If I was forced to choose, I think I’d say I like the city best early on Saturday mornings, when most of Madrid is sleeping. Yes, there are a few early morning dog-walkers, but by and large the city is at rest. Because the wide sidewalks are unpeopled, moving along them requires less from me. The city at rest gives me bandwidth: to notice a particular ornate cornice, to appreciate the way a pigeon waddles down the sidewalk in front of me, taking off at the last possible second.

The market opens at 9. On my way there, I pass a group of bleary-eyed young people at a café table: my Saturday morning is the tail-end of their Friday night.

A woman walking ahead of me stops to talk to the portera sluicing down the square of sidewalk in front of a building. The only word I catch: milagro. Miracle. What a beautiful word for the way the world is hatching in front of me like a chick from its egg!   

My eldest daughter’s flight will touch down in Madrid momentarily. Her visit — long to her, I’m sure, because she’s in her 20s and what can a visit back to your parents be but chafing, no matter how much you love them? — but brief to me. What I call home, she can’t quite see the same way, and this is a normal state of affairs. You just don’t have imagination enough for it in those early exhausted days, just after your newborn is placed in your arms.

Delta Airlines will have kept her from being hungry on the long flight here with the sort of processed food that keeps, that’s easy, that’s efficient when you’re hurtling at hundreds of miles an hour through the air. The breakfast sandwich they hand over is a wonder of technology: it almost tastes good.

But not being hungry is not the same thing as being full.

I’m headed to the market and the bakery, because this is what mothers do. It’s so early in the day that the guys at the fruterÍa, always so patient with the way I butcher their native tongue, are still unpacking their riches —

Mangos, each one nestled into its own little foam net jacket to circumvent bruising

Avocados to be chosen for their ripeness for either tomorrow or today

Watercress. Watercress? Watercress!

(Reader, I bought it.)

Behind me, the fishmonger sharpens his knife, drawing it down and against the whetstone, extracting music from the everyday like a virtuoso with a violin. An elderly couple is debating how many green beans they need. The bag handed over is so heavy it makes me glad my walk home is only six blocks long.

The workers in the bakery across the street are younger, hipper. I’ve come through the door so early that its interior is crowded with stacked rolling trays of bread. By 3 p.m., when they close for the day, it will all be gone.

After we moved here to Spain, I realized that the word compañero — companion, friend —contains at its center the word pan — bread. To be a companion is to share bread with someone, and what else can that imply but communion?

The bread, handed over, is still warm. I walk out, into the newborn day. 


  1. Exquisite as always. I never noticed that the Romance languages words for companion contain the word for bread – of course! It makes perfect sense. Thank you for that observation.

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