far too much writing, far too many photos

That last entry? It got started for a reason, honest. The hot air at the end there actually had a point, was actually intended to lead somewhere.

Unfortunately, it’ll have to wait. (And why is there a small, ill-mannered part of me that feels perversely entertained at the thought that somewhere out there, some nice person might actually have been interested enough in the hot air at the end of yesterday’s post to feel a bit — hmm, a bit… I don’t know… dismayed? disappointed? — at the postponing of whatever dubious gratification might be gained from me finishing my navel-gazing? Or is it just massive wishful thinking on my part?)

Tomorrow morning, long before the Madrid day gets underway, I’ll be on a plane heading back to the States, touching down in Boston around 12:30, aiming to grab a 2 o’clock bus up to northern Vermont.

Today is all about pulling my little life together and stuffing STUFF into traveling bags.

Back online sometime after arrival in the other side of the Atlantic.


A quick addendum: last night at The Goyas ceremony (Spain’s version of the Academy Awards ceremony), Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside) overwhelmed the competition, making off with a historic 14 awards, including best film, best director, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, etc.

A film worth seeing. Be interesting to see how it does at the Academy Awards.

Madrid, te quiero.

The work involved in getting this new page on its feet has turned out to be labor intensive in a way I had not anticipated before the fact, in part because all the compiled writings that are accessible through the various links over to the right needed to be coded with line breaks, in part because all existing text links grew underlines with the shift and each little bitty link needs extra code to clean that up. Before the page went online last Monday, I’d spent several days pulling together all the different stuff, prepping it to be plugged into each new page. Or that’s what my addled, naïve little brain thought would happen. (HA!!!) Add to that the slow collapse of linkage to the far too many photos I’ve stored at pbase — a slow collapse that seemed to go completely to hell yesterday as the outfit moved to a new ISP, virtually every photo linked to pbase disappearing between morning and evening — and it’s meant a whole lot of fun. Man, talk about slog work.

But it’s my little cyber-fiefdom. When the everything is finally stored here and all the clean-up is cleaned-up, I’ll be obnoxiously content.

Sunday a.m., Madrid — doing the morning paper bit


A few mornings ago: me, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, scraping my face with a razor. For some reason, thinking about how much I’ve changed in this lifetime. Remembering the childhood me: a sad, dependent, pudgy little guy mired in a strange, cramped existence, yet knowing nothing else, finding myself quietly freaked when thrust into other contexts.

Thinking about the two times I did sleepovers at friends’ houses. In both cases, feeling so uncomfortable and unhappy that I wound up getting out of bed early in the a.m., everyone else in the host homes still asleep. Pulled on clothes, went back to my home, to my teeny bedroom.

I found myself thinking about the one and only time my mother farmed me out, me four or five years old. A morning the ‘rent had an appointment somewhere and couldn’t or didn’t want to drag me along, leaving me at a house down the street with Mrs. Brown and her daughter, Dale, I think a year younger than me. Didn’t know Mrs. Brown well, but knew Dale, got along with her fine. Didn’t matter — something about not being able to go home, about being corraled in an unfamiliar place had me uncomfortable, distressed, counting the minutes until my release.

I found myself thinking about the only other similar occasion, a time my father — a teacher in New York City — had to drag me along with him one day, leaving me in the class of a teacher he knew at his school. Me feeling so uncomfortable in this place where I knew no one and no one seemed to have any interest in me that I began going to the lavatory every half hour or so until the teacher lost patience and chewed me out in front of the class. (An approach that made things feel SO much better.)

Overweight, insecure, somewhat shy. The me of then.

The me of now: a whole different case. Comfortable with myself — more than that: pleased with myself, with my little existence, knowing how far I’ve come. Knowing I’m a work in progress, far from perfect but not bad. With nothing to apologize for. And normally not very concerned about what others may think of me. An amazing, hugely satisfying change, that.

[see following entry]

Madrid, te quiero.

My nighttime hours continue to be packed with dreams. It seems like all I have to do to get them cranking is lie down and close my eyes. Last night, far as I remember, all my co-stars in the various tales — in fact, everyone, from co-stars to extras — were folks I’ve never met in the 3-D world. Who are they all? Where do they come from? Is there a cosmic central casting office hard at work to provide me with players for my nightly entertainment?

Strange, complicated dreams. Intrigue, travel, odd situations.

Meanwhile, in the last entry I described the metaphoric nail-biting being done here in advance of the cold wave. Two mornings ago, I woke up to discover snow had fallen during the night. Not enough to linger on the ground, but enough to remain as thick frosting on parked cars, enough to remain on roofs. The roof of the building across this narrow street lay under the most substantial accumulation of snow I’ve ever seen here in the city center, enough that some still lingered as evening came on. When I made the trip to the gym that afternoon, flakes of snow flew, driven by a stiff, cold breeze — the first time I’ve seen anything heavy enough to be called flurries here. And of course in the mountains north and northwest of here, they got pelted in a serious way.

Maybe not much of a display of winter when compared to the Vermont version, but an attention-getter for an area that rarely experiences it this intense, this persistent — three days running at this point. Serious enough to get me thinking about the winter I’ll find myself immersed in when I return to Vermont next week.

Madrid, te quiero.

Yesterday: amid everything else going on my little life these days, I managed to squeeze in a viewing of The Aviator. (If I ever drink big glasses of liquids an hour before going to a long, long movie again, would someone please give me a gentle shot upside the head?) I’ll say this: whatever one might think of Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese is unbeatable. And I could watch all over again, with no trouble at all, the sequences that feature DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett. Chemistry, big time.

There’s a lot of talk about The Aviator here right now because everyone considers it to be in direct competition with Mar Adentro (released in the States with the title The Sea Inside, though a more accurate, better-sounding translation would be The Sea Within), putting Leonardo DiCaprio in direct competition with Javier Bardem, who gives a killer performance in Mar Adentro.*

Lots of talk about that here right now. Lots of talk about lots of things here right now, from strange political tensions to the cold wave that arrived yesterday.

The turn in the weather: every winter, at least once, a cold front of serious dimensions settles in over the Iberian peninsula, and each time it is headline news beginning two to three days in advance, the media ensuring that everyone is hyperaware of the sure-to-be-apocalyptic weather that’s on the way. On the way home from the film yesterday evening, I stopped in at a neighborhood joint for something to eat, found myself watching the local news go on and on and on and on about the coming weather, reporters interviewing people on the street, consulting with government types, talking among themselves in good-natured, head-shaking amazement at how FREAKIN’ cold it was going to get, providing lists of precautions to take if you were planning on (a) going out, (b) staying in or (c) going out then staying in. All of it so earnest and yet so unashamedly reaching to be sensational, or at least fill up major chunks of air time, that it got me smiling and kept me smiling.

Yesterday did develop some snap, several people asked me asked me how it compared with the weather I was used to back in the States. When I replied that in the January version of northern Vermont it was common to wake up in the morning to thermomenter readings of 20 to 30 below, they took a moment to absorb that, mouths slightly open, then said, “Well, so you’re used to it, you’re prepared. It’s going to kill us, though!”

The person who actually put it in those specific words (in Castellano, of course) was the woman who’s teaching a Spanish class I’m taking all this week. Why, I ask myself, did I choose to take on this extra torture this week when I already have a mountain of work to do? Don’t know, can’t explain it. Maybe I’ve been too relaxed and decided to do something about that.

So I’m passing an hour and a half every day with a 20ish American guy, a 20ish Austrian woman, a 20ish English guy (when he can pull himself out of bed, post-all-night bouts of clubbing) and our late-20s profesora. All good folks to spend some time with, all 20 or so years younger than me, a difference that normally doesn’t mean poop. Felt like it did yesterday, though, during a discussion about reality shows. Our teacher must have noticed I remained silent, finally asked me if I watched that stuff, me shaking my head no, saying programs like that don’t interest me. The temperature in the room fell a few degrees, I suddenly felt SO OLD.

Ah, well. It passed. Today everything got congenial again.

*Two people have let me know via email that the Oscar nomination were announced — Mar Adentro is up for best foreign film. Javier Bardem did not get a slot.


If you’ve spent any time nosing around this journal during the last couple of months, you’ll have noticed images disappearing and reappearing without logic or reason, all of it due to problems at pbase.com, the outfit that I’ve been using for storage and linking of images. They’ve experienced repeated troubles since late November, forcing me to re-upload and re-link images multiples times. On top of which pbase management has steadfastly refused to communicate in any way with subscribers about what’s been going on. All of which, taken together, has been at least as much fun as having fingernails pulled out, one by one, and I would recommend it for anyone with a weakness for that kind of thrill. The good part is that it gave me the final push to make a move I’ve been considering for the last year and a half. So I would like say a sincere thank-you to pbase for getting me off my adorable butt.

A temporary downside: the process of making the jump from blogspot to my own teeny cyber fiefdom seems to have provoked another wave of broken links. That may remain the case until all images are transferred here. And given the excessive number of images I tend to inflict on, er, you, that may take a while. I grovelingly ask for your patience.

Profuse thanks to Kristen Fox for her know-how, creativity, great attitude and the technical skills that turned some design ideas I had rattling around in my little head into a new webpage.

Madrid, te quiero.

Madrid (M.C. Escher version), this morning:

Madrid, te quiero.

These last few days have found me feeling a strange, potent combination of restlessness and deep contentment — a state I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before. There are times when one or the other quality predominates, times when the two co-exist. The passages of co-existence produce a strange sense of balance, an indescribable sensation of weird equilibrium. Odd, but, well, fun. Interesting. And inexplicably satisfying.

That’s been my waking state. Sleepytime hours have been packed with dream activity, a torrential stream of adventures and surreal situations, featuring famous folks, people I’ve never met before, and music, songs that resonate in my teeny little mind long after I’ve woken up. The tune going on and on in my head on coming to consciousness to this morning: “You’re Having My Baby.” Where that came from, I don’t know. It’s clear that a heaving mass of rubbishy pop music/pop culture has accumulated in dark corners of my brain/psyche over the years. (Why should I be any different from anyone else?) But I have to say: man, what a bore. Not that I spend a whole lot of time pondering how many brain cells are tied up in storage of the memory version of empty calories. It’s a simple fact of having spent years in our wacky, media-and-advertisement-drenched culture. I’d just rather that when my inner soundtrack goes on random play, it sticks to stuff with a beat, that’s all.

Meanwhile, in the outside world (local version), life finally returned to the pre-holiday season activity level this week. Monday morning, I stumbled out into the cold morning air to find the barrio bustling in a way it hasn’t since mid-December, everything more or less back to normal.

The January sales continue in full force, a huge percentage of the people walking local streets at any given time carry bags of purchases. In doing the window-shopping thing these last couple of weeks, I’ve picked up three facts:

1) Shoes are no longer a bargain here. Three, four years back, footwear usually came with surprisingly low pricetags, even for hot, fashionable numbers. Now, a combination of the surge in prices that came with the shift from peseta to euro and the drastic weakening of the dollar has changed that in a big way.

2) Store signs advertising discounts of 40-50% don’t mean poop when they’re talking about, for instance, jeans that cost 119€ to begin with. (Jeans. 119€. Yowza!)

3) Anyone searching for that special pair of gold platform boots has missed the boat. Once featured prominently in a local store window, providing cheap thrills for anyone with fetishistic leanings of the New York Dolls/Rocky Horror variety, they disappeared a week or two ago, replaced by more mundane, more modest, less eye-catching footwear. Footwear that doesn’t call attention to itself in unseemly ways.

And the last two, three days have developed a soft, teasing mildness that hints at a warm season lurking somewhere ahead. The kind of day that features abundant sunshine and warming air in tandem with a cool breeze, a mix that gets me zipping my jacket, then unzipping it, then zipping it, then upzipping it. Over and over and over. I’m not complaining. It means cafés will be putting tables outside soon, winter wear will return to closets, bodies will become more visible, life will feel a bit freer.

Soon. (Let me have my illusions.)

Madrid, te quiero.

I’ve been immersed in work lately — work I want to be doing, work that is taking me in directions I want to go, but work. Lots of it, consuming huge portions of the last three weeks. Yesterday, after a.m. errands, I found myself parked front of my laptop (such a strange, vaguely suggestive turn of phrase: ‘in front of my laptop’), late morning giving way to the afternoon, the afternoon giving way in turn to evening. And as daylight began to fade, I grabbed my jacket, headed outside for a long walk, for an extended lungful of the local version of fresh air. Taking me from lengthy, hermetic hours into streets overflowing of people and energy. And I mean overflowing, the local world out taking advantage of a beautiful day, of the January sales in full swing. Sidewalks packed with swirling waves of people — couples, families, groups of friends, many carrying bags of purchases. Energy, the sound of many feet walking, of many voices talking, traffic on the narrow streets moving slowly, cautiously, so as not to flatten crowds spilling over the curbs into the thoroughfares. The kind of crowds that feel a bit startling after hours spent alone. A kind of intensity of human life that feels therapeutic after hours spent alone.

I’m going to be back in Vermont for the month of February. Talk about contrast. There I look out the window, there are trees and mountains, now and then a passing car. Once in a while someone out for a stroll will walk down the gravel road, past the end of the driveway, briefly in view, then gone. Unless I go into Montpelier, most life is wildlife — flying critters, four-leggeds. Here, in a barrio where much of the life is lived out in the street, the people are often the wildlife.

Two nights ago, the wee hours. I woke from a vivid dream — featuring a Spanish woman, someone I don’t know in 3-D life, had never seen before — to the sound of three or four tipsy 20-something Spanish women down in the street singing. A strange, slightly silly, slightly melancholy tune, each verse beginning with the line Amamos donde estamos…. (We love where we are….) They sang for several minutes, the lyrics now and then dissolving into laughter, the group finally moving off, their voices fading away.

The only nondomesticated animal life in these parts are sparrows, pigeons, the occasional magpie. There is no real birdsong. The occasional bursts of local music come from the true local wildlife: people in the plaza, groups walking down the street. Humans out together, creating loud, animated life.

And then this morning around 11, me out for the Sunday paper, for a cup of espresso and a croissant — the streets quiet, empty, the local wildlife at home in bed. The exact opposite of most of the wildlife back in northern Vermont, going quiet with the sunset, coming to life at dawn.

Different aspects of this living jewel we call Earth.

It’s now early afternoon, January sunlight streams in the windows, now and then noise from the street indicates the local world is up and moving out into the day.

A good idea, that, getting out into the day. I think it’s time to get some air, see what’s happening in barrio.



And speaking of wildlife, where is Buffy when we need her?
‘Vampire takes a bite out of Brum’ — from the Guardian via fudge it.

Madrid, te quiero.

That new teléfono móvil I thought was signed, sealed, almost delivered? As with many things in this adorable life of ours, getting it did not go exactly as expected.

The 20-something who’d accepted my deposit earlier in the week on what I thought would be my new electronic appendage — he who said he’d call when new appendage arrived — turned out to be a pleasant slacker. (Pleasant = laughing at all my pathetic attempts at laugh lines during our dealings.) Wednesday and Thursday: no call. Friday: I stopped by the shop for a status check. Slackerboy informed me that the móvil I put money down on was sold out, shifted immediately to plan B (trying to steer me toward phones loaded with features I didn’t want or need, with substantially fatter price tags).

I have nothing against salesmanship and so spent a few minutes listening to his slightly goofy shpiel. When it became clear that the plans he had for me had no connection with what I actually wanted, I said a polite nothanks, recovered my deposit, took off. On the way out, I noticed a bunch of móviles in the front window of the store next door, saw several much closer to what I was looking for than the one I’d just missed out on in store #1. For the same price or less. Went inside, grabbed a salesperson. Walked out ten minutes later with a new phone.

Me: a real person again. (At least here in Spain.) And about time.

Madrid, te quiero.

Side street — the barrio of Chueca, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

So the Spanish holiday season officially came to an end last Thursday. Which meant the commencement on Friday morning of the January sales season — a several-week period that reminds me of a more relaxed, less frenzied version of the stateside Christmas shopping season, beginning as it does with people lining up outside stores Friday a.m. to get the entertainment underway. (At the normal opening hour, as far as I know, not at bizarre, ungodly times.) When I stepped out into the cold midmorning on Friday, couples were already about, strolling arm in arm, carrying bags of purchases. Friday evening’s news programs featured footage of low-key shopping mania, the newscasters smiling as they commented on it all.

The atmosphere here in the barrio has remained relaxed, the nighttime revels having quieted since New Year’s Eve. Daytime activity has remained low-key, even today, despite the recommencement of normal life, almost as if the long string of beautiful days the city’s been enjoying has produced a mellowing in the energy level. At times, a look at a European weather map reminds me of the generally benign character of Madrid’s climate, compared with, say, London, a spot I otherwise appreciate the bejesus out of. It’s a world-class place, a concentration point of many good things, but the raw, damp cold my little bod found itself walking around in a few weeks back is not my current idea of optimum conditions.

Seen in raw, damp, cold London, a few weeks back:
(in descending order: Mayfair, National Portrait Gallery, Covent Garden)

In keeping with the general atmosphere hereabouts, my day-to-day existence has remained low-key, me in an ongoing state of reflection about this life of mine, where it is and the directions I’d like it to take. My activities and wanderings have remained minimal (though I will confess to eating well, something I’m happy to say has not affected my normal fetching svelteness in any visible way), likewise contact with other folks, apart from some email and the occasional telephone hilarity.

A downside to all that has been my radar for interesting happenings going more or less inactive, resulting in missing at least one event I’d like to have checked out, the local appearance by Els Joglars, a Catalán theater company of some renown, with a 40+ year history of high-level, provocative work — work that put them in the middle of the Spain’s free-speech movement during the years of the transition (post-Franco, from 1976 to 1981) when the Spanish military decided it didn’t care for their social commentary and tossed first one of the group’s founding members, then the rest of the company into the jug. (Yes, I enjoy the occasional run-on sentence. What’s it to you?)

A friend called me last week to mention that this weekend was the wind-up of Els Joglars’ current Madrid stay. When I made the trip to the box office on Saturday, the only remaining seats had obstructed views, not my general idea of a great theatrical experience. I passed on the show, my friend and his sweetie went, we hooked up post-performance. When I realized all over again that I need to be speaking loads more Spanish if I want to some day speak anything approximating truly decent Spanish. He’s American, and like most I’ve run into here, he defaults immediately to English as soon as we start talking. I spend most days in front of my ‘puter, thinking/writing almost entirely in English — what I look for when I’m done with that is Spanish and lots of it. I stay away from books or magazines in English, I tend not to listen to music with English lyrics, unless Radio 3 is playing something too good to shut off. I mentioned this to him during our last phone call, he immediately switched to Castellano. What a mensch.

With this morning’s return to alleged normalcy, I found myself seized by the impulse to get some errands done, an impulse that took me a couple of blocks from here, to a tailor shop where I inquired about the possibility of finally getting the zipper fixed on my old leather jacket, a beloved piece of apparel that’s been zipless since the beginning of November (see entry for November 5). The shop turned out to be a high-end affair, so high end that the idea of doing the kind of menial work I was looking to have done nearly had them chortling out loud. In a show of kindness to me, a furriner, they managed to contain the hilarity, telling me in the nicest possible way to get lost.

A short walk took me by a dry-cleaning shop that appeared to offer repair work, and on stepping inside I found I’d struck gold. Information of all kinds got exchanged, money changed hands, everything went smoothly until it came to giving them my last name, a long, hyphenated bugger that seems to confound just about everyone outside the U.K. In this case, my attempt to put it across and their attempt to absorb it/enter it into their computer produced several minutes of comedy, which had us falling about, leaving everyone smiling. (And why shouldn’t they smile? I paid in advance for the new zipper.)

The móvil I’ve had is nearly prehistoric by current standards, donated to me close to three years ago by a fellow Spanish student, a guy from Texas returning to the States. Way behind current technology, but reliable, putting in good service. Until I returned to Madrid in November, that is, and found it had gone downhill during my months away. Gotten sad, lonely, given up the will to live, its battery reluctant to hold a charge. Don’t ask me why, but I had a feeling a trip might do it good, and brought it along during my December jaunt to the U.K. — where it revived, acting like a young, happy phone during the entire trip.

However. Once returned to Madrid, it sank back into ennui, finally giving up the ghost for real, leaving me mulling over the question of whether I really need another one or not. Apparently I do, ’cause I found myself walking into a store on Barquillo, blabbing with the 20-something guy behind the counter. He wanted to sell me a high-end number, packed with bells and whistles. I went for a low-end model, needing nothing more than the ability to make calls, send textmessages. A teeny-tiny thing, fitting easily into the palm of my hand — miniature compared with the móvil I’ve had until now. I handed over a deposit, the guy made out an order form. When my new phone arrives they’ll ring me (on my fixed phone, a disappearing breed here in Spain), I’ll go fork over more €€€€ and re-join Spanish society again. (Unwritten law: one must have a móvil to be a real person.)

Me: soon to be a real person. And about time.

Madrid, te quiero.

If you’ve done any nosing around this page’s archives within the last couple of days, you may have noticed that most photos posted in archived entries are not publishing. Pbase, the outfit that hosts my photo account, is apparently experiencing deep, extensive difficulties. Something similar happened six or so weeks back, and Pbase management maintained silence throughout, providing no information, not responding to email inquiries, posting nothing on the website’s forums. Though they have so far done the same with the current crisis, there have been indirect indications that management is hard at work attempting to resolve the technical problems.

In the meantime, I grovel with apologies for the missing photos and expect that the situation will be rectified before too long.

UPDATE: The crisis at Pbase seems to have been mostly resolved, most photos have been restored. Some had to be re-uploaded/re-posted — unfortunately, a number of those are images from back in Vermont, which are stored back in Vermont. I return to that part of the world for the month of February, those pictures will be restored at that time. In the short term, suggestions for interim images to fill in those sad, vacant spots may be sent to me via the love letters/advice link that can be found beneath this page’s masthead photo.

Madrid, te quiero.

Tonight and tomorrow mark the end of the holiday season in this part of the world with the arrival of the Three Kings (traditionally the local version of Santa Claus, when kids get most of their presents) and the last round of big family meals. The barrio has remained quieter than its normal self, more relaxed, and now that the two big holiday weekends have come and gone, the partying has become a bit less frantic, less people about in the wee hours. More user-friendly for those of us who adore a good night’s sleep.

When I stumbled outside this morning for the daily espresso/croissant, I managed to get my hands on a decent cup of caffeine. All croissants, however, had vanished, from every joint I poked my adorable nose into, replaced by roscones — a kind of circular sweetbread, heavily sprinkled with slivered almonds and sugar, maybe some jellied fruits (often cut across the middle and filled with whipped cream). They seemed to be everywhere I looked today, brightening up shop windows, filling most shelves and counter space in many places that sell baked goods. Pretty, actually. People wished each other a good visit from los Reyes Magos, merchants I bought groceries from wished me the same. I have a feeling a visit to my humble dive is not on the Kings’ itinerary.

This evening, the Three Kings arrive in the form of a parade that passes through the city center — highly commercial, most of the floats representing big business entities or government divisions (as I remember, last year’s had two or three elaborately ugly floats flogging Shrek 2). A strange event, one I think I’ll skip this year.

Instead, I’ll be good and show up at Spanish class, maybe catch some holiday sunshine beforehand and check out a big sprawling craft fair arrayed along one side of a major avenue on the center’s east side.

In fact, an outing sounds like a fine idea. So I’m off.


ADDENDUM, post-parade: The language academy currently putting up with me is located on la Calle de Montera (known to some local wags as la Calle de las Putas, due to the strange display of young prostitutes arrayed along a one-block section of the street and tolerated by the police), a narrow, heavily-traveled cobblestone lane that extends away from Gran Vía toward Sol, the actual center point of the city, Madrid’s version of Times Square.

The parade of the Three Kings, et al. passed through Sol, about a block from the school. Our classroom looks out on a quiet sidestreet, I could hear the crowd in Sol as I walked into the classroom and sat myself down. Class progressed, the parade reached Sol, the noise level swelled, at times intruding on the educational activity in a way difficult to ignore.

An important aspect of the parade: the tossing of candy into the crowd from the floats. Big handfuls of wrapped hard-candies, thrown by as many float personnel as feel like hurling them, the sweets sailing through the nighttime air toward the massed spectators, who respond loudly, surging in all directions, trying to catch whatever they can. It’s quite a scene.

There were times when the roaring and the energy from the event, a block away, reached an intensity that stopped activity in our classroom, the three of us pausing to listen, eyes wide, smiles on our faces. The kind of intensity that would greet Elvis if he returned from, er, wherever it is he’s been and did a free concert in the center of a large city, tossing money into the crowd as he pranced and gyrated.

The din continued for about an hour, until the parade had passed through Sol and moved on toward its destination, la Plaza Mayor. At which time the roaring of thousands of people simply stopped. As if a switch had been flipped. And the quiet of a January evening returned. The kind of abrupt shift that produces a loud variety of silence, the kind in which you can hear your heart beating.

This life of ours — it’s a never-ending extravaganza of amazing experiences.


An often-overlooked corner of la Plaza de Colón, Madrid, at the intersection of el Paseo de la Castellana and la Calle de Génova (statue: ‘Reclining woman’ by Fernando Botero — yes, I know she’s actually prone, not reclining), today — weather mild, January sun shining:


Nothing to do with Madrid: interesting images seen in Texas during the course of Dave Winer’s drive from Seattle to Florida.

Madrid, te quiero

Yesterday: went to see a film that’s gotten good notices here in Madrid, a German feature called “Against The Wall.” About two lost souls who get into a marriage of convenience and then, despite some wonderful possibilities the marriage produces, go into a downward spiral. Both of Turkish descent, her with a Turkish father and brother of such relentless assholicism that I found myself letting out occasional barks of surprised laughter at the dour, murderous, self-righteous stupidity (a spontaneous reaction on my part, me the only person in the place laughing — or barking — far as I could tell). Matters became messy. Then they began seriously going off the tracks. From there, the situation became truly dire. And then things REALLY went downhill. At the hour and a half mark, when the young woman was actively pursuing her slow destruction (after hubby has been tossed into prison for murder, for which everyone blames the woman) and any hint of hope had long evaporated, I got up and left. Only the second movie I’ve walked out on since arriving in Madrid in the summer of 2000. Only, I think, the third film I’ve ever walked out on in my little life.

There’s a lot to appreciate about this production, including good acting and a great mix of rock ‘n’ roll numbers and Turkish tunes in the soundtrack. But bottom line, if I ever want to suffer as much as that filmmaker would like us to suffer, I don’t need to take a bus across town, hand over a few euros and sit in a dark room for two hours to do it. I could find a sharp stick and poke myself in the eye a few times. Or gargle with ground glass. Or watch a ‘reality’ show.

Honestly, I put in my suffering for this lifetime, in earlier years. But you don’t want to hear about that.

It felt just fine to step out into the evening — lungs filling with cool air, the murmur of conversations in Spanish between people waiting to get into the theater. The sound of distant traffic, become louder, more distinct as I wandered closer to the main drags. Hands in my pockets, collar up around my neck, my feet moving along the cobblestone street. The knowledge that I have a life, that the evening lay ahead.

Simple stuff. But good. Especially compared with the horror show back in the movie theater. Whatever those actors got paid, it wasn’t enough.

Madrid, te quiero.

Seen this morning along one of the barrio’s quiet, nearly empty sidewalks: a neatly-dressed 30-something making his way along in slow, deliberate fashion, stopping at each grate or metal utility cover to plant both feet solidly in the center, pause, then move in a direct line toward the next grate or utility cover up the sidewalk.

Seen this afternoon in the gym locker room: a slight individual of medium height changing clothes, the whole time moving with eye-catching, overdone, slightly unsure movements, the kind a happy drunk might make. A bit grandiose, a touch exaggerated — impossible not to note. The product, I suspect, of something physiological, not alcohol-related.

Another moment in the gym: as I entered and made my way across the main exercise room, ready to get the suffering underway, I walked through a cloud of someone’s morning breath that just about stopped me in my tracks. It could have, in the words of the immortal George Carlin, knocked a buzzard off a shitwagon.


One of the aspects of the holidays here that I enjoy: the sense of quiet that descends over the city. Not that there’s no activity, just that it’s at a different level — people are away, most businesses are closed.

One of the aspects of the holidays here that I enjoy a bit less: the tossing of cherry bombs/ashcans (or the local equivalents) at any time of the day or night.

New Year’s Eve hoo-ha in the city center drew most activity-seekers off in that direction, leaving the barrio surprisingly sedate. Until about 11:45, that is, when the explosives began — major concussive devices, not cute, inoffensive firecrackers. For an hour or two, they punctuated the quiet, after which groups of partyers drifted through the neighborhood until sunrise. When I pulled myself out of bed late in the morning and stumbled to the single a.m. watering hole open for New Year’s morning business, the place was packed and noisy, some doing the traditional hot chocolate and churros finish to the all-night New Year’s Eve revels, others eating breakfast, others drinking café or something alcoholic. I was one of the few people not looking like I’d dragged my adorable butt around the city streets throughout the wee hours.

After that, occasional window-rattling explosives went off during the rest of the day. And last night, picking up as midnight approached.

There’s a lot that I love and appreciate about this neighborhood — the energy, the activity, the number of places to go, the quantity and variety of stores, the wonderful mix of people. I may be tiring of the nighttime noise, though, something I remember feeling last spring when the temperature rose enough to justify leaving windows open at night. The time may be coming to move on — something I find myself feeling recently on a macro level. Changes may be on the way.

Madrid, te quiero.

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