UNITED STATES—Six floors up at a high bar table al fresco, on top of a luxury department store in Calao, the legendary city’s trendiest neighborhood. Here we travelers from America were among beautiful people, chatting, drinking beer and looking at other beautiful people as the dusking sun turned the skyline from gray to silver.
I was worry free as I have been for months at this moment in Madrid. We drank Mahou draft beer and memories of the “Tolerance Conference” drifted, of the Palestinian woman who had lived in Montreal for 12 years, learning French and then finally to Spain to study culture; the wide-faced, dark-haired academic who stumbled and sweated her talk out, periodically stopping to ask, “Are there any questions…?”, she was so relieved when it was over she gawked at her cell phone as if she were all alone at the table and not sitting right next to the strident fanatic who spewed out the words like armor-plated bullets; then she put her cell phone down and reveled in a cigarette.
Juan David, the Colombian, fixated on the brutalistic towers, the Columbus Tower, near the circle with a statue of Christopher Columbus, a helmeted bellicose cloud scraper of a building that would be more at home in a Godzilla movie than in the regal layout left by Madrid’s city planners. And soon we were back to talking about women.
After the second or third beer, a sullen small person came to gather the empty bottle. She was displeased, maybe by the tip; she was one of an army of short people who sweep the streets, bus tables, keep the show running. In their case motivated by their own fear of poverty, aporophobia. Madrid would be a fine place to set a story, against the backdrop of beauty (except for the Columbus tower), to talk about inequality.
Onward we walked, we crossed a street where Bravo Murillo turns into la Castellana, full of overpasses and treed islands. As the day died and yet in the distance, bright sunlight persisted, before night reigned. We met the caretaker for the privately owned church in the Salamanca neighborhood –Angel de Dios– who told us how terrible life was in Madrid and wanted to impress us by how happy he was with the current U.S. president.
A tip for a grocery store, led us to a place already closed, and there was a avenue with a few speeding taxis, and a marquee to a stage play a la Broadway, but there was no audience Monday night. And we found a white clean restaurant, where they had there glass case full of a all variety of dishes: calamari, green olives, croquettes, mussels, gambas al ajillo (shrimp), and of course ham, a lot of ham.
We sat outside and night came. Our bodies were tired from much walking and seeing, and it was the animal tiredness that came from something all out. The waitress brought chicken sandwiches, wonderfully served. We basked in the moment. I asked for bocadillo, the higher price category on their list of tapas; the second list of lower priced items was pincho. Bocadillo I figured it would be a greater portion of tortilla de papa, but it turned out to be tortilla de papa sandwiched between two sliced brioches. Two sandwiches, wow!
It allowed for one whole sandwich to be wrapped in tin foil and taken with us.
We were going to take the Metro at one point and I needed Euros. This was a nagging problem, as the banks closed early for summer, and the Metro demanded plata. Inside the restaurant I found an American who was happy to sell me some Euros for dollars. Off we went to the Metro, carrying a foil-wrapped whole sandwich left from my feast.
Half way to the train platform I realized I had left the sandwich on top of the ticket machine, outside the turnstile. We retraced our steps and we just at a point when I’d jump over the turnstile, came bounding toward us from the street.
“There on top on of the machine is a sandwich. Can you bring it to me?” He did.
When we were on the train, a young beggar who looked like one of El Greco’s saints, asked for some coins, some food, anything. This was the first evidence of the vast street population that Angel de Dios alluded to.
This was the perfect opportunity to ditch the sandwich. The bearded young man humbly accepted it. As Americans from Los Angeles we came from a place were reactions are dicey, what happened there in the train was further evidence that Madrid was not far from heaven.
To be continued…