far too much writing, far too many photos

[continued from yesterday's entry]

Lots of parents and kids — 20- and 30-something parents with youngsters, middle-aged parents accompanied by teens and 20-somethings, older folks with kids of all ages. Lots of little ones around, hand in hand with bigger folk or in strollers. I can’t imagine what the scene must have felt like to someone that young. Beyond absorption, maybe, apart from getting the sense of an ocean of people, lots of noise.

Close by me, to the right of the doorway, standing against the building, stood a tall, unshaven, gray-haired 40-something. There on his own, maybe with nowhere else to go. Smoking, watching the scene, directing comments at nearby people. With time, it became apparent that he was either a bit drunk or off in some other way. Whatever, he was there when I showed up, he was there when I left. He may still be there.

The building’s front hall was open, a booth selling lottery tickets situated a few feet inside, open for business and getting it from some of the couples and family groups who ducked inside to catch their breath. As time passed, more and more people slowly collected in the space beside and behind me, an indication of the gathering intensity outside as thousands and thousands of Madrileños continued pouring into the plaza. The pace at which the stream of humans that had been flowing steadily by gradually slowed as the crowd’s density skyrocketed until movement essentially came to a halt, the throng packed tightly together. And still the tide of people arriving from east of the plaza continued.

Somewhere between 8 and 8:30, three speakers read a prepared piece from a platform in the center of the plaza — Pedro Almodóvar (Spanish film director, now up for two Academy Awards) and two other people — after which sirens began going off as if a bombardment had begun, followed by a brief burst of explosions and smoke, I suppose providing a graphic reminder of what this massive gathering was all about –- the threat of bombs raining down from the sky in a country on the other side of the Mediterranean.

The crowd in our part of the plaza had come to a standstill, the only forward motion happening fitfully, at a snail’s pace. Further people had pushed their way into the doorway next to me, including a drunk who settled in next to me and began playing with a baby seated on its mother’s shoulders right in front of us. Neither the baby nor the mother wanted anything to do with the guy, who took no notice of their displeasure, continuing to trying to take the baby’s hands, moving its arms around, chanting something inane the whole time. A group of 50 and 60-somethings in front of me decided right then to try and get to the north-south street, I stepped down from the doorway behind them, intending to ride their wake to the nearby street and around the corner in the direction of home.

The atmosphere had become tense with so many people wanting to move and not being able to, everyone feeling the growing pressure of the sea of bodies behind being pushed into us by the continuous arrival of marchers. Ten or fifteen tense minutes later, we made it around the corner, where the pressure began to slowly let up as we moved away from the plaza. A stream of folks heading in the other direction, attempting the laughable task of entering the plaza, slowed things for a while until we reached a point where other streets branched off and the horde began to thin out.

I was ready to be away from crowds by then, made my way as quickly as I could between chatting, walking groups toward this barrio. Gran Vía had little traffic apart from the river of pedestrians, moving across the avenue at will, the few cars making their way slowly, carefully along. I passed someone pushing a wheelchair through the crowd, a full-sized plastic human skeleton seated in it, its hands holding a sign that translated to something like, “Oh, I don’t know — Bush seems okay to me.”

Though the crowds thinned some after fleeing the area around Sol, there were still more people here in the neighborhood than I’ve ever seen apart from Gay Pride weekend, a monstrous weekend in these parts, considering Chueca is Madrid’s version of Greenwich Village. When I finally reached my building and stepped inside, the relief at being alone after all that time in a mob scene felt indescribably sweet.

That was Saturday.

Sunday: quiet Madrid streets, abundant sunshine, blue, cloudless skies. I’d had an impulse to go to a show that evening, checked the listings, found something promising in an alternative theater. Almost immediately, the phone rang, a Spanish friend on the other end of the line began telling me she’d been thinking about going to a show.

That night we found ourselves in the alternative theater watching three French knuckleheads — Les Poubelle Boys — careen their way through a display of organized musical chaos. They played with language (French, Spanish, English, a bit of German, liberally sprinkled with nonsense dialogue), they abused each other, they danced, they engaged in cheap sight gags, they sang, they played complex musical routines on household/industrial objects (especially janitorial supplies), until they arrived at a place of weaving wildly back and forth between insistent clowning and some accomplished renditions of jazz standards.

Sunday shows are often lower energy affairs. Not this one. This audience was ready to party, and by the end of the gig’s first half, the Boys began looking a bit surprised to find themselves in the middle of a scene that was practically shaking plaster dust from the ceiling. They spent the second half alternating between appearing a bit stunned at the whooping madhouse their Sunday evening crowd had become and milking it for all it was worth.

It was one of those occasional performance events when everything falls into place, the event transforming itself into something way beyond the expectations of performers and audience. A collision of chemistry and timing, sprinkled lavishly with fairy dust.

This is the Boys’ last week in Madrid. I have an Irish friend coming for the weekend — I may have to inflict these nutbags on him.

It’s now mid-week. I’ve been to Spanish class, I’ve been writing. The scope of the work across the street increases daily. Today generators and worksheds were trucked in, along with palettes of bricks and other supplies. Big noise has begun.

I’ve had this piso for over a year and a half, a lovely, mostly tranquil time — numerous people from the states/the U.K. have threatened to come visit, none have. Now that construction has begun right in front of the building and peace&quiet is fleeing toward the horizon with its ass on fire, one friend is showing up this weekend, others have made inquiries about March and April.

Ah, well.

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On a completely unrelated note:

What’s it gonna be? Salvation? Or pursue a degree in evil?

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