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Saturday, 01 September 2018

Madrid: The Literary City of Amor - Page 4

Written by Caleb Gonzalez
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While Xoel is in the police academy he works at the 100 Montaditos Bar in the Arguelles shopping center. He lives with his girlfriend even though he doesn’t get to see her often because he works so much. They are madly in love though.

“At the bars here, you work when they schedule you. The boss just tells you that you need to come in, so you come in. No vacations.”

I ask Xoel if he misses Galicia. I hear that it’s beautiful. Xoel tells me about the tight knit community in the rainy city of Vigo. Vigo (a name that comes from the latin vicus spacorum, meaning small village) was so small that it wasn’t even considered a real village until the 15th century. Because of its growth, though it is a place that happens to be the most populous city in the humid northwest territory, with not one but two languages – Spanish and its main language, Galician. Many of its inhabitants use both languages frequently and interchangeably. It’s a natural – and a quite normal – linguistic practice. I can identify with this. I use Spanish and English interchangeably all the time. Xoel and I are two bilingual citizens. He is not Spanish, nor Galician. He is both. I pay close attention as he tells me about his native city. He shares his aspirations as a future police officer. He’s always had an interest in public service. Xoel’s story is one that I didn’t expect to find drinking sangria in a basement bar. For me, it is a story that becomes part of this literary city. It is a story that becomes a part of me.

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* * * *

I hop on the metro and go to the Royal Palace of Madrid after the sun has set. Instead of inquiring about open tours, instead of taking a hundred photos, I sit close to a man who plays the harp for the people passing by on their bicycles and mopeds and for people like me who have chosen to eat creamy European ice cream in front of the Royal Palace for dinner. I sit under the moonlight and watch three couples hug each other to the sound of the harp. I continue to sit and exist within the life of the city. A city that hears the artful sound of a harpist on a Sunday night. During one of his numbers, I get up and take five euros out of my pocket. I straighten them out. I walk over to his instrument case and place them inside. I nod my head in the spirit of gratitude for having encountered art, a musical story that reminds me of love in yet another unexpected place.

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* * * *

Entering the metro, I find a laminated poem glued to the wall of the subway. I lean in to read it.

José García Nieto’s sonnet to the city of Madrid entitled “Soneto a Madrid” describes a city filled with imagery. A city with a beating heart. Reading the poem, I say each word slowly: fecundas, unánimes, orillas, maravillas, and amor. I reflect, yet again, on what this love sonnet to Madrid has to offer. I am enriched.

The words quien con amor te ha leido, stand out to me the most. García Nieto, who literally speaks to Madrid in his sonnet, says that he who is filled with daily love for Madrid has read it, indeed.

I choose to embrace travel as a way of learning the stories of a place. To notice the literary life around me even when it may not be so obvious. To listen to the untold stories in the bars and shops of the city. To appreciate the ones that are printed on the streets. And to be mindful of the stories that may take on another form of art. To see with new eyes, as Marcel Proust once said. And as I begin to do this, I discover a secret aspect of travel. One that is reserved for the mindful traveler, the receptive traveler, and the one that is willing to be transformed.


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* * * *

Sitting in my dorm room the very next day, I notice the clouds a bit gray. This is an odd sight, even for the people of Madrid, as the city has been under a drought ever since the heat wave arrived. Observing the map of the city, I wonder where I will go next. I suddenly hear an unexpected sound.


I look out my window to notice a measly little rain drop settle within the dry grass. Walking outside with my head up to the skies, I am met with a cold raindrop that smacks my forehead.


After a loud and thunderous growl, the skies release an unexpected downpour of rain. I can tell that this is unexpected because the telediario missed this in its weather report. Not only that, but I can see old Spanish women with head scarves opening the windows of their apartment. Young fathers step out onto their balconies holding their young children to drench themselves in the rain. And I, along with a few Madrileños, stand outside on the cobblestone porch with my head up to the clouds. My shirt is drenched not by my sweat, but by the cold rain. And all the while, I equate this very moment to something of an unexpected yet beautiful solar eclipse.

Even though it is a short period of rain, it is a cold and refreshing one. And I like to imagine that the city of Madrid knows how to love its people back along with a few mindful and receptive travelers that undoubtedly learn to fall in love.


©Caleb Gonzalez

(Page 4 of 4)
Last modified on Saturday, 01 September 2018

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