far too much writing, far too many photos

Went out for a few hours yesterday late morning/early afternoon. By the time I got back, the neighbors in the piso next door were back after a month away — quickly reminding me why I’ve loved the peace and quiet of this last month. The walls here are a little thin. Not as thin as one or two squats I’ve had stateside (Riverside Apts., New Paltz, N.Y.? Seriously, are the walls there made of looseleaf paper or what?), but thin enough that noise flows through fairly easily. I can’t make out actual words, but when they’re talking over there or when the telly’s on, it sometimes becomes necessary to crank my stereo to drown them out. But most of all, it’s the way the she of the couple walks around the flat. Like Godzilla on amphetamines — fast, with all her weight in every single step. Like she’s expressing a whole lot of normally unexpressed anger. Which doesn’t really square with the person I see when we pass in the hallways – a slightly plump 50-something woman who always has a nice hello for me. But there it is.

I’ve never seen the he of that couple, but I’m assuming he actually exists, that it’s not a recording of a male voice she occasionally turns on to fool those of us in neighboring flats. (Though for all I know, she might have offed him years ago, leaving his neatly-dressed, dessicated corpse sitting quietly in a chair in a corner, pretending to talk to him now and then, using an old cassette to supply his voice. For all I know, I’m living next door to a Spanish Norma Bates.)

Meanwhile, most of the rest of the city has returned during the last week, the pulse of life moving closer to normal speed with each passing day. Over the weekend, there were virtually no lights in flats across the way, the residents there holding out until the very last minute before returning to the grind. Last night, many windows shone with lamplight, residents back, picking up where they left off a month ago.

And this morning? Normal rush hour traffic on local streets. And a few stragglers getting out of cars in front of apartment buildings, dragging luggage (and, frankly, dragging ass) inside, disappearing back to normal life.

When I returned to Madrid last October and found my current squat, I discovered in the process of exploring the barrio that a homeless couple lived beneath a large concrete overhang just off the plaza down the street. 30-somethings, clearly going through a hard period but doing their best — finding the way to take care of personal hygiene, dressed neatly — with a double bed and boxes of belongings piled neatly around it. They spent the winter months there, sleeping under a big pile of warm covers and plastic sheeting. When I returned from the shlep back to Vermont of last May/June, they were gone. All trace of them vanished, the sheltered spot that had served as their living space left spotlessly clean.

A space, it turns out, that abuts a small bank, offices (with floor-to-ceiling windows that sport full-length blinds) facing the place that couple occupied for those cold, wet winter months. A week and a half ago, I walked by on one of those chilly late-August mornings that carry the promise of autumn, of the cold season on the way. And saw that big, grey iron grates had just been installed, put up around the entire space beneath that overhang to ensure no one would squat there again this winter.

I can understand not wanting to look out your office window at a couple attempting to carry on with their life in the middle of a months-long hard patch — could be seriously uncomfortable (though not as uncomfortable for bank employees, I would imagine, as for the homeless couple). But still. This security measure made me sad, and had me sending wishes for safety, prosperity, well-being to that couple. I never spoke with them, but a couple of times when I found them eating an austere breakfast in the same place I was slowly inhaling my morning caffeine, I paid their bill when I paid mine. Just a gesture, not much in the way of actual help. But better than nothing.

I hope they won’t need gestures of assistance this winter. Sincerely.

One can hope.

España, te amo

Man, there’s been a lot going on. (|Not that you would necessarily feel that during the course of these beautiful late-summer days that have helped to set the tone here.)

First, there’s the fact that we are now within stone-throwing distance of September. I have no idea how that happened, and I stop and ponder the sneaky speed with which the days have slipped past it gets me feeling a little bit lost and disoriented. So I mostly try not to think about that. But still. Every time I see a calendar or the date at the bottom of my laptop screen the or the date on the morning copy of the newspaper, there it is. Hard to ignore.

Self-talkers. They apparently have not left the city for the August vacation season. Or maybe they’ve just become more visible since vacation season thinned out the crowd. Either way, it’s been an impressive, at times relentless, show.

And that bit about the crowd being thinned out? When I stepped out of the building last Monday morning, traffic was heavier, more people meandered along sidewalks. For the first time since the end of July. I was off with a friend for a few hours late Tuesday afternoon. When I got off the bus back here that evening, the street was packed with cars, all parking spaces were gone, traffic had returned to pre-vacation-season normalcy. Sidewalks were busy, the air filled with city sounds. Combine that with the change in the angle of the sun and earlier darkness, it really feels like the season is beginning to turn.

They do that, those damn seasons.

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Watching — Madrid, Spain:

España, te amo

For a couple of days there, I seemed to run into self-talkers everywhere my feet took me (including, disconcertingly, myself once or twice). People muttering to themselves — some from anger or exasperation, some from a chronic state of… something sad and distracted. Self-talkers and one or two self-singers, that last a more cheerful option. For a couple of days. And then back to normal. With no idea what provoked the sudden public show of, er, whatever it was.

Life. So many mysteries.

The city remains half-empty, the countyr deep into August vacation. Each Monday brings a new wave of businesses closing for one, two or more weeks. Meaning slight adjustments in routine. Not a hardship by any means, given the trade-off: tranquility, a more relaxed version of the local world. The portero (doorman — something I’m not used to) for this building just took off for a month, leaving an unknown face hanging about down in the lobby to look after things. The door to the building is supposed to remain unlocked until 2 p.m., when the portero goes off duty for the three-hour afternoon break. Someone rang my buzzer at 1:30, unable to enter the building on their own because the door was locked, the substitute portero nowhere to be found. More slight adjustments.

And meanwhile, the weather has taken the kind of turn toward autumn that sometimes happens in August — nights getting cold, daytime temperatures not even close to reaching the highs of July. The June equinox is nearly two months past, the angle of the shadows has changed, darkness now falls nearly an hour earlier. That shift will continue, but temperatures will glide back up to summertime levels sometime soon. I think. (Unless diabolical changes are underway.) Man, I hope so. I love summertime, and during the rest of the year I seem to forget how exactly how good it feels to my bod and the extent of the positive effect it has on my general state of mind. Until the season arrives once more, and I find myself sliding back into a blissful extended alpha state.

Anyway. Back to work. On with the day.

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Matched set — Madrid:

España, te amo

Yesterday morning: I turned a corner down the Avenue from here, found myself facing a thin, thin woman. Elderly, shuffling along in an old, worn summer dress, legs making the most minimal steps required for forward locomotion. Barely any meat on those bones –- the merest hint of muscle, enough to maintain functioning. And thin enough that veins stood out in ropy relief, pale blue through the pale, tannish hue of her skin. Reminded me of my mother during her last year or two of life. Tiny, shrunken — reduced to a birdlike body that moved slowly, but her personality still clung fiercely to life, she did her damndest to control whatever she could. The woman yesterday didn’t radiate that kind of energy, didn’t look quite as birdlike. Just moved slowly, quietly along the warm morning sidewalk.

Later, mid-afternoon. Taking myself out to lunch. Air warm enough that stepping outside felt like being in a sauna. (A breezy, user-friendly sauna, heat turned down slightly from the usual intense broil to a more placid bake.) Turned a corner, found myself staring at a large, extravagant message written across a stretch of nicely painted wall.

Van a por nosotros. They’re going for us.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t after you.

Last night, standing out on my little bitty balcón, enjoying the quiet. Mid-vacation-season, most of the locals gone, nearly all the windows in this part of the barrio dark. Lights shone in one window near ground level across the way. Movement caught my eye, I could see someone sitting at a piano near the window, playing. No sound — windows closed, a/c probably going inside. Just the movement of a person seated at a piano, hands moving along the keyboard.

A warm summer evening. Life carrying on, as it always does.

España, te amo

Madrid is now deep into summer vacation. Two weeks ago, I strolled to the gym, early Friday afternoon. All around me, people with bags and suitcases tossed themselves into cars, pulled out into traffic, disappeared. Parking spaces appeared magically, all around, where they are usually hard to come by. Until fully half the cars were gone, the street remaining quiet, half-vacant, until Sunday evening, when many who had bolted came crawling back for the final week of July, the summer season’s final workweek for many locals.

The following Friday — a week ago — another massive exodus, many shops, restaurants, bars locking doors, pulling down shutters, taping up signs saying ‘On vacation!’ Half the local businesses are closed for the month. Which is not a problem — far more than half the local population has taken off. This barrio is close to being a ghost town, sidestreets empty, sparse traffic on main drags. I like it. Feels like I am close to being the only person in the big, 10-story building that houses my current squat.

Go into the city center, it’s just about as crowded as normal. Except that most everyone is a tourist — from around Spain, from around the world. In more residential parts of the center, pedestrian traffic is way down. And the weather has mostly been seriously beautiful. Which makes walking and sitting at cafes extremely nice. All of which has conspired to put me into a state of deep contentment. I love summertime, and this one has been feeling real damn good. I’ve been in the middle of a super productive time for work. And to top it all off, I’m in the middle of an affair with a lovely Danish woman — spending her vacation here brushing up on her Spanish, doing intensive classes during the mornings. And now filling in free afternoon/evening time with, er, me.

As I said — me: obnoxiously content.

Hope life’s treating you well.

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La Rosaleda — el Parque del Retiro, Madrid:

España, te amo

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