Sconces of Madrid
A city beautiful in its indulgences, with an indolent manner of life reflected in its ebullient speech, Madrid was filled with sconces of 16th century houses, ancient churches and vintage stores; we stayed in a quaint apartment where the voices of happy passers-by reached up with a gusto unheard of in New York. People were full of enthusiasm at all odd hours of the day and night, with a lazy arrogance that brushed their pretty features. The streets were narrow and the cobblestones reminded me of the romance of a forgotten past. As an avid New Yorker, I tried to soak in the bounty and yet, in a way missed my city and its commercialized excess, its heartless struggle for survival, it’s frantic pace and scattered loneliness.
I wondered if my New York genes had made me so unused to blissful silences and surprisingly little luxuries? Was it the serious consideration of life’s whimsical side after years of living under constant stress busters? We drank wine, laughed heedlessly on the streets, made love, and danced in the clandestine gay bars of Cheuca. Life seemed to have given me a holiday from my stop-watch routine, and I eagerly accepted it. Within moments of stepping into the apartment, I was propped up against the window as I looked down upon the street, thronging with people… an experience almost voyeuristic. The city seemed alive though it lacked the ostentatious glamour of Manhattan, the sheen of newly-minted money. Instead, there was an old world charm much reminiscent of my hometown, Calcutta in the 90s devoid of the furors of social media and influx of internet. The city bore a carefully wrought elegance, a vivid sexiness and joie de vivre.
Madrid brought out our latent insouciance, hidden desires lost in the haze of academic conquests. Erotic couple massages, sampling tapas bars, paella, tons of Sangria and Ribera made our daily staple fare. At midnight of New Year’s Eve, we ate 12 grapes and made wishes, beginning to get exhausted from the incessant partying. Time seemed to vanish, with me flying between different continents and time zones, tasting food of different countries but Madrid was a pin on my map. The women had long flowing brown hair, dark sensuous lips, pale skin and clothes that bespoke of derision for high fashion and yet sitting stylishly on their shapely bodies, a far cry from my American brand aficionados.
One day, while walking through the narrow by-lanes, we discovered a bar deceptively named Cafe Feria where the young and thirsty gathered in hordes with furtive chances for company for the night. The decor was vintage devoid of the dominant theme of industrial chic prevalent in the other bars, instead was casually laid out with wooden boxes, barrels, and rugs with cushions strewn over. There were plenty of hookahs and the most exotic cocktails whipped up by delectable-looking bartenders, who took their cigarette breaks almost along with us, puffing smoke into the thin night air. The best of all, the café was just below our apartment, so we almost slipped in and out whenever the fancy took us. I made friends with a quippy waitress with red hair who served out our platters with special care, and got us the best seats.
Sol presented a different cityscape — resembling a heady mix between an eastern bazaar and western influences, the art and architecture reflected in insidious ways on different surfaces. The painted street-walkers at Gran Via staring desultorily into the distance, their cracked lips pouted in fake passion. Every time a man approached, they leaned forward with alacrity and often the gentleman in question, walked away before taking the last step. I wondered how much money they made each night, and if I could give the carefully folded dollars in my wallet and send them off home. But, I resisted my urge with a sigh, guessing that they’d probably be back on the streets in few hours, hustled by their many pimps. Severely tight denim skirts graced their legs while their tops skimmed their barely-there breasts; they looked hungry, tired and terribly young. Yet, they blended with thy undulating terrain, as if statues situated there forming part of the landscape.
Madrid tended to lure a stranger in invisible essences. The last day, I searched for churros in every possible place, but finally found it at the airport. That was my last memory of Madrid, sitting at the airport in the wee hours of the morning, crunching away at churros and lightly-flavored latte. As the flight took off for New York, I realized there was something about the air that churned out creativity and eroticism, everyone looking happy despite the grumblings about economy, rare signs of frustration or hurry as if the city lingered in some ecstatic stupor …