far too much writing, far too many photos

We touched down in Boston. Everything, as I’ve already said, gray. Damp, chilly, all that. In theory, I had 55 minutes to claim luggage, navigate customs, get to the bus station. Tight, with a real possibility of not making the bus. Except the plane landed 20 minutes early, making everything easier.

Customs passed in no time at all, the female agent’s demeanor softening when she saw I’d come from Madrid, exchanging a few smiling words with me about the dream of living there. Baggage claim came and went, a jumbo-sized cabbie with a Caribbean accent got me to South Station. I dragged my sorry, baggage-laden ass inside, spotted restrooms, stumbled into what I thought was the men’s bog. Found myself staring at two women, one cleaning sinks, the other in business attire, washing her hands. I blinked, mouth open, looked around, wondering if the women’s room had been closed, forcing them to use these facilities. They spotted me, noted my expression and general state of disorientation, fell about laughing. The businesswoman took me by an arm, led me gently outside, pointed me to the proper loo, apparently having figured out that she was dealing with a sleep-deprived halfwit, not a voyeur. I shuffled into the men’s room, weaved around a janitor (mid-floor-mopping), propped myself up against a urinal, began dumping the ballast. Seconds later, a 40ish black guy appeared two urinals to my right, assumed the position and got to work, going, “OH, yeah! Woooo-OO!” Apparently experiencing some relief. When I left, he was still vocalizing.

I drifted in and out of sleep on the ride north, waking along I-89 to see mile after mile of blossom-covered dogwoods along the side of the highway. My car had been left for me at the bus station in Montpelier (thanks, Rick!), I dumped my stuff into it, picked up groceries, headed home. At the house, only a few lonely daffodils had poked their heads up in the various places bulbs had been planted, spare bits of yellow amid all the gray, brown, and still-austere green, everything looking like early April instead of late May.

Certain elements have remained in tune with the actual time of the year, undaunted by faux winter. I refer, of course, to dandelions, currently carpeting local expanses of grass in unbelievable, kudzuesque profusion, some of them already turning white, trying to shoot their wads. Kind of unnerving to ponder, really, the quantity of little yellow buggers out there engaging in their version of sex. More than a raw show of reproductive prowess, it’s a massive display of self-gratification, a forest of phallic launching pads, filling the air with dandelion sperm that eventually settle to earth, take root and begin the entire obscene process all over again.

My lawn is indecent.

Two days ago: dragged the mower out of the garage, began laying waste to the randy buggers when pauses between falling dampness permitted. Kind of nice to be outside, actually, strolling around the lawn murdering oversexed plant life.

This morning: sunshine, temperatures cruising up toward 70. Birds cavorted, singing with wild, almost intoxicated abandon. The season’s first hummingbird showed up, hovering outside the dining room window, doing teeny winged critter equivalent of clearing its throat loudly and repeatedly. I got the message, found the feeder, made a bunch of sugar water, hung it out in the lilac bush. Within a couple of hours, hummingbirds had shown up in force, having a hopped-up, sucrose-fueled party.

The kinder weather has brought out loads more green. This being Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start to the growing season up here, sales of flowers and vegetable seedlings are off and running. Montpelier’s alive with tourists and vacationers. Summer’s underway, just like that.

Since getting back, my body’s remained on European time, waking me up at 4 or 5 a.m. The kind of waking up that means no going back to sleep — not my idea of a good time. This morning was the first indication the system might be relaxing a bit, starting to acclimate, me sleeping in to the decadent hour of six. (Hey, it’s a start.)

Six time zones away, life goes on in a city I love, now beyond the horizon, out of view, out of earshot. Life goes on here, too, just a whole different kind of life. Quieter, far more tranquil, at least at the local level. I tend not to pay much attention to the macro levels when I’m in this part of the world. A whole different kind of existence from my other life.

But I blabber.

On to the weekend.

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

Two mornings ago, far, far too early:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Madrid? Summer. My last few days there: lovely, warm, sunny, the streets crowded with people out enjoying it all. Women dressed in light, minimal summer clothes moved gracefully along the sidewalks. Plazas filled with folks sitting at tables outside cafés and restaurants, the air humming with the sound of voices, conversation, laughter.

And New England? Let me put it this way. When the plane landed shortly before 1 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, Boston lay gray, damp, with temperatures in the 40s. A chilly breeze blew, no happy people sat at tables outside cafés, no women sported warm weather duds. On the subsequent bus ride, one or two snow-covered peaks loomed off to the west as I-89 neared the New Hampster/Vermont border. The foliage — only halfway along in Boston — grew skimpier with the ride north, evergreens predominating, the countryside hanging on to its late-winter look.

And that’s been the story here. Cool, gray, the occasional fissure in the cloud cover allowing brief, heart-lifting swellings of sunlight before reverting back to gray. The weather outside’s left the house cool enough that I’ve had to crank the coal stove on both Wednesday and Thursday.

But that’s not all. Despite the weather being in a state of denial re: the month, we are only four short weeks from the solstice, and this being way north, the sky here begins getting light at 4 a.m. (FOUR! FREAKIN’! A.M.!) An obnoxious aspect of this of the year that combines perfectly with my body still being on European time. The result: me awake real damn early. The good part: if it feels like I will not be getting back to sleep right away, I get up and get things done. At times a bit disgusted, yes, given that I’d rather be horizontal, happily unconscious. But one makes the best of the moment we’re presented with. And there’s plenty to be done here between one thing and another.

Tuesday morning, 6:20 a.m.: the trip back’s first leg, a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. There is nothing quite like dragging yourself out of bed at 3:45 a.m. This time, though, I’d been awake since 2, my body anticipating a long day of big fun, so that actually swinging my feet out from under the covers to get it all underway felt more like the next logical step instead of blurry-eyed trauma. The cabbie on the trip to the airport remained mostly mum. Me too. Dozed some on the flight. Walked miles through the Frankfurt terminal, dragging one gymbag full of books and a shoulderbag full of, er, books. And magazines. The sea of humanity around me appearing evenly split between Germans and Americans, me feeling the absence of Spanish being spoken the way a tongue notices the absence of a recently-pulled tooth. (A strange comparison, I know, but trust me, there’s sense in there somewhere.)

Sat around with a sprawling herd of Americans and Germans, waiting for the flight. Sat around some more. Boarded the plane, took my seat, sat around even more. My neighbor: a teeny, slender, elderly German woman, looking to be in the neighborhood of 80. Hardly spoke during the entire trip, coming out with no more than 25 words during the entire nearly-eight hours we sat together. Sported glasses, a sweet, slightly-strained smile, red, red cheeks, a brown wig. Got up to every hour to walk slowly down the aisle to the john, me (having the window seat) taking advantage of her absence to get up, stretch legs. Her stays in the wash-closets lasted quite a while, ten minutes at times. After which she reappeared, looking a bit unsteady, tottering slowly back down the aisle, to rearrange her pillow, lower herself slowly into her seat. The crew gave her abundant, gentle attention, those exchanges the only time she spoke. She came equipped with nothing to pass the time, she refused the movie/music headphones. A flight attendant brought her two German-language famous-people-gossip magazines, she worked her way slowly through one of them.

At some point during all those hours suspended above the Atlantic, all that time crammed into a butt-numbing Teutonic caricature of a comfy seat, killing time in a big metal tube packed with other souls in the same situation — nothing to do but work on a Spanish translation of an Ellery Queen novel I’d brought along or watch the documentaries shown on the little television screens several rows ahead (far enough away to shrink the image to postage-stamp size) — I suddenly sat up straight and found myself thinking I am having a ball! And, scarily enough, meaning it. As in me being alive, experiencing all sorts of adventures, fully aware how packed my life is with good fortune, what some might call luck. Call me pathetically simple-minded, but there it is.

This being alive thing: it’s a hoot.

[continued in next entry]

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

Shortcut (in full blossom) — Montpelier, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

In about nine hours, I drag my sorry carcass out of bed. Two and a half hours after that I’ll be on an airliner starting the trip to the far side of the Atlantic. Amazingly, most everything that’s needed to get done has gotten done. With a minimum of fuss. Sometimes I am such a grown-up.

A few loose ends remain, among them finding a home for groceries that haven’t already been polished off and connecting with a friend or two.

The final few hours in this city I love. (For this time around.)

Back online sometime after arrival in northern Vermont. Cuídate.

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

Selling lottery tickets on the corner of Hortaleza and Augusto Figueroa, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

I’m out of here in less than 48 hours, suddenly everyone wants to see me. Not that I’m complaining. It’s nice to be wanted — the sudden flurry of requests and meet-ups just makes the wrapping things up a bit messier than it is to begin with. In addition to which some of the good-bye encounters feel like those occasions when you find yourself with a friend who’s jabbering, “Hey, it’s been super, really, we’ll have to do it again, yeah, next time you’re around, life’s always so busy, isn’t it, but we’ll find a few minutes to say hello, get a cuppa coffee or something, and gee, you look great, no kidding, right, well, take care of yourself,” as they’re shoving you out the door.

I enjoy all these individuals in one way or another and am grateful for their presence, however fleeting, in the ongoing cabaret that passes for my life.

On to the day.

Madrid, te quiero.

Three days from now I’ll be in a Lufthansa jetliner, en route to northern Vermont via the lovely cities of Frankfurt and Boston. Three short days from now. And as that shift has drawn closer during the course of this last week, it’s come to feel less abstract, more real — looming, undeniable, approaching at steadily increasing velocity. Which is my cue to begin the now traditional pre-departure freaking out.

It’s a quiet affair, the pre-bolt freak, one that affects no one but me, myself and, er, me. And it may actually be that the term ‘freak’ is a touch exaggerated. (Not that this journal is given to exaggeration or overwrought spewing, mind you. Harrumph.) Just a touch, though, because as emotional processes go, this one is genuine, heartfelt, one that can burn up a substantial pile of linear time/mental calories as I work my way through it. Which I always do. Eventually.

I tend not to write about times I find myself skidding through big, goofy emotional states, at least not directly. A scribbler of greater abilities than mine might be able to pull that kind of thing off, but it’s not — or at least has not been to this point — my strong suit. Whenever I head off in that direction, the product becomes a big waste of everyone’s time — turgid, silly, boring — pretty much in no time flat. So I try to stick with stuff I hope will not put visitors immediately to sleep.

Anyway. The process these last few days has been directly connected with insufficient sleep, a state that got underway a week and a half before the DELE exam, me waking up in the early hours, getting no more than four or five hours of shuteye a night, not enough to truly disrupt daily existence but with enough cumulative power to affect nerves already slightly ragged, emotions already a teeny bit raw. Post-exam social activity and nerves unwinding at their own slow pace continued the waking-too-early thing until yesterday, when my body let me know it wanted an early night and I listened. Result: a full, satisfying night of sleep. Creating a happier me, more sanguine, more relaxed.

Something I experience in the days before each return to Vermont: a hyperawareness that all the elements that form the life in this part of the world — the sounds of conversation in Castellano, of music coming from a bar or club; the faces I see every day here in the barrio; the Saturday night streets overflowing with people; the radio stations I listen to, the bits of Spanish television I watch, the espresso (the espresso!), the food (the food!) — will not be part of my days for a while. Edged, I think, with the awareness that life has its unpredictabilities, that I have not been, these last years, completely certain where I’ll be a few months off in the future, something that can give rise to real sadness, even a species of panic if I dwell on it. Something I try not spend to devote too much time to, given the way it squanders this day, this moment.

Two nights ago: me, out with the group of people I’ve connected with recently. Soaking it up, knowing I’ll be thousands of miles away soon. (Makes it bittersweet at times, lapsing into that ‘won’t be here soon’ hooha.) And then I forget about it, enjoy the conversation, watching the faces around me and the life shining through them, enjoy the tunes on the stereo, the chow we’re hoovering down. The simple things, the important things.

The rest of it can get stuffed.

Saturday evening’s coming on. Time to go enjoy it.

Madrid, te quiero.

Storefronts along la Calle de Fuencarral, Madrid:

***********

The family dog: your very own personal transportation slave.

Madrid, te quiero.

The night sky over northern Vermont: one of the things I miss when I’m on this side of the Atlantic. The milky way. The occasional hair-raising display of lightning. And every now and then the aurora borealis — the heavens throwing a party. (Like the one folks in Eastern Washington state got to see three nights ago.)

A week from now I’ll be back among the green mountains, beneath that beautiful sky.

Soon. Real soon.

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from previous entry]

And then the alloted time expired, papers were collected, the room emptied out. (Except for the Arab fella, who remained hunched over his desk working feverishly away, producing strident sighs of anxious protest as one of the facilitators stood by him, waiting.)

We’d been told the last part of the exam, the oral, speechifying part, would happen somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 or 3:30, giving us a little more than an hour and a half for an over-lunch post-mortem of the experience so far. Lunch, test, head home in time to beat rush hour On the way out of the building, C., A. and I saw that the times for the oral exam had been posted, which is when we discovered that the oral exam began at 3, with one person going every fifteen minutes. We’d been scheduled last, starting with me at 6:15. Meaning five long hours of waiting. FIVE. FREAKIN’. HOURS.

Lunch got eaten. The day to that point got picked apart. The center of Alcalá got wandered around in. Time got killed.

Until I finally found myself in the exam room with the two facilitators from the earlier in the day. The two I’d had to ask to quiet down. Didn’t see any evidence of resentment (for which I gave silent thanks), just the slightest tinge of boredom, though they did their best to project positive, encouraging energy. One sat behind to my rear taking notes, the other sat at a desk in front of me, interacting, giving instructions.

The instructions: Talk. First about anything I felt like. Then they presented me with two photocopied images, I had to describe them, come up with a relationship between them. Then they presented me with a sheet of paper containing three quotes — my job: pick one, expound on it.

By this time — after a long, long day of hilarity, everything building up to this final stage of the experience — so much adrenaline was shooting through my system that I realized talking was not going to be my problem. Trying to get me to shut me up would be the problem. At some point the examiner behind the desk realized just that, realized that he was trapped in a room with a furriner so intensely wired that the result would be hours, days, possibly weeks of unstoppable, high-speed blathering if he didn’t take some action, at which time a fleeting look of terror crossed his face before he composed himself and leaped in, stopping me, moving things along.

I finished up. My classmates finished up. We bolted, making our way through the town’s Friday evening bustle, pleased at being out and free.

The train ride. The Metro ride. When I emerged from underground, the streets of Madrid lay damp from recent rain, alive with people getting the weekend underway.

That was Friday.

Saturday: I drifted, dealing with having no deadline, no studying, with the sudden disappearance of pressure. Spent the entire afternoon in front of the ‘puter. Ate. Ate some more. Went out, late afternoon, spent a couple of hours with a lovely woman, E. [see entry of May 3], doing the intercambio thing. On the way home, received a call from Jorge, [see entry of May 1] — he who has connected me with a sizeable circle of people — inviting me to a wingding. (The classic my-parents-are-away-let’s-party scenario. Jorge is 36.) A short time later, I stood in his kitchen nursing a beer, Jorge making a salad, another friend cooking up eggs with garlic and kiwi (works out much better than it sounds), other folks about, conversation zipping around the room. By midnight, I sat with 11 people in the living room, gelati being eaten, the music getting loud and weird. Two of Jorge’s cousins arrived, one turned out to be an AC/DC fanatic. An AC/DC disc quickly flew into the stereo, the volume loud enough to register on the Richter scale. Followed by the Village People. (Why the Village People? Who knows?) Also at high volume, Jorge and his cousins doing scary disco-style gyrations. At 1:40 a.m., half of those in attendance took advantage of a lull in the soundtrack to take off, I followed a minute or two later, finding myself back out in Madrid’s crowded Saturday night streets, glad to be in the middle of it all, moving gradually in the direction of home, bed, sleep.

Sunday: Drifted more. Recused myself from social hooha. Got less sleep than I would have preferred. Ate. Noticed I seemed to be slowly recovering weight lost during the last couple of weeks of work/study. As insurance, ate some more.

Am now back into classes, the days cascading by at unnerving velocity. Madrid’s summer weather has retreated a bit, the days remain beautiful, if a bit cooler. The trip back across the ocean looms ahead, eight short days away.

Eight short days. But that will be then. This is now.

Time to shut the computer off for a while. Later.

Madrid, te quiero.

So.

Thursday evening: stuffed books, pens, etc. into my bag along with the handful of things I’d need to survive an overnight stay outside the city, then headed out.

Did the Metro ride. Did the train ride. Stumbled out at the last stop with the rest of the post-workday stragglers, found myself in Alcalá de Henares, one of Madrid’s bedroom communities — birthplace of Cervantes (he of Don Quixote fame), home to an old, old university and a city center of narrow streets lined with lovely ancient buildings whose rooftops, turrets and towers provide nesting spots for a startling abundance of storks.

Left the train station, a rainbow extended up into the sky ahead as I made my way toward the center. An omen, I hoped.

Wandered about ’til I found the hostal, checked in. Dumped my bag in my room. Checked out the view from the bathroom window (complete with nesting stork), noted that the hideyhole I’d been given lay directly above the kitchen of the hostal’s restaurant, hoped the clear sounds of food prep. and dishes being washed wouldn’t be too intrusive when the time for shuteye arrived. Shrugged, headed out. Walked local streets, found a friendly-looking neighborhood tavern that provided a surprisingly good dinner, headed back to the hostal.

Watched a little TV, did a little studying. Found myself drifting off to sleep, killed the lights, closed my eyes. At which time the kitchen crew began heaving around dishes, cutlery, lead weights, and what sounded like oversized barnyard animals. When they knocked off around 1 a.m. and went home, they left some machines going whose clear mission was to make sure no one within earshot got any sleep. Out of sheer spite, I managed to squeeze out three or four restless hours’ worth anyway before giving up around 6 a.m. Turned on the lights, cracked the books for a last-minute cram session.

Shaved, showered, spied on the neighboring stork as morning light gathered. Checked out of the hostal early enough to track down newspaper, caffeine and get to the exam on time. Found caffeine with no problem, though an extended wander produced no newspaper kiosks (a major contrast to their abundance here in Madrid). The caffeine-dispensing counter help directed me to a newsagent’s shop a fair hike in the wrong direction from where I wanted to go. Made the detour, picked up paper, hustled to the university, found the exam room. Walked in, found myself the only honky among a crowd of Asian 20-somethings, not exactly what I’d been expecting. Settled into a seat to the rear, paged through what passes as news as the place filled up (more Asians, a handful of other honkies, a young black woman, a 30ish Arab guy). C. and A., my two companions from these last many weeks of classes, appeared a few minutes after my arrival, fresh off the train from Madrid. C. sat to my right, A. a couple of seats ahead.

The two exam facilitators eventually showed, a male and a female, late 20s — teaching assistants, maybe. Or perhaps actual professors — don’t know. Forms were handed out, instructions given, along with an admonition about them not being able to stop the exam once started. They handed out answer forms for the first two parts of the exam (reading comprehension, composition), told us to begin. C. let them know they’d forgotten to hand out the question booklets. The exam that could not be stopped briefly stopped, booklets got distributed.

The Arab guy to my left turned out to be a bundle of loudly complaining nerves, producing sounds of frustration and unhappiness, muttering to himself, at times humming tensely. The soundtrack eventually subsided, replaced by a stream of physical tics so relentless I had to turn away from him to be able to focus.

Two hours later — a span of time that skidded by at near light speed, me not feeling as organized as I would have preferred — time was called, answer forms/booklets collected. A half hour break streaked past, followed by the exam’s next two elements. The first: oral comprehension, consisting of four taped segments played on a boombox at the front of the room. During the pause after the second segment, a cellphone rang. A 20-something woman in front of me, Eastern European, leaned over, looked at hers, reached down, stopped the ringing. A moment later it rang again, she picked it up and answered, everyone else staring in amazement. She told the caller she was in an exam, hung up, one of the facilitators asked her to shut the phone off. Life went on.

During the grammar/vocabulary section — intense, requiring concentration — the two facilitators sat at the front of the class, conversing in whispers. Loud, sibilant whispers that began to drive me right out of my teeny little mind, going on for ten, fifteen minutes, until I got their attention and put my finger to my lips in a request for quiet. Conversation stopped, one of them left, silence descended, punctuated now and then by sounds of distress from the Arab male to my left.

[continued in next entry]

Madrid, te quiero.

That exam I’ve been going on about? That DELE bastard, the one starting at 8:30 a.m., supposedly ending around 3 p.m.? Actual running time: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Details will follow once I’ve recovered my sense of humor.

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

Last night — the Cervantes House, Alcalá de Henares:

Madrid, te quiero.

The exam I’ve spent the last 2-1/2 months preparing for? Happens tomorrow. The starting gun goes off around 8:30, it should all be over but the sobbing by 3. (Or so. More or less.)

The women babes at the language school I’ve lounged about during these many weeks of pain and suffering classes have given us three old versions of the exam, each more difficult than the last. At least for me. Could be gathering fatigue played a part in that, I can’t say. God knows, I’ll be happy to see the backside of this happening. Not that I’ll be skipping around ripping off my clothes and tossing down vats of high-octane sangria afterward, mind you. It’ll just be nice to be under less pressure, with less work to do. I say ‘less’ instead of ‘no’ pressure because I’ve apparently decided to continue with classes in the week ahead, though at half the current load. God forbid I be able to relax and sleep in for a few days. Harrumph.

Er, where was I? Ah, right — the important bit is that I passed all three dry-run exams, as did the other two members of the group who will be testing with me. Meaning the odds of making it through tomorrow’s joyful hours with a passing grade are probably not bad.

The bugger is going to happen at the centuries-old Universidad de Alcalá, a half-hour train ride to the east of Madrid. I have no intention of dragging myself out from under the covers at 6 a.m. or earlier so that I can elbow my way through rush hour, grab an early train and stagger to the examination site frothing at the mouth, which means I’ll be hopping a train in a couple of hours to spend the night in Alcalá and show up at the exam reasonably well-rested, mentally prepared, blah blah blah.

Back online sometime post-event.

Later.

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

Seen this morning on the sidewalk along la Calle de Hortaleza, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Earlier, I came across a lengthy interesting interview-style review of both The Revenge of the Sith and Serenity, the forthcoming Joss Wheedon big-screen follow-up to his late, great small screen series Firefly. The piece includes a brief discussion of (a) the Reavers, a culture of space savages given to rape and murder, and (b) filmmakers’ use of sound in outer space (where there is no sound), a combination that got my wheels spinning.

I’m now considering my own sci-fi screenplay, an ‘Alien’ meets ‘Deliverance’ kind of thing. A project that would lead naturally to bliss-producing ad tag lines like “In space no one can hear you squeal like a pig.”

Just the thought of the possible marketing campaign makes me happier than I have any right to be.

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from previous entry]

That was yesterday.

This morning when I stumbled out of the building around 10 — same general conditions as 24 hours ago: perfect weather, neighborhood quiet after the nightly bachanalia (lasting well past dawn this a.m.) — a person stood at the corner just up the street, looking to be waving at me. A person who turned out to be my one-time neighbor Esperanza, she of the animated, ever-sunny disposition and impressive cleavage. I waved back, she approached, we did the two-cheek-kiss thing. She asked how I was, I replied, “Dormido” (’Asleep’). An accurate report she apparently took as a laugh line, forging ahead as if expecting me to make conversation. I had to assure her that though I appeared to be conscious my body was actually functioning on one pathetic, misfiring cylinder at best, that I could not be expected to make conversation until I’d inhaled a hit or two of high-test. That last bit being a combo advisory/plea which she seemed to absorb for a nanosecond before launching into a recap of her recent life, me staring blearily, mouth helplessly open.

Turned out she was here to meet up with someone interested in buying furniture left in her old flat (across the hall from here). That person materialized almost immediately, a fast, cheek-kissing moment later I was off, weaving my way toward newspaper/caffeine.

Within minutes, newspaper in hand, my body stood at a bar in a joint where counter help who know my face got a cup of brew going as soon as they saw me, me soaking up the sound of other humans getting their day going in like manner. Conversations in Castellano, the TV playing in the background, the smell of espresso and morning food. Simple, satisfying. Something I genuinely miss when I’m back in the green Vermont countryside. A place I’ll be once more in two and a half short weeks. (Vermont, that is.)

But that’ll be then. This is now.

On to the day.

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

Sunday afternoon, la Plaza de Santa Barbara, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Man, what a beautiful morning. Summer has settled securely in, the air is perfect, the sky deep blue, sunlight abundant.

Me: stumbled my way out into the quiet streets shortly after ten, rounded up the a.m. paper, found a friendly cup of espresso, slowly worked my way through the two of them, a croissant providing accompaniment. Picked up some groceries. (At the produce stall, they were weighing some kind of huge, clublike, fearsome-looking root vegetables. Appearing less like food than primitive weapons. I mentioned that, the couple that run the stall fell about laughing, but didn’t identify the, er, whatever those things were. Not that I quizzed the couple in any pointed way.)

Passed back through the plaza with my stuff, saw a vacant bench on the shadow side of the space, planted myself there for a leisurely spell, continuing the swim back toward my limited version of full consciousness. Last night’s neighborhood revels had carried on to just about sunrise, the occasional group of partyers (partiers? partyfolk? partydoers?) still passing through the streets around 6, 6:30, when the first rays of daylight finally drove them back to their coffins. If, on such mornings, the city cleaning crews don’t make a pass through the barrio, there follows a period of blessed tranquility, two, three, sometimes even four hours’ worth, after which the activity and sounds of the day slowly begin gathering. By the time I sat myself down in the plaza, the morning beer drinkers — a group of scruffy-looking males whose numbers range anywhere from two to nine or ten, depending on the day and their individual schedules — were well into loud, happy socializing. (Two of them singing a vaguely flamenco-styled thing, a third providing sloppy beatbox vocalizings.)

I watched the scene. I breathed the morning air. I glanced through the paper. And as I stared foggily down at the newsprint, a hand thrust itself into my field of vision, proferring a newspaper of the political variety.

In general, I am not interested in political rants or screeds, doesn’t matter which part of the spectrum they come from. I’d rather enjoy my day.* If I open up an email — the sender doesn’t matter — whose first sentence sets a tone of political spewing, and a glance at the rest confirms that the thrust is indeed political spewage, the email dies unread. I get to choose, and I care far less that someone might think me insensitive or ignorant than I care about the quality of my day. In this morning’s instance, I might have accepted the paper, glanced at the front page to get its general tone, then likely would have slipped it directly into the first convenient recycling bin, but something about the extreme insistence with which it was presented promised more than a simple handing off of a newspaper. And indeed, it took several polite no-thank-you’s to get the guy to withdraw the paper from under my nose, him attempting to break through my magic barrier of cordial refusal with a high-speed stream of political verbiage. I watched him pass off copies of the paper to other innocent folk passing through the plaza, who then found themselves receiving a political talking-to, shifting uneasily from foot to foot until they could escape and resume their lives.

Not that this guy seemed like a bad sort in any way. Just deeply into imposing his political fervor on anyone he could.

Ah, well. We all have our vices.

*High-level political satire, on the other hand, suits me just fine. I tend to consider oases of smart silliness like The Daily Show and Las Noticias del Guiñol aids to day-enjoyment.

[continued in next entry]

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

Fruit art!

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from previous entry]

The positive, an example: Jorge and I connected doing an intercambio, something that has not gone unnoticed by his friends. Last weekend, E. — one of the women in the group — spoke to me about the possibility of trying out the intercambio thing, yesterday afternoon found us sitting at a table outside a café, making conversation. She’s an attractive, intelligent person with a lovely deep voice, spending time with her was not a painful process. A couple of hours along, one of the other women from the group rings E.’s mobile phone, it develops that she’s on her way to join us. Next thing I know, I’m in a car with them heading toward El Retiro, Madrid’s Central Park.

Within a matter of minutes, we’re in the park, greenery and flowers all around, a mild early summer breeze blowing. Trees in full foliage (leaves rustling), fountains (the sound of water falling), crowds of people (the murmur of many voices), me inhaling the rich odor of earth and vegetation for the first time since last autumn in northern Vermont, enjoying the sound of my companions talking. We eventually pull up a plot of lawn on an incline overlooking a wide pedestrian way, people streaming by. A third woman shows up, a friend of E. and A., conversation flows faster and faster, me content to listen as the velocity moved beyond the point where I could contribute to a three or four-way exchange in Castellano.

I found myself listening to an increasingly serious exchange about relationships, them talking as if they’d forgotten a male was hanging about, me feeling like the fly on the proverbial, er, lawn. Until a 30ish couple strolled by with a beautiful little girl, maybe three years old, decked out in a sundress. She veered off from the ‘rents, wandered up onto the lawn just down the incline from us, intent on a spread of minuscule wildflowers that dotted the grass. I caught my companions’ attention, we watched her as a couple of blossoms caught her eye. She reached out a tiny hand and slowly, carefully picked them, bringing one to her nose to sniff. She looked back toward her mother and father (them watching patiently), then headed carefully back in their direction, all three of them moved off. One of the women to my left said to me, “And what do you think of the mother?”, I looked around, surprised at the question, having not even really noticed the mother. My head swiveled to glance at her as the sound of female laughter started up to my left. It felt like any comment I made would only provoke more laughter, I stayed quiet, enjoying the silly moment.

One of them asked me if I liked Spanish women, I could feel a snorting, semi-sarcastic DUH! trying to elbow its way out of my mouth, managed to come out with a simple affirmative instead.

Next thing I knew, we were on our feet and heading out of the park. Me with no idea where we were going, strangely content about being herded to points unknown by these women. Which turned out to be, after a brief stop to pick up two kids — A.’s daughter and nephew, six or seven years old — a bar/restaurant in a residential neighborhood some distance from the park. Not the place they’d been intending to drag me — that place, a joint that apparently offers a kind of, er, meat product they wanted me to try, was closed — but not bad, as it turned out. Jazz playing on the stereo, a handful of customers sitting about (eating, talking), bar help ready to get us whatever we wanted. The women began working on glasses of wine, a teeny glass of beer found its way into one of my hands. Food got ordered, several plates showed up shortly thereafter — great chow, it turned out, making me happier and happier. The two kids ran in and out of the place, stopping by for a mouthful of food now and then, other customers began streaming in, the noise level and energy rising. And in the middle of it all, I found myself discussing what the three women called the cultural experiences we all shared courtesy of American television. Meaning Dallas, Falcon Crest, The A-Team. Yes, they spoke with smiling irony, but they also had a point, that they grew up with a vivid picture of the States and the people who lived there, courtesy of American television. Bizarrely inaccurate in some ways, extremely accurate in others. And there I stood in my black jeans and pointy boots, one more goofy image of things American, this one inhaling Spanish food and enjoying the company of Spanish women. Enjoying being in this part of the world, soaking up all the input.

Later, when we stepped back outside, darkness had fallen. No breeze blew, the nighttime air felt soft on my skin, its temperature just about perfect, neither cool nor warm. Good night for a walk. I got a ride partway home, did the remainder by foot.

It’s a good way to live, this.

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

A strange image that’s become ubiquitous here in recent days thanks to the tireless efforts of local poster pasters:

Madrid, te quiero.

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