Events: Holidays, 2005
Sunday, January 2, 2005
Seen this morning along one of the barrio's quiet, nearly empty sidewalks: a neatly-dressed 30-something making his way along in slow, deliberate fashion, stopping at each grate or metal utility cover to plant both feet solidly in the center, pause, then move in a direct line toward the next grate or utility cover up the sidewalk.
Seen this afternoon in the gym locker room: a slight individual of medium height changing clothes, the whole time moving with eye-catching, overdone, slightly unsure movements, the kind a happy drunk might make. A bit grandiose, a touch exaggerated -- impossible not to note. The product, I suspect, of something physiological, not alcohol-related.
Another moment in the gym: as I entered and made my way across the main exercise room, ready to get the suffering underway, I walked through a cloud of someone's morning breath that just about stopped me in my tracks. It could have, in the words of the immortal George Carlin, knocked a buzzard off a shitwagon.
One of the aspects of the holidays here that I enjoy: the sense of quiet that descends over the city. Not that there's no activity, just that it's at a different level -- people are away, most businesses are closed.
One of the aspects of the holidays here that I enjoy a bit less: the tossing of cherry bombs/ashcans (or the local equivalents) at any time of the day or night.
New Year's Eve hoo-ha in the city center drew most activity-seekers off in that direction, leaving the barrio surprisingly sedate. Until about 11:45, that is, when the explosives began -- major concussive devices, not cute, inoffensive firecrackers. For an hour or two, they punctuated the quiet, after which groups of partyers drifted through the neighborhood until sunrise. When I pulled myself out of bed late in the morning and stumbled to the single a.m. watering hole open for New Year's morning business, the place was packed and noisy, some doing the traditional hot chocolate and churros finish to the all-night New Year's Eve revels, others eating breakfast, others drinking café or something alcoholic. I was one of the few people not looking like I'd dragged my adorable butt around the city streets throughout the wee hours.
After that, occasional window-rattling explosives went off during the rest of the day. And last night, picking up as midnight approached.
There's a lot that I love and appreciate about this neighborhood -- the energy, the activity, the number of places to go, the quantity and variety of stores, the wonderful mix of people. I may be tiring of the nighttime noise, though, something I remember feeling last spring when the temperature rose enough to justify leaving windows open at night. The time may be coming to move on -- something I find myself feeling recently on a macro level. Changes may be on the way.
Wednesday, January 5, 2005
Tonight and tomorrow mark the end of the holiday season in this part of the world with the arrival of the Three Kings (traditionally the local version of Santa Claus, when kids get most of their presents) and the last round of big family meals. The barrio has remained quieter than its normal self, more relaxed, and now that the two big holiday weekends have come and gone, the partying has become a bit less frantic, less people about in the wee hours. More user-friendly for those of us who adore a good night's sleep.
When I stumbled outside this morning for the daily espresso/croissant, I managed to get my hands on a decent cup of caffeine. All croissants, however, had vanished, from every joint I poked my adorable nose into, replaced by roscones -- a kind of circular sweetbread, heavily sprinkled with slivered almonds and sugar, maybe some jellied fruits (often cut across the middle and filled with whipped cream). They seemed to be everywhere I looked today, brightening up shop windows, filling most shelves and counter space in many places that sell baked goods. Pretty, actually. People wished each other a good visit from los Reyes Magos, merchants I bought groceries from wished me the same. I have a feeling a visit to my humble dive is not on the Kings' itinerary.
This evening, the Three Kings arrive in the form of a parade that passes through the city center -- highly commercial, most of the floats representing big business entities or government divisions (as I remember, last year's had two or three elaborately ugly floats flogging Shrek 2). A strange event, one I think I'll skip this year.
Instead, I'll be good and show up at Spanish class, maybe catch some holiday sunshine beforehand and check out a big sprawling craft fair arrayed along one side of a major avenue on the center's east side.
In fact, an outing sounds like a fine idea. So I'm off.
ADDENDUM, post-parade: The language academy currently putting up with me is located on la Calle de Montera (known to some local wags as la Calle de las Putas, due to the strange display of young prostitutes arrayed along a one-block section of the street and tolerated by the police), a narrow, heavily-traveled cobblestone lane that extends away from Gran Vía toward Sol, the actual center point of the city, Madrid's version of Times Square.
The parade of the Three Kings, et al. passed through Sol, about a block from the school. Our classroom looks out on a quiet sidestreet, I could hear the crowd in Sol as I walked into the classroom and sat myself down. Class progressed, the parade reached Sol, the noise level swelled, at times intruding on the educational activity in a way difficult to ignore.
An important aspect of the parade: the tossing of candy into the crowd from the floats. Big handfuls of wrapped hard-candies, thrown by as many float personnel as feel like hurling them, the sweets sailing through the nighttime air toward the massed spectators, who respond loudly, surging in all directions, trying to catch whatever they can. It's quite a scene.
There were times when the roaring and the energy from the event, a block away, reached an intensity that stopped activity in our classroom, the three of us pausing to listen, eyes wide, smiles on our faces. The kind of intensity that would greet Elvis if he returned from, er, wherever it is he's been and did a free concert in the center of a large city, tossing money into the crowd as he pranced and gyrated.
The din continued for about an hour, until the parade had passed through Sol and moved on toward its destination, la Plaza Mayor. At which time the roaring of thousands of people simply stopped. As if a switch had been flipped. And the quiet of a January evening returned. The kind of abrupt shift that produces a loud variety of silence, the kind in which you can hear your heart beating.
This life of ours -- it's a never-ending extravaganza of amazing experiences.
An often-overlooked corner of la Plaza de Colón, Madrid, at the intersection of el Paseo de la Castellana and la Calle de Génova (statue: 'Reclining woman' by Fernando Botero -- yes, I know she's actually prone, not reclining), today -- weather mild, January sun shining:
Nothing to do with Madrid: interesting images seen in Texas during the course of Dave Winer's drive from Seattle to Florida.
Sunday, July 3, 2005
Yesterday's big event: the annual strawberry-picking excursion. Just me and a field full of sunburned families in full berry-grabbing frenzy. This year I saw no toothless/dentally challenged folks, a kind of participant that abounded the last time out. An absence that left me feeling mildly disappointed.
Today's big event: Montpelier's Fourth of July parade (the customary day early), where I worked as a volunteer in the pre-procession staging area, several streets of a green, normally quiet neighborhood.
This being Vermont, the event turned out to be a funky, sweetly chaotic blend of people and happenings, including:
-- encounters between kindred souls:
-- hordes of dancing women:
-- inexplicable sightings:
-- and, of course, Shriners on go-karts:
One of the event's most striking aspects: a graphic show of the local tendency toward respectful, even joyful co-existence between drastically contrasting social/political elements. For example, a group of a dozen or so exuberant sailors from the U.S.S. Montpelier preceded a flatbed truck packed with a motley, dreadlocked, multi-ethnic group flailing away at drums, four grass-skirted, dancing women following in their wake, the truck flying a banner featuring the now classic (possibly even clichéd) image of Che Guevara, parade spectators cheering it all.
There is nowhere quite like this patch of green, mountainous land tucked away in New England's northwest corner. Where, as I write this, fireworks light up the falling darkness.
Have a fine weekend.
Friday, October 28, 2005
Urban pumpkins (waiting) -- la Plaza de Chueca, Madrid:
Monday, October 31, 2005
Got back late last night from a trip with friends to the mountains northwest of Madrid, a place where local businesses don't waste time or energy on fancy marketing euphemisms:
(Cosas viejas = old things)
Details to follow.
Halloween morning, la Plaza de Chueca, Madrid:
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
This morning: quiet. The building peaceful, little activity outside in the street. No racket from construction/building rehab. Me drifting happily in and out of elaborate, benign dreams, waking up at my own tiempo.
It's a holiday in Madrid today, the festival of the Virgen de la Almudena, one of the city's two patron saints. A religious holiday for some, a day to
screw off relax for others. Bringing tranquility to the neighborhood, something I appreciate in a big way. (The din from rehab work happening here in the building got so intense at one point yesterday afternoon that it sent me out the door for a long walk, me winding up in a matineé for the second time in as many days. Forced decadence.)
Pulled my bod out from under the covers at a very user-friendly hour. Showered, etc., pulled on clothes. Headed out, picked up a paper, made the trek to one of the only neighborhood joints that open on a morning like this. A place where they know my face well enough that they get a cortado cranking as soon as they me, slide a plate with a croissant in front of me without waiting for me to ask. Noticed that they had a couple of large, beautiful roscones displayed by the usual morning pastries, cut laterally in half and filled with swirls of cream. A variety of the sweetbread everyone goes for on January 6, the day of the Three Kings, but less ornate, less gaudy -- at least the examples I saw -- and called la Corona de la Almudena.
Spent a little there while waking up. Returned home for a bit, headed back outside for another cortado, this time at a café I've become surprisingly fond of. Trendier than I generally care for, at times packed, the noise level startlingly high, but with smooth café, great people-watching, good music on the sound system.
And speaking of music -- later, back home, me poking around online, Radio 3 playing on my teeny, beat-up excuse for a sound system. (Radio 3: a station in danger of becoming one of my all-time faves.) They got into a set of most excellent re-makes, all by bands I'm not familiar with, playing versions of 'Cosmic Dancer', 'Cinnamon Girl', and 'I Wanna Be Your Dog.' All in a row, just like that. Made me so happy.
My needs: in general, they're absurdly simple.
Outside, a spectacular November day is underway, sunshine pouring in the windows of the flat. Time to go enjoy it.