Monday, December 3, 2012

The Headless Ones of Madrid

December 3, 2012 – The Headless Ones of Madrid

Devilish in Bilbao

It’s sunrise over Bilbao. I bid Maman goodbye (I don’t know that a “See you later” would be truthful), climb up the stairs to the top of the bridge, cross the bridge, walk the mile or so to the Metro, take it a few stops and then get off and go up more steps to the bus terminal. I’m early so I get a coffee from the self-service machine, sit on the edge of a nearby bench, and pretend to read while I people watch. The minutes tick by and I’m just about to go find my bus’s parking slot when a shadow touches my peripheral vision. I turn my head to see who’s stepped into my personal space.

It’s a meek looking, tentative creature. “Do you speak English?” the girl asks me. She looks like she’s been traveling for weeks; a little weary, still adventure-ready, and somewhat bedraggled.

“Yes,” I tell her. It’s the truth.

“Do you know how to get to the Guggenheim?”

As a matter of fact. “As a matter of fact, I do.” I pull the Metro map from my bag, open the double fold, and point out where we are. “This is where we are now. If you take the Metro from here to here—only two stops—that’ll put you within a fifteen minute walk from the Guggenheim. Here you can have this,” I hand her the map.

She takes it tentatively. “Really?” She glances at it. “Can I walk the whole way?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I gauge it out in my head at my walking pace, “it’d be about a forty-five minute walk. But it’s only a euro twenty for the Metro,” I tell her this even though I completely understand saving those precious nickels by walking as much of all distances encountered as possible. It’s what I’ve been doing. “Oh here!” I say as I unzip my bag and pull out the map of Bilbao that I’d gotten from the hostel. “Here’s where we are. You can walk from here to here and that’s the Guggenheim right there.” It’s circled.

She looks at the map like she’s memorizing it. “This is the historical center of Bilbao.” I stick my finger over the spot. I know where it is even though I didn’t visit it. “I hear it’s really nice.” I’m starting to feel like the Bilbao English-Speaking Visitor’s Center. I pass the map to her. “You can have it,” I say.

“Really?! Don’t you need it?”

I shake my head. “I’m leaving,” I tell her. In a fit of brilliant insight, I pull out the brochure I’d gotten at the Guggenheim and give it to her as well. “It’s got the hours and the address and some information about the exhibits. You lucked out when you asked me.” I actually say that out loud. What are the odds though?

“Is it worth paying to see?” she asks about the museum.

“Absolutely!” Absolutely. “It’s amazing. You’ll love it. You won’t regret going!”

“Thanks,” she says.

“Sure!” I say. I watch her walk off with her nose pressed down to the map. She doesn’t head down into the Metro station and I wish her walking luck and good visiting.  

Roughly five hours and 247 miles later I’m in Madrid. I’ve seen more of Spain through the windows of buses than I ever imagined I would. Actually, I never envisioned that I’d come to Spain at all. It hadn’t made my Must See list for whatever reason (which seems ridiculous now). I’m glad that I’m here. I love it. It’s beautiful. It’s peaceful. I could stay. Longer. Forever.

It’s a fitting country in which to end my season of travel.

Madrid is my last stop in Europe. I head Stateside tomorrow. I have mixed emotions about this. I’m ready to head back and I don’t want to leave. There are so many other places I haven’t visited, for instance, the whole rest of the world. Yet, I’m looking forward to being in one place for longer than a month. So, it’ll only be two months, but heck, I’ll take it. I have this idea that two months is plenty of time to write an entire book. Even though I know the speed at which I write. Even though I know the kind of research I need to do. I just have too many books in my head crowding up space.  

But for now, I’m here.

Once I get checked in to my hostel (I only stop for directions once and then somehow manage to find the place through a series of random turns down whichever streets I chance upon) and shown to my room--I’ve reserved a private room as a last night’s extravagance--I leave my things behind and head outside. I have the whole day to do away with as I will. I don’t have anything specific I need to see, no tours set up, no sites begging me to visit, just a day out on the town. It’s an exhilarating way to visit a new place.

I’ve snagged a city map from the hostel and use it to get to the Plaza Mayor. It’s pretty grand. It’s a nice plaza. I mean, Spiderman is there. He’s a little out of shape and looks dejected whenever he doesn’t get attention, but he’s there. I take a surreptitious picture of him because he’d yelled at someone else who’d taken a picture and not paid him for it and I don’t want to get yelled at. I don’t want to pay him either.

The headless ones of Madrid are also here. Actually, they’re old style Spanish garb mannequins that I could go stand behind as if it were I dressed that way, and have my picture made–also for a charge. I watch as several groups get their photos snapped as redressed individuals, as a couple enacts a drama with Spidey for posterity, and as another man gets startled by a real head stuck between two fake ones.
Madrid is the city of live human-statue art.  

Silver man, gold violin man, sad looking Chaplin-esque man, a muppet (?), Mickey Mouse to name a few.

Then there are the amazing balancing acts. I briefly consider this as a new line of work. Maybe one of my siblings would move here with me and we could be the hottest non-moving act of Spain. Or not. Some of these are pretty unbelievable. Also, I have a hard time sitting still.

Instead of changing the course of my life, I decide to go sit (and fidget) somewhere and have a cappuccino. I walk down Calle de Alcalá intending to see as much of Madrid as possible without making a frenzy of it. I go past more live-human art, street musicians, museums, palaces, churches, a post office, businesses, trees, non-live statues, theaters, fountains, cafés and restaurants until I finally come to the Arch of Alcalá. There’s more to see, more of Madrid, more of Spain, around the roundabout, but I’m done. I want time to sit and think about all the places I’ve been, all the things I’ve experienced, to wrap everything up into a form in my head, to see it there as live art, to understand how I’ve changed, if I have, and what that means, if anything. I want to be. I want to live. I want to be and live in this here and now. I want to sit in this moment. I just want to enjoy the last bit of Europe I have.

Fortunately, just behind me there is a café with outside seating and a good view of the sidewalk, the road, and the arch. I get a seat, order a coffee, take out my notebook and reflect.

I want to be like the wind;
able to blow anywhere I want to go.
I want to be like the sunshine;
filtering in through even the smallest spaces
filling, changing darkness, being warm.
I want to be unfetterable—
I could get around as wind, as sunshine without being trapped by things like convention or walls.
Can a cage hold the sunshine?
Can a fence hold back the wind?

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