far too much writing, far too many photos

After the lovely, quiet pause of Navidad, Madrid has reverted back to its busier, raunchier self, the streets of the city center packed with people, traffic back to its more normal, unruly incarnation.

Thursday morning, the number of people making the trip to work — notably silent, I observed, perhaps not overjoyed with the sudden end to Christmas recess — increased substantially from earlier in the week. By Friday, the volume of commuters had reached near-normal levels.

In school, with the decreased number of students, I found myself the only student in my class for the first couple of hours. Just me and the instructor, Montse. Which meant that on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I had two intense hours of conversation/instruction, which seemed to kick-start my language skills in some way, so that by Thursday and Friday, when the school had me join another class for the post-break conversation class, I felt comfortable enough with the language that I was carrying on loudly, unstoppably, delivering whatever quips came to mind at any given moment. To the point where I might have become a living stereotype of the loudmouthed American, except that I was actually speaking the language well and getting laughs in the process from both students and la profesora. Which just made me all the more smug and insufferable, though that didn’t seem to be bothering anyone. One of the many benefits of a sparkling personality. (Kaff, kaff.)

Christmas shopping continues here as many, if not most, Spaniards look to January 6 as the real gift-exchange day. Or so I’m told. Several of the instructors at the language school have sworn that up until the last few years, the 25th itself was not really an important day here, Christmas-wise, that the 24th and the 6th of January were the actual dates of import. They say the same — sometimes less than happily — about Santa Claus, that the man in red is a recent import who’s suddenly gaining ground as Spain is more a country with strong, growing connections of all kinds with the rest of the world, post-Franco-era isolation.

So shopping is once more in high gear, most stores supplying the incentive of post-Navidad discounts, the city assisting by closing down city center streets for post-Christmas block parties, complete with music, food vendors, banners snapping cheerfully in the breeze, and people in various costumes (mostly big, cute, huggable animals). The activity will continue until the evening of Jan.5th, the city will shut down again for the 6th — el día de los Reyes Magos, the three Kings who come bearing gifts. On Jan. 7, the month-long sales period — las rebajas — commences. Weeks and weeks of consumer partying, starting in mid-December and coasting all the way through January.

When I descended into the Metro Thursday morning here in Chueca, the first thing that caught my eye upon reaching the inbound platform was a brand new ad, a sizeable bugger, maybe 8′ by 8′, which consisted of four drawings of a girl and boy, as done by a kindergartener: (1) working together with toy tools on a little toy house; (2) one ironing, one with a mop; (3) riding a tandem bike together; and (4) with a baby in a carriage. Between those images, lines of text read, “Los Juguetes Son Para Quién Quiere Jugar Con Ellos — Campaña De Promoción De Juegetes No Sexistas — La Igualdad Tambien Se Aprende Jugando” (Games Are For Whoever Wants To Play Them — Campaign to Promote Non-Sexist Games — Equality Can Also Be Learned Playing.” Around the edges of the ad run the two words “Compartir, Eligir” (Share, Choose). Sponsored by a department or division of the City of Madrid.

Hmmmm, thought I, staring bleary-eyed at this overwized, hard to ignore, consciousness-raising thingie. Mighty progressive, a kind of progressiveness the center-right national government would be unlikely to take on, though the local, more liberal city administration appears game.

Meanwhile, over at the Plaza de España station on the Metro Line 10 — an expansive, modern-looking, sparklingly-clean counterpart to the older, more dog-eared line that runs through the station here at la Plaza de Chueca — the large TV screens that have provided a visual focus for both passenger platforms have suddenly been augmented by a huge two-sided plasma screen video monitor placed between the tracks. All playing la Canal Metro Madrid — Channel Metro Madrid. Weather, sports, news headlines, etc. The same channel that plays in the trains on that line — Madrid presenting its modern, high-tech face to the human traffic flowing to and from the airport.

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