Monday, October 4, 2010

The Long Way Home, Part III - Madrid

Thousands of displaced passengers wait in lines that snake around the multilevel sprawl of the Madrid airport.  Passengers stuck en route from one European destination to another appear far more harried than the passengers who’ve arrived from Dakar.  “We’re going to die here,” a French-speaking woman complains dramatically within earshot.  “Really?”  I think, “this seems pretty nice to me… people are waiting in orderly lines, customer service representatives are helping stranded passengers - in the order that they present themselves, no less, and information is being disseminated as it comes in...”  I spot my fellow passengers from the Dakar-Madrid flight; tranquil islands in a sea of irritated Europeans, but I’ve lost track of Ram.  A tall man in a kaftan turns to the woman behind him, points to his suitcase and then to his eyes, indicating that he wants the woman to watch his bag for him, then leaves to find a payphone or perhaps a toilet.  Unfamiliar with the sense of common interest that exists on the continent a couple hundred miles south, the woman bears a surprised expression as the man walks away without his property.  She watches the bag for a few minutes, her eyes darting around until she locates it's owner, then picks it up and marches purposefully in his direction, plops the bag down next to him, and stiffly returns to her spot.  I smile, remembering my own reaction when Idy asked me to transport luggage for him.
“I’ll have to look inside,” I said to him, “they’re going to ask me at check-in if I’ve received any packages from anyone else, if I packed the bag myself, and if it’s been under my control since I packed it.”  For emphasis I added: “And I’m not a good liar.”   
“That’s fine,” Idy said, not a trace of worry in his voice, “you can look inside, it’s just presents.”  The bag had been filled with brand new clothing with the tags still on them, and unopened toiletries.  He’d asked the favor casually, leading in with the question: “how many bags are you bringing?”  Now – wherever it was, I hadn’t seen the bag since I checked in at Dakar yesterday, it contained my clothes and items I’d purchased in Senegal.  I had a sweatshirt and a pair of long pants in my carry-on, my electronics, the two talking drums I’d bought from Malaal, and little else.  Even my toothpaste and deodorant are packed in Idy’s suitcase. 

I send M a text message: “So, looks like i'll be spending the night in Madrid, they had snow and it screwed everything up, 1000s of stranded ppl.”  I make my way to the front of the line, where an Iberia Airlines representative explains my options: I can stay here for two nights and get a direct flight to Chicago, or I can come back tomorrow morning and fly: Madrid-Barcelona; Barcelona-NY JFK; take a shuttle between NY JFK and NY LGA; and finally LGA-ORD.  "Um, make that 2 nights in Madrid," I text to M.

After receiving instructions to come back the next day to pick up my boarding pass, I go out into the drizzle and find the courtesy bus that winds it's way through Madrid and drops me off in front of the Hotel Tryp Atocha,where displaced passengers make an orderly line that reaches across the reception area, the front stairs, and out into the street.  I check in and weave my way through the maze of a hotel until find my room, which once again inspires me to take pictures.

S had my outlet converter and I was almost out of battery power; this is one of the only photos I took in Madrid.

The next few hours are filled with little luxuries: I run hot water into the cavernous marble tub in the en-suite bathroom, take a bath, then go downstairs to the dining room where a buffet dinner has been set up.  I help myself to a heaping plate of pasta, visit the dessert table twice, and head out into the drizzle to find a payphone.  I call M and we talk for 30 uninterrupted, unhurried minutes.  Then I go back to the hotel and watch Spanish TV until I fall asleep, and stay asleep for 9 hours.

In the morning I help myself to a complimentary breakfast that includes fresh squeezed juice and espresso, and navigate my way back to the airport using the clean, efficient Madrid Metro, where people are reading newspaper headlines about the recent unexpectedly snowy weather front.  While transferring subway lines,  someone asks me for directions.  I shrug, smile, and say: "no habla español," secretly delighted that I'm blending in with my accidental surroundings.   Last night's mayhem has dissipated at the airport, and it only takes a few minutes to get my boarding pass for tomorrow's flight home.  With the entire afternoon on my hands, I make plans to take in some art; M had told me - no, more like pleaded with me, to see Diego Velásquez's Las Meninas and Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado Museum.

The museum is walking distance from my hotel, but before paying a visit I take stock of the situation: although I've bathed, I've been wearing the same socks and underwear for going on three days, and haven't had access to toothpaste or deodorant; I have begun to look and smell like a homeless person.  I stroll the Calle de Atocha in search of inexpensive underpants, stopping at what looks like a budget clothing store.  "Buenos dias," the proprietor says to me as I walk through the glass doors.  "Buenos dias," I reply.  I locate a cheap umbrella and a 3-pack of argyle socks, but can't find underwear.  "Um..." I begin, while standing at the register, "do you have... sous-vêtements?" I say, trying the French word.  The proprietor doesn't understand.  "Underwear?" I say, patting my hips.  The proprietor watches my demonstration, walks out from behind the register, and picks up a pair of leggings.  "Oh," I say, "no, um... "  I pat by butt with both hands, hoping this will clarify my needs.  The proprietor's eyes widen, and he searches the aisles, returning with a 3-pack of white cotton underwear that look like they might actually fit me.  "Perfect," I say, "thank you... gracias."  Next I find a convenience store that has toiletries within easy reach, where I purchase a stick of overpoweringly manly deodorant, and a tube of gritty toothpaste.

I shower, brush my teeth, and apply deodorant like a civilized person, dress in the same pants I've been wearing and the one extra shirt that I'd rinsed out in the tub the previous evening, and head to the Prado, where I am overwhelmed by art.  M is the artist in the family, but I'm the one who gets to see this; I feel undeserving of the experience, and make sure to soak up as much as I can.  I'd seen depictions and reproductions of Las Meninas, but had been completely ignorant of Bosch until this very moment, and stare open-mouthed at the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, my gaze moving slowly from one panel to the next, resting on something new and unexpected every time.  I'm equally impressed by the other Bosch pieces in the Prado collection, and Francisco Goya's Black Paintings.  I end up spending the entire afternoon at the museum, returning to the Bosch paintings before finally leaving the museum with the last remaining stragglers, employees in the the museum bookstore and cafe closing out their registers as I make my exit.

I consider making my way out into the rainy Madrid evening to find something more exciting than the hotel buffet - tapas y cerveza perhaps, but I've been enjoying my quiet, hermit-like existence after spending so much time surrounded by people.  I go for another pasta dinner at the Tryp Atocha, and spend the evening watching more Spanish TV and preparing for tomorrow's journey home.

1 comment:

Steph said...

How delightfully solitary.