Signs of Life

  • Our nearest grocery store, open 24 hours a day pre-Pandemic (which, over the past 14 months, has gone from being not open at all to only being open 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., then 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., then 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.), is now open 24 hours.
  • There are tourists! In Madrid! Standing on the street corners! Studying maps! And the new regulations, which allow travel into Spain (from some countries) with proof of vaccination, don’t even go into effect until tomorrow.
  • As I write this, I can hear a roller-bag being pulled down the street, the once familiar music of Sunday, when Madrileños who escaped the city for the weekend return home.
  • We’re now free to drive out of the region of Madrid. Last Sunday we rented a car and went hiking in an area that lies on the border of the Comunidad de Madrid. Such a simple thing, to drive past the sign that said Castilla y León, just because we could. But to do so completely without anxiety — huge.
  • I don’t know when we last walked through Sol, Madrid’s symbolic center, on a Saturday night. Possibly not for 14 months. Last night all of Madrid seemed to be strolling across Sol’s plaza: families with unhappy teens in tow, older couples holding hands, lovebirds eating ice cream, roving gangs of 20-somethings (one group including a woman in Flamenco garb who clicked castanets as she went).

It would be untruthful to say this feels completely like that old carefree normal, our Before. It’s something else, something new, something that wears masks and uses gel and follows (or chafes at) rules, that lives with a faint shadow, an ever-present but soft hum behind things: will this, can this, last?

Impossible to know, of course, just as it’s impossible to know what life will feel like, long-term, lived in the presence of shadows.

But in the meantime, the ladies of Madrid pull their fans from their purses as they sit on the sidewalk terrazas, a sure sign summer has come. Picotas, the smaller, more flavorful cherries native only to the Valle de Jerte, have arrived in at least a few fruterías. Sometimes in the earliest morning, when I walk out on the balcony, the night-cooled air smells of cinnamon. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know, I just breathe it in.

And overhead, the swifts. Tumbling, swerving, cartwheeling joyously, inhabiting this moment, now.

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