit better about this display now that I know they have no oil glands to repel water; they have to spread their wings to dry out their water-logged feathers. They can’t help it.

But cormorants pop up suddenly from underwater, seemingly out of nowhere, as you walk along the river’s banks. Like Lola Fandango swimming in the tank in Where the Boys Are, these expert fishermen can hold their breath as they swim underwater for a long time. More than a minute.

Even one of river’s cormorants can give me the willies. That’s why this Hitchcock-like gathering of the birds on the Mission Reach seemed particularly ominous the other morning. For birds added to the list of those protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the 1970s, this had to represent some kind of major powwow. Fortunately, their eyes focused toward downtown, the water buzzards let us pass by them unharmed.

What could the convention of cormorants portend? The Irish part of me heaved a sigh of relief – at least the sea crows were not perched atop a church steeple.

Some cultures consider cormorants noble, but, while I’m trying to regard the glass as half-full, I can’t sell myself on that one.

Fishermen regard their sighting as good luck; the fish they seek should be found nearby. One plus for the cormorant.

According to the USDA, greedy cormorants keep fish from overpopulating the river. They actually are an environmental indicator species, meaning the environment of the Mission Reach is healthy. So our cormorants are bearers of good news. Chalk up one more for the cormorant, plus one for the work of the San Antonio River Authority.

In old Norwegian legends, a trio of cormorants bear messages or warnings from the dead.*

But we encountered a whole army of them ready to invade downtown. There were maybe 100 of them. Maybe even more than 200 (Okay, I’m not sure how many. But we definitely were outnumbered.).

But good ol’ Cliff helped me figure this out. Norwegians also believed the dead used the cormorant guise another way as well – so they could fly home for a visit.

the spirits of defenders of the Alamo?

the noble spirits of defenders of the Alamo?

So, based on my extensive research, my interpretation of the meaning of the gathered army follows.

Obviously, those cormorants were the defenders of the Alamo, rising up to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the Mexican Army at San Jacinto in 1836.

What do you think of that brilliant idea, my friend, Phil Collins?

Fiesta San Antonio must be their favorite holiday for rising from the grave. Betcha they come back next year.

*I have to stop right here and make a confession to the spirit of Mrs. Masterson. Some of these concepts came from But I promise. I never opened one of those guides once in your class in high school. Not for Milton. Not even when Moby Dick threatened to swallow all time for social life. Plus, I knew you could smell a CliffsNotes’ idea in the answer to a discussion question before the ink dried. Toward the end of the book, though, I did start reading only every fifth chapter…. That was still a whale of a lot of pages.

Twitteral translations: Does a rose in a tweet smell as sweet?

@OedipusGothplex 2bornt2b? Can one tweet beyond the mental coil?

Tweet based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as translated in Twitterature

All that time wasted in high school. Struggling through the purgatory of Milton’s Paradise Lost. And those Shakespeare plays, one after another. All those sexual innuendos eighth graders would love if they were not penned in an obscure archaic tongue.

Top those off with Melville’s Moby Dick. Actually, I was pretty impressed with Melville. In fact, he was such a good writer, he even managed to make whale hunting fascinating. But, he did go on and on. And on and on. Completion would have interfered with my telephone time, of utmost importance at that stage in life. Midway through I was desperate. I finally invoked the every-fifth-chapter approach. Amazingly, employing this arbitrary and brutal form of editing allowed me to follow the plot enough to regurgitate meaty, quasi-intelligent answers to Mrs. Masterson’s dreadfully detail-demanding discussion questions.

Why, oh why, wasn’t Twitterature available then? So concise, condensed to a point no slicing-and-dicing editor at Readers’s Digest could have imagined. Written in language high school students can comprehend.

cards@AliceInTheSkyWithDiamonds This land is terrorized by the Queen of Hearts. She’s a card. Wouldn’t it be funny if I just destroyed her army by shuffling them?

Tweet based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as translated in Twitterature

For the old-fashioned, tweets come across as texts on your cellphones. Each tweet an author chirps – including the identifying “from” name as in @OediupusGothplex – cannot contain more than 140 characters. And that’s counting punctuation and spaces. This extreme brevity means they can be scrolled through rapidly, unlike the unabridged Moby Dick.

@EarlyBloomer69 All his intello friends are coming over all the time. Borrrrrring. All they do is talk about books.

Tweet based on D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover as translated in Twitterature

Imagine, each assigned tome compressed into a mere 20 tweets or less. The book’s editor at Viking/Penguin, Will Hammond wrote:

Say the word Twitter to a book lover and they will probably roll their eyes at you and sigh. Some of the greatest works of literature… are long, sometimes difficult and often challenging. Twitter is the opposite: a free-for-all of voices clamouring for a split-second’s attention with zero quality control. This is what makes Twitterature so funny: huge books made ridiculously small; great stories told in silly voices. Like all good pastiche, Twitterature skewers the original work with pin-point accuracy – mocking its grandiosity, exposing absurd coincidences of plotting, parodying its subject’s ticks, slips and oddities.

twitteratureTwitterature is not new. It was written by two University of Chicago students, @AcimanandRensin, or Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin, in 2009. The book was written so long ago even @AcimanandRensin no longer tweets about it.

But I’m a little slow in discovering it, probably because I didn’t start tweeting for clients until three years ago. A fellow blogger tweeted about the book from London only this morning. And, now, able to comprehend tweet-speak at this late point in my career, I am appreciative of the humor. Coupled with Will Cuppy’s versions of history found in The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody to which Bluebird led me, my academic path and my grade-point average would have been impacted radically.

@TheRealDesperateHousewife My life is awful. I’m going shopping. I want to buy a whole bunch on credit that I can’t afford, and then declare bankruptcy.

Tweet based on Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as translated in Twitterature

Can’t believe I waded through the whole thing in French. A Twitteral translation would have made it so easy.

You might wonder, if I’m so social-media proficient now, why am I blogging about Twitterature instead of tweeting? Restricting my fingers to 140 characters is work. Blogging allows me the recreational therapy of being loose-finger-tipped. The above paragraphs would add up to way more tweets than Twitterature‘s entire version of Moby Dick.

The authors of Twitterature were considerate enough of those unaccustomed to the tweet language to generally write in complete words and sentences with few of the widely accepted Twitter shortcuts, and they actually grasp the literature they harpoon. According to Hammond:

…what makes this little collection particularly enjoyable, is that the joke falls just as heavily (well, probably more so) on Twitter. In a face-off between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and his Twitter avatar ‘BigMac’, it’s fairly clear who comes off looking worse. So, in a curious way, Twitterature is just as much a celebration of the classics as it is a mockery of them.

Do you think @AcimanandRensin composed the entire volume of Twitterature on their cellphones?