far too much writing, far too many photos

In the new flat. Finally.

Spent last night in the old place in that wonderful bed. Slept lightly, woke frequently. Watched the glowing windows of flats off across the courtyard — people here stay up REAL damn late — and as the first gray light of the day slipped down between the buildings, I gave thanks for the things I’ve enjoyed and appreciated about the space that served as home for this last year. Of which there were plenty, from the list I’ve already cited to things like the second bedroom, which enabled me to offer a squat to friends or folks I met at school who needed a place to stay.

Got to my feet around eight, packed the last stuff, cleaned the place up (even defrosted the freezer — don’t know what the hell came over me there as it didn’t need much attention). Brought my monster wheeled duffel to the new place, lugged it up the five flights to the flat. Went back for the TV, got the meter readings for the water/gas, said adios to the portero, Alberto. Grabbed a taxi back to the new place, lugged the TV upstairs, went out, got the paper, searched for a cup of espresso.

I find a place whose doors are open, producing plenty of noise. I walk in, find ten, maybe twelve males along with one harassed-looking woman behind the bar trying to keep up with chaos. To my left are tables, three or four of which are taken, all the occupied chairs situated well away from the tables so that it’s impossible to get through to the empty expanse of bar off to that side. I try to edge through, no one moves despite my polite requests of ‘perdón.’ It becomes clear that they’re determined to ignore me, I finally give up. Three men occupy the little bit of bar space I can reach, the only vacant square-inchage is directly ahead. I start to move in that direction, the person at the bar in front of me turns around, I see it’s a male/female — this is Chueca, after all, Madrid’s version of Greenwich Village. Tight pants, shirt open all the way down the front with a form-fitting something underneath. Heavily made-up, blonde, wearing a hairnet. In about three-tenths of a second I see the guy, he turns around, his eyes settle on me. Something about his energy doesn’t feel good, I obey an impulse to veer off to the right, find a microscopic space for myself at the end of the bar. The guy to my left looks over at me a tad suspiciously, maybe because of my sudden appearance. I say, ‘Hola,’ he responds with a less-than-enthusiastic, ‘Hola,’ before turning his attention back to his café.

There’s sudden yelling and pounding — one table, occupied by four 60ish men embroiled in a card game, is undergoing an outburst of controversy about something. The shouting continues, two players smiting the table with thick, emphatic hands. Everyone’s gesturing strongly, though no one seems to be looking at any of the others — they’re too busy emoting. That subsides, I get a chance to order some decaf. Turns out they don’t make it by machine (de máquina) at this place, they only have instant. I order a cup of high-test instead, start looking over the paper. A sudden commotion starts up over to my left. The she-male has caused some kind of a ruckus, all activity’s stopping to check it out as s/he and the woman behind the bar go back and forth. Apparently s/he has no money to pay her/his tab, s/he finally leaves, no one tries to stop him/her.

My espresso arrives shortly thereafter, I get a bit of time to become one with the present moment. I find myself suspecting that I won’t be returning to that particular bar for a tranquil cup of café with any real frequency.

I’m now back in the new piso. Looking around at the post-move mess, girding up to take a swing at creating a living space out of it all. Even though I arranged this move so that it happened gradually and easily, finding myself where I am at the end of it all has me feeling a touch disoriented. That’ll pass, I know. I think this is the first time in this life of mine that I’ve done a move entirely by myself — everything, all the details, the whole wazoo, including dragging all my possessions up five flights of stairs. In a furren country, no less.

The bells of a small local church just finished ringing. It’s a beautiful Sept. Sunday morning.

On to the day.


On the walk back to the old apartment last night, another difference between the two barrios made itself apparent. The residents of the old neighborhood tend to have money — more money, I suspect, than the average resident of these narrow streets. Way more money. Over the course of this last year, I’ve noticed that for many Madrileños having money means they also have a house, flat or cabin outside the city — in the mountains, on the coast, in a pueblo somewhere. So that they often get out of Madrid on the weekends. Which meant that, come Friday night, my old neighborhood emptied out, leaving people-free sidewalks and long, lonely lengths of street, devoid of parked vehicles. An area that got extremely quiet on the weekends — at times almost comatose.

This neighborhood, on the other hand — a sizeable portion of whose population is young, active and ready for action — attracts people on the weekends, so that come Friday and Saturday it gets mighty active in these parts. Plenty of people, lots of noise.

A serious contrast.


From an e-mail sent to friends last summer, 25 days after arriving in Madrid:

Two strange sightings and a strange hearing you should know about:

1) Seen on the subway a couple of weekends ago: a diminutive middle-aged male, probably in his 50s, exceptional-looking in no way apart from his lack of exceptional looks. The only physical aspect that stood out in any small way: thick eyebrows, giving him a slightly more intent air than he already had. He sat holding a cassette player. Not a boombox — one of those little, low-fi players that have been around for many years, the kind that often get used in classrooms. When I entered the car, I heard music — faint enough that it sounded like it might have been coming out of the car’s PA system. Marching band music. And gradually realized it was this guy, sitting there holding his little cassette player up in front of his chest, his expression strangely concentrated, almost determined.

Marching band music. Judging by their expressions, the people around me in the train were not completely at ease with the event.

2) The gym I go to plays a local commercial radio station, one that trades mostly in Hispanic or euro pop, spiked with the occasional English language song. Twice now, I’ve been in the middle of a workout when they’ve played an English-language number whose refrain goes something like:
“The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire;
we don’t need any water, let the motherfucker burn.
Burn, motherfucker, burn.”
[Fire Water Burn -- The BloodHouse Gang.]

3) Walking through a long, narrow north-south street in the city center today, la Calle de Hortaleza, I passed a store with a couple of life-sized mannequins in the window. By itself, not strange. Someone, however, had put a life-sized Krusty the Klown head on one of them, along with a t-shirt featuring Otto the school bus driver, and South Park gym shorts whose crotch had clearly been stuffed with something substantial.

An interesting image, standing out from the general old-world look of the neighborhood the way loudly cackling potheads might stand out in a refined Viennese café.

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