far too much writing, far too many photos

The difference a day makes:

Yesterday, dawn –

24 hours later, after a night of rain, northern Vermont shrouded with
mist and fog –

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Sunrise, Christmas day 2005, northern Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

So. Stepped off the bus in Montpelier Monday night, drove home through the frigid Vermont darkness, the road winding between snow-covered fields, quiet and still.

Tuesday morning — the temperature outside the house: 10 below. Drove into town to take care of errands, walking along State Street I passed a guy wrapped up in cold weather gear, holding a large coffee in one hand, his face an intense beet red (providing as perfect an illustration of the expression ‘beet red’ as I’ve ever seen).

Wednesday morning — the temperature outside the house: 20 below. Chickadees came and went at the dining room window feeder as if impervious to the weather. (Now that I think about it, only chickadees have shown up at the feeder since my return. All the other regular customers — your purple finches, your goldfinches, your woodpeckers — have vanished.)

Yesterday morning: the temperature outside hovered between 15 and 20 above. Felt almost tropical compared with the previous two days. Went into town to do the manly gym thing, on the way back stopped in to visit my downhill neighbor, Mo. I hopped up the two or three steps to his front porch, knocked on the door, expecting the usual racket from the house’s two dogs. Nothing. Silence. Knocked again. More silence. A tabby cat sat at the other end of the porch staring at me, eyes half-closed. I stepped toward it, extending a friendly hand, it skidded backward, looking to stay clear. I got the message, let it alone. It recovered poise, sat down, resumed watching.

I pulled open the storm door, rapped on the inside door. Nothing. No dogs, no people. Stared at the two vehicles in the driveway, them usually a sure sign that Mo and his 70-something live-in sweetie, Barb, are home. Wondered if everything was all right or if maybe some of their numerous kids and grandkids had carted them off for yuletide fun and games.

Pulled open the door again, knocked at it with substantially more force. Now and then the third time really is the charm — the dogs came to, ran into the kitchen with the clatter of nails on wood flooring, barking out the usual loud, sustained intruder alert. A moment later, Barb appeared, peering out at me before grabbing the dogs so that I could enter without being knocked over by two canines looking for love. A couple of minutes passed calming the dogs down, especially Barb’s, an ancient, mid-sized mixed breed named Bismark who continued barking from excitement, leaning his tired body against our legs, gradually quieting.

Barb said a brief hello, walked with stiff legs toward the living room to let Mo know company had arrived. A moment later, there he was, hand extended for a hello shake, moving slowly but looking pretty good, reasonably hale. We sat down at the kitchen table, I filled him in on this last stay in Madrid (cue the construction story in far too much detail), him listening, head shaking slightly in disbelief at all the right places. As I talked, Bismark came over, put his head in my lap, eyes cloudy from cataracts. I petted him as Mo and I talked, the dog’s eyes half-closed with contentment, moans of pleasure starting up, growing louder, more frequent as the stroking continued. He tilted his head up at me, mouth open in panting happiness, old-dog breath strong enough to curdle milk. And as he began to relax, I heard the soft, unmistakeable sound of gas being released, the aroma reaching me a moment later, just about making my eyes water. Whoo-eee! I didn’t have the heart to push him away, settled for fanning the air with a hand, listening to Mo describe various procedures that various medical personnel wanted to inflict on his nearly 84-year-old body. If he had any idea why my hand flailed, Mo withheld comment, as did I.

The air cleared, Bismark looked to have entered an altered state, one in which his body no longer waged chemical warfare on nearby humans. And for some reason, I found myself remembering a Thanksgiving years back, one spent at my brother’s place in New Paltz, N.Y.

My sister-in-law had an aunt and uncle living in town, Charlie and Kathy — a fairly eccentric couple, him the head of the theater department at the town’s college, her a real estate impresario, tall, laconic, forcefully opinionated. I hadn’t seen either of them in several years, they showed up just as we all — me, my brother, my sister-in-law, niece and nephew — were sitting down to eat. Cheerful greetings were exchanged, plates got piled with food, the meal commenced, conversation flowing nicely. And at some point someone let loose with a fart, clear and classic in its sound. I looked around, no one acknowledged it, eating continued. A moment later, someone let loose again. And then again, each time the sound growing progressively louder, harder to ignore.

The perpetrator appeared to be Kathy, hunched over her plate, chatting as she worked on turkey and stuffing. And as the serenade continued, punctuating the conversation with random merry poots and fraps, it became clear that the additions to the soundtrack were indeed coming from her spot at the table, herself carrying on as if nothing out of the ordinary were underway, smile unwavering. No one else acknowledged it, decorum apparently dictating complete denial, leaving me all alone in staring about, smothering the goofy smile that wanted to take form on my face. I contained all impulses toward laughter and smart remarks, enjoyed the meal, said so long to Kathy and Charley when they took off, post-glut, and remained quiet about what had happened, waiting to see if anyone else would bring it up. No one did. Not then, not at any time since.

I returned to the present moment in Mo’s kitchen, Bismark still happily leaning up against my thigh, Mo describing a massive, radical shoulder reconstruction some sawbones wants to perform on him — a procedure that would apparently leave Mo unable to hold a rifle or pilot his ATV, eliminating two major sources of pleasure, shaving away important aspects of his existence. We talked about that, he acknowledged the narrowing down of life that the operation would produce and said he’d decided not to rush into anything, a sentiment I was glad to hear.

At some point during all that, Bismark tottered off to the living room to join Barb, Mo’s beagle filled the vacuum almost immediately, standing up on hind legs, big brown eyes boring into me, willing me to pet her. A look that works on pretty well on Mo, who responds to her wordless commands with pavlovian reliability. I was ready to go, so got to my feet, beagle eyes giving me the reproachful stare. Said good-bye to Mo, shouted Christmas wishes to Barb in the other room, stepped back out into cold, crisp air, headed home.

Three days before Christmas, in snowy northern Vermont.

~~~~~~~~~~~

December scarecrow — Adamant, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

What often happens making the trip in this direction from Madrid: 22 or so hours of travel, getting home too wired to go right to bed, finally falling out sometime after midnight. My bod, still on European time, wakes me around 4 a.m. I surrender, drag myself out from under the covers, pass the first day back in this part of the world unpacking, digging out from under resulting pile of dreck, of clothes to be washed/ironed (ironing — SO MUCH fun, but a good excuse to crank the TV at an hour I normally wouldn’t go near it, search out an X-Files rerun or something), of bills and mail to be sifted through. Groceries get bought, details accumulated during months away get taken care of. (Lists of those details get made, quickly disappear amid the overall disorder.)

The hours sneak past, come early evening my body conks out without warning, awake one minute, losing consciousness the next. I come to in the early hours, slightly later than the previous a.m. Get to my feet, knowing my body is ready to be up and going, still working on European time. Continue digging out, a passing moment of clarity occasionally pierces the general tired blur. Come early evening, another sudden system failure, at a slightly later hour than the previous night’s crash.

Next morning: up early again, this time with a bit more sleep under my metaphoric belt. The living space begins to resemble an actual residence instead of rooms with trash strewn about. I begin re-connecting with people, start regaining the capacity to talk and carry on like a vaguely high-functioning human being. Stay up later in the evening before the system poops out.

And so on. The last two or three returns have followed that general layout. And when I go in the other direction? Not such a big adjustment. Don’t know why — life just seems to fall into place with less effort on the other side of the Atlantic.

Tuesday, first day back: I managed to pierce my personal fog, driving into town where I found myself engaging in the kind of massive grocery shopping I have rarely inflicted on myself in this lifetime. First at the mainstream store for a modest, restrained score, followed up by a trip down the road to the food coop for an insanely out of control spree, my cart foaming over with a swelling mound of excessively wholesome food and drink. Kind of amazing to watch happening, me tired (and famished, paying no attention to the age-old consumer’s dictum never go food-shopping when you’re hungry) enough that I was partially out of the body, watching the activity with a bit of vaguely interested remove. Resulting in a brief cardiac workout when the moment arrived to drag it all out to the car, then into the house post slog home, up the stairs, into various storage spots.

And on the ride home, I cruised by my uphill neighbor’s house — a family that passes most of the year in D.C. Saw a car in the driveway I didn’t recognize. Which put my inner busybody on alert, me picking up the phone once home, calling to see who was there. Turned out to be the husband of the neighbor family, up here on his own doing work before wife and daughter arrived for the holidays. Also turned out that one of our other neighbors was having a solstice bash that evening. I found myself invited, found myself walking along the road at 5:30, through snow, darkness, bitter cold (temperature that day at 7 a.m.: 10 below — the mercury struggled up into the teens during the afternoon, plunged back down to arctic levels as darkness approached).

Hadn’t expected to find myself going to a social do, didn’t expect the large, noisy scene that met us on arrival, living room and kitchen filled with people, a nice spread of food waiting to be wiped out on a table in the living room, more food cooking in the kitchen. My years in the theater world left me with a primal stimulus-response mechanism that overrides any other consideration once awakened: when presented with free food, begin eating, do not stop until the body can take no more. It’s a directive that must be obeyed and I did so, hoovering down an impressive quantity of chow, though at the relaxed pace of a socially-acclimated human with a facade of refinement and social know-how instead of the slavering frenzy of a primate on a feeding binge.

I quickly realized that I was too tired to pull off the socially-acclimated human thing, at least when it came to chat, found myself eating and listening to nearby conversations, occasionally swapping a few words with someone, mostly staying quiet. A Christmas tree adorned with candles got lit, conversation flowed around me, the hosts announced an actual dinner course (good salad, excellent chili). By the time I’d loaded up with food the only available chair was off away from the others. I claimed it, ate, watched, listened — enjoying the scene, despite fatigue. Stayed a couple of hours, when my bod began to fade, I thanked the hosts, pulled on coat/boots, said good-night. Before I stepped out into the night, people shoved a card and two gifts (chocolates! homemade chutney!) into my hands, underlining the benign feel of the event, me stepping out the door with a smile on my silly face, making the cold hike home in brisk fashion.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Sugaring shack, December afternoon — East Montpelier, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

A long, long trip, relatively painless as long, long trips go. All connections made, all customs hooha endured without problems worth mentioniing, all sorts of technologies conspiring to cart me across the face of the planet, across thousands of miles of cold, deep ocean — keeping me warm, reasonably well-fed, reasonably well-entertained. All in one day. Amazing!

I’d left the house in dark, early-morning Madrid dragging four heavy bags (including the monster wheeled duffel), each crammed with as much STUFF as I could convince to fit inside. When I stepped off the bus at the end of the journey’s least leg late Monday night in cold, windy, snow-slathered Montpelier, all four bags got off with me, each one making it through the loadings and transfers and unloadings without a hitch. Yee-ha!

My car waited nearby, reluctantly came to life after spending the day out in 0 degree weather. Fifteen or so miles later: long, snowy driveway, garage, cold house, me stepping inside 22 hours after I’d stepped out the door in Madrid.

As the plane touched down in Boston – the last rays of the setting sun painting patches of fiery color inside the cabin, a mirror image to the way the rising sun had stained windows and walls of the departure lounge at Barajas airport that morning with brilliant red/orange light — the voice on the intercom welcoming us to, er, wherever said the local temperature was just above freezing. Which did not prepare me for the raw, damp, wind-blown cold that gripped me when I stepped out the terminal door to wait for the Greyhound bus. A blast of rude weather that made my entire body contract convulsively, me used to Madrid’s version of cold — not, let me assure you, in the same category at all in any freakin’ way. The residents of the Spanish capital bitch and moan when the temperature there sinks down into the 40s and 30s, but they rarely experience true, serious cold. Not nowadays, anyway, in this time of global temperatures swinging slowly upward. And I’ve gotten used to that kinder, gentler style of winter — re-entry into this harsher cold-season reality came as an ill-mannered wake-up call.

And after a couple of minutes of pacing around in a frantic circle — hands shoved deeply into my pockets, collar pulled up, my bus nowhere in sight — I grabbed my bags and retreated back inside. Into the little antechamber between the outdoors and the terminal, where two enormous circular vents blew roaring streams of warm air. The bus eventually showed, I found myself a seat, enjoying the heat, and the quiet of being one of only two passengers.

[continued in next entry]

~~~~~~~~~~~

Solstice afternoon, Christmas four days away — northern Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Written Friday, 12/15:

On this, the last day I have to co-exist with the construction happening in this building, the work crews showed up at the crack of dawn ready to incite chaos and got down to the business of inciting it with focused intent, and then some. Mama. There really is nothing like waking up to a symphony of hammering, shouting, cement being made, chainsaws in mid-roar. Workers streaming in and out of the door across the hall carrying sacks of building materials, clouds of dust billowing out into the hallway.

When it seemed like the parade of slave labor had stopped, I went over and asked about closing the door. The foreman didn’t want to hear about it, I remained politely persistent, he finally slammed the door shut. I returned to my hidey-hole, a few minutes later the door was open again, the noise level reaching hair-raising levels, I went over and closed it myself. And a few minutes later? Open again. I surrendered, went out to mail a package. Sat down in a café for an infusion of caffeine. Sipped, stared out the window, breathed. Gave myself the gift of relative tranquility.

Out on the street, self-talkers seemed to be everywhere, so many of them, their everywhereness so gracefully choreographed that it felt like I’d stepped into an indie film about neurotics in business suits taking over the barrio. Until I realized most of them were talking into cellphones, wearing headsets consisting of almost nothing, virtually invisible until they were scrutinized closely.

Poster-pasters had been hard at work around the neighborhood, ads for Noche Vieja (New Year’s Eve) bashes were showing up on mailboxes, lampposts, buildings — the first crop of the season. I tend not to care a whole lot about the New Year’s Eve thing, it feeling like an arbitrary, meaningless demarcation, mainly an excuse for big bunches of people to carry on in strange fashion. Which here means eating twelve grapes in the old year’s last twelve seconds to assure good luck in the coming year. I may not especially be into the change of year routine, but it’s fun to watch the rest of the local world do their version of it.

I won’t be here for that this year. I won’t be here to watch the city slowly, gracefully close down on Christmas Eve. I won’t be here for the quiet of Christmas Day and the outflow of people of on Christmas evening, families and couples out walking, restaurants and neighborhood joints alive with sound and energy. I won’t be here for the goofy euphoria of New Year’s Eve. I’ve been doing my best not to think about all that, and as Monday draws near it’s gotten easier and easier to avoid thinking about — there are things to do and last minute connecting with friends. Good distractions, all of that. And there are times when distraction is a fine, wholesome thing to do for oneself. This is one of them.

Today:

As the trip stateside has loomed closer, time has begun accelerating in a truly impressive way. Whipping by, in a way that would leave me with a major crick in my neck if I tried to keep track of it flashing past.

We’re into the year’s shortest calendar entries, and the light here has been amazing these last couple of days, mist hanging in the morning air in the way it did the first time I came to Madrid. Endowing everything with a kind of look that makes everything lovely, gets me taking far too many photos.

La Calle de Fuencarral, in front of Tribunal:

Given that I have no idea what the hell I’m going to be doing with myself from here on in, this packing up is the genuine article, not just throwing a bunch of stuff into a couple of bags and running to the airport. Everything’s getting packed up. (Thank god my existence here is fairly austere.) A friend who just bought himself a flat — no mean feat, given the supersonic speed at which prices have been inflating here — took custody of the TV, DVD player, hypercomfy Ikea bentwood armchairs, and other assorted flotsam. Food went to my upstairs neighbor. Everything else is going into boxes and into the closet in my bedroom where it will wait until I either return and unpack or return to gather up the last of what will come with me to wherever the hell it is I’m going to wind up.

It’s a weird existence, this life of mine.

I’ll be in Vermont soon — tomorrow night soon — where a white Christmas seems to be on deck. From there, I can’t say. Time will tell.

I head to the airport early in the morning. Back online sometime Tuesday.

Later.

In the barrio of Chueca, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Dusk above la Plaza de Callao, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from entry of December 12]

That last bit about feeling at home here? It’s true, I do. Blah blah blah.

So. Spectacular weather, feeling like the end of April in Vermont rather than mid-December, me with my jacket off, pleased to be where I was. Jorge called a motorcycle buddy, left a message, got a call back, the friend saying he’d be along soon. Julian appeared, he and Jorge talked, me mostly listening. Little traffic passed, apart from buses, the road apparently ending a mile or two on. Locals strolled by, lots of elderly folks out enjoying the day, the relative quiet.

Across from us, a lane — beginning with cobblestones, devolving quickly to dirt — extended away from the road toward the hills, people wandered its length, their voices coming and going in the warm air.

Conversation at our table flowed on, Jorge and Julian dipping into politics from time to time. Jorge has strong opinions when it comes to that realm and seems to think his views are not only incontestible when it comes to Spain, but also to the States, having spent a few weeks stateside a while back. I tend not to share his opinions and simply listen, saying little, letting it all go by. Not a bad way to do the political thing — promotes more peace of mind on the personal level. (At least for me.) Feels much better than pulling on kneeboots and wading into the fray.

The sun slipped down toward the hills, shadows stretched across the ground. Alberto — Jorge’s motorcycle buddy — arrived, Julian took off. Alberto began agitating for a long, scenic ride. The air had begun losing its warm edge, I had the distinct feeling that a long ride would get real uncomfortable in no time flat, but stayed quiet, waiting to see how things went. The idea wound up going nowhere, I gave silent thanks then suggested a walk along the lane across from us instead. We paid up and headed off.

A river ran through bottomland off to the left side of the path, el Rio Manzanares, the same waterway that runs through Madrid’s west side, often appearing small and sad. Looking less sad here, and less like a river. More like a large creek, or a sizeable stand of marshland, with waterfowl hanging about. Turned out to be a nice walk, a fair number of people scattered around. (Also, a fair amount of trash. It does seem to be the case that without the drastically undervalued city cleaning crews, Madrid would quickly disappear beneath mountains of litter and rubbish.) The sun slid down behind the hills, the temperature immediately dropped, December reimposing itself.

Jorge and Alberto conferred, decided we’d take a short ride to La Quinta, a place unknown to me. We returned to the bikes, mounted up, it immediately became clear that winter had returned. Jorge had talked quite a bit during the course of the day about the desireability of living in this area. When we passed through the village of El Pardo, he spotted a FOR RENT (SE ALQUILA) sign on the window of a flat above the main drag, made a circle through the village center, stopped to copy down the phone number on the sign. The one time he came up to my flat, he checked it out with the same kind of eye, as a potential squat. If I were living out of a small bedroom in my parents’ place, I’d probably do the same thing.

There is, or was, a military presence in El Pardo, I saw the words TODO POR LA PATRIA (ALL FOR THE FATHERLAND) inscribed in large letters on more than one martial-looking building and entranceway. A holdover from decades of dictatorship. And though Franco is buried at El Valle de los Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen) — a grandiose memorial built by the forced labor of many thousands of prisoners belonging to the losing side of the civil war — his family, according to Alberto, is buried at El Pardo, not far from where we ate lunch, enjoyed peace and sunlight.

[To be continued]

***********

Storefront, Madrid (or, well, maybe not):

Madrid, te quiero.

When the workers currently engaged in ripping apart rehabbing this building arrived early this morning to begin the daily demolition fiesta, they not only provided the usual soundtrack of yelling/pounding/sawing/hammerdrilling, they thoughtfully provided a bonus track: the noise of scaffolding being erected. A quick glance out the window revealed that it was happening at sidewalk level below this piso, meaning sometime soon — tomorrow, I suspect — they’ll reach this floor and eliminate certain bothersome aspects of life I’ve become used to: sunlight, blue sky, a view of the neighborhood.

(Re: the building across the street — when I arrived in early October, the scaffolding was up, covered with green mesh, rehab was in high gear. The work slowed down not long ago, a few days back the mesh was taken down. The workers have mostly disappeared, but the scaffolding remains.)

Watching all this disruption inching closer is easily as much fun as being poked in the genitals with a sharp stick. So I tried not to watch. I tried writing. Not so easy, it turned out, with all the yelling and clanging. I found myself on my feet, restless, attention all over the place, finally managed to channel energy/focus into pulling open drawers, sorting through accumulated dreck in preparation for next Monday’s bolting. Did okay with that, got things done. (Such an adult.)

Near midday, I heard a familiar voice out in the hallway. Talking on a cellphone, not sounding pleased. The he of my landlords, apparently having made the trip into town to check out the situation above this flat — a situation that supposedly means the obras will be invading this space in the near future, a supposedly he wants to check into, not completely convinced it has to happen. Didn’t sound like he got to see what he came to see, he eventually headed downstairs without knocking on my door to say a friendly (or unfriendly) hello.

The racket outside — in combination with the racket next door — continued through the morning and into the afternoon, scaffolding slowly rising in this direction, things quieting down around 3 when the scaffolding types apparently took off, leaving me with sunlight pouring through windows not yet obstructed. Sighs of relief, mutterings of gratitude to the universe for a slight reprieve.

They’ll be back in the morning, it may be that the deed will be done not long after. Could be I’ll be spending more time at cafés during the next three days, a better option than hanging about here feeling under siege. Or it could be it’ll turn out to be less intrusive than I’ve been imagining. I’ll find out soon enough. One thing’s for sure: this is not a great time. As deeply mixed as my feelings may be about heading back to Vermont, I won’t miss this aspect of what life here’s been like this time around. (The good part: like everything else in this life, it will pass.)

Madrid, te quiero.

The sudden reappearance of people (and resulting reanimation of my social life) continues. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were coming out of the woodwork in celebration of me leaving. Though in their defense, I notice they all seem to be assuming I’ll be back and assume expressions of polite skepticism when I tell them I have no freakin’ idea what the hell I’ll be doing with myself come January or February.

Saturday morning: my cellphone rang, the person on the other end turned out to be Jorge, suggesting a walk through the city center. Of course, said I, and rendezvoused with Himself shortly thereafter, following him through crowded streets awash with strong December sunlight. He was in motoring mode, striding along at a brisk enough pace that I had concentrate to stay with him while holding up my end of the conversation (in Castellano) and moving through groups of slower-moving pedestrians without shouldering them off the narrow sidewalks into oncoming traffic.

We zipped through Chueca, through Sol, through la Plaza de Santa Ana and the narrow streets beyond, finally stopping at a bookstore I’d never been into, Desnivel, a great little shop with an extensive collection of books oriented around travel and outdoor activities.

Jorge did research for a possible trip to the Alps in January, I snooped around, entertaining myself until we stepped back outside into a spectacular afternoon, warm enough that jackets could be left open. Warm enough that Jorge suggested a motorcycle ride out of the city center, an idea I was all over like a cheap suit.

A fast walk back through the city center, through the crowds out enjoying the long weekend, to the flat belonging to Jorge’s parents (where Himself is currently in residence) to pick up riding gear — fleece, insulated gloves, helmets. Then back out to a local parking garage to retrieve J.’s ride. After which I found myself sitting behind Jorge, zipping through local streets, the bike heading north and out of the center.

It had been years since I’d been on a motorcycle. And I’d never, up until Saturday, ridden as a passenger. Felt pretty weird to have someone right in front of me, someone else’s helmet blocking the view. Kind of like being seated right behind a pillar at a concert or sporting event, having to peer around it any time I wanted to see what was going on.

Jorge bought the bike — a Harley, the sound of its exhaust loud and snotty, like a machine-gun with a nasty, insistent flatulence problem — secondhand, the seats had apparently been modified. Whoever did the work left the passenger seat at a slight downward incline, so that every time Jorge hit the brake I found myself jerked forward, my adorable butt sliding alarmingly along the leather, our helmets clacking together. On top of that, the two sidebags were mounted close enough to the passenger footpegs that my feet couldn’t get the kind of purchase that would hold me firmly in place.

By the time I’d figured out how to maintain my spot behind the driver without every bump in the road turning my perch into an ejection seat, we’d left local streets for a six-lane highway, Jorge hitting the accelerator, passing other traffic with ease, scenery flying by in a blur of greenery and sunlight. The road eventually narrowed, traffic diminished, the area transitioning from urban to suburban to something between ‘burbs and country, the Sierra rearing up to the north, peaks covered with snow.

We’d entered the area of El Pardo by then, Jorge steered the bike off the two-lane into a service road that ran along the front of a housing development — the one-story dwellings joined town-house style — and into a parking space. We hopped off, he headed to a nearby front door to ring the bell, I stood unsuccessfully trying to convince the clasp for my helmet’s neck-strap to come apart.

No one answered the doorbell. An elderly woman a couple of houses down stood at her door watching us, Jorge asked her if the person he was looking for still lived there. She nodded, quickly retiring from view. Jorge rang the bell again, me still struggling with my helmet, feeling sillier with every passing second.

The door suddenly opened, a guy with a long, narrow face appeared — Jorge’s friend, Julian, looking like a cross between John Kerry and Jim Nabors. They began blabbing, me still working away at the helmet clasp, finally interrupting them to ask Jorge for help, feeling like his incompetent, comic-relief sidekick. He got it easily apart, I ripped the helmet off, shook hands with Julian, then began doing and undoing the helmet clasp, practicing so that the next time I put the bugger on I wouldn’t become Gabby Hayes to Jorge’s Roy Rogers.

They chatted, Jorge trying to convince Julian to join us for something to eat at a joint down the road, Julian seemed reluctant, slowly gave way, finally promised to put in an appearance a little later. Maybe. If he could. Jorge and I mounted up, headed down the service road to the restaurant. Parked, sat ourselves down at an outside table — awash in sunlight, with a view of fields across the road stretching off toward hills. Ordered food, talked, soaked up a beautiful afternoon. With nothing on the agenda but soaking up a beautiful afternoon.

The waiter brought two platters of excellent fare, and I realized all over again how well Spanish food suits me. A large, robust salad, a tortilla de patatas, decent bread, something to drink. Basic, satisfying, leaving me happier, more content than I could describe without boring you to desperate tears. In many ways, the trappings of life here fit me like a glove, it’s as simple as that. I feel at home.

[continued in entry of December 14]

***********

This evening, along Gran Vía (with ghostly passerby):

Madrid, te quiero.

This evening — dusk in Madrid’s northern reaches, seen from La Quinta:

Madrid, te quiero.

Earlier: me out doing the caffeine thing, making the slow swim back to something resembling full consciousness. Sitting in a café, reading the paper, pausing now and then to stare out the window, watch passing people. Of whom there were quite a few, as there generally are in the barrio’s late-morning streets — with a whole different look, though, a product of the long holiday week. Feeling vaguely like Christmas week, part I. Few individuals about in business dress or office worker attire. Most in the normal attire of normal life, many carrying shopping bags.

The local holiday season was already well underway — this week’s two holidays, (el Día de la Constitución and el Día de la Inmaculada Concepción) in combination with lovely weather/mild temperatures, jacked up the energy level in a huge way, bringing everyone out into the streets. I wandered through the city center yesterday evening, discovering that the streets had effectively been taken over by an sprawling ocean of people that spilled out away from the center, the atmosphere big-time festive, any place looking like it had any vague connection with things christmassy mobbed with Spaniards out seeking diversion or reasons to spend money. Now and then a stray car or two tried to make their way through, the drivers wearing the anxious expressions of humans up against something over which they had control, moving along at a snail’s pace, stopping frequently to wait for an opening that might allow them to inch slowly forward.

Yesterday turned out to be a major socializing day, me meeting up first with one friend, N., in the early afternoon down in the La Latina district moving for food, drink, conversation (just us and half the local world), then with another, H., in the evening at a neighborhood café packed with loud, happy Spanish humans, followed by a long phone visit from a friend in the U.K. later on, stretching well on into the evening. Just what the doctor ordered after weeks in which it’s felt like people have gone into hiding, not answering phone calls/email, me finding myself solo far too often, with far too much time on my hands.

N. just bought a small flat here in the city, I offered the use of my few items of furniture during my coming absence. An idea I figured, for some reason, he’d turn down. He not only took me up on it (and so will have custody of my TV, the DVD/VCR, both of my beloved Ikea bentwood armchairs, and some stray lamps), he sprang for most of the afternoon’s food/liquid refreshment. Feeling nicely like my own personal version of instant karma.

Later, sitting across a teeny table from H. in a packed, far too trendy café, I got a fast, incisive sketch of current events. H. is a newscaster for one of Spain’s few national television networks, he does me the favor of talking about Spain and its public figures in a concise, uncensored way. There are some seriously interesting fencing matches happening within the country’s political universe right now, a good part of them centered around what’s called the Estatut, the Catalan government’s attempt to re-frame their autonomy, employing the controversial word ‘nation.’ There’s nothing remotely like this happening in the States, it’s fascinating to be here watching it unfold.

As we got ready to go our separate ways, Christmas came up, me mentioning my love for this time of year. H. theorized that our love/hate/indifference for things yuletide has a direct connection with our childhood experience of the season, a take that might seem obvious to some. Got me thinking about the way my family did Christmas, the holidays of the year’s final weeks being occasions that our clan — a strange bunch with some difficult personalities and tensions at work — rose to the occasion, transcending itself. Could be H.’s theory is right on the money in my case. (Or not. Got me.)

Madrid, te quiero.

Around Madrid:

The annual Christmas fair — el mercadillo navideño — in la Plaza Mayor:

A stall at the mercadillo navideño:

Closer to home — la Plaza de Chueca, done up for the holidays:

Madrid, te quiero.

Yesterday morning: found myself awake early. Expecting, I think, a resumption of Friday’s molar-rattling construction noise. Got up, did the shower/shave thing. Heard the workers climbing the stairs, shouting back and forth. Then they surprised me by disappearing into the flats being torn apart/rebuilt, closing the doors behind them — something they did not seem to want to do on Friday. They’re currently working down at the far end of the building now, the simple doors-closing muffled most of the destructo-soundtrack, producing a morning of relative peace and tranquility. (For which I gave thanks.)

I celebrated by pulling on workout gear, heading out for a fast visit to the gym. Passed the workers’ foreman out in the street, said a friendly hello, got a friendly hello in return.

Stumbled into the gym, only half-awake. Stepped back out into the street a while later, happy I’d gotten the morning’s suffering out of the way and could now go about getting contentedly caffeinated. Morning clouds had thinned, revealing skies of a certain kind of deep, magnetic blue, a color that attracts my attention as soon as it enters my field of vision, my gaze turning upward, a smile immediately taking form on my silly face.

Got home (the doors to the flats under construction remained closed, I gave thanks all over again), changed clothes, went out to mail off my last Christmas card. The neighborhood estanco (tobacconist) functions as the local micro-post-office, the friendly, heavyset 40ish woman behind the counter weighed the envelope I handed over, pulled out the correct stamp, accepted my money.

I mentioned that this was my final card for the Christmas season, she said that so far this year she’d hardly received any snailmail cards and didn’t expect to receive many more — most seemed to be coming by email and cellphone. I’ve done the email Christmas card thing in recent years and liked it, but had never heard about seasonal greetings by phonemail. She and I and the woman behind me in line spent a few minutes going on about it, getting a charge out of the idea of answering the phone and receiving a singing Christmas card.

Found a mailbox, dumped the card, did the caffeine thing, got on with the day.

This morning brought sunshine, blue December skies and quiet, nearly deserted streets. The kind of quiet the barrio experiences on holidays, in this case el Día de la Constitución (a document still only 27 years old, the country’s political anchor after centuries of turbulent history, decades of dictatorship). Good conditions for a walk, passing through the city center as it slowly come to life.

This morning around the barrio: posters, more posters, and a set of cheery figurines aimed at a small, select target market (not my cup of espresso,
but to each their own):

Madrid, te quiero.

Some days I seem to see worlds within worlds everywhere I go.

Madrid, te quiero.

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