far too much writing, far too many photos

Christmas morning 2002, Madrid — some moments:

– Fireworks went off sporadically during the night. Shortly after 7 a.m., some capullo set off a couple of loud buggers, the explosions clear and sharp in the morning silence. On impulse, I got up, opened a window, leaned out to see the state of the neighborhood this holiday a.m. Everything was closed/shuttered, though a few individuals walked the quiet streets, in particular one hefty woman sporting a sweater, jeans, flip-flops, no socks, no coat. Weaving a bit as she made her way along, as if she had passed a long night celebrating in heavy-duty fashion.

– Around 10 a.m., I found myself beset by the desire for a decent cup of espresso and left to track one down. The local streets remained dead silent, the few other pedestrians quiet and keeping to themselves except for one lone street cleaner busy sweeping up trash from last night’s revels. As I headed out to la Calle de Hortaleza, moving toward Gran Vía, activity began picking up. Ahead of me, on the opposite side of the narrow street, a guy in a Santa hat (bright red, white trim, pompom) walked along talking loudly into his cellphone.

– Most of the folks strolling along Gran Vía were alone, some clearly out for a head-clearing paseo, others not looking terribly content or relaxed. Little automotive traffic passed by, though buses provided color and motion. To this point, no businesses of any kind were open, not even the newspaper stand across from the end of la Calle de Hortaleza, usually a bastion of activity.

– An eccentric-looking 60-something gent jogged by in sweatshirt/shorts/Walkman headset, his gait bow-legged, his steps a bit exaggerated as if he were treading on hot cinders. Down the block, a diminutive older gentleman the jogger had passed turned to stare after the runner, mouth slightly agape in amazement at the vision that had just pranced by.

– A few blocks down Gran Vía in the direction of Callao, the pink neon of the big sign for the Zahara Café (or is it the Café Zahara? it’s impossible to tell from the sign’s layout) shone brightly through the gray morning light. Across the street, the Cafetería Nebraska also appeared to be open, customers clustered around the counter inside. Neither of them places I’d ever set foot in. I chose the Zahara, which turned out to be a cavernous Planet-Hollywoodesque joint with many, many tables and a long U-shaped counter. Christmas morning supplicants lined the long U, sipping infusions of caffeine, some also working on buttered toast with knives and forks as is the local custom. Two women moved around behind the counter, clearly not happy to be where they were this Navidad a.m.

– I found a stool, ordered a café cortado and churros. A 30-something guy sat to my left, smoking, appearing a bit bleary and unsettled. When my stuff arrived, I asked him to pass me a napkin dispenser. He did so, clearly startled at the smile on my face and by the fact that I seemed to be enjoying myself. At one point, as I slowly hoovered down the churros and café, he sneezed. I said the traditional Spanish “Jesús” (the locals’ version of ‘bless you,’ pronounced Hay-SOOS), again startling him, though he produced a tentative smile and a “gracias” in response.

– As I ate, a gent with a weathered late-50ish face appeared to the other side of the customer to my right. He mumbled something to one of the women behind the counter, she disappeared, reappearing with a snifter and a bottle of brandy, pouring him a healthy hit that he accepted a bit shakily.

– More strollers were out during the walk home, the pace of the morning clearly picking up. As I mounted the stairs here in the building, I could hear sounds of conversation and activity in different pisos on the various floors, Christmas day in Madrid slowly finding its feet.

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