far too much writing, far too many photos

The temperature here in Madrid has taken something of a dive during the last few days, sliding from sweet, springlike levels to chillier, more seasonable depths. Cold, at times with a blustery edge. Last night, as I shuffled in the direction of bed sometime after 2 a.m., thunder crackled outside, sharp and sudden. A quick peek through a nearby window revealed rain coming down in torrential quantities. I wondered if that meant a warm front had moved in, and cheerfully went to bed dreaming about days of vernal temperatures, of flowers blooming and birds chirping, of women in warm weather clothing. (Sorry — I’m hetero.) Until I raised the windowshades this morning and beheld the glazing of snow on the roof tiles of the building across this narrow street. (Aiiieeee!!!!)

Snow! In Madrid! The first time it’s had the bad manners to show its pallid face during my time here.

I wasn’t always snow-intolerant. I used to love winter. January and February of 2000 in northern Vermont took the bloom off that rose, a nine or ten week period during which snow literally fell every two to three days, with accumulations of anywhere from a few inches to a foot or more. At the end of which I’d had it. And this last November in northern Vermont — a month in which snow fell every single #%^@#&*!!! day, mostly as flurries, though with snowfalls of 2-6″ every few days — didn’t help. I can still appreciate the beauty of it – let’s face it, snow coming down is so pretty, so much fun – but I need a break. So the appearance of frozen precipitation in the normally-snowless Spanish capital caught my attention.

Luckily, the sun shone in a cloudless sky this morning, despite a cold, unkind wind. Which made today’s field trip to the monster Ikea store in one of the city’s outlying ‘burbs (Alcorcón) less arduous than it might have been. Today is the last day of Spain’s January sales (a month-long occasion the Spaniards take to as if it were a national sporting event), I’ve been thinking of getting a living room chair to match the deceptively comfortable bentwood bugger I picked up when I first moved in here. Last night I stopped in at the Ikea-Spain’s webpage, found what I was looking for — the Poäng-model arm chair, a funky-looking (far more eye-candyish in person than on the webpage, BTW), surprisingly body-friendly piece of furniture at a price I couldn’t refuse — dragged myself out of bed this morning at a respectable hour and made the Metro-and-two-buses ride out there.

The two previous times I made this consumer’s pilgrimage, I made the mistake of doing it on Saturdays, when the store was completely, wildly overrun with shoppers. A weekday morning turns out to be much more civilized, far less like a cross between a crowd of sharks in a feeding frenzy and the WWF.

Made the purchase, arranged to have the chair delivered this evening, returned home. Sometime within the next four hours it will arrive and my living space will suddenly become a bit more liveable. Isn’t life fun? (Just say yes.)

Most of Madrid’s buildings tend not to have drainage pipes for rain/snowmelt, so that the day’s bright sunshine produced a narrowly focused sidewalk-rainfall, the water coming down just far enough out from the buildings to make it nearly impossible to walk without getting, er, peed on. Unless the sidewalk was good and wide. Which led to pedestrian traffic even more erratic and unpredictable than normal (and that’s saying something here) as people veered wildly back and forth in an attempt to avoid being forced under the constant sprinkling by oncoming pedestrians trying to do the same. Pretty entertaining. Despite all that, the roof tiles of the building across the street have retained enough snow to look like a photo from an artsy-fartsy Christmas card.

It’s January 31, 2002. February shows up in a few hours. And the days roll on.

Went to see 24 Hour Party People a short time ago. Exhilarating and depressing, both at the same time. Made me glad I wasn’t there and made me wish I’d been there, both at the same time. Don’t know what that means.

Something I do know: it was real damn funny and had a slew of great tunes.

Walking home after: the springlike weather has backed off for now, leaving something more brisk in its place, something with a bit of a bite. I wandered along Gran Vía in the long, slow Madrid dusk, people heading home from the workday, lots of folks going in and out of the high-end clothing stores that dot both sides of the avenue. The sky above — between ragged, autumn-like clouds scudding along and patches of evening sky disappearing and reappearing — consisted of grays, blues and the entire spectrum of dark shades in between, with a few faint echoes of sunset colors, fading quickly. A cold breeze blew, a reminder of what month it actually is despite the recent glorious days’ mild temperatures, whipping brown leaves and a few dog-eared advert hand-outs around the sidewalk in whirlpools of motion, leaping up into the air now and then to swirl wildly about before jerking back down to the concrete, then back up toward the sky. Like an uncontrollable expression of joy by… whatever. The wind, the leaves and litter, the evening. By life itself.

At the corner of Gran Vía and la Calle de Hortaleza, a crowd of 30 or so late teens and 20-somethings swirled excitedly around an individual, everyone chattering and laughing loudly, one or two people taking flash photos. As the small crowd surged about in ripples of elated motion, I saw a smiling young woman at the center of it all, looking to be Ainhoa, one of the three finalists from this year’s edition of Operación Triunfo (Operation Triumph), a major deal here. I walked past, she began to move off, some of the crowd started to disperse, the rest eddying after her. Within seconds they were all gone, leaving me walking along Hortaleza.

Technopop or latin music poured from some tienda doorways, swelling suddenly as I passed, then quickly fading. Traffic moved by. The evening continued to deepen. By the time I’d reached my building, darkness had fallen.

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Here — not that you asked — is what I’ve been listening to lately:

Monsoon Wedding, the soundtrack

Who Can You TrustMorcheeba

Big Calm — Morcheeba

Mi cante y un poemaEstrella Morente

SpainMichel Camilo & Tomatito

Three cassette tapes of mostly delicious tunes from Back Porch Music, broadcast from WNUC-FM, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Vestidos de DomingoLa Cabra Mechanica

Thirteen Tales From Urban BohemiaThe Dandy Warhols

Two moments:

– Yesterday evening, I’m in a local drogería/perfumería (a combination drugstore and perfume/cologne store – why that combo? got me; it’s a common one here, though) picking up some cleaning supplies. “California Dreaming” is playing loudly on the in-store sound system, an employee stocking shelves near where I am sings loudly along with the Mamas & the Papas. He clearly doesn’t know the lyrics and likely doesn’t speak English, so is doing the universal let’s-make-noises-that-sound-kind-of-like-what-they’re-singing thing. Cranking out nonsense sounds in time to the music as if his life depended on it.

– Today, I went back to the travel agency I visited last Thursday, when I made arrangements for a jaunt to Italy a month from now. I’ve been waiting to hear re: confirmations re: places to stay. I go in, the woman I dealt with tells me that all the arrangements are set. She looks around for the forms to fill out for my itinerary, with no luck. She looks some more, the office is out of them. She confers with the guy in charge, they ask me if I need to have the form, I say, well, yes. Next thing I know, this woman goes flying out the door into the afternoon sunlight and down the street out of view, apparently running to another office. Literally running to another location to see if they had what she needed to help me out. Which is when I realize they were asking me if I needed the material right then, right that moment, as in “is it urgent?”

Why didn’t she make a call instead of running out the door? Got me. Something like ten minutes later, she reappeared having searched the other location without finding the form. I didn’t care – I am blown away when people put themselves out like that. In the moment she went out that door, a teensy bit of my heart when out after her in gratitude for her willingness to (literally) go the extra distance.

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I received an e-mail today from someone in northern Vermont, written around 6 a.m. Vermont time, before they went off to work. The temperature at that hour, they said, was around -35 F.(!!!) The temperature here right now, just shy of 4 p.m. Madrid time (golden sunlight streaming down, not a cloud in the sky): somewhere in the neighborhood of 58 F.

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For a good time, check out the last couple of entries here, here and here.

I am a bad American. I must be — I not only had no interest in the Super Whatever, but until I stumbled across the information in another blog a Not only that short time ago, I actually didn’t know which team was playing the Raiders.

Not only that – and I am not making this up – I still have no idea who won the game, much less what the score was. Come to think of it, I took a fast read through El Mundo as I had my morning I.V. of espresso, and I don’t remember seeing anything about the game in the sports section. Plenty about Spanish league soccer (that’s fútbol to the locals, and the teams play in La Liga), including the current scandalous state of Barça (a story the Spanish media is all over like a wet tee on a 42D)(hey, that rhymed!), but nothing about the Super Bowl outcome. Maybe the final score came too late to make the morning papers here.

To compensate just the teeniest bit for my shameful lack of basic American testosteronic hoo-ha, here’s a joke that sort of relates to the theme of this year’s Super Bowl — pirates! And as a bonus, the joke has two different answers. (This way when you inflict it on your friends — both of them! — you can tell one friend one answer and the other friend the other answer. Then when they run into each other and tell each other the joke – as of course they will, with a knee-slapper of this quality – they’ll get into a tiff over which is the correct answer which will slowly grow into a serious, relationship-rupturing disagreement. And as the rift between them deepens, to the point that the very air around them darkens with bitter, frustrated animosity and toxic, unresolved rage any time they come within 200 feet of each other, you’ll know it’s because you poisoned their relationship with this simple joke! Won’t that be fun?)

Er, where was I? Oh, right – the joke!

Q: What did Roman pirates say?

Ans. #1: I come to bury CeasARRRRR!

Ans. #2: Hey, nice togARRRRR!

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This a.m., when I stuck my head out a window to see how the day felt, I was met by early spring: warm sunlight, a mild breeze, people walking around in light clothing, little winter apparel in sight, despite the fact that February is still a few days off. A steady warming trend has settled in since the end of last week, the days becoming steadily more beautiful. A preview of springtime, or a false spring – the kind of illusion with which I can live without complaints of any type.

Springtime here tends to arrive in a long, languorous process of comings and goings, a series of sweet, teasing feints – days of warm weather followed by cool, even cold stretches – until before you know it, the gradual warming has turned into the real thing. Everyone has switched over to warm weather gear, the plazas are filled with people sitting at tables chatting, hoisting glasses of water, soda, wine or beer, the murmur of conversation and laughter rising to drift softly down the narrow streets.

The warmer days free up the Spanish tendency to go out – sitting at outdoor cafes/restaurants, taking long, leisurely strolls, or shopping (especially now during las rebajas, the January sales). The level of activity in this barrio, Chueca — already high — flowers, to the point where it seems there are always people in the street, day or night, that there’s always a feeling of life, of movement.

And today, with the warm weather came the sound of someone working in the partially-excavated, empty lot across the street. Not the intense, inescapable din of the big excavating machines of two weeks ago – the smaller, irregular sound of someone chipping away at something with hammer and chisel. When I stepped outside around 11:30 a.m., a single worker was crouched behind the temporary fence that’s been toss up around the lot, chipping out some of the diamond-shaped pieces of concrete that compose the sidewalk. It’s a nice sidewalk, one that’s seen the traffic of countless human feet (shod in all kinds of footwear), often accompanied by sets of canine feet. I’m sorry to see it being carted off bit by bit.

In the meantime, I passed one or two midday hours taking advantage of the last few days of las rebajas – household stuff, a couple of shirts – during which I stopped in at a nearby so-funky-it’s-chic secondhand clothing store called El Banco de La Ropa (The Clothing Bank). Found a couple of way cool satin jackets, both black, one embossed with a logo for a place in some small town in Pennsylvania called The After Hours Lounge. Both jackets priced right. But too big. Bugger.

Felt kind of decadent walking around shopping like that while most of the rest of the local world was in the middle of its work day. I may have to do some more of that. I think I hear some good, cheap footwear beckoning.

This morning: I drag myself out of bed, get to the gym just after the 10 a.m. opening of the doors (essentially the crack of dawn here — a good time to go to the gym as most of Madrid is still comatose at 10 a.m. on a Sunday). Not completely awake, so that the combination of the first three songs played on the in-house sound system seemed especially eccentric to my ears. They were:

Hey Jude — The Beatles

Staying Alive — The BeeGees (perhaps in homage to Maurice Gibbs)

The Ride of The Valkyries — Wagner

I’m not sure I’ve recovered from that line-up.

(And all through the Valkyries’ ride, I sang to myself,

“Kill da wabbit!

Kill da wabbit!!

Kill da wabbit!!!”)

That pernicious little phrase has been ricocheting around my teeny brain ever since, to the point where I think it’s time to exorcise the bugger. Which I’m going to do this very minute by posting the complete lyrics to:

“What’s Opera, Doc?”

Starring Bugs Bunny (Mel Blanc) and Elmer Fudd (Arthur Q Bryant)

Elmer: Be vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits.

(Spoken:) WABBIT TWACKS!! WABBIT HOLE!!

(Thrusting spear:) KILL THE WABBIT! KILL THE WABBIT! KILL THE WABBIT!

Bugs (spoken): Kill the wabbit?

Elmer: YO HO HO! YO HO HO! YO HO….

Bugs: Oh, mighty warrior of great fighting stock

Might I inquire to ask, eh… what’s up, doc?

Elmer: I’m going to kill the wabbit!

Bugs: Oh, mighty warrior, ’twill be quite a task.

How will you do it, might I inquire to ask?

E: I will do it with my spear and magic hewmet.

B: Spear and magic hewmet?

E: Spear and magic hewmet.

B: Magic hewmet?

E: Magic hewmet!

B (spoken, dismissively): Magic hewmet.

E: Yes, magic hewmet, and I give you a sample!

(Bugs exits at near-light speed.)

E (spoken): That was da wabbit!

(There follows a chase, and then:)

E: Oh, Bwoonhilda, you’re so wuvly.

B: Yes, I know it, I can’t help it.

E: Oh, Bwoonhilda, be my wuv….

(They dance, then… )

E: Weturn, my wuv… a fire burning inside me….

B: Return, my love, I want you always bee-side me.

E: Wuv wike ours must be…

B: Made for you and for me….

E & B : Return, won’t you return, my love… for my love is yours.

(While singing, they embrace. Bugs’ helmet falls to the ground revealing… a pair of big honkin’ rabbit ears!)

Elmer (spoken, outraged): I’ll KILL the wabbit!!

(spoken): North winds bwow, south winds bwow.

Typhoons, Hurricanes… Earthquakes!! SMOG!!!!!!

Thunder, wightning, stwike the wabbit!!

(Lightning flashes, striking something distant. Moving closer, we see the limp, lifeless form of Bugs. A drop of water clings to a crushed flower)

E: What have I done? I’ve killed the wabbit! Poor wittle bunny…. (Sob!)

(Bugs is carried off in Elmer’s arms.)

B (spoken): Well, what did you expect from an opera, a happy ending?

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Ahhhh, that’s better.

At times during the last few days, I’ve found myself feeling restless. Not my favorite sensation, but one that must be dealt with when it comes along. And fortunately, the solution is simple: get outside, take a walk.

I found myself feeling restless two nights ago. Without hesitation, I threw my jacket on and headed out for a curative stroll.

It’s nice to step out the door of this building into the middle of the ongoing evening activity — people walking, stepping in or out of nearby cafés/tabernas, the sound of conversation and laughter in the air. The simple feel of life happening all around has a restorative effect, at least for me.

This night I headed up la Calle de Pelayo, and as I approached the neighborhood tapas joint — a great little place called Santander — I felt the urge for a fast hit of finger food and slipped inside. Ordered a caña and one or two tapas, took a few leisurely minutes to hoover them up as I watched my fellow-hooverers, not to mention the counter help, three regulars who seem to be there every single time I stop in, making me wonder if they have mattresses under the counter (a la George Costanza and his under-desk hidey-hole) that they pull out after the nightly after-hours clean-up to sack out until it’s time to open the doors again when 11:30 a.m. rolls around Good food at this place, a huge assortment of tapas and tapas-like chow, and they do brisk business, although if you time your appearance right you can find a space at the counter where you can then settle in for as long as you want.

After that, I wandered out to la Calle de Hortaleza in the direction of Gran Vía, passing the Hudson Cafetería (”Pizza and American’s Food” reads their sign — my question: which American?), passing Viva El Musculo (”Long Live The Muscle,”a tienda catering to those into bodybuilding and/or simple fitness), past the tienda that is a combination drogería/perfumería/bellas artes shop (drug store/perfumes&colognes/art supplies – why art supplies? who the hell knows), past the endless stream of restaurants, cafes, grocery shops, book stores, bakeries, pharmacies. Out to Gran Vía, taking a short jog to the right where la Calle de Fuencarrel begins and heading up that street.

Lots of people out walking. Couples, groups, wandering along conversing, stopping to stare in shop windows – clothing and footwear tiendas predominate on Fuencarrel, with plenty of edgy, hip, sexy and/or outrageous gear on display. A young woman passed heading in the other direction, staring fixedly ahead, talking to herself in a loud whisper. A bald, hook-nosed, cadaverous 70-something gentleman passed shortly thereafter, also staring straight ahead, dressed in a sporty outfit (the kind of pseudo-workout gear that’s become suspiciously stylish), stooped over, wearing a large knapsack. Someone handing out promo material gave me a small, dark, psychedelically-colored card for Disco Club MIT Internacional (”abierto todas las noches de 23.00 horas a cierre” – open all nights from 11 p.m. to closing, an all-night joint).

I made my way back into my section of the barrio, ducking into a sandwich shop just around the block from la Plaza de Chueca, a place which used to peddle the best bocadillos I’ve eaten hereabouts. The shop changed hands at some point last year, and although it continues to do decent business, the quality has taken a steady downhill slide. I gave an order for a chicken bocadillo, noting the ambience – the small TV that’s hung over the in-house slot machine forever was on, playing a Spanish sitcom with the sound off, techno-flavored Europop playing loudly on the sound system. I noticed a small stack of CDs behind the glass enclosure on the counter, The Best of Vangelis lurking in the middle of the pile.

That was two nights ago. Today I found myself wrestling with restlessness all over again. Luckily I was set to meet with a friend passing through town for the weekend. She was out most of the night, which meant she was in bed until after 1 p.m. We arranged to meet here in the plaza at 2:30. She seemed to be stressing a bit about meeting me on time, I let her know punctuality was not an issue as I had nowhere to be and hanging out in the plaza would be no hardship. Why? Because today turned out to be a spectacular example of Madrid’s tendency to crank out mid-winter days of brilliant sunshine and moderate temperatures.

When I wandered out, the sidewalk in front of Angel Sierra, the taberna/tapas joint across from the plaza, was packed with people eating and drinking, the overflow spilling across the street into the plaza where more people milled about. A loose, surprised brand of near-euphoria predominated, the atmosphere buzzing with energy. The air literally glowed with the Iberian version of Vermeer-type sunlight. One of the concrete benches over on the east side of the plaza had some free space, I went over and asked the single resident if he would mind if I parked my butt there for a bit. He wouldn’t, I did.

A musician had just set up in the center of the plaza, facing the crowd in front of Angel Sierra – one musician with a keyboard and an amp rigged up on a handcart. He got going with a mix of Spanish and Mexican tunes, his keyboard synthing up an entire band, complete with virtual trumpet player, his amp filling the plaza with sound. Impressive, actually. A weathered 60ish street guy who’d been hanging with the musician wandered around with a paper plate soliciting change. A continuous stream of people passed through the plaza. Several people were parked at the bench to my right, including two or three kids. One of them, a sprightly blonde girl, maybe four years old, skipped through the crowd, singing happily. Three dogs had a cautiously happy genital-sniffing encounter, tails wagging stiffly, followed by a group pee break around a trash can. One of them, a large, black female mixed breed, then pranced around the square checking out the scene, her nails clicking on the pavement. One of the others, a brindle-colored male, discovered a large pool of dried who-knows-what not too far from the trash can and spent several disturbing minutes sniffing and licking it.

The musician eventually packed up and carted his gear off to a neighboring street, where the music started up all over again. The sun drifted far enough to the west that the shadows cast by the buildings around the plaza edged themselves over to bring shade to my bench. The guy who had been sitting next to me had gotten up and taken off, two younger gay guys parking themselves where he had been. When the shade slid over the bench, they rose and took over a neighboring bench, still in full light, once its numerous inhabitants had moved on.

My friend Marta showed up at 3. We went and got a meal at a neighborhood joint, then wandered to a local café for some, er, café. And dessert. A popular, chic, heavily gay gathering place, this establishment – noisy, air thick with cigarette smoke, pop music playing above it all. Fun. When we stepped outside around 6, the air felt fresh and clean, the barrio tranquil and benign.

It’s Saturday, late January, 2003. May you find things to enjoy and savor in the day’s passing hours.

Must ignore the news. Must ignore the news. Want to enjoy this beautiful day, not piss it away getting upset and distracted over bullshit I can’t control.

And it is a beautiful day. Sky empty of clouds, brilliant sunlight raining down. Temperature well up into the 50s, maybe even flirting with 60. (Yesterday I checked the weather for Montpelier, VT — at 2 p.m. EST the temperature there was 1 F.(!!!) I’msogladI’mhereI’msogladI’mhere.) Got up at a decent hour, whatever that expression means, dragged my sorry butt to the gym. For whatever reason — maybe because I’m not sitting in Spanish class every day — I’m having a bit more trouble picking up Spanish, at least out on the street where it gets spoken by real people, not by newscasters or language instructors. I need lots more Spaniards in my life so that I’m hearing and stumbling my way through the real item on a regular basis. (Note to Universe: make it so, please.)

Have been doing research re: taking a trip to Rome/Florence at the end of February. Thought I had it pretty well worked out. HAH!! Went to a travel agency, found out I barely know my ass from a large, professionally-excavated hole in the ground. Came home from the agency with a bunch of reference magazines and catalogues that the woman kindly dumped on me (sending me off with the admonition to read them “tranquilamente” at home). Which I’ve done. Tranquilamente. I now have a slightly better idea of what I may be doing, or at least where I’ll be staying. Having grown up in a family where cheapo-cheapo was the general rule when it came to spending money in big (and small) ticket ways, it’s interesting to watch me learning to relax around that, do it so it’s more enjoyable and easier on the spirit.

An additional wrinkle: I have a real aversion to being and/or appearing like a tourist. Which could be a source of problems in a situation where I actually am, you know, a tourist. One of those people who stays in a hotel, doesn’t speak the language, blahblahblah. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a tourist, he reminded himself. Tourists widen their horizons, exposing themselves (so to speak) to other cultures, other ways of life and potentially to other ways of being, to other perspectives. Tourism brings $$$$$ to places and people that might otherwise not have much $$$$$. There are loads of positive aspects, tangible and intangible, to tourism and tourists. Still, I prefer not to fall quite so obviously and visibly into that category.

This will be my first time in Italy, a place I’ve wanted to explore for decades. Five days in Rome, four in Florence. Just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the kind of roaming around I’d like to do on that particular footwear-shaped land mass. Centuries and centuries (and centuries) of history. A language that sounds like singing to my little ears. And then there’s the food. (Brief pause to salivate appreciatively.)

I’ve enjoyed the Italians I’ve met here — fun to hang out with, interesting to observe, with a fine, active sense of humor. And the women (like Spanish women) are lovely — intelligent, interesting, a pleasure to be around.

This will be an interesting jaunt.

And speaking of salivating appreciatively (I refer to food with that intro, not women), one of the things I enjoy doing here in Madrid is going out to lunch. To begin with, I love being cooked for. I mean, seriously, I do. I am so genuinely, deeply, grovellingly appreciative when someone prepares a meal for me. And Spanish food is so much fun, with such rich tradition. This city is lousy with restaurants, both big and small, and bars/taverns which prepare menú del día lunches — two course affairs (three if you count dessert) with anywhere from three to ten or more options for each course, including bread, something to drink and dessert/café. The price generally ranges from 6.50 to 8.50 (euros), the quality of the food is usually good to excellent. I go out, someone brings me a delicious, nicely prepared meal, I get to people-watch and listen in on the chatter, both favorite activities of mine, and even if I leave a generous tip, I still get away having laid out 8 or 9 euros, feeling satisfied and happy. For the money, a steal.

Twice in the last month when it came to the end of the meal, I discovered that an item had been left out of the bill – an extra bottle of water, an extra something to eat. Both times I’ve brought it to the attention of the wait staff, and the appreciation and good will that’s resulted has been so much fun. It’s almost as if they simply can’t believe someone was honest (or, er, dim?) enough to remind them they need to charge more.

They’re great people, the Spaniards. Quirky, with their own goofy eccentricities, like every other nationality on this planet of ours. And great people.

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By the way, for any who might enjoy further musings about food/food prep. blended very nicely with reflections of a more personal nature, take a look at Struggle In A Bungalow Kitchen, a blog I have come to appreciate more and more with continued reading.

There is a store up la Calle de Hortaleza (one of this barrio’s main drags) toward Gran Vía that deals in pop culture stuff, stuff that is way guay (a local word for cool) — Simpsons products of all kinds, South Park thingies, Halloween masks/costumes, horror movie paraphernalia, pyschedelic dreck. At this time the display windows are heavily weighted toward the Lord of The Rings, featuring scads of action figures, two different chess sets (one for the first film, one for The Two Towers) and a so-cheesy-looking-it’s-almost-(but-not-quite)-cool plastic Sting sword. Meanwhile, down in local Metro stations, La Razón, one of the local rags from way over on the right side of the political spectrum, is running a promotion consisting of huge ads — maybe 8′ high by 4′ across — advertising a free Lord of The Rings Parchisi set, complete with six action figures.

Not to be outdone, and opting for a highbrow approach, the leftie newspaper, El País just started a promotion in which they’re pushing a 45-film collection of Spanish movies, one available every Sunday for something like 2 or 3 euros. The first film — La Lengua de Las Mariposas (The Language of the Butterflies) — available this past Sunday, was free.

DVDs often seem to be available here at extremely reasonable prices, while the price of CDs has skyrocketed since the introduction of the euro a year ago — from the equivalent of U.S. $11-$13 (in pesetas) to anywhere from 18-21 euros, at least at Madrid Rock, my local music outlet of choice. A hefty bit of inflation, that. I’m not counting the 8.99 bargain bins here, by the way, nor am I counting black market street sales of counterfeit CDs, widely available at 3 for 6 euros. I’m not a fan of pirating, which shafts the artists, but given the math (let’s see — 1 CD for 18 euros or 3 CDs for 6?) I can see why the black market vendors do brisk business.

Between black market sales and the ubiquitous handbill people, huge amounts of sidewalk commerce go on in this part of the world. It would be easy to pick up anywhere from 10-20 handbills during the course of one’s day, though I seem to have developed a force field that prevents the handbill folks from getting near enough to me to unload anything. Could be I walk too quickly, could be my path gets too conveniently serpentine when I pass one of them, could be I’ve developed a head tic that communicates a fast, firm “¡NO, gracias!” Whatever the case, I lately have to make an effort to get an ad handed to me, which I did earlier while walking along the major pedestrian thoroughfare between Sol and Callao. The handbill: “Tenemos el placer de invitarle al estreno en MADRID del GRAN FESTIVAL MUNDIAL del CIRCO” (We have the pleasure of inviting you to the opening in Madrid of the Grand World Festival of the Circus). Off to one side is a photo of a happy dude in a fancy robe-like outfit — vaguely suggestive of clothing from The MYSTIC ORIENT; kind of an Arabic/Masonic/Chinese emperor thing. To his side is a large, glass container, maybe mid-thigh height, wide enough to fit a human body. And indeed, if you look closely you can see that there appears to be a person in there, all curled up contortionist-fashion. “CIRCO MUNDIAL,” reads the text, “presenta por primara vez in Europea EL HOMBRE BOTELLA — ZAMORATE! UN HOMBRE dentro de una BOTELLA!” (WORLD CIRCUS presents for the first time in Europe THE BOTTLE MAN — ZAMORATE! A MAN inside a BOTTLE!)

I’m actually considering making the trip out to Ventas to scope out this extravaganza. We’ll see.

I passed through Sol/Callao around 6 p.m. Dirty gray clouds traveled rapidly across the sky overhead, while the lowering sun turned the top two or three floors of nearby buildings a brilliant gold, an intense contrast with the dark sky. As I walked along the pedestrian way, I heard an accordion, realized some street musician was delivering a kickass rendition of St. James Infirmary. I spotted him standing by a building, out of the way, easy to miss. Madrileños streamed past as he played, on their way home or moving in and out of stores, taking advantage of the January sales. No one seemed to notice him, despite his truly fine work. It may be that without an amplifier, was too easily smothered by the ambient noise.

I watched him for a while — tall, slender, with long hair tied back and an unruly graying beard, dressed in flannel shirt, jeans, work boots — finally tossing some money in his instrument case before heading slowly away. As I moved off, he finished up that number, started something more polka-ish. Not as distinctive as the previous tune, but he played the hell out of it just the same.

Had to send something off to the States today. Woke up early (after getting to bed real late – bleah!), dragged my little butt to the gym. Afterward, grabbed the Metro to a station that’s a 5-10 minute walk from here, Alonso Martinez, to go to a nearby post office (oficina de correos). I walk there from the station, the p.o. building turns out to be closed down, locked up, dark. I find myself standing in front of it, confused, mouth hanging slightly open, wondering if today’s a Spanish holiday of some sort I hadn’t heard about. Then I note a sign hanging on the inside door stating that this post office has closed — as in for good/out of service — referring people like me to some other ones, none of which were close by.

Turned around, came home. Will go to the main post office tom’w, a 10-15 minute walk from here, in a huge, beautiful old building with turrets, flags flying, the whole wazoo. Grand as all get-out, and kind of fun for that.

Elections are going to be happening here soon and the campaign season began this last weekend. The head of the current center-right government made a major speech promising less taxes, more security, better standard of living (he left off the part about skyrocketing budget deficits) – one may have nothing to do with the other, it just felt strange to hear that on last night’s news then run into an example of shrinking public resources today. With that closing, this barrio now has no post office. The barrio of Salamanca, east of here — Madrid’s swanky district, where my friend Jaime lives — has several, including three within about a three-square block area.

Hmmmmm.

On the other hand, I got to the neighborhood churrería shortly after that, this time — attempt #3 — they had the goods! Major heaping piles of both churros and porras! Scored five porras, polished off most of them off as soon as I stepped in the door of my piso. Ahhhhhhhh, yeah.

Then later, went back to the movie theater I was at yesterday, intending to see the film I’d intended to see yesterday, pre-ticket-mix-up. Went into the right theater, sat in a comfy seat, eavesdropping on nearby conversations – not difficult, given that Spaniards tend to blab at endearingly loud levels. Sat through ten or so minutes of pre-film ads, then sat through the film itself.

There’s a certain kind of movie you will only find over here. A bastard-offspring-of-Fellini/Bergman kind of affair, often from Italy, though not always. Heavy, serious, earnest, sometimes leavened with ironic humor, sometimes not. Generally well-shot, well-acted, with seriously convoluted story lines. Like this one – “My Mother’s Smile.” Paranoia, intrigue, a collapsing marriage, existential questions, moral hypocrisy, an affair with a beautiful woman, the machinations of an emotionally corrupt Italian family attempting to get their mother sanctified for entirely mercenary reasons, a plot that wandered through all sorts of odd scenes and dark corners, yadda yadda yadda. With moments of intentional laughter and a few of the more unintentional brand. Now that’s entertainment – I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

And speaking of intrigue, last night’s game between two of Madrid’s three fútbol teams – Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid — ended in a 2-2 draw instead of the trouncing (by R.M. to A.M.) that many were expecting. Many – including the players and management of Real Madrid – are blaming the outcome on flagrantly incompetent officiating, and today’s papers were filled with articles about the game and blissful, extensive coverage of the loud, roiling display of post-game outrage/disbelief. This is akin to a Yankees-Mets match-up in which the Yanks clearly expect to flatten the boys from Shea Stadium — for nine innings, both teams whale away at each other, the Mets making a scrappy, desperate show of it, hanging on by their fingernails the entire time; the umps make a string of controversial calls that swing the impetus of the proceedings back and forth between the teams, finally permitting the Mets to tie the game in the last minute of play. And extra innings aren’t allowed. Imagine the fuss in NYC after an event like that.

Serious fun.

Ah, life – I do enjoy Planet Earth’s ongoing show.

After six weeks of intensive Spanish classes — an extended resuscitation of my gradually-growing language skills after eight months in the States — I decided to take a break. Long, short, don’t know. But time off. And as soon as I made that decision, after finishing up classes this last Friday, I realized how tired I’d become. (Friday night was spent in a local joint on a sidestreet in the barrio of Salamanca, with a Spanish friend and his cousin — a smart, interesting woman — eating raciones, drinking coffee, conversation and their cigarette smoke flowing fast and thick. But that’s another entry.)

Yesterday: gray/rainy, the first such day since the start of the week. Got up, looked outside, went back to bed. Managed to rouse myself sometime before midday. Shuffled sluggishly around the piso for a while, finally did the shower/shave thing, pulled some clothes on, went out for a cup of espresso. Made my way through the neighborhood’s damp, narrow streets, bustling with people out shopping. Stopped in at the Cafetería Vivares, ordered a cup of high-test, found the scene so agreeably bright and noisy that I took possession of a vacant table and ordered an extremely satisfying lunch. Two people were waiting table, a 20ish South American woman and a fit 30ish gay guy, him wearing clothing just tight enough to show off his various bulges. The lunchtime rush hadn’t yet gotten underway, so in between forays around the customers, they hung out at the counter, watching the TV that hangs over the entranceway (then playing a pop-music program, mostly of the Britney Spears/TLC clone variety), talking together, laughing. Relaxed.

Finished eating, went back home, returned to bed. Read, snoozed. Read some more, snoozed some more.

This morning: initially cold and overcast, until the clouds gave way mid-a.m. to a classic Madrid January day. By early afternoon, the mercury had slid quietly well up into the 50s. I’d thought about herding myself out the door and over to the gym, got up, found myself feeling that I wanted nothing to do with plans that ambitious. I recently discovered a churrería in the neighborhood, a strange little tienda tucked into a motley row of shops. Their sign says churrería/patatas fritas, an accurate rundown of what they deal in — churros and potato chips, the chips loose, in bulk, piled high in the shop window. I stopped in yesterday after lunch, salivating at the thought of fresh churros or porras to chase down the midday chow – no dice. It was just before 2 p.m., the customary Saturday closing time for most shops around here – they were out of what I sought. This morning, I made a fast foray to pick up the Sunday El País, going by way of the churrería in hopes of Sunday morning tastebud bliss. Again, no dice. Closed, shuttered, quiet. Bugger.

Came home, dropped my tired body into my Ikea bentwood lounge thingie, found myself zoning out. Thinking, watching the morning light that poured in the windows as passing clouds made it fade then surge brilliantly back, languidly over and over. Occasionally reading. Realized at some point in a startled way that the time had washed by, that it was 1 o’clock plus. Thought about making a stab at some culture, remembered that the museum I was thinking of closed at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Settled for going out to yet another satisfying lunch.

Post-lunch, headed to a movie, going by way of la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, the day feeling like the best of October/November in New England. There is a heavily traveled two-block length of a street that stretches from north to south between Sol and Gran Vía which is a haunt for young prostitutes, generally arrayed along the buildings on the east side of the street. (Across the street, banners arrayed along the buildings’ numerous balcones read “¡Prostitución En La Calle No!” (Prostitution In The Street, No!) and “¡Estamos Hartos!” (We’re Fed Up!). The few hookers on duty when I went by were standingout by the street, soaking up the sunlight, talking quietly to each other, paying no attention to the banners’ ongoing protest.

At the theater, a 9-screen house just up the hill to the south of Sol, I asked for a ticket to an Italian film. Went into the sala, took my seat, survived the 5-10 minutes of pre-film ads. The feature started up, I realized that for the second time in the last six weeks the gnomes in this theater’s box office gave me a ticket for the wrong film. The first time I found myself watching, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” This time? “White Oleander.” Debated leaving, decided to stay. Turned out to be the most well-written, beautifully acted/directed, extremely depressing movie I’ve seen in a long time time. Whoooeee! Not a comedy. More like an hour and 45 minute long parent-child car wreck, with a sudden story-line turn in the direction of hope at the very end.

Afterwards, back out in the street. The sun down out of view behind the city’s buildings, the upper floors awash in soft orange light. I headed back toward Sol, found myself stopping mid-Plaza, inundated with sensory input, the sky (hell, the very air) aglow with evening light, the upper floors of the buildings ringing the plaza – all in various shades of tan or off-white, with white trim, each floor studded with neat rows of French windows behind balcones, the even lines of the roofs against the sky punctured by occasional clusters of television antennas, some vertical, others less so – shining with sunset radiance, the sky above a contrast of blue and dramatic, curving expanses of orange clouds. Below all that, an ongoing swirl of people flowed through, moving in all directions. In the middle of it, in front of the statue of the bear and the tree (the city’s symbol), three strange, olive-skinned males were engaged in some kind of public display, one banging a tambourine in a not-quite steady rhythm, the other two holding whatever the hell those things are called, electric megaphones, raising them to their mouths every few beats, one to mutter something, the other to call something out. Impossible to understand until I passed right by them, when I got that they were Jesus folks doing their thing, the louder of the two giving it away with his periodic exclamations of “¡Oh, Christo!”

I’m not sure I can explain exactly why, but this flood of sensory input affects me like few things I’ve experienced in this life. There is something about this city that magnifies the fascination and pleasure that the passage of life’s normal moments brings me. I probably shouldn’t try to analyze it or describe it in too much depth as that might result in toxic quantities of purple prose, but it’s a genuine phenomenon. Madrid has a grip on me.

A cafetería 40 or 50 feet from the statue had chairs and tables out, all vacant. I got a cup of excellent decaf espresso and sat myself down to soak up the scene as the evening light began to dim. The constant motion of passing people, the murmuring wash of passing conversation. Five older women — all short and squat, four out of the five wearing dark, thick fur coats – walked slowly by, arm in arm, conversing happily, animatedly. Many couples, arms around each other. The Jesus chant continued off beyond the statue, sounding like more like a strange, under-rehearsed pep rally (Go, Christo!) than a religious exhortation. As the light faded, the temperature fell perceptibly, a cold breeze began making its way between the many walking figures, rustling the thin, potted hedges that ran along one side of the tables/chairs.

A short time later, back here in the neighborhood, as I walked through narrow streets still filled with lingering light, I passed a balcón on which someone had put out four bird cages. All canaries, it sounded like, calling back and forth to each other with sweet, question-like notes, punctuated every now and then by a outburst of rising and falling notes, the sound startling and glorious in the evening air. A way of taking flight, perhaps, through song instead of cage-bound wings.

Why do I find this story so fascinating?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And speaking of inexplicable feelings, I’ve recently found myself wanting to trim my forearm hair (which seems to have grown thicker and more concentrated — simianlike even — with age; hair loss does not seem to be my problem, for which I am properly, grovellingly grateful). My question: how the hell do I manage this operation without sprouting another arm or two? For the life of me, I just can’t get this bramble-like profusion of follicles to stand up and cooperate. I refuse to seek assistance from any of my Spanish friends/neighbors and I refuse to mousse my forearms. Which seems to leave me up mierda creek without a paddle (though with a fine pair of shears which I try to brandish threateningly at said forearm hair — I swear I can hear them laughing in response).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Inspired by fussy:

My Close Encounters with The Stars

Who: JOHN OATES

Where: In an elevator in NYC.

When: A spring morning some time ago, when Hall & Oates were still a force in the pop world.

What happened? I was there picking up a wad of brand new postcards, the kind aspiring actors get made (bearing my resume shot, my name & phone number, to be mailed to agents, etc. to notify them of my upcoming appearances/performances/money-begging gigs). The outfit that made the cards was one floor down from The Record Plant. I get in the elevator with my cool new postcards, all sporting my silly smiling face, there’s another guy in the car, we ride down together. Him: short, w/ dark curly hair, friendly. Us: both in a fine mood. We talk about the weather, we talk about how people love to complain about the weather, we talk about how much fun people are to watch. We walk out of the building together, happily blabbing. We say good-by, go our separate ways, I’m halfway down the block when I realize who I’d just been talking with.

And the vibe? Relaxed. I think he enjoyed chatting with someone friendly, absent of any recognition of who he was.

My at-that-time wife’s reaction: She tried to top my story with a Paul Simon sighting. Didn’t work — A bigger star, no question, but NOT friendly, not happy to be recognized.

Who: MIKE FARRELL

Where: L.A., in a popular bakery in Sherman Oaks.

When: Many years after MASH, before PROVIDENCE.

What happened? A Sunday morning, I’d just gone to a nearby gym, was rewarding myself with a post-pumping-up cookie. The bakery had a big, popular cafe. I’m standing at the counter, a group of people walk in the door, one of them a tall guy I know, or at least thought I did (him having been in my living room hundreds of times). In the space of about two-tenths of a second: I see this familiar face, not placing him but assuming he was a friend, begin to smile; he spots me looking at him, sees the smile of greeting taking shape on my face; his expression shifts to displeasure, he looks immediately away; I realize who he is. His group walks into the cafe.

And the vibe? Er, not friendly. Not that it had to be.

Friends’ reactions: No one cared one way or another.

Who: NORMAN LEAR

Where: The offices of Tandem Productions, where I temped as a word processor for eight months in L.A. in the 80s.

When: On a couple of occasions, when he strode through the room in which I worked.

What’d he do? Nothing much. Walked through, wearing a Frank Sinatra type hat.

At one point during my time there, I converted his address book to a word processing file, getting a poopload of big-time names/addresses out of the deal. I gave Harrison Ford’s phone number/address to several women friends for Christmas that year, all wrapped up in teeny gift boxes with little red bows. (To quote George Costanza, was that wrong?) I also, during my time there, word-processed the final version of the script for Blade Runner (produced by Lear’s partners Perenchio and Yorkin) just as the film was being readied for first release. Woo-hoo!

Friends’ reactions: No one cared. It was L.A. — people had close encounters with famous names/faces all the time.

Someone needs to come up with 48-hour days. Or 14-day weeks. Or something along those lines. I would love to be living spans of time that stretch on and on and on, in which I do everything I want, taking all the time I need, savoring the luxury of it all.

Yeah – I like to dream. Dreaming’s fun. So sue me.

The weather here today turned out to be beautiful in a way that just about gets me shaking me head as I walk about in it all. The Madrid sun comes up slowly, beginning a bit shy of 8 a.m., which is just fine with me. I sleep very nicely when it’s dark out in the a.m. When I stepped out of the Metro station near the language school about ten minutes before 9 o’clock, the light had just begun to strengthen. The air, though cold, was soft on the skin, and a bit misty. When I returned to the barrio after classes, the light had become like something out of a Vermeer painting, almost as if the air had turned golden during the morning hours, except in the shadows of the narrow streets, and even there it was soft, quiet, contemplative. The sky hovered blue and cloudless above the city. In la Plaza de Chueca, just down the block from here, a few people stood out in front of the old corner taberna, Angel Sierra, holding a soda or a beer or a vermouth, talking quietly, all positioned in the wedge of sunlight that extended across the street from the plaza. The day warmed up enough that I found myself walking around with my jacket open, a preview of the way it gets here in February – days starting out cool, misty, then warming up into the upper 50s and 60s. I can live with this. (And am.)

I’m trying to figure out what to do with myself re: classes/writing/everything else, and have pretty much decided to do what I mostly do: punt. Pay attention to my impulses, ‘cause they just don’t seem to steer me wrong. The construction across the street didn’t happen today, who knows why. There were no vehicles hanging about, no big machines. Just a big, open-faced, heavy-duty dumpster filled with earth, waiting to be loaded onto a truck and taken away. Late this afternoon, on my way into the building after going out to take care of an errand, someone in business clothes stood with a nicely-dressed couple, talking seriously about something. Could be the sales of future housing units has already begun, while the units are still barely more than a gleam in some architect’s eyes.

I’m feeling the need for a bit of a break from classes and may take next week off to see how it feels, maybe take a few tentative first steps in the next writing project I’ve been thinking about. I’m also finding that I really don’t want to speak English during my days – I spend enough hours writing in English, between this journal, the internet, e-mail, blahblahblah. At some point, I may investigate volunteering some hours every week to a charitable or environmental institution, see how that goes.

Or not, to all of the above. I’ll go by my impulses and see where that takes me. In the meantime, there’s schoolwork to do (more uses of the *!&@#*! subjuntive verb form), and there’s life here to enjoy, a minute at a time.

And speaking of impulses, I found myself sitting here yesterday afternoon, schoolwork in my lap, afternoon sunlight pouring in the living room windows, feeling tired, not content, unsure what I wanted to be doing. At ten minutes before 4, I found myself seized with the impulse to jump up out of the chair, throw on a jacket, and haul ass to a theater two Metro stops away to see Analyze That (called “Otra Terapía Peligrosa” here — “Another Dangerous Therapy”). Not a film I’d had any interest in seeing before that impulse. It turned out that a stupid comedy was exactly what I needed. And it is stupid. I’m aware that the reviews for the film were pretty bad in the States, and maybe deservedly so. DeNiro and Billy Crystal, though, filled that theater with laughter. I found myself laughing out loud. At them. The rest of the film, well, er, hmm — watch it (if you can muster the interest) for DeNiro and Crystal. And stay in your seats at the end – the outtakes are good, cheap, low-brow fun. (It also helped that admission to the theater turned out to be discounted on Wednesdays, costing a grand total of 4 euros.)

DeNiro is a god, in the same way Lawrence Olivier was – appreciate him while he’s here and cranking the films out.

Right. Enough blabber. Be well.

It’s not that I don’t want to post long-winded entries to this journal every single day and bore you senseless with further blabbering re: my day-to-day Madrid doings. ‘Cause I do. You should count your blessings that my little life shifted into a slightly overwhelming version of itself once the holidays packed up and flounced off, ‘cause otherwise there’d be oceans of text being posted here for you to wade through.

There’s a lot going on in my existence right now, enough that some wonderful person should do me a sizeable favor and come here to manage my affairs for a while. Just until I’ve gotten caught up on sleep and have reverted to my more normal, composed, scintillating self.

Not that I’m bitching. This is a great problem to have, the lots-going-on thing. It’s good to have a life.

So instead of flogging this subject until I wring a few paragraphs out of it, I’m going to leave it at this and steer myself toward bed. You, in the meantime, might want to out other Comment (0)

You know, someone really needs to save me from myself.

In class today we’re given an assignment in which we have to write a composition. En Español, por supuesto. A composition utilizing certain usages they’ve been inflicting on us – the subjunctive verb form, conditional sentences. Like that. I spend far too much time writing as it is, and we’d already been given other homework, reasonably painful all by itself. So the idea that I have to take a bunch of time to cobble together a composition over and above everything else got me grumbling just the teeniest bit. And I figured, well, fine — why not save myself time and heartbreak? I’ll just translate a few paragraphs of something I’ve already written, and what came to mind was a chapter of a recently completed novel. “A brainstorm!” thought my teeny little brain. “Woo-hoo! I’ve had a bona fide brainstorm!”

So that’s what I do. I find the text, I begin translating. I’m working away, it’s actually feeling kind of exciting. I enjoy this particular piece to begin with – watching it take form in another language is a brand new experience, and I’m liking it. My translation is probably rife with errors, but for a while that doesn’t tarnish the experience. What does begin to put a the tiniest of crimps in it is the amount of time it winds up taking. The passage I choose grows longer and longer and longer as it unreels in Spanish, until it’s twice the length I need for the assignment, twice the work I needed to be doing. I can’t cut the bugger down – it’s only four paragraphs in length to begin with. It won’t even make sense if it loses any text. Grumble, grumble.

The minutes are slipping by, I’m still sweating away at this thing, and when I finally round the last corner and wrap the bugger – 90 minutes later – I am cracking myself up. I’ve taken WAY more time doing this work than the original assignment would have taken and, as I realize when it’s all over, it doesn’t incorporate the usages our profesora flogged us with today, which was (please imagine the following being said loudly by Jack Nicholson:) the POINT of the WHOLE GODDAMN THING TO BEGIN WITH.

Life. So much entertainment, in so many unlikely forms.

So. I now have a version of that chapter’s first few paragraphs which I will undoubtedly inflict on this webpage at some point, after I’ve made sure it doesn’t feature too many glaring errors in translation.

A friend was in town this weekend — Curtis, an American who’s been living and working in Pamplona for the last several years. (See journal entries for March 8-26, 2002.) We make telephone contact yesterday morning, I find out that he and David, a mutual friend, have decided to go see Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers later in the day. I immediately announce I’m going along, then call David — yet another American — who was going to procure tickets via the internet. He’s married to Maria, a lovely Spanish woman — she answers the phone, it’s obvious they’re both still in bed. (11:30 a.m. Not so unusual here.) I swap greetings with her, David gets on the line, arrangements are made.

I have lunch with Curtis in a neighborhood joint. Afterwards, we slog through la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol and up the hill to the cinema, get on line. David finally shows up with Maria and her sister. A few minutes of chat, then Maria and her sister head off for shopping (this being the season of las Rebajas) and whatever, the three males head into the theater. David bought tickets with typical Spanish seating – about 2/3 of the way back. I see this and immediately start agitating — politely, I hope — to move closer to the screen. A tall male sits in the seat in front of me, my view of the screen is drastically diminished, my lobbying for a change of location continues. The theater is less than half-full (first showing of the day), David and Curtis kindly consent to change seats so that we’re 8 or 9 seats from the front instead of 18 or 19. (Yee-ha!)

We sit through a few minutes of ads, before we know it the film gets underway. This was my second time seeing the bugger (likewise for Curtis; the third time for David – yes, I admit it, we’re Lord of The Rings nerds), and the difference for me with the second viewing was that I experienced the story more deeply, found myself, in fact, sucked into it, involved in it far more than I did the first time around. I felt the accumulating intensity of it more this time around, and I have to say, the way it builds to the final 40-minute battle of Helms Deep is done with fine, subtle pacing and skill. (In my humble, ignorant opinion, anyway, for what doubtful value it has.) And whereas I found myself at the end of my first viewing cracking wise about the body count, this time the slaughter and relentless conflict reminded me of the long, brutal battle that finishes out Saving Private Ryan, only on a broader, more epic scale. I was glad it was over, frankly, and found myself relieved to step out of the theater into the cold January air of Madrid, life going on all around.

David and Curtis whip out cellphones and begin jabbering away, I watch cars going past, people walking by. It was good to be there, the city’s evening activity swirling around us. We walked a few blocks to hook up with Maria and her sister, wound up sitting in a coffee joint, cigarette smoke in the air, dance music playing loudly, and it may be that all three of us needed to shake off the film, with its intensity and loss of life, because the conversation not only went nowhere heavy, it quickly went to places decidedly trivial and profane — us maybe blowing out the psychic vents, so to speak. Stereotypes about Spaniards, then men and women in general, began flying, leading to a passage in which Curtis and David began elaborating re: the stereotypes around men and bathrooms: men don’t notice the colors in bathrooms, you won’t find a hand towel in a man’s bathroom, men care far less about hygiene and their mode of dress than women. (For what it’s worth, I notice the colors in bathrooms, there is a hand towel in my bathroom. I mentioned that, Curtis/David immediately pointed out that I live in the barrio of Chueca, meaning that life in a barrio with a substantial gay population has had an effect on my lifestyle, blahblahblah.)(Of course it’s ridiculous — I’m just reporting what happened.) At some point, more explicit tales of male lack-of-hygiene surfaced (WARNING: FOUL MOMENT APPROACHING!!), David mentioning that a Spanish male he knew once found himself in a restaurant men’s room, winding up the heavier of the two possible intestinal evacuation procedures, with no toilet paper in sight. According to David, the guy grabbed a toilet brush to finish up with, a claim that provoked a shower of rude puns (”That was a dirty crack!” “That wrecked ‘im!” “Cheeky bugger!” “Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘brush after every meal!’”)

Out in the street afterwards, I found that between all of it – coffee, music, people, conversation, low humor – I’d managed to shake off the heaviness I brought out of the theater with me, felt lighter, more present.

Whatever gets the job done.

From there, Maria wanted to show David a coat she’d seen earlier, we trooped over to join the Saturday night multitude in el Corte Inglés, where I found myself in the middle of crowds of Spanish women – not a bad place to be.

They’re lovely, Spanish women. Interesting, animated, fun to watch.

Not a bad way to pass a Saturday evening, that — in a crowded store, smack in the center of the Iberian peninsula, surrounded by females. Surrounded by life.

Worked okay for me.

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