Abandoned house at Madrid


     To make sense of my feelings after visiting Madrid, I had to haul in the big guns: quantum mechanics, and specifically, the tenet of Schrodinger's Cat.

     Schrodinger wrote an essay on the conceptual problems in Quantum Mechanics. In this essay, he used the following example:


  • COUNTY:  Santa Fe
  • LOCATION:  24 miles southwest of Santa Fe, on NM 14
  • POST OFFICE:  1896-1966
  • NAME ORIGIN:  Possibly from descendants of Francisco de Madrid
  • RATING: Three ghosts
  • GNIS Info & Map

     Say you put a cat in a box and rigged up a contraption with a Geiger counter holding "a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of one hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid."

     Now remember, this is just an essay. No actual cats were harmed in the course of writing his essay. Or this homepage, for that matter.

     Okay, say an hour has passed. Now the real problems begin. You still haven't opened the box - is the cat dead or alive? As Schrodinger put it: "It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation."

     Uh...alright, wait. Forget quantum mechanics. Here's a better example: while my family was visiting my sister back in Vermont several years ago, we were discussing how things had changed in our old town. I told her I remembered a particularly beautiful road running across a mountain, a few nice little stores along the sides. She knew where I meant, but told me that we shouldn't go see it because it wasn't at all like I remembered it, and I was better off with my memory. You see, the place hasn't changed for me, because I haven't directly seen it. So, it exists in both a changed and an unchanged state, and it will linger there until and if I ever personally see it -- then and only then will it have actually changed. (The cat in the box is neither dead nor living until it is observed to be either.)

     Unfortunately, I didn't know about this before I visited Madrid, otherwise I wouldn't have gone.

     I suspect that the guidebook writer's biggest fear is that by letting people know about a particulary interesting or charming place, that place will be forever changed as people seek it out. Madrid is one such place. If you've seen pictures of Madrid's old company row-houses, like the one pictured above, don't fear - they're still there. But many of them have been turned into souvenier shops. Madrid has become Santa Fe South.

     If you have no regard for quantum physics (or cats) and decide to visit Madrid yourself, first decide if you're going to pronounce the name with an accent on the first or the second syllable. Nobody is quite sure which is the correct way, though there's no shortage of opinions. Second, skip the souvenier shops and art galleries and head straight for the Old Coal Mine Museum, which is well worth the modest entrance fee.  The museum is a collection of old mining buildings and a locomotive left untouched on the hillside. It feels wonderful to wander around inside the structures, listen to the wind whistle through cracks in the windows, and imagine what it must have been like back when the lights of Madrid's annual Christmas display were so inspiring, airlines would reroute their planes past the hillside to allow passengers to view the sight.

     Madrid was a mining town from the start, and in 1920 was owned by the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company. The Madrid mines produced both anthracite and bituminous (hard and soft) coal, a unique combination. After World War II, when the need for coal diminished, so did the town of Madrid.

     If I hadn't visited Madrid, it would have continued to exist for me in its previous incarnation, which I would have preferred. I have nothing against tourists. I am one. Still, I have to say that I think Madrid was better off when it was not so well known. But now, I guess, the cat's out of the bag.

You can visit Madrid on the Web at http://www.virtualmadrid.com/index.html.


(click on the thumbnail image to see a larger picture)

The entrance to the Madrid
coal mine opens like a
mouth in the hillside.

Some buildings in Madrid
still retain their faded glory.
(This is the house used in
the title graphic of this