Deep breath. Throw a log on the fire and settle into that chair.
Listen to the quiet.
Events reached a crescendo two days ago, when Libby learned online that the father of her live-in boyfriend Dave had died suddenly. Terry was not an old man. He was a funny, likable, athletic Pillar Of the Community type, a referee in the youth soccer league, a church youth group leader, a Civil War history buff. He was an important part of Libby´s life, the first person near her to die. Poor Libby.
We got on the horn and got her airline ticket changed free of charge (thanks, Delta!) and decided to shift our trip to Madrid back a few days. Lib didn´t want to go down to the airport on her own. I´ll take you, I said. Philip and Federico said they´d come along too.
And such are constructed Fantastic Voyages and Heroic Epics. And sitcoms.
Libby was numb, dumb with grief. Philip was withdrawn. Federico was ebullient, full of fizz and really bad jokes and suggestions of all the things we ought to do. We set out after a hearty lunch, at about 3 p.m. The trip takes about three hours.
It started raining right about Burgos, where we turned southward on the A1 autopista. The sky darkened as we drove. The Sierra Guadarrama, a range of rugged mountains, usually rises up between us and Madrid, but this day it was invisible, wreathed in mist. At Sepulveda traffic slowed to a crawl. The rain turned to slush. We ate apples and chocolate and watched night fall as we crawled toward the police barrier.
No one was allowed to continue up the pass unless they had tire chains, the policeman said. The mountain was all but snowed-in, closed to trucks already. Several cars were in ditches. To make Madrid we´d have to take the road due west, he said, and catch the big AP6 motorway south in Segovia.
Segovia´s a good 55 km. out of the way, but we had no tire chains. We´d never needed such Minnesota-like accessories before. So merrily we rolled along (except for Libby, who thought it was all BS.) Little did we know, but when we left the four-lane we had driven straight into...
The Twilight Zone.
We made it to Madrid in six hours, including a stop for a dreary, overpriced dinner at an Italian restaurant that served no Italian food. We had booked rooms online at a place called Hotel Auditorium, a place right by the airport that claims to be the largest hotel in Europe. We went there, following the directions provided on the hotel website. Or we tried to go there.
For hours we covered the same 10-mile circuit of city streets, highways, ring roads, maintenance pathways, exits, on-ramps, roundabouts, and access ways. We phoned the hotel once and got directions that led nowhere. We phoned again and got contradictory directions. We could actually SEE the place, but could not find a road that went there. I thought I would go mad. I remember asking someone to kill me. I wanted to kill someone... especially when Federico decided to be lighthearted and chipper! (I guess my kids know from experience when to shut up and glower!)
I do not know how we finally found the hotel. It was 11 p.m. We were done-in. The place was a great shimmering series of marble corridors decorated sometime in the late 70s with massive chandeliers, chrome balconies, ormolu grandfather clocks, and Flemish still-life paintings. And right in the center of the massive main lobby stood a smashed 57 Chevy disguised as Art. Travelers drifted through the halls, their eyes empty, their luggage humming along behind them.
The rooms were reasonably priced for a 4-star hotel. But parking the car cost 21 Euros.
I woke up at 3 am with the wind screaming outside the window. I´d been dreaming of driving, still driving in circles, round and round, endlessly.
This morning Libby caught the 9 a.m. airport shuttle. Philip and I left Federico in Madrid. We bought tire chains at a truck stop, and headed northward and home. We crossed the mountain pass, then took the long way back home, down the Duero valley, past vineyards and castles, chatting and enjoying one another´s company, with long stretches of quiet in between. The Twilight Zone spat us out again after Valladolid, and we landed in a cafe in Medina de Rioseco. An old man heated up caldo for us in a little tin pan on the stove behind the bar. He served the thick broth in yogurt crocks, with a little shot of white wine on top. Lovely.
The dogs were ecstatic to see us come home. It felt like we´d been gone for a week instead of just a day.
And now, quiet. No plans. No schedule. Just some writing, maybe, and mail, a nice fire and a big fat novel to finish.
Tonight I will sleep in my own bed, so sweet and quiet (unless Paddy snores.)
I feel like we´ve survived something huge.