far too much writing, far too many photos

Was out earlier doing errands, getting the paper and the morning hit of espresso. Another beautiful a.m., quieter than recent days due to the absence of the rear-end/front-end loader at the construction site across the street.

Heading back to the flat I passed the plaza, where people sat on benches talking, others walked through in transit, folks went in and out of the Metro, dogs did their thing (smelling communal pee spots, hanging out contentedly by their owners, yelling comments at other canines or engaging in close encounters, some friendly, some cautious, others tense or openly hostile). I realized I didn’t have a notebook with me, something that’s been happening a lot lately. Somehow I’ve gotten out of the habit of carrying one, which has led to moments where I go to pull it out to begin scribbling stuff, then remember it’s back at home. D’OH! moments, the real item.

I continued on, making my way through people walking along the sidewalk or out in the street, approaching a woman who appeared to be your standard issue 60ish alma de casa (housewife), dressed in standard semi-casual warm weather older folk garb. She’d stopped in front of a shop window to study something in concentrated fashion, then pulled back, making a loud critical comment about the prices. From her manner, I assumed she was with one of the people around her, but as she turned and headed up the block, it became clear she was solo, which didn’t stop further critical comments. She thought the prices were too damn high and she wasn’t keeping it to herself. I reached the door to my building and stopped, pulling out keys. She continued on, veering out into the street, moving toward the nearby cross-street to move off to the left. Still talking, still righteously displeased, passersby glancing at her then away, all of it just one more passing moment on a lovely Friday in a city of close to five million souls.

She disappeared around the corner, the day moved on.

********

Following is a post from yesterday that never made it through to this page, in spite of many, many attempts. (It did, I’m glad to say, make it through on this journal’s other webpage.)

Thursday, May 29 –

When I stepped out my door earlier today, the air in the stairwell hung alluringly thick with the smell of cooking. The kind of aroma that immediately catches my attention, gets my head swivelling around, nostrils trying to track down the source (me being the kind of person who (a) loves a tasty meal, (b) especially if it’s been prepared by someone else).

I am an extremely good audience for other people’s cooking, and the simple fact that someone else prepared it often makes it automatically that much more delicious. I’m happy to help out with the prep., I’m happy to help with clean-up afterwards and/or wash the dishes. Making me exactly the type of individual who should be sporting the classic WILL WORK FOR FOOD sign.

I suspect the aroma came from the neighboring flat. My next-door neighbor is a late-40s single woman who hosts visiting students, I hear her preparing meals on a fairly regular basis. As I headed down the stairs, the smell gradually faded, the temperature of the air cooled, the illumination from the stairwell skylight slowly dimmed.

Three days ago, the front-end/rear-end loader rematerialized at the construction site across the street, resulting in renewed digging, earth-moving, diesel fumes, and the occasional beep-beep-beep when the bugger backs up. All of which has meant my windows stay closed when big machinery’s in use to cut down on noise and airborne dust. So this morning I hadn’t checked out the air/temperature until I stepped outside and was bowled over once again by yet another day of spectacular early summer weather. Honest to god, it is just about beyond description, — the sun intense enough that it’s genuinely warm/hot, depending on the time of day and your individual body’s reaction to its direct light. A stroll down one of the barrio’s streets — moving in and out of shadow/light, the lightest breeze stroking one’s skin now and then — feels unbelievably good.

Sorry. I have a tendency to spew blissfully about stuff like this.

I went around the block to the recycling bins on la Calle de Augusto Figueroa, then picked up a paper at the plaza and headed back in the direction of la Calle de Hortaleza in search of a hit of espresso. Construction work is happening all over the place here, mostly rehab, one of the more visible signs of the neighborhood’s upward trajectory. A dead young city-planted sidewalk tree stood next to a nearly-full streetside construction dumpster, branches starkly bare in the late morning light, all trimmed short, maybe in the hope of getting it to send out some green. Nearby, a rehab worker stood in dusty t-shirt/overalls and well-worn, paint-smeared work shoes, staring at the tree. Just standing, staring, as if pondering it. As I walked by, he came out of his reverie, looking around, shifting his weight a bit, one hand going into a pocket, the other rubbing at a cheek.

There’s a taberna/café at the corner of Figueroa and Hortaleza, the kind of neighborhood joint that looks like an older folks’ watering hole. Small, a bit dark, not generally showing much in the way of energy or varied clientele. On impulse, I stopped in there today. Late morning, post-traditional 11-11:30 a.m. break, so the place was quiet. A radio played music softly (no TV going, unlike many establishments around here), two older males sat on stools at either end of the counter, both looking to be pushing 60, both dressed in neatly pressed pants and short-sleeved shirts (one white, the other light blue), quietly drinking café. While the place had little in the way of windows, it made up for that with two double-doored entrances, one facing each street, both propped wide open, light streaming in, providing good views of the busy world outside.

I asked the counterman for a cortado, he got to work rounding it up. Two one-armed bandits leaned against each other in the corner between the two entranceways, a mid-30s male stood at one, his nearly-empty espresso cup, jacket and plastic bag containing what looked to be a couple of books grouped together on the counter to my right. They’re multimedia affairs, those slot machines, producing a stream of busy sounds, brightly-lit, constantly-changing number readouts, samples of songs, now and then a voice calling out something. The 30-something worked away at it for a couple of minutes, its lights blinking, its various noises nearly overwhelmed by the sounds of the day going on outside. Then he strode back to the counter, picked his stuff and took off, calling out, “¡Hasta luego!”

My espresso arrived, I sipped at it, taking a quick look through a copy of El País. A 50-something male entered, the older guy sitting in the corner to my left waved. The new arrival put his stuff on the stool to my left, began talking to the older guy, who responded with a cascade of sounds produced from his mouth and throat — clicks, lip-smackings, swishing sounds, guttural noises, all kinds of stuff — his mouth forming soundless words amid all that, his arms and hands in constant movement, illustrating his communication. No longer quiet and contained — expansive, sunny, happy to be in conversation. Just not able to actually talk. I didn’t want to stare at him, and without paying close attention to his face I couldn’t make out what he was going on about. I just listened to the amazing variety of noises that came forth, working my way through a decent cup of espresso, checking out what the paper decided to present as the news for today.

When I finished, I paid up, thanked the counterman, stepped back out into the sunlight.

A woman stands at that corner every weekday up until the two o’clock lunch break. The day’s lottery tickets hang from a cord strung around her neck and across her chest, she listens to a walkman, music or radio playing. She’s there every weekday, all year round. Slightly heavyset, maybe 26, 27 years of age, always in jeans and comfortable white reebok-style shoes. Always standing, leaning up against the wall, just a foot or so in from the corner of the building, always staring straight ahead at a point on the wall across the narrow street. Until this last week, when a folding chair appeared and for the first time ever I saw her sitting.

She was there as usual when I emerged from the taberna today, standing up next to her new acquisition (maybe giving her hind-quarters a break), headset in place, listening to who knows what, traffic and people moving constantly by. The sun had drifted far enough up into the southern sky that she stood in shadow, wearing a light jacket.

I glanced at her when I stepped out — yep, still there — then headed off down the street, past groups of two and three women moving in and out of the high-end clothing and shoe stores that pepper that part of Figueroa, others walking slowly along, gazing in at the window displays. Cars that had been lined up because of a red light moved hurriedly ahead, trying to make the intersection while the light remained green. I heard fast fragments of conversations in Spanish as people moved by me.

Madrid, the last Thursday in May, the hours streaming steadily by, disappearing into the noise and movement of the city.

A second quick thing (I remembered!): This journal has been linked on a number of pages (like where? how convenient that you should ask — try here, here, here, here, here and here, for starters), and I’ve noticed that most change the name — runswithscissors — in one way or another. Mostly, the words get separated, sometimes with initial caps. One or two people have modified it to read Running with Scissors. All of which is fine — anyone providing a link to this page should feel free to morph its name in any way they feel like. It’s just interesting how we — me, too (and you, for that matter) — tend to see/perceive things in our own personal way. How we reflect ourselves in the way we perceive and take in the world around us. Creating our own experience of that world, in fact. Not a matter of wrong or right, just one more aspect of life to marvel at.

***********************

And now some Spanish terminology you probably shouldn’t use (warning: foul language ahead — if you’re not up for it, turn back now):

Ir de culo – to go badly (culo means ass/butt), as in

Speaker #1: ¿Cómo te va? (How’s it going?)

Speaker #2: De culo. (Badly.)

¡Qué te den! — short for ¡Qué te den por culo! (literally, May they give it to you up the ass). Not to be said unless you want to seriously piss someone off.

Pasarle el chicle — to kiss, to make out (as in to swap spit), literally to pass him/her the gum.

Estábamos pasándonos el chicle cuando entró su mamá. = We were swapping spit when her mother walked in.

The normal verb for ‘to kiss’ is besar; kiss, as a noun is beso.

‘¡Ven aca y dame un beso!’ = Come here and give me a kiss!

Me la trae floja — a foul version of ‘No me importa’ (I don’t care or It doesn’t matter to me).

It refers to the speaker’s penis, meaning It leaves me flaccid.

Tener una flor en el culo — to be lucky (literally, to have a flower in the ass),

as in:

Speaker #1: ¡Él siempre tiene tanta suerte! (He’s always so lucky!)

Speaker #2: Sí, tiene una flor en el culo.

¡Coño! — Used very commonly. Literally means cunt, a genuinely ugly word in English, but translates out to versions of goddamn! or fuck! (or even an ironic overstatement where gee would suffice) in most usages here. I’ve heard ¡Coño! said on television and have seen it used in newspaper columns by good (certainly legitimate, even literate) writers.

Lamer el culo — to kiss ass (literally, to lick ass). Also, chupar el culo (literally, to suck ass).

Un lameculos = an asskisser, a brownnose.

Same with ‘un pelota,’ as in the student who sucks up to the teacher. Pelota literally means ball, as in sports, not as in testicles. How did it come to mean asskisser/teacher’s pet? Who knows?

To be continued.

Foggy. So foggy. (Me, not the weather. Outside, it’s sunny and beautiful.) Got myself up and out to take care of errands this morning. Managed to drag on clothes without putting anything on backwards. Made it down the stairs without doing a header, got out the front door without walking over anyone. Managed to amble in the direction I needed to go without stepping in any dog poop. Got $$$ out of an ATM. Picked up a cup of café in a joint down la Calle de Hortaleza, a small neighborhood place I’ve never gone into before, a couple of blocks further away than my usual a.m. watering holes. Decent espresso. The counter guy a real working stiff, hands roughened from years of labor, blabbing away with a couple of guys at the other end of the counter (more of a monologue than a dialogue, really). A 60ish guy sat between me and the two fellas the counter guy regaled — hair white/longish, handlebar moustache, a pipe. Wearing a tweed sportcoat, reading the international Herald Tribune (in English). Looking like he just walked off a flight from London.

On the counter to the other side of him lay a well-read copy of today’s El Mundo. A house copy, I think, complete with address label. I considered stepping around Mr. Tweed, picking it up, giving it a quick scan, but did nothing. It was all I could manage to order my cortado and wait for it. A minute later, a guy walks in, unshaven, long hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, dressed neatly, casually. He steps up to the counter by the paper, looks at it. Ascertains that it doesn’t belong to the person next to him, then subtly claims it, sliding it an inch or two to the left, where it’s directly in front of him. A minute later, he puts his keys on it, leaves them there. Doesn’t pick it up to read, but covertly takes possession. I had the feeling it would disappear out the door with him when he left.

Ah, well. There are more copies where that one came from. Madrid is awash in morning newspapers.

Back out on the street, walking along, a teensy bit less bleary. A tall, attractive black woman pops out of a doorway, apparently having just come downstairs from her flat. She has the end of a leash in one hand, a huge black great dane pops out the door after her, carrying her handbag, happily holding the handle straps in its mouth. She says, “No,” takes the bag, the dog immediately adjusts to handbag deprivation, looking around, ears up, eager as it could possibly be to do whatever the hell came next. They disappeared past me.

Did errands, stopped quickly in at el Corte Inglés to pick up some vitamin C. Last time I tried, they were out. This time, it looked like they’d restocked. I pick up a container, eyeball it, sure enough: vitamin C. I buy the bugger, head back toward home, stop along the way at one of my usual café joints for a cup of decaf espresso and some churros. Trying to get my still-sluggish system into something resembling a waking state. Get home, pull the vitamins out to toss them in a cupboard, notice that the container reads ‘Magnesio’ instead of ‘Vitamina C.’ I swear to you, when I picked the bugger up in the store, it clearly read ‘Vitamina C.’ How did I do that? Am I switching back and forth between parallel realities? (There are those who would say yes; let’s not go there.)

Scary.

Have homework to do, which I have so far successfully put off, ignored, avoided. A composition. (Mumbled complaining, sound of unhappy teeth-grinding.) The thought of trying to achieve the kind of high-functioning state in which I could toss together a page of Spanish about, er, whatever I could pull together feels like it would be an awful lot of work. Far, far too much painful struggling. I’d have to clean all the sand, lint and useless, tangled threads of directionless thought out of my mental gears so the cogs would have half a chance of engaging. Better to take a walk. Or eat something. Or read something. Or go bowling. Or take a nap. Better, in fact, to do just about anything else.

There. I think I have my priorities clear.

Two quick things:

First: I was not one of those fortunate souls who saw the first installment of The Matrix in the theatres. I didn’t know anyone who had seen it, didn’t really notice it until it reached one of the local cheap theatres and stayed there for months. Which got me curious after a while. I toyed with the idea of going, never did. Finally bought the CD in a cheap package deal, together the director’s cut of Blade Runner. Watched the d.c. of B.R. once or twice. Watched The Matrix many, many times over the last two and a half years. I have had real misgivings about the idea of the sequel(s), wasn’t sure I would go see it. What I read and heard about Matrix Reloaded reinforced that general feeling.

Well. Yesterday, out of the blue, I got the impulse to go. And, contrary to all my expectations, I loved it. For what it’s worth, the intellectualizing I’ve seen in some reviews about the film should be taken with a shaker of salt. It may that those given to intellectual scratching around will not be able to plug into the rush of this bugger. Or it may be that, like everything else, it’s simply an individual thing, that it will work for some and not for others, and all the hype and comparisons with the first installment simply lower the odds of being able to connect with it for what it is.

I am not one generally given to ‘action films,’ and I had a ball. And I am still in genuine awe of two or three of the long action sequences. The burly brawl sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

But that’s just my opinion. You may feel differently.

Second quick thing: For the life of me, I can’t remember what the second quick thing was. That’s probably good.

Later.

So. The Spanish municipal elections happened yesterday, nationwide. A hotly contested event, rhetoric flying in all directions. The results? Pretty interesting.

In the actual number of votes cast, the Socialists beat out the current ruling party, el Partido Popular, the third consecutive round of municipal elections in a row in which the PP’s total has drifted slightly downward. The PP suffered some setbacks, but not as many as some thought might happen, and the party remains strong in certain places around the country, wresting control of a couple of important cities from the Socialists. They clinched the mayorship of Madrid, an important, high-profile office, with an absolute majority of council seats but lost control of the Community of Madrid by one seat, which could turn out to be an important symbolic loss.

Around the country, the results were mixed, with the Socialists gaining control of one autonomous province (more or less comparable to a state in the U.S.), leaving seven in control of the PP, six for the Socialists, two to regional political parties. Essentially, what seems to have happened around the country as a whole is a levelling of the political playing field, with no one having a clear-cut overall advantage. Maybe not a bad thing.

Cheerleaders from both sides of the political spectrum are making a big show of chest-pounding claims of victory, yada yada yada.

After a night of not nearly enough sleep, I dragged my unhappy bod from under the covers and out into the morning air (which, thanks to the cold snap currently holding sway here, has been colder each successive morning since Friday, with genuine autumn-like bite today) to the gym. For which I deserve major cosmic brownie points in recognition of simply showing up, forget going through the pumping/stretching hooha.

Stopped for a fast hit of espresso at the cafeteria across the street from gym (a strange little place where the two 50ish males behind the counter seem to be vying for the brusqueness title), made the trek back to the Metro in soft sunshine, slightly warmer air. Something I’ve come to appreciate very much here is that several major avenues, all consisting of four to six lanes of traffic, feature wide islands in the middle with abundant shade trees, expanses of grass and flowers, pedestrian walkways. One especially wide boulevard — just east of the city center, extending north from the big traffic circle at Atocha, past el Museo Thyssen, el Prado, and out to the northern reaches of the city — begins with one such island, then changes to two once it passes the grand, sprawling main post office building at la Plaza de Cibeles. Wandering along one of those walkways — the ground dappled with the light/shade combo from the sunshine that filters down through the trees, traffic passing on either side, feeling nicely distant — is a fine way to cover some ground in transit from one place to another. I generally choose a longer route back from the gym to the Metro so I can walk two or three long blocks worth of trees, benches, rose bushes. A nice segue between the pump-up and the rest of the day.

Back here in Chueca, hopped off the train, headed up the stairs to the concourse, made my way toward the up escalator. As I rounded the final corner and approached the moving stairs, I encountered a woman planted near the, er, on-ramp, standing perfectly still, facing the ad that’s replaced the PP’s recently-defaced poster. {See journal entry of 22 May.} Legally blind, one hand holding a long white walking stick of the kind many blind folks here use, the other holding a small, slim, black-barrelled magnifying lens to one eye. Studying the display of subway stops for the two different directions one can go, train-wise. Intent, not moving, paying no attention to anything else.

Getting off the escalator up top, I got my first glimpse of a brand new poster that greets people heading to the down escalator: ¡Bienvenidos al Barrio Más Guay de Madrid! (Welcome to Madrid’s Coolest Neighborhood!) Er, whatever. It’s a hot neighborhood, that’s for sure, attracting hordes of partying types. Come the evening hours, exiting the Metro up into the plaza dumps one directly in the middle of the intense, chaotic nighttime scene, the space overrun with lines of tables and chairs occupied by groups of folks drinking, gnoshing, blabbing. Constant swirling masses of people eddy around all that, the air filled with the concentration of sound from them all. It’s pretty wild, though the last few nights of cold weather have forced a change, the rows of tables and chairs (all shiny brushed aluminium) standing empty, the number and movement of people around the rest of the space that much more intense. After weeks of nights in which every single table is occupied from late afternoon on into the early hours, the sight of them all suddenly vacant is strange.

On exiting the station, I stopped at the newsstand for a paper. The woman who runs it was there alone, bent over a bundle of papers, in the process of cutting the plastic band and setting them out. El País, the headline reading Ruiz-Gallardón será alcalde Madrid y Simancas roza el gobierno de la Comunidad (Ruiz-Gallardón will be mayor of Madrid, Simancas on verge of winning the Community’s government.). “El día después, ¿eh?”, I said. {The day after, eh?} “¡Jo!”, she responded, straightening up, shaking her head slightly, which made me laugh out loud. ¡Jo! (the J pronounced like a thick, guttural H, up against the back of the throat) is the short, more polite/acceptable form of ¡Joder!, the Spanish version of Fuck! Two little letters expressing what pretty much everyone feels: Thank god that’s over with!

And now here it is, midafternoon, the start of another week, the smoke from several weeks of political wackiness starting to clear. The streets are nicely alive with people walking, things being delivered to local businesses, folks heading toward the plaza to sit at a table, soak up some sun, or off to a restaurant for some chow. Life moves on.

Not a bad idea, that bit about chow. It’s lunchtime.

Later.

Got myself up and out at what many Spaniards might consider the bizarrely (even nightmarishly) reasonable Saturday morning hour of 10 a.m., when only a few hardy souls were about to get shopping/errands underway. And most of them seemed to be crammed into the cafeteria to the south side of the plaza (de Chueca), crowded up around the counter clamoring for cups of café. The two hard-working counterpeople looked like they were under siege. I can understand why.

Some overcast moved in during the night, the warmth of recent days giving way to lovely cooler temperatures. Many folks sported sweaters or light jackets, though they didn’t feel necessary to me (being the thick-hided toughass that I am).

A quiet few minutes with the morning espresso/newspaper gave way to some fast grocery shopping. Come mid-June, I’ll be heading back to the States for a while, and I find the approaching reality of that has me seeing the details of my life here in sharper focus. There are a few local merchants who have had to deal with me on a regular basis these last months, and it’s been interesting to watch their manner toward yours truly change over time, becoming more relaxed, their expressions a bit more open, laughing more easily, smiles softening and broadening. There is a couple that runs the produce shop I frequent and their back-and-forth can be seriously entertaining — verbal shop shorthand, answering questions posed by the other mid-transaction, husband taking advantage of an opening to tease wife.

Around the corner from them, at the stall where I buy chicken breasts and empanadas de atún (large rectangular empanadas of tuna, softer than the semi-circular empanadas often seen around Madrid, delicious when heated up just a bit), the owner has slowly been working his mid-20’s daughter into the stall’s routine. Up to this point, he had her making deliveries around the neighborhood, conveying everything in the kind of two-wheeled cart used by many middle-aged and older women here for their shopping. Today was the first time I’ve seen her working behind the counter on a more or less equal basis with her father — pretty, observant, deceptively intelligent.

From there I stopped in at the neighborhood bakery where I pick up my daily one or two baguettes. It’s a perilous place, this bakery. Simply stepping in the door can lead to impulse buys that sometimes get hovered down as soon as I get home.

Went back to the piso, dropped off the purchases. (Did not hoover down the bakery-impulse-buy of the day, a victory for restraint.) Went back out to hit up an ATM machine, followed by a walk through the increasingly busy Sat. morning streets of the barrio. Which led me to the Telefónica building where I decided to check out a large exhibit of photography. This was around 11 a.m. Still early enough that there were no more than a handful of people in the exhibit hall. Quiet. Hushed even. Except for the faint sounds from a different exhibit, several video installations, off in another part of the hall. I passed through them on the way into the photography exhibit, saw that they were made by hanging cameras in different spots on the structures of some hair-raising amusement park rides. Which meant many of the videos consisted of a view of, say, the wildly looping track of a gravity-defying roller coaster, with maybe some blue sky visible behind it. Just that, punctuated every now and then by the sudden appearance of a ride vehicle crammed with screaming, terrified people, shooting in and out of the image, screams lingering after. That was the backdrop for the photography exihibit: the distant sound of people screaming. Made for a strangely unnerving cultural experience.

Back out in the street, lots more people about. Walked out to Gran Vía where I could see that the bank of clouds ended suddenly a ways down the western stretch of the avenue, giving way abruptly to blue skies which made their slow, slow way across the city center. Strolled around enjoying the midday Sat. scene. On the way back here, passed a store on la Calle de Hortaleza, one that deals in a certain kind of products mostly related to films/TV shows of a certain kind (Simpsons, South Park, Lord of the Rings, The Nightmare Before Christmas, blahblahblah) (not that there’s anything wrong with any of that!). Was brought to a standstill by a large, eye-catchingly green Incredible Hulk cookie jar. If I were given to picking up kitschy knick-knacks like that, I would be forced to glom onto this bugger because it is just so admirably wacky: a big, broad monstrosity of a cookie jar, the Hulk’s body starting just above solar-plexus level and rising in aggressively over-muscled ceramic splendor to the scowling face/head which functions as the handle for the cookie jar cover, strangely shrunken in proportion to the rest of the figure so that it will fit into a normal human hand. As if the Hulk had run into the head-shrinking witch doctor from the end of Beetlejuice and come out of the encounter, judging by his expression, severely pissed-off.

And speaking of the the Simpsons, I read recently that the daily 2-3 p.m. Simpsons broadcast on Antena 3 pulls in an average audience of three million. Three million viewers — mid-afternoon, in a country of roughly 40 million.

It’s dubbed into Spanish, of course. The voices of Marge and Lisa aren’t bad. Those for Homer and Bart, on the other hand…. (Note to Dan Castellaneta and Nancy Cartwright — and for that matter to Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria — please, please learn Spanish.)

Seen in an episode broadcast two days ago — a sign greeting visitors at the entrance of Itchy and Scratchy Land (theme park celebrating Itchy and Scratchy):

RIDES NOT OPERATING TODAY:

Headbasher

Bloodbath

Mangler

Nurse’s Station

I’m so confused.

Just came across this, a mighty interesting article about water behaving in ways that appear to be cheerfully disrespectful of the laws of physics. Or at least I found interesting until I arrived at the illustration about midway through which explains how the goddamn thing works. Or is supposed to work.

If you take a glance at that seemingly-innocent illusration, you’ll see that the legend for it features two different kinds of arrows, red ones to indicate ‘Apparent water flow,’ and green ones to indicate ‘Actual water flow.’ Except that there don’t seem to be any green arrows in the diagram. None. Not a single blessed *^%#@!!! one. Meaning that there is no actual water flow. Just apparent water flow. (And where are the green arrows? Being dumped onto the market in third-world countries rife with political discord and civil strife where they’ll be sold as armaments? Or maybe they’ve all been planted together to form the grasslike thingy in the middle of the water-thingy, where they can be pulled out one by one as needed when some actual water flow gets underway.)

Reality — going to hell in a handbasket, and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it.

The jaw-droppingly perfect weather here continues. I’ve been trying to scrape together the words to describe it, but it’s beyond my skills, I think. Suffice it to say that pretty much every time I walk out the door, I am floored all over again. Days of brilliant sunlight and ideal temperatures, air that feels indescribably good. I can think of a few places that might have comparable, if not even more glorious, weather (Hawaii? Nice?), but the tapas in those locales probably wouldn’t measure up.

Yesterday: Got myself out early for the gym. As I’ve mentioned here a few times, municipal elections happen nationwide this coming Sunday — M-25, they call it here. The campaign, into its final few days, is hot and heavy, political ads of all stripes have appeared seemingly everywhere. The ruling party, el Partido Popular, has been spending big time, their ads have become ubiquitous. A few days ago, a specially-installed illuminated display case showed up at the bottom of the escalators in the Metro station here in Chueca plaza, set against a wall where everyone going down to catch a train will see it. Featuring an ad for the two PP candidates for Madrid, one for the city’s Mayoral race, the other for the Presidency of the Community of Madrid. Both of them, one photo above the other. EL EQUIPO PARA MADRID, reads the ad’s main line of text {THE TEAM FOR MADRID}. As I descended the escalator yesterday a.m., my eyes fastened on the display case, I saw that some prankster with a magic marker had scribbled some dialogue between the two candidates. “Nosotros apoyamos la Guerra!” says Esperanza Aguirre now. {We supported the war! — not a good thing in a country where over 90% of the population vehemently opposed it.} “Callate,” responds Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, “que ‘estos’ después de un mes se olviden.” {Shut up — so that a month later they forget.}

Caught a train, got off in the district of Salamanca, three stops away. A much wealthier barrio than Chueca. It would make sense that it might be a bastion of PP support. And indeed, on the way up the stairs from the train to the escalators, I passed graffiti proclaiming SOCIALISTAS LADRONES (SOCIALIST THIEVES, perhaps referring to the way the Socialists — the largest opposition party, which some believe is on the verge of making some headway against the PP in these elections — finished up their last tenure as ruling party, with a shameful degree of corruption that finally brought them down).

Until recently, the Socialists had taken the high road in the face of the amazing campaign-trail stream of smears and brazenly obvious falsehoods from Aznar, the current president. (An ongoing political cartoon in El País depicts him as an armoured Godzilla, spewing examples of his recent talk, newsbites of outrageous invective.) Apparently, opinion polls began reflecting that his ceaseless rhetoric was having an effect, forcing the Socialists to counterattack by way of repeated mentions of the debacle of the oil spill off Galicia at the end of last year and the government’s involvement in the war. The recent suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Morroco have added some impact to the back and forth re: the war and its consequences, and groups of college-age folks have been disrupting PP campaign events, attempting to confront Aznar outside of other functions, providing great news fodder. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out on Sunday, election day. It seems, at this point, as if the outcome could easily tilt in any direction.

Went to the gym, afterwards stopped in a small restaurant/cafeteria for the morning cup of espresso. Walked in, stepped up to the only available space at the counter, between a woman working on a sweet roll and a neatly-dressed, 30ish guy sitting with a glass of beer. At my appearance, he got off his stool, put out his hand, saying, “Hola,” then telling me to take the stool. I shook his hand, politely declined his offer, happy standing where I was. He offered again. It became clear I was dealing with someone deeply into an early-day bender, to the point of being what they call here borracho perdido — lost drunk. I politely declined increasingly insistent urgings to take the stool (including one brief foray into English — “sit, please!”), turned my attention to the older guy behind the counter, who eyed the drinker with less than pleasure. I gave my order, my churros quickly arrived, followed by café. I started in on them, nearly making audible sounds of pleasure with my first bite into a churro.

The 30ish guy tried attaching himself to other people, without success. He brandished his nearly-empty glass at the counterman, who responded with a negative headshake, suggesting it might be time for the guy to hit the road. Which he eventually did, attempting to shake hands with a few individuals as he worked his way slowly toward the door, finally disappearing outside into the mixture of sunlight and soft shadows from the overhanging neighborhood trees.

The counterman seemed pleased to have relative tranquility restored, a group of people down the counter from me chattered happily away. Office workers came in on their 11 a.m. break, asking for café and eats. The place became pleasantly busy.

Yesterday evening, after class: stopped in at el Paraíso del Jamón (the Ham Paradise! — see entry of April 8) for a fast bocadillo accompanied by a caña. I’m working my way through some jamón Serrano with tomato on a small baguette, two or three other people along the counter eating and drinking their own versions of the same. Six or seven individuals stand in line at the deli counter, just across the small space, while the person behind the counter deals in relaxed fashion with an elderly woman ordering a bunch of stuff. The speakers for the music system are somewhere hidden above that counter, silent to that point. All of a sudden, they start up with a Nirvana cut, Curt Cobain howling away. Great song, not one of their better-known tunes. Not only do none of the predominantly older customers in the joint right then show any sign of minding the sudden thrashfest, one person actually whistles along with the melody line. Which gets me smiling like you wouldn’t believe.

Nirvana in Paradise.

Afterward, I took a walk through the network of pedestrian avenues run between la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol and Callao, a stretch bookended by immense Corte Inglés department stores. The stores’ current summer advertising campaign features Meg Ryan looming over the area’s principal pedestrian way in enormous two-story high photos, pitching the summer line of clothes. Something about her appearance in these pictures has nagged at me, I’ve been unable to figure out what it is, apart from the fact that they’re not what I would call flattering. Last night, post Nirvana/Paradise, I realized what it is — these photos have her looking strongly, unnervingly resemblance to Courtney Love. A realization that left me staring at one humongo, extremely Courtneyish shot of her for a moment. After which I continued on my way, heading home through the Madrid twilight.

Springsteen played here last night, the last of three dates in Spain. As might be expected, given he represents an aspect of the American personality and image many Europeans admire and love, the local print media has been all over him. El Mundo referred to him as The Other Face of America (La Otra Cara de America). El País called him the athlete of rock (el atleta del rock). He gets called El Jefe a lot, the local version of The Boss. And then a few days back, the front page of, er, either La Razón or ABC — sorry, don’t remember which — consisted of a full-page close-up concert shot of Himself, the headline being something like La Apoteosis De Springsteen — the deification/glorification of Springsteen. Didn’t read the article so don’t know if they went after it from a positive or negative slant. But still. When was the last time you saw a tabloid rag use a word like ‘apotheosis’ in a headline? (Anywhere in the paper, much less the front page. Keep your eye out for that same word in one of the headlines featured in that last link — Spanish publishing brethren recycling each other’s ideas.)

He looks pretty good in the concert pix. Buff. Youthful. Pumped.

El Mundo, I was interested to see, renamed two members of the E Street Band, not just once but every single time they printed the names. Who they used to be: Max Weinberg, Clarence Clemons. Who they now are: Max Weimberg, Clarence Cleamons. Could have been worse, I know, but still.

{A side note re: one of the newspapers mentioned above — La Razón, one of the two dailies that hang out well to the right side of the political spectrum. In Castellano, when you want to say, “You’re right,” you say, “Tienes razón.” Literally, “You have reason.” To say, “You’re absolutely right!”, you say, “¡Tienes toda la razón!” The first time I saw a copy of La Razón, I started chortling out loud because — according to them — they’re not just right, they don’t just have reason, they ARE reason. They are the print media incarnation of being right! That is so wonderfully pompous it still gets me smiling when I see it. We humans are unbelievably funny.}

The other personality splashed all over today’s arts sections: Nicole Kidman re: her appearance at Cannes and her performance in “Dogville,” the latest Lars von Trier film just screened there. Some big-time vamping for the international camera squad — a bit distant, a bit colder than the vamps of the 1930’s and 40’s. But vamping nonetheless. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Two drastically different brands of glamour. Or maybe not so different — what do I know?

I woke to the sound of the swifts this morning, as I have virtually every morning since their arrival several weeks back. There are no songbirds here in this neighborhood, apart from the caged canaries many people keep (which, it occurs to me, I’ve never heard sing before 10 or 11 a.m. — could be the sunlight doesn’t penetrate to their balcones until then or it could they’re just smarter than their early-morning kin) so I don’t hear the type of warm weather early-hour uproar that can rouse a person in northern Vermont. Instead, there’s the soft sound of the swift’s high keening as they soar above the city.

They fly like nobody’s business, the swifts, going at amazing speeds, at tremendous heights, from time to time dipping down between buildings to near street level, shooting past, suddenly turning off in another direction or whipping skyward, disappearing over the buildings. There are mornings I pull myself out of bed, their calling can be heard from all over the neighborhood, resonating off the brick canyonwalls of the streets. I pull up the shades, I see the blur of their small, dark forms flash by. Up in the sky, I’ll see immense numbers of them, like large diffuse clouds slowly billowing in the morning light.

They carry on until shortly after midday, then they disappear. Late afternoon, they’re back, all over the sky until twilight, when they slowly vanish for the night, giving way (here in the barrio) to bats, who carry on through the darkness hours, until the dawn shift change.

I love all that. If I could fly like a swift I’d be partying up there for hours at a time, too.

Ow. Ow ow. Just got up to make a sandwich, wound up cutting a finger on a tuna tin. Man, there’s a good time. I think I’ll take the hint and give my little hand a rest.

But before I go:

Vanity plates!

No comment.

And this: a great idea or what?

Yet another outrageously fine May Madrid morning. This current stretch of spectacular weather seems to stretch on and on — mornings fresh and cool, though still shirtsleeve-friendly; afternoons warming up enough to feel hot in direct sunlight; temperatures settling down overnight so that the next morning arrives fresh, cool, etc. Twice within the last week, warm days have seen the sudden arrival of dark clouds, thunder and fast showers. Kind of nice, that contrast. People collect under eaves (waiting out the rainfall as they talk, looking up at the sky) or in restaurants (drinking a fast cup of coffee or glass of soda/water) until the rain lets up and the sidewalks get busy again.

I’ve been doing homework for tonight’s Spanish class (verb tenses, substantially more complicated than the English equivalents, me noticing how much more easily it’s coming for me these days). A breeze blows in the flat’s open windows, the late morning air just cool enough to feel good on my skin, I can hear the cord from the shades in the next room clicking against the metal window frame as it moves around. A church bell rang briefly a few minutes ago, maybe to signal midday, and I realized I only have a vague idea of where that church is. Sunday mornings, the bell rings at 9:15 and 11:15, perhaps announcing the start of different services — a nice sound, one that welcomed me to the neighbourhood my first morning here in September of 2001.

Last night: I’m standing in line at the DVD rental joint a couple of blocks from here in swinging Chueca (in the heart of happening Madrid, or if not actually in the heart, then snuggled comfortably up against the pericardial sac). A young couple stand on line front of me — her: short, very slender, in a baggy, sleeveless, fairly insubstantial blouse, baggy green painters’ pants, flip-flops. I notice the flip-flops and begin reflecting on how the recent spectacular run of early summer weather has affected women’s attire, leading to (a) lots of tight skimpy clothing or (b) lots of loose skimpy clothing or (c) baggy variations on the first two, like the young woman ahead of me. And sandals, sandals, sandals. Sandals galore, as well as flip-flops and open-toed shoes of all sorts. Summerwear.

I’m thinking about all this, and something about the young woman’s toes catches my attention. I focus on her petite right foot, that being the nearer one as she’s standing at right angles to me (her tall, skinny guy standing behind her, also at right angles to me, noticing me notice her foot, my eyebrows slightly knit with thought). And what I saw was a little foot with a normal big toe, a normal toe, a normal third toe. Something happened in the process of issuing the fourth toe ‘cause it was a little teeny, wrinkled bugger with essentially no nail, just the barest suggestion of a toenail. Shorter, actually, than the pinky toe, as if someone had retracted it for maintenance then couldn’t get it back out to pre-maintenance length. Three normal toes, then a shrunken midget of a fourth toe, then a somewhat normal pinky toe.

I’m looking at that and thinking about feet in general and how strange-looking so many of them are. (Like, for instance, what is up with the folks whose second toe is way longer than the big toe?) Not that I can talk. The toes on my right foot are long and a bit geeky looking; the toes on my left foot — well, let’s just say they’ve never been quite the same since a major ankle break at thirteen years of age and a subsequent five-months of being crammed into a full-leg cast.

While I’m spinning my wheels about critical issues like feet/toes, the rental place’s resident puppy, maybe three, four months old, is having a laugh riot chasing and torturing a tough-looking fabric toy. He’s a beautiful, happy pup — sleek dark brown fur, an intelligent face, paws that indicate he’ll grow up to be a good-sized retriever-style bugger. He runs to pick up the toy, mangles it happily for a moment before dropping it to look up at nearby people. One of the humans unfailingly picks up the toy, tosses it toward the other end of the space, four canine legs immediately scramble off in pursuit, the process repeats itself. A continuous puppy party.

Meanwhile, outside the shop’s windows at the three big recycling bins on la Calle de Hortaleza, someone is gradually stuffing an enormous bouquet of dead flowers into the circular aperture of the glass bin. Why not use a more appropriate receptacle, like a trash dumpster maybe? Got me. Could be they had their reasons, though — what do I know? When I leave the shop, I see the person has two huge garbage baggies crammed with similar dead vegetation. Apparently the stuffing process has only just begun.

The mid-May sky is now staying light to a late enough hour that I sometimes find it disorienting. I’ll be walking somewhere, the light still reasonably full and strong, I’ll see that the time is 9:15 and feel the strangest sensation of being out of whack. No wonder I’m getting to sleep so late — my body clock apparently hasn’t adjusted to the gradual shift. The day’s first light currently begins seeping in my windows around 6:40, 6:45. The sky remains illuminated until well after ten p.m. And since my body has adjusted to the meal schedule here, meaning a late dinner, I find myself getting a meal ready at 9:30, 10 p.m., or later. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when I’m back in the States a month from now.

If you’ve been to this page before, you’ve probably noticed the change in format. The current font may be a bit harder to read — bear with me. This change has been a long time coming and will be, I hope, an interim step toward something better. Comments may now be sent via the whimsical ‘now say something’ link instead of being left in unsightly comment boxes.

In one of this journal’s last pre-format-change entries, I wrote about the festival of San Isidro which took place here in Madrid during the past week. I referred to San Isidro as one of Madrid’s patron saints, even linking to a webpage with a similar mention. A Spanish friend of mine responded with a comment stating categorically that San Isidro is Madrid’s only patron saint. Not so — San Isidro is el patrono of the city, with a feast day in May; la Virgen de la Almudena is la patrona, with a feast day in November. (There are even those who claim the city has two or three patronas.) For more about her, see any of the following websites:

http://www.corazones.org/maria/almudena.htm

http://www.el-mundo.es/2001/11/10/madrid/1070112.html

http://www.fut.es/~jjj/atm/castella/ct21almudena.htm

http://www.ctspanish.com/communities/madrid/madrid.htm

http://biblia.com/pinilla/madrid.htm

http://travel.yahoo.com/p/travelguide/559537

http://www.archimadrid.es/princi/princip/otros/repor/corona/corona6.htm

http://www.lapasion.org/madrid/gpm.html

http://www.monumentalia.net/portal/pagina.asp?monumento=2774

http://www.softdoc.es/guia_madrid/cultura/fiestas.html

Later.

And now for something — I am not kidding here — completely different.

Today’s entry: a joyful guest rant contributed by a friend (Lois — a true babe and the youngest grandmother I know in virtually every way I can think of) considering certain earthy, fundamental, down-and-dirty aspects of caring for her two-year-old grandson.

WARNING: this piece trades in certain nuts-and-bolts type scatological realities of human anatomy and pre-toilet-training babyhood — if that is not your cup of, er, tea, you may want to make a fast exit before venturing any further.

Still here? Right, then — buckle your seatbelt and put on some heavy weather gear:

WHOOO HOOOO!!!!! IT’S POTTY TIME! Nicholas is approaching 2-1/2 years now —- which is the average age that parents begin to try to persuade, demand or bribe their toddlers to use a potty. Learning to use the potty feels like a future event that may never ever happen for us! I mean…. Nicholas could care less about WHERE or WHEN he does his business. I honestly just don’t think it’s ever gonna happen! I think only the diaper changers care about the potty training. Why should the kids care? Kids are never even uncomfortable with those super-duper, leakproof, always powder-fresh and dry-as-a-bone — no matter what — disposable diapers. Well, they can get heavy….. REEEEAL HEAVY…… but toddlers are so strong and active — they can still easily outrun most adults with a ten-pound diaper sagging and swinging between their legs. It’s amazing…..where does all the stuff GO anyway? I think these new and improved disposable diapers are really miniature septic tanks strapped to the kids’ behinds.

Changing a diaper on a toddler becomes almost impossible. When Nicholas’ diaper begins to resemble the Goodyear blimp…. he has to be CAUGHT and then wrestled to the floor to get the damned thing off. HELL, NOOOOOOO! he doesn’t want a fresh diaper —- NOT NOW —– NOT EVER—— thank you very much! And even after catching the little streak of lightning………… you need at least four hands and a couple extra people holding him down just to get a fresh diaper on before he escapes happily squealing butt-naked across the room! You think you have a hold on him and then SWOOOOSH he’s just GONE.

WHOOO HOOOO —- he just loves being naked! HEY, COME BACK HERE, NICHOLAS! C’MON…..LETS GET A DIAPER ON. PLEEEEEASE! He stands grinnin’ from the other side of the room…. touching himself just to make sure he really is naked. Once he escapes…. it becomes like a paintball war game. He waits for me to make a move towards him before he giggles and sprints to the other side of the room again. What a FUN game / NOT! I have to walk around the furniture to get to wherever he stood last — but he can slither and slide and crawl under or behind almost everything in the room. I shoulda tied a rope around him while he was on the floor. But Nicholas is beyond delighted. OOPS…. NOW HE’S LOOKING DOWN …. THIS IS NOT GOOD! NOT GOOD AT ALL! OH, NOOOOOOO, now he’s concentrating on the floor like someone who has just lost an earring. Then he moves his feet about hip distance apart and slightly bends his knees! OHHHHH, NOOOOO — HEY, NICHOLAS…. PLEASE…. PLEASE…… PLEASE……… OH, PLEASE — DONT PEE ON THE CARPET ! uhhhhh AGAIN.

Too late…..he already has that “LOOK” on his face. By the time a toddler boy gets to the potty phase of his life…….. he has pretty much peed on everything in the house…. the bedspreads, the carpet, the walls, the moms and dads and mamaws….. you name it…… whatever is in his pee range gets wet. And I dont think you can have a little boy in the house without getting sprayed right in the face at least a few times. But mamaws like me don’t care about a little pee from their grandbabies. Their cute little puddles just dont seem like real urine. I used to let Nicholas run around without a diaper on…..yanno, to AIR IT ALL OUT from time to time……. and so what if he happens to pee………. that is —- until he did more than just a puddle on the floor. OH MY GOD…. what a mess! He escaped and was sprinting along his tricky diaper-dodging route and pooping at the same time. PLEASE STOP…. PLEASE DONT TAKE ANOTHER STEP! But now he’s like a little man on a mission….. happily marching and pooping across the room. YUCK! GAG A MAGGOT! I finally get a hold on his waist, put my hand over his bottom, hoping to stop what’s happening, and manage to make an even bigger mess. I shoulda just let him keep marching along. At least it wasn’t being scattered and smeared, too. Omigod… I do believe someone has been feeding this child superglue laced with sulpher! SHOOOOO ! It took a whole box of those baby wipes to erase the trail of poop. ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, are little kids thrilled with their own body waste or what? They will poop as easily on the floor or in the bathtub as they do in their diaper. And you better be reeeeeal quick grabbing it before they do! You don’t have time to get a tissue! Better just grab it before he does! Yep, even a kid like Nicholas who can’t stand dirty hands will pick up poop for some reason. Must look like play dough……. ‘cause toddlers wanna creatively squish it and smear it into some kinda crappy artwork ……. and yepper…. they will also put it in their mouth if they get half a chance. Yep, its really true…. even if a kid won’t taste homemade mashed potatoes…. most will try a little poop if they get the chance. I have heard some really disgusting stories that you probably don’t wanna hear. DISGUSTING to a child and DISGUSTING to an adult are two different things, for sure.

And now I am supposed to just put these cute little Spiderman briefs on him? OH, PUHLEEEEEASE! A single layer of fabric? There’s no built-in septic systems in these things! It might be POTTY TIME —- but I’m afraid that this just ain’t gonna work! To be honest, now that it’s POTTY TIME for Nicholas… .I’m amazed that so many adults are walking around without diapers. I mean…. the way it’s going so far…… I just don’t think its ever gonna happen for real. But he does sit on his plastic potty watching the potty-training video. But how in the hell do you ever get the idea across that he is supposed to go in that potty like the video hints and sings about? A little kid that sorta looks like a sweet little naked Bart Simpson appears and introduces all the body parts beginning with his head and ending by bending over to proudly show you his “poop hole” where his poop comes from. Well, thank you for sharing, Bart! I check the box to see if this thing is X-rated. But nope…. it just says ‘potty training for little boys.’ I watch Nicholas watching this kiddie smut…. this little Bart character wearing only a short tee shirt and he sure ain’t shy! He jumps and dances around the TV screen. Nicholas doesn’t seem to notice the naked part….. but of course….. my eyes are glued to the little penis. Sorry……But I’ve just never seen this kinda kiddie porn before. I just can’t believe how the artists make it wiggle and jiggle when he jumps around talking about his penis. OOPSIE….. did anyone ever ever tell Nicholas that he even has a penis? I always go from the belly button straight down to the knees… Hey, if it’s covered by a diaper….. there ain’t no need to include it in the body-parts drill is my rule of thumb.

The potty training video sings about ‘being a big kid now’ and demonstrates how to sit on the potty…. singing little toe-tapping songs about putting the pee-pee and poo-poo in the potty. Catchy songs that continue 24/7 inside my head. Of course, Nicholas loves the music and singing on the video….. he always gets up to dance to the pee-pee song and is thrilled by all the naked (real) babies that are all singing from their potty chairs like some kinda Ann Geddes crap photo shoot that never made it to the Hallmark cards. The video only shows their naked little behinds — probably so they can use this same clip for the little girls’ potty training video too. They probably just lengthen Bart’s hair and erase the penis, transgendering little Bart into a little Barbara.

Yep, IT’S POTTY TIME ’round here…. I know that it’s probably gonna eventually happen…. but HOW does it ever happen? And WHEN does it ever happen? Can someone send me a poopy prayer ‘cause I’m just all diapered out!

Note to future Jedi: rethink the videocam concept.

In a relationship? Let the arguing begin.

Two slightly-off-the-mark American

cultural references seen recently in

the Spanish daily El País:

Polly Darton

Stark Trek

Yet another list of recent genuine searches

conducted through Google or other engines

which have brought people to this web page:

hound sniffing icon

middle aged big boob women

canine painting

roll those bloodshot eyes

incredible hulk cake pan

guys in converse sneakers

scary jester drawling

Maybe not completely different but different enough –

From the internet movie database

Former Monty Python star Eric Idle is due to direct and co-star in “Remains of the Piano,” which he also wrote, Screen International reported today (Thursday). The British trade publication said that the spoof of costume drama “Remains of the Day,” which starred Anthony Hopkins, will star Geoffrey Rush in the lead role of Hopkins, a British aristocrat. The cast list is provocative in itself: Orlando Bloom is playing a character named Daniel Day Lewis. Patrick Stewart will appear as Obie Ben Kingsley. Alfred Molina will play Mussolini. Anjelica Huston’s character is Countess Von Kunst and Idle himself plays Frank the Mover.

I mentioned in the last entry that today is the feast of San Isidro. There are activities happening all over the city — music, dance, events including lots of folks in traditional garb.

This morning: got myself out early, intending to take another swing through an exhibit of Spanish paintings from the 19th and early 20th centuries, one I took a look at last Sunday which had a handful of canvases worth a second pass. At a foundation (a division of a major corporation, in this case a bank, that sponsors cultural events and traveling exhibits) about a ten minute walk from here. The kind of thing that’s usually open from 10-2 on holidays.

A classically beautiful Madrid morning — slanting sun and shadows, air soft, golden, with just a hint of mist. Two or three blocks down the street, I pass a doorway to an apartment building, I see a woman in her mid-20s, a kerchief over her hair. A kerchief of a kind of traditional design. On second glance, I see she’s dressed in a traditional outfit, including a long skirt, all of the clothes suggesting the Spain of a century ago, redolent of the Mediterranean, of Andalucia. Behind her, in the shadow of the vestibule stands a mid-20s male, maybe her husband, also dressed in clothing from decades and decades ago. Neither meet my eyes, they’re both looking up the street, as if waiting for a ride.

The exhibit was closed. (#&^%*!!!!!!) I decided to head over la Plaza Mayor and check out the Festival Folclórico de los Pueblos de España that was taking place there today. Went to the Metro, hopped a noisy, crowded train. Conversations going on all around, someone playing music down the car, guitar and accordion (couldn’t see them ’cause of the crowd). At the first stop, two young couples squeezed in by me, one of the males sporting loads of big, multicolored tattoos on his arms. The two I could see clearly: (a) a big satanic face with the legend ” DEVIL EMPIRE,” (b) a cloud with a face, mouth pursed, blowing a strong wind that curled down below the image; the breeze spelling out the words ARE YOU READY?

Got off the train at la estación Opera (nearly empty of people). Made my way up the five (count ‘em: five!) flights of stairs that lead to the street and made my way down la calle de Arenal for a couple of blocks. Lots of families out, lots of old folks walking along at a snail’s pace, many with canes. Turned a corner to cut over to la Calle Mayor, caught a strong whiff (there’s that word again!) of vomit (none visible, the pong maybe all that remained from a recent night’s downtown decadence), which thankfully faded quickly. Most stores were closed, but many restaurants and taverns were open, plenty of people inside eating, drinking café or hoisting a caña.

The sun shone intensely in a mostly clear sky, hot enough that I and most other folks I could see kept to the shadows. At la Calle Mayor, I crossed the street and headed up one of the lanes that lead into the Plaza, thick with people, many dressed in traditional garb, mostly women, generally either very young or much older. Many wearing long skirts, fringed shawls, hair beneath a kerchief with a red flower — a rose or a carnation — up over their foreheads, stem tucked in under the kerchief.

A huge stage had been erected up against the plaza’s north side, a group of kids in some region’s traditional dress performed a dance number that included heavy rhythmic stomping and the chatter of castanets as music blared from the sound system. It’s an enormous space, la Plaza Mayor, and a major portion of it was occupied by the crowd packed in front of the stage, extending out in all directions. Mostly Spaniards, a heavy percentage of them on in years, though I saw folks from all over the age spectrum. Well out across the plaza, the crowd thinned out and people moved about, tourists mixed in with the natives taking in the show. Back beyond that, in the shadow of the building, stood a thick band of still more spectators seeking relief from the sunlight/high temperatures, crammed in around the artists who produce caricatures, portraits and local images for the tourist trade.

The group that had been dancing when I arrived finished and filed off, replaced almost immediately by another group from out near Segovia or Salamanca, northwest of Madrid. Another musical number started up, a line of younger folk standing along the rear of the stage, a few older couples standing in front doing a complicated dance routine to music with a strong keltic flavor.

I could only take so much of this before needing refueling. My feet needed no urging, taking me back out into the streets almost before I realized what was happening, back down to la Calle de Arenal. Passed more older folks in traditional dress, the women in much more complicated get-ups than I’d seen in the plaza, the men wearing black pants, white shirts and vest (black to the rear, the front done in small, fine black and white checks). They walked along in pairs (by gender), making the sign of the cross, seemingly unconsciously, as they passed a church.

Passed a bar, peered inside as I went by. Looked okay, my feet once more needed no urging, turning immediately around and taking me into the place where I found a spot at the counter and ordered a pincho of tortilla de bonita and a caña. The caña arrived, accompanied by a small plate of excellent chicken paella, one of the best paellas I’ve eaten here. The tortilla arrived a moment later, a pretty fine plateful of food. Twice as expensive as the tortilla I’m served in the joints I usually go to, but we’re still not talking much money here. I’ll have to investigate this place another time. At one point, as I ate, one of the countermen brought out a dinner plate containing an octopus, big and pink, neatly arranged in a mound, the tentacles extending neatly down and around, suction cups facing out. The whole thing vivid, glistening. I stared, thinking, What, is someone gonna eat that or is it decoration or what? A moment later another appeared, the counterman placed it on the display case directly in front of me. I think the poor bugger had been alive very recently. It quivered briefly after he set it down, looking like a lurid plate of pink jello with suction cups.

Finished up, got out of there. Warm weather clouds have moved in, the sun drifting in and out, lazily. Kind of how I’m feeling — lazy. Will be meeting a friend in a bit for conversation and some liquid refreshment.

One more holiday in a city that has a lot of them. At certain times of the year, they seem to arrive one after another, three and four day weekends flashing past in rapid succession.

Not a bad way to live.

Later.

Got myself up this morning, made the long stumble from one end of the piso to the other for the usual a.m. bathroom blahblahblah. All through the shower/shave routine, an odd odor hung in the air, faint enough that it didn’t get my full attention, but odd enough that it hovered persistently around the edges, if you know what I mean. Not completely penetrating the a.m. fog, but not going away either. And not one of the usual spectrum of possible bathroom odors so that my little brain, not yet working on all cylinders, didn’t really know what to make of it. And given that my cerebral command center needed to concentrate on safe razor management so that I didn’t shed blood in a terminal way, it satisfied itself with the occasional blurry “What the…?” whenever I’d catch an especially strong whiff. (Now isn’t that a strange word? “Whiff.” What’s with the two f’s? And why the h? Why not just “wif”? It would be so much simpler for someone struggling with the overabundant mysteries of English spelling. Plus, the shorter spelling gives it a way younger, more hip-hop kinda feel, as in, “Whoa, get a wif a’ dat!!” )

When I finally shuffled from the bathroom into the kitchen — scrubbed, shaven, groomed, all that — I found myself enveloped by a seriously intensified version of the odor, to the point where my eyes popped open, my nose wrinkled up. Impossible to ignore any longer. The next-door kitchen abuts mine — I heard noise of someone working away, kitchen-fashion, I realized I was smelling meat. The thick, concentrated aroma of a big chunk of animal, well into the roasting process. I didn’t know whether to start salivating/masticating reflexively or begin reverse peristalsis, the hour not being the kind I’m accustomed to for that brand of sensory overwhelment.

I don’t remember ever being met with that degree of sensorama-like impact first thing in the morning here, apart from maybe Christmas or New Years, and those instances just didn’t pack the punch of today’s flesh fiesta. Tomorrow’s another local holiday — the feast of San Isidro, one of Madrid’s patron saints. I figure that might have something to do with the meat thing. A dinner this evening maybe, or tomorrow. Or something.

So, yeah, another holiday. A lot of the city will be shut down. Meaning loads of partying tonight. (As if they need an excuse to party. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The thought of which has me in a skipping-school frame of mind. If I knew someone with a car who might be temptable, I’d be on the horn trying to get them to bail out of work and drive me to some beautiful, less urban spot, take advantage of the run of spectacular May weather Madrid’s been having. But I don’t know anyone temptable in that way. (*Sob!*) So I’ll write. And eat. And finish schoolwork for class tonight. And get out and enjoy the day. And maybe at some point finish up with The Man Who Wasn’t There, which I rented yesterday, started watching late last night and couldn’t pull myself away from until it was way later than I’d intended to go to bed.

(I heard lots of people complain about that film, the majority gripe being “too slow.” I’ve got to say: Slow? I don’t know — it tells the story in its own way, and I’m finding it almost hypnotic. Visually beautiful, with great acting. Yeah, it’s an eccentric story, but what do you want? We’re talking about the Coen brothers, perpetrators of one of the weirdest — and one of my favorite — comedies ever, Raising Arizona. And in spite of what feels to me like a major, glaring flaw in the story line, which I won’t specify in case you haven’t seen the film, I found myself swept away in the bugger. Completely wrapped up in it. I will admit, though, that it’s a pretty dark hummer of a story, and I could see that, in combination with the pacing, bothering someone.)

Another film seen recently: La Caja 507 (Box 507). Spanish, from last year. A tight, sharp thriller, with two extremely fine actors in the leading roles. It’s not likely it’ll make its way to the States, but if you spot it on VHS or DVD, rent it. Be aware, though, that the second half gets violent, with a substantial body count. If you’d rather just see a great thriller, with top-notch acting and a great story line that packs a bunch of unexpected twists, rent the Argentinian film Nine Queens. Don’t let the language barrier put you off — you can’t lose with this one.

Enough with the reviews. Time for a bit of chow.

Later.

Well, I’ve been having one of those days in which I just can’t seem to figure out what the hell to do with myself. Can’t seem to concentrate on any one thing for any substantial span of time. I start doing something, something else occurs to me, all of a sudden I find myself veering off to take care of whatever the hell that something else might be. Along the way one or two other things might catch my eye, I wind up getting sidetracked. Not by anything important — little diddly unimportant stuff. Distraction for the sake of distraction. If I’m lucky, I actually finish whatever it is before finding myself drifting away in another direction. Otherwise, it’s off to start something else or standing staring at a book or newspaper or at the window.

Somewhere in the middle of all the pointless movement, I managed to sit myself down and focus long enough to get some homework done. Other than that, the day’s major achievement has been playing far too many games of hearts with my computer. Embarrassing. (At least I’m giving the hearts program a serious ass-kicking from time to time.)

A short while ago, I couldn’t stand it any more and got myself heading out the door for a breath of Madrid’s warm weather version of fresh air. Found myself walking in the direction of a DVD rental joint I signed up with this last weekend. We’re not talking Blockbuster Video here — far too effete for that. Nothing but DVDs, with a wildly international selection, including The Sopranos’ first two or three seasons — no Buffy The Vampire Slayer, though (waaaaaahhhhhh!!). (The truth: if it weren’t for being able to read detailed episode summaries at BuffyWorld, not being able to watch the last season of BtVS would be killing me. Hey, we all have our vices.)

Where was I? Oh, right — the DVD joint. It’s a small, austere place, usually with pretty good alternative or techno playing instead of a TV. Staffed by Spanish women, all seeming to be between 19 and 25 years old. All small, all unbelievably slim. All seeming a bit distant until you ask them something, at which point they become very nice. Kind, helpful, patient. Chatty, even. The kind of comportment that tends to get repeat business from me. And I’ll tell you what, on a day like this, when I can’t seem to focus too well, someone treating me with kindness has an effect.

Damn — just happened again. A thought occurred to me that sent me off to do something in the bedroom for a couple of minutes. Which then led me off to the other end of the flat for a bit. Probably a good thing — I think I may have been on the verge of a preach about kindness. (Not that this world of ours couldn’t use some talk re: kindness.)

I’ve discovered that the DVD player in the new laptop I picked up a week and a half ago does a seriously great job. Hence the DVD rentals. This last Sunday evening I went to the DVD place, came home with Minority Report. Tossed it into the machine, sat in my comfy Ikea chair with the laptop in my, er, lap, headphones plugged in. A real good time. I’m going to do that again.

BTW, in yesterday’s entry, I wondered about the back-to-school theme in the current get-out-the-vote ads happening here (in advance of the May 25 municipal elections). You may have noticed my friend Jaime posted a comment in response — for those who don’t read Spanish, he says that the polls are called ‘colegios electorales.’ Primary schools here are also called ‘colegios,’ and the polls, just as they are in the States, are often located in schools. Making the ‘return to school to vote’ metaphor an easy, logical one.

So there you have it. It’s good to have smart friends. (Thanks, Jaime.)

***********

Sign seen in a neighborhood café/cafetería, located across the street from my gym:

ZUMO DE NARANJA — 0

ZUMO DE LIMÓN — 1,50

[ORANGE JUICE -- 0

LEMON JUICE -- 1.50]

(A couple of the numbers had clearly fallen off the price for the orange juice and never been replaced.)

Another sign, hanging near the first one:

HOJAS DE RECLAMACIÓN

ESTÁN DISPONIBLE

A LOS CLIENTES

[COMPLAINT FORMS

ARE AVAILABLE

TO THE CUSTOMERS
]

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