far too much writing, far too many photos

Three gems:

First, this shop: Casa Postal. Tucked away on a sidestreet in the barrio of Chueca and low-profile, unless you happen to notice the profusion of stuff in the cramped front window and stop to check it out. During my years in Chueca, I lived two blocks from there yet never ventured inside. In part, I think, because the door is kept locked, the doorbell has to be located and poked. Inside: it’s a small space, though high-ceilinged, and packed with beautiful, high quality vintage stuff: postcards, photos, toys, posters, advertisements and pop culture flotsam of all kinds. A touch I especially loved: they have a seriously extensive postcard collection neatly stored away in numerous filing cabinets whose front panels are done up with vintage images. Like here:

and here:

Second: “I Remember” by Deadmau5 and Kaskade (vocal by Hayley Gibby). Not sure why, but about three weeks ago this cut from 2008 took hold of me and would not let go — still has not let go — me playing it over and over, far beyond the point any sane human type person should indulge. It can be purchased via iTunes, in a package of various edits — that would be a waste for me. All I want is the extended version.

Third: El Museo Sorolla/The Sorolla Museum. Completely dedicated to the work of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, the museum is actually the house in which he and his family lived, hidden away behind a wall, squeezed between multi-storey buildings. Thanks to the wall that shields the museum from the busy street, it’s possible to sit in the garden that extends across the front and side of the house and lose track of time and urban intensity. This is not a place most who pass through Madrid in tourist mode get to see, in part because it’s located away from the city center’s tourism zones. But its worth any effort it may take to get there. (The entry fee is a paltry 3 euros and there are abundant neighborhood bars/cafeterías in the surrounding streets that serve quality ‘menu del día’ lunches. An excellent way to pass a morning or early afternoon.)

España, te amo

This is the third beautiful day in a row — afternoons awash in golden sunlight, temperatures just mild enough to hold a promise of springtime hovering off in the distance. Mild enough in direct sunlight to allow for opening one’s coat. Mild enough that a songbird took up temporary residence in nearby trees and delivered a pretty spectacular program of evensong that lasted 15 or 20 minutes on two successive evenings. The first time I’ve heard something like that since last summer.

Beautiful days is what I’m trying to say, and especially nice coming after 8 or 9 days in a row of cold, gray, damp nastiness.

By the way, I hope you’ll forgive this journal’s previous entry. I mostly steer away from politics, but in the wake of the recent events in Arizona, I made the mistake of reading comments on a few pages carrying coverage of the events. Stupidly brutal comments, left by individuals from the right end of the political spectrum. Hence my response here. It won’t happen again.

Meanwhile, somehow — and I don’t understand how this happens — we have already slid into the middle of the month. It was just New Year’s, and 1/24th of 2011 has already slipped past. Not that anyone’s counting.

With the turn of the year, a broad anti-smoking-in-public-places law took effect here (a law that certain gasbags affiliated with the smoking industry labeled ‘radical’). The idea: to make it possible to sit in a neighborhood joint sipping at a cuppa something and breathe smoke-free air. A nice idea, really. Two years ago, the government tried the same thing with a previous law. It not only got universally ignored, the major right-wing political party made resisting the law a cause to rally around, especially here in the capital. The result: life continued as it had been. The only difference: every joint hung a xeroxed sheet of paper saying some variation of ’smoking is permitted in this establishment.’

It just may be that the concept needed time to be absorbed and accepted — this was, after all, a country in which a huge percentage of the population smoked, viewed smoking as a fundamental part of life. I think that idea has slowly evolved, especially during the last two years, with the dissemination of not very attractive information about tobacco via the Spanish media. The version of the law that went into effect with the turn of the year may also have been a bit tougher, the government more willing to enforce it.

I forgot all about it until one morning, sitting in a neighborhood joint, midway through a cup of joe, I realized I was breathing clean air. Lovely, stench-free air, so much easier on the lungs. I felt a smile spread across my silly face, a smile that stayed in place the entire time I enjoyed café and croissant.

Before the law took effect, pro-smoking forces spewed dire pronouncements about the loss of business establishments would suffer as a result of the smoking ban. But in the places I frequent, I haven’t noticed any difference. (Well, apart from being to see more clearly. Apart from breathing easier. Apart from leaving with clothes free of cigarette stench.)

The Minister of Health called on people to report infractions of the new law, and apparently during the first couple of days, hundreds and hundreds of reports were made. To the point that the Mayor of Valladolid, to the northwest of Madrid, referred to those lodging complaints as nazis. (The irony: this gentleman is a member of the country’s major right-wing party, the direct political descendants of the fascist dictatorship that controlled the country between 1939 and 1976.) Ah, well.

Here in the capital, the transition to smoke-free has apparently been very smooth, a striking contrast to two years ago. I’m appreciating it every time I step into a bar or restaurante or cafetería for something to eat or drink.

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January sunlight, red courtyard — Madrid

España, te amo

To those gentle folk stateside who maintain that elements from the right end of the political spectrum have done nothing to foment an atmosphere of aggression against those who don’t share their political views, a selection of what can be found via Google (including Sarah Palin’s now infamous rifle-crosshairs map)….

The ‘dove hunting license’ is especially classy.

To see many more examples of images expressing the idea of supposedly-justified violence toward those who don’t share the political sentiments of the far-right, do a google image search for ‘liberal hunting license.’

And for those who claim that both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of this kind of thing, do a search for ‘conservative hunting license’ and note the dramatic contrast.

España, te amo

A few brief days ago, I walk into a movie theater restroom. I see four urinals, the one at either end in use. I pull up at one of the two middle ones, begin dumping the ballast. I look over to my right, a tall slender male stands there, cellphone in left hand, casually perusing textmessages as he takes a whiz. To my left, a shorter, darker male stands turned as far to his left as he can manage — upper body twisted toward the wall, face turned away from me — apparently doing his utmost to shield any possible glimpse of his winkie from me or anyone else. (Dude, get a grip — I am so not interested in your junk.)

That last is actually something I see quite a bit here — males at urinals standing with faces averted, bodies turned to prevent any possible view of the family jewels. It seems so at odds with my very first experience in a European men’s room: a loo at the Barbican Theater complex in London. My very first night in Europe, on my very first trip to across the broad Atlantic. At this big, bustling theater, me feeling overwhelmed, underexperienced and underdressed. The restroom is as busy as the rest of the place, the urinal turns out to be — as I remember it — one long, common urinal, made of elegant, polished black marble. Males step up, do what they must, I see no sign of timidity, no concern about fellow-males getting a furtive glimpse of wankers being aired out. If anything, it’s all surprisingly matter-of-fact and unconcerned. This on that big island of supposed shyness, timidity and sexual repression. Meanwhile, here on the continent, males I encounter regularly take great pains to hide the plumbing. Go figure.

And meanwhile — a different meanwhile — the old year was given the bum’s rush, a whole new calendar got jerked into place. The first surprise for me: how much fun writing the date has been today.

1/1/11. 1/1/11. 1/1/11.

Yee-haa! (I’ll take my fun where I can get it.)

I was out around the city center yesterday afternoon, had my big camera with me, had planned to walk around taking pix of the gathering festivities as darkness fell and the crowds began growing, getting drunkenly festive. What I found was navigating it all just made me tired. I tried to hang in there, tried to find things to do that would keep me going. But my bod really just wanted to go home, and my spirit was pretty much in the same place. So my wanderings eventually moved in this direction and before I knew it I found myself on a bus headed back here, holing up for the night — laptop cranked and humming (why does that sound so filthy?), the sofa over on the other side of the room, ready and welcoming.

And that was my new year’s eve. Shortly before midnight, fireworks began going off in the barrio outside, and that was fun. No visuals, no pyrotechnics. Just lots of noise — hissings, explosions, whistles. Snaps, crackles and, yes, pops.

And now we have the illusion that we’ve moved into something different, a different place in time. And who am I to piddle on anyone’s parade? Hang up the new calendars and enjoy the prospect of a brand new year, of that big empty chalkboard of events waiting to take form. All kinds of surprises waiting.

2011. May it bring fun. May it bring great adventures.

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From a long New Year’s Day walk…. — Madrid:

España, te amo

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