Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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Los últimos (the last of the Spain sketches)

The subway isn’t too crowded at mid-afternoon, but it’s busy enough that there are no free seats. We all shuffle around the metal posts, angling for a handhold. Our bodies sway as one whenever the car stops and starts.

At Antón Martín, a white-haired couple comes on, looks around, and settles for leaning against the wall. A woman in her 30s notices them and stands, offering her chair. When the older woman shakes her head, the younger woman gestures to insist. The older woman declines once more, this time with a wave of her hand. Her husband smiles at the younger woman, who nods and retakes her seat.

Courtesy, pride. Youth, maturity. All of this passes in a matter of seconds. Then it’s on to the next stop. We shuffle and sway.

10-27 Templo de Debod 001

We wait in line to enter the small Egyptian temple that sits in the middle of Madrid. (A gift from one country to another, says the official story. A pity purchase during poor economic times, says the rumor mill.) Beside us, sandstone arches rise out of the water. Scattered around the pond, a group of students sketches.

Inside the temple, there’s more waiting. The old passageways are so narrow, only a few people can pass at a time. In line behind us is an American family with a Midwestern accent. “Meep,” says the older son. “Meep,” echoes the younger son. “Meep. Meep. Meep, meep. Meep, meep. Meep meep meepmeep MEEEEEEP!”

The parents scowl and tell the kids to hush. Andy and I turn to each other and share a silent laugh.

10-27 Retiro 026

An autumn stroll through Buen Retiro park. It’s a quiet way to close out our trip. My choice. My favorite place.

We walk past the lake, through the twisting green paths, down to the Palacio de Cristal. There’s barely enough sun — but barely enough is better than none — and dim rainbows glisten off every pane of glass. We circle the pond, stepping around teenagers who hang about as confidently and unconcerned as the cats.

From here we will go back. Back to the subway, to the hotel, to the States. But for now, the leaves are changing, and the air is cool and damp. I’ve never seen Retiro like this before. I wish I knew it better. I wish I knew it year-round.

But barely enough is better than none. I soak it in.

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6 Comments

  1. Beautiful — your writing, the pictures, the experience you and Andy had while visiting. Spain seems like such a lovely place!

  2. I love the subway story. That is pretty universal. My father always used to decline offers of seats on subways and buses, particularly then the person offering was not all that younger than he was.

    He always said that the message when somebody offers a seat is, “Hey, you’re in worse shape than I am.” Continuing to stand was his way of refuting that assessment. :-)

  3. Jon

    I love these sketches, especially this line: “Courtesy, pride. Youth, maturity. All of this passes in a matter of seconds. Then it’s on to the next stop. We shuffle and sway.”

  4. Shari-
    Thank you! And yes, Spain is positively wonderful. My little snippets can hardly do it justice.

    Anthony-
    Yeah, I think that was the older couple’s interpretation as well. But for me, it’s about respect, not any sort of physical status. Perhaps because of my Asian cultural influence?

    Jon-
    Thank you. Is it terrible of me to say I liked that line too? ;P

  5. Could be, but another factor could be that neither of us is (so far) old enough to be offered a seat for that reason. So, we’re speculating a bit about how it feels to be on that side of the transaction.

    When I was growing up it was expected that a “gentlemen” would always give up a seat to a “lady.” but that was connected to the idea that women were “the weaker sex,” so a lot of women started to be reluctant to accept the offers.

  6. Yeah, I think there’s still debate over chivalry nowadays. For example, is it sexist for men to open the door? (My thought: No, because we should all open the door for anyone.) I dunno. With some of these gray areas, you’re never gonna please everyone, and it’s going to feel different for each person.

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