Saturday, February 21, 2004
Four short hours ago I found myself waving so long! to my friend G. as he made his way toward the metal-detection/security-checkpoint thingie at Barajas airport. Soon as he stepped through that bugger, I turned and bolted, practically sprinting down the long succession of moving walkways that connect one terminal to another, heading toward the in-airport Metro station and back into Madrid. Feeling like I'd just been let out for school vacation after an unexpectedly long slog of classwork.
Ten days of nearly continuous time in the presence of this friend, far too much time to be spending with someone I'm not sleeping with. If you know what I mean.
Not that he isn't a terrific guy. He is. Enough's enough is all I'm saying, at least for me.
I know G. from a large social group I belonged to in late-80s/early-90s Boston/Cambridge, a sprawling, ever-shifting horde of people who got together each weekend for dinner, excursions to movies, day-trips out of the city. A group that grew a bit inbred with time, romances and intrigues taking form then dissolving, dynamics within the group becoming more complex, more dramatic, until the growing dramas overwhelmed the fun and the group gradually disintegrated.
I'm currently in touch with a only handful of individuals from that phase of my little life. G. is one of those, er, lucky few. Two days after his arrival here, we hopped a high-speed train down to Sevilla where we met up with J. and D., two more friends from that phase of my existence (along with a lovely woman from the British midlands, involved with D.).
It's going to take time to organize my thoughts re: the following days. For now, suffice it to say there was more than enough of this kind of thing:
Also, fortunately, a staggering amount of this kind of thing:
Sevilla: one of the most beautiful cities I have ever set foot in. Friendly people. The women return a smile, seem to take to chat easily. Excellent flamenco can be found at different nightspots. And, during the course of my last evening there, I discovered the single greatest tapas joint I've ever had the good fortune to stumble into.
Details will follow as time permits.
(Parting shot: a comment delivered by one of our group, in amazed response to the wild profusion of tearful religious imagery we encountered in some parts of Sevilla: "Weeping virgins everywhere!")
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Prepare yourself: I'm about to go on about the weather. (To quote a Groucho Marx aside to the audience, "I have to stay here, but there's nothing stopping you from stepping out into the lobby until this blows over.")
Back before this last trip to Sevilla, Madrid experienced a spell of seriously user-friendly weather: weeks of sunshine and mild temperatures, feeling like spring's leading edge. People shedding coats and sweaters, streets and parks filling up with city residents out enjoying air, light, the promise of warmer days. Sevilla, as you might imagine -- 2-1/2 hours to the south via high-speed train -- seemed even deeper into the vernal thing. Conditions that foster relaxation, good humor, days spent outside hanging about with friends.
Last Thursday afternoon, we hopped the train for the return trip to Madrid, and as the city drew near, the sky took on a more wintery look, a look that went neatly with the wintery air that met us on stepping out of the train at Atocha Station. Vacation had clearly, rudely terminated.
Next morning brought rain, and since then -- with the exception of late Saturday and Sunday -- gray skies and cold, damp conditions have been the story here, the temperature dipping low enough this morning to produce snow. Big, fat flakes, 20 or 30 minutes' worth, before changing back to rain.
I'll say one thing: this kind of weather gets Sevilla looking more and more attractive. I'm told Andalucian summers are brutally hot/humid -- escape plans might have to be made for that stretch of time. I get the feeling, though, that life in that city would feel mighty fine during rest of the calendar year. (We all have our daydreams.)
When we arrived in Sevilla, ten days ago now, we stepped from the train into early summer. Which made my little bod extremely happy, almost loopy with abrupt warm-weather joy. Maybe a bit unbalanced from the sudden euphoria, G. and I opted to walk with our baggage from the station to the old quarter of the city, where we would try and track down our hotel. Never, ever (not kidding here -- NEVER) do that to yourself. Grab a cab or stick your thumb out, see if a local driver will take pity on you. Steal a bicycle, scooter, skateboard, shopping cart, pack animal or sherpa -- any option will be an improvement over our baggage-laden slog. Some other friends arrived at the station about five minutes after G. and I set out. Smart friends, who took a cab to the hotel where they met us when we finally showed up. Relaxed, already installed in their rooms. Smiling smugly. (Bastards.)
It's immediately apparent when you step into Sevilla's old quarter (el barrio de Santa Cruz) -- the streets narrow, it's cleaner, the buildings are more beautiful. Old, old structures are strewn all over the place, many of them churches, many featuring small shrines along an outer wall. In fact, there are small shrines everywhere -- I've never seen anything like it -- most consisting of images done on tiles and a legend identifying the saint. Many with a small shelf below the image for flowers, palms, candles. Some with a slot in the wall below all that for donations, usually featuring a discrete plaque saying 'LIMOSNE' (alms).
We staggered our way through winding streets, heading in what we hoped would be the general direction of the hotel. Coming upon, along one especially narrow block, an especially striking shrine built into a long, otherwise featureless wall. G. pulled out his camera, began taking shots of it. As he did, a tiny, stooped, elderly woman limped toward us, stopping by G. to face the shrine, where she made the sign of the cross, muttered a brief prayer.
G.: startled ex-Catholic tourist. Little old woman: true believer.
I've seen a lot of pre-lenten devotional behavior lately. This morning, on the way out of the gym, a young woman entered from the street just as I neared the door. She passed me, making a quick sign of the cross.
I, too, live a spiritual life (believe it or not). Just of a different variety.
To each their own.
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
I don't know what I expected when I went to Sevilla -- whatever it may have been, it didn't include me walking about, mouth half-open, teeny little mind boggled by a seemingly endless display of beauty.
We wandered through narrow streets, stopping to eat now and then, getting something to drink -- passing, in one district, shop after shop after shop of wedding/confirmation/communion dresses. One tienda after another, display windows filled with gowns, some modest, some elaborate and showy. A startling peek into one aspect of local life, apparently a high-priority aspect.
And everywhere we went, beautiful architecture, beautiful old buildings in various states of care and repair. If I go on about this the way I'm inclined to, it will become brutally tedious in no time flat, so I'll foist some images on you instead:
Meanwhile, back at the hotel, in order to get a room with separate beds, G. and I had to book a triple, which turned out to have two single beds jammed together (miming a double) and one lonely single bed lurking just off the foot of the faux double. Three beds, a desk, a chair (along with the stray night table), all crammed into a small, dark space. A door led to the bodily functions annex: a long, narrow tiled room with a humongo, family-sized bathtub, and a more modest tiled dungeon with toilet/bidét/sink. Thank god for the annex, man. There were windows in there, and it didn't have the faint, mysterious, stale smell that the bed chamber had.
It had been a while since I'd shared a room with another male -- I'd forgotten the locker room aspect of having another guy in one's living space. There were a couple of moments when I surprised G. as he'd just finished taking a whiz, he seemed surprisingly jumpy. I found out why when a folded, slightly moist square of toilet paper fell from his hands to the floor. A peeny pad! (Something I will confess to having used from time to time.) Yet another confirmation of an old, uncouth truism: No matter how you shake and dance, the last few drops go down your blahblahblah.
He's an older guy, he doesn't have a 'puter, he has no idea I'm writing about this. That's probably a good thing.