far too much writing, far too many photos

I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to news from the States when I’m over here. But over the last couple of weeks, a few select items caught my attention.

First: the Red Sox coming back from a nearly-fatal deficit to take the American League pennant, trumping that near-death experience by sweeping the Series. I have friends in the Boston area who were probably in a state approaching pure bliss once the Sox decided to return to the land of the living and get serious.

Next: the Dumbledore-gets-outed brouhaha. It was impossible to miss the stories about J.K. Rowling’s disclosures, but compared to the resulting furor, that initial happening seemed positively shrug-worthy to me. Everyone gets to be who they are, it’s not for me to say what priorities other human beings should have — pretty interesting, though, how fervent some of the expressions of anger/outrage have been. Lost in all the noise: the revelations about Crabbe and Goyle being on the downlow.

And then Stephen Colbert, bless his wacky heart, made his announcement re: the presidential race. Clips of his appearance on Meet The Press seemed to be all over on the web.

(From Meet The Press — After citing the following passage from the book that Colbert is currently flogging: “ON GAY MARRIAGE: The biggest threat facing America today — next to socialized medicine, the Dyson vacuum cleaner, and the recumbent bicycle.”
Tim Russert: The biggest threat, you say…. To you, that means it’s a serious threat to our culture.
Stephen Colbert: Right. It’s….
Russert: Why?….
Colbert: Well, marriage is the basic building block of society. And if gay men get married, that threatens my marriage immediately because I only got married as a taunt toward gay men, because they couldn’t.
Russert: So it makes you feel insecure.
Colbert: Well, I just don’t know why else I got married other than to rub it in gay people’s faces.)

If you’re not sure, yes, it’s satire.

Then Colbert made this last Sunday’s edition of El País, taking up page 11 — all of it apart from an ad, which would have been more impressive if the ad, for Magno brandy, hadn’t been grossly oversized (”Magno. Te lo has ganado.”) — a photo of him, goofy smile in place, cutting through my morning fog.

The final item: Al Gore’s recent passage through Spain. A lightning fast passage, Himself touching down first in Oviedo, where he received the Prince of Asturias Prize for International Cooperation, an acknowledgment of his seemingly tireless work raising consciousness re: global warming. He comported himself with dignity and class, the Spanish media spewed uniformly glowing reports.

A day or two later, Gore took part in the 10th annual Family Business National Congress, along with the Spanish President, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and the leader of the opposition, Mariano Rajoy (mentioned here recently). Not the kind of event I’d expect an ex-V.P./ecological activist to be featured at, possibly a case of the event and the person taking advantage of each other’s high visibility. He was invited to talk about what he is currently going around talking about, and he did so.

Yes, he did. And it apparently caught the attention of Mariano Rajoy, leader of the Spanish version of the Republican party, el Partido Popular. Sr. Rajoy spoke later that day and felt compelled to comment on the global warming thing. “I don’t know much about this subject,” he said, “but…” — and I swear I am not making this up — “…I have a cousin who is a physics professor, and my cousin told me” that after getting together the ten best scientists in the world, “none were able to say what the weather was going to be the next day in Sevilla.” If that’s the case, Sr. Rajoy asked himself, “how can anyone predict what’s going to happen in the world in 300 years? He went on to say, “It’s a matter about which we should be very attentive, but we shouldn’t turn it into a big world problem.”

It’s impossible to know what was going on in this poor bastard’s mind and why he confused meteorology with climatology in such disastrous fashion, but the fallout from these unfortunate remarks was immediate and so intense that I felt sorry for the guy. The phrase “my cousin told me” (“me dijo mi primo”) became the satirical equivalent of a mallet used to beat him around the face and neck in debates and political commentary for days after. A week later, he finally acknowledged that he had “not expressed myself well.” I could only nod my head in agreement with that not-quite-a-mea-culpa.

España, te quiero.

One morning more than a week ago, a city truck pulled into the plaza down the street from here, the crew spent an hour or two stringing up wires — the first small warning that the holiday season is slowly approaching. The smallest of warnings, really, a gentle, transient blip on the local radar screen — they’re far more restrained here than in the States when it comes to rolling out the holiday frufru. The lights that will hang from those wires won’t appear until late November, won’t get turned on until early December. But the calendar entries are slipping past, as they do — the warm season is slowly releasing its grip on this part of the world.

Speaking of which: a few days back, autumn crept in. I don’t mean a gentle transition, temperatures gradually sinking lower. I mean something a bit ruder, a big jolting change sneaking in under cover of night. Stepping out the door in the morning meant immediate immersion in cold, almost frigid air, an unfriendly breeze blowing. A shock to my still-sleepy system, my hands immediately fumbling at the zipper of my jacket in panicked reaction.

Not really that big a deal, I know — just unexpected, taking more than just me by surprise. Suddenly cold-weather coats and jackets were everywhere, people grumbled about the fallen temperatures in local eateries.

And speaking of local joints: something I love — moments of no real import passed in places like that. Banal moments, of no real note apart from their simple pleasure.

This morning: sitting in the bar at one of my morning haunts, sipping a cup of pretty decent espresso, working on a barrita con tomate (a small baguette, toasted, with olive oil and a kind of tomato salsa), reading the paper. The place less than half full, conversation happening around me. The radio playing in the background (Springsteen right then, “Brilliant Disguise”) along with the sounds of the high-tech slot machines found in many local joints (tragaperras), a 50ish woman standing at one, its lights flashing, cycling through various sound clips. The sound of coins pouring into a tray, the woman apparently on a winning streak.

When I stepped outside, the streets were beginning to come alive, sunlight angling down, people walking, stopping at newsstands.

Nothing special. Normal. And so sweet.

España, te quiero.

This past week slipped by with the speed and general feel of a dream. The days here have been so beautiful that it’s hard to find the words that might do them justice — nighttime air cool, days awash in sunshine, the temperature drifting up during the mornings to the levels of the gentlest, most user-friendly summer you could imagine. The kind of relentless sunshine that could turn the city into an oven if the sun July/August working-overtime mode, cranking out BTU’s from direct overhead, starting early in the morning, lasting until late in the evening. This being October, the sun has drifted lower in the sky, filling narrow streets with soft golden light and long shadows.

I drift through these days in grateful amazement. And although I spend big portions of each one planted here in front of my laptop (why does that sound strangely auto-erotic?), I manage to drag myself out the door and into the streets often enough that I don’t have the sense of missing too much.

Today: walked through the barrio’s busy, late afternoon calles out to Gran Vía, hopped a bus to the other side of the city center to the enclave of voz original cinemas scattered around la Plaza de los Cubos. Sank into a comfy seat in a darkened theater, watched an Italian film, Saturno Contro (Saturn in Opposition). Emotionally intense, beautifully acted, visually gorgeous, well-written. A good thing, all of that, because it turned out, basically, to be a soap — a soap of the highest possible quality, but still a soap. If the production hadn’t been so good, I might have spent parts of the film rolling my eyes in disbelief, twitching in annoyance at the heavy-handed soundtrack music.

The story: a group of friends centered around a gay couple find themselves immersed in a crisis when one of the gay couple suffers a cerebral hemorrhage during a dinner they’re all in attendance at. The afflicted males sinks into a lengthy coma, hovering near death for an extended period before finally expiring. One of the emotional peaks of the story takes place when the group is brought through an underground passageway to view the body. One of the female characters remains out in the hallway as the others disappear into the chamber where the body is laid out. The character’s father and step-mother are already there, the atmosphere between the two parties tense from issues re: what will be done with the body. The sheet is drawn back, revealing the deceased, weeks of tension gradually giving way to an outpouring of sorrow, the room filling with the sound of wrenching sobs, spilling softly out into the hallway where the lone woman stands. As she listens, the sound of the weeping gradually transforms, until she slowly approaches the chamber’s entryway and peers around the corner — where she sees a room of smiling people, the air dense with joyful conversation, all of it centered around the once-comatose male who stands surrounded by friends and loved ones, happy, filled with life. He slowly notices the lone woman, his gaze turns fully to her, he moves a step or two in her direction, smiling.

All of it her wishful fantasy — the scene so vivid and vibrant that I have not been able to shake it.

Later, post-soapy-drama and back out in late afternoon Madrid, I walked through throngs out enjoying the gorgeous day, found myself passing through la Plaza de España, always a prime spot for people-watching. I spied an empty concrete bench along the main concourse, one that would be in gentle shade very soon as long shadows slowly shifted, the sun drifting ever closer to the horizon My feet shuffled in that direction, I tossed myself down, got as comfortable as a body can get on those concrete monstrosities that pass as benches. I remembered not to sit too close to the end to minimize the remaining expanse of open bench, make it less inviting to two people (who often seem to feel no qualms about throwing themselves down and taking up the maximum possible space, pushing poor, already-settled bench-sitter off to one teeny, cramped side) and more attractive to a lone seat-seeker. I relaxed, watched the mix of locals and tourists from all over the map who pour through this small corner of the city, watched the shifting shadows, watched contrails appearing and disappearing in deep blue sky.

At some point, two teenage males appeared, one planted himself at the other end of the bench holding what looked like a nearly-flaccid cigarette, turning out to be a filter ciggy emptied of tobacco, white tube of paper drooping sadly. His companion wandered along the concourse asking other bench-sitters for something, finally returned, sat down on my bench, huddled together with his buddy. They busied themselves doing something, occasionally casting a vigilant glance over a shoulder at me or around the area in general.

And suddenly a flock of teenage girls appeared, chattering and laughing with the secretive boys to my left. I heard rustling in the bushes behind me, two more teenage boys who had waded through the park shrubbery lurched out into view to my right, barely keeping their balance, laughing. And that was the story for a while -– chattering teenagers swirling around the area, secretive boys getting up, girls sitting down in their place, getting up, sitting down again, everyone talking at high-speed. And the project secretive boys were all about? Rolling joints that got ignited at some point, the party expanding to swallow up the next bench along.

I sat — watching, thinking, occasionally writing. They all carried on, mostly ignoring the person at the end of the bench (me). And somewhere in there, I noticed what appeared to be a cryptic art installation on one of the buildings looming over the plaza. A strange bare-trees-kinda thing, installed along upper-storey windows for no apparent reason. I peered up at it, the sun sank lower in the sky, the party to my left continued.

The kids finally seemed to give up on my bench (it maybe having dawned on them that I had no plans to clear out in the very near future), they all drifted to the neighboring bench, the one they’d appropriated sometime earlier. I sat, enjoying the turning of late afternoon into evening. A moment later, a lone 30-something male wandered over and sat down at the other end of the bench, began doing more or less what I’d been doing: not much. Watching, thinking, breathing.

And at some point, when the shadows were at their longest, I actually did get to my feet and wander off. Down into the Metro for a fast ride closer to my part of the city center, then back up into streets busy with people getting Saturday night underway. The call to nature took hold as I walked, sending me into a corner bar/cafetería I’d passed hundreds of times but never entered, where I disappeared directly into the loo for a few moments of meditation. When I emerged, I heard the sound of Formula 1 racing blaring from the telly, realized they had on the qualifying heat for the following day’s championship race, something much of Spain was following in hopes Fernando Alonso might overcome recent troubles and pull off a miraculous win. I stopped at the bar, ordered a caña (a small beer), worked my through that and the plate of finger food that appeared with it (two or three sticks of crab meat, two meatballs), watched slick-looking vehicles tear around a serpentine track at extremely high speeds, Alonso in eighth place to start with, working his way up to fourth, good enough to qualify for the following day’s showdown.

Paid up, stepped out into the street, joined throngs of people making their way along la Calle de Fuencarral, the air filled with the sound of conversation, laughter, passing traffic. Headed slowly toward home, daylight fading, one more Saturday night in Madrid gaining momentum.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Newsstand graffiti, Madrid:

España, te quiero.

[continued from previous entry]

I’ve been to politically-themed events here in the past, and while this happening had nowhere near the turnout of those, it became clear as I made my way through the crowd that the atmosphere was prickly enough to rival, if not surpass, any of those events. Not exactly what I would call congenial, despite an abundance of couples and families. So uncongenial that I found myself wanting to leave almost as soon as I’d arrived.

But I didn’t bail immediately. The crowd ranged along el Paseo, behind them stretched a line of stalls — part of a book fair — that flanked a broad walkway and a long, cascading pool of water. No one walked there, the stalls hid the crowd by the avenue, that combination provided an illusion of relative peace.

I strolled, listening to the sounds of the hundreds and hundreds gathered just out of view, feeling strangely uneasy. At the other end of the stalls, I found myself where the parade review bleachers began and stood watching and listening. I’d seen very few flags about, which had me wondering if I hadn’t been the only one to find Rajoy’s address giggle-worthy. But his (and his party’s) general stance of hostility toward any who do not share their exact perspective seemed reflected in the general vibe, and as I stood there a volley of boos and derisive whistling began, likely directed at the country’s President — José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, one of the habitual targets of the PP’s ongoing scathing commentary and namecalling — who was in attendance. Something about that sound rising into the morning air felt so ugly that I finally gave in to the desire to book, heading down a sidestreet, away from el Paseo and toward home, the sounds behind me fading as I walked.

Yesterday morning’s day-after news stories about the event detailed what I’d witnessed, mentioning that armed forces higher-ups who had been in attendance were livid about the show of ill will toward the president since those engaging in it apparently chose to do so during an homage to armed forces personnel killed during the last year. Rajoy avoided criticizing booers/whistlers when pressed by reporters afterward, saying instead, “I’m always in favor of no one messing with anyone else. I don’t do it and would never do it.” Which had me falling about with laughter, since his stock in trade is constant criticism, name-calling and attempts to provoke.

There are times when brazen dissembling makes me feel strangely affectionate toward the dissembler — this is one of those times, though I’m not sure I can explain why. Maybe it was the wonderfully shameless right-out-thereness of the fiction. Or maybe it just seems so human. And really, who am I to point a finger? I am far from being an angel (angelically adorable bum notwithstanding), I have no footing to judge anyone else. The best thing would likely be to spare Sr. Rajoy, me and the rest of the world from the boring tyranny of my opinions.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Note to self:

Should you, at some point in an imaginary future — and this is purely hypothetical, of course — ever be looking through a kitchen cabinet and come across a can of tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes that’s gone visibly bad, and you think it might be a good idea to open it before throwing it out so that it doesn’t, say, explode in the garbage…

…no matter how many precautions you take before you open it and no matter how careful you are when you begin opening it, it probably won’t be enough.

Just something to think about.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A genuine headline stumbled across while prowling about the web:

Not just a natural D-cup, but a philosopher as well.

España, te quiero.

It’s a holiday in Spain, el Día de la Hispanidad. Most businesses are closed around the neighborhood, though not as many as on a high holiday. News kiosks are open, most watering holes and coffee joints have their doors open, though starting later than on a normal weekday morning. The streets are quiet, but not empty.

On this day, the main north-south artery to the east of the city center is shut down for a military parade. The King is there, in his Commander-In-Chief outfit. The Queen is by his side. Government mucky-mucks are there. Review grandstands are set up along the length of road just off of the big traffic circle at la Plaza Colón, packed with people.

The closest I’ve ever been to the parade is sitting in a neighborhood wake-up joint working on a cup of espresso, watching coverage of the event on the house idiot box through bleary eyes. For some reason, this morning I found myself toying with the idea of wandering over there to see how it felt.

As part of the ongoing political noise happening here, el Partido Popular — the party tossed out of power after the bombings here in March 2004 — has lately been pounding the patriotism drum with increasing stridency. Two or three days ago, the party’s current head did a television address to encourage people to show the Spanish flag today — the little bit I’ve seen in clip replays showed him staring into the television camera with a fixed expression that some video coach apparently thought would convey earnest gravity, but came across to me more like a kind of exaggerated, almost cross-eyed solemnity that provoked the impulse to giggle. I have not sought out those clips, but they’ve proved impossible to avoid between news programs and other shows lampooning them. (A popular late-night show, Buenafuente, dubbed the closing sentences of the King’s traditional Christmas address over a partial clip of Rajoy’s address, the insinuation being Rajoy and the PP’s longing for absolute power.)

For various reasons, I’ve lately been unable to settle on one or two preferred neighborhood morning joints, which has led to way too many half-awake wanderings in the search for somewhere my caffeine-thirsty side can call home. Given the wild overabundance of coffee pushers in Madrid, that has so far meant stops at a nearly endless number of candidates, along with one or two startling realizations: the overall quality of local coffee is not as uniform as I once thought, and the price of a cup of espresso has risen substantially during my five months in the States.

This morning I walked mostly empty streets for a while, finally stopping in at a small sidestreet cafetería I hadn’t been to in a long, long time, me and the woman behind the counter the only souls there to begin with, the television droning away behind me, images of King/Queen/mucky-mucks being broadcast live as the doings at la Plaza de Colón got going, a mile away. I sipped at shrug-worthy espresso and paged through El Pais, she tossed sweet rolls onto plates laid out behind glass on the counter. At some point, a diminutive, unshaven older guy stepped into the joint, talking loudly in garrulous, half-in-the-bag fashion. He settled into a stool to my right, exchanging greetings and general commentary with the counter woman, me giving him a smile before returning to paper-page-turning. Others entered, the noise level rising with each new arrival. I eventually emptied my cup, paid up, stepped out into the cool air.

Walking along one of the barrio’s main drags. Few vehicles passed but more people moved along the sidewalks, many pulling wheeled suitcases, many speaking German. Another restaurant/cafetería/bar I hadn’t been to in a long time loomed, I stepped inside to find more voices speaking German and German-accented Spanish. A group of tall, 20-something males accounted for all of that, the counterman busy pumping out cups of espresso and plates of toast, the boys polishing them off as fast as they appeared. A 50-something Spanish gent sat at the end of the bar to my right, watching the show, the television mumbled away behind me, showing further images of King/Queen/mucky-mucks, etc.

A short, rumpled, unshaven Spanish 40-something materialized at the bar to my right, smelling of alcohol. He and the counterman exchanged friendly words as the counterman poured vodka into a brandy glass, the newcomer carried glass to a table in front of the TV, sat down, began paging through a copy of El Mundo. The group of German boys grew as two or three more walked in and joined the fun, conversation and laughter growing louder. One of the boys walked to the far end of the bar and inspected a box of sweet rolls and croissants -– the counterman looked over, the German indicated they wanted it all and picked up the box, bringing it to the others, who began emptying it. The counterman counted up the box’s contents and noted it on the group’s growing tab, his expression indicating he’d stumbled into an unexpectedly good morning and was happy to do give the boys whatever they wanted.

I paid up and stepped back outside, found myself heading toward Gran Vía, then among the stream of people walking east along the avenue. I’d apparently decided to swing by the parade, had no idea what to expect.

What I found as I got closer: no traffic on the avenue, but no pedestrians out enjoying the empty street due to the increasing number of police scattered about, all wearing no-nonsense expressions. It may have been a holiday, but the atmosphere was not frivolous, maybe due in part to a robbery of chemicals in France yesterday, the perpetrators apparently members of the Basque-separatist group ETA — a development that has some in power here on edge). The crowds remained modest-sized until the block just before el Paseo de la Castellana, site of the parade, where crowd density quickly increased, the October sun casting slanting shadows, the lovely shape of the main post office building providing a pleasing backdrop.

[continued in following entry]

España, te quiero.

Yesterday’s post at the always-entertaining MadHaiku:

To be connected
to another human being
is what we all want

That post’s first comment:

I wanna connect
With a sexy old lady -
Let the good times roll.

The fourth comment:

if by connected you mean sex, i’m totally with you on this.

My comment:

sex is lovely, true.
but smooching and holding hands?
so underrated

España, te quiero.

This morning: awoke around 4 a.m., levered myself out of warm, comfy bed, made the long shuffle to the loo for a quick deposit. Turned on the bathroom’s overhead light, heard a loud pop, saw the light come briefly on then go dark. Stared blearily up at it, some part of my teeny, sleepy brain absorbed the unfortunate shift in reality, finally coming out with the mental equivalent of, “Oh.” After which I noticed the rest of the flat was not only dark, it was silent. No refrigerator running, no nothing. Flicked the switch for the hallway light. Darkness Hit the switch for the overhead light in the kitchen. More darkness. Slowly swung into what, at 4 a.m., passes for action.

Located the breaker box, buried behind dishes in a kitchen cabinet. Carefully pulled out dishes, stacked them on counter. Pulled open breaker box: sure enough, the main breaker was off. Clicked it on, checked lights. Hallway light produced wonderful, joy-inducing illumination. Refrigerator began running. (I tripped it to keep it from getting too far.) Brief half-awake jubilation. Then tried kitchen light: nothing doing. Tried bathroom lights: nothing doing. Half-awake mumbling of foul words.

Returned to kitchen cabinet, stared in at breaker box — the switches stared back, all in the ON position. I checked each one by hand, pushing them firmly up, all seemed to be solidly where they should be. Tried kitchen light. Tried bathroom lights. Nothing. Found replacements for two of the three bulbs in the bog, flicked the switch with tentative hope. Further nothing. Gave up for the night, shuffled back to bed — pausing long enough to turn on laptop and send an email to sainted landlords, informing them of the sitch, asking for suggestions. Turned on bedside light (smirking at the small victory of a working lamp in the face of the universe’s attempt to leave me totally screwed), read until teeny brain had calmed down and drowsiness loomed, stuffed earplugs into ears in anticipation weekday morning street noise, drifted off to lovely sleep.

Woke up at a far more reasonable hour, the world outside slowly gearing up for a Monday. Pulled out earplugs, found myself being serenaded by a backhoe-mounted jackhammer down in the street, part of the soundtrack for the ongoing rebuilding of Madrid, crews working their way through the barrio’s narrow calles, ripping up asphalt, replacing it with brick. Pretty when done, loud, dusty and not much fun before then.

Apart from the rainfall that greeted me when I arrived last Wednesday a.m., the days here have been like a return to summer — warm, flooded with sunshine, as close to perfect as one could ask. The kind of conditions that bring everyone outside. In this barrio, that means night-long partying on the weekends, waves of noise coming and going until dawn when the celebrating gives way to the sound of city cleaning crews sweeping up overabundant refuse and hosing down streets. Just part of the cycle of life. Last night, being Sunday, was much more tranquil, much more suited to a good, long stretch of shuteye. At lest it is when I finally fall into bed — I tend to fall into the local rhythms automatically once here, so even if I’m not out wading through the city’s nightlife, I’m up late online, watching the tube, reading.

Part of daily reading includes the morning El Pais, me attempting to be selective about the parts of the paper I spend time on. Less political hooha, less world news ugliness, more sports, arts, etc. The idea being the cultivation of something that might pass as mental health. Or a teeny bit of inner peace. (States not generally promoted by catching up on the goofy doings of politicians and the folks currently the subject of gossip and celeb blather.) Which means paying minimal attention to the ongoing hyperaggressive ravings of el Partido Popular (the party tossed out of power in the wake of the Madrid bombings in March, 2004), minimal attention to the toxic political grandstanding and maneuvering that has become the norm here and in the States, etc. Which does leave me feeling a bit lighter as I stumble through my day.

And speaking of lighter: sainted landlords responded to my email with a suggestion to actually turn the various breaker switches on and off a few times. I did (as opposed to my half-awake, early-hour prodding, poking, pushing), it did the trick, immediately turning darkened corners of the flat much, er, lighter. When I skipped out the door to enjoy the spectacular weather, I left behind a fully functional living space.

I do love a happy ending.

España, te quiero.

This morning, around the city center:

España, te quiero.

After days of getting ready, I found myself awake early yesterday, body keyed up from the prospect of many hours spent dragging too much luggage too many miles. Resisted the nudging of jangled nerves to jump out of bed at the hideous hour of three a.m. and stayed put, drifted in and out of light sleep until close to six — still an ungodly hour, but not as brutal. Slogged through the tasks left to be done, experienced the customary sensation of time speeding up as the hour of departure approached, me trying to move faster, work more efficiently as I felt the velocity of linear time gathering momentum. The taxi was due to show at 10:45. At 10:35 the phone rang, I launched myself at it, heart in my throat at the thought that it might be the taxi driver calling with bad news. Instead, I found myself talking with the Town Clerk. The taxi had just been there, she told me, the driver woefully lost and seeking guidance. (Small town life: the Town Clerk calls to let you know the taxi’s en route.) “I gave her directions,” the Clerk said. “She’s on her way.”

Grabbed luggage, stuffing the remaining odds and ends into the remaining open zippers. Dragged it all outside just as the taxi pulled into the drive.

We got underway, the driver mentioned taking an alternate route near Montpelier to avoid roadwork underway in town. I had the feeling a completely alternate route might be a good idea and suggested taking back roads the whole way. She seemed underwhelmed at the thought, we stuck with the normal drive on Route 14. A few miles along we found ourselves trapped in a line of vehicles behind a small caravan of line-painting trucks, everyone moving at the blinding speed of 5 mph. I reminded us both that we’d gotten going early, that the bus wouldn’t arrive until 11:30, we wouldn’t remain behind the paint crew forever, all would be well. All of which was true. At the next town along, the trucks pulled off to let traffic pass, normal life resumed.

At one point the driver asked where my trip would be taking me. Madrid, I responded. She looked over blankly. The capital of Spain, I added. Ohhh, she said.

Hmmmmm.

We pulled into the station at 11:20. Seconds after I paid up and the taxi pulled away, the bus showed — the first and only time I’ve ever seen one arrive early. Minutes later, I was in a window seat, Vermont countryside passing outside

The bus made the usual stop in White River Junction to discharge passengers, taking half an hour for cleaning/maintenance. I found myself eating lunch in the stations’s Chinese buffet restaurant, gazing around at a packed house, the largest, strangest collection of overweight, out of condition folks I’ve seen in a long time.

Made Logan Airport in plenty of time, was informed at check-in that the 6:20 flight would be delayed. Did the long, slow security checkpoint thing, the security people not appearing happy to be there. Found the boarding gate, settled into a chair next to a good-natured, intelligent older woman from Minneapolis-St. Paul on her way to France, we chatted. Her flight (also delayed) eventually boarded, the crowd waiting for my flight grew as time passed. At 7:30, we began boarding, nearly two hours after original take-off time we were in the air, me savoring the sight of the nighttime earth below falling away, the sensation of gaining altitude.

The flight staff were all attractive Spanish women, I began speaking Castellano the moment I stepped into the plane, my little brain making the switch automatically. They handed out Spanish newspapers, I grabbed one, began reading. A heavyset couple with a baby had installed themselves in the row ahead of me, just across the aisle. Minutes later, the little one began crying, a sound that became part of the soundtrack for the flight. (Don’t babies ever lose their voices from overuse?) The mother — a woman with a lovely face — gave the child plenty of attention, occasionally had a quieting effect. But not usually for long. It had been a long day, I was tired, not feeling very patient — I pulled out earplugs, stuffed them into the appropriate orifices, the miles passed.

The upside of the delay in taking off: it meant I would not have to make the metro ride into Madrid’s city center during the rush hour mob scene. A long wait at passport control and a much longer wait at the luggage carousel ensured that. Once I’d claimed baggage (the body bag feeling so heavy it had me wondering if I’d packed scrap metal) and begun dragging ass out of there, I found that during my time away the city had finally opened up the new metro station. (The city had opened an enormous, sprawling terminal last year long before the metro had been extended to serve it, complicating the trip into the city like you wouldn’t believe.) I gave thanks, headed underground. Three trains later, I emerged into the open air of the plaza down the street from here, rain falling, voices speaking Spanish all around.

Clouds cleared during the afternoon, sunshine filled the flat. The sounds of daily life drifted in open windows.

It’s good to be home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yesterday morning, northern Vermont:

Yesterday evening — Logan Airport, Boston:

Today, Madrid:

España, te quiero.

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