Sunday 28 April 2013

o : Madrid

La Estacion, Ronda de Atocha

Dear o,

I arrived in Madrid in time for the marathon, and beyond the window of this cafeteria the remaining few are en route to the finish line.  These are some of the best to watch: old men with headbanded heads down, power-walkers in nuclear green shorts, the emaciated and the proud.  I didn’t know this was going on today.  The sky is grey and the wind is cold.  The Metro passengers wear sad, restless faces, and while I see no hint of Boston haunting, there are other ghosts here.  Ghosts I didn’t see last time I was here two years ago; ghosts of Europe, perhaps, or of Spain alone; ghosts that don’t belong in the spring.  The marathon runners are alive, though, and I wish I was one of them.  There are so many things I wish I was doing, wish I had done, wish I were about to do.  Certainly this is a theme of the last few days, but I wonder if it’s also what makes me my own worst enemy.  One day, I tell myself, I will live in the moment.

The rest of our day in Pamplona was sunny, hot and free.  The rolling countryside was aglow in the sun and the breeze was ideal for an afternoon of cards.  I couldn’t find Al in the grass, stone, angular maze of the Citadel near where we parked, and spent a good half hour on the search.  I didn’t realise until after that I had traversed a wonderful relic of 18th century military architecture.  Next time, I thought, I’ll find the museum, learn the dates and angles, sit on a bench and contemplate the past.  Until then, I’ll tell people that it’s one of the best things to do in Pamplona, to hang out with the locals and climb some of the rock walls, to wander over and under the bridge of arches.  I’ll say it’s a wonderful asset for a city, the transformation of obselete martial utility into modern urban enchantment.  And I’ll press my tongue invisibly into my cheek and know I haven’t actually “done it” myself.

We spent the night in the truck, east of Pamplona near the Monasterio de Leyre.  We parked just off the road and faced the lake of Yesa.  The moon rose over it, behind the leafless trees, and I felt my past rumble up into my throat.  Something from childhood, something from a hundred memories.  I wanted to write.  I didn’t.  I would write tomorrow.

We explored the monastery, sat in a confession box for shits and giggles, walked down to the fountain of the virgins and then up to the fountain of the virile.  The latter march was longer and better, but the first was sweet, with those ancient stone picnic tables, carved with faces and broken by asses.  At the places above where we took photos of the monastery between fallen trees, I wanted to sit and listen for a while.  But I was in a rush to get to Logroño.  I’ll see other monasteries in front of beautiful lakes, and there will be other clear days for thoughtful vigour.  Right?

I spent a few days in Logroño, a lot of it at the library, reading and working between lunch breaks.  In the evenings I hung out with my cousin and her friends, listened to the tales of life in a Spanish exchange programme, pitched riddles, ate too well, tried snickerdoodles (cinnamon cookies), enjoyed snickerdoodles, and watched half a chick-flick.  In my strolls around town I couldn’t help but encounter the trekkers on the Camino de Santiago.  They come from all around the world, often betrayed by their blue backpacks, beige vests and sweat-encrusted faces.  Despite their surprising numbers, they were beautiful people, or had at least become so by virtue of their endeavour.  I wanted to be one of them.  From the river valley I saw the plain structures built into the sandstone cliffs beyond with their square black openings, inviting the walkers in.  I wanted to climb up, wade in, join the trail, meet a thousand others, and earn the chance to hear the bells and see the waves of Galicia.  And to feel my feet under me again, the whole weight of my life concentrated in one spot, one purpose, one way.  Unfractured, unstructured, unstoppable.  But I had to get to Sevilla.  There is a plan and a method and a long list of the things I need to love.

On the bus I saw incredible pillared rock formations, and then a tall square castle with keep and outer wall in the middle of a town somewhere north of Madrid.  I’ve noted it in my head to check out in the future.  Let’s say an afternoon for that.

I will do the Camino one day, the whole length of it.  I might even start earlier, from Milan, or Turkey, or Russia.  I will also do the GR-20 in Corsica, a hike across Iceland, and an expedition in the Black Forest.  I’ve got to do a bicycle trip across Europe – every continent, in fact.  Then there’s Kilimanjaro, McKinley and Everest.  Will have to climb those, and am fine with the queues.  I must go sailing, windsurfing, skiing and horse riding again, and try skydiving, paragliding, bungee jumping and snowboarding.  And visit the places I’ve missed: Luxembourg, Munich, Pompeii, Crete, Newfoundland, Malta, Kutna Hora, Andorra, Melbourne, that castle north of Madrid.  I’ve got to learn more languages and get better at the ones I’ve started; play more chess, do more crossword puzzles, read more books and articles and poems and blogs, try more card games.  I need to learn a skill or two, something I hadn’t thought of doing before.  I need to stop listing and start doing.  Or not: I need quality, not quantity. So much to need, so much to have, so much to plan.

I could, on the other hand, just shut up, breathe, look and listen.

No, no, I can’t.  I have to get the train to Sevilla.  I’ve only got a few hours here in Madrid, between bus and train.  What did I need to see here again, that I didn’t get to last time? 

The marathon is finished now.  I’m glad I saw a part of it.



The turtle pen at Madrid Atocha station.