In praise of public space
By Parson Thru
The café in the library has been restored to its normal self. Don’t get me wrong, initiatives to encourage families into the centre of town are a great idea – especially when they are as successful as last weekend’s ice sculpture event. Clusters of young families wandering through the streets, clutching an unfolded map depicting the trail – a tick-list with which to train young minds for the tick-lists of a lifetime. But the café was a little “over-subscribed”.
Now we are back to the dedicated few: the old men facing each other across a chess board; the hoodied youngsters engrossed in picture cards, which they organise and reorganise in some esoteric enterprise, exchanging secret language as they play; the mothers, whose miniatures romp among colourful hardbacks, chirping sounds of pleasure and wonder; the women in hijabs who pore over heavy bookmarked texts or chat in staccato passages of an eastern language.
Me? An escape made good. Normal service is resumed at the counter for a late café con leche and tostada with bollería. I can dream. Small chores undertaken: read the guidance for a self-assessment form, send an email requesting where I find a City Council ID; chase the mental health team, or teams, who are juggling our case between them. Then indulge for twenty minutes in the TLS: biographies; a review of banyas in Russia pre-, mid-, post-Soviet Union, smiling at the reviewer’s mild rebuke for an axe ground.
Pablo, very charitably, has sent me links to a dozen songs that celebrate Madrid. I understood the article in El País, more or less. The trick is not to get bogged down in chasing exact translation – as I explain to my own language students; not so easy when the bota’s on the other pie. I’ll stick the earphones in and give them a listen later, feeling guilty that I’ve so far sidestepped the best efforts of others to engage with Spanish music.
Teaching later. Hopefully, everything will be calm when I get in. I left her in the caring hands of a Spanish-English woman, speaking about the War (ours) and encouraging fluids. Funny how the Spanish thing follows me around. Maybe I’m just more attuned.
I started another reread in bed last night (chicken/egg: is it all the books half-read around the bed that are keeping me awake?). The set reading of contemporary texts for the course has run me to ground in Graham Greene’s “The Honorary Consul”. I saw that, even in 1973, Greene’s publisher was making the text US-friendly. Market forces. Maybe I can ease off on the BBC style guide a little after all. Maybe I can ease off on myself.
Quick visit to the toilet before I get the bus back. Why does the cubicle door open outwards onto the urinal? Such deep philosophical questions emerge like spring bulbs from the fecund loam of the public library.