far too much writing, far too many photos

Recent passings of note:

Archibald Cox
Elvin Jones

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

Around Madrid this last weekend, springtime giving way to summer:

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from previous entry]

During the 1980s, my parents began migrating to Florida for the colder months, spending more time there with each passing year. I, on the other hand, had headed west, returning to the northeast after a year and a half of trying out life in L.A.. staying in Half Moon for most of that winter while my parents cavorted among the palm trees, 900 miles to the south.

One Saturday morning in November, the doorbell rang. On answering, I found a 70ish man standing out on the stoop, a wan version of the Mr. Matthieson I remembered from childhood. Shorter, smaller, red hair fading to gray. I opened the storm door, we shook hands, saying hello, our greetings producing breath mist in the chilly air. When I asked if he’d like to step inside, he refused with a shy smile, saying he didn’t have much time, though appearing pleased to have received the invite. He said that he and his wife wanted to get in touch with my parents but didn’t have their Florida phone number. I wrote it down, handed it over. A moment of small talk, we shook hands again, he headed down the driveway, waving briefly as he moved off.

That was the last time I saw Mr. Matthiesson, though not the last time he impacted my life. If it had been, I’d have a fine closing to the story — tidy, concise, slightly poignant. Not always the way life wraps affairs like this up.

Two or three years after my last encounter with Mr. M., things had improved between my parents and him to the point that they asked him to look after the house during their months away — stopping by on a regular basis to make sure everything was all right, agreeing to be the person the security alarm outfit would call in case of problems.

And a day arrived when the Matthiesons’ phone rang, someone from the security firm calling to say that one of the security sensors in the basement had gone off. A sensor indicating water accumulation.

Mr. M. pulled on a pair of rubber boots, took a walk down the road to the house. Where, on entering the basement, he discovered that the hose to the water pump had come apart, that water was indeed pouring in, beginning to accumulate. The solution: flick off the pump’s wall-mounted power-switch — the flow of water would cease, clean-up and damage would be minimal. Or at least more minimal than if the pump were left on.

Apparently, despite sporting rubber boots, despite a couple of nearby, in-plain-view, grabworthy lengths of wood tailor-made for switch-flipping, Mr. Matthieson could not overcome a fear of electrocution. And after some panicked blithering he fled, returning home to call my brother (located an hour and 40 minutes south of Half Moon). My brother made a hurried drive north to shut the pump off. By the time he got there, the basement contained a foot of water.

An unpleasant development in any house. Particularly unpleasant in this house, run by my mother, a professional pack-rat who’d passed many enjoyable decades hoarding cartons and bags filled with dreck. Much of which had ended up on low shelves and storage spaces in the basement.

My brother pumped out the water before returning to his life and 9-to-5 job. I had a more flexible situation, meaning the remaining clean-up became my responsibility.

What I found on arriving: damaged furniture, ruined carpeting, mold and fungus blossoming in corners and hidey-holes. Rusting tools. Many boxes of now-dead tchotchkes, knick-knacks, keepsakes, memorabilia. And many large garbage baggies stuffed with scraps of cloth — remnants of maternal sewing projects (held onto because you never know when you’ll need them), perfect for soaking up water and becoming heavy as cast iron.

As you might imagine, Mr. Matthiesson was summarily relieved of all duties connected to the house. I don’t believe I ever heard my parents mention him again.

There are no sweeping judgments to be made from all this. I hardly knew this man, know little about the person he was. I know nothing, really, about his internal landscape, am not qualified to judge him. He was someone who passed through my earlier years, who struck me as a decent human being. Someone whose mid-life years brought a series of left-hand turns, beginning with a blow to the head and extending out from there — the kind of unexpected shifts big novels are sometimes constructed around. Though in this case, to my knowledge, not building to a dramatic climax. (On the other hand, what do I know? Some of this life’s most dramatic climaxes may be of the small, quiet variety.)

Just an individual who passed through this world, impacting the people around him in various ways, as we all do. With some moments of genuine drama and others of unintentional comedy. Same as the rest of us.

And worthy of mention. As we all are.

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

Springtime in Madrid, along el Paseo de Recoletos:

Madrid, te quiero.

During the majority of the portions of my early life spent in the town of Half Moon, north of Albany, N.Y. [see entry of October 15, 2001], I had one friend to hang out with. Jeff Matthiesson — four years younger (a major difference in those years), pudgy, with white, white skin, freckles, a brush cut. His father owned and worked at the gas station up the road. Their family lived in the small apartment above the business (garage/small store), tight, cramped quarters for a clan of five.

I hung out with Jeff most days, generally up at his place, providing me with some relief during the long summer seasons spent trapped in the woods with my family. Killing time, mostly — around the garage, up in the apartment, out in the surrounding acres of open country and woods. Talking, reading comics, drifting through the fields or along the river.

Mr. Matthiesson: a redhead, with muscular arms, a ruddy complexion and fair skin that burned easily during the summers. Mrs. Matthiesson: round-faced, with brown hair cut in a bob. Slightly heavyset, even a bit dumpy. Hard workers, both of them, putting in long days between the gas station and taking care of their growing family. Not people I remember smiling much — probably tired, constantly laboring to stay ahead.

My parents were close with Jeff’s folks. They socialized regularly, my father (a shop teacher, the original handyman) helped them convert a big old barn into a house, creating more space for what had become a clan of six.

All of which resulted in the Matthiessons being a fixture of my life for quite a while. Until my junior high years, when I found myself with less and less desire to pass hours with Jeff, drifted away, stopped going north with my parents during the warm seasons, finally lost contact with the Matthiessons altogether.

During my years in high school, my parents planned and built a house on the land in Half Moon, moving up there as soon as I graduated. Somewhere during that time I noticed that mentions of the Matthiessons, once common, had suddenly become rare. My passing questions about them were met with terse, uncomfortable replies, imparting little information apart from clear, nonverbal indications of a major change in situation. Which made me curious.

It took a point blank interrogation to get my mother — not one to discuss difficult issues directly, never mind comfortably — to tell me what was going on. The story turned out to be gratifyingly strange, classically strange.

What happened:

While working on a car during the course of what probably started as a normal day, Mr. Matthiesson suffered a blow to head. A hard enough blow to knock him out. Hard enough to give an intense shock, all the way down into the deepest parts of his system.

My mother said the blow caused a personality change, that the post-accident Mr. Matthiesson was a different individual from the person they’d known. I can’t say. What I know is that he came to, looked around, decided he no longer wanted to be where he was, that the life he’d been living — a difficult existence of hard work in what at that time was a dreary part of upstate New York — was no longer acceptable. He moved out of the house, found an apartment in Waterford, a town a few miles to the south, took up with a younger woman. I think he stopped working at the garage, found another job.

Scandalous, incomprehensible happenings for that part of the world. Changes that left people like my parents aghast, that must have left Mrs. Matthiesson feeling stunned, bereft, ashamed.

The Matthiessons didn’t divorce. They led lives as separate as they could manage, money matters and four kids forcing regular contact. And that’s how things stood for a few years. Every once in a while one of my parents dropped a passing comment about the situation, short on details, then immediately clammed up. I gathered they’d taken Mrs. Matthiesson’s side, something I suspect most everyone did. I gathered Mr. Matthiesson remained troubled, difficult to deal with, that his life seemed to be drifting in no particular direction, despite all the changes. With time, I got the vague impression that the Matthiessons were having more contact, until my mother mentioned one day that Mr. M. had moved back into the house.

And from there, the Matthiessons were a couple again. Not necessarily a happy one, but more in line with how middle-class folk thought things should be. For quite a while, my parents seemed to regard Mr. Matthiesson with an attitude of heavy disapproval, as if their opinion of him had been damaged irreparably. As if he were on probation for an unlimited period, maybe forever.

[continued in next entry]

Madrid, te quiero.

I am having one of those mornings where — so far, at any rate — I have been unable to drag myself to full consciousness. Forcing me to toss down two cups of high-test in an attempt to get my sorry (though adorable) butt into gear — a rarity, as more than one fully-caffeinated cup tends to get me rocking back and forth in my seat, autistic-like. This morning’s infusions have hardly shown up on my nervous system’s radar screen.

Patience. Tranquility. Blahblahblah.

The upside: the demands of the day don’t require more of me than:

a) bringing some recycling to one of the neighborhood drop-off points (Done.)
b) picking up a paper (Done.)
c) picking up some groceries (Done.)
d) picking up new pair black fishnet stockings (sorry, that was from the to-do list of a character in an Almodóvar film I saw yesterday.)
d) doing a bit of writing (You’re reading it.)
e) doing some schoolwork (er… soon… right after I finish this.) (no, really.)

And a handful of other items. Nothing earthshaking, nothing that should challenge my basic motor functions too strenuously.

Updates will follow as warranted.

Madrid, te quiero.

This morning: tried to sleep in. A neighbor had their television on, watching the arrival of the wedding attendees at the National Cathedral. A murmur just loud enough to keep me from drifting back off once I’d come awake and become aware of it.

Gave in, got up. Cranked up the T&V, kept it going while I showered, etc. Saw a friend on one channel — a newscaster with one of the Spanish networks — sitting with a compatriot in some elevated location with a great view of the city’s west side, commenting on the various mucky-mucks arriving for the ceremony. Realized all over again how boring that kind of thing is to me. Shut it off, headed out to the gym.

Not many people about, like any other Saturday a.m. here. Streets and plazas appeared a bit cleaner than normal, probably due to the overnight rain — putting a lid on the Friday night revelry, resulting in less debris for morning clean-up crews. Virtually all businesses were closed, the few cafés in operation all had the TV going, the eyes of customers and staff fixed on the wedding coverage.

No TV playing at the gym, no radio. Just blessed quiet. Rain started up while I was inside, greeting me with an intense downpour when I stepped back outside. Thunder pealed, the kind that starts near one horizon and rolls across the sky.

The Metro remained practically deserted during the ride back here, when I emerged from the station in the plaza down the street rain continued falling. Ducked into a cafetería for a shot of caffeine, the tail end of the wedding ceremony playing on the TV at crisp, clear volume. Church music: choir singing, organ playing. The two 20-somethings behind the bar supplied their own liturgical tunes in response:

Customer: Un cortado, por favor.

Barkeep: (In the style of Gregorian chant:) ¿Un corrr-ta-dooooo?

Customer: Sí.

Barkeep: ¿De má-qui-naaaa?

Customer: Sí.

Barkeep: Ahhhh-mennnn.

I sat for a while. Sipped, ate, read the paper. People passed in and out of the cafetería. Music (live and from the TV) came and went. The rain eventually let up. I came back home.

It’s now after 1. The streets outside remain deserted, quiet. Overhead, the drone of a helicopter periodically swells then fades, the only indication of how close this neighborhood is to the route of the wedding motorcade, where the royal entourage is now making their post-ceremony trip through the city.

A good day for relaxing. Think I’ll do some of that.

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

This evening along Gran Vía, wedding come and gone, rainclouds long vanished — two images before the police were loaded into vans and carted off, one image of a brief few moments of freedom between their departure and the return of traffic:

Madrid, te quiero.

The crowds turning out to enjoy the lighting displays set up as part of the pre-wedding make-Madrid-shine effort have become a phenomenon, growing larger with each passing evening. Becoming, last night, so sprawlingly enormous (250,000-300,000, according to the media) that they simply took over that part of the city, provoking major, unexpected traffic tie-ups, attracting national news coverage.

There are those who think this week — the conjunction of perfect weather, preparations for tomorrow’s wedding, and the focusing of world attention here for that event — has been cathartic, a lift to a city in need of one after the bombings of two months ago. That the flood of people taking to the streets has been a sign of Madrid opening back up after a deep shock. Could be, and that might explain the gentle official reaction to last night.

The police: patient, respectful, doing everything they could to accommodate the crowds. Rather than attempt to control the growing river of gawkers, they directed reduced traffic carefully through the area until the swelling number of pedestrians made that impossible, then eliminated motor vehicle access altogether, turning the streets over to the crowds.

The mayor, rather than reacting with panicked attempts to control the surging anarchy, embraced the turnout, practically beaming (this from a man who rarely shows any expression at all) at the success of the displays, at the way the city has come out to enjoy them.

Yesterday evening, I made a return trip to the area — an easy ten-minute walk from here — in an attempt to get more photos. With no idea that the scene would be what it turned out to be. So many people that the crushing congestion in the broad sidewalks quickly became dangerous, police having to lift people out over the curbside railings into the street to prevent injuries. At which point, it all just turned into a free-flowing explosion of humans out enjoying themselves, unrestricted by anything. Happily, breezily chaotic. Everyone with cameras, taking photos of the lighting displays, of the unexpected anarchy, of each other.

In descending order:
a) the main post office building, la Plaza de la Cibeles
b) la Calle de Alcalá, looking east toward la Plaza de la Cibeles
c) la Calle de Alcalá, looking west toward la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol (not visible)

So much happy partying that the national security services became nervous, asking the city to abort tonight’s lighting displays — concerned that the crowds might prevent the completion of preparations for tomorrow’s motorcade/wedding/etc. Tonight was to have been the final evening of the big pre-event celebration — the city will now have to resort to its normal Friday night mode of all-night revels. (Sniffle.)

An interesting factoid mentioned in one of the countless news stories about wedding prep./security: there’s an extensive network of underground tunnels below Madrid — 5,000 miles’ worth. They’re now being methodically searched and patrolled, and will continue to be until the last of the international wedding guests packs up and disappears.

Meanwhile, early yesterday morning: woke from a dream in which I learned that a 42 foot high wave of water had rolled through Manhattan, information with a massive implied death toll.

I was somewhere north of N.Y.C. when I found out, in a private office of some kind. Big, entirely done in dark wood, the lights discretely low.

A balding 50-something male in a suit sat behind a sizeable desk at one end of the room, a 50ish woman at a desk or table across from him. (His office, though, not hers.) Desk man spoke with a soft Austrian accent, telling me and the woman about the killer wave, going on to say that he’d realized the owners of the five biggest banks were behind it, as if were a realization that should be obvious to everyone. I kept my smartmouth thoughts to myself.

A 42 foot high wave of water. What am I, a walking trailer for the latest disaster film?

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

Friday night: rain moved in several hours ago. The crowds that had been accumulating around the center ready for fun diminished some, the high spirits of the remaining die-hards muted but not smothered. Every TV channel is occupied with pre-wedding activities and the hordes of royalty, world leaders and famous types that have invaded Madrid over the last 24 hours for the event.

I had the impression that a fair number of folks would ignore the wedding ceremony tomorrow a.m. Silly me. Even my Spanish instructor, one of the last people I would have expected to be up for something like this, said he’d be out of bed with the telly on. Me, I may go to the gym. Depends on how grinchlike I feel in the morning.

A final note: this evening someone found this page via a search for “scissors orange x-ray butt.”

Hard to improve on that as a summing up.

Madrid, te quiero.

A recap, for those not paying close attention to the details of life in Madrid this week:

Two days from now, Saturday morning: the royal wedding.

In preparation for that event, the city’s been getting a fast spit-shine (streets suddenly cleaner than normal, big arty banners covering expanses of construction/rehab, nighttime lighting on certain key buildings enhanced with eye-catching colors).

Virtually all local media outlets are currently obsessed with everything relating to the wedding.

Measures taken to address security concerns have begun impacting daily life in increasingly visible ways — beginning last weekend, everyone entering the country via highway and railway gets stopped for security checks; beginning tomorrow, all motor vehicles will be barred from certain major thoroughfares around the city center; beginning this evening or tomorrow, parking lots around the city center will be closed. A no-fly zone will be enforced over the city on Saturday, possibly on Sunday as well. And on Saturday, 200 sharpshooters will be arrayed on rooftops along the processional royalty-waving-to-everyone route taken through the city center. (That last doesn’t really impact daily life, but is worth noting just for the hell of it.)

It’s something to watch unspooling, all this. Big pomp, in an endearing, slightly off-kilter old-world-meets-new-world way, the local reaction seeming mighty complex. Yes, the media is on it like a cheap suit. And yes, there apparently is an audience for all the wedding-related media noise. Yes, the number of Saturday morning viewers is expected to be huge, as is the 3-D turnout along the motorcade route here in town.

An event of this pedigree, after all — a commoner (ex-newscaster, in this case) marrying into the royal realm, world leaders and European royalty in attendance; high romance, with a resonant aura approaching that of the fairy-tale — doesn’t come down the pike every week. For which I am grateful, because it could get real damn tiring. Wearing, even. Annoying. Abrasive. Brain-numbing.

Not that I’m suggesting for a moment that the current once-in-a-generation happening is any of those nasty adjectives. Truly, sincerely, I am not. (No, really.) It is, in all its strange aspects, just too freakin’ interesting to be any of that.

For instance, the mixed feelings I see in the community around me — a sense of pride, on one hand, at the city being the center of so much attention, along with a frank, unashamed enjoyment at the sudden show of ambient eye-candy, particularly the lighting displays taking place come dusk around certain plazas and buildings. Last night at sunset, big crowds collected around la Plaza de la Cibeles and down el Paseo del Prado, a concentration point of light and color. Many thousands of people, mostly Spaniards as far as I could tell, many with cameras out, all happily gawking away. Lots of ironic commentary to be heard, co-existing comfortably with genuine, unfeigned delight, neither reality contradicting the other. Fun.

Madrid gets lit — la Plaza de la Cibeles, yesterday evening:

On the other hand, I’ve heard plenty of carping about the money being spent on the whole wingding. And closer to home, the shutting down of parking garages and main thoroughfares in the city center is causing some local businesses to go dark for the weekend come Friday afternoon. Not because they want to — because they believe the disruption of access to the center will mean far fewer customers and a dropoff in business drastic enough to warrant closing up shop. The Metro will be open, operating free of charge on Saturday until 4 p.m., but few Madrid residents are expected to be out shopping that morning. Good time to stay at home and watch royalty get hitched.

One thing that’s becoming more true with each passing nanosecond: however one feels about the nuptial thing, it’ll all be over soon.

I have no idea if I’ll wind up turning on the tube Saturday morning. I hope to be asleep, frankly, not awake debating the question, as I’m still recovering from last weekend’s combo of high activity level and little sleep. It’s entirely possible, though, that I’ll drag myself out of bed at a distressingly reasonable hour, pull on clothes, limp to a neighborhood espresso pusher (where the royal hooha will be probably be on at high volume, the lost souls in attendance staring blankly at the screen). At which point I’ll remember I should be out on Gran Vía watching the motorcade with the rest of the city, under the watchful eye of all 200 sharpshooters. So that I can write something semi-informed about it afterward.

Might happen. Or it might not. I’ll find out Saturday.

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

T-shirt seen yesterday in the Madrid Metro:

NO, TAMPOCO fui invitado a la BODA REAL
(NO, I wasn’t invited to the ROYAL WEDDING EITHER)

Madrid, te quiero.

This last Friday night: during the course of a late, late dinner with friends (a couple — her Spanish, him an American living here for many years), me having just written an entry here about royal weddings, etc., I asked my companions’ thoughts on the Spanish royal family. A simple question, producing immediate, lively commentary — mostly from her, him generally listening, a smile on his face.

Her opinions: not wildly complimentary, frequent use of terms like ‘imbecile’ and ‘asshole’ providing a major clue (though leavened with one or two appreciative points re: King Juan Carlos). Including expressed displeasure over the amount of state money being spent on preparations — a complaint I’ve heard with increasing frequency amid ever-swelling media coverage of the event.

Money is clearly being tossed around, in part to give the city a sprucing up in certain high-profile locations. And I will confess to enjoying what I’ve so far seen of it.

Madrid is overrun with construction and rehab. It’s everywhere, in exuberant, cheerfully-unsightly profusion: big scaffolding structures covering entire exterior walls of many-story buildings, generally covered with bright green or blue scrim to minimize the possibility of errant chunks of this and that clocking passing pedestrians. In an effort to reduce the eyesore factor (or take advantage of high-traffic locations), the expanses of scrim are sometimes turned into enormous billboards. [See entry of November 27, 2003.] Someone in the city government pondered that concept and had a brainstorm re: camouflaging the most obvious examples of city-center construction ugliness. The first examples have begun materializing along Gran Vía — enormous reproductions of paintings by Goya. Landscapes, expanses of sky. Large enough to have a genuine impact on the look of a plaza or section of street.

Gran Vía/la Plaza de Callao, Madrid:

The city has been beefing up already-existing flower beds in public places, and according to news reports, security officers will be looking to foil citizens who attempt to make off with any of the flowers. Nighttime illumination of buildings, already something the city does well, will be taken up a notch, using many more colors, something the city government supposedly inaugurated officially a few short minutes ago.

And in the traffic circle near Atocha train station, scene of March 11’s most damaging terrorist attacks, the city will be installing 192 trees in memory of those who died in the bombings. Not planting — creating a small, temporary urban forest in big pots, to be relocated and planted for real in el Retiro, Madrid’s version of Central Park, post wedding weekend.

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

T-shirt worn by an unidentified male near la Plaza Mayor over the weekend: DO NOT COMMIT

At last week’s Cannes Film Festival: Ugly bags of water

Madrid, te quiero.

Today in Madrid: la Feria de San Isidro, commemorating one of Madrid’s patron saints. Meaning a morning in which most local businesses — food tiendas, cafeterías, you name it — were closed and dark, leaving confused non-natives wandering about in search of groceries or a shot of caffeine.

The overwhelming abundance of shuttered shops took my half-awake little brain by surprise, too. Grabbed a paper at the local news kiosk, located a local watering hole for a quick hit of espresso. The paper mentioned San Isidro, everything suddenly made sense, I found myself coming to full consciousness reoriented in linear time. Much better.

Spring returned yesterday, after a couple of weeks of drastically untypical May conditions — unseasonably cool, often gray, rainy. The day started out with a chilly edge then blossomed sweetly into spectacular vernal weather, the kind that reminds me all over again how good my little body feels when springtime truly takes root.

Between the holiday weekend and the return of user-friendly temperatures, last night’s Friday evening version of the city was buzzing. I rendezvoused with a couple I know for dinner (you know you’re in Spain when friends make dinner reservations for 11 p.m.). On stepping out of the restaurant at 1:30 a.m., the streets were busier, noisier than they are at 1:30 p.m. The hubbub continued well past me turning off the bedside light shortly before 4 a.m.

There is nowhere quite like this city.

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

This afternoon: la Feria de San Isidro, la Plaza Mayor, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Royal romance: it’s currently happening in a big way in this corner of the world. And I’m not talking your standard tabloid rubbish re: the Princesses of Monaco. A trio of major springtime weddings has gotten underway around the continent — last month in Holland, today in Denmark, next weekend here in Madrid. One right after another. Glamorous, high-profile gatherings of royal clans from around Europe and points in the Middle East, providing both legitimate media outlets and the pink press with huge amounts of easy reporting fodder.

Given the local media’s fascination with the famous (’los famosos’) and Spain’s many centuries of kings/queens/etc., the local royals are an easy, comfortable fit, an anachronism many view with a cynically-cocked eyebrow, yet continue to accept as an adornment on the Spanish political system, as a strangely alluring aspect of the culture. An aspect that provides pomp and happy distraction, that the political world accepts (mostly) and that the commercial world can wrap itself around, currently pumping out commemorative royal wedding flotsam with joyful abandon.

Coming from a culture with no state royalty (ignoring the Kennedys-as-Camelot thing), I’ve never had a whole lot of interest in the vestigial monarchy deal. A quirky part of the old world, I figured, an ocean away and easy to ignore, apart from the ubiquitous updates on the Windsors’ peccadillos. And then I found myself in the old world. Suddenly royalty is a part of the background of daily life.

Walking around the west side of Madrid’s city center, it’s hard to ignore the sprawling influence of the royal palace. Keep an eye on local political hooha, it’s hard to miss the benign, affable presence of King Juan Carlos and family. Read the papers, turn on the TV these days, it’s impossible to avoid the swelling coverage of the future King, Prince Felipe, and his bride-to-be, Letizia. Also, how security for the wedding will impact life here next weekend. The major story these last couple of days re: that last bit: the establishing of a no-fly zone around the city for the wedding day.

I pondered all this at dinner last Saturday night, sitting at a table with individuals from four countries with long histories of the royal sort, three of those — Spain, Norway, Holland — with some version of it still up and running. (The fourth, France, killed off its royals a couple of centuries back in a wild spasm of cultural makeover.)

Most Spaniards I’ve talked with re: the royal family refer to it dismissively, to one degree or another, though that generally seems tempered by genuine appreciation, even affection. In part, I think, because the Spanish royal family doesn’t get itself into trouble. They do their job (without acting out), and it not only seems to matter to them that they do their work well, there seems to be genuine feeling for their country, genuine emotion lurking behind the royally restrained exterior.

On the other hand, one Spaniard I know — an anchorperson for the daytime news on a national network — does not appear to care a whole lot for the royals, and talks about the hands-off policy the press follows (re: reporting on royal family problems/troubles) in tones of disgust. Without itemizing, he assures me that they have their scandals, their misbehaviors. After saying that, he looks off to one side, shaking his head slightly, expression not sanguine.

Ah, well. Can’t please everyone.

Madrid, te quiero.

For what it’s worth, an item from this evening’s newscasts here in Madrid:

a poll conducted by Spain’s Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas asked a sampling of slightly less than 2500 people what they thought of the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.

The results:

Very good: 50.0%
Good: 26.8%
Indifferent: 8.1%
Bad: 5.8%
Very bad: 4.5%
Don’t know: 4.3%
No comment: .5%

Madrid, te quiero.

And the lion tiger shall lay down with the lamb monkeys, horses, deer, peacocks, geese, wild pigs, etc.

Whoa! Dude, I think I’m peaking….

And fashion notes from New Zealand: a different twist on winter undergarments.

Madrid, te quiero.

Saturday night: found myself in attendance at a dinner given by my neighbor, a bright, attractive 50-something woman who runs a residencia for students. The kind of international affair I used to experience regularly during my first months in Madrid, when I spent weeks and weeks in intensive language classes, slapping together what I hoped would be a workable foundation of spoken Spanish. Three and a half hours a day penned in a classroom with people from all over, punctuated by frequent extracurricular activities — bouts of conversation over midday meals or plates of tapas/cups of coffee; nights out wandering the city. Fun, with a multi-national character I’d never experienced before. Stimulating. Satisfying.

The last time I found myself in a gathering of that sort was Christmas Eve [see entries of December 27, 28 and 30]. My current language classes — the adult-ed variety: three evenings a week, an hour and a half at a pop — are also an interesting mix of nationalities, but the students have day jobs, have lives that consume their time/energy. More serious overall, mostly a bit older, less given to frivolous bursts of socializing.

I’ve been curious about the flat across the hall (in keeping with my chronic, nosy craving to get a peek into virtually any living space — an extension of my overdeveloped people-watching thing). This is an old building, with cozy, compact apartments. Not cramped, but not wildly spacious, at least if you want to pack more than two residents into one. And depending on the space and the residents, two can be pushing it.

Groups of students come and go, days of quiet giving way to busy periods, various languages echoing in the hallway — Spanish, French, English. When I’m in my kitchen, I often hear my neighbor, Esperanza, at work in hers. Or her TV, her radio (usually playing Radio Olé, the only Spanish station I’m aware of dedicated completely to Spanish music, a strange mix of (a) pure, potent traditional, (b) sentimental, muzacky pop, and (c) more blatantly commercial top-40 fare).

Her kitchen/pantry is right off the apartment’s entryway, I’d been in there on a couple of occasions, chatting. Saturday night was my first opportunity to scope out the rest of the space. Esperanza rustled about finishing up food-prep., two of the attendees keeping her company (a smart, attractive, post-university, spikey-haired Norwegian woman; an intelligent, college-aged French guy — both extremely simpático, both speaking very decent Castellano). Introductions, a bit of chat, then I grabbed a couple of platters of tapas-style stuff and sherpaed them to the other end of the flat, where the small living room had been transformed into a dining zone.

A tall, shaven-headed, late-20’s male sat on the living room sofa. Quiet, appearing uncomfortable. Dutch, it turned out, from Amsterdam, speaking very limited Spanish. Esperanza appeared, placing a big platter of cauliflower (steamed, then briefly sautéed in olive oil and garlic — addictively good) on the table, everyone took a seat.

A scene like this is one version of paradise for me — a table covered with plates of excellent food, all of which I have permission to ravish (within civilized limits). It’s all I can do to keep myself from regressing to a primitive, slavering state, gruntingly shoveling piles of chow into my mouth in a frenzied display of primordial impulses.

We’re eating, we’re conversing. I’m enjoying my companions, I’m checking out the surroundings. Esperanza has Radio Olé playing its weird mix of tunes, volume just low enough that the music doesn’t infringe on talk. A forest of framed photographs is arrayed atop a low table off to one side, family and friends smiling out at us.

[continued in entry of May 14]

Madrid, te quiero.

This afternoon — a touch of the surreal around Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Doing the Saturday morning market thing at el Centro Comercial Barceló, in the barrio of Chueca, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

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