far too much writing, far too many photos

I’ll tell you what: I’m starting to enjoy this new neighborhood of mine. There is so much going on here — life, energy, so many different types of people. The Texas guy who was in my Spanish class at the beginning of the week had trappings of hipness — phat clothing, shades, an earring, a wicked contemporary haircut, major ‘tude, his 20-something speech liberally sprinkled with “dude.” While one of the first things he mentioned in class (in English, natch) was having been down in this barrio, Chueca, where he saw two guys holding hands and kissing. And was, of course, righteously grossed. And I’m thinking, get a grip, Lone Star DUDE. No one’s asking you to watch something you don’t APPROVE of. If you don’t like what you see in one direction, stop staring at it and look around — there’s a whole rainbow of people passing by in other directions.

I will admit something, though. I was up in the Madrid’s toniest barrio a couple of days ago — Salamanca, several blocks away from my old neighborhood. Not an area known for a high concentration of gays, as Chueca is. And there were so many more women out on the street. Lovely, interesting-looking women. I’m enjoying Chueca, but I would love to see more females here. Not that there aren’t lots around — there are, just not in the same concentration you’d see in most other barrios. Not like they’re half the population.

I like women. I think they’re easily the more interesting of the two genders, and innately way more attractive than guys. I like guys, too — some of my best friends are guys. But it’s not the same.

However, I digress.

I was up in Salamanca to see an exhibit of painting, photography and etching produced by a group of artists in The Netherlands between 1925 and 1945, a mess of people I’d never heard of before (apart from M.C. Escher) — a great exhibit, turned out. The outing: a field trip sponsored by the language school, one of the two or three they field most weeks, trips of culture, history, sightseeing, all accompanied by a staff member. Rocío was the staff person for that jaunt.

I’m waiting outside the venue for the exhibit with another student — Kelly, a smart, sweet 20ish woman from Indiana, spending a semester of college in Madrid, living with a Spanish family, taking Spanish classes. It’s just the two of us for a while, standing talking, upscale denizens of Salamanca passing by, going about their business. Kelly and I are swapping thoughts about how living here feels, and as we talk I note an old man approaching. Old, slow, with a cane, shuffling along. Inching along, really. Covering ground, but at his own speed, which was not record-breaking. (Though what do I know? Might have been for him.) He gets closer, I see his clothing’s a bit rumpled, he’s looking a bit worn — not in a homeless, down and out way, just in the manner of someone advanced in years and losing some of their knack for self-presentation. But what the hell — he’s got on a sport coat and a necktie, he’s out in the fresh air, he’s above-ground, upright, ambulatory. He’s doing fine. As he passes us, something catches my eye. I look more closely, I notice that although he does indeed look moderately well-cared for, someone on his pit crew needs to ratchet up the level of care because his pants sported a sizeable dried urine stain around the crotch. Like an odd, faded blossom of op art.

An interesting moment. He continued on his way, Rocío showed up, we went into the foundation to check out the exhibit.

This foundation/exhibition thing is a feature of local life that I’ve never encountered in the States. Foundations of all sorts abound here — some, divisions of large commercial corporations; others sponsored by foreign governments; still others seem to be part of organizations or corporations vaguely of the nonprofit stripe — whose interface with the public is by way of providing venues for exhibits of art or music performance. Entirely free, bringing world-class work through. That’s in addition to the numerous museums and galleries that festoon Madrid. And the great part is that people actually turn out to see the exhibits. I’ve gone to a bunch of them now — during the week large groups of different kinds move through, accompanied by guides giving lengthy talks. In the evenings and on weekends, I’ve been to exhibits absolutely packed with normal people out for some culture — families, couples, young people, old folks. Groups that look like three generations of the same families, all out listening to music or checking out art, talking about it all, arm in arm.

Hard not to love that.

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