far too much writing, far too many photos

Woke up in the early hours from long, complicated dreams, the last of which featured me doing a performance piece, something I’d written. A one-person show, really, though for some reason it included a number of prostitutes hanging around the performing space. Why? Don’t know. They had no speaking roles, they didn’t do anything, really, except add a strange vibe to the general ambience. (Must have been because prostitutes are such sure-fire comedic gold.)

A brisk five-minute walk in the direction of Sol from here brings one to la Calle de Montera, one of the few visible concentration points of prostitution in Madrid’s city center and scene of an ongoing tug of war between cops and local representatives of the skin trade. It’s a strange length of city street, lined with restaurants, stores, a busy multi-screen movie theater, two or three sex shops, and anywhere from a handful to twenty or more prostitutas looking to pick up clients. Police try to be a presence, and when a cruiser or two is parked nearby, the number of putas diminishes, though the cops never seem to clear them all away. (This afternoon, six cops on one side of the street, chatting. Other side of the street: groups of working women, chatting.)

Last week, the city government announced a crackdown. The plan: hand out fines to both women and johns, a tactic that television news programs happily claim has stirred up controversy. Doesn’t seem to have made much difference to this point along la Calle de Montera.

Protest by residents along la Calle de Montera
(”Prostitution in the street, no!” “We’re fed up!”):

Having no car here, I don’t get out on the highways much. My first couple of trips out of the city, I noticed the occasional roadhouse off to the side of the carretera, nondescript buildings, generally unadorned except for a big neon sign reading CLUB. Roadside joints of ill repute, it turns out, where a lonely traveler can take a break, buy a drink, hire one of the women who work there for a brief, er, whatever. Puticlubs, one of my Spanish teachers called them. A whole other kind of rest stop. Not, strictly speaking, legal, but scattered about the landscape anyway.

And not for me. I don’t see much attraction in that kind of partying without some sort of emotional intimacy. But to each their own.

Madrid, te quiero.

Yesterday: Thanksgiving stateside, just another day here. A work day, and I spent it planted in front of the computer, laboring away while the building’s ongoing rehab work carried on in relatively tranquil fashion, apocalyptic pounding and hammer-drilling breaking out only now and then. (For which I gave thanks.) A beautiful, chilly November day, sunlight pouring in the windows, me with a decent place to live in, in a part of the world I love, with good food and running water and a working computer. (For which I gave thanks.)

Thanksgiving never came up in my life here this year, no one mentioned it, no invites to ex-pat Thanksgiving dinners came my way. (For which, truthfully, I gave thanks. A simpler life, minus holiday hooha is fine with me right now — there’ll be hooha in abundance when I get back stateside on the 19th.) Normal life reigned, with all its benign routines. Got up in the morning as the workers began shouting back and forth in the stairwell (them gearing up for the daily destructo-derby). Showered, etc., pulled on clothes. Went out, picked up a paper, walked to a local morning joint for a good cup of brew and a tasty croissant. Strolled back here along busy streets, plenty of people about living normal life. Came home, found the doors to the apartment across the hall and its upstairs neighbor closed, the workers having been thoughtful enough to spare me having to close the doors myself to contain waves of noise and dust. (For which, seriously, I gave thanks.)

And on and on. Blessings of all kinds, and plenty of them.

And today? Took myself to the first showing of ‘Harry Potter and The Longest Movie Credits In History.’ Walked in 20 minutes beforehand, the sign above the box office warned that only first-row tickets remained. I had a hunch, though. Waited on line, asked the pixie behind the glass if there might be any available single seats tucked away around the theater, wound up with a center spot in the ninth row. Pretty much perfect. (Er, except for the movie, which felt to me like the film equivalent of a high-tech Reader’s Digest condensed novel. Great dragon, though. And Mad-Eye Moody is a hoot.)

And then out into the falling darkness to wander about and enjoy the growing number of Christmas displays, first stopping to ponder the huge, inexplicable, underwater-themed display at El Corte Inglés (Jesus, Mary and Joseph surrounded by cheery starfish, seahorses, merpeople).

After which more restrained, less surreal displays came as soothing relief.

Madrid, te quiero.

Windshield sky — the November overcast above Madrid allows a brief glimpse of blue:

Madrid, te quiero.

During the course of yesterday’s long wander around the city center:

1) I found myself giving thanks for not having had the impulse to take that particular hike a week earlier, an impulse that would have put me in the middle of a sizeable political demonstration against the Ley Orgánica de Educación (LOE), the current Spanish government’s education reform law (try here for a clear explanation), convened by the fine folks in el Partido Popular in tandem with the Spanish Catholic Church.

Exactly how sizeable the demonstration turned out to be is impossible to say given the difference in attendance figures supplied by various sources.

The organizers claim that two million people took part, a figure that would make this demonstration twice as large as the genuinely mammoth protest that took place in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq. (Drastically unlikely, given that 90+% of the population was against the Iraq incursion — cutting across the political spectrum to include everyone except Partido Popular politicians and their most hard core militantes.) La Comunidad de Madrid (currently run by the PP) proclaimed attendance of 1,500,000 people. The police put the figure at 407,000. El País, the country’s largest-selling daily newspaper — and generally a lefty stronghold — fixed the turnout at 375,000.

A bizarrely, comically huge spread, and I suspect the actual number to be somewhere in the general neighborhood of the police estimate. During the big anti-invasion protest in 2003, the center was so clogged with people that the sprawl reached this neighborhood, a ten-minute walk away, the overflow leaving local streets notably more crowded than normal. Last Saturday, with the anti-LOE demonstration happening in the same zone, I saw no evidence of it here, the streets no busier than on a normal Saturday. So that I actually forgot about the protest until I saw it mentioned on the tube that night.

Since then, the organizers/PP and the government have been going back and forth, the papers and news programs giving it plenty of play, ‘it’ feeling like a lot of noise about not very much, the real issue perhaps being the ongoing jockeying for power.

2) Somewhere along the way, I came across a store piping Christmas muzak out into the street, my first encounter with that this year. The tune immediately took up residence in my head, a key part of the melody playing itself over and over until I realized I was beginning to walk in time to it. Desperate to change the soundtrack, I managed to reprogram my internal jukebox with the Vince Guaraldi version of Oh, Christmas Tree. Something I at least like. Which got me jonesing to hear the real item. Once home, I searched through the handful of CDs I dragged along from the States, discovering I’d forgotten to include the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, a CD that’s grown on me in an embarrassing way in recent years. (At least the actual Vince Guaraldi tracks.) Whistling it will have to do until the return to Vermont.

That was yesterday morning. Last night, the teams with the biggest rivalry in the Spanish fútbol league went head to head, Real Madrid hosting Barcelona at el Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. A face-off that is traditionally the season’s hottest ticket, the winning team/city reaping bragging rights until the next confrontation, months away. Madrid — Spain’s version of the Yankees, with some of the biggest names in world fútbol on its roster — has been plagued by injuries, their on-field chemistry inconsistent. So it came as no surprise when they found themselves outplayed and outclassed, on the losing end of a 3-0 score. Even more disconcerting to some Madrid players: the ovation given to Ronaldinho after his second goal, the general appreciation for a rival team playing excellent ball. And it was interesting to note the overall acceptance of Barcelona’s current superiority in this morning’s sports section, coupled with a kind of metaphoric shoulder-shrugging with respect to R.M. The team’s inconsistency during these last years seems to have been accepted with resigned, fatalistic aplomb. Or something.

Matches, like most everything in this life, come and go. Existence moves on.

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

Enhanced mailbox, la Calle de Alcalá:

Madrid, te quiero.

Around Madrid’s city center on an overcast Saturday morning:

Stop here! — La Calle de Montera:

La Plaza de la Puerta del Sol:

Sex shop/bridal shop, la Calle de Montera:

La Calle de Alcalá:

Madrid, te quiero.

Last night: out with a friend, sitting in a local joint, talking, watching people. Letting go of a day that featured a high, at times thunderous, noise level here in the building. A beautiful mid-November Thursday — air misty, sun shining strongly through it — but intense.

By late in the afternoon, the soundtrack produced by construction/rehab. in the hallway and neighboring flat had become relentless enough that the only sane response was to bolt, get some air, maybe go to a movie for some distraction. And as hoped, flight brought immediate relief. Took a walk through the neighborhood’s busy streets, caught a bus on Gran Vía, watched the passing city en route to the Plaza de España. Good therapy, all of that. Stopped in at the movie theater I’d thought about hitting, discovered the film I’d had in mind wasn’t there. Stared at the various choices, surprised. Stared some more. It still wasn’t there. Shrugged, stepped back out into the afternoon. Wandered for a while, caught another bus, returned home, the building substantial more tranquil than when I’d left.

On checking movie listings, I discovered I’d gone to the wrong theater. A little embarrassing, but not a total surprise. Just shows what I already know: all the commotion happening right now has me, at times, a little distracted. Given how intense existence has felt in recent days, I’m doing pretty well. I manage to get myself dressed and fed, manage to get work done, manage to carry on like a reasonably high-functioning adult. I enjoy the moments of peace that descend now and then, stumble through the more intense moments figuring they’ll eventually pass.

When I stepped into the local joint yesterday evening, one or two customers sat at the counter. They paid up and left soon after, for a while I found myself alone. Watched traffic passing, listened to the counterman quietly working, read a little. Other customers entered, the place came alive with conversation, movement, me sitting in my corner, letting it all swirl around me. Jorge arrived, the evening shifted gears, my little part of it jerked more or less up to speed with the rest of the local world.

Back to normal life, just like that. No fanfare. Simple. Easy.

Jorge’s been getting to know a woman in recent weeks. She called as we sat and talked, they arranged a rendezvous, Jorge inviting me along to meet her. I went, and for a while found myself in another joint, sitting across from an intelligent, attractive woman, enjoying watching them enjoy each other, talking about books, movies, pointy boots.

This morning: Alfredo finally showed (turning out to be short, balding, mild-mannered), accompanied by a slim, taller worker, Central or South American. They checked out what needed to be done, Alfredo disappeared, replaced by a swarthier, slightly burlier male, a mason. Since then, brief fits of activity have traded off with long spells of everyone disappearing. By the end of the day, I’ll probably have some version of a kitchen wall. Yee-ha!

Madrid, te quiero.

Window of closed shop, la Calle de Hortaleza, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Starting late last week, rainy, cold conditions took hold of Madrid. A kind of November weather, as I’ve already written here, that I enjoy, though as it hangs about day after day after day the law of diminishing returns kicks in. By Monday, I was ready for a change.

I was ready. But the weather gods? Apparently not.

The plague of construction/rehab. work (las obras) that can be found throughout the city — in some areas, as in this barrio, literally along every street, something being built, torn apart or rebuilt on every single block, at times producing an atmosphere of insistent, relentless chaos — reached this building over the summer. When I arrived at the beginning of October, I found no workers about (though the evidence of their labor was everywhere: mounds of white dust strewn around the stairs and landings along with chunks of drywall and ancient plaster, walls and bannisters covered with powder). Work being done in the piso across the hall from here — turning one old, rambling flat into two smaller ones — had gone awry, I was told, a wall having been built incorrectly or in the wrong place. Putting everything on hold until resulting legal complications were worked out.

As a bonus, the dust had found its way into my flat, covering everything with a film of white powder. My first task on arrival: spend an hour cleaning up. And believe me, after a long overnight trans-Atlantic voyage there’s nothing I enjoy more than sweeping, vaccuming, dusting.

Two, three days later, a pair of industrious women showed up to clean the hallways, leaving the place looking more like the building I remembered. A week after that, the workers materialized, las obras recommenced, I discovered why the halls had been such a disaster: in the course of tearing apart the neighboring flat and its downstairs cousin, the doors had been left wide open, clouds of dust billowing out into the passageways, chunks of pulverized materials spilling out.

As no work was being done in the hallways themselves, I began asking the workers to shut the piso doors, meeting with some surprised resistance that slowly gave way before my steady insistence. I asked without aggression, without anger, always thanking them for humoring me. They generally responded — and continue to respond — like gentlemen, often acquiescing gracefully, and when not exactly reacting with what might be called grace, at least not arguing the matter, not responding with attitude. For which I am genuinely grateful. We exchange greetings when we pass in the hallways or in the street outside, they seem to have settled into a tolerant acceptance of me, the foreign crank who keeps after them to close the doors.

During my time back in the States, for some reason — I’m still not sure why — as part of the work here, a small section of the wall my kitchen shared with the neighboring flat got torn apart, the work left unfinished, newspapers stuffed into a narrow gap that now gives directly out onto the outside world. Not a problem during warm, dry weather. Soon as rain moves in, however, puddles of water begin extending in across the counter and onto the floor. Not enough to cause damage, but enough to indicate that the work really needs to be completed. I let my sainted landlords know, they told me they’d tried getting the work finished but on the appointed day no one showed. They put me in contact with Alfredo, the person in charge of the job, he and I arranged to have someone come repair the wall a few days later.

That morning: got up, waited for the worker to arrive. And waited. And waited some more. Got a phone call saying the obvious: there had been delays. More waiting. Another call, more obviousness. Further waiting. Called Alfredo at the four-hour mark, told him I was done waiting, we rescheduled for a week later. A holiday, it turned out — el Festival de la Almudena. No one showed that day, I received no phone calls. Sent the landlords an email letting them know I was finished dealing with Alfredo, that it was now up to them. Two days ago, they sent an email saying they’d just spoken with him, he’d be getting in touch. I’m still waiting.

Two days ago, the workers in the flat next door began tearing out the other side of my kitchen wall. The result: dust and cold breezes filtering in through the unfinished section, white powder covering every surface in the kitchen, combining with incoming rainwater to produce a special kind of ugly. At first, I cleaned it up, left the kitchen door closed to contain the chilly temperatures. Yesterday, I realized the dust invasion was ongoing, that cleaning it up was like trying to sweep sand off a beach. This morning I came to my senses, pulled out a roll of duct tape, covered the unfinished area with plastic bags.

Better.

Meanwhile, Monday morning, electrical work began in the hallways: hammering, drilling, debris all over the place. The workers across the hall stopped closing the piso doors, I had to go out periodically and close them myself to cut down the din.

And why, you might wonder, am I inflicting all this on you (in all its excessive, squalid detail)? Because the ongoing obras-related hooha and days on end of gray/cold/rain combined with the deteriorating situation in the kitchen in a way that finally felt overwhelming. I spent yesterday trying to write about a period of crisis 3-1/2 years ago, when I retreated back to the States, thinking my time here had come to its end. Woke up last night in the wee hours, in as low a place as I’ve been since that time, feeling worn down, thinking that if things here didn’t improve in some way by month’s end, I’d give notice, pack up, head back to Vermont, likely meaning my time here would be finished. A possibility that produces panic, gets me feeling trapped, desperate.

Eventually got back to sleep, woke up to find sunlight seeping in around the windowshades. Me immediately happier, everything suddenly feeling much less dire.

Sometimes that’s all it takes. Morning sunshine, skies clear and blue. Plastic bags duct-taped over nasty, unfinished kitchen wall.

On to the day.

[Later: before writing the preceding, I sent a note to my landlords notifying them of Alfredo's continuing absence and the madcap developments of the last couple of days. After writing the preceding, las obras out in the hallway reached this floor, the workers in the neighboring flat using hallway noise/dust clouds as an excuse to leave doors open and make their own tooth-rattling contribution to the general roaring din. That sent me out of the building and off into the center, seeking relief. At which time my mobile phone rang: Alfredo! The she of my sainted landlords had received my email, immediately called him. I'm assuming it was a heavier call than he'd have preferred -- he sounded suspiciously eager to please. If all goes well, work in the kitchen will be finished up on Friday.]

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

Damn, these honkies got soul!

And where the hell were these classics of children’s literature when I was young and tender?

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

This evening, along Gran Vía, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Truth in advertising? An overdeveloped sense of irony? —
Nightclub along a Madrid sidestreet. For sale (’SE VENDE’).

Madrid, te quiero.

Within the last few days November settled in over this part of the world. Real November — cold that begins to have some bite to it, a certain kind of gray sky producing a certain kind of late-autumn/early-winter day (something I associate with wide New England fields, empty of everything but corn stubble, with the cawing of crows drifting surprisingly long distances through clear, crisp air). Sunlight begins to take on a look I associate with the holiday season, growing thinner, its angle changing as the sun travels lower in the sky. Being out in it all makes my body feel alive. Heading inside afterward, stepping from cold into warmth, feels like being enveloped in something soft and luxurious.

I like it is what I’m getting at. It gets me outside more, gives me the urge to walk. Perfect, that, given where I am, how much I like roaming around the city center. Since getting back here five and a half weeks ago, I’ve mostly focused on writing and studying, a kind of turning in thats shown up in, er, the narrowing of my social life. Which is fine, I suppose, until I want to hang out and notice that people have stopped calling, that one or two folks have left the city for other points around the globe. So I head out on my own, sit in cafés, go to movies. Drag my camera out when something catches my eye, take some pix. And walk through this wonderful city. Watch Saturday morning streets come slowly to life, thread my way through late-afternoon shopping crowds, through seas of people eddying in and out of places to eat and drink as evening falls. Coming across the occasional deserted street, parked cars striking a discordant note with the place’s clear sense of age, of centuries of life.

It’s good, all of that. It’ll do for now.

The local Christmas season continues coming slowly on, a shift I continue to find disconcerting. A shop up the street installed a beautiful, full-sized, lushly tinseled tree just inside its front window, its lights the first I’ve so far seen plugged in, shining softly out into the falling darkness. It occurred to me that I’ll be arriving back in the states a few short days before the holiday itself. I expect the show of festive hooha here will pale in comparison. Though what do I know? I might be wrong. God knows, it’s happened before.

But that’s a line of blather for another entry. Right now, a soccer match is about to get underway on Channel 1 — Spain versus Slovenia, the Spanish national team taking another step in what it hopes will be a trip to the next World Cup. Time to go be a fan.

Later.

Madrid, te quiero.

You know a neighborhood café’s become too trendy when you can’t have a quiet cuppa joe ’cause of the photoshoots.

This morning: me half-awake, sipping espresso, minding my own business. Slowly returning to consciousness after a night of strange dreams. (The last of them: me standing in at a Springsteen concert when Himself got held up en route. Huh?) Next thing I know a photographer’s assistant is laying cables around me and — I am not exaggerating here — a photographer’s butt is pressed up against my ear.

And a very nice butt it was. Just not a kind of wake-up call I’m used to. (Bottom right: my chair. Slightly above: unexpectedly friendly booty.)

***********

Self-portrait, local florist shop with serious delusions of grandeur:

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from entry of November 8]

Once again, I found myself amid talking people, no conversation coming my way. And not resisting it, the scenery outside becoming dramatic enough, compelling enough to hold my full attention as the car headed deeper into actual mountains, steep, forested slopes angling up toward darkening skies. At a certain point, the landscape changed from mixed forest to pine forest, enormous, tall old pines, extending away both uphill and down, a kind of landscape I hadn’t experienced in a long while.

The car stopped, parked outside a gate, we got out and slipped past the barrier, heading down a dirt road into quiet, no sound except my traveling companions’ voices and the wind in the trees. And in the moments when conversation ceased, or when I allowed the others to get well ahead of me, the silence that settled in felt total, a kind of silence that wind in trees only seems to deepen, if you know what I mean.

Quiet. Seemingly endless pine forest. And cow poop. (Visible here to either side of the trail.)

Same as with the morning’s hike: cow poop everywhere. Strangely sizeable mounds of it. This time with nary a cow in sight. Just us five humans, trying to keep our hiking footwear poop-free.

The trail extended on and on, at one point skirting a section of forest that contained old open-air buildings, apparently a camp, at one time, for, well, fascist youth, during the time of the dictatorship. Now an assortment of empty, quiet buildings, spread out among tall pines, the space around the camp dotted with a few ingenious rustic fountains, a couple of them still spouting cold, clear water. A ghost camp, access to most of the structures closed off by strung wire.

Rain started up, began coming down as if it meant business. Falling heavily enough that an hour into the hike I began thinking about turning back, getting ready for the return to Madrid that evening. At which point the others left the trail, began heading straight up the slope, unmindful of shrubbery, plentiful rocks, steady rain. Hunting for a certain kind of conifer (which came as news to me). María gamely slogging along, despite wearing footwear made for city streets, not steep, rock-strewn, rain-damp mountainsides. And when they finally stumbled across one of the trees, they examined it, paused to talk/take a breather. One or two moved off to water the abundant moss and lichen, the rest discussed continuing uphill. I voted against, citing my need to return to the city that evening, strongly suggesting we head back to the car, head back to the house. They listened, agreed, we began the return hike, the sound of rainfall all around, surprisingly loud, streams that had been minimal on the trip in already beginning to swell.

The ride back to the house — going from deep forest/deep mountains to small village then back out into open country — included a detour through a teeny, nondescript hamlet to stop in at a surprisingly pricey furniture/antiques joint, dealing in an extensive spread of fare both interesting and cheesy. It’s everywhere, the antiques biz.

At the house: me making a fire (not getting why it wouldn’t catch until Juan Carlos remembered to tell me about the built-in fireplace fan, apparently an integral part of the process, immediately transforming me from puzzled loser to world-class fireplace dude), María and Tony making dinner in the kitchen. A homemade tortilla con patatas, which would have made me happy all by itself. Tony, however, conjured up a vinegar-based dipping sauce, the first time I’ve ever eaten tortilla with a salsa. Turned out to be so addictively spectacular that the meal disappeared in no time flat, all of us sitting around the living room coffee table, eating simple, excellent food at near supersonic speed.

Jorge and his friends materialized after the inhaling of the tortilla. People tried convincing me to stay the night, but I had work to do the next day, I was ready to go (the thought of trying for a night of sleep with eight partying Spaniards in that small house did not appeal).

María, the other person in the group with things to do in Madrid the following day, was my ride home. Still not completely sure of herself on the local roads, much smoother once we made the highway. Rain fell on and off all the way into town, mist rose from moist earth in the light of passing towns’ streetlamps.

And suddenly we were in the city’s northern reaches, María pulling over at la Plaza de Castilla, me dragging my bag out from the back seat, doing the two-cheek good-bye kiss thing, heading down into the Metro to catch a half-empty train into the center.

A short, simple jaunt — 26, 27 hours. Out and back, really, nothing more. Hard to believe it’s taken me so long to lay it out here.

Or not so hard to believe, given the number of things this simple overnight’s gotten me thinking about. Self-examination, mostly. Nothing I’ll inflict on anyone but myself, at least not now.

Later, maybe. Won’t that be fun?

Madrid, te quiero.

This morning: quiet. The building peaceful, little activity outside in the street. No racket from construction/building rehab. Me drifting happily in and out of elaborate, benign dreams, waking up at my own tiempo.

It’s a holiday in Madrid today, the festival of the Virgen de la Almudena, one of the city’s two patron saints. A religious holiday for some, for others a day to screw off relax. Bringing tranquility to the neighborhood, something I appreciate in a big way. (The din from rehab work happening here in the building got so intense at one point yesterday afternoon that it sent me out the door for a long walk, me winding up in a matineé for the second time in as many days. Forced decadence.)

Pulled my bod out from under the covers at a very user-friendly hour. Showered, etc., pulled on clothes. Headed out, picked up a paper, made the trek to one of the only neighborhood joints that open on a morning like this. A place where they know my face well enough that they get a cortado cranking as soon as they me, slide a plate with a croissant in front of me without waiting for me to ask. Noticed that they had a couple of large, beautiful roscones displayed by the usual morning pastries, cut laterally in half and filled with swirls of cream. A variety of the sweetbread everyone goes for on January 6, the day of the Three Kings, but less ornate, less gaudy — at least the examples I saw — and called la Corona de la Almudena.

Spent a little there while waking up. Returned home for a bit, headed back outside for another cortado, this time at a café I’ve become surprisingly fond of. Trendier than I generally care for, at times packed, the noise level startlingly high, but with smooth café, great people-watching, good music on the sound system.

And speaking of music — later, back home, me poking around online, Radio 3 playing on my teeny, beat-up excuse for a sound system. (Radio 3: a station in danger of becoming one of my all-time faves.) They got into a set of most excellent re-makes, all by bands I’m not familiar with, playing versions of ‘Cosmic Dancer‘, ‘Cinnamon Girl‘, and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog.’ All in a row, just like that. Made me so happy.

My needs: in general, they’re absurdly simple.

Outside, a spectacular November day is underway, sunshine pouring in the windows of the flat. Time to go enjoy it.

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from entry of November 6]

Woke this morning up in the wee hours, the neighborhood outside quiet. Could feel I wouldn’t be getting back to sleep right away, turned on the bedside light to read for a bit. Opened up a book, found myself needing to stop now and then to look up a word (part of the cost of the ongoing learn-Spanish thing), began thinking how nice it would be to have what’s called a photographic memory. Which got me remembering Ricky Berg, a guy I knew in junior high who actually had a photographic memory. I remember him telling me how easy it made certain kinds of homework, I remember staring at him as he talked, thinking about the possibilities. Which got the me of here/now thinking about how I experience and process this life of mine.

It’s not photographic, exactly. More along the lines of a vivid process of absorption, me in the middle of whatever’s happening, senses working away (like, er, everyone else on the planet, I suppose). Watching, listening, etc., often with a slight sense of something I could maybe call remove. Not distance, exactly, a word that suggests a kind of not-feeling. A slight remove. Or something. Whatever it is, I sure as hell am feeling while I’m in the middle of it all. And adoring the show, even in the weird times.

I found myself with Jorge, María, Almudena, post-morning hike, doing the watching/listening thing in a bar/restaurant in a old, old village — locals streaming in and out in Sunday mode, coming from church or on the way to Sunday dinner, appearing to be mostly family groups, sometimes three generations, lots of kids and teenagers about. J., M. and A. ordered liquid refreshment, a plate or two of finger food. I — having eaten nothing at breakfast, the only available fare being heavily sugared — ordered juice, water, a sandwich, the others countered with another round of food/drink. Noise, energy, conversation. Tony and Juan Carlos showed up at some point, briefly disappeared to pick up bags of provisions for the evening’s dinner, reappeared settled down with us for a while.

In his food run, Juan Carlos picked up the single largest, heaviest bar of chocolate I’ve ever come across. So thick, so dense that someone had to use a knife and some elbow grease to break a chunk off, fingers alone lacking the torque or muscle mass to get the job done. Not to be used lightly, this chocolate, not for baking or for making cups of hot liquid. To be employed as a weapon. A club or bludgeon. Or as an anchor, to stabilize hikers trying to make some headway in the face of gale force winds.

But I blabber.

We collected our stuff, filed outside (our table immediately disappearing beneath the heaving mass of an extended family looking for somewhere to sit, and the term ‘heaving mass’ is only a slight exaggeration of the way they took over the space we’d just occupied). Headed back to the car through a river of locals exiting an ancient church, drove to another village for what I thought would be a meal. Turned out to be a rerun of the situation from the evening before, stopping at another joint for liquid refreshment and finger food, me the only lonely soul jonesing for something more substantial. A joint in a lovely village, a pueblo that looked like it might provide a nice life, the streets alive with locals out for Sunday socializing, the various restaurants, pubs, bakeries packed with customers.

At the previous place, Jorge had received a call from two friends who were en route. We waited for them to show, me enjoying the general scene, when they arrived everyone in the original group except Jorge took me by surprise by deciding to take off for a second, more ambitious hike, leaving Jorge behind with the two new arrivals. I opted for further exercise, quickly found myself crammed into a small car with four other folks, heading out of the village toward mountains and dark, overspreading clouds.

[continued in entry of November 10]

Madrid, te quiero.

I’ve found myself in recent days going through some strange, unpleasant passages, a couple of which have left enough of an imprint to get me thinking, me at times feeling a little off balance, feeling more alone than I’m comfortable with. The good news: I take care of myself fairly well, treat myself fairly well. Which today meant getting my adorable butt out for the distraction of an early evening movie — a film the Spanish critics have been fawning all over. And found myself watching a story that became progressively miserable, progressively melodramatic, the main characters going through hell because of their own decisions and an insistance on getting deeper into a situation that promised no good for anyone involved.

At some point, I noticed I’d stopped enjoying it, found myself looking around the theater instead of at the screen, realized I genuinely did not want to watch any more. Grabbed my coat, left the theater. And when I stepped out into the cool November air — darkness falling, Madrid still busy with the evening rush hour — it felt so good to be free of that story.

Grabbed a bus heading up Gran Vía, planted myself in a window seat. Noticed dark forms overhead stretching across the avenue as the bus headed uphill toward Callao, remembered that the city had begun hanging Christmas lights last week. Not cranking them up yet, just getting ready. On the other hand, I stopped into El Corté Inglés Saturday morning (early, before the shopping hordes grew to their full Saturday massiveness), encountered Christmas decorations, neat displays of Christmas cards, substantial floor space already devoted to gift baskets of all sizes, table after table stacked with boxes and tins of seasonal sweets. Yuletide tunes were not yet doing their cheery thing on the in-store sound system, for which I gave sincere thanks. But we’re clearly sliding into the season, the local version of the season appearing slicker, more professional than in the past. It’s just a matter of time before lights get plugged in, sidewalk bell-ringers get going, seasonal music wafts unnervingly through the city air.

Not sure why, but it’s taken me by surprise. Could be the contrast with the local near-total absence of Halloween hooha. Might be ’cause I don’t remember Christmas frufru appearing here this early in past years. Don’t know. But there it is: Madrid getting ready to have itself a merry little Christmas. In early november.

A kind of early that’s normal in the States. Apparently becoming normal here.

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The call of the neckties — evening along la Calle de Fuencarral, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

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