far too much writing, far too many photos

The last week in August, Madrid slowly returning to normal as its residents (los Madrileños) drift back from vacation. More restaurants and tiendas are open for business than in previous weeks, while traffic moving through the traffic circle at Alonso Martinez this morning resembled the heavy, impatient flow of vehicles that’s more the norm. First time I’ve seen that since the end of July.

There used to be something melancholy about the end of summer for me — shorter days, the feeling of the normal work life gearing up once more, the coming of cooler weather, followed by winter. Now, I’ve gotta say, it feels lovely. The air is softer, the sun lower in the sky, the light less intense. Sunrise is happening later in the morning, which for me means deeper, longer sleep. It feels just fine.

I’m in the process of moving (me and half the end-of-summer western world), it feeling like a real demarcation of seasons. Same as last year, then less than a month into a major change of life. Still adapting. I’d spent August housesitting for a friend, or at least had expected to be housesitting for a friend. The friend: Leslie, sister to my best friend’s wife, married to a Spanish attorney named Jaime and living in a large, luxurious house in El Viso. (El Viso: a district of Madrid, north-northeast of the city center, known for affluence and architecture of a strange art deco type.)

I arrived in Madrid on July 31st, shortly before Leslie, Jaime and their daughters fled to the family’s summer residence, in a small town on Spain’s northern coast. They bolted soon after my appearance, which should have left me alone, housesitting. Instead, I found myself sharing the space with Jaime’s son, Jaime, Jr., a 20-something real estate person. Jaime, Jr. began conducting business from the house, carrying on with a couple of different women up in the master bedroom suite, bringing the occasional group of friends home to sit in the living room and drink. (In fairness, that last only happened once. The rest became routine.)

Not a bad guy, Jaime, Jr. — just not the sitch I’d anticipated, and apparently not what Leslie had expected either.

I commenced intensive Spanish classes a few days after arrival, at a school just off la Calle de Génova, near Alonso Martinez. An interesting morning bus ride in from El Viso, quieter than normal, the city looking a bit drowsy, coming to slowly in the August heat.

At the same time, I began the hunt for an apartment so that I could be out of the house when Leslie and her brood returned in September. The paper with the rental listings, Segundamano (Second Hand), came out Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On those mornings I’d pick up a copy on the way to school, search through it at the 11 o’clock break, make calls after classes to try and line up viewing appointments.

That was where I began to see the impact my primitive Spanish could have on the process of building an existence. The simple act of trying to find out about a flat could be high-stress or low-stress, depending on the person I spoke with. Depending on their degree of patience, on my state of mind. Some folks simply didn’t want to deal with a less-than-fluent foreigner. Others were kinder. Either way, nothing came together. Partway through the month, with the Segundamano routine going nowhere, I connected with some rental agents, getting a clearer idea of the overall situation: there simply weren’t many flats to see, at least until September. Of what was available, the agents consistently pushed me toward the high end, the word “American” apparently being synonymous with “$$$$$.”

Leslie and Jaime returned in early September, the house filling up with the noise and energy of their family, with the recommencement of their routines. They assured me I wasn’t in the way, but it was clear I had to find a place fast. One of the realtors finally rounded up some prospects, we started looking.

The first stop: a decent flat in one of Madrid’s northern neighborhoods. Owned by a 60ish Cuban couple. Extremely nice people. The furnishings, however, were the kind my Great Aunt Lu and Great Uncle John in Queens, N.Y. would have had, sans the perpetual stink of his cigars. Stiff, uncomfortable, less than visually appealing. No good.

The second stop: a piso in Argüelles, a district to the west. A hilarious 60-something woman and her 30-something daughter showed us the place. Great owners. But the flat? Small/cramped, especially for the requested rent. And again with the stiff, uncomfortable, ugly furnishings. No good. (The daughter called me afterward, we began going out. That, however, is another story.)

Third stop: a fairly elegant place on a lovely street near Alonso Martinez. Three blocks from the British Embassy, four or five blocks from the language school. Pricey, but more comfortable, with much more space. I went for it. We made an appointment to sign a lease on the afternoon of Saturday, the 9th of September.

I showed up for the signing pulling my monster wheeled duffel, meeting my realtor outside the building, ready to move in. When we entered the apartment, we found the owner had brought a friend. As a witness, apparently. Something about that set an odd vibe for the transaction, compounded when the owner’s first move was to try to raise the rent, claiming he’d been getting rental offers for more than our agreed-upon amount. My realtor, I think, was as surprised as I was, but responded with extreme diplomacy. Possibly a better option than my outrage.

The piso had been billed as furnished which, according to Leslie’s husband, meant that it had to have everything one would need to move right in and function normally. It had furniture, so I could move in and go to sleep or sit in the living room in a comfy chair and stare at the wall. Other items, however — plates, glasses, pots/pans, dishrack, iron/ironing board, towels, television, etc. — were notably absent.

My realtor haggled with the landlord, they eventually hammered out an agreement in which the rent did not go up. Papers got signed. The landlord said he’d send me an inventory for the flat to scribble my name on, went out and bought most of the missing basics, or at least the small-ticket items. Then they all buggered off, leaving me alone in my first Madrid apartment.

Other problems arose with that landlord, beginning with the seriously inaccurate inventory. Not that he was a bad guy. Could be he just didn’t know how to handle the lessor/lessee dynamic in a way that communicated he actually gave a rat’s ass. But the flat was spacious. Windows to the east and west allowed plenty of light. The master bedroom was roomy, with big windows, the living room long and comfortable, with floor-to-ceiling windows that gave out onto a small terrace overlooking the tree-lined street. For the time being, it worked.

The street: a combination of residential and business/restaurants, providing the bustle of people/commerce during the day, quiet at night. In the spring, when the swifts returned to Madrid for the warm season, there were weeks of them swooping over and between the buildings, calling continually back and forth. In the evenings, the birds disappeared, a few bats materialized, flying silently back and forth above the street.

The mornings began slowly, as they seem to here, the day getting underway between 8 and 10 a.m. To one side of my building lay a neighborhood grocery store where people went for baguettes, milk, fruit. To the other side: a bar/cafetería, attracting early morning customers for café y bolsos (coffee and sweet rolls) and big lunchtime crowds. Across the street were a computer shop, a clothes tienda, a hair-cutter’s, a restaurant that only opened in the evenings.

At 2 p.m. the stores closed for lunch, announced by the screech of metal security screens coming down. The porteros of the various apartment buildings — having spent the morning hours on duty, chatting with each other or with passersby — disappeared inside for the midday meal. The entire spectrum of neighborhood workers, from executives and office employees to manual laborers of all stripes, poured in and out of eating establishments or passed by in loudly-talking groups. The sounds of the activity floated up four stories to my flat in a nicely soothing way. Between 4 and 5 p.m., businesses opened again, everyone returned to work, the lunch joints closed. Around eight, the screech of lowered security screens announced the day’s end, the street quieted down.

There are an unbelievable number of vehicles in Madrid. I’ve been told that two-thirds of the cars in the country are in the capital — an amazing statistic, if true. True or not, traffic is intense, especially during work hours. Double parking is a way of life. During my neighbourhood’s workdays, in addition to a row of parked cars on either side of the street, a line of double-parked vehicles extends from one end of the block to the other, leaving a single narrow lane for passing traffic. When the drivers of legitimately-parked cars return, they begin beeping their horns in hopes that the drivers who have blocked them in will return and allow them to them leave. Surprisingly, that system seems to work reasonably well. I’ve never seen fights or shouting matches erupt from the parking situation, though people often have to sit in their vehicles for long periods, working the horn more and more emphatically.

That particular serenade is a part of life in this barrio, one I won’t miss in my new flat. The street that runs in front of that building is one lane wide, providing no room for parking. On the other hand, one stopped car can produce a line of impatient vehicles in no time flat, resulting a chorus of braying horns — briefer than the double-parking solos I’ve grown accustomed to, but more concentrated, with less show of civility.

On weekends, when many people leave Madrid, the neighborhood empties out, the pace of the days grow more leisurely (especially after 2 p.m. on Saturdays, the hour many businesses close until Monday). Until Sunday evening, that is, when everyone streams back into the city and empty parking spaces disappear once again.

I’m going to miss this street, this block. And I’ll miss some things about the flat — the way the sunlight moves from one side to the other, spilling into the living room around 10 a.m., withdrawing after a few hours to creep slowly around to the rear courtyard until it pours in the bedroom windows, finally withdrawing for the day when the early evening sun moves behind other buildings.

I’ll miss the view out my bedroom window at night, the lit rectangles of other flats’ windows shining softly in the darkness. I’ll miss hearing the neighborhood come gradually to life in the mornings and quiet down in the evening. And I’m going to miss the floors of my piso. Parquet floors, beautifully finished so that they’re not only pleasing to the eye, they’re just slick enough that — in socks, with a running start from the bedroom — I can slide halfway across the living room. I’m going to miss the bentwood chairs and round dining table in the corner of the living room by the kitchen, where I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours writing, going through e-mail, often with the radio providing a soundtrack of flamenco, jazz, classical, rock ‘n’ roll.

I’m going to miss all that. But it’s time for a change.

MURPHY’S WIFE

© 2000 by runswithscissors

So the bastard calls me on Christmas afternoon. Appears out of nowhere after months without contact, stumbles into town bringing yuletide misery, and expects me to service his booze-sodden ass. And God help me, I go, like a moth to the flame that burns blue and sloppy on a pool of alcohol.

He doesn’t care that I’m swollen with his child, that I’ve got our other lonely child to take care of. He just knows the gin is running through his system and he’s got needs. No one else’s needs figure in the wretched, grandiose scheme of his life.

And when I enter his motel room, there we both are, two pitiful souls repeating history. Though I smile, I can feel the hate I carry, solid and substantial as a second fetus. Simultaneously, I feel my attraction to this man, visceral, strong enough that it almost makes him seem likeable. That won’t last, I know, but I don’t care.

It’s a ridiculous scene. He feeds me gin, me hoping it’ll dull the pain, extinguish the anger. I feel bloated with pregnancy and emotion, and then our clothes are off and he’s all over me. And I pray maybe this time it will be different. I plead hopelessly to the ever-deaf Almighty that this man might really want me again, that this night might turn out to be more than drunken bodies flailing against each other. A thin, desperate prayer, ignored and wasted.

Ashamed, racked with dry, beaten passion, I hear words pouring from my mouth: “Tell me you love me,” I say. “You don’t have to mean it, just say it.” And his red, contorted face bobs around above mine, mid-fornication, as if I’d never spoken, as if my words had been released out in the cold December air, becoming mist, twisting apart in the breeze and vanishing. Of course he says nothing, just moans in lust and angst, his self-obsession as piercingly depressing as the physical sensations that gather in my body.

When my orgasm finally breaks and washes through me, something in my heart begins to weep. I want to pull him to me, hold him tightly, desperately; I want to sink my teeth into his neck until he screams. Before too long hate again fills me, like an old friend grown inflamed with liquor and loveless sex — hate for the bastard and loathing for myself.

And then he’s thanking me, effusively, as he gathers me up and out into the falling evening, getting rid of me as quickly as he can. No doubt considering his manipulation of me gloriously smooth. Whatever brief attraction he felt for me is shriveled and gone now, and yet he keeps thanking me, maybe from guilt, from a need to fill the empty space between us. Maybe from an insincerity so deeply ground into his bones that he can no longer tell the difference. Or maybe from indifference and contempt.

Why do I pursue this revolting sot? Why do I make entreaties, pray he’ll call, attempt to trap him into returning?

I remember the night he finally worked up the nerve to tell me he was leaving. No surprise, really, his heart having vacated our union some time earlier, leaving only a body that came home less and less. He’d suggested we take a walk and we wound up in the graveyard down the road from our house, a scene of heated couplings in earlier, happier years. And I remember the surprise on his face when I offered one last fuck. He liked my calling it a fuck, as if that made it easier. Maybe the jolt of the word coming from my lips aroused him. If I had said “make love,” he would have jumped like a drop of water on a hot skillet. But a fuck — that was safe, detached. Once I assured him I’d taken my pill, he tried to mute his glee. “Okay,” he consented with a show of reluctance, “but no strings.” As if a marriage and child could be disposed of like old newspapers. The assurance of the pill was a lie, of course. One last, futile ploy to cage him, in hopes that sparking a new human life together might bring the marriage back from the dead.

He doesn’t want me. The obvious questions: Why not let him go? Why not allow someone who does want me into my life? Anger percolates in my belly at the very idea of him off free, leaving me behind without a thought, abandoning his child. Who does he think he is, flying off simply because he tired of the mess he created? I carried children for this man, made his meals, washed his alcohol-and-vomit-soaked clothes — I gave my body’s blossoming years. For this half-bright, self-centered animal. Why should I let him go? Why should I give him that?

He pretends that he’s washed his hands, that he’s unfettered and clear, but I know him better than that. He carries guilt, turmoil as part of his identity. He may act the part of the free, unstoppable brute, but somewhere within himself, in a dark corner, an image of me remains, caustic and feared. He feels me, knows the cord between us remains uncut because I won’t allow it.

I may never see the result of my stubbornness, apart from the choking of my own life’s possibilities. But I send prayers, like flaming arrows to the God that issues our individual torments, that the wreckage of my life may eat a hole inside that man. May it burn the lining from his stomach. May it perforate his intestines until the blood and alcohol run freely through his system, seeping together out the fissures of his aging body like 100 proof plasma.

A genuine news article:

Garden Gnomes Gather in Shadowy Operation
Updated: Thu, Jul 12 6:15 AM EDT

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) – More than 100 garden gnomes and other gaudy statues were discovered on Wednesday assembled on a traffic circle in eastern France, a police spokesman said.

Some of the statues were set up to spell out “Free the Gnomes.” No one claimed immediate responsibility for the stunt, but police said it bore all the hallmarks of the shadowy Garden Gnome Liberation Front.

The kitschy little creatures were reported stolen from numerous gardens around the town of Chavelot overnight and subsequently gathered together on the roundabout.

“It was a bit like a giant creche. Everything had been carefully set up,” a police spokesman said.

The Gnome Liberation Front rose to prominence in the mid-1990s following a series of raids on gardens to “free” gnomes and “return them to the wild.”

Sometimes I think there must be more to life than unlocking the mysteries of the universe.

From an email sent to friends last May:

The Old World Pays a Visit

A couple of hours ago, me sitting here at my laptop on a lovely Madrid May morning. I heard something out in the street, a few floors down — a sound not often heard here these days, like pan pipes. Meaning the person who sharpens knives, scissors, blades of all kinds was passing through the barrio.

I called down, got him to hold up. Pulled on some clothes, grabbed my Swiss army knife, hurried outside.

Los Afiladores (the Sharpeners) were a regular feature of local life at one time, in Madrid’s pre-world-class days, when it was the capital of an isolated provincial country. They’d ride through the streets on bicycles (some still do), grinding wheels mounted on the back, blowing their pipes as they pedalled slowly along so that anyone needing work done could stop them.

I’d heard these pipes one other time, on a Saturday afternoon back in February, during the course of a play rehearsal. In a theatre located in an old barrio, one with long, narrow cobblestone streets that wandered up and down hills. The pipes’ tones reverberated off the buildings as the sharpener approached, a foreign enough sound that it felt a touch unearthly. A woman in the theater recognized it and ran to the entranceway. I followed, we stood together as she explained a bit about los Afiladores and how rare they now were. I didn’t have my pocket knife along at that time so could only watch the rider go slowly past, casting a searching glance our way to see if we might provide some business. We didn’t, he continued on, disappearing down the block.

The fellow I saw today wore old clothing (black pants, a tired white shirt, a vest, a hat) and rode an old moped fitted out with two grinding wheels mounted on the back — one large, one small for finishing work — along with an umbrella for rain or excessive sun. The grinders ran off the moped’s motor, and this guy put an edge on my little Swiss army blade like you wouldn’t believe, charging me 300 pesetas (around $1.60). People watched from surrounding buildings, curious. But no one else gave him any business.

When he’d finished with me he blew his pipes a bit more in another attempt to round up some work. Nothing doing, no response from anyone.

Expressionless, he fired up his moped and took off, the sound of its engine fading with distance.

Madrid — it’s my kind of town.

Notes from recent travels:

August 8: a summer morning in Madrid, early sunlight slowly beginning to find its way down city streets. The previous days had been warm and then some, temperatures coasting up past the 100°F mark. And humid — not a common feature of hot weather here. This morning promised more of the same.

Made it to the Metro by 7 a.m. for the ride to the airport. Lots of manual laborers on the train, August being a big month for street and construction work — with half the city away on vacation, the caused disruptions are easier on everyone. An orange sun, bloated with early morning heat, slowly made its way free of the hills to the east of the runway as the plane lifted off and Madrid dropped away.

Arrived in Paris via train from Orly Airport just before midday. Temperatures in the upper 60s, partly-cloudy skies looking autumnal. Found my way to Gare du Nord to board the Eurostar for London.

If you can scrape together the gelt to ride first-class from Paris to London (or vice versa), consider it. It’s a great way to go. Really — don’t make the mistake of thinking it a pathetic, bourgeoisie indulgence. It’s a genuinely superior way to go, with sales or discounted fares often available. Comfortable, quiet, with beautiful views — the land between Paris and Calais is a lovely, wide-skied expanse of rolling countryside, farms, small towns. Green, verdant, all that. And the train, one of the high-speed breed, moves rapidly enough through it all that the clouds glide by as if on fast-forward, providing a smooth, strangely amped-up counterpoint to the rustic serenity stretched out beneath.

And then London — cool, cloudy, often wet. Summer essentially disappeared until my return to Madrid.

A snapshot:

Walking to the South Bank from Waterloo station. The route I’m taking includes a long pedestrian walkway which passes through two genuinely sizeable office buildings. After the second pass-through, there’s a courtyard on one side of the walkway with tables, chairs, plants. Nice. On the walkway’s other side sits an area of wasteland — the kind of place usually found on the roofs of large buildings. Spare, industrial-looking, unattractive, featuring large ventilation/air conditioning ducts and not much else. Not on top of a building in this case, but tucked away to one side of this little courtyard area.

Perched atop some of the venting ducts are large wooden tubs. Originally intended, apparently, to contain flowers or plants, though fatally neglected. If flowers ever grew in these tubs they’d long disappeared, nothing remaining but dirt and spikey, tough-looking weeds.

On the side of the building which faces that area there are windows, blacked out from the inside with paint.

And that’s all. Not a hugely attractive stretch.

At two points in that desolate little area, above blacked-out windows, signs had been posted that read “This area is alarmed.”

If I looked like that, I’d be alarmed, too.

Sunday night in Madrid. Early August. I’d always heard about August being vacation month in Europe, but never got what that actually meant until I arrived here July 31st of last year. Literally, half the city leaves until September. Many, many stores close — some for a week or two, some for the entire month. Traffic lightens, thins out. The burg quiets down, life adopts a slower pace. I like it.

The days are often hot, the air usually cools off during the night leaving the mornings reasonably fresh. Most of the time it’s not humid. After years of life in New York City, the Hudson Valley and Boston, this is almost paradise.

I didn’t use to mind summer in the above-mentioned locales. It was the advent of global-warming style warm seasons that did me in, starting in ‘87 or ‘88, when Boston suffered through a succession of summers featuring brutal, intense heat waves. They wore me out. Having spent large portions of my younger years in upstate New York, I’d always felt attracted to the north country — after those first global-warming summers, I began absolutely craving the north. The idea of going anywhere warm and southern became inconceivable. When vacations arrived, I fled to northern New England, the U.K., Ireland. Until I finally managed to purchase a house in Vermont, just outside the Northeast Kingdom. Fifteen or so miles northeast of Montpelier, an hour’s drive along two-lane roads to the Canadian border. Me, out in the country. Looking for somewhere not likely to heat up. (Pause for snorting laughter.)

The first snowfalls arrived in October. A half-inch, an inch, two inches of startlingly early winter precipitation. The snow didn’t last long, but it didn’t have to — those days were the demarcation line. November brought weeks of cold, damp, cloudy weather, featuring men with guns everywhere, observing various hunting seasons. One or the other might not have seemed so remarkable. The combination — together with the termination of all warm-weather activity (in part ’cause of the weather, in part because of the abundance of men with guns looking to use them) — caught my attention. December showed up, tremendously beautiful — bringing the holidays, bringing Christmas lights to the long, dark nights. And during that lovely month the snow began falling for real. In January and February, it came down every 2-3 days, with accumulations of anywhere from several inches to a foot or 18 inches. By the end of February, the roads had shrunk to narrow white passages flanked by mountainous banks of snow and ice.

As I’ve said, in earlier years I lived in parts of upstate New York that experienced serious winter. Long, dark, snowbound months that didn’t yield until April or May. Something about that winter in Vermont affected me differently — the difference probably being me, and the fact of being there solo.

And when I made the crossing to Madrid in the middle of that February, as silly as it may sound, the earth moved. Winter set me up, Madrid knocked me down.

Not a bad combo, that, considering where it left me. (In Madrid.)

The last sentence in that last entry? Not completely accurate. On the other hand, not an exaggeration either.

I woke up alone in a small hotel room in an unfamiliar city. Tired, knowing little of the language. Late afternoon, mid-February.

If you glance at a map of Europe, you may notice the mess made by unknown persons when they drew up the time-zones. In the States, it’s fairly straightforward — the demarcations run north and south in mostly logical fashion. Whoever did the zone work across the Atlantic must have been heavily into the absinthe, producing delineations that loop all over the place in wild, comically erratic style. With the result that though Madrid is actually a bit to the west of London (if my memory serves me), it’s an hour ahead. Which means the sun rises later, sets later. So the mornings start slowly, gather steam at a more leisurely pace than in the States, and the evenings stretch themselves out, the extra hours of natural light making the days seem longer, more expansive.

That first day, post-nap, I got myself up out the door slightly before 6 p.m. The hotel lay situated two blocks from la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid, a crossing point for Metro lines, bus routes and other traffic trying to force its way through the streets at the city’s core. I wandered through narrow pedestrian ways that led me down to Sol, in the middle of the gathering rivers of people heading home after the work day. The sun had slipped down toward the western horizon, great slanting shadows alternated with shafts of brilliant evening light beneath a February sky at once blue and golden, studded with dramatic clouds. All around the plaza loom multi-storied buildings of classic old Spanish architecture, most windows opening onto small balcones. A large statue of King Carlos III on horseback juts skyward on the north side of the plaza, flanked by two large fountains. Across several lanes of blacktop from all that, on the plaza’s south side, stands the building which now houses the municipal government — a structure that functioned as a center of detention and torture during the Franco dictatorship, then nicknamed La Casa de los Gritos, ‘the house of screams.’

I found myself in the middle of all this, a scene with entirely different energy from what I was used to, filled with sunlight, sound, crowds streaming through in all directions. One of a group of teenage kids making their way through the Plaza managed to grab a pigeon, tossing it up into the sky (after pulling out a fistful of feathers) where it joined the explosion upward of its buddies as they fled the young humans.

The people passing through the rush-hour version of the plaza pretty much covered the entire spectrum of western hemisphere types — all the various hispanic looks, along with faces and bodies that appeared to come from points all over Europe. Some would have appeared right at home in the States, others far less so.

I’m not sure how to describe the effect on me of what felt like a torrent of sensory input except to say my senses and my heart felt full to the point of overflowing.

Do I lapse into purple prose here, over-romanticizing my first lengthy hit of Madrid? What the hell. It’s love — it merits some overwriting.

Madrid. My first extended stay in a foreign culture (not counting 16 or 17 months spent in L.A.).

Me: ready for change after 40+ years in the States. I’d been to London a few times, been to Ireland twice. Fun, adventure, all that. And for a while I thought I’d like to live in the U.K., but there never seemed to be a way to carry it off.

A year and a half ago, sitting at my desk at work one midwinter New England morning, I opened the paper to find air fares on sale to locations all over Europe. Cheap. And in that moment, Madrid caught my eye.

Why? A fine question. I’d studied Spanish in 7th and 8th grade — and to say that I’m using the word ’studied’ liberally insults the word ‘liberally’ — when it was not cool to pay attention. Learned essentially nothing. And found that, as the years went by, I felt a growing disappointment about that. Found myself wishing I could speak something other than English, think in something other than English. See the world from a foreign perspective, breathe foreign air. Wake up in a flat in a European city, see what that felt like.

That’s part of why. Another, more important, part: the sister of my best friend’s wife lives in Madrid, an American woman married to a Spanish attorney, in Madrid for 17 years. A long time, long enough to see the country go through drastic changes in the wake of Franco’s demise, to witness democracy taking root. I had a connection.

Hopped an overnight flight via London, reached Madrid on a Thursday in mid-February, around noon. Caught a bus into the city from the airport (local traffic featuring an unbelievable number of motorcycles and motor scooters, their drivers navigating the streets as if convinced they were exampt from traffic laws), then a taxi to the hotel. Dragged my sorry, tired hind section up to my teensy little room.

On impulse, turned on the TV — cable, with channels from around Europe: Germany, France, Italy, and of course Spain. Switched to a Spanish channel. Saw an ad featuring a lovely woman. Naked, swimming gracefully underwater, holding a bottle of drinking water — apparently oblivious to the redundancy. Shut the TV off, lay down, passed out for a while.

I didn’t realize it then, but when I woke up I was home.

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