Much of what I heard about during the first hour of this get-together were amazed, effusive descriptions of the staggering Christmas Eve dinner given by Sandra's parents the night before, apparently a nearly endless parade of fine food, one course after another, stretching well into the wee hours. Platter after platter of meat, fish, meat, fish, meat, fish. With a break for dancing, at some point. As in furniture being moved aside and family members gettin', er, jiggy. To what kind of music I couldn't say (though I'd lay heavy odds no AC/DC tunes figured in the playlist). But who cares? If I found myself at a Christmas Eve do of that ilk, I wouldn't give a rat's patoot what the soundtrack was.
John -- he of the he&she that comprise my landlords -- looked tired and drawn, to the point that nearly everyone commented on it. (Everyone except me, Mr. Diplomat.) Didn't appear he enjoyed that much, though he clearly enjoyed repeating ever more exaggerated versions of his daughter's "God, you look terrible!" The overall feeling, despite bursts of inter-parental-unit crankiness, was one of good humor. In fact, I would go as far as to say that there was a strong element of sitcom in the family interactions going on around me. Good sitcom, well-written sitcom. Funny sitcom. Lots of intra-family comedy, the kind that provides fine accompaniment to the inhaling of an excellent traditional Anglo-Saxon-style Christmas meal. The kind of comedy that brought John's smile/laugh to the surface every now and then, moments when it seemed like the light from the late afternoon sun suddenly brightened, something I don't mean as overdone poetic hoo-ha. He has a genuinely great smile/laugh, a kind that automatically gets me smiling in response. Literally feels (to me, at least) like the local candlepower spikes upward when they burst forth.
Great folks, my landlords and their progeny. Connecting with them was a stroke of outrageous good fortune.
So. Food. Talk, some in Spanish, some in English. More in English as time passed. My Spanish seemed to have temporarily collapsed, after two or three days of heavy language workouts. Anna, J&P's daughter, speaks superb Spanish, a kind in which the music of the language is crystal clear. Makes me want to spew my weak imitation in the vain hope that I might someday keep up with her, that I might someday manage to achieve a weak, watered-down approximation of her impressive, melodic Castellano. My mouth wasn't having any of it this day, though. Luckily, I usually speak fairly decent English. So I had something to fall back on.
And as the eating part of the program gave way to post-gorge conversation around the table, a beautiful sunset began cranking up outside. One of those long, drawn-out affairs where the light and color get going and keep going, changing continually in subtle, kaleidoscopic fashion. Got me up out of my chair and over to the window to get an eyeful over the yard's slatted fence. Pat suggested going upstairs to stand out on the small terrace, which sounded like a fine idea. I hadn't seen the upstairs yet -- my inner nosy, prying snoop liked that prospect.
Turns out this modest home had a seriously grandiose, squared-off version of a spiral staircase leading up to the second level. White stucco. Airy, with windows all around way up top. Ending at an upper level of two small bedrooms and a bath. And a terrace off the guest bedroom, looking out over the highway to rolling land that stretches away to the southwestern horizon, where the day's last light continued to put on a quietly spectacular show of oranges, reds, purples. And there we stood, out in the cool air, traffic passing below, watching a poignantly lovely sunset. A killer sunset. Through the power lines.
Something about that summed up this year's Christmas for me.
The days since then have remained beautiful, the temperature rising and falling unpredictably from one day to the next. (Unpredictable for those who tend not to follow the news/weather, anyway.) Sunday: genuinely brisk, authentically cold, the kind of conditions that get people walking quickly, coats pulled tightly around, hands in pockets. Today: mild enough that a handful of restaurants put out tables and chairs for the afternoon meal.
The mornings have started off slowly, quietly, Metro trains only half-full, passengers silent, drowsy. The days have been awash in December sunlight. By late-morning, the streets are busy with traffic, the city center thick with people shopping, conducting business, walking along sidewalks or pedestrians crowded with folks of all age brackets -- couples, families, groups of friends. The afternoon light hangs in the air through the rush hour, gradually transforming into long, lingering twilights -- major displays of color in the western sky, gradually giving way to evening and the lights of the city.
The holidays in Madrid. A fine time of the year in a place that feels like home.