Yesterday was the inaugural day of vacation – finals over, I decided to wander around the city for a while and see a few things I hadn’t gotten around to yet. My first stop was the Real Basilica de San Francisco, popularly known as Sang Francisco el Grande (referring both to the size of the basilica cupola, which has the fourth largest inside diameter of all Catholic edifices, and the number of Franciscan monks that used to fill the monastery upstairs). Sadly, it was closed when I got there in the early afternoon, so I went into the dahlia garden instead. Well, I’m assuming it was a dahlia garden, since that’s what the sign said, but the beds were nothing but tilled earth and irrigation hoses, presumably because it is already winter. It was an absolutely lovely day though, so I installed myself on a bench in the sunshine near the end and enjoyed the scene spreading out below the rise on which the garden was situated.
The sky was that clear, crisp blue of a sunny winter day, highlighting the peaks to the north that were beginning to show their winter cap of snow and providing a brilliant background to the city skyline rising up from the River Manzanares below. Tall office buildings were interspersed with trees, smaller shops and open spaces, creating the look of a somewhat lumpy and well-loved blanket that disappeared into the distance. Young magnolia trees shivered in their raised planters, trying vainly to shelter the ivy that trailed about at their feet from the nippy breeze that was playfully tossing their leaves about. A hawk suddenly swooped down from the sky and snatched a lizard from the slope below, beating its wings a little against the breeze before finally making it around the ancient brick corner of the Basilica with its prey in its grasp. There was a sense of peace and quiet, with the murmur of city traffic softly filling the background, the occasional burst of barking in the distance, and the crunch of feet on the gravel paths as other tourists came padding through to take their requisite photos and head back out. I tilted my face back in the sunshine, letting it combat the frosty effects of the air, and closed my eyes, savoring the moment. True, it wasn’t the most spectacular garden or vista that I’ve met with here in Madrid, but it was a beautiful day to be out and about, to enjoy the weather and the calm of a rather barren garden.
Some hooligans had scrawled graffiti on the planters, so I leisurely set about reading what I could see. Most of it was the typical nonsense, but one person in a more poetical mood had etched out the phrase “silencio escrito.” I read that, looked about me at the quiet little garden, read it again, and decided that it was the perfect phrase for where I was and the day I was having, a place and a time of silence, the type of calm that makes you wish you had an excellent piece of literature in your hands to accompany it.