Tuesday, April 18, 2006
The Señoras de Almendro
Though in our Madrid apartment we are five stories off the ground, living far above the active life of the streets below (I often think of the apartment as a tree-house), we are but a few meters from our fifth-floor neighbors in the buildings across the street in any direction. Our windows — one in the bedroom, two in the living room, one in the dining area, and one in the kitchen — have afforded a number of interesting visual encounters with people familiar by sight but anonymous in every other way. From the two windows — one in my bedroom, one in the living room — on the west wall of our apartment, I am often looking directly at two elderly women, sisters I have always assumed, who regularly watch what is taking place in the Plaza San Andrés below. Something about their timing (always in the morning), their manner of dress (bathrobes, housecoats), their way of standing (bent forward, arms resting on the window bar), their gaze (left, right, straight down, up into the air), and their facial expressions (frowns of disapproval, mostly, with occasional smiles of recognition or eyes widened in surprise), has made these two neighbors more interesting to me than the others. They served as a barometer of sorts for what was happening in the neighborhood, and from watching them I could tell when there was misbehavior in the plaza, when a construction project was too loud or bothersome, when a wedding at the church (held most Saturday evenings) had let out, or when street musicians were particularly good or bad.
One day over a year ago, I took some pictures of these two women, who almost always appear together. I never thought about photographing them again until a few nights ago when, during the height of Semana Santa, one sister appeared alone, late in the day, all dressed up. At first I didn’t recognize her, and I realized that I had never seen her or her sister in anything but informal morning attire. Given the rarity of such an appearance, I quickly grabbed my camera and took another picture. Holy Week has a remarkable effect on Spaniards of all ages and affiliations; they’re suddenly well-scrubbed, dressed up, and somehow more reverent in their never-ending street parties. From now on I shall think of Semana Santa as the quiet holiday, for the movement and noise below is noticeably more restrained than the hustle and din of virtually all other fiestas (most weekends during the late spring, summer, and early fall).
I’ve always felt that the figure of a Señora on a balcony in Spain is somehow mythical, more than a woman merely standing at a window. They are a town’s observers, a neighborhood’s eyewitnesses. Last week, watching one of my own señoras, I think I began to see a little differently too.