far too much writing, far too many photos

Time and time again, I am knocked out by the way the days flash by. I arrived in Madrid three days ago — the time in between has blown past at mind-boggling speed. Every now and then there are more leisurely passages, the present moment seeming to flow by at a more relaxed lope (or, in the case of the 24 hours without electricity in Vermont this last Friday/Saturday, at a snail’s pace). Then I look back on it and it seems to have streaked past, like the rest of this life’s moments, swirling about in my internal rear-view mirror like leaves in my wake. Not to push the metaphor thing to the point of strain.

Daily existence has been coming together bit by bit. Groceries, bank, Spanish classes, gym, sleeping, eating, blahblahblah. On Monday, in the flush of my first hours back, I found myself speaking Spanish easily, the words flowing like old friends. As time went by, interactions became more complex, telephone calls to the phone company and dealings with a counter person at my bank provided slightly harder-edged perspective. But not demoralizing. Considering I’m freshly off the plane after five months away and am only beginning to catch up on sleep, I’m doing fine.

A couple of days back, after pulling myself out of bed at the blissful hour of 11:30, I wandered outside and made the hike to my bank — one of whose cash machines had devoured my ATM card the night before without warning, giving me no $$$$, instructing me to speak to someone at my home branch office. A beautiful, mild day, the air practically glowing with autumn sunlight. I passed a bar/café I’d been to a few times in the past, veered inside, ordered an espresso. My butt parked on a stool at the end of the bar, with a fine view of the world outside, I sipped at my little cup. During which I noticed a shoe shop across the street, the words ALMACÉN DE CALZADOS painted above the storefront (SHOE STORE, basically — literally, STORE or SHOP OF FOOTWEAR). Their awning had been unfurled above the sidewalk, the words ZAPATOS – ZAPATILLAS – ALPARGATAS emblazoned along its edge. I’m reading that — shoes, sneakers — and I stop dead at the third term, thinking What the hell are alpargatas? Completely baffled. A look at a dictionary later on defined the word as canvas sandals, or espadrilles. Should it worry me that discoveries like this just about make my day?

The only other customer in the bar/café, a small neighborhood joint, was a diminutive, elaborately-coiffed, fur-coated, 70-ish woman a couple of stools away making her way through a cup of coffee and a croissant (browned on the grill, her working at it with knife and fork, as is local custom). Studiously ignoring me, a stranger with the accent of a furriner. Sometimes that’s how it goes. Other times it’s different. Today, for instance, post visit to the gym, I’m strolling along a main drag in the barrio of Salamanca, arguably Madrid ritziest neighorhood. I come upon a poster for the Christmas lottery at a bus stop [a big deal here, whose impossible-to-avoid advertising campaign just got underway -- see photo at top of page]. I stop, pull out my camera. While I’m doing that, the person parked nearest the bus stop gets in their car, pulls out, leaving a postage-stamp-sized bit of parking square-footage available, immediately claimed by a 60-something woman, who pulls up, backs carefully into it. As she gets out and heads toward the local version of a parking meter, she says to me, shaking her head, “¡Madre mía, qué pequeño ese espacio!” (More or less, “Man, what a small space!”)

One of the achievements of the past couple of days: straightening out the kinks in the camera/computer thing, taking my first pix on this side of the Atlantic. During which I’ve discovered that this camera is not dealing well with the light here, beautiful light that provides a strong element of the local flavor. I’m walking around this morning, shooting away, absurdly thrilled at the prospect of how they’ll look. I get home, do the download thing, find out the light in many of the pictures simply washes right out, leaving a creeping off-white in its place. [See photo immediately below, taken this a.m. right here in the 'hood.] Not okay — either I figure out how to work around that or pick up a better camera.

Yesterday evening: this trip’s first foray into Spanish classes, back at the school I’ve been showering with euros for a while now. Afterwards, went out for a beer with Jesús (my instructor from last spring, not he who waltzed on water) and Carolina (another teacher at the school, one of the most beautiful women I know). Two lovely folks who herd me to a kitschy local hole-in-the-wall. Conversation follows, straying from classes to politics to the Matrix. At some point during the politics part, I realize I’ve come up against my limits with my language. All I can do is hang in, try to keep up with the other two without too many lapses into gibberish. Overall, not too catastrophic.

During the conversation, the subject of Spanglish came up (or Espanglish, as they call it here), something that occupied a chunk of class time before that. A phenomenon that’s apparently taking stronger and stronger hold with younger folk. This morning, on the way out of the gym, I notice a handwritten message on the bulletin board, a woman saying she left her watch on a bench in the locker room, didn’t realize it ’til she got home, went back to look for it, it had disappeared. In the note, she requests the watch’s return, no questions asked, closing out the plea with the phrase, Muchas thank yous!

Espanglish, the language of tomorrow.

That’s it for now. Muchas thank yous.


A touch of autumn color in the barrio of Salamanca, Madrid:

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