UNITED STATES—Finally, just after nine in the hot clear morning, the bus curled around the overpass to the housing development 50 kilometers north of Madrid, where I’d spent two wondrous days. It left Fernando free to go back to his chores and Carmen and I were off to the city, passing through a number of smaller cities and developments. Meanwhile, many people boarded, especially a group of children for a sports outing that had a wholesome eagerness not seen often outside of old Hollywood movies. Among those there was quite a contingent of short people, perfectly proportioned, but conspicuously short by American standards.

When we were nearing Madrid, all the seats were full and the driver could accept no more passengers. It’s the law there, instituted after some catastrophic bus accident, Carmen noted. This was a far cry from the packed Mexican buses I used to ride home in after the newspaper in Guadalajara, and the driver would pack in as many people as possible, sitting and standing. It was zany the way people jostled against each other. No standing passengers was one of the European niceties I found in Spain.

In Madrid, one found other niceties that one person stateside may even find exaggerated, such as the latex gloves one can put on before pumping gas.

After going into a tunnel, our bus came into the station and then we went above ground, and we made our way, with my heavy duffel up to the land by the Plaza Castellana and began to walk down Avenida Bravo Murillo. Within the first block under stunted urban trees, I detected a bit of trash and grime. I frankly found it delightful after the bracing days in the fresh rural country around Aventurada.

“It feels like home,” I told Carmen.

We went walking and at a corner on Bravo Murillo we found a bar/café Gago frozen on the Spanish fifties, which could pass for the forties. It is a café equipped for meals and several well-stocked shelves full of colorful liqueurs, wine and sufficient anthology of booze.

Carmen introduced me to a dish, made of egg, potato, onion and salt. It’s called tortilla de patata, it’s made of onion and chopped potato sautéed long in olive oil. To these ingredients are added eggs and out comes a pies thick as Chicago pizza. The plain savory tastes of the potato pie immediately ingratiated themselves with me, especially with a nice cup of espresso.

I had not yet established contact with the people I was to meet in Madrid, Patricio Maya Solis, poet and editor of the bilingual journal we were coming to present, and Juan David Conde a filmmaker now living in New York, who’d translated three stories for the journal into Spanish. We walked through the working class neighborhood around Bravo Murillo, checking out different hotels and prices of which the Di’Carlo and 350 Euros was the best bet.

We stopped at a bench, and on the other end sat an elderly well-dressed couple of Madrileño couples. The man was fair-skinned and they could have passed for Americans, but for their subdued body language. And the woman’s gaze was fixed on the street and the passing people as if it were television.

I stood up to contact our party of three, now in Madrid, though in separate parts. And I found a quiet place to make a phone call, a little withdrawn from the noisy avenue.  Unfortunately, this quiet little street was where medics gathered around the bulky form of a man on the sidewalk who didn’t get up. Then the Guardia Civil came and shooed everyone away and interrupted my phone call to Patricio. It was bothersome. The figure on the street was not getting up and prying eyes would not make a whit of difference.

I went back to the main avenue and over the phone ascertained that the lost members of our American party, with origins in Colombia and Ecuador, were having breakfast somewhere near a place called plaza España.

To be continued…