Archive for the 'people' Category

Bad news and good news

The bad news is that Madrid has never looked uglier than now. The streets are strewn with trash thanks to a nearly 10-day strike by the city street cleaners and garden maintenance staff to protest planned layoffs of more than a sixth of the current staff and salary reductions for the rest. The whole thing started with a demonstration on the 4th of this month, which was followed by some of the workers deliberately throwing trash (opening trash bags waiting to be collected) on the streets to call attention to something they, understandably, find completely objectionable. While I don’t agree with the tactic of pouring our carrot peels, bags of dog poop, onion skins, and chicken bones all over the place, I empathize with their outrage. Somehow the whole thing is very symbolic of what’s happening in Madrid and Spain at large—lots and lots of rubbish.

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On the bright side of things, we have the peonza, the spinning tops that are driving kids crazy all over Madrid. Somehow it’s refreshing to see kids gathered around to see a top spin, trying to balance it on their noses or throw it the air. At school, the primary-age boys and girls have all got one, and I’ve seen them spinning in metro stations and on street corners in Lavapiés. Yes, these kids are the smartphone and tablet generation, but it’s comforting to see such a relatively old-fashioned thing take hold, however briefly.

On being handicapped in the big city

pedriza

Nearly three weeks ago I fell while hiking in my favorite spot in Madrid, La Pedriza. We were busy exploring the far reaches of La Pedriza posterior when I stupidly tripped forward and felt a yank on my left arm as I hit the ground hard. When I brushed myself off, my shoulder was conspicuously lower than it normally is. Six hours later, after an intense thunderstorm and a careful three-hour descent in a makeshift sling, the shoulder had been returned to its rightful place by an ornery emergency room doctor.

And thus, with my left arm completely immobilized in a sling, I began a three-week stint as a persona discapacitada in Madrid. I’ve been commuting to work and more or less living my life as normal, to the extent that a one-armed person can. I have grown used to people staring and, especially, to the majority of people who don’t budge to give me a seat on any of the various modes of public transport I use daily.

There are always exceptions, though. Today, as I was riding on a city bus, one woman was especially solicitous, looking concernedly at me even after I declined the offer of her seat. As I approached the door to leave, she offered to help me off the bus (I had a small suitcase in tow) and, when I demurred, she leaned over and confided that her daughter currently has both arms in casts and she, to put it lightly, knows how it is. I, too, can say I’ll never look at physical incapacities the same way again.

Recent observations on the metro

What do you think of changing your baby on the metro? Good idea? The other afternoon I witnessed a young mother changing her rather large baby’s very dirty diaper in a row of three seats on line 10. I boarded the train when the operation was already in progress, but, judging by the splatter, it seemed that it might have been some sort of shit explosion necessitating immediate nappy changing. I felt sort of a mix of revulsion and empathy toward this woman, but I have to say that she was not attending to the matter in a very neat fashion. When she left the train, there was definitely still shit on the seat.

And how about clipping your nails? Great idea! The metro is the perfect place for that. This afternoon I had the privilege of listening to the clip clip clip of a woman’s nail clippers as she took care of some of her personal grooming underground on line 6. What a treat!

La vida de los otros

I don’t know the majority of our neighbors, but proximity has bred a certain intimacy with them. I know, for example, that the guy who lives on the floor below ours across the alleyway loves to hang out in his tighty-whities in front of the computer. And the [male] neighbors directly above us have a real penchant for “Guitar Hero“—their favorite songs by far are “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Hotel California.” They love to practice said songs just around midnight on weeknights.

And tonight I’ve just realized that I was more involved with the neighbors across the alley and one floor down from our kitchen window than I’d thought.

We didn’t always have neighbors there. It must’ve been sometime last year that workmen in paint-splattered clothes appeared in the windows at work on what appeared to be a gut renovation. My eyes would wander down to the windows as I cooked my oatmeal, or waited for something in the oven, or boiled pasta water. The renovation finished, enter the Ikea furniture. And the young couple with an Arctic-looking dog way cuter than a Huskie and decidedly too big for a Madrid apartment. I must have stood there trying to catch that dog’s eye on multiple occasions.

Then I began recognizing the couple on the street, where they were often returning from a walk with the dog (more easily recognizable than the humans). Sometime in the fall the woman began lowering herself into the chair in front of the TV somewhat more gingerly. Of course, she was pregnant! (Clearly the next logical step after dog.) The last time I saw her on the street she appeared quite front-heavy, but I was certainly not prepared to gaze over there tonight as I got dinner ready and see her cradling a tiny little dark-haired baby. Dang.

La calle es de todos

The street is for everyone. I saw these words stenciled on a building in the center of Madrid while wandering around with a friend last week. It seems an appropriate thing to say about Madrid, where so much life is concentrated on the streets. I’m not just talking about the homeless people here, who sleep on benches, building entrances, and in parks, or the crippled beggars who sit in the middle of the sidewalk on Gran Via and ask for change. Or even the groups of teenagers who congregate in the alleyway under my window late at night. I’m talking about all Madrileños, old and young, Spanish and foreign, pijo and alternativo. I’m talking about the West Africans selling pirated DVDs on the streets and in the Metro entrances, the gay couple embracing outside the Palacio Real, the Pakistani man smoking a cigarette outside his non-smoking locutorio, the Ecuadorans picnicking in Parque del Oeste every Sunday, the Peruvian musicians playing in Sol.

I’m talking about Lavapiés, probably the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the center of Madrid. I was there three times in the last week–one night for a kebab, one night for Indian food, and today as we looked for a less crowded alternative to La Latina to eat outside on this cloudy, chilly, but not rainy day. It was just our luck to come across a terraza with an empty table just north of an enormous drum circle congregated in the plaza. Now, Lavapiés has become semi-trendy among Madrileños who dig the ethnic food and the alternative Spanish tabernas, the art and music scene, and the wonderful old architecture. But whenever I go there I can’t forget what one of my female Spanish friends told me once: that she had been really interested in taking a flamenco class at El Horno, a dance center in the neighborhood, but had ultimately decided against it based on the fact that the class would end around 7 p.m. and the streets would be full of immigrants just standing around and looking at her. I couldn’t help thinking that it was a terrible shame to give up the class for that reason. La calle es de todos, ¿no?

Vaya

Tonight I’m walking home from the metro after my conversation class with some guys at a security systems company, and I’m totally in another world … listening to my music, checking out all the store windows that have been so cruelly enticing me in this month in which I am poor poor poor. And, boom! I’ve run into someone. I whip around, shocked out of my reverie, and remove one headphone just in time to hear “Eres tonta, eh!” (You are stupid!) out of the mouth of the older woman I bumped into. Hey, did you think I was planning to run into you? I may be distracted, but I’m not stupid.


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