far too much writing, far too many photos

It’s the fourth day of a five-day weekend here. That’s right, five whole days.

The Spaniards have a reputation for peppering their calendar year with an excessive amount of holidays. And if you mention that to them, they’ll protest and say, no, no, then count out the holidays to you month by month, absolutely sure that if a halfway reasonable human being pays attention and counts along with them, we will clearly see and understand that there is nothing excessive in the number of holidays they give themselves. And of course the right thing to do is nod and agree with them because they’re lovely folks, and after all, who really cares how many holidays they take?

But as you’re nodding and agreeing, deep down inside you’re likely saying to yourself: goddam, they have a poopload of holidays here. (Pause for nanosecond of fairness: to those of us who come from a culture that doesn’t value the savoring of life in quite the same way they do in Spain, it may simply seem like they have a humongous number of holidays when factoring in the long, relaxed summer vacation that much of the local world takes and enjoys.)

Yesterday was the day of the Spanish Constitution, celebrating, well, the Spanish Constitution, and via that 25 or 26 years of Spanish democracy. Something to celebrate after centuries of turbulent history capped off by nearly four decades of fascist dictatorship. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and though most of the population is not exactly what you would call devout, they will happily take tomorrow as a holiday, thanks very much. And since today falls between those two days of celebration, it’s a wash. Might as well sleep late, have a nice lunch, go out, take a walk with your sweetie, maybe do some Christmas shopping, maybe go see a movie. Then rest up after all the activity because don’t forget, tomorrow’s a holiday and there will be meals to eat and family or friends to hang around with.

So the long weekend finishes up tomorrow, leaving two days before the next weekend. Two meager, miserable days. Not much point in dragging ass back to work just for Thursday and Friday, is there? Well — pausing for yet another brief moment of fairness — there will be those heading back to the salt mines to keep the wheels of commerce turning. Not everyone, though. There will also be those taking those two lonely days off — creating, in effect, a nine-day weekend. Is this brilliant or what?

And then two weeks later: Navidad! Which means: Christmas, New Year’s, then what used to be called Little Christmas back in the States (el Día de los Reyes Magos here, the day of the Three Kings). Which wraps up the holiday season.

I have no problem with the Spanish holiday thing. It’s healthy, is what I think. And fun.

And beyond that, I love the Christmas season. That’s the simple truth. No, I don’t really observe the holiday, or at least its religious version. But the general spirit of the season feels extremely fine to me, extremely comfortable, embodying sentiments I think an advanced, compassionate culture would want to strive for on a daily basis, throughout the year: the joyous urge to give, the enjoyment of receiving. Wishing the best for your neighbor, with a general vague sense that we’re all in this together, that we all deserve and hope for love, abundance, acceptance and good will from our fellow humans. Letting people who matter to us know that we’re glad they’re here, glad they’re alive, glad they’re part of our life.

I love the lights and decorations. I love the parties, the increased socializing, the dinners, the work-related wingdings, the gathering together in so many different ways that counters all the hours of early darkness. I love the craft fairs and the way stores fancy themselves up. I love the pageants, the concerts, the pantos.

It’s good. And it’s fun to watch the local version of it swell and grow more elaborate as the days reel by. Madrid’s an excellent place to be for the holidays.

As, for that matter, is London — a part of the world I’ll be passing through real damn soon. Thursday morning I hop a plane up to Heathrow, head into Paddington Station and grab a train out to Bristol in the southwest to visit a friend for a couple of days. Sunday a.m., I grab another train, head back to London, where I’ll rendezvous with a friend or two, do touristy things. Then return to Madrid mid-week for the holiday home-stretch.

In the meantime, the long, long pre-Navidad holiday weekend continues here, the streets outside are alive with people out enjoying it.

Think I’ll go enjoy some of it myself.

***************

Today, along la Calle de Alcalá, Madrid — soaking up the thin sunlight of a cold December morning:

Madrid, te quiero.

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