far too much writing, far too many photos


Saturday, December 27, 2003

These last few days have whizzed by at startling velocity. Time has flown, I've had plenty of fun. Some old saws hold true.

The 24th: Stepped outside around 6 p.m. from a late afternoon movie to find Christmas Eve Day in Madrid slowly giving way to Christmas Eve (la Nochebuena). Little traffic, crowds thinned out, leaving enough people about to provide a peaceful sense of city. A quieter, more relaxed Madrid. The cafeterías and taverns still open were crowded, customers moved freely in and out of the few stores still going at it. Most businesses were dark, though as I walked from the city center into Chueca, my barrio, that slowly changed. A surprising number of shops on la Calle de Fuencarral had doors open, music pouring out into the street. Stores of all kinds -- clothing, footwear, glitzed-up dumps peddling trashy gifts/touristy tchochkes, bakeries, joints dispensing café and food. Off the main drag, things quieted down. Few cars cruised the streets -- kind of amazing in itself -- though people were about, enjoying the thoroughfares turned into de facto pedestrian ways.

During all this, the soft light of the long, lingering twilight continued, the sky to the west painted in pinks and soft reds, the light extending out into the rest of the sky from there, changing to blue, then to progressively darker shades. Lovely, tranquil. Apart from the explosions.

That's right, explosions. Fireworks. Nothing organized, nothing official -- ashcans (or the local equivalent) and rockets being set off by local knuckleheads, continuing for well over an hour after my return home, much of it out in the street in front of this building.

When I stepped back outside around 8:45, on the way to Christmas Eve dinner -- bearing two bottles of sparkling cider, one of sparkling wine -- fewer people moved through the local streets. Those that did walked in groups, talking happily. A 7 or 8 year old boy went by on a scooter, peering out at me from under the hood of his winter coat. The only kid to be seen. I smiled at him, he zipped past, expressionless.

The streets lay emptier, quieter, with more shops closed, until I reached la Calle de Montera, a three-block stretch that lays between la Gran Vía and Sol, known as la Calle de las Putas. A fair number of prostitutes did Christmas Eve duty, attracting groups of rough-edged 20-somethings, Eastern Europeans and darker-skinned Central/South Americans, carrying on among themselves.

In Sol, where large stores remained open, catering to last-minute gift-buyers, plenty of people drifted about, most in groups of two or three, carrying bags of purchases, some eating pizza or pocket sandwiches from the numerous local Turkish food shops.

The dinner: an affair taking place in a travelers' residence where Tracy, a friend from Spanish class, is staying. I got there to find numerous folk about, Tracy sitting in the small common room with one of the women who worked at the residence -- Teté, from Argentina, bright and very slender -- and an Argentinian 30-something named Eugenio (a jewelry-making craftsperson, hair pulled loosely back in a small ponytail, several days' stubble, a thick Argentinian accent). A young Romanian woman sat apart from them in front of a computer, involved in instant messaging. Other individuals came and went, all males. It felt to me that my presence -- a gray-haired American guy -- made Eugenio and Teté a bit uncomfortable. Teté loosened up with talk and wine, especially after ascertaining that I was unmarried, with no children, immediately talking about setting me up with the woman who runs the residence (not present that evening). For whatever reason, Eugenio never really seemed to warm up to me too much.

Two more folks joined us, Juan and Henry from Venezuela. Conversation turned from trying to set me up with the owner to politics and comparing life in Venezuela, Spain, the States. Tracy disappeared to prepare lamb chops for the meal, the rest of the group eventually drifted through the surprisingly endless hallways of the residence to the kitchen, where seats were taken, bottles of cider and champagne opened, bowls and platters of food found their way to locations among plates and glasses. The young Romanian woman materialized with her partner, a 20-something Romanian guy, they settled into two chairs at the far end of the table set-up. Hailing from Transylvania (where, they claim, a Dracula-oriented theme park is being built), she spoke multiple languages, he spoke English but no Spanish, so that she had to translate the conversation that flowed around the table.

A motley five out of eight. (Photo courtesy of Tracy D.)

[Continued in entry of Dec. 28]

rws 1:07 PM [+]

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London '01
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La Sierra

Madrid -- arrival
Emergency Room I
Holidays 2001
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A neighbor's passing
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