far too much writing, far too many photos

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.

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Newsstand graffiti, Madrid:

España, te quiero.

2 Responses to “madrid, saturday”

  1. mad

    Wow, this post is like a Cartier-Bresson photograph.

  2. rws

    Hey, thanks! That is may be the kindest thing anyone has ever said about something posted here.

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