Madrid, March, 2022
I’m at my beloved Gran Clavel. It’s a little before 8:30pm. I made it here in the rain, after a long walk through a crowded center. I took a detour down calle Tres Peces to get a closer look at a cafe called El Nomade, a coffee and brunch spot I’d like to take Anne and Manon to when they come on Saturday.
Around Anton Martin I crossed a serpentine, mile long procession of demonstrators from the communist party, demanding the lowering of prices on electricity and gas, especially those that apply to workers. “Lucha!” “Lucha!” “Lucha!” a man with a bullhorn shouted at the head of the line. Most of the crowd peacefully crawled behind him as if they were inching their way forward in a slow-moving check-out line. Because of a truckers’ strike it’s difficult to buy milk and olive oil. Fisherman are also striking so there’s very little fresh fish making its way to the capital. Taxi drivers will strike on Sunday.
I can’t help but feel a murky dread here in Europe. An urgency, an anger, a low-grade fear. A hesitancy to live, or rather, to live as much as possible until it’s impossible.
There’s a British couple at the table next to mine. They are eating and talking their way through tapas. Jeff ordered a beer and Bev, another vino tinto (out of season, I should mention). They talked about golf. And their vacation in Madrid. And then, Bev checked her phone: “This just released from the BBC,” she said, “‘NATO to boost forces in Eastern Europe.’ Well, that doesn’t sound good.” There was a pause. Bev looked over at me, perhaps by mistake.
“It’s strange and horrible what’s happening in the world now, isn’t it?” I introduced myself, and we immediately all fell into sync bemoaning the gravity of the situation, as strangers on vacation do, as if the possibility of WWIII were more akin to bad service at a tourist trap. We sat there trying to figure it out, the insanity of war in Europe, as intimately as if we’d known each other for years. It was nice talking to people in English. And we all had a laugh at the reality that each of us did our calculations over where we lived and the likelihood of Putin dropping a bomb there.
“We live only four miles from a NATO base on the east coast of England,” Jeff said.
“I live in New Jersey right between New York City and Washington DC.”
“We’re all doomed,” we agreed, and we laughed about it, which wasn’t without a bizarre tinge of irony. The band still playing jovial music as the Titanic sinks.
By then I was done the Ribera del Duero, the boquerones, the olives. Jeff and Bev paid their bill and headed back to their hotel on the Gran Via. The lights of the cafe dimmed and I couldn’t help but feel awash with the sensations of aloneness and aliveness. The night, despite the rain, or because of it, was a bright beauty I could possess in the gloomy now. Crisp, breathable air. The constant reminder of life in the form of raindrops on my face. Gems dreamed up from a time of peace.