far too much writing, far too many photos

These last couple of months here have been characterized by the growing feeling of a certain kind of diminishing return. Not that there haven’t been things to appreciate: I’m getting plenty of work done. A couple of connections have been made with good people. Many of the background aspects that make life here rich remain reasons for pleasure, gratitude. But the number of items forming the counterweight to all that has grown in number, size and messiness, and the prospects have come to feel less and less promising. And behind it all, the ever-present construction around the neighborhood has steadily drawn closer*, finally materializing in this building, this floor, and is now, it seems, about to invade this flat — crystallizing a swelling feeling of pressure, disruption.

*…the vacant lot across this narrow street giving way to 2+ years of construction (producing a structure still not open to tenants, apart from a wine bar in the first floor), its neighboring buildings undergoing months of rehab, one still not finished….

During all this, I’ve been slaving away on turning this journal’s first year into something that might stand up to being published, a year whose last few months included a long crisis in which I thought I’d reached the end of my time in Madrid, retreating to the States to scratch my head and figure out what the hell came next. I thought about that on Friday before giving notice and came across something I wrote back in the weeks leading up to the retreat stateside:

Sometimes you have to know when to move on, trusting that better things await.

I wrote that. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I experience the occasional nanosecond of lucidity.

My landlord accepted my notice, generously offered to (a) let me leave stuff here in the flat, boxed up and locked away, until I can get back and clear it out, and (b) let me move back in once the work is finished and the place has become liveable again. They seem to think las obras might finish up quickly. They live a half-hour away, though, in one of Madrid’s ‘burbs. Me — having watched construction/rehab spread through this barrio, seen buildings engulfed in scaffolding for months and months on end, having lived with the work in this building for the last two months, seen it steadily expand, grow more complicated, showing no sign of drawing to a close any time soon — I’m not quite so optimistic. (Regardless, they might turn out to be right. As I’ve said many times, what do I know?)

The upshot: could be that when I head back to the States on the 19th, dragging far more stuff with me than I’d expected to be dragging, my time here will be at its end.

In the meantime, life continues, the days slip past. This week features two holidays, many folks will be taking some version of a long, long weekend. The initial wave of vacationers fled the city on Friday, many of those who remained in the city have been out shopping and/or partying. The last two mornings my eyes opened around 5, 6 a.m., the sounds of life carrying on down in the street continued much the same as when my eyes had closed a few hours earlier. I got up to empty the ballast, on the way back to bed and warm covers I saw that the 20-something woman who lives in a studio apartment across from here had returned from a long night of revelry and now sat at her computer, the shades up, lights blazing. (Yes, she was dressed decently, filthy minds.) When I roused myself for real around 9, her shades were down and remained down until late afternoon. A whole different cycle of living.

I met a friend yesterday afternoon down in La Latina for a leisurely lunch of Indian food, the first Indian joint I’ve experienced here that I would recommend. La Latina: an interesting, funky, genuinely multi-cultural neighborhood, a place I haven’t spent time in a long time. It was nice to be there sharing a nice meal, walking narrow streets afterward.

I love this city. The thought of my time in it coming to an end does not leave me feeling content or tranquil.

La Latina sidestreet, Madrid:


Facts — and nothing but facts — about Dick Cheney.

They sing. (For love.)

Madrid, te quiero.

The season’s first real winter weather settled in here during the last week, nighttime temperatures in Madrid dropping to near freezing, plenty of snow falling in the mountains to the north. A slight jolt to the system, but a good one. Brisk, fresh. Cold enough that if I’m out for a long walk my hands begin aching, my face begins to get a bit stiff (so that my mouth has to work harder to produce clear speech, sometimes transforming my Spanish into a stream of embarrassingly comical sounds).

Darkness has begun falling early, or as early as it gets here, the last traces of daylight disappearing not long after 6 p.m., Christmas lights softening the loss of sunshine. And maybe in part because of that last bit, the shortening of the days here hardly affects me at all. I’ll be curious to see what it feels like being back in a part of the world where the lights need to go on at 4 or so. In fact, I’ll be curious to be back there and see how things feel in general. This’ll be the first time in a while I’ll be in the States for the holidays. Here the biggest source of ongoing conflict seems to be the customary attack attitude of el Partido Popular toward the Socialist government. If the little bit of online chatter/news I’ve seen is accurate, one of the current major sources of conflict stateside — apart from, er, everything having to do with Iraq, Bush, etc. — is related to holiday season greetings/terminology. I can only shrug my shoulders at that. If folks want to look for reasons to be upset or outraged, they’ll find them, and given the holiday season’s importance and the current strange stateside atmosphere re: religious matters, it’s logical that this season would be fertile ground for what the Spaniards call crispación.

On the other hand, I can’t think of anyone I know stateside who gives a rat’s patoot whether we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, or would be bothered by a hearty greeting of “Happy Hannukah!” or “Groovy Kwanzaa!”, or who cares whether the big green thing in the corner of the living room is called a Christmas tree or a holiday shrub. Could be the instances of conflict are negligible compared to the overall seasonal okayness.

I like this time of the year, and I’m not going to concern myself with sectarian goofiness, no matter which part of the ideological spectrum it’s rooted in. Even if that means I have to live in my own adorable holiday fantasyland.

But you don’t want to hear about fantasylands and holiday vegetation. Neither do I, because today life tossed me a yuletide curve ball.

It seems that the rehab work going on in this building [see, for example, entries of November 16, 18 and 25] has taken a sudden left-hand turn, the laborers discovering as they tore more and more of it apart that more and more of it needed to be torn apart. Work that began as a simple converting the piso across the hall from one living space into two, sprouted complications, followed by more complications, until that flat and its upstairs and downstairs neighbors had been gutted down to and including the beams/rafters. The ripping out of the neighboring flat’s old kitchen this last week led them to rip apart that outside wall, then continue on up onto the roof, where they began ripping apart the structure above my kitchen ceiling.

A knock on the door this afternoon turned out to be a couple of the workers stopping by to warn me that it’s looking like the destructo-derby is now, unexpectedly, set to dig down through the roof into this flat, with the kitchen getting ripped out, possibly extending on into the space from there.

Meaning if I hadn’t arranged my life to return to the States a couple of weeks from now, I would have had to pack up my existence here and live in temporary quarters for an indeterminate period of time.

Meanwhile, rain began coming down, and on waltzing into the kitchen, I stepped into a growing puddle of water, leading to the discovery that the work done outside the kitchen window in recent days has opened up yet more leakage.

Add to the that the fact that once all this structural work is finished, they’re going to cover the front of the building with scaffolding and spend weeks rehabbing it. (No sunlight! Frenzied workers right outside the windows! Dust! Noise! Yee-ha!)

Add all this together and I’m thinking seriously that this may be my last month living in this piso. Which may mean the end of my time in Madrid. At least for now.

Time will tell.

Madrid, te quiero.

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