23rd NOVEMBER 2022

MADRID

My (our) son lives and works in Madrid. He was granted permanent residence in Spain earlier this year and now has his own apartment. He’s lived there since May. Jackie and I went to visit last week for a few days. There are one or two things about the visit that struck me.
First of all, how pleasant the metro system is. Stations are big and, although some of them are busy, they are generally calm places. Trains run frequently and are generally orderly. However, although the authorities insist that everyone wears a face covering there are plenty who don’t. I’ve never found complying with this mask wearing to be a problem or a difficulty and I can’t really understand why people don’t manage it. Enough. That’s for elsewhere.
El Retiro really is a calm and restful place. We strolled around for some time, enjoying the tame sparrows and watching families, runners, buskers. I was taken by the change in ‘living statues’ though. We saw a man who had devised a scene where he was a waiter who had slipped. He was horizontal and seemed to be supported on one foot. In the past we’ve seen all manner of such ‘living statues’ – a skate board accident, an ejecting fighter pilot. Now, there were inflatable Disney characters prancing about. Tacky.
There were also the obligatory sellers of cheap reproduction football shirts, wallets, hats, bags, toys. All of them black, probably trafficked from Africa, all with cords diagonally placed across their blanket boutique so they can leg it as soon as the Guardia Civil is spotted. I feel great sympathy and sorrow for these men who think they have escaped a life of African penury for a life of European plenty only to find themselves in a European slavery. Wouldn’t it be great to find out who is behind it?
We went to Mad Brewing, Pez Tortilla and Toast – three highlights of Madrid’s growing beer culture. Pez Tortilla also serves wonderful tortilla – reputedly the best in Madrid. Mad Brewing is in a garage, near a DIY store. There were families having a beer, friends having beer, the three of us having beer. The brewer even gave us a round on the house! In Pez Tortilla, a bar licensed for only 55 people at any time (55 struck me as being a lot. There were about 35 drinkers in there with us and it was packed.) we had some local beer and a very strong but delicious Swedish beer. Most of those in there were young women; very different from similar places in UK. When we got to Toast we were the only ones there. On the board were about 20 beers, some brewed by the Irish owner who was changing several of those available. He told us about local breweries and those from Toledo, Segovia, Barcelona that he sold. I had a half of an Imperial Coffee Stout brewed in Segovia. It was 8% but delicious.
We spent a morning in El Prado looking at Flemish painting – Breughel and Bosch, Van Dyck and Rubens – as well as Velazquez, Murillo and Goya. I was astounded by the similarities there were (are?) in the royal houses of Europe. But then you notice the ancestry and remember they really are inbred mutants.

READING

“The Passenger” by Cormac McCarthy. There are some fantastic sections so far: the scene with the FBI; the scene with Debussy Fields; scenes with Granellen for instance. But there are also long sections of discussion of quantum theory, chapters about Alice’s madness that baffle me. McCarthy doesn’t often bother with speech marks and the narrative flits about – it is not organised in a one to two to three kind of way. It is fractured to say the least. And yet I am gripped.

LISTENING

Neil Young and Crazy Horse “World Record.” Only one listen. Standard, rough edged stuff from Mr Young. Sentimental, wayward rocking music. Not his best but not his worst wither.
While I was at the gym, 22-20s “Devil In Me” popped up. Now that is a great version of the song. Also “Aint That A Lot Of Love” by The Flying Burrito Brothers. “If the cooks in the kitchen had a dress as tight as yours/ They wouldn’t need a fryer” and a guitar solo to beat some of the very best.

WRITING

I don’t really know where the idea for this came from. Possibly Nancy Stohlman.

BIRD

We hung feeders for the birds. Bacon rinds, seeds, bits of bread. They came and we tried to sketch, took photos and tried again. One day we heard a thump against the window. Saw the ghost of a bird on the glass. “Quick before Patches finds it,” she said. We thought it had died. But it quickened in my hands. We laid it in a shoebox and put it in the shed. It vanished but left its image on the casement.

AND FINALLY

“The English” on BBC. Quite a series. It has a Coen Brothers influence I’m sure but there are some fine performances by Toby Jones, Ciaran Hines, Rafe Spall, Emily Blunt, Tom Hughes, Chask Spencer, Stephen Rae. It’s not an easy watch but it’s one of the best things I’ve seen on telly this year. It’s set in 1890 and 1875 in the ‘wild west’ of US and London. It’s pretty violent though not graphic. It’s puzzling. At times it’s preposterous. But it is good.

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