By Parson Thru
I’m sitting in one of Salamanca’s broad plazas, traffic circulating around a junction between radiant arteries.
At the tables around me sit Franco’s favourite nieces: coiffed, stiffened widows of the favoured, smoking with their friends. Jaundiced eyes assess a general fall in standards. Order is partly restored as they view the clockwork perambulation of familiar faces, pausing for toy dogs to shit under trees. More slowly they observe the cautious progress of their seniors, hanging in fear and some bewilderment onto the arms of Filipino and South-American carers.
Earlier, as I rode an escalator down through the floors of El Corte Ingles, a similar scene told me that it’s wrong to set a primary goal of prolonging one’s years; self-imprisonment within a life dedicated only to its own existence. Condemned to repetition, boredom and mediocrity; satisfaction through the purchase of ultimately unsatisfying consumer goods and endless evenings of dry gossip.
So many of us fill our time with distractions – superficial satisfactions – making excuses to ourselves – lying. Once we become accomplished at lying to ourselves, it’s over.
Sitting at cafes as night falls is becoming a preoccupation of mine. There’s something about the change of pace; of mood; the altered quality of sound. Everything becomes softer as it melts into the night. The air remains comfortably warm for a further hour.
Tonight, I have the best seat in the house, facing the entrance to the “Wellness Center”. It’s the busiest entrance on the whole plaza. All shapes and sizes enter and leave. Trainers, or maybe just fanatics, emerge to stand in the doorway chatting, stretching, running their thumbs around the legs of their shorts. Many seem to be busy maintaining a perfection already achieved – sharp minds and bodies in the workplace, and afterwards in the nightclubs of Madrid.
It crossed my mind that there might be something superficial about all this. Perhaps the city itself has superficiality in its nature. I’ve walked past edifices and monuments that seem to defy the economic reality of the place. Flatmates and acquaintances, here to study, return home at seven-thirty in the morning from clubs, exhausted, then scrub-up just in time to attend their courses.
I suppose superficiality is everywhere, in every city, every town. Tonight, in this corner of Madrid, I might just be sitting in the right place to notice.
An “iron-man” who must be my age emerges from the “Wellness Center”; I’d seen him earlier tending the reception desk in sports gear and in my imagination had him as a senior trainer - a life of health and fitness evident from his shaven head down. I watch him pause at the entrance, light up a Marlboro and stroll off exhaling a large and satisfying plume of grey smoke into the night.
Some days, life just hurts. I don’t know why.