Events: Israeli friend's visit/Madrid Marathon
Friday, April 23, 2004
A friend from Israel arrived last night. In an attempt to suck up to the person providing him a place to sleep for the next few days, he gave me a box of Dead Sea skin care products. (Should I be concerned about the 'Dead' part of that?) I used the after-shave cream this morning -- its cool, pleasant texture has enveloped my face in a veil of calmness.
I should probably stop reading the blurbs on product boxes so closely.
Entries may be spotty here for a while.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Well. Five days later. Told you entries would be spotty.
The friend who's been staying here, Y., is someone I've known online for several years (part of a community that used to be highly active in mighty entertaining ways). A runner, serious enough to have taken part in numerous marathons. A couple of years back, during his third Berlin marathon, I floated the idea of coming to Madrid for the annual 26.2 mile self-torture-fest, offering use of the guest room here at casa runswithscissors. He seemed to like the sound of it, we went back and forth without coming to anything firm, left it as an idea for some future time.
Within these months since the turn of the year the idea came up again, this time gaining momentum, gradually becoming an actual event skidding toward us, becoming more real with each passing week. Until we finally began talking details. The Madrid Marathon is run on a Sunday, I assumed that would mean having a houseguest for a long weekend. A few weeks back, I received a note from Y. saying he'd booked his flights, he'd be here for a week. Anyone in the room with me when I read that would have heard an audible gulp. This is a small place, guest arrangements work well for three or four days. After that it becomes more of a challenge.
I suggested Y. stay here for four nights then spend the rest at a residencia or pensión, an idea he was open to. I began the search for alternative accommodations, striking out all the way around, until I asked my next-door neighbor, Esperanza -- a woman who runs a residencia for students -- if she might have a bed available for that night, for a friend somewhat older than her normal clientele. She apparently has room for four guests, three of the beds were booked by a group of three young French women, leaving one available. At wildly reasonable rates. I took it, let Y. know everything was set, joy abounded.
Last Thursday night: an hour before I headed out to the airport to greet Y. and drag him back here, my doorbell rang. I opened it to find Esperanza, informing me that the group of three French students had somehow become four French students. Meaning no room at the next-door inn for Y.
So I've had a houseguest for most of this last week. Which has been surprisingly fine. The 3-D version of Y has turned out to be a genuinely good guy -- smart, with a good sense of humor. A bit shy at times, a bit quiet, with a trace of underlying steel that surfaces at certain fleeting moments.
Y., wandering around Madrid, shaved head and all:
Friday, April 30, 2004
The focus of the first half of Y.'s stay was the marathon, an event I'd only been marginally aware of before this year. Still a young affair (27 years old), comparatively modest in size (less than 13,000 runners this time around) compared with big, honking buggers like the marathons in Berlin, New York, Boston. A bit hard to figure how I remained oblivious, considering the starting point is a ten minute walk to the east from here, the 20 kilometer mark three blocks to the west. I am sometimes exceptionally adept at the oblivious thing, however, so there it is.
The fact that thousands of suffering runners would be passing just three blocks from here -- thousands upon thousands of 'em -- was intriguing enough. But the idea that I could be a shining point of support for one of those straining, suffering souls -- a friendly face in an unfamiliar city, waiting patiently along a long, hard route, holding out the comfort of a soft, fuzzy towel and a container of cool water when they finally slogged painfully by, shouting good-humored, profanity-laced encouragement -- this had the potential for big faux-noble fun.
In our wanderings around Madrid, I showed Y. the stretch of road where the runners would gather and the event begin. He returned on his own two different times during Friday/Saturday to get the lay of the land, taking a map, getting a sense of the look and feel of the overall course. He didn't do much running on those days, feeling that his body was ready, that all he needed now was some serious carb-loading. Which took us out to a park on Madrid's west side on Saturday afternoon for the pre-race mountain-o'-pasta lunch, the official carbohydrate-packing event.
There was no mistaking where the meal was to take place -- the fat, towering inflated rubber bottles of Coke and Mahou beer gave it away. That and the line of hungry runner types that stretched out away from the big tent. Way the hell away from the big tent, through a long dirt parking lot, around a corner and down another road. Resulting in an hour-long wait to get inside, most of the last 30 minutes spent inching across the parking lot, then under the big rubber arch by the monstrous rubber bottles, finally to the
giant feeding trough tent's entranceway, in weather that had taken a turn in the direction of bona fide summer. Providing bitchen, top-notch conditions for just about everything one could want to do short of stand on a hot, dusty, shadeless line for an hour.
Neighbors provided entertainment, however. In particular, the five-or-so-year-old son of a 30-something Spanish couple standing directly in front of us. A little guy with energy to burn, wandering constantly about, investigating whatever caught his attention. Which, after some time trying to pull down city-planted saplings (to periodic pleas of "Leave the tree alone, dear" from the 'rents), became the numerous sticks laying about in scrubby grass or dusty expanses of hard-packed dirt. Sticks he would evaluate, nudge with a foot, pick up, then give to his parents to hold on to. Beginning with small, thin bits of wood, escalating to thicker, ever-longer sticks and other potential weapons (rocks, chunks of broken brick) that his parents felt less and less inclined to accept. Until, after waiting for a moment when the little guy had wandered some distance away, they dumped everything in the long grass around a tree.
The five-year-old returned with a couple more sticks, handed them over, noticed the others had disappeared, immediately began hunting them down, foisting them on unwilling parents all over again. (With decreasing success.) Then on to even bigger sticks, finally dragging back a weathered three-foot length of 2x6, old, dusty, literally as big as the kid. Resulting in immediate parental demands to put it back where he'd found it. After which they worked at keeping him distracted: cold liquids to drink, helium balloons (the first quickly took to the skies, its replacement got tied to five-year-old forearm), etc.
By that time we'd reached the rubber arch, a mere 100 feet from the tent entrance. Smells of food, constant loud babble from the in-tent PA system. Security guards asking for entry passes. And then we were inside where people thrust trays and carb-packing implements at us. Other folks tossed fruit, yogurt, containers of cold liquids onto the trays. Still others covered our plates with mounds of ziti in tomato sauce. We stumbled on, other people directed us toward the far end of the long, long tent where we fell into folding chairs at a table, the guy with the microphone blathering loudly from the PA system about this and that. Y. dug into his food, I went to grab us each a plastic cup of beer. When I returned, half of Y.'s meal had disappeared. A few short minutes later, the rest had vanished, he began unpeeling fruit and stuffing it down, followed by yogurt. An awesome display of fueling up.
The ziti turned out to be pretty tasty, really, considering it had been prepared in gigantic, mountainous quantities.
Next morning: Y. was up and out early. I made it to the starting line about ten minutes shy of commencement. The race's first length of road was a major north-south artery that runs along the eastern edge of the most central expanse of city center -- six or eight lanes flanked by long islands of trees and pedestrian ways, flanked in turn by two more lanes of traffic on either side. Big. Shut off to traffic, overswarmed by runners streaming in from all directions, packing themselves as close as they could get to the starting line (another inflated rubber arch -- two of them, in fact -- emblazoned with product names).
Made my way along the avenue, the greenery of the island off to the side dotted with male runners taking a pre-race whiz. A strange, almost Fellini-esque sight that I now wish I'd thought to point my camera at. Thousands and thousands of people swirling about -- younger folks, older folks, families out together, the whole thing -- no one blinking an eye at the scantily-clad males busy watering the vegetation.
I headed out well beyond the arches, moving several hundred feet along the boulevard where I found a spot along the side of the road Y. said he'd be running along. The sun bore down, strong and warm, already substantially warmer than desirable for this kind of event. A line of official vehicles were positioned ahead of the runners, spread out across the avenue.
Just before 9:30, several emergency medical personnel mounted specially-equipped motorcycles and got going, the first wave of motion along the course, followed more slowly by the other official vehicles. A cloud of white doves were released at the starting line, an explosion off to one side produced a complementary expanding cloud of white streamers, arching up then drifting back down to the road. And the runners took off, quickly passing my observation point, the wide boulevard thick with people of all body types, spanning a startlingly wide age span. Y. passed, we lightly slapped hands as he went by. Ten seconds later, a German guy from my Spanish class passed, we called out holas. A minute later, the last of the runners had jogged by, spectators fanned out across the road, still waving, still calling out encouragement, then slowly dispersing. A couple of cars, slowly nosed their way out onto the avenue, horns making polite noises when people didn't give way quickly enough. And then normalcy re-established itself, the morning moving on.
Sunday, May 02, 2004
I indulged my own small version of the urge to suffer and went to the gym from there, never making it to the 20km mark with fuzzy towel, etc. So much for faux nobility. Instead, I showed up at the course's end point to yell unintelligible supportive comments as Y. staggered the final few hundred feet to the finish line.
The marathon's finish was just down the road from the where the starting point had been. Man, what a scene. Humans, humans everywhere, either in summer duds or running gear, most of the avenue enclosed in tall cyclone fencing to keep out the non-running rabble, leaving us non-participants to pick our way along the sides, past the lines of within-enclosure trucks and tents doling out food, drink and physical care to exhausted-looking marathoners, many of whom carried big plastic bags of food, with what looked like thinsulate shawls pulled around their shoulders to ward off post-exertion chill. On that exceptionally warm day, that would not have been my concern. I likely would have been too busy throwing up after 26.2 miles of sheer joy -- like several individuals I spied within the long runners' enclosure -- to worry about the air temperature.
Y. had been aiming of a time of 3 hours and 15 minutes, extremely good numbers. I made it to the finish line at the three-hour mark, just in case Y. did better than he'd expected. Bleachers had been set up there, packed and overflowing with people, police standing about to dissaude undesirables like me who might want to squeeze themselves into an already at-capacity situation, leaving me no option but to move down the avenue away from the end point to where a spectating spot might present itself.
Found a teeny gap between a 40ish Central American guy and a group of young women with cameras waiting for runners they knew. I have a slow, patient way of inserting a foot, elbow or forearm into a space like that, insinuating myself further in as my neighbors make the mistake of giving way centimeter by centimeter, until I have an authentic vantage point. (I'm good.) Not that I push people aside. No, really -- I just wait, taking advantage of slight adjustments that happen with the passing minutes.
Mr. Central America didn't want to give way, occupying as much body space as he could manage, even when a mother with two young children showed up behind us, the two little ones giving him the classically sad big-eyed-children-on-black-velvet look, meeting his glance any time he made the mistake of looking around. He didn't care. I turned my body sideways, giving them space to eel into. They did so until they couldn't take being crammed up against our neighbor any more and disappeared to find a different space. Which gave me enough space to angle into, getting camera ready for action.
Through all of that runners passed, moving toward the finish line at whatever speed they could manage, the crowd yelling encouragement, chanting, at times singing, pounding in unison on big advertising panels lashed to the cyclone fencing that kept us off the racecourse. Lots of energy, big emotion. And more and more, I saw runners accompanied by children -- kids who'd been waiting for their parent to pass, leaping over the fencing to meet them, finishing the course by their side, hand in hand. A sight that pulled a lot of emotion from the crowd, loud, emphatic shouts of support rippling along the street as the runners passed by.
Y. almost snuck by when he passed, nearly an hour later. I picked him out among a stream of passing shorts-and-sneakered males, called out, jerked the camera up to my face. He looked over, kept going. The single photo I managed to get: a colorful, unusable blur. Bugger.
After another five minutes -- watching for the runner from my Spanish class, without result -- I headed back through the mob near the finish line, along the long perimeter of the runner's enclosure, trying to spot Y. No luck. Went all the way to the enclosure's end, where a steady line of exhausted marathoners walked gingerly out into the waiting horde of non-runners, trying to find friends/family. Nearly ten minutes later, Y. emerged, walking very gingerly. Limping a bit, in fact, same as many other runners. This, his 10th marathon, turned out to be a hard one, his second most difficult, he reported. Chalk it up to the heat or to the long, gradual slopes along the race course, or to a body not enjoying the punishment of several hours of running the way it had in the past -- whatever the cause, he experienced physical difficulties that ultimately led to walking stretches of the course. His final time: around 3:55, a number that doesn't appear in any way shameful to my non-marathoner's eyes.
At times, during his three remaining days in Madrid, Y. talked about the possibility of running only half-marathons from here on out, thinking he may have reached a point where his body simply didn't enjoy the punishment of the full-length gig. Time will tell.
Everything changes, and the days tumble us along through the ongoing spectacle brought by the passing days.