Thursday, December 20, 2007

Let's Get it On

Sometimes I wonder what life would look like if I could live a song. Or the idea of a song. Listening to Rod Stewart make something new out of a Cole Porter song, the piano light, the horns insistent, I wonder why my hair isn't set in rollers or why my nails are chipped. And where the hell are my silk stockings?

I can understand why losing an iPod is akin to losing a limb. Once you've set your life to a soundtrack it's hard to go back to the mundane. With Marvin Gaye in my head the street comes alive. Like the opening scene of a musical, energy illuminates the mailbox and the streetlights with 1970's sunbeams, the whole world suddenly pieced together, every character with a role and a purpose.

Is there a way to do that without a pair of headphones? I want to think so. I want to feel like a Gershwin introduction or a Strokes song without having it piped in. To be just as imaginative without an electronic prompt. Maybe what music does is open me up enough to see the world in a different light and to do so without a crutch takes time to learn.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Before the metro closes

We were sitting at the back of the cafe playing Spanish Scategories, the table littered with half empty coffees, fickle ball point pens, and two broken plastic hourglasses.
Letter "s":

1. Bocadillos
2. Personas de ficcion

After the hourglass stopped halfway, we let 30 or so seconds go by before we offered our answers. Within each category, you name things that begin with the letter that was rolled. Answers could be in either language, with 2 points for every Spanish word versus 1 point for every English answer.

1. Bocadillos: "Salmon and cream cheese" "Sweet chicken curry"
2. Personas de obras de ficcion: "Scout" "Superman" "Sacajawea"
"Wait, Sacajawea was a real person," Leah objected.
Marisa raised her hand, her mouth in a set line "We don't know that," she said seriously, ready to protect her answer to gain a point.
The table exploded with laughter.

I'm always amazed at how strong the overall feeling of a night or a day or a moment can be. Walking out of Cafe Manuela to catch the last train before the metro closed for the night, we wandered down middle of the street making plans for tomorrow, tripping over each other, laughing.

It's hard not to feel nostalgic about leaving, though to feel anticipatory nostalgia is an odd experience. What used to be a name I told people to pin down my location, Madrid is now a switchboard in my head, lighting up with details of afternoons, favorite streets, and misadventures. Flying towards Madrid on September 6 I had no idea what to expect from the city, nor where it was located, nor what it looked like. I had flown out of London on a morning already cold enough to see my breath hang in the air. Flying over Great Britain the trees and green spread out endlessly, lulling me to sleep. When I woke up 2 hours later the landscape was stretched taut and brown for miles below the double-paned fiberglass window, and I couldn't find the city.

I had seen pictures of el Parque del Buen Retiro, Gran Via, and other main thoroughfares in the guide books I had perused, but they all gave off the same glossy, static sensation. In the cab, making painfully slow and grammatically strictured conversation with the taxista, hundreds of people I knew nothing about flew past the window.

"We're at Cafe Manuela," Kate told me over the general din.
"Wait, is that Margaret?" I heard Jen's voice ask.
"Yeah," Kate said.
"Tell her it's on the street we got lost on last night," Jen's muffled voice said.
"Okay, so it's-"
"On the street we got last on last night. Cool! Thanks Kate, I'll probably be there in about 15 minutes," I said.

Getting off the metro I wasn't quite sure where I was headed, but crossing the street some of the construction looked familiar, and suddenly it was as if someone had taken a giant highlighter and marked my turns. I knew exactly which way to go, slowing my walk down in my certainty.
Cafe Manuela's giant red doors and opaque windows stared dolefully at the street, sounds of Scategories leaking onto the sidewalk.

Friday, December 7, 2007

7 Day Forecast

It looks like snow. Though the air doesn't smell like it's keeping any secrets.

Smelling snow is one of those Farmer's Almanac, Lake Wobegone-esque skills that my father has. He'll stand on the back porch in his nightshirt, a mug of coffee in his hand, and ease the pangs of an old frostbite from his free hand by curling it into and out of a fist. A few steps towards the border of the slate squares and he turns his nose towards the now barren hay field.

"It smells like snow," he says as he steps back inside, his feet making soft noises on the linoleum floor.

When I was little that's what I thought the smell of snow was: the still air curled up in the fibers of his winter flannels, a vague acccent of almond shaving soap and coffee. It wasn't until I was older and became his winter walk partner that the scent of a storm became distinctive.

Walking is one of those activities that has a mountain of identities to choose from. It can wear spandex and power its way through streets wearing a determined face. Or it strolls down the thoroughfares around 7 or 8, as Madrid's streets become crowded with people who "ir pisando huevos" literally, walk as if they were stepping on eggs. In English this would imply a certain hesitancy to broach a contentious subject, but since Madrilenos aren't afraid to do that, it means they walk slowly. Gambol, might be a better word. They walk, looking intently at shop windows and each other, talking.

My dad always carries his socks in his hand when he comes downstairs, pulling out one of the kitchen chairs to put his shoes on. "Want to go for a walk, Meggy?" he asks me. As a general rule, we stop for coffee on the way, listening to local radio. Sometimes we don't talk until we get to the creek, pulling into the gravel parking lot that slopes down towards the water. But walking encourages talking; something about moving steadily creates a foundation that words spring easily from, an active meditation.

Standing next to the water, watching it roil against fallen tree branches, ducks navigating the rocks, we pull our hoods over our heads and look at the leaden, gray sky. "It smells like snow," I say to him. He rocks back on his heels and breathes in. "You're right," he says, "it does."