The Fairy Tale

Madrid has woken up, like an enchanted castle that has been asleep for a hundred years. When we went to sleep in March it was still the tail-end of winter; now it’s the onset of summer. The world is full of normal sounds, for the first time in 50 days: cars (though not as much), horns (though not as many), the swish of a broom as a portero cleans a building’s stoop and sidewalk. The grafitti-inscribed roll-down shutters covering storefronts are halfway up, the proprietors are inside, cleaning and assessing: today, for the first time, people will be able to pick up food to eat at home. There was a line in front of the post office this morning; another in front of the bank. When I woke up, my alarm clock informed me it was May 4, which seemed absurd. I felt the way I feel when I wake up from a dream that I’m back in college: it takes a few minutes, a reckoning, to swim back to the proper time, the actual date.

Saturday, my first time out on my own, I started out walking quickly, wanting to clear the cobwebs from my head, but the truth is, it’s hard to move fast when your eyes are welling up with tears. It’s sweet, this old world, to paraphrase Lucinda Williams, and we’re most alive out there in it.

There’s both a morning and and evening time set aside for exercise (although the evening slot, from 8 until 11, is called an afternoon slot, as the Spanish would have it), and yesterday, M and I went out right on the dot of 8, which let us see the last few minutes of the nightly applause on the streets around us. We finally figured out where the DJ with the loudspeaker lives. He was waxing flowery about mothers, since it was Mother’s Day here: nice sentiments but I sure am glad we haven’t lived next to him for the past two months. It turns out our block-long street is boring: on some of the surrounding ones, they’ve been doing things up, with dance parties and sing-alongs. Who knew that FOMO could be part of a pandemic?

Five hundred lifetimes ago, when I was thirteen, and we were en route to Guadalajara, Mexico, where my father was about to take up a year’s Fulbright, my parents left my brother and me in our hotel room in Saltillo or Zacatecas one night and went out for a walk, and to explore. It was past dark, and taking walks in the dark wasn’t something my parents usually did. But it was different here, my mother said, when they came back, energized: there, everyone went out to dar un paseo, to take a walk: slow-moving old folks, giant clamorous families containing multiple generations , self-absorbed courting couples, gangs of teenagers.

Last night as the sun went down, Madrid indulged in a giant paseo. It was beautiful to see, once I got over my (not small) anxiety over seeing so many people out at once. So many middle-aged, long-married couples holding hands! It did one’s heart good to see them. The kids, who’re only allowed out between 12-7, were all up on the balconies, making noise.

And there on the corner: a guy playing I Will Survive, quite badly, on the trombone.