August

The buskers haven’t packed it in and the construction workers are still on the clock, but you can tell it’s August in Madrid: half the little shops are cerrado por vacaciones, their rolled-down security grilles giving the streets a semi-abandoned feel. When I woke up this morning it felt Sunday quiet, State of Alarm lockdown quiet, not like a regular Monday.

Our portera has gone home to her pueblo for a few weeks; the door to our building stays tightly closed. The elevator sits at our floor between the time I step out of it and the next time I need it: we might be the only people left in the building.

And that could make a pretty good Spanish indie horror movie: What happens to the only person left in their apartment building in August, during the languorous heat, when their empty city turns strange? (In fact, a very sweet Spanish indie movie, not horror, called La Virgen de Agosto, was filmed in Madrid several summers ago).

Until today, I wondered if it had been a mistake to go away in July. So many people we know have left town — it’s hard not to feel abandoned. But today, staying put didn’t seem half bad. Madrid in August has the same celebratory feeling as Atlanta on a snow day. Time shifts slightly; regular rules don’t necessarily apply. And August in Madrid lasts a month, not just a couple of days.

The past few mornings there has been an unexpected bite to the air. Sunday, when I got out before eight a.m. to take advantage of it, the only people in the park were me, a few dog walkers, and half a dozen or so young people gathered around a park bench. The (empty) quart of Mahou beer and (also empty) pre-mixed liter of tinto de verano on the park bench said it all, as if the way they swayed on their feet didn’t. They’d been up all night.

On one hand, you could say, well, there’s a reason for the Delta variant numbers right there. But on the other, maybe they’re seeing in August, the shank of the summer, as it should be acknowledged. August — when the city belongs to the young and broke and the rest of us all take long siestas and sleep late and get things done slowly, if at all.

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