Don Quixote

Several years ago, I attempted to read Don Quixote by Cervantes. The problem was the copy I had was hardcover, and the book’s about a thousand pages, so when I read it in bed it felt like a tombstone sitting on my chest. I remember liking it a lot, and laughing a good bit too, but I only got to about page 200. I just picked up the paperback and, since I’m in Madrid where he is a local hero, have just started in on it again.

Above and below are paintings of Quixote by the great French painter Honoré Daumier. He has several more too. I’m guessing he was pretty obsessed with the book. I know it was one of Turgenev’s favorites, and here’s what Dostoyevsky said about it:

“There is nothing in life more powerful than this piece of fiction. It is still the final and the greatest expression of human thought, the most bitter irony that a human is capable of expressing; and if the world came to an end and people were asked somewhere there: ‘Well, did you understand anything about your life on earth and draw any conclusion from it?’ a person could silently hand over Don Quixote. ‘Here is my conclusion about life. Can you condemn me for it?’”

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Corrida de Toros (Bullfight July 8th, 2012)

Last night, on the train ride home Las Ventas, where I saw the Corrida de Toros, I was sitting just within earshot of six very elegantly-dressed American perhaps collage girls who had also seen the bullfight.

“After all that,” said one, “I’m definitely gonna be out drinking tonight.”

“Not me. I’m staying home. That was way exhausting!”

“It really was…”

“I know, I was like…”

The train went a few more stops, two of the girls got off, the four were left and I could hear pieces of their conversation.

The girl standing closest to me was had silky long black hair, a beautiful olive complexion and she was wearing a short cream-white dress of a soft clinging material. Someone said something to her from the other side, but I didn’t catch it.

“Okay,” she said. “Could we please stop talking about it!”

They stopped.

But not before bringing up the third matador’s “cute butt.”

“I just wanted to take a picture of his butt… that’s all. And frame it. He was like, seriously hot…”

“I know, I was like… oh my god…”

“Just sayin’…”

“Yeah, but he fucked up.”

How he fucked up was he was in his last act up against a big light brownish bull with what looked to me like narrow-set horns. The bull came in, swung his great heavy head down and to the left, caught the matador from underneath and and lifted him up and flung him over the huge hump of muscle on his back that was raised and bloody from the pica and banderillas hanging down off it. A cloud of dust rose up and when the matador got up off the ground, you could see the spot of dust on his pink stocking and the back of his suit where the bull’s blood had stained it. There were clumps of dirt sticking to the dark damp blood. He walked woozily over to the wall, brushed the dust off his jacket a little, twisted around and stretched out some, then went back out with his sword and muleta, the blood and dirt still all over his backside.

This, I was thinking, is when a bullfight gets really dangerous.

Because the matador has lost something. His center. And now he has to work on the fringes. Now he has to work feeling a little less graceful, a lot less elegant, and where does his confidence go? Into the bull? I focused on the dust spot on the matador’s pink sock, and the dirt clumps sticking to the blood on the ass of his “suit of light” and it seemed most important.

His name was Juan Viriato and he lasted about two or three more minutes before getting gored in the thigh, lifted, whipped over the back of the bull and gored again. His banderilleos had to rush over with their capes and wave them around to save him. He was lying face-down in the dust. They picked him up, three of them did, and carried his limp body out of the ring.

According to the papers today, he’ll be alright, but the horn went in 25 cm or 10 inches. It entered through the inner side of the right thigh, went around his femur, tore through his muscle tissues, ripped apart some sciatic nerves, then exited through the outside of the thigh and hamstring.

I don’t think he’ll be fighting for at least a few months and it looks as though the American girl was right. He really did fuck up.

But at least his cute butt was spared.

$20/Night on the Gran Via in Madrid

When I first got to this hotel, I was given this depressing room on the forth floor. Room 417. It faced the courtyard, had rat-chewed baseboards, cold water showers and all day, starting at 8 a.m., I could hear an obnoxious buzzing sound coming from somewhere down below. It sounded like a malfunctioning amplifier. It would go on till about 2 a.m., then stop, and an angel of peace would descend on my crooked world. Until 8 a.m.

Some noises I just can’t deal with. Sometimes it’s the human voice (especially when it speaks in a language I understand), sometimes it’s lawn equipment, bad or old tired music often thrashes my mind, ring tones, beeps, buzzes. This was one. I wrapped the pillow around around my head and sweat it out. The room was really hot too. No a/c. And if I opened the window to get some fresh air in, the sound would only get worse. So I continued sweating it out. And hardly slept.

I ended up asking the short sort of plumpish Spanish girl at the front desk if she could move me across the hall. I asked her in English first, but she didn’t understand a word. Then I attempted my best Boca Raton High School Spanish on her.

“Disculpa… por favor… pero… uh, yeah, the noise… outside my window… it sounds like… asi… brzzzzzzzzz… mi no gusta… otra sala por favor…”

It worked.

She moved me up to the 7th floor. And it seems like I’m the only one on this floor. The only people I ever hear are the maids in the hallway around noontime. My window faces the Gran Via, and I don’t mind hearing the traffic.

I just paid for another week, and because el baño is down the hall, the little grayhaired proprietor on floor 2 gave me a discounted rate. Instead of $23/night, it’s $20/night. We figured it out on the calender together. He started with his index finger on the 9th, touched each number saying “Veinte! Veinte! Veinte! Veinte! Veinte! Veinte! Veinte!” And ended up on the 16th.

“$140.”

“Perfecto… Muchas gracias…”

I gave him the money. He took it and I watched it waving lightly in his hand just over his knuckle where the fan blew it and I watched him writing and I watched him licking his chops. Then he rubberstamped my receipt. And gave it to me.

“Wait, is this?” I started to ask.

He took it back and stamped it again. In another place. With the same stamp.

And somehow it seemed more official.

Somehow it did.

Madrid

A lot of people seem to like Barcelona more than Madrid, probably because it’s on the beach. That’s probably also why it’s more expensive. The cheapest room I could find in Barcelona was $40/night. The cheapest one I found in Madrid was $23 now $20/night. Sure, the bathroom’s down the hall, there’s no a/c (see: night sweats = a/c), and the room’s narrower than I am tall. It doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m on the 7th floor. Pretty much alone on the 7th floor. And when I open my window, the traffic sounds from down on the Gran Via fill the room like the roar of the ocean. The Prada and several other museums are just around the corner. There’s bullfighting every Sunday, and the mountains are right nearby. And the sky is bluer than even the skies of Italy (from what I’ve heard). Plus, some of my favorite artists have lived here: Cervantes, Hemingway, Goya, Velazquez, Picasso.

I’m paid up for the next week in this hotel, but I think I’m gonna be staying for a few.

The view from my room:

Here is the church I went to today. And prayed.