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Bosch in Madrid

The new variation of Amazon's detective series, Bosch: Legacy begins Friday on IMDb t.v. The show highlights Los Angeles beautifully but always makes me think of the best place to see Bosch paintings.

Bosch in Madrid

Television’s Bosch never visited Madrid, but the name lures millions to the city. It comes from Hieronymus Bosch, a 15th Century Netherlands painter whose works fascinated Spanish royalty and ended up as a key fixture at Madrid’s famous Prado Museum. One of the museum’s paintings plays an important role in Season 3 of Amazon’s Bosch series by implicating the detective in a murder.

The Bosch connections seemed ideal to author Michael Connelly, who decided the artist’s name and themes suited a Hollywood Homicide detective working in a landscape featuring both beauty and debauchery. So Connelly says in interviews, admitting he keeps a print of the Bosch painting “Hell” on a wall over the computer where he works.

Google features no interviews where Phillip II explains his fascination with Bosch, but the 16th Century Spanish king ruled over the artist’s homeland in the Netherlands and bore a religious fervor suited to paintings like “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” King Phillip kept the original in his castle before it moved to Madrid’s Prado.

In contrast, I settled for a poster of the painting on my bedroom walls as a teenager because…hmmm…because…well…no one really understands the labyrinth of mysteries going on in the minds of 16-year-olds. Many teenagers lean towards weirdness, and Bosch paintings fit the mold. The intricacies in “Garden of Earthly Delights” fascinated me, with hundreds of different activities to stare at while lying in bed.

The triptych of three panels features fantastical creatures plus recognizable birds, animals, and plants springing from all parts of the paintings. And then come the people and their activities—sex mainly, but with an ultimate message undermining any idea of pleasure and delight. This proved a conundrum for my mother.

Mom loved the idea that I decorated my walls with a print from one of the world’s greatest museums, plus she felt no objection to anything that might discourage me from lusty pursuits. But she hated those dark images. This made her less inclined to wander into my room—a plus in my mind. Mom’s absence meant more time by myself but eventually I got creeped out looking at bird-beasts swallowing people whole. After a month or two, I took the poster down and replaced it with one from Lord of the Rings.

Though I found “The Garden of Earthly Delights” an unsettling piece of room décor, I developed a strong urge to see the real thing. Posters distort size and colors, only hinting at a painting’s quality and true impact. Though I lacked an official bucket list during my teen years, the roots of one formed with a desire to visit Madrid, the Prado, and its room of Bosch paintings.

My first trip to Madrid coincided with the phenomenal bonus of a special exhibit featuring all but three of Bosch’s 27 paintings. This inspired huge lines of people waiting to buy museum entry tickets.

“About two hours,” came the estimated wait time when I asked a guard how long it might take to get inside.

“What if I buy one of those multiple museum passes—is there a shorter line for that?” I wondered.

“If you have a pass you can go in that line over there,” he answered, pointing to a handful of people. “But first you have to stand in the main line to buy the pass.”

My brain fogged for a minute, then cleared with the realization that the pass included another museum that lay just across the street. Why not just go over there and buy a pass?

The scheme worked. A multiple museum pass from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum skirted the labyrinth of people at the Prado so I could verify in person the true bizarreness of Hieronymus Bosch.

That word “labyrinth” describes other aspects of Madrid. Just 35 miles away, Guillermo del Toro filmed parts of his masterful Pan’s Labyrinth. Inside the city of Madrid, the labyrinth comes from the convoluted network of streets and alleys that confused a local taxi driver when he tried to deliver us to our hotel. Apologetic for the extra twenty minutes spent circling one-way streets, he charged us less than the metered amount.

On repeated visits, hotel desk clerks recommended walking rather than hiring transportation to various venues. Fred and I enjoy walks, but nonetheless find challenges in many cities throughout the world. Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Boston, New York, and Madrid often throw in some quirk to test our patience and marriage.

For instance, after a frustrating round of wrong turns one dark night along a crowded walkway of Madrid, Fred looked around to say something to me--but I wasn’t there. He stared and spotted me a distance away, across the street and standing by two police cars. He rushed over to hear the story.

He already knew the part that started with badly marked paper directions plus tall buildings that disrupted our cell phone maps. We finally found the correct street and with relief, Fred pushed forward on the crowded walkway, focused on the path ahead. As a result he never noticed how people inadvertently blocked my way behind him, forcing me to fall back.

Walking slowly, I picked up an odd sound behind me, someone whistling John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Rather than feel the tune’s friendly “be kind to your fine feathered friends” lyric, I sensed the song working as a signal to rob an unwary woman from the United States. The hairs pricking up on my neck told me one person picked up his pace behind me as another moved in from the right.

Paranoid? Detective Bosch might tell me, but I’ll never know for sure. Spotting two parked police cars on the other side of the street, I zipped over, turned around and watched a couple of men lower their heads and shove hands into pockets as they quickly dispersed among the warren of people in a crowded plaza. Though I saw no officers, I used their parked vehicles as a form of protection until Fred arrived. Sticking close together, we continued through the labyrinth toward our destination suited to Pan—the Taverna Tempranillo, where Spanish wines provided reasons to keep exploring the city and its maze of cultural wonders.


Bosch,(Season 3), 2017 with Titus Welliver framed for a murder that features elements from paintings by his character’s namesake. Weaving storylines from several Bosch books, the third season includes A Darkness More Than Night where clues linked to 15th Century Bosch paintings point to the 20th Century cop as perpetrator. Evidence includes an owl figurine with the words Cave Cave Deus Vedit (Beware, Beware, God Sees) underneath. An expert at the Getty Museum explains that the bird connects to the artist’s masterpiece “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” which hangs at Madrid’s Prado Museum. The Prado also exhibits “The Seven Deadly Sins” which features the “God Sees” phrase. The plotline requires no location filming in Madrid but features a striking shot of the Getty Museum and includes Bosch reproductions that serve as an enticing introduction to the painter’s oeuvre. The successful series ran seven seasons from 2014-2021, followed in 2022 by Bosch: Legacy. All feature outstanding southern California location work, catching fun spots like Angel’s Flight, the Hollywood Reservoir, and many more. Most importantly, despite an updated time period and other changes from the books, episodes maintain the source material’s flavor plus Bosch’s character as a man with the mantra, “Everybody counts, or nobody counts.”

The Bourne Ultimatum,2007, with Matt Damon seeking the roots of his identity in Madrid and other European cities. The third entry in the spy series requires knowing some backstory from previous films. Fleeing the government that turned him into an assassin, Jason Bourne continues his search for truth about himself. This includes a trip to Madrid and the usual experience for Bourne—a wild escape from agents determined to kill him. His Madrid method includes hotwiring a Trails bike and riding not just through the city’s labyrinth of streets, but over walls, fences, and anything else in his way. With taut direction by Paul Greengrass, Ultimatum rates as a strong franchise entry, considered the best by many fans. Madrid locations include the Atocha Train Station and an office building at Calle de la Virgen de los Peligros 10. The Café del Príncipe serves as a stand-in for Turin. Located at the Plaza Canelejas, the café dates back to the early 1800s and boasts impressive Belle Epoch décor.

Despite Everything (A Pesar de Todo), 2019 with four sisters making surprising discoveries at a funeral in Madrid. Okay, so the cinematic elite prefer seeing the city in an arty piece like Viridiana by genius director Luis Buñuel, but sometimes the mind needs a less challenging ride. This Netflix original qualifies. Argentine director Gabriela Tagliavini provides a chick flick with women on the verge of risqué behavior that fails to come off as shocking for anyone versed in films of Pedro Almodóvar. Women take top positions in production, but rather than exploring new directions, creators aim for rom-com tropes that require at least one wedding. The pretty quartet of stars move amidst similarly attractive settings, many of them inside fancy mansions and buildings. Street exteriors provide some backdrops along with Madrid’s famous Plaza Mayor looking unbelievably empty. Getafe in the Community of Madrid shows up, along with a brief excursion to Burgos. Co-stars feature Almodóvar alum Rossy de Palma and Javier’s big brother Carlos Bardem.

Pan’s Labyrinth (El labertino del fauno), 2007, with Doug Jones as a faun feeding fantasies fueling temporary escape from Spanish Civil War horrors. Before winning the directing Oscar and Best Picture for The Shape of Water, director Guillermo del Toro took home the prized statue with Pan’s Labyrinth as best international feature. Box office hits like Hellboy showed del Toro’s flair for blending fantasy with the horrors of war, and the director put a more complex, poetic spin on the concept in Pan’s Labyrinth. As the film’s Spanish title El labertino del fauno indicates, the story involves fantasy creatures—not Pan specifically, but that human-goat combo called a faun. This particular faun fills fairy tale adventures created by a young girl to avoid dealing with realities surrounding her, including an authoritarian stepfather. Del Toro once again follows his penchant for opulent visuals that both enhance story and make a point. Elaborate set design and smoothly moving creatures dim the line between reality and fantasy to emphasize that fairy tales developed not just as kid stories, but as a means to make sense of the world. Set jetters can find the movie’s forest locations at Sierra del Guadarrama about an hour’s drive northeast of Madrid. Del Toro had other sets built a mere 35 miles from Madrid near San Rafael on AP-6.

Viridiana, 1961 with Silvia Pinal reconsidering her decision to join a Spanish convent. After fleeing fascism, master director Luis Buñuel returned to Spain with the government’s encouragement to make another film. Officials wanted the prestige their country’s great filmmaker could provide, and they got it with a top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Ironically (or--considering Buñuel’s track record--not surprisingly), they also got a project that totally undermined religion and societal values, causing Spain to ban the picture for 17 years. Class disparities and social injustice arise when title character Viridiana decides not to pursue her future as a nun and instead offers a safety net to some local beggars by giving them work and lodging at her estate. With a shoulder shrug and extended middle finger, Buñuel portrays a world where mistaken views create disaster. Predating the Oscar winning Parasite by decades, Viridiana contains some similar concepts and proves both prescient and thought provoking. Filming locations reflect the Community of Madrid from long ago, with Arganda del Rey and Ciempozuelos looking rural and undeveloped. Much of the movie filmed on sound stages.

Volver, 2007, with Madrid resident Penelope Cruz leaving the city for a brief return to the village where her mother died. Preparation for any trip to Spain deserves viewing at least one film by director Pedro Almodóvar. Madrid factors strongly in his international breakthrough called Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque nervios), but my favorite remains Volver, a title using the verb “to go back.” I love the way Volver plays with expectations, messing around with the tradition of ghosts and other supernatural beliefs. Volver also includes the best elements of many other Almodóvar films: bold colors, crazy wallpaper, risky costume choices, bright music, emotional highs, actress Cruz, and a deep appreciation for women. With careful crafting, Almodóvar walks a tightrope where he deftly avoids a slip sending him into the pits of trashy soap opera. Cruz earned a best actress Oscar nomination for her engaging performance, a feat she repeated in 2021’s Parallel Mothers, yet another absorbing collaboration between Almodóvar and Madrid. Almodóvar’s more than twenty films include several that won major awards, earning him a screenwriting Oscar for Talk to Her (Hable con ella) and the best foreign film Academy Award for All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi mama).

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