far too much writing, far too many photos

Stating the obvious: this page is in the middle of taking some time off. Posts continue on a private page — you can write for further information about that, if you are so moved, via the contact link that can be found near the bottom of the right-hand column.

Meanwhile, this journal’s photo-a-day page continues here.

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Vigilant:

[continued from previous post]

Next door to the teeny, funky hotel that served as my refuge during this visit, there sat a café. Owned by a 30-something Turkish couple. He spoke a little English, enough for us to connect. She spoke none, but gave me kind smiles and small plates of excellent chow. I stopped in there every day of my stay, late afternoon/early evening, after miles and miles of hiking around. Ordered a tea — the national drink, as far as I can tell — and something to eat. The joint looked out on a small park that wrapped around the grounds of a small mosque. Children played, locals sat drinking tea, chatting, smoking hookahs(!!) — I relaxed and watched, occasionally exchanging smiles with the owners or other customers. Appreciating the atmosphere, appreciating sitting still after a day spent on a forced march exploring, appreciating the local version of regular life.

The café was wider than it was deep, the side fronting on the tiny street consisting of nothing but glass — windows that opened and folded together to one side, completely opening the space indoors to the world outside. I loved that. The owners appeared to have a permanent claim on three or four parking spaces directly outside, filling them with small tables and seats that were almost always occupied by people talking, sipping tea. The park extended from there off to a berm that supported train tracks, commuter trains passing every now and then. Beyond that, out of view, lay a wide, busy multi-lane highway, and beyond that a park that extended along the shore of the Sea of Marmara, almost always busy with people. Having the water so close by gave the air a different feel, softer, less dusty than up the hill.

That block, with park, café, mosque, provided a point of delineation between touristy and residential. In one direction: traffic, hotels, restaurants looking to snag passersby, shops making a living off tourists. In the other: narrow streets, residential buildings crammed together, clothes hanging from lines, children. Much more fun to walk through than the residential area.

I drank more tea in my three days in Istanbul than I have in months. Tea served in small hour-glass-shaped glasses, the liquid hot and rose-colored. In bazaars and along commercial streets, men with trays like weighing scales (carried by holding the high point of a hoop, the tray nestled in the low point) carried glasses of tea, passing in and out of shops, leaving the sound of small spoons clinking against glass in their wake as businessmen fueled up on caffeine.

I avoided big restaurants in Istanbul. Needlessly, even bizarrely expensive, with males stationed outside the entryways whose job was to try and drag people in from the street — an approach that sends me off in the opposite direction. I stuck to smaller, more humble joints, places that made no attempt at a hard sell. And ate stupendously well, ’cause the food in Istanbul is wonderful. Never had a bad dish of anything — the food was always tasty at the very least, often far better than that.

Sunday afternoon, after a long day of wandering parts of the city on the Asian side — up hills, through sidestreets and alleys, commercial zones and residential areas — I found myself in a popular, crowded, noisy warren of mostly pedestrian streets, wall-to-wall restaurants, clubs, shops. Hungry and looking for a quiet place to sit down and feed myself a plate or two of something good. Finally found a hole in the wall, the few tables inside occupied by middle-aged men quietly working away at pretty attractive dishes of chow. Stepped inside, claimed the only available spot. No one spoke English or Spanish, I ordered by pointing, wound up with a big bowl of red lentil soup and a vaguely saladish dish that were so wonderful I had to take a moment to just sit and savor. (To drink: a cold glass of surprisingly satisfying ayran — I could easily get used to the Turkish diet.)

I adore good food. It’s a miracle I remain slender.

[this entry in progress]

España, te amo

I have been so bad — so very, very bad — at least as far as pasting updates to this sad excuse for a webpage goes. But that is, in part, ’cause I’ve been so very, very good in what passes for my real life. Which means busy, productive, out in the world, working. By which I mean snapping lots of pix of things most people wouldn’t normally be interesting in staring at.

Last weekend at this time, I was stumbling around Istanbul, a city as filled with life and interesting peepz as I’ve ever seen. Overfilled with peepz, actually, in certain areas, and I say that as someone who can be driven to foaming distraction by crowds so big and intense that simply walking at your own tempo becomes essentially impossible. Tons and tons of tourists, along with tons and tons of local folks. Toss ‘em all together, we’re talking about tons and tons and tons and tons of people. Seriously.

And not only that, like Naples, Istanbul is built on hills. And when I say hills, I mean San Francisco style inclines. The kind that go so well with broken down streets and sidewalks. Not that all the streets and sidewalks were a mess. But enough were to ensure that you would not only have to work off your lunch via massive expenditures of effort just walking ahead, but you’d fuck up your knees and ankles doing so. Kind of a built-in ‘pay a steep price for all pleasure’ mechanism. (Steep price — get it? Har!) The big upside: the city (both of them, actually) is so relentlessly interesting that suffering incurred getting from point A to point B didn’t really matter.

My interest is not really in the touristy stuff. I tend to head away from the main drags, down sidestreets. It doesn’t always pay off with big finds, but sometimes it leads to pure gold. Like the zone of sidestreets just off a main drag that consisted of nothing but shoe shops, the sidewalks and must of the narrow streets taken up with displays of footwear, lain out on stacks of cardboard boxes. All kinds of shoes, in seemingly endless variety – one display/shop specializing in children’s shoes, another in sneakers/faux running shoes, another in your standard super-ugly get-‘em-‘cause-they’re-cheap rubbish, another in boots, and on and on. The workers and shop personnel all male – not a woman to be seen, most middle-aged, working away at emptying out cardboard boxes, setting up further displays, tossing empty boxes into huge mounds that someone else flattened. Now and then a car or van made its slow way through the scene, causing serious logistical headaches for everyone.

Fascinating, though I didn’t linger — I had no intention of buying anything. I was there to wander, take pix, stop now and then for good food/delicious liquids, with no desire to accumulate more stuff that I’d have to carry around, cram into luggage, haul back here.. Which is actually pretty much my general mode of being these days — not interested in accumulating stuff, which means I generally disappoint retail folks trying to make a sale. Ah, well.

[continued in following entry]

España, te amo

[continued from previous entry]

Somewhere during the ascent, he who had greeted/harassed me introduced himself: Maxim. Dutch by birth, I believe, with a french name and many years living in London under his belt (pre- life in southern Italy). The hotel/b&b was his, and he appeared to be the only staff, as least far as management/desk person/customer relations went. We reached the landing, he opened the door, ushered me in. My room, it turned out, was just inside, right off the cosy reception area. Right there, immediately across from his desk, the door to the landing just to the right of my room’s door, ensuring that everyone who came and went would pass right by my home away from home. Felt like renting a bungalow off a highway. I asked if there might be another room in a quieter location, Maxim shook his head in the negative — the hotel was full up, I had no recourse. I resigned myself to my fate, he opened the door to my hideyhole, I shuffled in.

And saw straightaway that despite its unfortunate location, it was a lovely room. Spacious, with a high ceiling and a set of floor-to-ceiling windows at the center of the long wall that fronted on the courtyard. And a long bathroom that was as large as some studio flats you’ll find in New York City. With a kind of wacky shower that I’ve only seen in Italy: just the far end of the room, basically, turned into a shower stall by a big sheet of rigid, transparent plastic that extended halfway across. No pesky door to open or close, no annoying curtain to get tangled up in. Just the end of the room. Wicked.

Unpacked, got keys, received a fast tour of the rest of the place — a long hallway, basically, that took a hard left at two points, ending at the living area — a huge, comfortably furnished space, w/ enormously high ceiling (and ceiling fresco, circa 1800), dining tables, narrow floor to ceiling windows looking out either side (opening to small balconies), comfy sofas, large-screen TV. Airy, nice.

The more I talked with Maxim, the more my first impression of him slowly dissipated, leaving me with a talkative, likeable host who seemed to suffer from the occasional control issue. The lock to my room’s door turned out to be tricky — Maxim’s response: a clear impulse to shoulder me aside and lock/unlock the door himself. He mostly left the hotel door locked, did not hand out keys for it. Result: the bell had to be rung, summoning Maxim to open the door. Meaning he was tethered to the hotel, remaining there during my entire stay — always home, never out. The double-edged sword of control: the gratification of maintaining one’s hold over how things are done and the turning of one’s life into a kind of prison. Reminded me of my mother (bless her wacky heart), made me feel sympathy for him. He looked sadly bored at times, trapped there — up early to take care of breakfast, up late to let in guests returning from the evening out..

So. Settled in, then set off to explore, taking a different route downhill from the one taken on arrival — walking along an avenue with actual sidewalks instead of through cobblestone sidestreet racetracks. Past small stores, cafés, convenience shops, the avenue busy with traffic, the neighborhood looking old and tired (w/ garbage strewn around), like the rest of what I’d seen of the city to that point — but with life & energy, graffiti, posters and handbills everywhere, providing ragged layers of color and visual input.

One thing about Naples: there’s no lack of sensory input. Just the opposite — sensory overload could prove to be a major part of living there.

Wandered past the hulking mass of the National Museum of Archaeology, slowly heading downtown. Puddles everywhere, slowly drying. Skies overhead gray. Cafés scattered around with liberal abandon, providing near-constant temptation. And trash, a startlingly common part of the landscape. (During my stay, that last subject came up during chats with locals I encountered. They made vague references to the Mafia and said nothing more, the topic moving quickly to other themes.)

[this entry in progress]

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Hotel room — Naples, Italy:

España, te amo

[continued from previous entry]

The bus spat us out in the middle of la Piazza Garibaldi, near a big amorphous bunch of other buses (all pooting out clouds of exhaust), with no signage to indicate what came next. Which left a bunch of people standing in the middle of, more or less, a wasteland, looking around blinking, searching for anything that would provide direction. I noticed a kind of kiosk thingie not far away, covered away with the remnants of posters – dragged my bag over there, pulled out camera and took a few pix, immediately in my element. Then noticed the bulk of a building — waaaaay the hell over to the far end of that ugly, sprawling, rundown urban space — looking like it might possibly be a station. Grabbed the body bag, crossed to the sidewalk that stretched around the edge of the plaza, and beat feet, threading my way through people, tables and stalls selling all kinds of stuff, and stretches of broken sidewalk strewn with litter.

Turned out it was a station. A big one, with stores and slick ticket stalls and lots of people, many looking every bit as lost as I felt. I found signage indicating access to the Metro one flight down, and also noticed a number of elevators to lower levels scattered around, every single one of which was out of service.

Found my way downstairs, bought a Metro day pass — a total bargain at around 3 euros. (Important note to travelers: Metro passes can’t be bought in the Metro in Naples. You have to find news kiosks or tobacco shops for that. And when you first enter the Metro with a new pass, you must validate it in one of the yellow machine thingies. It is genuinely important to take care of that silly detail, otherwise you may find yourself having an unpleasant encounter with a ticket inspector during your ride, and by unpleasant I mean paying a substantial fine.) Managed to find my way to the right line, despite wacky signage. Went one stop, dragged myself and my bag up to the surface, stepped out into the Piazza Cavour and the loud chaos of Naples. Skies gray, traffic skidding by one side of the piazza. Layers of graffiti, handbills and posters on tired, rundown buildings.

I had a room in a small hotel located up one of the narrow sidestreets that extended out from the piazza. Way up the sidestreet, turned out, the word ‘up’ indicating an uphill slog, the word ‘uphill’ indicating steeply angled enough to mean thinning oxygen in no time flat. A slog made more thrilling by cobblestones in less than perfect repair and cars passing at the kind of speed that could result in shortened pedestrian lifespan. At certain points, the only thing insuring the continued existence of me and my luggage wer iron bars sunk into the cobblestones. A driver with homicidal tendencies were have to be seriously motivated to get through them.

And that’s something that quickly became apparent: I was born in N.Y.C., I’ve spent a fair amount of time living in places like Boston and Madrid. I’m no stranger to wacky driving. But this was another world. These people drove like they had nothing to lose — taking them seriously would probably be smart.

The area: narrow streets (cross-streets providing sudden amazing views);…

old, old buildings of several storeys; litter, garbage; and streetside shrines scattered about with impressive abandon. I don’t remember ever seeing anything like the shrines before Naples. Well, maybe the very occasional one in places like Sevilla, but nothing like this.

Street numbers were, well, not so easy to spot, much less follow. Combine that with the lack of hotel signage, and I’d gone well beyond my destination before I realized I needed to turn back. A 50-something woman on the other side of the narrow street caught my eye, pointed back in the direction from where I’d come. (It’s hard to not look like a tourist when you’re dragging baggage.) I stumbled ahead, dodging passing cars, the woman pointed again, indicating a specific doorway. I pulled up in front of it, stood looking for a bell to bang, gazing in through the bars of the metal door at the courtyard inside, seeing no indication of a hotel/b&b. A male in a long black coat stood in the courtyard, facing me. I realized he was talking to me, asking something along the lines of, er, if I’d been there for a while looking to bother him. (Me silently going ‘Huh?’ in response.) Then I realized he was talking to me in English, with the accent of a non-Italian. I gabbled out something about looking for a hotel, not him. He continued talking at me, more verbiage along the lines of the previous question, as if he were trying to put me on the defensive for unknown reasons, his expression not exactly friendly. (And looking strangely like he could very well be the offspring of an unholy coupling between Stephen Fry and Lurch from the Addams Family.)

He opened the door for me, still talking, apparently accusing me of not knowing something I should have known or not having seen somethng I should have seen. Me not getting why, since I’d arrived at the door essentially at the very moment he started spouting off at me. He made a show of leaning out the door, pointing at something: a little teeny plastic square to one side of the door buzzers, printed with the name of the hotel — another door buzzer, turned out. I watched, wondering if maybe he was having a terrible day, taking it out on the first person he came across, then responded to his ongoing performance with a mild statement along the lines of ‘You’re going to have to excuse me, I just got off the bus.’ He quieted down, I stepped inside and continued ahead, finding myself in the courtyard of an old, tired building, staring up at the overcast sky. My host — because he was, in fact, going to be my host for the next two days — said the hotel was two flights up. I shouldered baggage and began the trudge up the worn stone and concrete stairway.

[continued in following entry]

España, te amo

Last Friday morning, real damn early: dragged my sorry ass out the door, grabbed a taxi to the airport. Checked in before most travelers had finished sucking down their first shot of caffeine, made it through security, sat at an empty gate staring at the gray world outside, watching light rain alternate with light snow. Eventually found myself in a smallish, half-empty passenger plane flying across the northern Mediterranean, en route to Naples.

Clouds thinned some along the way, but did not clear completely. When the plane dropped down over the city, sun showers fell, a huge, sprawling metropolis spread out below — visibly old, tired, rundown. And densely populated. Even I could see that from up above, skidding across the sky — a tired, dog-eared city, home to an unnervingly high number of souls, all packed together in a way that would make anyone edgy, uneasy.

The first surprise after touching down: luggage made it from the plane to baggage claim instantaneously. I don’t know how they did that, but it was impressive. No waiting. All I had to do was find my way from plane to terminal.

Wandered from there to an information desk, an exceptionally energetic woman told me where to find the bus to the city center, sold me an inexpensive ticket, sent me on my way. Found myself on a packed bus soon after, and when I say packed that is exactly what I mean. Crammed with people, with a notable under-abundance of seats, leaving many humans standing between mounds of bags, holding on for dear life as the driver navigated hideous traffic into the city. (I have no idea, in all seriousness, how that driver threaded that vehicle through those narrow streets, choked with traffic as they were. Whatever he gets paid, it’s not enough.)

[continued in following entry]

España, te amo

Stepping out on my small balcón after midnight, lots of windows across the way still glowing with the light of lives being led.

Air moist, smelling of coming rain. Cold, though without the wintry edge that’s had a grip on the weather here for the last few days. Sky dark, clouds scattered across its southern half, stealthily sliding in ahead of the rainy front.

I stood for a couple of minutes breathing in the damp and cold, listening to the faint sound of cars passing on the avenue that runs past the other side of this building. Finally went back inside, closed the doors, drew sheer white drapes. Noticed the edges of the closed drapes oscillating gently from cold air that found its way in between less-than-airtight closed doors. Stood and watched for a moment, quiet settling over the flat, then turned out the lights, went to bed.

One more day gone — once present now vanished, like countless others.

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Garage entryway — Madrid:

España, te amo

A few days back, the weather here began heading in a less wintry, much more user-friendly direction. After two or three cold, rainy days, the sun returned, the air felt markedly milder — the kind of mild that suggests a change of seasons. The kind of mild that means walking around with jacket undone. The kind of mild that means birds singing, grass slowly turning green. people practically skipping along sidewalks with joy. After three days of that, each afternoon a bit warmer than the day before, flowering trees suddenly began popping, producing clouds of pink and white blossoms. The kind of weather that gets one hoping an early spring is on the way.

It’s not the real thing yet. Today’s been colder, more late-February-like. But the days are growing longer — it’s just a matter of time now.

A couple of months back I wrote here about my brother, the only other survivor of my family of birth. Substantially older than me, not close (geographically and otherwise), and as of Christmas day, a person dealing with the effects of a stroke.

We’re six timezones apart, enough of a difference to make getting in touch with him by phone (first in hospital, then rehab) wicked tricky. I made it through the day after the stroke — too soon, it turned out, for him to be able to talk comfortably. Every other time I called, he was out of the room. I finally decided to leave him in peace, stop pelting him with voice messages. (We’re not, after all, very close — it could be that me trying so hard to connect was just more source of pressure for someone already dealing with huge matters.) Once, several weeks ago, I received a cc of a brief email from him to his wife, forwarded to me at bro’s request — providing a brief snapshot of how he was doing. I sent a thank-you for being included, heard nothing more.

But he’s remained in my thoughts, and a week and a half ago I decided to send an email to let him know that. Four brief paragraphs, ending with:

“If you get this and if you ever feel like it, let me know how you’re doing — in as much or as little detail as you like. I’m thinking of you.”

Two days later, en email from him showed up in a different account from the one I used to send that note. Not a reply to my email, not referencing my email — sent, apparently, with purely coincidental timing. And a relief to receive. And I have to say, given what he’s been through and is currently going through, he has got some serious acceptance going, some serious patience. ‘Cause he talks about it with a kind of calm objectivity that feels the teeniest bit zen to me:

“it’s been eight weeks since the stroke. i’m at the point where i can walk by myself with a cane. however my hip is still weak and needs to be more stronger and stable. the therapists aren’t confident enough yet to let me trade in my wheelchair for a cane. soon though. at [the previous rehab facility] we were strapped into our chairs, only allowed up to use the toilet or go to bed. now i am in [a different facility] and they are less controlling, no seat belt. so i take advantage of my relative freedom to do things i couldn’t before. for example there is a long grab bar in the bathroom, by the toilet. i use it as an exercise bar and do about 80 knee bends a day. have been doing it for about two weeks now and my knee being so much stronger and stable has greatly improved my walking. it’s been unusually warm this week, over 60 yesterday, so my therapist let me work on walking outside. i went about 300′; it was really nice. my arm is recovering much more slowly, as arms do, but this week i was able to lift my arm to waist height, very satisfying. can do a few other movements in the arm ad some movement with fingers as well. I’m getting there. i met someone i know who lives in the independent living side of [this rehab facility]. she had a stroke three or four years ago and you would never know it to meet her. she said her recovery took two and a half years. so, i’ve got a ways to go.”

Fine, ‘zen’ may be overstating it. But still. I’m not so sure I’d have that kind of level attitude going were I in his position.

[this entry in progress]

España, te amo

Not long after that recent entry about my neighbors, the Godzillas, I ran into them downstairs in the lobby. In passing, exchanging hello’s, nothing more. The first time I’d had a face-to-face encounter with her in months, the first time ever with him. Two older folks, small in stature, neatly dressed, walking in arm. Her with a cane, something I don’t ever remember seeing before. And in thinking about it, the cane, her difficulty walking explains part of what I experience with her stomping around their flat: every other step is much heavier, shakes the floor more. She’s over there right now, clumping limpingly around their living space, every second step more teeth-grindingly percussive than the other.

On one hand, knowing that she has some sort of physical difficulty or disability makes it easier to put the thumping in a sympathetic context. And makes it harder to talk about the stomping around in careless, joking fashion. Which gives me an opportunity to get a bit of perspective (they are, after all, gone a substantial percentage of the time; the noise could be far nastier, far more toxic and/or hair-raising; they seem like good people; blah-de blah-de), makes it easier to listen to the angel on my shoulder and not feel so inclined to spew bad-mouthing one-liners at the neighbors’ expense.

Plus, you know, it’s not their fault that the walls/floors/ceilings in this building are so freakin’ porous, acoustically.

(On the other hands, if she has difficulty walking, why in hell is she always stomping around their flat at high velocity?)

Grumble, grumble.

Woke up this morning from strange dreams, the kind I didn’t mind losing when they faded quickly away after I got up to dump the ballast. A song got going soon after up there in my teeny brain, cranking away on a repeating loop. A tune I actually really liked, for a change. Went to the gym, their in-house soundtrack of technopop washed away that song, I immediately forgot what tune it was, same way I’ve forgotten the early-morning dreams. Sometimes I wonder about me and what passes for my gray matter.

Anyway. On to the day.

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Detail, abandoned storefront — Madrid:

España, te amo

My fingers smell like microwave popcorn. Logical, since I’ve been on a bit of a binge lately — and it’s good I don’t care if anyone knows. ‘Cause if I wanted to keep it a secret I would be screwed — the residual aroma is that tangy and impossible to hide. (Yes, my hands have been washed, thanks very much. Harrumph.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been waking up on recent mornings with music cycling through my teeny brain. Songs or phrases from songs. Two mornings ago the soundtrack was the theme song from the excellent, now-long-defunct British cop show Inspector Morse. And yesterday morning? The very first cut from the very first Grateful Dead album. Believe when I say that I have no freakin’ clue where either of them came from. But they both stayed with me throughout the morning hours, fading in and out, finally disappearing after midday.

Meanwhile, after months of being out of whack — since my return from that fast jaunt back stateside in October — my sleep patterns suddenly seem to have settled back into something close to normal. Meaning getting to sleep around midnight instead of 1, 2 or 3 a.m. Which means, in turn, waking up at hours that are more like my bod’s customary wake-up times, instead of me wanting to remain huddled under the covers until, well, late enough that I don’t feel incurably bleary. I’m hoping this will mean the daily slog back to full consciousness won’t take the hours and hours it’s taken during recent months. ‘Cause seriously, there are days when my state of persistent semi-consciousness gets the teeniest bit pathetic. Makes me dopey and slow and not much for conversation. And at times turns my Spanish into goofy, garbled blathering. Not very dignified.

I’m thinking that the return to more normal cycles may have to do with the gradual lengthening of the days here, sunlight hours now lingering until 7 p.m. My little squat gets dark during the winter months, much darker than what I’m used to, possibly resulting in a kind of reflexive turning inward — which is fine up to a point. After that point, it’s not what I would call helpful or productive. Or fun. Coming out of it feels better. Like being able to breathe more easily.

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El Museo Naval — Madrid:

España, te amo

This morning I saw a tweet from NPR’s Scott Simon in which he mentioned actor Brian Bedford’s performance as Oscar Wilde’s creation Lady Bracknell. It immediately brought me back to memories of a run of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ that I was fortunate enough to be in, in a now-defunct Boston theater. The role of Lady Bracknell was played by a terrific actor named Michael G. — tall, slender, with a weathered face that included bags under the eyes which could just about have qualified as luggage. The idea of casting a male in that iconic role never occurred to me until I saw Michael assume the part. His first entrance of each performance — in a big, beautiful, black Victorian bustledress w/ matching hat — had the feel of a battleship slowly making its way into view (with no need for ostentation, showiness or attitude, ’cause it clearly out-powered everything around it). His work in that role — played without camp — was titanic, pure wonderful theatre magic.

Michael shuffled off this mortal clownshow a while back, and these memories of him have had me smiling all morning. So many wonderful individuals pass through our lives, and it’s good for the heart and soul to appreciate them — it counteracts the tendency to forget just how blessed we truly are..

(To Michael G., wherever you may be: you were one of a kind — heartfelt thanks for all the fun. Sharing a stage with you was pure joy.)

On to the day.

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R squared — Madrid:

España, te amo

The walls in my current squat are not exactly soundproof. Which means that when my neighbors, the Godzillas, are home, I find myself experiencing the unpleasant sensation of having roommates I didn’t sign up for. And when they go out, the blessed silence is such a relief.

Not that they’re terrible people. The few times I’ve met Mrs. Godzilla in the hallway, we’ve always exchanged friendly hellos. (In contrast to an elderly woman who lives across the building’s inner courtyard from me — I saw her once when we were both hanging laundry, I gave her a nice smile, said hello. The face she gave me in return could have soured a quart of fresh milk.) They’re loud though. I’ve never actually met Mr. Godzilla, though he announces himself every morning with an extended fusillade of window-rattling nose-blowings. She, on the other hand, stomps around their flat, with the ground-shaking power of a monstrous B-film lizard on amphetamines (hence my nickname for her), leveling downtown Tokyo at unnervingly accelerated speed.

All of which is to say that there’s a huge difference between the times they’re home and the times they’re out. At home: big noise, mostly in the form of stomping from one end of the flat to the other. Not at home: heaven-sent peace and quiet.

They’re usually away during the weekends and during holidays. That meant, two Christmases ago, lots of tranquility. I expected the same this last holiday season, but they decided to stay here in the city. Which meant a whole lot of yuletide racket. (Christmas morning: arias played at high volume, far too early.) The weekend before last they finally resumed their usual routine, disappearing midday Friday, returning midday Monday. Then did it again this last weekend. Producing three delicious days of stomp-free quiet both times.

And speaking of Christmas, where the hell did it go? What happened to January? I look at the calendar, I see it’s February and I have no idea what happened to the last five or six weeks.

On the other hand, just ten short months until the next Christmas season. Woo-hoo!

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Graffiti logo — Madrid, Spain:

España, te amo

Three gems:

First, this shop: Casa Postal. Tucked away on a sidestreet in the barrio of Chueca and low-profile, unless you happen to notice the profusion of stuff in the cramped front window and stop to check it out. During my years in Chueca, I lived two blocks from there yet never ventured inside. In part, I think, because the door is kept locked, the doorbell has to be located and poked. Inside: it’s a small space, though high-ceilinged, and packed with beautiful, high quality vintage stuff: postcards, photos, toys, posters, advertisements and pop culture flotsam of all kinds. A touch I especially loved: they have a seriously extensive postcard collection neatly stored away in numerous filing cabinets whose front panels are done up with vintage images. Like here:

and here:

Second: “I Remember” by Deadmau5 and Kaskade (vocal by Hayley Gibby). Not sure why, but about three weeks ago this cut from 2008 took hold of me and would not let go — still has not let go — me playing it over and over, far beyond the point any sane human type person should indulge. It can be purchased via iTunes, in a package of various edits — that would be a waste for me. All I want is the extended version.

Third: El Museo Sorolla/The Sorolla Museum. Completely dedicated to the work of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, the museum is actually the house in which he and his family lived, hidden away behind a wall, squeezed between multi-storey buildings. Thanks to the wall that shields the museum from the busy street, it’s possible to sit in the garden that extends across the front and side of the house and lose track of time and urban intensity. This is not a place most who pass through Madrid in tourist mode get to see, in part because it’s located away from the city center’s tourism zones. But its worth any effort it may take to get there. (The entry fee is a paltry 3 euros and there are abundant neighborhood bars/cafeterías in the surrounding streets that serve quality ‘menu del día’ lunches. An excellent way to pass a morning or early afternoon.)

España, te amo

This is the third beautiful day in a row — afternoons awash in golden sunlight, temperatures just mild enough to hold a promise of springtime hovering off in the distance. Mild enough in direct sunlight to allow for opening one’s coat. Mild enough that a songbird took up temporary residence in nearby trees and delivered a pretty spectacular program of evensong that lasted 15 or 20 minutes on two successive evenings. The first time I’ve heard something like that since last summer.

Beautiful days is what I’m trying to say, and especially nice coming after 8 or 9 days in a row of cold, gray, damp nastiness.

By the way, I hope you’ll forgive this journal’s previous entry. I mostly steer away from politics, but in the wake of the recent events in Arizona, I made the mistake of reading comments on a few pages carrying coverage of the events. Stupidly brutal comments, left by individuals from the right end of the political spectrum. Hence my response here. It won’t happen again.

Meanwhile, somehow — and I don’t understand how this happens — we have already slid into the middle of the month. It was just New Year’s, and 1/24th of 2011 has already slipped past. Not that anyone’s counting.

With the turn of the year, a broad anti-smoking-in-public-places law took effect here (a law that certain gasbags affiliated with the smoking industry labeled ‘radical’). The idea: to make it possible to sit in a neighborhood joint sipping at a cuppa something and breathe smoke-free air. A nice idea, really. Two years ago, the government tried the same thing with a previous law. It not only got universally ignored, the major right-wing political party made resisting the law a cause to rally around, especially here in the capital. The result: life continued as it had been. The only difference: every joint hung a xeroxed sheet of paper saying some variation of ’smoking is permitted in this establishment.’

It just may be that the concept needed time to be absorbed and accepted — this was, after all, a country in which a huge percentage of the population smoked, viewed smoking as a fundamental part of life. I think that idea has slowly evolved, especially during the last two years, with the dissemination of not very attractive information about tobacco via the Spanish media. The version of the law that went into effect with the turn of the year may also have been a bit tougher, the government more willing to enforce it.

I forgot all about it until one morning, sitting in a neighborhood joint, midway through a cup of joe, I realized I was breathing clean air. Lovely, stench-free air, so much easier on the lungs. I felt a smile spread across my silly face, a smile that stayed in place the entire time I enjoyed café and croissant.

Before the law took effect, pro-smoking forces spewed dire pronouncements about the loss of business establishments would suffer as a result of the smoking ban. But in the places I frequent, I haven’t noticed any difference. (Well, apart from being to see more clearly. Apart from breathing easier. Apart from leaving with clothes free of cigarette stench.)

The Minister of Health called on people to report infractions of the new law, and apparently during the first couple of days, hundreds and hundreds of reports were made. To the point that the Mayor of Valladolid, to the northwest of Madrid, referred to those lodging complaints as nazis. (The irony: this gentleman is a member of the country’s major right-wing party, the direct political descendants of the fascist dictatorship that controlled the country between 1939 and 1976.) Ah, well.

Here in the capital, the transition to smoke-free has apparently been very smooth, a striking contrast to two years ago. I’m appreciating it every time I step into a bar or restaurante or cafetería for something to eat or drink.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

January sunlight, red courtyard — Madrid

España, te amo

To those gentle folk stateside who maintain that elements from the right end of the political spectrum have done nothing to foment an atmosphere of aggression against those who don’t share their political views, a selection of what can be found via Google (including Sarah Palin’s now infamous rifle-crosshairs map)….

The ‘dove hunting license’ is especially classy.

To see many more examples of images expressing the idea of supposedly-justified violence toward those who don’t share the political sentiments of the far-right, do a google image search for ‘liberal hunting license.’

And for those who claim that both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of this kind of thing, do a search for ‘conservative hunting license’ and note the dramatic contrast.

España, te amo

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