I gave myself over to the sleep gods and they embraced me warmly

Madrid | April 20, 2011
AT A STARBUCKS near my hotel, having my morning coffee and muffin. Yeah, I know: I fly all the way across the ocean to have breakfast at a Starbucks. But I’ve not seen any other coffee shops in the vicinity and anything I buy at the hotel will be super expensive. I’m sure. I was going to sit outside, but there’s a couple of tourist buses with the engines on right next to the curb. Not appealing at all.
Sorry about not having written anything sooner. The first day of any trip, especially after you’ve flown across six or seven time zones, can be exhausting, and I was pretty much functioning on a near-empty tank most of yesterday.
I got here about noon yesterday and fortunately, the hotel had a room ready for me, on the luxury top floor that has been recently renovated. Nothing terribly fancy about the room; what you would expect to find at any nice Westin hotel, which is what this is. The Westin Palace, built, in 1906, along with the Ritz, on the other side of the plaza, as a result of a national embarrassment when guests for some royal coronation or another had not been able to find decent accommodations.
It’s a beautiful hotel, in the center of everything. The Prado is only about a block away, and the Plaza Mayor, which I discovered by accident last night, is about half a mile away. The Plaza Mayor is a huge square, surrounded by buildings, similar to the Zocalo in Mexico City, except perhaps not as large. There are shops and restaurants on the ground floor of all the buildings and I assume the other floors have apartments and offices. The Plaza wasn’t abuzz with activity when I walked through it last night on my way back to the hotel. But the area around it was. Block after block of relatively narrow streets and wide sidewalks were packed with people, of all ages — tourists and locals — walking around or in small tapa places or other restaurants and bars.
I had my first meal in the city there. A bit disappointing, but it was probably my fault. I was looking for a place that was not crowded and that had an outdoor eating area. I was also looking for a place that had more locals than tourists, not necessarily the best criteria, I learned. It wasn’t bad, but the paella was nothing to write home about (yet, here I am, writing home about it!). I ate it with a beer, which wasn’t bad and felt good, and while reading the International Herald Tribune. No matter how much I try, I can’t completely divorce myself from my world, and reading the HT, finding out what was happening in the rest of the word  (even if the news was mostly negative), made me feel  good.
While at the restaurant, I noticed a building across the street, called the Mercado San Miguel, I think. It has glass walls but all I could see of the insides was produce section, so I assumed it was like a farmers market or a mercado in Mexico where you mostly buy food to cook at home. After dinner, I decided to walk through it because it looked colorful and lively. It was, and it was much more than what I had imagined. Yes, it had  produce, but it was also packed with small restaurants, bars, tapas bars, ice cream stores, bakeries, candy stores and wine shops. And it was packed. Again, there were people of all ages. Lots and lots of young people, but also entire families that included young kids as well as grandparents. The thing about this place is that there are not chairs or tables. Just counters. People go around ordering beer or wine and whatever food  they want to try and they eat it standing up at the counter. The food looked and smelled amazingly tasteful. I wanted to kick myself for having eaten the paella. I was stuffed and my digestive system had not yet adjusted to my new schedule, so as  much as I wanted to, I forced myself to not give in to the temptation. Tonight, though: I know where I’m eating.
OK, FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Clean, beautiful. Not terribly friendly, but not exactly hostile. Too many tourists, which surprised me, but it must be spring break all over Europe, because there are hundreds of high school and college students speaking all sorts of languages, wondering around in throngs, getting the way but otherwise well behaved. There are a lot more Latinos — as in from Latin America — than I expected. Some are obviously tourists (there are daily flights into Madrid from every Latin American country, which makes sense: Spain is to them what England is to the United States), but many others evidently make this their home. And, not, I’m not assuming that every dark-skinner person I see here is a Latino. You can tell, for the most part, who is from Latin America: the dark skin and the broad noses and faces and high cheek bones. (Of course, if you count the European-looking Latinos who blend in easily with the Spanish, there are even a lot more Latinos here.)
I am fascinated by all this I want so much want to stop some of these people and ask them all sorts of questions: Where are you from? What brought you here? What’s it like living in this country? How are you treated? Do you miss your native land? Where is your family?
THE FLIGHTS HERE were relatively pain-free. The flight to London, in particular, was actually pleasant and not too terribly tiring. Despite my best efforts and determination, I drank too much of the free champagne and wine, but it didn’t affect me too terribly. The food  was excellent. Best of all, I was able to sleep. Not a lot, probably two and a half hours, but enough to make a difference. After the meal and after a bit of reading, I adjusted my seat until it was a most flat and gave myself over to the sleep gods and they welcomed me with a warm embrace. I slept soundly until they turned the cabin lights on, signaling that it was almost time for breakfast before landing. It was still dark outside, but very quickly the dark began giving way to the light. Looking out one of the windows near me, I noticed a reddish tint on rim of the plane’s engine, a reflection of the rising sun’s rays. I looked out the other window to see what the wing would look like was magic. Not only was the wing also bathed in red light, but above it loomed a beautiful and bright full moon. Beneath it was a layer of dark blue clouds, and above those blue clouds was a wider layer of puffy, reddish clouds. They appeared to be thick but they couldn’t have been because the moon was clearly visible through them, and it appeared as if the clouds were actually behind the moon. As I said, magic. A good omen, I thought to myself. Not that I believe in omens, but it’s something good to write about.
The flight from London to Madrid lasted two hours and proved uneventful. I so much wanted to stay awake to look down at the French and Spanish countryside, but there was too much haze and too many clouds, and my eyelids were  very heavy, so I slept most of the way. I awoke in time to be able to look down at the Spanish countryside as we neared Madrid. Beautiful agriculture area, all green broad valleys and plains surrounded by mountains and dotted with small towns and their red-roofed houses and other structures. Each town had about a dozen roads leading to it from all directions, making them appear like giant graceful spindly legged white spiders on green background.
Going through immigration at the airport was quick and easy, and it was even easier to go through customs: there were no customs checks at all! One disturbing incident, though: as I was walking, along with other passengers, to the train that would take us to  the baggage pick-up area, I noticed a uniformed policeman standing there. I paid no particular attention to him and simply kept walking. A few seconds later, I heard a loud, “Señor!, Señor!” I turned around and realized that I was the señor being summoned, except that there were now two cops. I walked back and the other cop inquired as to where I was coming from. When I told him, he said, “Esta bueno, sigale, sigale.” No explanation. I wondered if I had said Cali or Caracas or Mexico City,  if it would have made a difference. It was disturbing, a clear case of profiling based on looks.
My intentions when I checked into the hotel were to take a quick shower and start exploring the city, but after taking these shower, I laid down on my bed, for what was going to be only a few minutes.  I  ended up sleeping for more than an hour, and I had to force myself to get up.
MY FIRST VENTURE out was to the area near the Prado, the enormous park area that surrounds the museum. I had intended to skip the museum, but as approached it, but the words of Bonnie, a former Houston Post colleague, kept ringing in my brain. In comments she posted after one of my initial posts, she couldn’t believe that I would miss the opportunity to see the wonderful Goyas. So bought a ticket and went in. It took a while but eventually found them. The wonderful Goyas. Thanks, Bonnie.
I walked around a bit more but my exhaustion quickly took over and I came back to the hotel for another long nap before going back out for my evening walking tour. As enjoyable as that was, that too war tiring so I was back in the hotel by 10. But tired as I was, I couldn’t sleep so I turned on the TV and ended up watching but not paying too close attention to what appeared to be a wonderful Spanish romantic movie, featuring a actors I know I’ve seen before. I had the sound on too low and even though my mind kept telling me that all I needed to do was reach for the remote to turn the sound up, my  hand would not react, so I ended up watching but hardly hearing the action. I’d like to see that movie  again, one day when I’m fully alert.
OK, MY IPAD battery is down to its last 9 percent of its juice and I need to see if I can post this before it is  completely drained. Unfortunately, the converter I had been so careful to find and pack is nowhere to be found. I blame it on the London security bag who insisted  on inspecting one of bags. I know I saw them pull out the small bag with the converter in it, and I assumed they had put it back, along with the other items they took out, but they  apparently didn’t. Damn Brits! Now I have to go buy a new converter.

About juanzqui7

Former Texas reporter, columnist and editorial writer.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to I gave myself over to the sleep gods and they embraced me warmly

  1. So happy to read and receive this post. Just lovely. You make me feel like I’m there with you. Can you send a picture later odd your hotel room? So happy you went to see the Goyas!
    Hope you find an IPad converter so you can continue!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s