far too much writing, far too many photos

What I woke up to this morning: the cries of swifts flying between the buildings along this narrow street and the tolling of church bells.

They seem to be the local version of swallows, the swifts -– materializing with the warm weather, flying both at tremendous heights and down at street level, between the city’s buildings, calling back and forth, a sound like soft keening. Swallows confirmed the arrival of summer during my years in the Boston/Cambridge area, their displays of aerial acrobatics filling the skies until they vanished at the end of August. The swifts bring nearly identical elements to summer here –- same style of soaring flight, same seemingly inexhaustible energy throughout the day until they disappear at dusk. Same sudden arrival in the spring, same abrupt departure at the end of the season. The only real difference is their call, not at all like the twittering of the swallows. And their size, swifts appearing a bit larger.

The bells come from a church a couple of blocks from here, pealing in a pattern of two claps, pause, two claps, pause, two claps — a long string of repetitions, twelve or fifteen of them, in the same steady rhythm, finally slowing then going silent.

After that, quiet settles in, punctuated now and then by the voices of old folks clustered around the benches in the plaza down the street, the raucous passing of people who have apparently been out all night partying, the barking of dogs having close encounters. All, for the most part, tranquil, relaxed.

An hour ago, I went out for the paper, then walked a couple of blocks to a neighborhood joint for a morning coffee. A crowded, noisy morning scene, normally, there being few local caffeine pushers open Sunday a.m. One of the nice aspects of life in July/August Madrid is the relative quiet, many folks having fled town. As July progresses, traffic becomes lighter, the crowds thin out, and from late July to late August the city has an entirely different feel than during the rest of the year. Sleepy, or as sleepy as a city this size gets.

A sparse handful of people sat over their cafés when I pulled up a stool at the bar. The TV over the entranceway played channel 1, Televisión Española, showing coverage of motorcycle racing. My espresso came, I sipped at it, looking over the letters-to-the-editor section of the El País Sunday Magazine. A young woman materialized to my right — short, slender, pretty in a worn way, a bit agitated. Her eyes fastened on a sweet roll, one of several piled on a tray above the counter display. She apparently decided she wanted it, moving over to my left, between me and another café-sipper, pulling out what change she had, poring over it. Hovering there until the man to my left took off, immediately claiming that stool, ordering café con leche and the sweet roll she’d fixated on. She hunched over her change, methodically ordering and reordering it, piling it on the counter in small stacks, moving them around, reorganizing them. Her café con leche arrived, the sweet roll appearing on a small plate next to it. Her fingers began to pull the roll apart, inserting small bits into her mouth until it had disappeared. From there she sat, sipping from her cup, talking quietly to herself. A man on the stool her left watched. In the background, the whine of competition motorcycles came and went, the commentators talking about the race.

I paid for my café and headed out into the morning air, the streets quiet, the city slowly waking up.

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