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 ofcinnamon. 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.
First, of course, starting in January were the Facebook posts from the U.S., a trickle, then a flood: vaccinated! (I was such a late FB adopter that my friends list is more curated than most, which allows me to avoid both the fray and anti-vaccine posts.)
Then one friend here went home to England; another was able to get vaccinated at the military base in Cadiz. Then another, who assists in a school, suddenly got her summons. The rest of us told ourselves we weren’t envious. It wasn’t like getting a vaccine was going change anything. We’d still be wearing masks, we’d still be being careful. Until this week, we couldn’t even drive out of Madrid, whether we were vaccinated or not.
El Pais has been very thorough in totting up the vaccinated: first, first-responders and those in the nursing homes; then those eighty and above, which seemed to take months. Then those above 70; then those above 60. Use of AstraZeneca was halted; then it was restarted. Maybe. Honestly, I stopped keeping track.
Then, this past Monday, I was floored to read that people under 50 would start getting vaccinated in June. June? June was only two weeks away! Forget patience. I wanted my shot.
The instructions were that we’d receive a text from Salud Madrid when our time came. I was comfortable with this — in theory. But public health itself is a foreign-enough concept for an American (sadly) without factoring in the (mindblowing) idea that every single person in Spain was going to get a text — and an appointment, and a covid vaccine — from a governmental agency. I’d only gone to my assigned health center once, a year and a half ago. Was I really in the system? And did I really understand what I thought I understood? (I ask myself this multiple times a day, and even in my sleep.) No one we knew under 75 had gotten a text yet, but then again, at 56, I was the oldest of my small sample of Madrid.
Oh ye of little faith!
Only two hours of doubt — and, then, just like that, the text summoning me for my first dose was in my inbox.
The mass-vaccination site I’d been called to was in the auditorium of the hospital just north of us. Brand-new in 1936, Hospital Cliníco San Carlos was the front lines in the fighting for Madrid during the Civil War, when opposing forces fought hall-to-hall inside the building. The hospital was rebuilt after the war; the land just northwest of it is still scarred by mine craters.
My way there took me past the churros stand in front of the hospital; past lottery ticket and Kleenex vendors; past the hospital morgue; past smokers, both hospital staff and visitors, standing beneath the no smoking allowed sign.
My view, after I walked out of the building, was of the far off mountains.
Two Saturdays ago, I woke up to a dawn broken by singing. This sounds much more picturesque than it actually was. But at the sound, I carried my cup of coffee onto the terrace and leaned my elbows on the railing to enjoy it.
Two Saturdays ago was also the next-to-the-last Saturday of Madrid’s curfew. For months we’ve had to be off the streets between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Since dinner usually starts about 9:30, this can really cramp a Madrileño’s style. When I looked down into the narrow canyon of the street at 6:30, the singer, who’d clearly waited out the curfew out somewhere and was finally on her way home — stood in the middle of the street, arms outstretched.
A young woman with a lovely voice, she was also what is southern-colloquially known as snot-slinging drunk.Yo quiero fiesta! she belted out operatically and then started to make her wavering way up the street. Turns out, she lives in the apartment building across the street from us: it took her two or three minutes to fit her key into the lock of the lobby door.
The Lord God looks after fools and children.
Last Saturday was the final curfew. The national State of Alarm, which allowed restriction of movement (and is the reason we haven’t left the Madrid province in months), was set to expire at 12:00 a.m. Sunday. Newspapers were referring the hour between 11:00 p.m., when you had to get home, and 12 a.m., when the curfew stopped and you could go back out again as La Hora Fantasma (The Ghost Hour).
The future of the Asturian restaurant that opened on our street a month ago looked grim — until they built a terrace in front of the restaurant, replacing parked cars with cafe tables being a new Covid-era city policy. Now the restaurant does a booming business. On Saturday night, promptly on the dot of 11:00, a group of young guys stood up from their table and started down the street, singing about buena suerte. A cascade of fireworks went off in the distance.
Of course, just because the State of Alarm is over doesn’t mean Covid is. Although things seem to be trending the right direction. The 80-year-olds are finally vaccinated; the 70-year-olds, too.
Looking back on it, writing poetry was probably my entry point into writing, period. I wrote my first poem in 6th grade; I then set poems aside as one of life’s “childish things” and began writing short stories in college. (Poetry didn’t sell, “they” said, not mentioning that short stories don’t, either.) After a hiatus of 25 years, I circled back. I’m not sure what kind of poet you’d call me. Probably a shy one.
Tomorrow night (Wednesday, May 5, 8 p.m. ET), I’ll read my poem “Metamorphism” as part of the online celebration for the pre-publication of Wayfinding: Poetry Celebrating America’s Parks and Public Lands.
“Metamorphism” had its catalyst in a hike M, Older Daughter, Younger Daughter, and I made from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back, way back (2014) when Younger Daughter was 8, Elder, 12, and I was nearing 50. I wrote an essay about the hike soon after but never did anything with it.
Seven years on, my hips aren’t what they were. It’s hard to know how that hike would sit with me now. Elder Daughter is a college freshman a country away from us; Younger hardly remembers that hike but knows more hiking-lore than M and I ever did.
It seems like a good time to dust off that backstory.
According to National Park Service surveys, the average visit to Grand Canyon National Park lasts six to seven hours. The average amount of time visitors spend looking at the Canyon itself is 17 minutes, a paltry blink of the eye when juxtaposed with the fact that the Vishnu Schist formation at its bottom is almost 1849 million years old. The crumbling Kaibab sandstone outside El Tovar Hotel’s sprawling porches at the top is, at a mere 525 – 270 million years old, positively youthful in comparison.
But no matter how brief a visit you make to the Canyon, it’s impossible to look on it and remain unaware of the majesty of time, whether it’s geologic or more human in scale. The shuttle buses that ferry visitors from viewpoint to viewpoint along the South Rim are surprisingly punctual (the 7 a.m. Hiker’s Express we took to the South Kaibab Trailhead drew up to the curb at Bright Angel Lodge at 7:01), but the South Rim mostly runs on what visitors sometimes wryly call “Canyon Time.” Yes, service could be a little more prompt in the El Tovar Dining Room sometimes, but really, what’s your hurry? As long as you can catch sunrise from the rim, when the silence of the canyon rings like a bell, you’re golden. Unlike the rest of us, the Canyon doesn’t punch a timeclock.
By the time we lugged our backpacks up the stairs of our motel room on the rim the night before we started off, it had been five years since I first showed A and P pictures of the cabins at Phantom Ranch. P was eight now, A, twelve. As a family, we had hiked hundreds of miles. With each hike, we had experienced the ways our national parks truly are, as Wallace Stegner put it, “our best idea.” At Kennesaw Mountain, we had learned the significance of the scallop shell tied to the backpack of a man on the trail (an indication he had hiked El Camino de Santiago in Spain). In Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I’d admired the fortitude of a couple who packed three days’ of dirty diapers down from the top of Mt. LeConte. We had seen pristine parks and parks in danger of being loved to death. A and P had learned to keep themselves hydrated and Leave No Trace. M and I had learned about teamwork, and to keep up morale. We had also learned — practically despite of ourselves — something about time. An eight-year-old will always ask how long until we get there? In the end, as long as you put one foot in front of the other, you will.
The night before we set off, the yawning majesty of the canyon 50 feet away from the motel room made it hard for me to sleep. In some ways, I’d spent the past 12 years preoccupied with safety. While pregnant I’d done research on the safest crib, the safest car seat, the safest car. A and P’s pajamas were fire-resistant; our kitchen cabinets had been carefully child-proofed when they were younger. Most of the parents we knew seldom let their children play in their front yards because something bad might happen. What had we gotten ourselves into?
But in the end, hiking breaks things down into their smallest increments. Success depends simply on putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again. Earlier, we had decided we would periodically evaluate how we (by that M and I mainly meant the kids) felt as we walked. What percent did P feel, I asked as we got off the shuttle at the South Kaibab Trailhead the next morning. 120 percent! she replied. We waved ahead a group of older hikers who seemed far too cheerful for the early hour. After asking another hiker to take a commemorative photograph, we adjusted our backpacks one final time, and set off. The bottom of the canyon was a long way down.
Throughout the morning, we walked. We drank water. We ate our salty snacks. We walked some more. The color of the dust changed as we moved downward through one type of rock formation into the next. Know The Canyon’s History, Study Rocks Made By Time was a mnemonic that would help us remember the different layers, a sunburned river runner on the way down to the river with a client told us during one of our breaks. We walked from shadow into sun. The girls perched on a shelf of reddish rock to watch a uphill mule train pass, the riders who had spent the night before at Phantom Ranch all simultaneously clutching for their saddle horns as their mounts swung around the hairpin turn. When we stopped for lunch, we huddled in the shade cast by the composting toilet at the Tip-off with a group of pink t-shirt-clad women who looked to be in their fifties, who’d met when their children started preschool. They’d been making hikes “like this” — in Bryce, to Havasupai Falls — for the past six years.
Later, we lingered over our first glimpse of the Colorado, revived by the glint of malachite green far below that bore a tiny raft around a bend. We caught sight of the Black Bridge over the river being traversed by tiny bright specks— the pink ladies we’d shared lunch with! Slowly but surely, we walked and walked and walked — into Canyon Time.
We had been assigned Cabin 10, flanked by soaring rock and the tumble of Bright Angel Creek on one side and the hitching post where pack mule trains unload supplies on the other. After we deposited our packs and stored our snacks in the provided food safe, we returned to the Canteen, where, aside from an occasional foray down to the creek, we would spend the afternoon in the dappled shade, listening to the stories told by fellow hikers. One couple, retired two weeks before, was making a leisurely trip from rim to rim. One group had had their last visit thwarted by the governmental shutdown the previous fall. Another group consisted of three generations, including an older man we had seen laboring on the trail as we descended, who muttered that this trip to the bottom would be his last one. Those who gathered underneath the cottonwood trees, whether mule riders or hikers, had two things in common: everyone was overjoyed to be where they were, and when they stood up, their sore muscles protested. Most of us, M observed, were walking a little bit like ducks.
Later that evening, after a hearty supper of Hiker’s Stew, cornbread, chocolate cake and — miracle of miracles!—fresh salad, we all headed to the nearby outdoor amphitheater for the nightly ranger-led talk. The light faded from the sky; the shadowed canyon walls were drained of their rosy hue. A tiny twinkle far above us on the rim indicated the location of the Yavapai Geology Museum, where telescopes make it easier to glimpse Bright Angel Creek far below. Up top, visitors were congregating on the porches of El Tovar to gasp over the sunset. The buses full of tired tour-goers were headed back to Vegas.
But all that felt very far away. Earlier, A’s legs had carried her swiftly down South Kaibab Trail. Later in the afternoon, P had crouched over a dam she’d constructed in Bright Angel Creek.
Life is full of sweet spots like this, when everything is exactly as it should be, although we’re often too distracted, too hurried, and too fearful to recognize them for what they are when they occur. We might, in fact, live in a world that’s almost inimical to recognition of them. And how many of us are any good at carving out the space in which things like serendipity or mindfulness can even occur?
One doesn’t need to travel all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to find that sort of space, of course. But somehow, in the Canyon’s vast reaches — because of its very vastness — it is able to remind us how beautiful time is, no matter how tiny and inconsequential the granules of it might initially seem to be.
That night, a ranger strode to the front of the outdoor amphitheater. Introducing herself as Mandy, she stooped to light a lamp. After she finished her talk, that same lamp would cast just enough light to show us the way back to our home for the night, which was also not-home.
Only one percent of all visitors to Grand Canyon National Park ever visit Phantom Ranch, Mandy said by way of introduction. What did that make all of us?
Nuts, a voice called out in the darkness, and we all laughed, rueful but proud.
Today is International Day of the Book. Who knew? Certainly not us Americans, unless something changed since I left the States a year and a half ago. But here in Spain, people really celebrate el Día del Libro. This might be because Spanish people love festivities in general. It could be because the celebration was the idea of a Spanish writer, as a way to honor Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, who died on April 23. (So did Shakespeare.) It could be because April 23 is St. George’s Day; Saint George/Sant Jordi is the patron saint of Catalunya; the day is marked by giving gifts of roses and books.
It wasn’t until I saw a woman carrying a single rose down the street today that I remembered what day it was.
In 2014, Madrid had 16 books stores per 100K people, more than NY (10), Paris (9), and London (4). A few weeks ago, I set out to count how many bookstores there were just in our tiny neighborhood, but I gave up after I got to eight.
In 2019, my poem “Metamorphism” was lucky enough to find a home at Parks and Points, a beautiful website blending practical tips, poetry, and essays about what to my mind is the U.S.’s most valuable resource: our varied public lands.
In July, “Metamorphism” and over 50 other poems first published on the website will appear in Parks and Points’ first anthology, Wayfinding: Poetry Celebrating America’s Parks and Public Lands. Wayfinding’s poems take inspiration from public lands ranging from the tried-and-true of Yellowstone to the lesser-known of Lake Charlevoix, Indiana. The anthology is available for pre-order now from Finishing Line Press. *Pre-orders help small presses determine print runs, so feel free to order a copy (or two) now.
In addition, the book will be welcomed to the world with a series of events. Through the wonders of technology, I’ll participate in their May 5, 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) event. (Zoom’s not all bad, after all!). Park Ranger Ashley Waymouth of Hot Springs National Park will lead a “virtual visit” to the park and twelve poets from Wayfinding will read their work. A copy of the book will be raffled off, as well.
The swifts are back, to surf the canyons between the apartment buildings. I’d been waiting for them and waiting for them, taking comfort from the idea of their long flight from Africa and eventual return to Madrid. Yes, the future’s uncertain, but the swifts’ peregrination is a constant, one of the world’s mysterious mechanisms.
They operate independently of us, above the fray.
A few weeks ago, I saw a single dark speck flung out against the sky and got excited — and then, nothing. Until this morning. Now I keep the window open, the better to hear their wild, comforting weep-weep.
We take our nature where we can find it, here in the city.
On Saturday, our grocery shopping finished, we made our way home past probably a dozen restaurants, each of them with its interior empty and its sidewalk tables full (sitting outside being perhaps the biggest Madrileño concession to Europe’s 4th Covid wave).
Contrary to what I thought when I first got here, not all Madrid hole-in-the-walls are worth stopping for, no matter how picturesque they might look. A plate of potato chips with slices of second-rate ham draped atop it tastes about as good as you’d expect. Croquetas, bits of this-and-that bound together by bechamel sauce and breaded and fried, taste (to my mind at least; a sacrilege to admit) a little like fried baby food.
But at two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, everyone was at the cafes. Families with kids whose plastic toys were spread across the white tablecloth. Older couples, groups of friends. A warm spring weekend in a European city is a joy to behold. As we walked past restaurant after restaurant, I realized I hadn’t experienced that sight in Madrid, even though in July I’ll have been here two years. Last spring, my first, was pretty much of a wash, because of La Cuarentena.
Halfway between our apartment and the bakery, there’s a corner restaurant with a blue-and-white tiled facade, too humble to be listed in any guidebook as far as I know. Its chalkboard menu runs heavily to mushrooms and looks intriguing, but usually there aren’t any tables free when we walk past. This past Saturday, I stopped to peek at the case just inside the door, where the day’s mushrooms are displayed on plates.
Morels! Morels must be foraged for, not farmed. I’ve looked for them in the mountains of North Carolina with my sister-in-law: we found three. But here they were, enough to be heaped on a plate — and there was an empty table on the sidewalk. I set to work with my Spanish of a three-year-old.
Was there a free table?
The waiter pulled out a notepad and frowned at his penciled scrawl.
— Reservations, he said.
—For what time? I countered. We just want something to pick at, we just need half an hour.
He relented, repairing the table’s wobble with a wedge of wine cork shoved beneath one leg. The morels came in a homely brown terracotta dish, in a paprika-laced sauce, and as we sopped it up with bread, I considered their mushroom-ness: What had the trees they’d grown beneath looked like? Who was the mushroom hunter that foraged them? (I imagined an older gent who’d guarded his foraging site for 50 years). And just how had they gotten from there to here?
They were delicious —but we almost didn’t get them. Before I talked to the waiter, I looked up the word for morels in Google Translate, always a bad idea, and then asked for a portion of them (morilla). He looked puzzled and said another similar-sounding word (morcilla). — ¡Si! I said in relief. While we were waiting for our order, I kept looking at the menu written on the chalkboard and realized we were were about to get a plate of blood sausage.
He might’ve been irritated by the change in our order but morels cost a whole lot more than blood sausages do.
An election has been called for the Community of Madrid for May 4; campaigning started Sunday. Politics here is filled with acrimony and strife, usually pitting Madrid’s ruling party against the national government. (It’s a good thing I can’t understand much of what’s going on, since I have my hands full with my own country’s bitter divisions.)
On Monday, the Community of Madrid announced new health zone closures. This is the Community’s so-called surgical response to rising Covid cases, the idea being … actually, I don’t know what the idea is, really. Our little health zone was closed back in October for six weeks, and the fact that we were only supposed to leave the zone for work or school or to go to the doctor was supposed to lower the numbers. Since everyone walked in and out of the zone as they pleased, you can imagine how helpful this was.
Our cases are again some of the highest in the Community, but cases are even higher in the zone 6 blocks away from us, so it has been closed, along with the area where both my Spanish school and doctor’s office are.
Yesterday, I spent hours walking in and out of both confined areas, completely unaware of any of that. The main thoroughfare I took has been plastered with banners for the current president of the Community’s campaign.
This morning, I asked someone how was your zoom?, a question that would’ve been nonsensical a year ago. A year ago — back when normal was just normal, instead of the “new normal,” which isn’t normal at all, no matter how we try to slice it. Flattening curves, starting waves (Spain now entering its 4th) — when we’re not even surfers.
The first time I heard the phrase Covid-Fatigue, I took it extremely literally. Covid-Fatigue, as in being so weary of Covid you no longer followed the rules. (According to the media, this was a state Americans reached last summer.) Covid-fatigue wasn’t benign, but at least it seemed like something an individual could partially control. Now, as we look toward our second summer of Covid, we may have entered the realm of Covid-Fatigue 2.0, another, more pernicious animal entirely.
I guess when I say we I mean those of us here in Europe. The U.S. failed on many Covid-fronts, but at least it has been getting shots into arms. This morning I read in El Pais that in Spain half of those over the age of 80 have received one shot. Didn’t I write that a month ago? Two months ago? We seem to be running in place. We still can’t leave Madrid. We still aren’t supposed to have anyone over to our apartment. Masks must be worn at all times outside —except when you are eating and drinking at a sidewalk cafe. (You’re supposed to only lower your mask to take a bite or a sip and then replace it, but I have yet to see this being either performed or policed). And Madrid is a cakewalk, I hear, compared to Paris.
Covid-Fatigue 2.0 is more kin to Decision-Fatigue than it is to Covid-Fatigue 1.0’s rebellion. Should I try to fly to the U.S. to try to get vaccinated before 2022? I don’t know, it’s too hard to figure out, let me wander into the kitchen and eat a cookie. The neighbors had people over to watch the Real Madrid game last weekend. Does that mean we should invite somebody over to sit on our terrace this weekend? I don’t know, it’s too hard to think about, I’ll just look at my Facebook feed for a second instead. Should I ride the subway? Should I weigh the pros and cons before I ride the subway? Should I not? Should we try to find another little town in the Community of Madrid to visit on the weekend, or should we just stay home?
Here in our pod (another Covid-term), we’ve each adopted our own way of coping with this new fugue state. M plays a zombie-killing game on his phone after dinner. I sit beside him on the sofa, looking at houses in the Madrid suburbs I would never actually move to on Idealista.com, Spain’s version of Zillow.
Last night when I went in Younger Daughter’s room to remind her it was time for bed, she had her head bent over her laptop. What’re you doing? I asked her.
— Looking at Google Maps.
I sat down on the bed beside her. She explained a little more. What she did was, she found tiny towns in the United States with names she liked and then explored them. Did you know that in Casper, Wy, there’s a taco stand in the middle of a field? She dragged and clicked and suddenly, there was all America displayed for us on the computer screen.
Vacant movie theatres.
Ice cream shops.
The residential areas are boring, she said. She clicked and dragged some more.
So many Main Streets, with hardly anything left on them! So many fields! So many roads.
This morning, I woke up and thought: tonight maybe she and I should visit Greece.
The traditional Semana Santa processions couldn’t happen last week for the second year in a row, so Madrid came up with new rituals. Since the pasos, the elaborate floats that depict the Passion of Christ, weren’t allowed to come to the people through their usual parades, the people made their way to the pasos, on view inside the churches.
Since moving here, I’ve heard over and over again that this is no longer a churchgoing country, that a third of the population considers itself atheist, agnostic, or non-believer (the figure is 26% in the U.S., a little less) On Good Friday, we’d planned a walk from church to church to see some of the pasos, mainly because the City had published a detailed map and signage (including QR codes).* As it turned out, the churches with the best, most extravagant pasos all had huge crowds waiting in line out front. If Spain is a non-churchgoing country now, I can’t imagine what things must have been like in, say, 1953.
In the few churches we made it into, the holy water basins were all empty, and the bottles of hand sanitizer at the door were all full. Elderly viewers sat in pews to contemplate the depictions of Christ carrying his cross; the younger ones snapped quick photos with their phones and moved on.
This might be Covid, Year II, in a nutshell: almost the same, but not quite.
For months, the mask regulation here had been that masks were required outdoors whenever people couldn’t keep 1.5 meters apart. At some point last week, all that changed. Masks are now required outside no matter what. On the beach? people wanted to know. At the swimming pool? No one was happy.
An amendment was announced this morning: sunbathing maskless is ok. Of course, most province borders are closed to inter-Spain travel, so the only beachgoers are arriving from other countries in the EU. “French tourists,” the Madrileños sniff.
The Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, hasn’t been approved by the EU yet, but last week sources revealed that the Community of Madrid’s government apparently met with middlemen to discuss its purchase, because all avenues must be explored “in the face of the ineffectiveness of the Government.”
All week, I predicted the swifts, our harbingers of true Spring, would return to Madrid from Southern Africa by Easter Sunday. I didn’t have any scientific backing for this prediction — I just thought it would be nice.
But for now, the mornings are still a bit chilly. We haven’t quite reached that pivotal moment when the weather in the early mornings goes from having a little bite to it to staying downright balmy.
Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Algeria, Morocco — these are the countries the swifts cross on their way here. They left Kenya around the 3rd of February.
Madrid is waiting.
*We also planned this route because most things besides restaurants and churches were closed.
This morning I made it out of the house early, leaving a cup of coffee half-drunk and the article in El Pais that reported that only half the over-80 population of Spain is vaccinated mostly unread. Spring has come, with a vengeance, and it’d be a shame to waste the morning on the endless fretting of the news.
There’s a quick way to get where I was going and then there’s a scenic route, and just because I could, I chose the latter, heading down Calle del Acuerdo (Agreement Street) toward the city center.
Still-cobbled Calle del Acuerdo pitches downward toward Gran Vía and frames one of Madrid’s most-famous landmarks, the Metrópolis building, to such perfection that one can’t help but be stricken dumb with europhilia at the sight.
Can one feel love for a place that isn’t yours, a place you can never really know completely? At 8:30 on a spring morning, when Madrid stretches and yawns and wakes up, when the churches are opening for masses hardly anyone goes to and the construction workers in fluorescent vests have stopped outside the cafes for a quick café con leche, it’s hard not to. At the end of the street, just before I turned the corner to plunge into the bustle of Gran Vía, I looked up at a building facade to see winged Mercury, god of commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves peeping back as if in benediction — may your travels today be good ones.
Back home, the apartment was dirty and my list full of shoulds and oughts that need doing was long long long, but the morning said walk, so I did. Skirting the Royal Palace and the interminable construction surrounding it, across the Manzanares river and into the green space that long ago was some king’s hunting preserve and less long ago was the front lines during the siege of Madrid. And then finally back up the hill into the neighborhood, where the little wizened flower seller who sets up on the corner, who dresses all in black and is dropped off for work along with her wares by a guy in a Range Rover, (and who alwayscharges me more, I suspect, than she does other people) was selling, along with her usual carnations, huge billowing masses of lilacs.
How could I resist?
I walked into our apartment with my arms full, feeling a little like Mrs. Dalloway, a little like a person I never once in my life up until now expected to be, a city-dweller.