The Manzanares

There is a river that runs through Madrid. It’s called the Manzanares, and he’s right. It is ugly.

“It’s not the Seine, y’know.”

“I know, I know. But I’m curious. There’s got to be something to see. Can we go anyway?”

“No, Jesus. I said there’s nothing to see. It’s ugly and you have to take the Renfe Cercanias, which costs.”

But I don’t mind taking the Renfe if it gets me out of Vallecas.

So, I go alone and he’s right. It is ugly. Maybe he told me to get off at Principe Pio. Maybe it was Puerta Del Angel. I can’t remember now. But I wind my way through orangy brick tenements, with green, mangled awnings before I see the river and make my way to the Puente de Segovia.

Puente de Segovia sounds so royal. But there’s nothing to see: a dried up concrete channel, graffitied banks, feral cats, overgrown weeds, the smell of sewage. I cross the bridge pretending it’s the Pont Neuf or the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. I practice pronouncing the line in my head that some day I will speak if I ever go back: Je recherche le Cafe Saint Sulpice. Où puis-je le trouver? And I remember the nights I stood at the Pont St. Michel at three in the morning, the glittering Eiffel Tower in the distance, kissing so and so after dancing all night at Le Balad’jo. It hurts to do this. But the Manzanares is ugly, and I can’t even create with my own fantasy-brain beauty that doesn’t exist. What little water is there is black. It’s not even summer. Broken cinder blocks make stepping stones from one chainlink-fenced bank to the other, connecting poor, overcrowded suburban barrios along the outskirts of Madrid.

I head back down a Franco-era utilitarian overpass. It’s late in the afternoon and I need to get to the metro before dark. But I’m lost—I miss the turn at Calle Caramuel and keep heading down Antonio Zamora instead—I wander down a street where a gypsy woman in black sings a cante jondo, tremulous and pulsating, from a terraza draped in laundry three flights up. When I get home, it’s the Spanish way, la cena will be expected. I’ll reheat the leftover cocido my mother-in-law brought, and ladle it with great care into the only two bowls we own.

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