far too much writing, far too many photos

A week from today I’ll be in the States, waking up there for the first time since last June. I expect it’ll be an interesting jaunt, and I don’t mean that in the old-Chinese-curse-”may-you-live-in-interesting-times” way. There are friends I’m looking forward to seeing, there’s work to be done, including closing out an apartment. And I’ll experience the feeling of being in the States during this strange time.

Hard to know what to say about that last item, so I’ll simply leave it alone. It will be what it’s going to be, I’ll find out what that is when I’m there in the middle of it.


Madrid’s been experiencing a stretch of sensational weather — if it weren’t for the late-October angle of the sun and nighttime coolness, I’d swear it was early September. Warm, soft-feeling days, extremely user-friendly, especially coming after a couple of weeks with lots of rain. The kind of thing some might call Indian Summer back in the States.

The sumac trees in the vacant lot across the street are slowly losing their leaves. In the northeast U.S. autumn, sumac foliage turns bright colors. Here, the leaves just seem to fade to a yellowish-green before letting go and drifting earthward. Across the street, they’re coming off from the top down, the uppermost branches now starkly bare, slowly thinning out down below. (I have a memory of making the drive from Boston to Albany a few years back, passing through the stretch of New York between the Massachusetts border and the Hudson valley — just as the colors were at their peak. Featuring stands of sumac whose leaves were a brilliant, vivid red, a color so electrically alive it practically pulsated.)

The wall that surrounds that small vacant lot got plastered with posters almost immediately after the city crew cleaned it off last week. It’s now into the third generation of concert announcements and record ads (”Status Quo — Famous In The Last Century — Lo Mejor Rock De Siempre en su Nuevo Disco Ya A La Venta”; “De-Phazz, En Concierto, Domingo, 18 Diciembre, La Riviera”).

People in the street are in shirtsleeves, except for older folks, who walk more slowly, more carefully — wearing coats, carrying plastic bags of baguettes and milk.

A feature of life here that I’ve slowly been adjusting to: junk mail doesn’t actually arrive in the post. Instead, trash-mail carriers go from building to building, ringing buzzers until someone lets them in. Apartment mailboxes here have capacious slots, allowing people to drop materials into them without being able to get at anything of normal size that might be already be in there. Four or five times this morning the door-buzzer for my flat has announced ‘propaganda’ carriers wanting in.

The building I lived in last year had a portero, the entrance to the building stood open during his on-duty hours — 9 to 2, then again from 5 to 8 or 9. The junk-mail people made their rounds during those hours, I never had to deal with them. This building has no lobby, just a foyer/entranceway, and therefore no doorperson, something I’ve found I actually prefer. It just means my buzzer goes off during the mornings, signalling the arrival of advertising I don’t want.

I made the mistake of responding to the junk-mail summonings when I first moved in here. I’d answer the intercom, the carriers wanting in spoke so rapidly I could hardly understand a word they said, and I discovered I don’t especially want to let in someone I don’t know with no one around to watch over them. The junk-mail folks didn’t care for that, especially one loud, aggressive woman who produced a stream of invective at supersonic speed, so that I’ve learned to ignore the buzzer if a friend hasn’t called and said they might be coming over. If no one lets the ad-people in, they shove a bunch of flyers under the door, life goes on. Which works out just fine for everyone.

It’s a beautiful day. Windows are open, sounds from outside come and go with the breeze. In a while, I’ll head out, get some lunch, then make my way to the gym for a couple of hours like the hombre I am.

Life’s all right.


5:20 p.m, the afternoon light waning, the radio tuned to Radio 3 where they’re playing extremely cool Halloween-style tunes, from Tim Burton film music to Nick Cave to Tom Waits. Other stuff, too, including what sounded like a remake of a fine Björk song.

It occurred to me after my previous grumblings re: Madrid’s lack of autumn colors that I actually saw some this weekend. A friend drove me out to El Escorial on Sunday, a mountain town about 25 miles northwest of Madrid. Colors — everywhere! Yellows, oranges, and one lonely splash of red on the vine-covered wall of a building.

It felt fine to be out in mountainous land. A different kind of mountain from Vermont’s ranges, or the Berkshires or Catskills — rougher, rockier, less green — but they rear up into the sky in the way that did my heart good to see. Surprised me to see how good it felt to be out among them.

El Escorial is something else altogether, the focal point being an austere (yet grandiose) palace/monastery/tomb/library — massive, interesting, and in its way beautiful. Mountains thrust themselves up around one or two sides of the town, narrow streets wind up and down long inclines. Old buildings, plazas and interesting walkways abound. The town is close enough to Madrid and picturesque enough, with a lively, rich life (due in part to a university), that many folks from the capital city hang out there during the warm season.

We sat at a table in a plaza as the sun slipped from view and the light faded, nearby bells in a large old building clanging out the quarter hours (to my friend Jaime’s good-natured irritation), Spanish, English and French being spoken around us. Jaime tried to convince me that I spend far too much of my time in the city center, claiming I need to get out to the northern reaches of the center, the area near el Estadio Bernabéu (home of Real Madrid). I’ve spent a fair amount of time up in that area, generally prefer where I am, and politely told him that. He finally let up, we headed to the car and drove back to Madrid in heavy back-from-the-weekend traffic.

Today, walking along el Paseo de la Castellana, I saw a number of trees whose leaves had turned a shining yellow, and remembered locals have counseled me to head to El Retiro, the huge park on Madrid’s east side, to see autumn colors while in the city. They’re right, of course. Loads of trees there, some are bound to be putting on a show.

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