far too much writing, far too many photos

I’ve found myself in recent days experiencing a mix of feelings I would be hard-pressed to describe. Reflecting things happening in my little life and in the world at large, both micro and macro, both wacky and worrying (that last the legacy of a family-of-origin method of dealing with life, something I’m long into the process of freeing myself from). A kind of emotional brew that would have had me feeling mighty low in earlier years. Now I’m mostly grateful to be alive, processing it all. I’d much rather be awake — wading through this world of ours in all its gorgeous pomp and squalor, my nervous system firing away on all cylinders — than numb.

Because it’s a hell of a show, you know? An impressive array of the wild, the bizarre, the savage, the tender, the hopeful, the mundane, the sometimes quietly/sometimes thrillingly, extravagantly beautiful.

Spring has put on the brakes a bit here, resulting in days that are the spitting image of September/October — cool, fresh, the sky a dramatic blend of clouds and light. So that cold weather gear — never completely discarded by the more cautious locals — has become normal once again. And life goes on, to the accompaniment of occasional bitching about the discrepancy between the calendar and the actual conditions outdoors.

Introversion/extroversion — la Plaza de Santa Barbara, Madrid:

Meanwhile, the new Spanish government has been quietly busy, producing a noticeably different atmosphere in the process. Less rancorous, more focused on simply doing the work, less on producing discord. A major change from the previous administration, a marked easing of a kind of tension that had become normal during the last two, three years.

As promised during the campaign, half the cabinet-level posts are now held by women, including the active, influential post of vice president. Also as promised, a law pushed through by the previous administration re-imposing mandatory classes in Catholicism or religion in public schools has been reversed. Channel 1, the more high-profile of the two government television stations, has been undergoing a makeover, become less partisan, more balanced in its news broadcasts, its programming changing to reverse a major drop in ratings experienced during the last couple of years. (Hallelujah to that, say I, the channel 1 I knew having become more or less unwatchable.) The administration is now actively working with the French and German governments to ratify a European constitution.

All, on the face of it, major changes in direction, all apparently more in tune with the wants of the pueblo. Absent in this are the chronically ugly parliamentary confrontations that had become the norm during the last couple of years, the result of the 180 degree turnabout in the composition of el Congreso de los Diputados. Not that the parliamentary chamber doesn’t produce plenty of noise, just that the PP does not now have the position or power to impose their will on everyone else, a drastic change in situation.

One of the hallmarks of the previous administration was its tendency to stonewall and block investigations into various incendiary happenings (i.e., the sinking of the Prestige, the lack of evidence to support justifications given for participating in the incursion into Iraq, numerous scandals around the country involving PP officeholders). The last of those happenings was the government’s handling of the three days between the Madrid bombings and the national elections. The country’s two largest daily newspapers have been running stories detailing how the administration continued to insist on the involvement of ETA in the bombings despite all investigations clearly pointing to Islamic extremists, contradicting the PP’s post-election PR offensive, revelations that resulted yesterday in the PP doing a 180 to support calls for an investigation into what exactly happened during those three days. (El País, the lefty daily and largest selling national paper, says that “The secretary general of the PP, [defeated presidential candidate] Mariano Rajoy, accepted yesterday that a parliamentary commission would investigate the events of 11-M, as demanded by other political groups.” El Mundo, the center-right daily and second-largest national paper, portrays it differently, stating that “Mariano Rajoy… took the political iniciative to demand a parliamentary commission into 11-M.”)

The current government has taken pains to assure everyone that the purpose of the investigation is not to pin blame on any individuals, and while that may be a bit ingenuous, their general way of working since taking power has been conciliatory, not vengeful. Which raises the hope that though the results of the investigation may portray the PP unfavorably, the Socialist administration may walk softly through it all, actually working to reduce the sting of it rather than twist the knife.

Time will tell. But the simple possibility of less abrasive, less mean-spirited outcomes in the political world comes as soothing relief to me.

Madrid, te quiero.

Something that’s become a fundamental part of my morning routine here: going out for a cup of caffeine. Never did it before arriving in Madrid, virtually never do it when I’m back in the lower 48.

It’s not just that the local espresso goes down so easily for me. It’s everything: getting my butt out the door into the air/light/sounds of the neighborhood. Stopping at the news kiosk in the plaza down the street to pick up a paper, exchange a hello with the proprietor (a large blonde with a friendly smile). Listening to Spanish being spoken all around as I make my way to one of the neighborhood cafeterías, absorbing the morning version of the barrio (more normal, tranquil than the evening/nighttime version) — people walking dogs, chatting in the plaza, heading in and out of the Metro; shops opening, delivery people pushing handtrucks piled with crates of groceries or packaged goods.

I wind up in any one of a bunch of local a.m. joints, but I gravitate toward larger ones, with more people, more noise and atmosphere. I find a spot at the counter or a table with a good view of the place, I order an espresso, maybe a croissant or something more substantial, open the paper, read, people-watch.

Deeply satisfying, all of that — don’t ask why, I’m not sure I can explain it.

I tend to wake up more slowly here, more gradually. Used to be I’d pull myself out of bed, do the shower/shave thing, toss down a substantial breakfast, shoot out of the house in whichever direction I had to go. That’s changed. I take a long time coming to now, at least compared to the me of earlier years — drifting around the flat, maybe making something to eat. Maybe cranking up the ‘puter, the radio.

[this entry in progress]

Madrid, te quiero.

In the days after the Marathon, the summery weather here faded, turned gray, gave way to rain and cool temperatures. Bit of a shock after such ideal conditions. This is why so many locals appear reluctant to give up their winter outwear on lovely days: the possibility of getting shafted by the sly bastards in the meteorological racket.

This last weekend: rain, on and off. And on and off. And on and off. Yesterday: Cool, cloudy, damp. Grumbling complaints, audible everywhere I went during recent days, grew in number and volume. In class last night, a young woman from Holland and our instructor, Jesús, compared these recent days to winter in the Netherlands, agreeing they were unpleasantly similar.

Early this morning, 5 or 6 a.m.: pulled myself out of bed for a stumble to the loo. Passing through the living room, something caught my eye: a spot of brightness, glowing through the shades. The full moon, hanging in a clear, cloudless sky, shining so brightly its light penetrated the fabric, emblazoning it with a golden, incandescent circle. I gave the scene outside a fast squint, confirming the sky’s overnight change. Went back to bed with a smile on my face.

Had to get up and out early this morning. Stepped out into a Madrid awash in chilly sunlight. The temperature sailed nicely upward, by midday spring had returned. Not premature summer, but spring, soft and comfortable. Compensated a bit for having dragged myself to the gym on a day when my little body wanted nothing to do with that kind of torture.

This morning — trying to ignore the twit with the camera at la Plaza de Santa Barbara, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

I indulged my own small version of the urge to suffer and went to the gym from there, never making it to the 20km mark with fuzzy towel, etc. So much for faux nobility. Instead, I showed up at the course’s end point to yell unintelligible supportive comments as Y. staggered the final few hundred feet to the finish line.

The marathon’s finish was just down the road from the where the starting point had been. Man, what a scene. Humans, humans everywhere, either in summer duds or running gear, most of the avenue enclosed in tall cyclone fencing to keep out the non-running rabble, leaving us non-participants to pick our way along the sides, past the lines of within-enclosure trucks and tents doling out food, drink and physical care to exhausted-looking marathoners, many of whom carried big plastic bags of food, with what looked like thinsulate shawls pulled around their shoulders to ward off post-exertion chill. On that exceptionally warm day, that would not have been my concern. I likely would have been too busy throwing up after 26.2 miles of sheer joy — like several individuals I spied within the long runners’ enclosure — to worry about the air temperature.

Y. had been aiming at a time of 3 hours and 15 minutes, extremely good numbers. I made it to the finish line at the three-hour mark, just in case Y. did better than he’d expected. Bleachers had been set up there, packed and overflowing with people, police standing about to dissaude undesirables like me who might want to squeeze themselves into an already at-capacity situation, leaving me no option but to move down the avenue away from the end point to where a spectating spot might present itself.

Found a teeny gap between a 40ish Central American guy and a group of young women with cameras waiting for runners they knew. I have a slow, patient way of inserting a foot, elbow or forearm into a space like that, insinuating myself further in as my neighbors make the mistake of giving way centimeter by centimeter, until I have an authentic vantage point. (I’m good.) Not that I push people aside. No, really — I just wait, taking advantage of slight adjustments that happen with the passing minutes.

Mr. Central America didn’t want to give way, occupying as much body space as he could manage, even when a mother with two young children showed up behind us, the two little ones giving him the classically sad big-eyed-children-on-black-velvet look, meeting his glance any time he made the mistake of looking around. He didn’t care. I turned my body sideways, giving them space to eel into. They did so until they couldn’t take being crammed up against our neighbor any more and disappeared to find a different space. Which gave me enough space to angle into, getting camera ready for action.

Through all of that runners passed, moving toward the finish line at whatever speed they could manage, the crowd yelling encouragement, chanting, at times singing, pounding in unison on big advertising panels lashed to the cyclone fencing that kept us off the racecourse. Lots of energy, big emotion. And more and more, I saw runners accompanied by children — kids who’d been waiting for their parent to pass, leaping over the fencing to meet them, finishing the course by their side, hand in hand. A sight that pulled a lot of emotion from the crowd, loud, emphatic shouts of support rippling along the street as the runners passed by.

Y. almost snuck by when he passed, nearly an hour later. I picked him out among a stream of passing shorts-and-sneakered males, called out, jerked the camera up to my face. He looked over, kept going. The single photo I managed to get: a colorful, unusable blur. Bugger.

After another five minutes — watching for the runner from my Spanish class, without result — I headed back through the mob near the finish line, along the long perimeter of the runner’s enclosure, trying to spot Y. No luck. Went all the way to the enclosure’s end, where a steady line of exhausted marathoners walked gingerly out into the waiting horde of non-runners, trying to find friends/family. Nearly ten minutes later, Y. emerged, walking very gingerly. Limping a bit, in fact, same as many other runners. This, his 10th marathon, turned out to be a hard one, his second most difficult, he reported. Chalk it up to the heat or to the long, gradual slopes along the race course, or to a body not enjoying the punishment of several hours of running the way it had in the past — whatever the cause, he experienced physical difficulties that ultimately led to walking stretches of the course. His final time: around 3:55, a number that doesn’t appear in any way shameful to my non-marathoner’s eyes.

At times, during his three remaining days in Madrid, Y. talked about the possibility of running only half-marathons from here on out, thinking he may have reached a point where his body simply didn’t enjoy the punishment of the full-length gig. Time will tell.

Everything changes, and the days tumble us along through the ongoing spectacle brought by the passing days.

Madrid, te quiero.

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