I found the above photograph on my hard drive today. I took it in Madrid—maybe three or four years ago. Vague recollections: I was at a cocktail party and there was a balcony with a great view of the city; on that evening, a fantastic sky at dusk. I recall spending a lot of time outside, in the company of others, but looking mostly toward the horizon and at the traffic circle below. And, apparently, taking pictures. I didn’t remember the photos. Yet I know for certain I took them.
My memories of the city of Madrid are equally fuzzy. I’ve been to the Spanish capital twice —a decade or so apart. It has a quality that is hard to pinpoint. For me Madrid is like Chicago: a big, important city which is also small and a little boring. There are, however, Madrid memories I’ve retained for safekeeping: seeing for the first time Goya’s “The Dog” at Museo del Prado, exploring the exterior and interior of Atocha Station, and visiting—north of the city—the wondrous El Escorial, where deep inside, in golden sepulchers, are the remains of centuries of Spanish royalty.
One morning last week I watched and listened to a young mother recite from memory a story about a brilliant boy with golden wings . . . .
StoryTime was being held on a New York City subway train. The audience consisted of her two sons, ages 4 and 5, approximately, and the half dozen or so passengers around them — myself included. The woman fed her boys from the same breakfast bar, like a mother bird, as she also served them her story, in a very animated, theatrical way.
We rumbled along. The boys fidgeted. They shuffled their feet and poked at one another. Mother and sons stood around a pole in the center of the car. The little ones appeared distracted and bored by the story, but they were not. They were engaged; listened intently. I know this because whenever mother stopped, one of the boys would look up and call out, Then what?
And mother continued her story.
“The boy lost his wings and fell to earth . . . . he landed on a beach . . . . on his belly . . . . ”
I found myself listening along, and agreeing with what the older boy was now asking, once more before they got off at their subway stop.
Yes, yes but then what?