far too much writing, far too many photos


Friday, January 10, 2003

Yesterday when I returned home after classes, a work crew was laboring away in the soon-to-be-ex-vacant-lot across the street (see entry of 21 December, 2002), cutting down the two sumac trees that have provided greenery and shade in the warm season, a bit of color in the autumn, stark shapes in the winter. I went out to the gym, when I returned the trees and workers were all gone.

This morning brought early noise of heavy equipment. Around 7:30, before daylight, someone cranked up the engine of a front and rear-end loader, the excavation of the lot got underway. I was out most of the day. When I returned late afternoon, the wall around the lot was gone – that same wall that's provided so much entertainment and visual stimulus. By the end of the day, the excavation had gone well down into the earth.

Change -- it's always happening; sometimes it's far more apparent, far more more in your face than others.

This neighborhood, a pleasing blend of funky and marginally chic when I moved in two summers ago, is being pulled by the hair toward a far more upscale version of itself. Like everything in this life of ours, it's a work in progress. It's strange to see it shift into a mode of change that's so overt, so rapid.

Today was to be my last day in intensive, five-days-a-week language classes. I'm signed up for a class two nights a week at another school, and was intending to begin work on a major writing project this coming week. With the prospect of further excavation followed by many days, possibly many weeks, of the pounding of pile drivers as the new building's foundation goes in, I have the sneaking suspicion that the noise level here may work against the kind of productivity I was aiming for. So I may simply finesse my way around the problem and continue with classes for a while, getting me out of the house for much of the construction work-day. My Spanish is clearly improving, and with it my confidence in speaking it (though some days are better and others hilariously, occasionally embarrassingly, worse). I am nowhere near being bilingual, but I'm watching myself doing something I've dreamed about for a long time: learning to speak and think in another language, learning to live in another country. (Yee-ha!!)

Monday morning I'll see how things look, then take it from there.

Meanwhile, last night I went to the theater. My first time in what might be called a legitimate house, as opposed to the alternative houses I've gone to here two or three times. Which were fine. More than fine, even – extremely fine. Big fun. But a legitimate house is a whole other thing.

The play: Art, a piece that's been around these last few years, about three men whose friendship undergoes serious stress after one of them buys a piece of contemporary art for big money.

I saw an ad for the show in the local weekly arts guide (La Guía del Ocio – The Leisure Guide) a week ago, went immediately down to the ticket counter at el Corte Inglés to get me one. Three or four years back, I saw a performance of this same piece in London with a killer cast, including Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney. (Finny -- Yowza!! – was amazing to watch in person.) A genuinely interesting script that continues on beyond the point where many authors would have stopped, steering it to a satisfying, startlingly poignant wind-up. Strong performances across the board that stayed with me for days.

This version of the show is Argentinian, has played there for a while, featuring an Argentinian film actor named Ricardo Darín, an accomplished, charismatic son of a bitch who's had major success at movie theaters here. (Examples? "Nine Queens," "Son of The Bride," and one currently playing here to big reviews, "Kamchatka." If you can find Nine Queens on video or DVD, don't even think about it, just grab the bugger and check it out. Great film. The Son of The Bride, while not as good a story (or fiflm) as Nine Queens, is for me a better example of Darin's charisma.) I bought my ticket to check him out in person, wondering how big a question mark the rest of the cast and the performance as a whole would be.

So. It turns out the theater is literally a five-minute walk from here -- located on a street a few blocks away. Though not a thoroughfare I walk very often, the theater is a, er, a genuinely theater. Hard to miss. So that I'm a little stunned to say I'd never even noticed the bugger before.

I get over there about ten minutes before curtain, the sidewalk and street in front of the theater are mobbed. Having never been there before, I wasn't sure where I needed to go. Two tall gay guys, dressed to the teeth in new leather coats, embroidered jeans, brand new faux cowboy boots (a type of footwear that's in style here this winter for some reason), stride by, looking like they know exactly what they're doing, heading straight toward what appears to be an entrance. I fall in behind them. We get to the door, it's not an entrance, they didn't know what they were doing after all. They turn around, nearly running me over, head back out through the crowd, re-orient themselves, spot what looks like another entrance, head directly for that. I'm following the whole time, figuring sooner or later these characters would get it right, knowing they would likely do that sooner than I would. This time they did get it right, before I know it, I'm in the lobby (and a crowded, lavish lobby it is), an old guy at the door tears my ticket, directs me to the entrance – straight ahead, up a grand staircase, through a grand door.

In the theater, I head down front, an usher brings me to my row (#8 – hot damn! good and close to the stage), hands me a pamphlet that's supposed to pass as a program and disappears. I shuffle into the row, looking for seat 12. None of them are numbered. I'm standing there like a bona fide dork, looking over every square inch of chair surface, finding nothing, everyone around is watching me look lost and puzzled. Finally, I make a hopeful guess that the seats on that side of the aisle are positive numbers, which would make seat #12 the sixth one in. I choose that seat, sit down. The seats are the kind whose cushion springs upright when no one's in it -- I push mine down, plant my little butt in it, find myself practically sitting on the floor. I check out the nearby rows, see everyone else is in the same boat. For some reason, these seats were built so the cushions were just above ankle height. All one could do was sit and gaze around, feeling like a 6-year-old at an adult function, sitting in a piece of Fisher-Price furniture.

I look around, finding my bearings, getting used to my knees being nearly at neck height. The place is close to being packed and filling up quickly, loud conversation fills the air all around me.

The theater itself: grand, very grand. Or, at the very least, very delusions-of-grandeur. It had the architecture, design and form of a classic European theater -- high vaulted ceiling, chandeliers -- only it was one-third to one-half the size of a truly grand theater. Just a little place, really, tucked away on a city street. Like the State House in Vermont: as if someone had taken the State House in Massachusetts -- big and grand -- thrown it in the washer, then tossed it in the dryer and forgotten about it for a few hours, so that when it was finally pulled out it was just a teeny, adorable facsimile of a grand, dignified, old building.

Some day this little building will grow up to be a real theater, maybe even an opera house.

So: grand, but on a smaller, slightly silly scale than the kind of grandness it aspired to. And red. Man, I don't think I've ever been in a theater as red as this misguided performance space. Red, red, red. Like the classic, stereotyped image of a cathouse, down to the red velvet seat-cushion fabric. Two floors – the bottom: red with muted gold trim. The upper level: the same, only the ceiling was a muted blue/gray, with the same muted gold trim. Along both sides of the theater ran what would be box seats in a larger hall – here without the boxes. Just two rows of seats -– high-quality folding jobs, it looked like. Behind the chairs: a row of doors, five or six of them on each side -- also red, the door frames colored a darker red. One red-assed bugger, this theater, if you get my drift.

The stage: a proscenium, high, but like the rest of the hall, a reduced version of what a grown-up theater would hold. A decent-sized chandelier hung in the middle of the space, three small ones ran down both sections of attempted box seats, a medium one hung in the back, just inside the entrance.

And the crowd: Spaniards, Spaniards everywhere, from teenagers to 70-somethings, and everything in between. The entire spectrum of dress, from elegant, to scruff with the occasional brightly-dyed hair. Everyone talking. Middle-aged parents with 20-something, even 30-something offspring. Couples of all ages – holding hands, or with a hand on the other's arm or shoulder, or sitting close, occasionally exchanging a kiss. A great scene.

And finally, the lights go down, the show starts. And it turned out to be -- well, the script is excellent to begin with. But the cast, all three of them, were extremely fine -- firmly, securely settled in their characters. No one dominating, a genuine, high-level, high-chemisty ensemble performance -- the real item. The audience began laughing, and laughter rolled in waves through the theater, sometimes exploding out of a quiet moment in raucous eruptions of enjoyment. There were times when, between laughter and bursts of high-speed, Argentinian-accented dialogue, I couldn't make out what was being said. But the acting was so great (and I know the script well enough) that it didn't matter.

Man, that was fun.

So there you have it. Culture, comedy, local color. Not a bad evening, as evenings in Madrid go.

rws 4:43 PM [+]

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