far too much writing, far too many photos

Winter began edging its way in here on Thursday. The afternoon, already cool, grew colder as the hours slipped by, the sky turning the kind of gray that sometimes means a coming snowfall. I heard more than one person comment on that, noticed the air had taken on a pre-snow smell and feel I recognized (with a fleeting pang of nostalgia) from winter in New England. Walking home in the early evening I thought I felt the light, ephemeral touch of a few snowflakes on my face — briefly there, melting quickly away. Might simply have been my overactive imagination at work, I don’t know. Snow doesn’t fall often in Madrid in these days of climate change.

People are suddenly dressed in cold-weather gear, a shift that harmonizes nicely with the sudden abundance of Christmas lights, of shop windows reflecting Christmas in subtle or extravagant ways, with the appearance of Christmas cards in stores, a phenomenon of recent years here. In past holiday seasons, they’ve mostly been painfully tacky, gooily sentimental. This year cards from Unicef and the Red Cross have landed in some shops, introducing higher level, more appealing designs. I’ll be curious to see if this trend continues.

Store window, Madrid

I’ve been back in language classes these last couple of weeks, a kind of kick in the (adorable) butt I’ve needed. At a language school I’ve never tried before, just a few blocks from here. Run by a handful of smart, young, interesting Spanish women (all of whom, for some reason, have seriously beautiful eyes — distracting at some moments, but a distraction of the best kind). Between the cumulative input from class time and home-study time, combined with daily exposure to newspaper/radio/TV, I suddenly find myself thinking in a mix of English and Spanish. It’s a sensation I like, a different way of processing what happens during the day.

Meanwhile, since my return to this part of the world (a month ago now), my mobile phone has gone belly up. Or rather some days it seems to, unable to hold a charge, unable to connect with the local network. Other days, for reasons unknown, it gets happy, plugs nicely into the grid, behaves like a youngster again. It’s a phone given to me by a guy from Texas I met in intensive Spanish classes in the spring of 2001, the day before he returned to the States — a good guy, the kind of person that sometimes made the constant flow of folks through those classes (there one week, gone the next) a sad fact. A phone that’s extremely low-tech by current standards, one that’s put in long, honorable service. Not that I demand much of a mobile phone. I often forget about it when I’m at home, leaving it off (willfully, in part, as I’d rather folks try the landline blower first). Which means I tend to forget about it when I leave the house, sending me out phoneless. (Something the more curmudgeonly part of me has no problem with, not wanting me to be quite as available as the world of 2004 sometimes expects us to be.) Some days, now, it acts tired, cranky. Not up to holding a charge. Today it seems glad to be alive.

Glad to be alive. I can relate. This day started off cold, gray, spitting drizzle. About an hour ago, the overcast thinned, sunlight began spilling through the flat’s windows, sending me out to pick up groceries before the shops shut down for the weekend at 2 p.m. The local streets are nicely active, the commercial concerns humming with people looking to beat the closing hour. Something about ducking into neighborhood stores, returning to the flat with everything I need without having to drive anywhere or make a Metro trip further into the city center, pleases me with such depth and simplicity that I’d be hard pressed to explain why. It’s simply good to be alive, taking care of the a-b-c’s of daily existence, in a part of the world that feels like home.

But you don’t want to hear about that. You’re probably more interested in consumer alerts of the cutting-edge-fashion variety. For instance, if you’ve been putting off buying that special pair of gold platform boots until the right moment, you may want to pack a credit card and book a fast flight to Spain. They’re on sale here in the barrio, and there’s no guarantee how long inventory will hold up.

Once you’ve found a pair your size and have battled your way through the lines at the register, you can stop in at one of the abundant neighborhood cafés/cafeterías/restaurantes and have a good meal or a fine cup of espresso while you watch the Davis Cup finals between Spain and the States, an event that is being broadcast everywhere, receiving rapt attention from the locals (and, incidentally, producing some good-looking tennis).

One last thing: overnight email here brought inquiries about yesterday evening’s bombings in Madrid, five small bombs made and placed by ETA, the Basque separatist/terrorist group, in gas stations along highways out of the city, all set to go off at 6:30, during the height of rush-hour traffic (traffic augmented by people leaving the city for the long weekend). All is well — the devices were ineffectual, causing little damage of any kind. Symbolic of the current state of ETA in the wake of cooperation between the Spanish and French governments that’s resulted in drastic dismantling of ETA’s structure and network. More of a piddling temper tantrum, really. Not worth giving them the attention they crave.

On to the weekend.

Madrid, te quiero.

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