far too much writing, far too many photos

It’s breakfast time. I’m eating pizza. Cold leftover pizza. Can’t remember the last such breakfast. I’ll say one thing: the pie’s got more kick than my usual bowl of cereal.

I ate no pizza during my time in Madrid. While the food there is generally PDG, all the pizza I encountered appeared to be cloned from the standard American-issue Pizza Shack fare, and after years of life in Cambridge/Boston (not to mention early years in the N.Y. area), where the Pizza Shack breed of pie compares with the locally-bred version the way Spaghetti-O’s compares with fresh, hand-produced pasta, I just couldn’t bring myself to fork over the pesetas (or, since Jan. of this year, the euros) for more dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella than I generally want to suck down in one sitting.

The Spanish version of Pizza Shack/Whatever is Telepizza – call in your order, a guy on a moped shows up with a pie. Business seemed to be booming — the mopeds were everywhere, each one producing a sharp, piercing whine that preceded it and trailed in its wake, like pizza-bearing wasps. And now that I think about it, that’s a kind of sound I haven’t heard since my last time there, the second half of this past July. A rare example of something I don’t miss about Madrid.

The first time I arrived there, mid-February 2000, I took the bus into the city center from the airport. The city greeted me with an amazing display of scooters, mopeds, motorcycles, all slicing in and out of traffic with impressive indifference to the swarming multitude of cars around them, driving with an easy disregard for the rules of the road — ignoring red lights and speed limits, going in whichever direction they felt like on one-way streets, moving through lanes of traffic with a lack of concern for the laws that made stateside motorcycle riders look cautious, tentative, excessively polite. Those drivers were mostly male, but during my time living there the number of women on motorcycles and scooters increased steadily, seeming only marginally more well-behaved than their male counterparts.

What got me off on that? Oh, right -– pizza.

The Rainbow Sweets Café offers pizza on Friday and Saturday nights only, and the pie is good enough to go out of the way for. The last time I sampled any: this past December, going with two friends from Ireland who hoovered down enthusiastically extensive amounts of pizza and dessert. Which brings up another strong point of this eating establishment: their sweets — world-class creations, drastically superior to the normal restaurant fare, as good as the high-quality confections I got used to in Spain. My friend Dermot, who has done some traveling, swore up and down that evening that the Café’s desserts were as good as any he’d had anywhere, then put on his game face and plowed through three of them. He’s a big boy, Dermot, a high-capacity lad, but that remains an awe-inspiring feat.

So I went last night with J., we ordered a pie. A short time later the owner brings it over mounted on a contraption I’ve never seen before, a large bent metal thingie — the pizza in its pan resting on the top section of the holder, elevated nine or ten inches above the table –- that makes it look like the Starship Enterprise coming in for shore leave. We dig in, it’s tasty enough that all conversation dies away. About three pieces along, I’m sitting, chewing, experiencing a bit of low-cuisine satori, when the pie starts moving. And as J. and I watch, the pie and its pan slide backward off the bent-wire contraption, dropping to the floor with the kind of clatter that stops all activity, drawing all eyes to it. One of those moments that unreels in slow motion, your senses taking in the disaster as your brain realizes that you can do nothing to halt it.

We’re sitting there, mouths open, eyes wide in surprise, both holding partially-consumed slices. One of us manages to get out an amazed, “We didn’t touch it!” A woman at the other occupied table says, “I was watching! They didn’t touch it!” We continue staring at the point in space where just a moment earlier a pizza had hovered, astonished smiles slowly taking form on our faces. The proprietor comes over, also smiling, picks up the guilty mechanism, tells us they’ll bring us another pie. Ten minutes later a replacement hit the table, the hoovering recommenced, life moved along.

Later, back at home, a strange display of clouds and light had collected in the northern and western sky, masses of vague, ghostly illumination, shifting around slowly enough that the movement was hard to pinpoint. To the west: enormous shafts of faintly peach-colored shafts of light extended well into the sky from above the trees. To the north: less distinct, more mysterious. Turned out to be a modest, spectral display of the northern lights, jogging the memory of the only other time I’ve seen them, fifteen or more years ago during a late August visit with friends about twenty miles north of here. As I left my friends’ house one crisp evening, heading to a tent I’d pitched in a secluded stand of pine trees, I noticed movement in the sky, very faint. Light, like the light you see on the ripples moving across a lake before a breeze, emanating out from the northern horizon and spreading across the sky, slowly fading as it went. Eerie, the night around me completely silent. People talk about seeing spectacular demonstrations of the northern lights here -– the examples I’ve so far seen have been delicate, almost timid. I look forward to a big, sloppy, multi-hued extravaganza.

The clock reads 11 a.m. During the last three hours, the mercury has risen from the mid-40s to nearly 80. This may be a day to make a trip to a swimming hole. Or at least attach a sprinkler to the garden hose.

We’ll see.

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