far too much writing, far too many photos

Last night: for the first time in a while, fell asleep around the outlandish hour of 10:30, resulting in a good night’s worth of shut-eye. I needed that. In recent weeks, I’ve fallen into the habit of conking out in the wee hours and waking up far too early. Recently, my body has been letting me know loudly and clearly that more sleep would be a fine thing. We’ll see what happens to my snooze schedule when I’m back in the States.

This morning: up at 8, got a laundry going. Picked up the paper at the kiosk in the plaza, got the day’s baguette and a fine, fine empanadilla of spinach and cheese at my favorite local bakery. The empanadilla: reminiscent of a small, compact calzone with a crispier crust. Addictive. I am going to miss this bakery something serious. In fact, I’m going to miss all the local joints I frequent for food, etc. (Waaaaahhhh!)

Came back, finished with the laundry. I’ve conducted a bit of a hunt for used jeans this weekend — tried a local tienda yesterday that deals in all sorts of inexpensive attire, new and used. Abundant used jeans, none the right size. This morning I took a trip down to el Rastro to check out a stall there I nosed around a couple of times in months past, one with a good selection of used jeans. Couldn’t find the bugger this time, at least not where it used to be located and not in the half of the market I had the time to scope out. (El Rastro is immense, filling many, many, many blocks of city streets with stalls and people. As flea markets go, it’s a monster. To any visitors to Madrid who might check it out, it’s a Sunday-only event — try to get there before 11 a.m. After that, it’s generally mobbed. The half of the market near the top of the hill is touristy, though if you venture into the narrow side streets it gets more interesting, more into antiques and used flotsam. Down near the bottom of the hill, the fare becomes more varied, ranging from antiques to hardware to cut-rate clothing and household goods.)

Standing on a corner in front of a doorway, off to one side of all the activity, stood three guys — one on a simple drum, one on guitar, one on clarinet — making some fine, wild tunes. All three probably in their 40s — each looking old before his time, faces weathered and wizened, teeth missing — they produced joyful music, a jumping blend that slid around between Django Reinhardt, Jelly Roll Morton, the Klezmer Conversatory Band and something blown in from the deserts of north Africa. Their spot was tucked away behind stalls so that not many people actually saw them, no more than a scattered handful stood watching, but the music drifted through the area at the top of the hill, I could see lots of folks responding to it with nodding heads, swaying bodies. An aisle or two over, in front of a crowded stall, a scruffy-looking, gray-haired 50-something stood with a jews harp to his lips, whaling away on it, audibly playing along with the other three musicians.

From the Rastro, I caught the Metro and headed over to the city center’s east side for a quick run through la Reina Sofía (only open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, but with the entrance fee waived as compensation for the short hours), Madrid’s world-class museum devoted to Spanish/European art from the 1800’s on. Worth a visit just for the building, a former hospital build in the late 1700’s, now with two glass and steel elevator shafts built onto the front, a weird concept that works far better than it sounds. Riding to the top floor in those things provides a great view of Madrid rooftops under the broad Spanish sky — I usually go up and down at least two times without getting out every time I go to the museum. At one point today, after all other passengers had gotten off at the third floor, I found myself alone, staring out at Madrid. The next elevator, also empty, also motionless at the same floor, began moving downward, and for a moment I thought mine had started going up. Then mine started going up. A genuine Whoa! moment.

They get some pretty funky exhibits at la Reina Sofía. I took a look at three different temporary shows today, the first one all photography, big, big prints by a Finnish photographer, of scenes from all over Europe, many (including most of my faves) from Finland. Two big rooms were devoted to the show. I checked out the first one, the smaller of the two, then walked into the larger one which was empty of people right then. No furniture. No carpet. Nothing but large, striking photos. For some reason, Roberta Flack’s old number, Killing Me Softly, began running through my head, I found myself whistling it. (I know we’re not supposed to whistle in museums. Sue me.) When I paused, the echo from my whistle hung in the air, taking a long, long time to dwindle and disappear, easily more than five seconds. I tried it again. Same thing. Long, long decay, then silence. After which people suddenly poured in the door to the space, eight or ten of them, the silence replaced with footsteps, voices, the room suddenly alive with noise.

The rest of the visit, boiled down to some notable basics:

– One room containing many photos of mummified bodies from the Cappucin catacombs in Palermo, Italy. Yowza!

– Another room, containing many photos by Jesse Fernández (Havana, 1925 — Paris, 1986), heavily weighted toward notable folks from the arts, mid to late 20th century. A shot of Marlene Dietrich, caught mid-conversation, was the featured image for the exhibit, occupying the rear leaf of the biographical program/leaflet. Stepping into a men’s room later on, I found that someone had left a copy of the program propped up on the top of the urinal, arranged so that the fabulous Marlene smiled benignly at me as I took a whiz.

– Another exhibit, a strange, atmospheric collection of work by an eccentric wacko, featured small paintings, all about 8″ x 10″ arranged sparely around four large, large spaces, three of the spaces furnished with glass-topped wooden tables, beneath whose glass were many more strange paintings, writings, goofy collages, etc. By one strange little painting of a dog sailing downward through the air were the words:

While I was shaving this morning the mirror slid.
For a moment I thought I was falling.

Which brought me back to the bit in the elevator all over again.

Two recurring images in this person’s work:
(a) People walking, angled away from the viewer just enough that faces were never visible. A few of those pieces featured a walking woman, a small man clinging to one side of her torso, a rifle slung across his back. What did it mean? No idea.
(b) Males pulling their shirts off up over their heads. Two of those little paintings featured the words Painting and Punishment. What did it mean? No idea.

I fly out of here tomorrow, first to London, then back to the States. Posts will be sporadic for the next week and a half or so.

Be well.

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