Fish story

Yesterday a man handed me two fish. He was on his bicycle and I was walking to buy the paper, but it was nearly 2, when morning ends in Carboneras, and the shop owner had already closed up to go home to fix dinner. The fish were fresh, staring up from the basket of the bicycle. "Cook them a la plancha," he said. "Sorry I don't have a bag -- but you're going home, right? Just carry them in your hand."

I was mighty pleased to receive them, even though I don't even know what species they are and I wasn't sure how to clean them. Nobody who saw me thought it the least odd that I was carrying two red-scaled fish.

This is Carboneras. In a city, I probably wouldn't know somebody who worked counting and baling fish in the port. Here, though, almost all the social currents intersect and sometimes create new eddies. In this case, we'd come together in our library reading club and public recitations as "personas libro" -- my fish friend does very good versions of Lorca. And we know each other well enough to know what to do or say that will please. In much of Spain, life is like that -- communal, where (as a Nigerian friend described life in Africa) "everybody's business is everybody's business." Madrid is different, but not entirely different, I think. In the busy business sections of the city, and in the areas devoted to the tourist trade, and the shopping areas, contacts are impersonal and often brusque. In the more stable neighborhoods, where people see the same people day after day, we at least pretend to keep the small town courtesies, but it takes more effort to keep the eddies whirling.

And then there is that other river, mysterious and mighty, flowing through Madrid and disturbing all the other currents. But it's time to dam this metaphor. It's just that the national political currents, pardon me, I mean forces, are pushing in such a woeful direction, toward privatizing everything and destroying what remains of community, that I wanted to talk about something else. Like my friend's gift of the fish. [I learned on Monday that they were besugo a la pinta.]