far too much writing, far too many photos

The days have been slipping by in the gentlest, most benign way — like leaves sliding quietly down a street before a warm breeze. I had no idea five days had gone by since the last entry here. Until I finally realized that five days had gone by since the last entry here. Five days that felt like no time at all.

The weekend: tranquil, quiet, spiked by bouts of computer goofiness that needed tending to on Friday and Saturday. The difference in the nighttime noise levels here compared to normal, nonholiday weeks turned out to be impressive, what with much of the local world on vacation, off partying in other locales.

Rain came and went, at times disrupting Easter observances. Wednesday evening’s processions in Sevilla, the capital of Spain’s Easter week activity, were canceled due to gathering heavy weather — that evening’s news programs showed many clips of devout Sevillanos in tears at the news. The next day’s processions went on as planned, however, with plenty of television coverage. And I have to say, after having seen some of the processions in Granada three Easters back, the TV version doesn’t even begin to get across the power of the event. (I say this as one not involved in any religion, simply appreciating the energy and intensity. Not to mention the music — dramatic, heartfelt, overflowing with emotion.)

The media also devoted major blocks of time to coverage of the exodus of traffic out of Madrid on Wednesday and Thursday, then the return on Sunday night, along with ongoing tallies of the highway death toll and comparisons with previous years. Strangely morbid.

And then it was suddenly Monday, the local world seemed to jerk out of slow motion back into real time.

My life is becoming progressively more focused on the DELE language exam in mid-May, each day more oriented around prep. work for that. Classes have gone from 1-1/2 hours a day to 3 hours, with an increase in homework and studies. In addition to which, I’m spending more time with Spanish folks, trying to massage my Castellano into something approximating, er, Castellano.

I’ll be curious to see how the coming weeks go.

Updates will follow.

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

Two more reasons to shop in Madrid: bras, 2€; thongs, 50 cents!
(Not that I’m into such undergarments myself, mind you. Harrumph.)

Madrid, te quiero.

What I wrote yesterday about not being sure what I’d do with myself during this long, long weekend? I’ve been sitting here wondering how I could ever have seen that as a problem.

Several days’ worth of free time — just the thought has me feeling obnoxiously content.

The barrio — normally alive with the sounds of people, vehicles, businesses opening on a weekday morning like this — lay quiet this morning. Not the quiet of boredom — the quiet of peace, of citizenry home in bed, of a slow start to a relaxed day. The kind of morning in which staying in bed until 9 (bare minimum) happens easily, naturally. Stepping out into empty streets slightly after 10:30 revealed a cool morning, sunlight filtering down through high clouds. A few souls wandered around the plaza down the street, all looking as if they hadn’t expected to find everything — news kiosk, cafeterías, grocery shops — dark, doors closed. A 50ish Spanish woman and her two daughters — brandishing a Madrid map, appearing a bit desperate — caught sight of me and rushed over, asking if some towers they were seeking might be situated here in the neighborhood. “Torres?” I asked, they nodded in response, hope fading from their eyes as they studied my expression. I shook my head, said I didn’t think so, they looked at each other, turned and flew back down into the Metro.

I made the hike to an open news kiosk, picked up a paper, gravitated toward a nearby cafetería — the only one open for blocks — for the morning caffeine fix. Then took a walk into the city center.

Stores along the main drags did business — not as many as on a normal day, but enough to provide energy, movement, life. The center is currently awash with French and American tourists, many getting the idea that Easter weekend might not be the best time to investigate Madrid if one is looking for things to do.

On the other hand, two nights ago I spoke with a Spanish woman who works as an English language tour guide in the Royal Palace. She complained bitterly about the flood of furriners that passes through the Palace during Easter week — the Wednesday through Saturday before Easter apparently provide the year’s heaviest tourist traffic, she was not looking to forward to enduring it. It may be that I connected with her at a bad moment, her half of the conversation consisting heavily of complaints, principally about (a) this week’s workload and (b) the ongoing obnoxious comportment of el Partido Popular, the right-wing party voted out of office a year ago, who have not accepted their defeat and find reasons on a daily basis to spew aggressive, at times venemous, rhetoric — the only reliable source of hard-core ugliness in the present Spanish political scene. (One of the issues that currently has them upset is the removal of Madrid’s last remaining statue of the defunct dictator Francisco Franco, followed by a like removal in the city of Granada in the wee hours yesterday.)

I counseled ignoring the political silliness. Not sure she bought it. Ah, well. We’ll see what she has to say next week, once Easter 2005 is history and things have settled down in the Palace.

On to the day.

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

Clothing store window, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Sometime during the course of yesterday evening, an old Cyndi Lauper song took root in my head — an insidiously catchy tune (easily the catchiest tune about masturbation I’ve ever heard), one I hadn’t thought of in, er, eons. Centuries. So that I didn’t mind having it as part of my interior soundtrack for a while, despite the ’80s synth overkill.

Woke up this morning to find it still playing. Still sounding okay. I’ll have to come up with a suitably infectious replacement soon, though, before its welcome is worn out.

Madrid’s traditional Easter week quieting down continues. I’ve been connecting with Spanish folks lately, stepped out Monday evening for a couple of hours of conversation with one of them in a local joint, a personable guy named Jorge. When I headed home around 11:15, I found myself walking local streets quieter than I’d ever experienced them at that time of the night. At least for a weekday evening. A substantial percentage of the local world has taken off for distant points on the map, with more bolting every day. The classes I’ve been attending on a daily basis wrapped up for the week yesterday, five days of default vacation stretch out ahead, me not entirely sure what I’ll do with myself during them (given that I’ve opted to remain in ever-more-peaceful Madrid, where the population seems to dwindling in visible fashion). Read. Eat. Relax, I suppose. Go to a movie or museum now and then. I’d say catch up on sleep, but my body seems to have indicated lack of interest in that during recent days, waking me up around 7 a.m. with old pop tunes cycling through my gray matter, eyes wide open, carcass feeling like it’s had enough of snoozing.

Today being the kickoff of Easter weekend in this part of the world — a far different, far heavier occasion than the version I grew up with in the States — the one and only procession scheduled in the city center for tonight would carry some weight. Amazingly, rain moved in during the day — the city’s first rainfall of the year so far, and a blessing for water supplies. Coming down on the city center in the most benign way, with a light, springlike touch. Not looking to have thinned out the crowds much — I’ll be curious to see how it affects the atmosphere and turnout for the procession.

On the other hand, it’s raining out. I’m home, comfy and warm. Maybe I’ll stay put and let the city go its own way for the night.

That sounds like a plan.

Later.

Madrid, te quiero.

Recent sights/sounds:

– Beginning last weekend: People with suitcases. Everywhere. Also, an upsurge of foreign languages overhead around the city center. Both those things, sure signs that Easter vacation has been approaching at a gallop.

– This last Wednesday, at the gym: a she-male. Not your garden variety gender-bender — an amazon. Big, blonde, impeccably done up in workout gear. Clearly sporting physical attributes of both denominations. With a baby-face, appearing strangely incongruent on that buff physique. An image I found oddly disorienting, coming as it did before my first espresso of the day.

– Today, as I left the gym: an elderly couple, looking to be well into their 60s. Walking together arm in arm, dressed in Sunday clothes, her carrying a sprig of something green. He had apparently just murmured into her ear — something intimate, perhaps romantic. Her cheeks showed color, she radiated pleasure, her smile reflected the young woman who still lived within that body. A great moment.

– I go through streaks of finding money. Coins, bills, you name it. Happens a lot. This morning on the way to pick up the morning paper, I saw pieces of the paper in the gutter that resembled bills, saw they were just wastepaper but found myself feeling that it would not come as a surprise to stumble across some real money. Within 60 seconds, a five euro bill appeared before my feet. Then, half an hour ago, I found a wallet in this building’s stairwell. Containing credit cards, forty euros — and again, not feeling like a surprise that I’d be the one to come across it. That pile of cash is just passing through — I’ve already posted a notice down by the main entrance telling the owner to stop by. In the meantime, I’m having fun being a cash magnet.

Madrid, te quiero.

Lovely, soft spring weather began edging its way in here several days back, beginning last Friday, the anniversary of the bombings. Feeling like a kind of emotional counterweight to the heaviness of that week. Each day since then has grown a bit warmer, each night slightly milder, a trend so far showing no sign of turning tail and bolting. There are those who see it as a cause for concern, given that the peninsula has been experiencing its driest early spring in many years — the elevation of temperatures with no rain in sight does not bring good cheer to farmers whose land is drying out. I’ve heard little complaint around here, though. Recent months brought wave after wave of cold weather to these parts — the arrival of kinder conditions comes as a relief.

Tables and chairs appeared immediately outside some cafés and restaurants on Friday. The sight of people sitting outside — eating, drinking, talking — has become normal in the intervening days, the sight of winterwear (normal just a week ago) progressively more out of whack with the changing conditions. And for some reason, as the warm weather has settled in, self-talkers have come out of the woodwork, jabbering away with the air of those feeling newly freed from inhibition.

Last Friday, the memorial to those who died in the March 11 bombings — ‘El Bosque de los Ausentes,’ a compact, sharply-terraced installation that, from certain angles, appears strangely bunkerlike — was inaugurated in El Retiro. Over the weekend, thousands of people showed up to pay their respects.

The Commission investigating the events surrounding 11-M has been slowly wrapping up its work, all political parties signing on to its conclusions and recommendations except el Partido Popular, the center-right party that had been in power when the bombings happened and was turned out of office three days later. The PP is the direct political descendent of the Franco dictatorship, their lineage is starkly apparent in the ongoing unpleasantly aggressive comportment of many at the party’s highest, most publicly visible levels and in their insistence that anything not in conformance with how they view things is weak, corrupt, etc.

And speaking of Franco, late yesterday evening, in a neighborhood near Nuevos Ministerios, site of the last month’s massive skyscraper fire, a city crew materialized and began taking down Madrid’s last remaining statue of the dead dictator. A small crowd gathered (most of those in attendance from the media, according to media reports), those from the left applauding the event, those from the right protesting, including a handful of lost souls calling out Franco’s name in fevered homage, performing the fascist salute. Police maintained order, a crane lifted the statue onto a truck which quietly took it away. Nothing remains of the generalissimo (not to mention, given the equestrian nature of the statue, the horse he rode in on) but the base and the resulting news story.

Anyone paying attention to this little corner of my existence is aware that productivity here at rws has not been at its highest in recent times. (Also that my little camera seems to be getting tired of the exciting life it lives, or of the light here in Madrid, or of something. Because the quality of the images it’s cranked out since returning to this part of the globe have been looking anemic.) There are reasons for this, some one of which I will actually share with you.

The reason: studies. Meaning classes. Of a daily kind. Because I’ve apparently decided to take one of the language certification exams that the Spanish government will be giving in May. Don’t ask me to explain how I’ve arrived at a desire to put myself through pain and suffering — suffice it to say that prior to this the idea of taking the DELE felt intimidating. And now? Not so freakin’ much. Must mean I’ve reached a level of comfort with the language in some fundamental way. That or I simply haven’t experienced suficient discomfort in recent times and am actively casting about for ways to reach my quota.

I’ve been given a couple of clear illustrations of my growing ability with Castellano a couple of times since returning to Madrid, one of being the couple of hours with Esperanza last Friday evening. She can get talking like someone who’s got high-octone espresso on a drip-feed, I often find myself at least once during a chat with her struggling to keep up. Not this time. Got me feeling pretty pleased.

Next day: got me feeling less pleased. I found myself working with three South Americans — from which country, never found out — all working class folk with thick, slurred accents. With two 30ish Spanish guys, apparently from Andalucia — fast talkers, slurring their words as many from the south do, dropping the ends of some words altogether. And more folks. Found myself sitting at a teeny little table, seven people crammed in around it eating a fine lunch Esperanza threw together, two more diners seated over by the window, plates on the sill. Two 30ish males conducted most of the conversation, engaging in that strange pasttime many of us humans seem to do: expressing opinions as if they were absolute reality. A kind of conversation I rarely interact with any more, preferring to simply listen, watch, see how other people are reacting (or in this case not reacting).

[this entry in progress]

Madrid, te quiero.

Before my return to the States in February, my neighbor here in Madrid, Esperanza — she whose extensive, crumbling flat functioned as a semi-clandestine youth hostel — had begun moving out of the flat she’d been renting across the hall. I expected she’d be long gone by the time I returned four weeks later. Silly me.

Since my return, I’ve heard comings and goings, have seen boxes and bags left out on the landing that quickly disappeared. At times I heard the sound of someone in the kitchen, heard her radio, her television blabbering away. The few times I stopped by, rapping on the door produced no response. Until this last Friday night, when I thought I heard her as I came up the stairs, paused to hit her buzzer once or twice.

That time the door opened revealing Herself in all her zoftig glory. After a fast minute or two catching up, she asked if I were doing anything, inquired if I wanted to walk over and see her new place. Given my natural nosiness, I’m always ready for a peek into someone else’s personal refuge — a half-hour later we were squeezing into one of the smallest elevators I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing with an attractive Spanish female, taking the ride up to her lovely new sprawling attic flat. A multi-room (huge terrace included) space spread out beneath the slanting roof of the building she’s going to be managing in exchange for free rent.

I swanned about, admiring. We wandered out to the terrace, took in the looming view of the art nouveau Telefónica building over on Grand Vía. Esperanza paused to smell the exhaust from the downstairs Cuban restaurant’s chimney, making some astute-sounding guesses about the evening’s featured dinners. We sat around inside, Esperanza talking about travels in the south of Spain, which led to a discussion of Walt Disney’s supposed birth in Mojacar.

Given how long she’d been moving things out of her old flat, there wasn’t much to show for it in the new place — little furniture, few possessions scattered about, nothing stored in any visible shelves/closets. Seemed kind of mysterious, given that her old flat appeared to be fairly empty — she’d moved her bed into the small room off the kitchen, adroitly kept me from wandering off into the rest of the, presumably, empty space. She mentioned that the following day was to be the official move, I offered to help if it was needed. A kind of impulse I may need to rethink in future times. Because came the next a.m., when I joined up with the friends of Esperanza’s who’d shown to empty out her old dive, I realized how many mountains of stuff remained in the old place waiting to be carted down the four flights of stairs in our elevatorless building, stuffed into a van, dragged out of the van at the other end, stuffed into the teeny elevator then dragged up the final long flight of stairs to the new home. So many mountains that at 2 p.m., four hours into the process, it became clear the work was far from being done, that it would likely stretch well into the evening. Not only that, but what had been boxed in advance was long gone, everything else was being tossed into boxes and garbage baggies immediately before being hauled away.*

*Which got me remembering the one and only move of mine in that vein, the clearing out of a teensy one-bedroom cockroach haven on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, Mass. — a dive moved into as a port-in-a-storm style refuge after a love relationship crumbled in explosive fashion, becoming home for eight strange years, still a personal record for the longest amount of time continuously spent in a living space. Just across the street from the back door to the Plough and Stars, a popular, compact Irish bar producing music so nerve-shreddingly loud on the weekends that earplugs in combination with an industrial-sized fan going full blast had no effect on it whatsoever. In a building filled with colorful characters — my neighbor on one side: an entertaining, affable heavy metal drummer with a notorious porn collection; to the other side, a nice woman in a tumultuous relationship with a guy who yelled, slammed doors, seeming to be on the verge of imploding when he wasn’t on the verge of exploding — whose front stoop and vestibule often hosted street drunks partying hard, whose back stairway was often infested with fleas during the warm season. When the time arrived to vacate, the friends who showed to help gradually realized that I was nowhere near prepared, found themselves reaching for boxes and bags that I was still desperately shoving possessions into.

[continued in next entry, though it may not seem like it]

Madrid, te quiero.

Today makes one year since the Madrid bombings, what the locals refer to as 11-M. The Spanish media has been all over it, of course, beginning last week, every outlet cranking out their chronology of the event, eyewitness accounts of the event, the events behind the event, etc. — all of it intensifying day by passing day. If one is paying any attention to the media at all right now, it’s difficult to avoid the quickening of this particular beat.

Two mornings ago, Wednesday, when I stepped outside, the sound of low-flying helicopters dominated everything else, my eyes moving automatically to the sky. That particular sound being one of the ambient elements I remember as most characteristic of last March 11 and the days that followed*, it threw me back in time a little bit, causing, in combination with the media saturation re: the bombings**, a bit of genuine disorientation.

This week the helicopters had to do with the multi-nation conference on terrorism that the current government has held here in Madrid this week, climaxing today with ceremonies in observance of the bombings and those affected by them. Meaning abundant coverage of visiting high-level types from around the western world, not to mention the Spanish royal family.

In addition, Tuesday and Wednesday brought the elimination of the two Spanish teams who’d made the final eight of this year’s Champion’s League, Barcelona and Real Madrid, Madrid’s implosion in particular causing a huge ruckus, it being the team that commonly gets called the best in the world. Real Madrid is the European fútbol version of the New York Yankees — a club with deep pockets that hires marquee names (David Beckham, Zinedine Zidan, Ronaldo, Luis Figo — collectively called ‘los galácticos’ by the local media), putting together units of amazing power, on paper anyway. And despite all that firepower, all that talent, skill and experience, Madrid — like the Boston Red Sox for so many years — has had, during my years here, a strong tendency to choke in big moments. I don’t understand it, and it’s seemed pretty clear in recent days that the players and club management don’t understand it. They should have rolled right over Juventus, the Italian team they faced Wednesday night, but seemed to lack whatever was needed — the chemistry, the will — to focus and get it done (a failure local news wags have begun referring to as ‘the suicide in Delle Alpi’). Beckham was pulled near the end of the second half, his face creased with unhappiness, frustration, anger. He said something afterwards about having two more years on his contract, that he hoped they’d be able to win some sort of title before he bolts. Used to be that Madrid would at least be a lock to take La Liga, the Spanish fútbol league. Now, with Ronaldinho firing up Barcelona, Madrid’s a distant second, everyone seems resigned to the continuing slump. Resigned, and not happy about it.

I have to confess, the sports drama comes as a relief from the intensity of the refocusing on 11-M — not that the ripples from that event ever ceased during the intervening year. It’s become one of the country’s prime ongoing political footballs, a fact that at times has provoked quite a bit of anger, in particular from the group that represents those directly affected by the bombings.

This week’s anti-terrorism conference had its wrap-up today with a noontime ceremony in El Retiro, Madrid’s version of Central Park, dedicating a small stand of trees — 191 or 192, depending on which news outlet provides the figure***, the memorial called ‘El Bosque de los Ausentes’ (The Forest of the Missing) — each one in memory of an individual who died in the bombings. A minute of silence was to be observed at noon around the city. I was just coming out of a cafetería, post-caffeine, heading across the street to today’s language class and was struck by the people standing along the avenue, respecting the observance. Our instructor told us later that they were used to doing this kind of thing after many years of bombings committed by ETA.

And with all that going on, the weather provided some counterweight in the form of the season’s first truly springlike day. Tables and chairs magically appeared outside cafés and restaurants, winter coats came off, people strolled around parks enjoying sunlight and warm air. I spent a little time in el Parque del Oeste with a Spanish friend I hadn’t seen in nearly a year, enjoying the feeling of life opening out that springtime brings.

The days move on. It’s likely that spring has not sidled in yet in any definitive way. Soon, though.

*It’s also, now that I think about it, one of the sounds I remember from a year previous when the Spanish government was dragging the country into the invasion of Iraq against the will of 90+% of the population — the government meaning José María Aznar and el Partido Popular (no other political party joined them in supporting the invasion). Millions of people took to the streets in protest, and here in Madrid the sound of government helicopters circling slowly overhead became normal, something that never stopped feeling strange to me.

**Though there’s been overkill on a massive scale re: the anniversary, there have been little in the way of actual images from the event — because, I’m told, the organization of victims from the bombings demanded that the media show restraint, followed by a request for same from Rodriguez Zapatero, the current president.

***This figure has fluctuated since the day of the bombings, rising to over 200 at one point. Finally, not too long after the event, the number of deceased was determined to be 192, a figure that remained constant until yesterday, when I saw the figure 191 in an article a friend sent me from the States about the observances here. Since then I’ve heard and seen both figures used by local print outlets. The discrepancy apparently has to do with whether or not the count includes the police officer killed in the explosion in the Madrid suburb of Leganes three weeks after the train bombings.

Madrid, te quiero.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a lot of these last 24 hours submerged in thought.

Yesterday: went to see Sideways (called ‘Entre Copas’ here — ‘Between Drinks’), took a long walk through the city center afterwards, as late afternoon gave way to evening. Thinking about the film, thinking about earlier periods of my life. Wondering if I’d ever been as lost as the two nitwits portrayed in the story (answer: yes). Wondering if I’d ever treated any women as badly as the story‘s ladychaser did (don’t think so, sincerely hope not). Wondering if I’d ever been as unhappy as the main character, if I’d ever suffered under the weight of as miserable a self-image (maybe).

It’s been a long while since I’ve counted an out-and-out jackass among my circle of friends.* And it’s been a blessedly long time since I disliked myself or my life in anything close to the way the protagonist in the film does. I’ve seen me change in ways that have dragged my existence from some sad, dark places into technicolor and vistavision, step by slow, deliberate step. For which I am more appreciative and grateful than I can say.

I tend to think that my life mirrors back to me where I am internally, meaning, for instance, that the absence of out-and-out jackasses among my life’s current cast of characters is not chance but rather an indication that I’m more aware of what I have, what I want, how things feel to me, and that, armed with all that information, I’ve come to choose better. This doesn’t mean that loose cannons don’t skid through these parts in the course of daily life. Because they surely do. It means that what I choose to do, how I choose to react and what my priorities are have changed. And I get to choose again if my first choice wasn’t too swift. And then again. And as many times after that as are necessary to produce desirable results. A way in which I’m far less limited than the younger versions of me.

And of course there are those moments when I probably am the loose cannon skidding around the deck. But they pass. I tend not to stay too stupid for too long nowadays.**

So I wandered, thinking about all this tedious stuff. Happy to be where I was, and more than content with the company I kept (me and several thousand souls passing through the center’s streets).

And when, later that night, I finally called it a day and hit the sack, I found myself in the middle of one dream adventure after another, all night long, stretching right on through the wee hours. Waking up now and then — mentally still plugged into the dream world I’d just been part of — then slipping back off to sleep. Over and over again, on and on and on, all sorts of people taking part in the stories — mostly folks I’d never met before, along with one or two faces from my 3-D existence back in the States. Vivid, intense dreams that mostly didn’t make the trip back to waking reality with me this morning, apart from a couple of images. All of it feeling, in a way, like an extension of the previous evening’s thought-fest, though I can’t point to any obvious connections apart from the wildly spinning wheels.

This morning: dragging myself back to more concrete reality via laundry, studying, language class, where things got heavy, turgid as conversation veered unexpectedly toward heavy subjects, the kind that can raise blood pressure, bleed away fun and enjoyment. Sending me flying out the door, deep in thought once more, coming directly home to try and discharge some of the wheel-spinning via flailing fingers on computer keyboard.

Mission accomplished. At least for now.

*I say that ignoring the times I may have been the out-and-out jackass among my circle of friends. I tend to think it’s been a long while since I’ve played that part, though there may be a few confused souls who disagree.

**Once again, there may be a few confused souls who would disagree, but happily, they don’t get to opine here. They’ll have to carp and contradict on their own web pages — pages undoubtedly less adorable than this one, unadorned as they are with bitchen pointy boots.

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

Your computer: an innocent-looking portal to DEATH and DESTRUCTION!!

Madrid, te quiero.

When I’m back in Vermont and I slip into the rhythms of life there, I sometimes forget what it is that makes the days feel so different in this part of the world. Yesterday evening, out for a long walk in the city center, I remembered all over again.

The hours of daylight, for one thing. Right now, darkness doesn’t take over here until 7:30, 7:45, the lights of the city and all the life in the street softening the transition, so that the feeling of evening really doesn’t settle in until around 8. People don’t begin eating dinner until 8:30, nine o’clock. The evening news comes on at 9, television worth watching doesn’t crank up until 9:30, 10.

I found myself preparing dinner around 11 last night, the activity at that late hour feeling natural. Got to bed after midnight, stayed there until 9:30, all of it feeling just right.

I can sleep late here, it happens easily. Not generally the case back in Vermont — during the cold months, there’s a stove to get going, I wake early with that awareness, knowing that the hour the heater starts cranking will influence the unfolding of the day in the house. In the warmer months, the sun can’t seem to restrain itself from rising at absurdly inappropriate hours — 4 a.m., 5 a.m., like that. Happens much later here, feels far much more user-friendly to me and my little bod. And of course the local world abets all that, people staying out late, local life getting underway at a later hour of the morning than in Vermont, getting up to speed in more leisurely fashion.

I’m not saying one’s better than the other. I adjust to both, there are aspects of both I love. When I’m in one place, I get wrapped up in its spirit and feel, become genuinely reluctant to uproot myself, to leave and adjust to existence in the other locale. This is no cross to bear, I know — I’m not bitching, I’m certainly not moaning. As quandries go, this one is pretty freakin’ wonderful, and it has me counting the mountainous heap of blessings life has strewn around my little world.

And where, I ask myself, am I taking this blather? Maybe nowhere in particular. I’ve been in a process of reflection about my life since the turn of the year, it’s probably linked in part to that. There’s more, though. This savoring of the simple facts of my circumstance is, in part, a reaction to events taking place on bigger stages around this planet of ours — a refusal to climb onto any of several possible attitudinal bandwagons that we from the far side of the Atlantic have become conditioned to accept as normal and reasonable. When I’m stateside, I pretty much ignore the newsmedia (apart from the Daily Show). Here I do that far less, the media being part of my daily language reinforcement. And given the newsmedia’s apparent belief that their job is to dig up the worst of what’s taking place around the globe and present it as representative of the essence of life on planet Earth, it produces far less fun than, say, the mythical getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick. (On the other hand, the Sunday El País runs Calvin and Hobbes translated into Spanish — that right there justifies the 1.90€ price tag.)

I’ve come to feel grateful for this my life of mine in ways that would be difficult to stuff into words. All of it, including the darkest phases, passages my earlier years seemed to be abundant with, or so I believed. I’ve come to feel differently. Apart from all those past moments combining to bring me to this present moment, they provided amazing experiences, amazing things to watch and learn from, they brought all sorts of people through this existence of mine. An incomparable cast of characters.

I look forward to lots more of all of that.

In the meantime, I look forward to dinner, some time snooping around the web, maybe a bit of entertainment courtesy of Spanish television. Something good to read, a good night’s sleep. That’ll do for the rest of this day.

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

Today’s flattery from the Surrealist Compliment Generator:

“Your sweet voice is like the snap of a bra strap upon a sun burnt back.”

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

Communing with the local wildlife — la Plaza de Santa Barbara, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

According to the local media, on the day before my return Madrid suffered through the coldest weather seen in these parts in 105 years. Newspaper stories featured arty photos of local fountains covered in icicles, something I’ve never encountered during my five years of coming and going here. And yes, it’s been chilly. Until I compare it to the brand of winter in the part of the world I just left. Then the local version barely qualifies. The sunlight here burns through the early morning cold, giving the air a quality that hints at springtime’s approach (this while the locals walk around with shoulders hunched, sporting winterwear).

All of which is to say the breezes wafting through the portals at the luggage carousels, post-flight in Madrid, had a little bite to them. All fifteen or so of my fellow-passengers waited there with me for our luggage to appear, pacing around, talking into cellphones, one or two retreating to the designated smokers’ prison for a hit of nicotine. Ten minutes of waiting became twenty, patience gradually gave way to muttered complaints. At the 25-minute mark, I walked down the concourse to the Spanair baggage window, mentioned how long we’d been waiting, asked if they could look into the delay. The 20-something speaking to me switched to English, his tone slightly condescending, looking up what might have happened to my monster wheeled duffel, apparently ignoring the idea that no one else’s luggage had appeared. Until another passenger — an older, physically heftier Spanish male with an insistent air — appeared at my side, wanting to know where our bags were. The 20-something switched back to Spanish, his attitude sobered, he promised to get some information.

When I first arrived in Spain five years ago, long waits at baggage carousels were normal. Long, long waits — 40 minutes, 50 minutes. An hour one time. With Madrid’s higher international profile and growing popularity as a tourist town, details like that changed. Attitudes shifted from those of a latin backwater with a ‘mañana’ attitude to more first-world efficiency. If my fellow-flyers this trip were any indication, locals have gotten used to that kind of improvement — this group did not take the mass disappearance of luggage well. A lot of the Spaniards in the group were world travelers, loudly ridiculing an airline that could lose an entire flight’s bags, which had the 20-somethings behind the Spanair counter looking nervous. Until one of them fielded a phone call saying the luggage had been located — not left behind in Frankfurt as they’d been fearing, but here in Madrid, where it had all been sent on a leisurely tour of the city’s fine airport. (Now that I think about it, I’ve gotten used to my luggage appearing almost instantly, post-flights, no matter where I go — an event like this one gives me an opportunity to appreciate how much I’ve come to take for granted in the part of my life lived in transit.)

Five minutes later, everyone’s bags magically materialized on a nearby carousel. I grabbed mine, headed to the Metro and home, where I dropped luggage, grabbed schoolbooks, sprinted to language class, arriving just as it began.

The story since then, drastically oversimplified: classes, studying, sleeping. Writing, eating, strolling around the neighborhood. A trip to see ‘Finding Wonderland‘ yesterday. (Loved it.) Thinking about my little life, about all sorts of as yet unanswered questions about where it’s heading. (Boring stuff I’ll get into another time.) Settling into a version of normal existence or what passes for that when I’m in this part of the globe.

Normalcy — an elusive, unbelievably subjective concept. But something to shoot for.

Madrid, te quiero.

As sometimes happens the night before big-time traveling, yesterday morning saw me awake and out of bed far, far too early. My ride to the bus station in Montpelier was supposed to show at 8 a.m., there were things to get done before bolting.

Outside, snow came down. Quietly beautiful — not so quiet when the breeze kicked up — though not prime traveling weather. By 7 a.m., four or five inches had come down with no sign of let-up. Somewhere in there I made the mistake of turning on the computer, found myself getting absorbed in cyber-matters. At some point, it sank in that I needed to get my adorable butt into gear, from that moment things moved faster and faster, me racing around, taking care of last-minute biz.

8 o’clock. No ride. 8:05. No ride. I was aiming for an 8:50 bus, the trip into town — normally 20 minutes — would be slow, lengthy. I decided to lock up the house, wait in the garage so that when R. showed, I could simply toss my things in the back of his truck and go. Had the garage door wide open so he’d pull up there, had one boot on and laced up, remembered something I needed from upstairs, didn’t want to go through the unlacing/pull boot off/pull boot on/lace boot up thing all over again, found myself hopping back into the house on one unbooted foot, up the stairs and into the kitchen, the boot touching the floor now and then, leaving piles of dried mud every time it did. On the trip back down, I saw the long muddy trail I´d left, grabbed the shop vac, tried some fast clean-up. The time: 8:10. Heard sounds of a vehicle outside, saw the vac didn’t seem to be doing much, gave up. Hopped back into laundry room, began jamming unshod foot into remaining boot, calling out to R. to bring the truck into the garage. Heard further vehicle noise outside, but saw no sign of its driver. Turned out he’d parked way over to the side, out of view, where his pick-up (rear-wheel drive) had gotten stuck on snow/ice. I tossed my bags into the truck, began pushing as he rocked the truck back and forth, with no effect, my booted feet slipping around on snow-covered ice. It was clear we had to take my car, we did so.

The ride: slow, slippery, but gorgeous, Vermont looking its winter-season finest. Me a bit keyed-up, jabbering away at R. about whatever came to mind (him indulging me with great kindness). We reach the station just before the bus is scheduled to show. I thank R. for helping out, drag my stuff into the teeny station, find out the bus is running late. Real late. At 9:20 it pulls up, four sleeping passengers on board. The driver emerges, takes my ticket, examines it, not looking happy with his lot. “How are the roads?” I say. He stops examining ticket, slowly raises his head to look me in the eye, expressionless, saying nothing. “Ah,” I say, nodding, trying not to smile and piss the guy off, but beginning to enjoy the morning’s comedy.

The trip from there: smooth. (And lengthy, my adorable butt enduring long periods planted in one seat after another as I spent hours traveling followed by hours waiting followed by hours traveling, etc. Somewhere over the Atlantic, parked in a sophisticated instrument of torture posing as a Lufthansa airliner seat, it decided it’d had enough, began complaining and didn’t stop until the next morning, when it found itself in a kinder, gentler seat, courtesy of Spanair.)

Snow fell all the way to the New Hampshire border, Vermont looking like the Great White North, the bus driver driving at alarmingly caffeinated speeds, blowing past state plowing trucks as if they were standing still, leaving scant inches between the vehicles. In New Hampshire, the roads cleared, the snow lightened, stopped coming down. At some point, I made the mistake of sidling into the closet that passed as the bus’s loo — there really is nothing like trying to take a whiz in a speeding bus.

Had a 3+ hour wait in Logan, long enough to get plenty of reading done and shovel down a passable Chinese meal from an in-terminal restaurant. With no snow falling in Boston, the plane lifted off more or less on time. I’ve never been on a plane with rows of seats crammed so close together — which of course made the whole sore-butt thing that much more wonderful. Between unhappy gluteous maximi, abundant hacking/coughing from nearby passengers, and nearby college students playing poker (which might have been fine if not for strangely loud, strangely frequent card shuffling), sleep mostly remained elusive.

The pilot parked away from the terminal in Frankfurt, necessitating a bus ride from plane to building as daylight gathered. We moved slowly between mammoth Lufthansa airliners, huge aircraft, seeming gigantic in scale compared to our little vehicle, everyone in the shuttle silent, staring out at them all. All of us appearing to share the same unexpected sensation of… something. Smallness. Awe. Could be its power lay in us dealing with that unexpected display of enormity, of a kind of grandeur that paid us no attention, after being stuffed into a metal tube in excessively close quarters for many hours.

Inside the terminal: more waiting, followed by another shuttle ride to a manageably-sized Spanair jet where the flight crew spoke Castellano (the Captain made his introductory speech in Spanish so rapid I had to struggle to keep up with it, then switched to English, his accent and verbal velocity making that version of the speech just as difficult to understand as the first) and the seat treated my rear quarters with far more consideration than the previous parking spots had.

Frankfurt was in the middle of genuine winter conditions, the temperature well below zero. The sun rose through clouds massed along the horizon, providing a intense dawn of oranges and reds. I watched through a small oval window speckled with small frost stars (the music from American Beauty playing on the inboard sound system), appreciating the show after the long night. We waited as the plane went through a lengthy de-icing process, and when we finally took off, the countryside around Frankfurt spread itself out below us, covered in snow.

Once all cloud cover had been left well below us, I pushed my seat back — sunlight of surprising warmth bathing one side of my face — drifting easily off to sleep, where I remained until the descent into Madrid.

[continued in next entry]

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Shop window, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

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