No City for Old Men

Madrid’s no place for getting old…I think.  For all those years you were supposed to act as if you’d never reached thirty and before you know it you’re forty-five and making your first moanings and groanings, which is not the same as moans and groans, mind you, about the things you only heard about as a child.

     Then one of my good friends from back home, he lives inValencianow, stayed at my house just the other day and we discussed several reasons why we were now clearly heading down the road to our final days. It was a Sunday evening and these topics tend to arise then.

     We didn’t come to any conclusion about whether being a resident of Valencia had anything to do with it or not, as would have been his case, or whether knowing someone who spends most of their time in Valencia would have had any bearing on that, as would have been my case, but it seemed to us inconceivable that a city like Madrid, which requires herds of youth and Peter Pan mentality to survive, would do us in.  But maybe it has.

        Years ago we would have met at the train station so as not to lose a moment of partying, lugged his luggage around and spent the next hours tearing apart downtown Madrid.

      Now we had a different plan in mind.  First, we went for a walk around the rose garden in theRetiroParkand visited an outdoor exhibit about recuperating, or trying to do so at least,Europe’s damaged wildlife.  It was comprised of about 30 panels with each side featuring some plant or animal that was either on the verge of disappearing as a result of human carelessness, or making a comeback as a result of human thoughtfulness.  We made it through about twenty-five, which was about twenty-three more than I really needed to see, and even commented on certain details like, “Aren’t those bear cubs cute?” Things we didn’t utter in our days of revelry and tequila back inCuernavaca,Mexico.

        The exhibit did enlighten me on things that I doubt will have a bearing on the rest of my half-life but nonetheless served as conversation for the two of us.  What could one of them be?  You’re right, I am talking about the olm, the incredible olm.  What else could it have been.  It does not come up on my spellchecker, but I guess I would have been more surprised if it had.

        This slim, blind, pigment-less, salamander-like creature, is also known as a proteus.  This other moniker has also escaped the range of my spellchecker, so there is reason to believe the animal doesn’t even exist.  My Other Half, when she heard me describe the little guy, thought I was saying “homme” in French, which kind of through me off because I don’t speak French and never have to her, but all the same, the idea was tantalizing.  Well, come to think of it.  Yes, that could be a decent physical definition of a man.

     The olm inhabits the tenebrous caves of southeastEurope, especially around the Adriatic area where it is particularly revered and studied by locals and eminent scientists alike.  This struck me as a challenge.  The olm is apparently a symbol of Slovenian pride, which is always a good thing to know the next time I run into someone fromLjubljanaand want to make a good impression on them.  I just hope they take “I really like your proteus” the right way.

     One thing that struck me about the olm, one characteristic I never knew about when I didn’t even know there was such a thing, was that it could go as long as six years without eating.  That was certainly unlike male behavior of any species, but then again, if one had to lead a life of extreme frugality, the olm seemed like the prime candidate.  What I found highly startling was how on earth they knew that?  Did that mean someone devoted nearly a tenth of their life to determining the time frame between meals?  Was this carried out at the expense of public European Union funding?  Was my Christmas pay being cut out in part as a result of excessive financing going towards an amphibian’s eating habits?  And, if so, how was this achieved?  Did they take a specimen a study it for that long?  Doesn’t that seem a bit over the board?  After about six months of consumptionless existence, wouldn’t you just throw the thing back in the cave lagoon and say, who cares?  Or, and here’s my theory, did they deprive the tiny eel of all nourishment until it died and said “It went for six years without eating until it stop breathing”?

     Once again, a little “Oops, I dropped it” after a year or so would have been in the calling.  But that’s just what makes public funding so enticing.  Why cut a total waste of time short when you can get paid to do it?

     These and other things we discussed as old men on the trail by the shivering rose bushes until my friend finally stopped and said, “I think I need to get walking a little.  My knees are creaking.”

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