“La proxima estacion:” a small chime accompanies the woman’s automated voice and a peaceful air falls on the cabin as the tune dissipates; “Nuevos Ministerios.” a deep voice cuts through the stillness and the once peaceful air turns into anxiety and excitement. An older woman taps her foot impatiently, checking her watch as each second carries away her youth. She grips the handrail and widens her stance to adjust for the deceleration of the train, staring out the window as if rehearsing the steps she’s taken times before, she begins to press incessantly the green button that opens the metro doors, unaware that they won’t open until a flashing green light appears, or, at the very least, the train stops. The train smooths to a stop, and the doors open. The race begins. The crowd rushes the door. And like water under pressure that shoots out at the smallest orifice, the older woman — a lesson in perseverance that if at first you don’t succeed… — propels out of the door, disappearing from view before I step onto the platform.
Nuevos Ministerios, getting its name from the complex that houses several governmental buildings in the Chamberi district of Madrid, serves as a node for three different metro lines and the regional rail lines, the “Cercanias.” And as big as it is confusing, I realized it took what seemed a long time to reach my exit, so I decided to time myself. It’s a common misconception that the country moves in slow motion: early mornings dotted with shots of espresso that lazily spill into late evenings ; midday naps that momentarily correct the sleep deprivation, a debt only to be renewed with late nights; and the leisurely pace applied to every aspect of life from eating to sleeping to walking to doing business — and wanting to test this hypothesis, I chose a young professional that looked my age and used him as a reference. I took my first step and placed it firmly on the platform: Go.
1 minute passes: I’m stuck behind a wave of people, as my counterpart sidles along the wall and turns the corner, I follow his lead and obliquely hurry along the side.
As I turn the corner, I realize the current and my counterpart have slowed, and I start to pass him when I heard the reason for the calming wave: the narrow straight turned into an open center, and in the middle there was a middle-aged man playing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Act II, No.10 on his mahogany violin, like the moon, he affected the ebb and flow of the tide, conducting the wave with his bow.
I continue onto the moving sidewalk, standing on the right, absorbing each note. Piano. Suddenly, the violinist’s movement’s become more dramatic as he slowly drifts out of sight and the music grows louder; my counterpart passes me on the left, the wave crashing on itself as the music intensifies: “Perdona.” Crescendo. I seize the gap and step into the walking lane. The music escalating with each step, I found myself standing behind him. He looks right. Peers over the shoulder of the person in front of him. He moves to step, no avail. I smile. I’ve won… or, so I thought. With my last glimpse of him, the violinist moves with impassioned grace, his notes hanging in the air like night stars as the song reaches its apex. My counterpart moves forward, pushing pass the person person in front. I follow. He looks right. Steps over. Then, disappears into the standing lane as I walk past him. I look forward as the end of the moving sidewalk nears. Suddenly, on the right he comes running, the music turning violently in its explosive crest, he jumped off the moving sidewalk. Climax. As I step off the moving sidewalk, I see that he’s gone; the music falls again into serenity. Piano. Then, silence.
I walk up two flights of escalators, passing on the left. I turn left, and then make another, through the doors, and there is my exit. The sunlight cascades down the staircase, and with each step I’m reminded of the warmth that I had forgotten from being underground for so long.
4 minutes: To whomever said Spain moved at a slow pace, well, in this instance they were wrong; I had lost the race to an older woman and to my counterpart, but if I learned anything from the experience it’s that if at first you don’t succeed…