Events: Holidays, 2004
Sunday, April 11, 2004
The Easter season began nine days ago in these parts, a massive number of locals bolting the city on the Friday before Palm Sunday, producing long, sprawling highway traffic back-ups and an immediate quieting of activity/noise level in the city. The days since then have grown increasingly quiet, sedate, with business hours so different, so out of whack compared with the 'normal' model, that I began losing my sense of the days of the week. To the point that by this last Thursday and Friday I found myself pausing at moments to figure out where, in calendar terms, we actually were.
Most businesses closed Thursday/Friday. Some opened up again for part of Saturday, though no newspapers published. City traffic thinned out, as has the number of people walking the streets, to where Friday and Saturday evenings barely resembled the Madrid I'm accustomed to. In this barrio, normally a weekend focal point for nightlife, streets and plazas normally alive with folks walking, standing in groups, seated at tables eating/drinking were practically deserted. At night, the contrast has felt eerily disorienting. The days, however, have felt relaxed in a way that's been a relief after the intensity of the last month. (A month ago this morning the city was jolted -- a word that hardly describes the actual experience -- by the bombings, followed three days later national elections and a drastic alteration of the Spanish political landscape.)
People with luggage and backpacks have been everywhere. The presence of French and American tourists has increased drastically, those languages suddenly far more common than normal. Beefed up security concerns have resulted in a much more visible (though surprisingly unintrusive) police presence, especially in the Metro where city cops have joined the numerous private cops for the first time.
Went down into the Metro last night, passing through a startlingly empty Plaza de Chueca on the way, past a couple of private cops hanging out by the turnstiles, watching the few who passed by attentively. A train pulled in, nearly empty -- the polar opposite of the norm for a Saturday night here. I got on board, took a seat. Across from me and a couple of seats along, two Spanish 20-something slackers -- one holding a half-empty liter bottle of beer, the other with a nearly full liter bottle of coke/wine (the color is the giveaway) -- sat, leaning against each other, both half in the bag, conversing in the Spanish version of slackertalk. A 30ish woman sat across from me, appearing unhappy about her proximity to the slackerdudes. They minded their own business, though, paying attention to no one but each other, so she remained where she was.
I got off at the next stop, the slackers exiting behind me, one responding to something the other said with, "Tio, eso es lo que me hace gracia." ("Dude, that's what I think is so funny.") I headed up to the street, passing a cluster of four or five private cops along with two city cops by the turnstiles. Wondered if the slackers would get hassled by the detex for public drinking, didn't wait to see. Ascended the stairs to open air and comparatively quiet streets.
Images from the Semana Santa (holy week) religious processions have become ubiquitous on local television channels these last few days, and Madrid has had its share of those processions moving through the city during the evenings. I made no effort to attend any this year after witnessing two last year. Compared with the spectacular processions I saw in Granada in 2002, the local version, well, had little impact.
And what have I done with myself these last few days? Er... surprisingly little. Slept late, read the morning paper (days it's been published) over long cups of a.m. espresso. Ate quite a bit (though you wouldn't know it to look at me). Watched people, went to movies. Wandered about with my camera, enjoying the city, watching people. Noted the 10-story ad for Pedro Almodóvar's latest, covering the front of a building on Gran Vía (except for the street-level cine, where the film plays).
And yesterday, unexpectedly, the sensation of being adrift in time disappeared, replaced by the sure feeling of a Saturday. Due, apparently, to Monday bringing the return of the normal work universe, rendering this a normal weekend instead of two nebulous days in a long string of oddly unstructured calendar entries. No more half the local population off swanning about the coast or the mountains, no more stores or restaurants closing because they feel like taking some time off. Back to earning an honest euro. Which has dragged everything else back to earth, nailing local life back into its more familiar, predictable framework.
Most everyone heads back to the city today, this morning's paper contained recommended routes for the returning throngs. Parking spaces that appeared in the neighborhood during recent days -- normally as difficult to come across as neutrino sightings -- will disappear once again as local equilibrium is restored.
Adrift in time no more.
Saturday, May 15, 2004
Today in Madrid: la Feria de San Isidro, commemorating one of Madrid's patron saints. Meaning a morning in which most local businesses -- food tiendas, cafeterías, you name it -- were closed and dark, leaving confused non-natives wandering about in search of groceries or a shot of caffeine.
The overwhelming abundance of shuttered shops took my half-awake little brain by surprise, too. Grabbed a paper at the local news kiosk, located a local watering hole for a quick hit of espresso. The paper mentioned San Isidro, everything suddenly made sense, I found myself coming to full consciousness reoriented in linear time. Much better.
Spring returned yesterday, after a couple of weeks of drastically untypical May conditions -- unseasonably cool, often gray, rainy. The day started out with a chilly edge then blossomed sweetly into spectacular vernal weather, the kind that reminds me all over again how good my little body feels when springtime truly takes root.
Between the holiday weekend and the return of user-friendly temperatures, last night's Friday evening version of the city was buzzing. I rendezvoused with a couple I know for dinner (you know you're in Spain when friends make dinner reservations for 11 p.m.). On stepping out of the restaurant at 1:30 a.m., the streets were busier, noisier than they are at 1:30 p.m. The hubbub continued well past me turning off the bedside light shortly before 4 a.m.
There is nowhere quite like this city.
This afternoon: la Feria de San Isidro, la Plaza Mayor, Madrid:
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Two Christmas cards found their way to this snailmail address today. That may not be a humongo deal for normal human beings. But for me? A major aberration. With all the skipping across the Atlantic I've done these last few years, people from my 3-D life often seem not to know where to find me. (This despite me reminding them that all they have to do is check this page, a reminder I finally stopped giving this last year; they all know I maintain this journal -- if where I am matters to them, they'll keep track.) In addition to which, I've taken to disentangling myself from the obligatory yuletide stuff -- meaning I buy gifts and send cards only when I genuinely want to. And these last couple of holiday seasons, I've made the shift to e-cards, a move I've discovered I love. (For those who think the standard e-cards leave something to be desired, there are online haunts that provide some decent alternatives -- wading through a Google search is worth it.)
One of today's two cards came from my only computerless friend, an older guy who simply hasn't made the leap. If he had, I would have pelted him with an e-card a few days back.
The other card was addressed 'To Mr. + Mrs. Gustavo ?' Right street address, down to the apartment number and mail code, at least if they were trying to reach me. Wrong address for the ? family. Wrong building. Wrong street, for all I know.
Yes, of course I opened it -- Tina, Colin, Leonie + Amie hope Janet, Gustavo, Alba and Ela are keeping well and they send love.
No last names, no return address. Some in the psychology biz might consider that an indication that the senders didn't really want the card to arrive. Other, more jaundiced folks might see it as an indication that they just didn't care enough to make sure the job was done right. Could be either of those, or it could simply be stress, overload, too much stuff going on, too many cards being sent out too quickly.
All I know is I've got a Christmas orphan on my hands. Fortunately, there is room at this inn. I'll hold onto it awhile, quiz a neighbor or two, see what comes of it.
Posters seen up the street -- overdoing the holiday festivity thing:
Friday, December 24, 2004
Here's what I remember of my Christmases.
I remember waking up in the wee hours in our small house out in the Long Island 'burbs, unable to sleep from excitement. I'd creep downstairs as silently as I could, step out into the living room, turn on a light and stare at the tree (thickly layered with decorations and tinsel, the closest we ever came to what might be called glitz in our household). My eyes would then take in the mound of gifts beneath the tree, always an amazing show of abundance in a household that normally had little money to spare. I'd slip the plug for the lights into the wall, watch the room burst into quiet extravagance. Then I'd snoop around the gifts until I'd found as many addressed to me as could be located without disturbing the mound. (The pile -- put together with care by my parents sometime post-midnight on Christmas Eve -- could not be disturbed. Gifts could not be opened before the family opening ritual several hours. These rules were not to be fucked with as the consequences could be painful.) Then I sat in a chair and stared and thought and looked out the window, waiting for daylight, listening for the first sounds of others getting out of bed.
I remember my father putting up the outdoor lights in early to mid-December. Always a man inclined to making detailed plans, neatly drawing out diagrams and measurements, carrying out projects with methodical, painstaking care. (Not always a man given to patience with those who didn't do things with that methodical, painstaking care.) Some years the tree would be going up in the house at the same time, meaning the living room would be piled with boxes of decorations, the small cresh would appear by the small bookcase by the staircase, wrapped in ancient comics pages that I would read, year after year. Combined with the strong scent of pine tree, with all the visual cues and memories of other holiday seasons, the old comics (far, far too old -- Dick Tracy! Gasoline Alley!) felt deeply, satisfyingly evocative of something I don't think I could have put my finger on if I'd stopped to think about it.
Until the tree was securely vertical, the multiple strings of lights securely in place, I wasn't allowed near it, which left me drifting around in a strange state of boredom/contentment/excitement. I'd pull on a coat, wander outside to watch my father hang the giant wreath over the living room window or string big old-style lights along the eaves, around the front door.
Walking indoors from the cold, everything smelled fresh, everything looked new and loaded with potential in a way the house never did during the rest of the year.
I remember my grandmother -- my father's mother, the only grandparent who hung about until I was born -- making the trip out from Brooklyn for dinner. My parents had me late in their lives, so they were already on in years. My grandmother was REALLY, GENUINELY, SERIOUSLY on in years. Old, wearing bottle-lensed, black-framed eyeglasses, thick unsupple stockings, big slab-heeled black shoes. Sometimes she'd arrive from the train station in a taxi, other times someone would go pick her up. I only remember getting a first glimpse of her as she emerged carefully from whatever vehicle delivered her, wearing a dark, stodgily elegant winter coat, carrying a bakery box tied with string (always, as far as I know, containing a chocolate cake, densely delicious in an old-world way).
I didn't know her well, she never seemed terribly interested in me. My job was to entertain myself when she was in the house, to stay out of the way, an assignment I had no problem with (after all, there were new toys to abuse and weary of). When the hour for Christmas dinner arrived -- all of us squeezed into the house's small dining room around a table covered with food (my mother, generally not an inspired cook, made up for the rest of the year on Thanksgiving and Christmas, always producing a sensational spread, a genuine knockout) -- I'd tuck my butt into a chair, my attention split from that moment on between eating (and eating) and an ongoing study of the old person who, I was told, was a relative. I got to know her speech patterns, some of her smells, her laugh, her thick fingers, the excess meat on her arms, the abundant wrinkles on her face, her waved gray/white hair. Never really learned much more about her until stories were passed on in later years, well after her long, slow fade, by my mother and older brother. A stubborn, often impassively stoic, deeply Catholic child of Irish immigrants who I'm told was a spirited young woman.
Maisie -- my grandmother.
[to be continued during a future Christmas season]
Last week in cold, damp christmastime London, near Covent Garden:
This afternoon at la Plaza de España in Madrid, temperature in the 50s, an unknown teenager copping some pre-Christmas-Eve z's: