Vincent Van Gogh

It was about four AM in the morning in Madrid, me with a backpack my sister in her long- haul yoga pants. We are middle aged flowers in a city full of beautiful people, wilting like one of the still-life paintings in the Prado museum. Old ladies in dresses hobbling on cobble stone streets (not in Costco sweats),  hair as beautiful as what is in in shampoo commercials. Even in the lobby of our hotel at four AM, — a hotel with more stars than the Milky Way–a beautiful young swiftly exits the bank of elevators. I couldn’t help but look —or judge—her. Silver spiked heels. Slinky halter mini dress, the material revealing as much as it covers.  She was a real life version of the call girl in  HBO’s  White Orchid series.

The girl’s presence darted in and out of my mind the past several days. I thought about her, how she contrasted so many of the painted cherubs and voluptuous Rubens in Madrid’s Prado museum. We went there to see Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. It’s a painting from the 1600s of a little princess who appears to be stealing a flat screen TV. Diego was part of the realism movement, bowls of rotting fruit and bulbous noses all the rage. So is rotting fruit beauty?

We also meandered in a flea market in central Madrid.  Why does junk appear more attractive in a foreign country?  Old bottles, chipped figurines, and a creepy doll vendor. Does anyone think these dolls are beautiful…or do they belong in a horror movie?

Van Gogh thought potatoes were beautiful. We visited Madrid’s Immersive Experience museum and were jettisoned into a three dimensional of Van Gogh.

That was beyond beautiful except for the animated rats that scurried across our feet.

Lisbon is beautiful. The city is a mix of history and grunge, the influence of Africa everywhere, the air perfumed with curry and unrecognizable spices. The restaurant scene is probably the best I’ve seen. Indian, Bangladesh, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, everything.

Beauty shops in the fragrant Mouraria neighborhood were dedicated to making men beautiful. I said no to the back-waxing and said yes to a Pakistani restaurant. Being the only female in this restaurant, the owner tried to move me out of view. I was also the only one using silverware.

To my tongue, sardines are beautiful.. but this is a different restaurant.

To my nephew, whom we visited in Madrid, beauty is finding the missing pieces of jigsaw puzzle. I will not reveal how many hours we devoted looking for corner pieces on a thousand-piece puzzle during this visit. Instead of finishing it, we created a fusion of two puzzles, each keeping half.

So what is beautiful ? Definitely not the prices for a burger at the Lisbon airport. Twenty Euro. Ouch. But definitely any street in Portugal is beautiful. Only two Starbucks sightings. Definitely not the toilets on the plane or the food on TAPS (Portugal Airlines). Never serve spicy tuna at thirty thousand feet. I’ll leave it at that.

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