Years from now, if anybody asks me what I loved most about Spain, I may very well say — six a.m. on a Madrid summer morning. Six a.m. on a Madrid summer morning, when the mercury in the thermometer plunged 30 degrees (F) while I was sleeping. Six a.m., when I step out of our inadequately air-conditioned bedroom into the un-airconditioned hallway and can feel yesterday’s heat, held in the wooden floorboards, in the soles of my bare feet.
Six a.m. on a morning at the end of July, when, out on the terrace, the gradually lightening sky is a dusky velvet ombre; when the swifts arrive from wherever they spend the dark hours; when the chill in the air is almost enough to raise goosebumps.
I’d like to say I get out for a walk at this hour — but I don’t. For one thing, if you didn’t walk home from dinner until 10:00 p.m. the night before, you’re going to need a couple of cups of coffee to get you up and moving. (Here, I want to insert trivia about how much coffee the Spanish drink but it turns out each person only drinks 9.92 lbs a year. The Finnish, at number one, drink 26.45 lbs a year.)
It’s usually between 8:30 and 9:00 before I make it down to the street. While still pleasant, the day already has a bite to it: the heat’s coiled, waiting to strike. The porteros y porteras are fruitlessly mopping the sidewalk in front of their respective buildings. The lady who runs the beauty shop — and it’s a beauty shop, not a hair salon, its patrons all elderly ladies — passes the shoebox-sized sidrería, whose proprietor stands in the doorway.
— Coming in? he asks.
— Later, later.
A silver-haired man sits at a cafe table with his coffee and a folded newspaper (a newspaper, even now, with its news that was already obsolete by the time it was printed!). — The vaccination, a younger guy stops to tell a woman, the second one. A little further on, an elderly woman with two canes makes her slow way somewhere with her Spanish-style fan protruding from one front pocket of her dressy slacks.
And me? I’m right behind a worker whose t-shirt says los quesos de mi vida.
The cheeses of my life. It wouldn’t work as an advertising slogan back home, but it has such a ring to it, in Spanish.