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  • Day31

    Madrid

    June 22, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    I missed recording a few days, including walking into Santiago de Compostella, a couple of days knocking around Santiago where I searched for a small statue of San Roque by day (on account of him being the saint for dogs and - with my background in epidemiology - his association with infectious diseases). It was harder to find Roque than I thought, but in the process, I got to see some parts of Santiago little visited by tourists. Like a back road curandera shop with magic candles, powders and religious relics, etc. I love places like that.

    By night, I lay awake in the hostel, unable to sleep because there was a street busker harpist under my window who played for 5 hours straight without a single break. I’m not making this up. A harp sounds great for about 20 minutes. After that, you start wondering if there’s a store open that sells poison dart guns. And hoping like hell you don't end up going to heaven if it sounds like that.

    Now I'm staying in an Airbnb in Madrid, on the border of an Islamic neighborhood, in a room in an apt. owned by an ebullient guy named Sergio who reminds me of the Italian actor, Roberto Benigni. If I leave my room door open, he rushes in bearing chocolates, with maps, enthusiastic advice about where I should visit next and to be sure I'm okay.

    Sergio says he needs to practice his English, but refuses to speak it at all. While showing me around, he opened a drawer in the bathroom and asked me how to say it in English. I said "drawer," and he tried to say it. I spelled it and that made it worse. He said English is too hard to learn and after that, I tended to agree with him.

    It's hot and humid here, so I set out on foot, looking for a desk fan for my room. I've mentioned these little variety stores in Spain and Portugal called “Bazars de Chino” (and other similar names). They are, I'm not exaggerating, a fourth the size of a 7/11 convenience store and literally every single time, I have found exactly what I'm looking for there, no matter how esoteric. Check out the ambitious sign on this front of this tiny store. And yes, they had the desk fan I was looking for and also a duffle bag I can use to check my walking sticks and some other stuff when I fly home. The fan was on the shelf over bags of potting soil, citrus squeezer tools and a display of packets of googly eyes.

    Next I went to El Prado, one of the top art museums in the world. Mainly I went there because I figured it was air conditioned. It has your Goyas, El Grecos, Velazquez, your Rubens, Raphaels, Bosches, some Rembrandts, etc. Astonishing painting skills but, sadly, mostly religious themes that I think range from monotonous to morbid, so sue me. I focused on the minute, realistic painted details of the costume fabrics. Amazing. You're "not allowed" to take photos, so I did and then I let the security guard tell me I wasn't allowed to do it. And then everybody was happy.

    Today I went for a marathon walk in the heat, through the crowds to Plaza Mayor (practically ruined by large tourist groups and kitchy shops). Back in 1973, I remember sitting at an outdoor café in Plaza Mayor with a big glass of Horchata (I haven’t seen any horchata since I’ve been here), very relaxed with a local vibe. Not anymore. Then I walked around the old city to Plaza Chueca, the heart of the gay neighborhood that is gearing up like mad for Pride next week. (Last time I walked the Camino Frances, I ended up in Madrid for Pride week. I will never get over the fact that a group of 12 muscular guys wearing rainbow butt thongs and angel wings roller-skated by me and I didn’t have my camera with me.)

    Looking at my reflection in shop windows, in my cargo shorts and oversized tee shirt, I realized I resembled a middle aged man in Branson, Missouri. So I stopped in a boutique and bought a brightly colored linen shirt dress, that I looked pretty smart, and wore it out of the store. Now I'm walking around, noticing everybody else is in earth tones and I look like a circus umbrella.

    Whaddayagonnado.
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