far too much writing, far too many photos

Another sensationally beautiful day. Spectacular, in fact — like one of the first warm days in April. [Note: just went outside -- make that more like June. Woo-hoo!] I have no idea how long this kind of weather intends to hang about, but I’m going to savor it while it’s here.

And not simply another beautiful day — Halloween. A fine time to unload a story or two.

My brother, Terry, lives in a town just across the flats from the eastern reaches of the Catskill Mountains in New York. Used to be a small town, but between the college and the area’s accessibility to New York City, it’s now a large, busy town. Terry went to the college there, met his wife, married. They settled in the village and have lived there ever since, apart from four difficult years in the Navy.

A portion of those four years were spent in New Hampshire, working at the Naval yard in Portsmouth, living in Navy housing across the state line in Kittery, Maine. I drove up to visit one time shortly after Terry and Sue had their first child, Bebhinn.

My first time meeting my niece, a beautiful little soul. As I remember it, she wasn’t talking much at that point though she’d begun walking, if still a touch uncertainly at times. I’d never had much contact with babies prior to that and spent a lot of the trip about watching this teeny human navigate her way through the world she lived in.

I remember her being a bit tentative, a bit shy, with bursts of extremely sweet exuberance. My brother showed me a game they played where he would pick up the phone as if it been ringing, say, “Hello?” then hand it to Bebhinn, telling her, “It’s for you.” She’d then start chatting in nonsense-talk with the imaginary caller. Adorable.

Terry and Sue were into old houses, architecture, antique furniture. At that time the whole antiques thing hadn’t hit the way it has in more recent years, there were still abandoned houses sprinkled around the New England countryside, waiting to be explored. An intriguing, slightly spooky pasttime. I remember us driving around the traffic circle in Portsmouth then heading off away from town, stopping by the side of a road in front of a large old Victorian house that thrust itself up against the sky, vacant, seemingly forgotten, still in surprisingly good condition. We found our way inside, nosed around for a while, and as a result of some conversation about empty houses and ghosts, Terry and I decided to bring a ouija board to an old cemetery in Portsmouth one night during my stay.

During my teenage years, I did a fair amount of reading about what might be called the paranormal, especially during the summer months, trapped in the woods with my family. Pure escapism, in part, but also a sign of curiosity about this life of ours — the official explanations (i.e., those spewed by church and society) about life and its meaning never seemed credible to me, leaving me to cast about in my own small, ignorant way.

One night we parked on a side street in Portsmouth, Terry led me to an old churchyard, we found our way into its cemetery — old, old headstones everywhere, the thin kind, hip-high, leaning this way and that with age, some partially-covered in lichen, others with death’s-head angels carved above the name/date/etc. The air cool, leaves rustling above us in the trees. No one else around. We sat down, got out the board, started trying to strike up a conversation with someone of the nonphysical persuasion. Which turned out to be a far slipperier, more frustrating wrestling match than we’d expected. We’d ask questions, resting our fingertips on the little plastic thingie, it would kind of slide this way, sort of move that way. Not in any decisive manner, just futzing about. Now and then giving us little teasing bits of, well, not much, really — I seem to remember the board producing a woman’s name, but follow-up questions produced nothing coherent, contributing to a slight, growing sensation of being toyed with. We felt bits of energy and movement in the plastic thingie, but nothing of any duration, nothing sustained. As if things — whatever things — simply weren’t lined up, for whatever reason. But we kept trying. (After all, it’s just a game, right?)

Coming up on an hour later, with nothing much to show for our time, we were tiring. Terry asked ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ was) if we should stop for the night. Both of us felt the plastic thingie move surely, smoothly toward a certain part of the board, stopping over one of the key words. We both leaned over, looked at it, and in the same moment, the same nanosecond that the word registered, the bell in the church tower tolled, loud and sudden enough to make us jump. The word: ‘goodbye.’ We immediately said, “Fine,” picked up our toys, got out of there.

A genuine moment, if you know what I mean.

I once knew a woman named Ellen who told me about an experience she’d had way out in the New England countryside, at a place where a friend had some land with an old house. The structure was slated to be torn down so that a new house could be built, the demolition was imminent.

Ellen went into the building with some other folks, at one point the others were off in another part of the first floor, leaving Ellen by herself in the foyer, between the front door and the stairway. She happened to glance up the stairs, where her eyes met those of a man standing on the second floor landing, someone she’d never seen before. They stared at each other for a moment, then the unknown male turned and walked away, deeper into the second floor, out of view. No one knew who he was, no trace of him was found when they all went upstairs to look around.

The house was demolished soon after, the whole thing left Ellen feeling sad, a bit spooked.

Life: it’s packed of mysteries.

Happy Halloween.

A week from today I’ll be in the States, waking up there for the first time since last June. I expect it’ll be an interesting jaunt, and I don’t mean that in the old-Chinese-curse-”may-you-live-in-interesting-times” way. There are friends I’m looking forward to seeing, there’s work to be done, including closing out an apartment. And I’ll experience the feeling of being in the States during this strange time.

Hard to know what to say about that last item, so I’ll simply leave it alone. It will be what it’s going to be, I’ll find out what that is when I’m there in the middle of it.


Madrid’s been experiencing a stretch of sensational weather — if it weren’t for the late-October angle of the sun and nighttime coolness, I’d swear it was early September. Warm, soft-feeling days, extremely user-friendly, especially coming after a couple of weeks with lots of rain. The kind of thing some might call Indian Summer back in the States.

The sumac trees in the vacant lot across the street are slowly losing their leaves. In the northeast U.S. autumn, sumac foliage turns bright colors. Here, the leaves just seem to fade to a yellowish-green before letting go and drifting earthward. Across the street, they’re coming off from the top down, the uppermost branches now starkly bare, slowly thinning out down below. (I have a memory of making the drive from Boston to Albany a few years back, passing through the stretch of New York between the Massachusetts border and the Hudson valley — just as the colors were at their peak. Featuring stands of sumac whose leaves were a brilliant, vivid red, a color so electrically alive it practically pulsated.)

The wall that surrounds that small vacant lot got plastered with posters almost immediately after the city crew cleaned it off last week. It’s now into the third generation of concert announcements and record ads (”Status Quo — Famous In The Last Century — Lo Mejor Rock De Siempre en su Nuevo Disco Ya A La Venta”; “De-Phazz, En Concierto, Domingo, 18 Diciembre, La Riviera”).

People in the street are in shirtsleeves, except for older folks, who walk more slowly, more carefully — wearing coats, carrying plastic bags of baguettes and milk.

A feature of life here that I’ve slowly been adjusting to: junk mail doesn’t actually arrive in the post. Instead, trash-mail carriers go from building to building, ringing buzzers until someone lets them in. Apartment mailboxes here have capacious slots, allowing people to drop materials into them without being able to get at anything of normal size that might be already be in there. Four or five times this morning the door-buzzer for my flat has announced ‘propaganda’ carriers wanting in.

The building I lived in last year had a portero, the entrance to the building stood open during his on-duty hours — 9 to 2, then again from 5 to 8 or 9. The junk-mail people made their rounds during those hours, I never had to deal with them. This building has no lobby, just a foyer/entranceway, and therefore no doorperson, something I’ve found I actually prefer. It just means my buzzer goes off during the mornings, signalling the arrival of advertising I don’t want.

I made the mistake of responding to the junk-mail summonings when I first moved in here. I’d answer the intercom, the carriers wanting in spoke so rapidly I could hardly understand a word they said, and I discovered I don’t especially want to let in someone I don’t know with no one around to watch over them. The junk-mail folks didn’t care for that, especially one loud, aggressive woman who produced a stream of invective at supersonic speed, so that I’ve learned to ignore the buzzer if a friend hasn’t called and said they might be coming over. If no one lets the ad-people in, they shove a bunch of flyers under the door, life goes on. Which works out just fine for everyone.

It’s a beautiful day. Windows are open, sounds from outside come and go with the breeze. In a while, I’ll head out, get some lunch, then make my way to the gym for a couple of hours like the hombre I am.

Life’s all right.


5:20 p.m, the afternoon light waning, the radio tuned to Radio 3 where they’re playing extremely cool Halloween-style tunes, from Tim Burton film music to Nick Cave to Tom Waits. Other stuff, too, including what sounded like a remake of a fine Björk song.

It occurred to me after my previous grumblings re: Madrid’s lack of autumn colors that I actually saw some this weekend. A friend drove me out to El Escorial on Sunday, a mountain town about 25 miles northwest of Madrid. Colors — everywhere! Yellows, oranges, and one lonely splash of red on the vine-covered wall of a building.

It felt fine to be out in mountainous land. A different kind of mountain from Vermont’s ranges, or the Berkshires or Catskills — rougher, rockier, less green — but they rear up into the sky in the way that did my heart good to see. Surprised me to see how good it felt to be out among them.

El Escorial is something else altogether, the focal point being an austere (yet grandiose) palace/monastery/tomb/library — massive, interesting, and in its way beautiful. Mountains thrust themselves up around one or two sides of the town, narrow streets wind up and down long inclines. Old buildings, plazas and interesting walkways abound. The town is close enough to Madrid and picturesque enough, with a lively, rich life (due in part to a university), that many folks from the capital city hang out there during the warm season.

We sat at a table in a plaza as the sun slipped from view and the light faded, nearby bells in a large old building clanging out the quarter hours (to my friend Jaime’s good-natured irritation), Spanish, English and French being spoken around us. Jaime tried to convince me that I spend far too much of my time in the city center, claiming I need to get out to the northern reaches of the center, the area near el Estadio Bernabéu (home of Real Madrid). I’ve spent a fair amount of time up in that area, generally prefer where I am, and politely told him that. He finally let up, we headed to the car and drove back to Madrid in heavy back-from-the-weekend traffic.

Today, walking along el Paseo de la Castellana, I saw a number of trees whose leaves had turned a shining yellow, and remembered locals have counseled me to head to El Retiro, the huge park on Madrid’s east side, to see autumn colors while in the city. They’re right, of course. Loads of trees there, some are bound to be putting on a show.

I’m heading out to the movies later, so I thought I’d write a little bit about what’s it’s like to go out to a film here, ‘cause there are some interesting differences compared with the experience in the States.

Madrid loves films. Some days it seems like there are moviehouses everywhere you look. There aren’t, of course – it just feels that way. The same way it seems that every single person in this city is always using their cellphones (teléfonos móviles) – they aren’t, of course, it just seems that way. The phone thing seems that way a lot of the time, though. During my first trip here, in Feb. of 2000 (see weblog entries for August 4 and 5), on the bus into the city center from the airport, almost as soon as the bus got underway the person sitting next to me got a call on her móvil. That set the tone. More than once, it’s felt like I’d gotten trapped in a telephonic Hollywood, er, thing – I’d walk out a door, someone would walk by talking into their móvil, I’d turn around, there’s be someone else doing the same. I’d turn again, there’d be someone leaning against the wall, cellphone to their ear. I’d walk away, someone going in the other direction passed by, talking into their móvil. I’m not kidding. Like a musical number from a film.

In fact, I saw a French film here last winter (the title? La Bûche, I think, referring to a of traditional French Christmas dinner dessert) whose first scene took place at a funeral, a large group of people standing around the grave as the casket is lowered into it. A cell phone starts ringing, a well-dressed man looks around guiltily, apologetically, reaches into his pocket, pulls out his phone, realizes it’s not ringing. A woman pulls hers out, it’s not that one either. Within seconds, everyone is pulling cellphones out of coat pockets, briefcases, handbags, until they all realize that the ringing phone is actually inside the casket.

Great scene, only slightly exaggerated from the reality here.

But back to going to the movies in Madrid. First of all, just going is usually worth the price of admission (not always – I made the mistake of going to see “15 Minutes” because DeNiro was in it – mama, what an atrocity!), ‘cause the price of admission is so low. The most expensive theaters charge 900 pesetas, which translates to about $5.00. Less, depending on the exchange rate. Many theaters have a day during the week when they knock 250 or 300 pesetas off the price (el día del espectador — the day of the spectator). And some are just cheaper. All the time.

Madrid has a bunch of multiplexes, though most of those have theaters with large screens. And there are some beautiful old movie houses – huge, with seriously sizeable screens – still open, still working, still packing ‘em in, depending on the film. There is one theater over in the western Madrid barrio of Arguelles – a big theatre with just one screen, nice and large. Comfy seats (most of the theaters here have comfy seats). With interesting films passing through. It’s where I saw Crouching Tiger, etc. (called Tigre & Dragón here). They charge 500 pesetas. That’s $3.00 or less. I was talking about this with a Spanish friend about a week ago, and he said when Spaniards from other cities come to Madrid they complain that the prices are too high. Everything’s relative. It’s nice to be in a country where prices of $3 – $5 for a film are considered high.

One weird phenomenon: most movie theaters here have numbered seats. It’s like going to see a play or musical in the States or the U.K. They print the numbers on the tickets, ushers with flashlights take you to your seats. And in general, they want you to stay where you get seated. If the theater’s nearly-empty, people move, and even then some ushers get miffed about it. (That’s life.)

A little over a year ago, in Sept. of 2000, I went to see a Spanish film over in el barrio de Salamanca, the ritzy neighborhood northwest of here. My first time going to see a film here, I think. I found the theater on la Calle Serrano, a large, busy one-way thoroughfare that channels traffic south through Salamanca into the city center.

There weren’t many people in attendance that night — twenty, twenty-five tops. Maybe thirty. And we’re talking about a theater with hundreds of seats, three aisles, a rear mezzanine. A large, impressive moviehouse, all done in beautiful old wood, kind of a restrained art-deco look, if I remember correctly. With an enormous screen. There was literally no one else in the lobby when I entered, but they had rules and they made me follow ‘em. I had to go in one particular door, I had to take one particular cordoned-off route to the box office. After I picked up my ticket an elderly usher with a flashlight took my ticket and appraised it before leading me into the theater to my seat. Rows and rows and rows of empty seats filled the space, a sprawling expanse of empty theater, a handfull spectators sprinkled carefully around one little section of it instead of spread apart so they wouldn’t block each other’s vision or bother anyone else with noise. And they kept watch over us until the movie started. Strange.

Before the films, they don’t have the advertising/trivia-questions slide-show that I’ve seen in the States far too often. Here, most theaters I go to show about ten minutes of trailers and TV-style ads (some are actually TV ads, others are a cut above) before cranking up the main attraction. The ads bothered me at first, but it quickly became one more opportunity for language practice so I got used to it. Now, when I go into a theatre that just shows a couple of trailers, and the obligatory www.movierecord.com ad (the local clearing house for what’s playing/showtimes), it feels like something’s off. Not bad, just unexpected.

And the movies themselves – the selection here goes all the way across the spectrum, from the trashiest American product to the most rarified international stuff, with everything in between. Some films that opened today:

The Pledge (American, dir. Sean Penn, w/ Jack Nicholson, Helen Mirren, Sam Shepard and more)

Juntos (Together — Swedish, dir. Lukas Moodysson)

Ghosts of Mars (American, dir. John Carpenter)

La Pianista (Austria-France, dir. Michael Heneke, w/ Isabelle Huppert)

The Score (American, dir. Frank Oz, w/ Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, and a poor outing by Marlon Brando)

Original Sin (American, dir. Michael Cristofer, w/ Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie)

I Love You Baby (Spanish, dir. A. Albacente y D. Menkes)

The Anniversay Party (American, dir. Jennifer Jason Leigh & Alan Cumming, w/ same, Kevin Kline, Gwyneth Paltrow & more)

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (American, dir. Kevin Smith)

Clara y Elena (Spanish, dir. Manuel Iborra, w/ Carmen Maura, Verónica Forqué.

There are more, but you get the picture. Some films already playing here:

A.I. (American, dir. Spielberg)

Amelie (French, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, w/ Audrey Tautou)

Amores Perros (Dog Loves — Mexican, dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

The Fearless Vampire Killers (rerival — American, dir. Roman Polanski, w/ same & Sharon Tate)

The Diary of Bridget Jones (British, dir. Sharon Maguire, w/ Reneé Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth)

Fausto 5.0 (Spanish, dir. I. Ortiz, A. Ollé y C. Padrissa)

La Stanza del Figlio (The Bedroom of the Son — Italian, dir. Nanni Moretti, w/ same & Laura Morante

La Inglesa y El Duque (French – Dir. Brian Helgeland, script by Eric Rohmer)

Lucia y el Sexo (Lucia and Sex – Spanish, dir. Julio Medem, w/ Paz Vega)

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (American, dir. Woody Allen, w/ same & Helen Hunt)

Better than Sex (Australian, dir. Jonathan Teplitzky)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (American – dir. John Madden, w/ Nicholas Cage & Penelope Cruz)

Moulin Rouge (let’s not even go there)

Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens – Argentinian, dir. Fabián Bielinsky)

The Others (Spanish, dir. Alejandro Amenabár

The Pact of the Wolves (French, dir. Christophe Gans)

Salir del Armario (Out of the Closet; simply titled The Closet in the States – French, dir. Francis Veber, w/ Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu)

Visionarios (Visionaries – Spanish, dir. M. G. Aragón)

Most out-of-country fare that comes through gets dubbed, but not all. There are a dozen or more cinemas that show voz original con subtitulos (original voice with subtitles). Lots of Spaniards go to v.o. films. Me, too, ‘cause I pretty much hate dubbing. I’ve gotten used to it on television, where there’s basically no alternative unless you have a stereo TV, which here supposedly gives you an option of receiving dubbed programs in original language. That’s what I’ve heard anyway – I have yet to see it in action.

And one last thing – Spain is a country with a population of about 40 million. Small compared to the States. But they have a huge number of film festivals. The season seems to start in the summer with the festival in San Sebastian, up in País Vasco. Then there’s the Sitges (Barcelona) Film Festival, which specializes in films of the fantastic. There’s one just ending in Valencia, and one just beginning in Valladolid. Then, really, they’re all over the country. It gets so it’s hard to walk without tripping over one. (A slight exaggeration, that, but only a slight one. There really are scads of them, maybe far too many.)

And if a film wins big at the Cannes or Venice film festivals, that seems to have an impact here. As much, I’m starting to think, as if one wins big at the Academy Awards. At least when it comes to media coverage. I don’t know how it translates as far as box office. I don’t really know much, come to think of it.

And that might be a good place to stop. I’m off to see a film with a friend.

Be well.

Man, simple health is such a rudimentary, wonderful thing.

It’s so nice to be able to walk the streets without feeling like death on two shaky feet, to be able to go into a restaurant for lunch, relaxed, breathing well.


Last Thursday night: hooked up with a couple of friends from Spanish class to see a show. The trip from here to the theatre is a nice 10-minute walk through narrow streets. As I made my way, a guy turned into one street behind me, walking quickly, approaching me from the rear. Being an especially narrow street with narrow sidewalks, the guy couldn’t get around me until a car went by and the way was clear. As he appeared at my side, he looked over and said, “Conoces Copper?” (’Do you know Copper?’)

I glanced over, with no idea what that sentence meant. “Lo siento,” I said, “¿qué?”

“Conoces Copper?”

Still clueless, I fell back on the old ‘I’m a furriner’ thing: “Lo siento, soy americano — mi español es un poco limitado.”

He smiled, brandishing a card for me to take. I did, waiting for an explanation. “Es un club,” he said. “Soy el dueño.” (’It’s a club, I’m the owner.’) “Hay una fiesta esta noche, puedes venir si quieres.” (’There’s a party tonight, you can come if you want to.’)

“Ah, bueno,” I said, looking from the card to him, then back to the card. “Gracias.”

“De nada,” he said and took off.

As he disappeared up the street, I scanned the card: the name COPPER in large metallic-appearing letters, above that an image of a crest — drawn as if made of copper, natch — consisting of a bear’s head, seven stars in a relaxed V under it. Above the bear’s head were the words BEARS & LEATHER BAR — in English. (Bears??) The word ‘LEATHER’ was the first sign that this club might not be my kind of terrain. The other side of the card consisted of a small map of Chueca, the location of the bar highlighted, and printed above that: “Pub Copper — Fiesta Leather — Pasa Puerta.” I’d been given a door pass to a leather party.

If Madrid is the New York of Spain — and it feels more like that to me than, say, the Washington, D.C. of Spain, despite being the capital — then Chueca is the Greenwich Village of Madrid. Meaning leather parties are not so unusual in some corners of the neighborhood. To each their own. You choose what you like, let other people do the same.

I didn’t attend the leather shindig. I met my friends, went to the show, afterwards had a caña (a small glass of beer) and something to eat at a bar near the theatre. After a nice evening, I returned home with a great little story about my walk to the theater.


This past Sunday, El País had an article on le Moulin Rouge. A topical subject, given the film of that name in movie houses right now. And interesting, as it turns out. The nightspot, it appears — a classically Parisian phenomenon — was founded and started by a Spanish impresario, José Oller Roca. And in talking about the famous personalities that passed through the club — Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald, blahblahblah — attracted by various dancers and artists that appeared there, the author of the article writes:

“Before that, Sigmund Freud and the King of Belgium had passed through the modest seats of the Moulin, the two interested by the performance of Josep Pujol, a Catalán who sang — if you’ll excuse me — with his ass. Pujol had an extraordinarily dilatable anus, that could inhale and exhale air or water at will, composing strange symphonies with his peculiar wind instrument.”

Several cheap gags spring to mind here — i.e., “Smoking or non-smoking?” “Er, is Pujol performing tonight?” “Yes, he is.” “Ah, right. Non-smoking, please.” -– but I think I’ll skip ‘em.

By the way, you may or may not have noticed that I’ve expanded the number of entries on this webpage — that’s an attempt to counter an occasional problem on Blogger’s end which results in most of my archived entries disappearing. Just so you know.

I’m in a foul mood. I’ve had a big-time, miserable more-than-a-cold since Sunday, the major orifices of my face spewing noxious substances around the clock. These past few days have been classically beautiful autumn fare: blue skies, cool nights, warm days, October sunlight — to me some of the most beautiful sunlight of the year — and I haven’t been able to go outside and enjoy it without feeling godawful. My chest’s been stubbornly clogged up, leading to coughing bouts with little result. With no one around to pamper or distract me. Three full days that have seriously sucked the big wazoo.

And yet. In the middle of it all, I find myself experiencing moments of sheer beauty. Fine moments of drifting off to almost-but-not-quite-sleep where I start having dreams even though I’m still a teeny bit aware of the world around me. A short time ago I was in this piso’s small kitchen — floor and walls done in nice white tiles, two windows that funnel in afternoon sunlight, bringing the room to beautiful, glowing life. I sat in one of the tall chairs at the door end of the room, it felt so nice to be there in that space at that radiant time on a late October day.

It’s the kind of day that, as the sun begins easing itself down in the sky and the angle of the light changes, you start seeing the insect life that fills the air — not biting insects, just teeny beings that share this world with us in a mostly-invisible way — suddenly visible as spots of light flying in and out of shafts of sunshine, appearing for all the world as if they’re in love with being alive.

I’m sitting here in my comfy flat in this beautiful city, with food to eat, money in the bank, good music to play on my small boombox, living a kind of adventure many of my peers don’t get to explore. And I’m thinking it’s good to be reminded how fortunate I am, how much pleasure existence brings me.

Life will go on. Tonight I’ll get to watch a game of high-quality fútbol between Real Madrid and Rome. Tomorrow I’ll get my bod out into the air and sunlight. It’s time to get things moving again.

There, that feels better.

Went to see a show last Thursday night with a couple of folks from class. On arriving home around 11:15, I found a guy at work across the street putting up row after row of posters of the same nekkid male dancers that appeared briefly on that same wall a week or two back. Same place, same formation — three rows high, 10 or so posters long. If you’re standing some distance away, it looks like a block of postage stamps, until you remember that no government currently in existence is going to be issuing a commemorative for the Tomas Dancers any time soon.

When I left home the next midday, they were gone, covered up by a whole new crop of posters, including a huge one for Attika, which turns out to be an Italian telecommunications outfit, not a band. Since then, posters have come and gone at a furious pace. As if a particularly ferocious form of Darwinism is at work in the neighborhood.

A short time ago, around 6 p.m., the sound of a compressor started up down in the street. A strident, annoying compressor. After ten minutes, I leaned out a window to scope the situation. The City of Madrid had sent a crew out once again to strip the wall clean. Most posters had already come down, the crew worked on the remnants with a high-pressure water sprayer, a process that left the street thoroughly confetti’d, giving it a festive, if sodden, look.

I moved in here on Sept. 9th. In the six or so weeks since then, the City has taken down the posters roughly every two weeks, without doing anything to ensure that the wall will stay clean and poster-free. I’ve wondered about this, and it occurs to me that maybe there’s not much to ponder. Maybe this is simply part of the cycle of life here, not a futile expenditure of energy. Maybe this kind of work gives the city cleaning crews a break from sweeping up after all-night parties in this and other barrios every weekend. Who knows?

Madrid — city of mystery.

Finished up a month of intensive Spanish classes today. There hasn’t been much time to write these last few days and I have a bunch of things to inflict on y’all.

– 10/17/01

The latest Woody Allen film opened here last weekend. Big deal, you may say, a sentiment many Americans have come to share post Mia Farrow/Soon Yi brouhaha. Over here he’s well-regarded — they not only enjoy his work, they seem to consider him a genuine thinker, an intellectual in the European sense of the word.

Yesterday, the center-right daily paper, El Mundo, featured an interview with him in the mid-week cultural magazine. An interesting enough piece, but one passage in particular that caught my attention.

“What’s certain,” said Mr. Allen, “is that I adore women…. Women are more responsible, even superior in many senses. Books and films that explore the feminine mind and psychology have always attracted me. Women have changed my life. It was only when I began to go out with women that were more cultured and intelligent and with more initiative than me that I felt the necessity to raise myself to their level and began to devour books, museums and concerts.”

That struck a chord with me. Through much of my adult life, beginning in University, many of my closest friends have been women. It’s only in the last few years that that’s leveled off some to where it’s now about 50/50, men and women. Three women in particular who entered my life in my 20’s — interestingly, two named Maria, one named Mary — impacted me in ways I can only begin to describe, becoming examples, goads and inspirations, with huge long-term effects on my existence.

By the way, the film (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion — or, as it’s called here, La Maldición del Escorpión de Jade), is fun. It goes on a bit too long, with some slack spots in the second half, but a lot of it is a kick, with passages of dialogue between Allen and Helen Hunt that had me chortling. (Helen Hunt: lovely, intelligent, extremely talented. What’s not to like?)

But. When I left the theater, I found that something to do with the end of the story had me feeling introspective and sad. When I find myself in that kind of state, I start listening to my feelings ‘cause they communicate pretty clearly, and if I pay attention and act accordingly, life gets better and better. And what I found right then was that it would have been a mistake to go home where I’d be alone, stewing in my juice. (It’s a fine juice, tangy and nicely spiced, but the times one should stew in it should be carefully chosen.) The impulse to take a long walk through Madrid’s busy streets took hold, I obeyed. It was coming up on 6:30 — stores were open for the evening hours, people were out heading home from work, buying things, drifting in and out of restaurants. All sorts of people, of all ages, in all modes of dress.

I’d decided to head in to La Plaza de La Puerta del Sol, and so caught the Metro. When I re-emerged into the open air, I was in the heart of the city. At rush hour. People everywhere, moving in all directions. Life, energy. I found a spot out of the lanes of human traffic and spent some time just taking it all in. It’s trite, I admit it, but there is something authentically magical about this city for me. And after a therapeutic period appreciating it, I got the impulse to duck into El Corte Inglés and pick up a small bag of groceries.

El Corte Inglés is the major department store here. It’s big. Really big. And it’s everywhere. In La Plaza de La Puerta del Sol, El Corte Inglés has three separate buildings – one with several floors of music, stereo/video, ‘puters, TV/radio, etc.; one bookstore/map store; and one huge building with several floors of everything else. Supermarket, clothing, clothing, clothing, more clothing, jewelry, household goods, appliances large and small, a travel agency, a restaurant, a café. Pretty much the whole enchilada except for porn and assault weapons.

Down in the basement of the third building, the largest one, are the various supermarket-type stores — a gourmet food shop, a health-food shop, a shop where you can satisfy all your cleaning/detergent/paper goods needs, a stationery store, a greeting card area, and of course the main event, the supermarket. Down a side street is an entrance that accesses the basement level directly, and I made off in that direction.

The streets that ring Sol extend away from it like spokes in a wheel, and the streets to the north form a warren of pedestrian ways lined with restaurants, cafeterias, bars/tabernas and tiendas of all sorts, extending a half mile or so to Gran Via, the major thoroughfare that delineates the end of this district and forms the southern border of Chueca, the barrio I live in. The two smaller Corte Inglés stores flank one of the pedestrian ways that exit Sol to the north, and across the first intersection of pedestrian vias is the third building, the big kahuna. I started up the street between the first two stores and hung a left at that first intersection. The north-south street was packed with a river-like stream of people, all parting to pass around a lone vender who’d planted himself in the middle of the intersection. Every few seconds he’d call out something I couldn’t decipher, and as I passed it appeared that he was selling a version of the hard, slightly sweet, waffle-textured pastry that’s used in ice cream cones. In two forms — one a long, slim roll, the other a flat sheet curled over two or three times, 2″-3″ wide, both close to two feet in length.

That first side street extends off to the left at a slight downward incline, angling away to the right about 100 feet in. On the left at the bend is a tapas bar, an old local joint, often packed, often with a line trailing out into the street. Not fancy. The exterior is dark brown and black, which sets off the weathered gilt letters of the legends painted above the doors — “Restaurante Casa Labra — Vermouts y Cervezas — Casa Fundada en 1860.” You enter through the doors to the right, pick up your tapas at the old, low-tech register immediately inside — there are only three kinds of tapas at this joint (croquetas [potato croquets], a chunk of tuna and a slice of tomato jammed together on a toothpick, and some type of fish deep-fried in batter and loaded with bones – the first two are fine, the battered fish makes me gag) – manned by an old, somewhat surly, low-tech buzzard who takes your order and your money and tosses your tapas onto a tiny plate. All the employees wear black pants and white jackets, cut somewhere between restaurant and food-service style. A couple of younger ones hang out around the small tapas counter with the older guy, and when he’s buggered off somewhere they take over. They have the surliness down, though I suspect if you’re an attractive woman or at least speak flawless Spanish you get different treatment.

There’s a bar to the rear of this maybe 20′ by 25′ foot room where you pick up small glasses of beer, wine, or vermouth. (I tried to get water one time with no luck.) No chairs, no tables, just a 6 or 8 inch wide shelf at head level that extends around the room, and if you can’t find a few square centimeters of counter space, you try to grab a bit of shelf for your glasses and empty plates. A couple of waiters ferry drinks around, yelling out orders to the man behind the bar, and a uniformed security guy stands at the exit door. (Why, I’m not sure — you pay when you get your tapas thrown at you. Maybe it’s to keep people from sneaking in the exit door.) The air is filled with the smells of food, drink and the sound of conversation; the clientele cut across the spectrum, from construction characters to elegant shoppers; and I rarely hear anything but Spanish spoken there. Tourists pass through, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the locals.

There’s actually a small dining room to the rear, but I’ve never ventured back there. The front room is adventure enough, and this establishment has never felt like a place to linger too long. Go in, get the chow, scarf it down, head off to the next port of call.

According to the Time Out Guide to Madrid, this joint was the birthplace of the Spanish Socialist Party in 1879. The Guide also says it’s known for great croquetas – a Spanish woman I went out with for a while last year arched her eyebrows at that. According to her, the croquetas at this place are mass-produced and taste it. I couldn’t say. No fish bones is all I ask.

Beyond La Casa Labra is a pharmacy, La Farmacía Gayoso – the pharmacies here are a phenomenon unto themselves, something I’ll get into another time – then a Burger King (American junk food dives are everywhere here and younger folk seem to be attracted to ‘em like iron filings to a magnet), which is across from the entrance to the basement level of El Cortes Inglés. Beyond that is a place called El Palacio del Jamon (the Ham Palace!). Ham is wildly popular here, with certain kinds considered delicacies. Or so I’ve been told. It’s entirely normal to walk into a bar or sandwich shop and find a pig’s haunch on a cutting device off to one side with other haunches hanging up behind the bar. They wax ‘em pretty heavily, making them a dark, weird grey/brown, so you’d almost think it was something else entirely except for the little pig’s foot at the end. Butcher’s shops have them arrayed in rows, hanging above the counter or in near-squadrons along the back. It’s a strange sight.

I made my way down the street toward El Corte Inglés, and as I reached the entrance I paused to look around, checking out the marquee above the entrance to the Palacio del Jaimon (Gran Exposición y Gustación…. Raciones – Tapas – Bocadillos…. Quesos Mantegos – Exquisitos Pates….). Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement in my direction and glanced over to find an old guy – 70-something, slightly stooped, hawklike face, eyes focused intently, almost fiercely on my startled self – making his slow way toward me. I took a fast look around to see if maybe someone else looked like they belonged to him — no dice — then glanced back to find him coming on, eyes still fastened on me. It felt so odd and unexpected, and his demeanor looked so intense and unfriendly, that it seemed a little spooky. I mean, I did not know the guy, and yet he continued inching his way closer and closer as I stood trying to figure it all out. I decided that right then I did not want to deal, turned and disappeared down the stairs into the store, thinking no more about it.

I only wanted to pick up a couple of items, and was standing at the register getting them bagged when the old guy materialized right there, eyes still fixed on me. He said something I couldn’t make out, I shook my head slightly, saying, “Lo siento – que?” He said something more, speaking fast enough that I couldn’t make out more than one word that sounded like a name. The woman behind me and the cashier answered him – apparently he was looking for a pharmacy, and not the one just up the block. The poor guy had wanted directions, picked up on my, er, natural aura of authority and wisdom (yeah, that’s it), followed me inside the store and tracked me down, only to find out I was a furriner who couldn’t make out his rapidly spoken Spanish. They went back and forth until he turned away appearing a bit disappointed and disappeared in the direction of the stairs outside. I looked at the two women, neither of whom looked at me or at each other. It was as if nothing had happened. I grabbed my bag o’ groceries and made my way back outside, seeing no trace of the old guy.

I walked back around to the front corner of the store, and found a space against the wall of the Corte Inglés music/stereo/etc. building where I could lurk and watch this little corner of the universe for a while. A steady, heavy flow of people passed in and out of the main Corte Inglés building, in complement to the volume of bodies moving by on the north-south pedestrian vía, people slowing and eddying all around the intersection to talk, look around, head off in a different direction or continue along their original trajectory. The vender of the ice cream cone pastry did a steady enough business in the middle of it all, and I was struck by the number of people who passed holding hands or walking arm in arm. After a while I got the impulse to make my way across the intersection and continue up the side street in the opposite direction.

I passed clothing shops (Gran Vals – Moda Boutique; Georgie Conde) and found at the next intersection a sprawling cluster of restaurants/cafeterias, people seated all around at tables set up outdoors to take advantage of the mild weather. To the right, the Hotel Europa/Europa Cafeteria-Restaurante. To the left, the Cafeteria Blanca Paloma (White Dove), and across from that the Restaurante/Cafeteria Armenia. Beyond that intersection, as the side street I was on continued up a hill were more stores, more bars and not too far along on the right, the Sidrería La Farola (comidas y tapas!). The thought of a bocadillo (sandwich on a baguette) and un vaso de sidra (a glass of cider) had provoked a near loss of salivary control, so I threaded my way through the streaming throngs to check the place out. Not crowded and the menu looked all right.

On entering, I found one customer at the bar eating, and another dropping money into a one-armed bandit (una máquina tragaperras). I grabbed a seat at the far end of the counter, a guy looking like a shorter, squatter version of Lurch from the Addams Family stepped over to take my order. I said, “Sidra, por favor.” A blank look from him in return. “Sidra?” I repeated, “y un bocadillo de tortilla.” You probably know that the tortillas here aren’t the soft, flat bread that they are in Mexico. Here a tortilla is a thick version of an omelet, only much thicker, much more dense. The guy continued giving me a flat, barely polite stare. “No,” he said. “No?” I said. “Frances, no.” There were two types of tortilla on the menu, Tortilla Frances and Tortilla de patatas (potatoes). “Bueno,” I said, ” entonces, tortilla de patatas?” Grudging movement from him to get things underway, starting with drawing me a glass of sidra.

It sometimes happens here that either the person I’m dealing with can’t understand my Spanish or they don’t want to make the effort to cut me some slack. I asked a British woman from class about that, she said that same thing happens to her. Her Spanish is pretty good – clear and intelligible. I can only attribute this difficulty to the fact that we’re in the Spanish version of New York City. Some people are great, others are a bit more brusque. Así es la vida. The fact is that for a city this size, the people are generally very kind.

As if to confirm that, a person who seemed to be in charge appeared from the rear and, seeing me with a glass of sidra and nothing else, told Lurch to give me some finger food. It’s pretty common here that if you order a glass of beer, wine or cider, they’ll give you a small plate of olives or some tapas. In this case, they slapped two fish on a dish and slid it in front of me. Two fish, about three inches long, gutted, done up in batter tempura-style, but complete with head and tail. Very popular here, but not my kind of refreshment. I sipped at my sidra, appreciating the thought behind giving me something to nibble on, regardless of the type of nosh it turned out to be, and when the bocadillo arrived I laid into it. Turned out to be pretty good – fresh, tasty, not dry.

This sidra, by the way, is hard cider, about 5% alcohol. A traditional drink from the northwest provinces of Spain, Galicia and Asturias. The nice thing about it is that for whatever reason the alcohol doesn’t affect me at all, so I drink it with impunity. And I do drink it now and then ’cause I like it.

As I ate, I became aware of two women who had entered and taken seats to my right. With time I became further aware that one of them, a blonde about my height who stood talking with some energy about something that had her upset, was French. I don’t know about you, but a French accent automatically makes a woman more attractive to me, and if she’s actually speaking in French you can double what I just said.. After a while she switched to Spanish, I ate and listened, extremely content.

When I left, dusk was well underway and the human traffic had tapered off some. I retraced my steps back to the nearest intersection of pedestrian vías and hung a right, heading north toward Gran Vía. Stopping briefly to watch some people in front of a tienda (Padilla Perfumerías, directly across the way from Optica America), I became aware of a street person making his way toward Sol, a guy in a heavy overcoat and a stocking cap, carrying on an angry monologue in French. (What’s with all the unhappy Gallic types all of a sudden?) Everyone gave him a wide berth, he continued on his way.

I walked north toward Gran Vía and Chueca, passing the hotel I stayed at the first time I came to Madrid, a trio of slim, pretty young Spanish women whisking by me, all dressed in denim, with flared pants or bells, sneakers or platforms shoes. I then took a turn I don’t usually take which brought me by a women’s clothing store called Miss Sixty – in English, just like that. It’s possible that the name is a reference to a vaguely late-1960’s look that some of the displayed clothing had. I have to believe that’s what’s at work there, because if there isn’t a 1960s thing, then I can only conclude that the clothes are being designed by someone who is heavily into dangerous narcotics.

It’s entirely possible that I may be guilty of overstatement here, and after all, it’s not as if I follow the fashion world. I may simply be out of step. You’ll have to judge for yourself.

There were four outfits in the window. The first two were positioned together, both being black evening outfits – the first one a nice knee-length evening dress. A perfectly attractive design – simple, minimal. The second was a pantsuit, and though from the front it looked simple, almost conservative, the blouse was backless, so the view from the rear was entirely different.

A few feet away from those first two outfits stood a mannequin wearing a waist-length winter fur coat. And not simply a fur coat, he hastened to add, but a fur coat dyed an alarming, unnatural blue. Which was then given the look of a down jacket by using strips of rhinestones to simulate the stitching a puffy coat might have. Wacky stuff.

Finally, all by itself over to the far side of the display window, stood a headless mannequin wearing a very stylishly-cut winter coat – mid-thigh length, nice heavy material, warm-looking without sacrificing a modish look — it would have fit very well in the parade of fashion happening in late-60’s Carnaby Street — except for the fact that it was entirely done in bright, high-contrast zebra stripes. The single loudest example of a black and white outfit I’ve ever seen. It could be that the window lighting was largely to blame, but that coat appeared every bit as eye-catchingly bright as the fluorescent orange or dayglo lime coats worn by firefighters and police officers. Man, oh man.

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I make too much of it all. It just looked to me right then like one seriously goofy collection of clothing.

I managed to tear myself away from Miss Sixty and continued on, coming across a store just a few doorways up that dealt solely in fans. Not window fans – the handheld type that women here use during the summer months. I don’t know the word for them – I’m going to have to bother some Spanish person to find out. But at their best, they are genuinely elegant, made of fine material and emblazoned with paintings or decorations ranging from genuinely lovely to something that aspires to be lovely but skates off in other unfortunate directions. Traditional scenes, religious images, designs more abstract in nature. I’ve been told that some men also use fans here during the hot season, smaller, less ostentatious models, and I think I may actually have seen one may using one. There were a few smaller fans in the window, but whether they’re intended for men or children, I couldn’t say. The prices generally seemed to start around $11 to $16 or $17, and then slid swiftly up from there, reaching occasionally startling sums for the largest, highest-quality, most tastefully-done fans.

Interesting stuff – I may have to inflict one or two fans on unsuspecting friends this Christmas.

Nighttime had begun settling in as I crossed Gran Vía, moving in the direction of home. I turned down la Calle Fuencarral, one of the Chueca’s two north-south main drags (well, la Calle Hortaleza is north-south; Fuencarrel kind of veers vaguely south from a west-northwest point on the compass to terminate at Gran Vía one block away from the end of Hortaleza – not that you asked), intending to pick up a chicken sandwich at Doner-Kebap. Which brought me by the Telefonica building (Telefonica being the phone company here), which houses the Fundación* Telefonica, which currently has a sprawling exhibit of contemporary art from Central and South America. The time was 7:40. The exposicion closes at 8 p.m. That gave me 20 minutes to skip through the bugger, plenty of time.

I’ve mentioned the whole Fundación phenomenon before, so I won’t get it into a big explanation here. Key words: art + free!

I went inside, left my bag with the woman at the desk, made the guard happy by walking through the metal detector without setting off any alarms, looked around for 20 minutes. Two works worthy of mention:

a series of large back-lit photos collectively entitled “Project Habitation: Recyclables.” Every photo featured a person in the kind of anti-contagion/chemical warfare suit that’s becoming bizarrely familiar nowadays thanks to those thoughtful folks in the news media, only in this case the suit is made of product wrappers and bags, all taped or stitched together. Funny and weird at the same time; and

a piece called “Clonation and vice-versa,” consisting of a pyramid of pvc tubing, based on the model of the pyramids found in Mexico, which is festooned by rubber babies, both light-skinned and dark-skinned. All the babies are connected by air-hosing, which is attached to a series of hairdryers which are mounted on the floor around the pyramid. When I walked in, all was quiet, the babies were limp, hanging all over the pyramid like it was a jungle gym. Then one of the hairdryers started up, which slowly begins inflating some of the babies. Another dryer starts up, then another, then another, until they’re all pumping away, at which point all the babies reach maximum inflation, looking briefly and weirdly lifelike. Then the hairdyers shut off and the babies slowly lose air until they’re once again limp and empty. I don’t know it comes across with this description, but in person it was both comical and eerie.

Art. Where would we be without it?

Outside, clouds had been gathering all evening, and I re-emerged on la Calle Fuencarral to find that they’d opened up, resulting in some serious rainfall. I can’t remember the last time I got caught w/out an umbrella like that. Luckily, there were a lot of folks in the same situation and we formed a long line of people snaking their way along the sidewalk hugging the side of the buildings, which keeps you surprisingly dry unless the wind doesn’t cooperate.

I was moderately soaked when I made it home, but a change of clothes and a warm chicken sandwich from Doner-Kebap took care of that. And even with the rain, I could hear faint sounds of Chueca’s nightlife carrying on, people down in the street making their way from one restaurant/bar to another.

Life. It’s a pretty amazing experience.

So. I stood gazing blankly at my Simpsons calendar earlier and realized at some point that this week’s birthdays feature powerhouse writers, all week long. To wit:
Sunday, 14 Oct. — E.E. Cummings
Monday, 15 Oct. — P.G. Wodehouse
Tuesday, 16 Oct. — Oscar Wilde
Wednesday, 17 Oct. — Arthur Miller
Thursday, 18 Oct. — Ntozake Shange; Chuck Berry (this one may be stretching it, but what the hell — the composer of Johnny B. Goode merits all the slack I can slide his way)
Friday, 19 Oct. — John Le Carré
Saturday, 20 Oct. — Art Buchwald

And one more: today is the birthday of Fannie Lou Hamer, a genuinely remarkable person.


And how, he asked himself, did it get to be the middle of October already? (Note to Universe: stop DOING that!)


Hot damn! This humble page was, for the first time, listed as a link on another weblog yesterday. And so I must return the favor:

If you’re looking for some fine distraction, you could do far, far, far worse (how’s that for a left-handed recommendation, Kristen?) than spend some time at fox vox. It features thoughtful, pithy entries by Kristen Fox, an interesting, sharp, very funny person, who is also, by the way, far less long-winded than me — a major selling point as far as I’m concerned. (D’OH — another left-handed recommendation! [insert sound of smack upside the head here]) Her site also features links and some seriously great out-of-context quotes, easily worth the price of admission.

Today is also Kristen’s birthday — leave nice comments when you visit her site.

During my fourth year of life, my parents bought land on the Hudson River, thirty minutes north of Albany, New York. About halfway between New York City and the Canadian border. At that time, out in the middle of nowhere. Two acres of woods, with more of the same on two sides of our parcel — a barrier of thickly overgrown land to the north, maybe 100 feet across, that extended from the river all the way up to the two-lane that formed the western boundary of our land; to the south a small section of wooded terrain extended out to a point (called The Point) marking our side of an inlet that narrowed, becoming a creek, bisecting the property from north to south. On the far side of the creek: marshlands, then more woods, spreading uphill to the road. The river provided the eastern property line.

Felt like a lot of land, and probably was for us in those times. No electricity, no plumbing. Drinking water came from a well by means of a hand-pump. A radical change from the life I’d had known up to then, in our small house in the ‘burbs on Long Island.

That first summer my father and two brothers — both brothers substantially older than me — built a small cabin that became the center of what passed for indoor life during our annual ten or eleven week stay. Soon after that, the family picked up a small powerboat, I gradually became accustomed to river life.

Though the Hudson at that particular point is nowhere near the gigantic expanse it becomes down near Nyack and Tarrytown, it is still undeniably a major river — wide, deep, funnelling a huge amount of water through the valley. More than a river: a presence, a force of nature.

The section we lived on was the first length of the so-called Champlain Barge Canal. About a mile south of us lay falls where the river widened, where a lock had been built on the near side, flood gates erected on the other side, a spillway stretching between the two, water pouring over it into a sizeable natural basin of whitewater and islands before collecting itself into a proper river again, winding south toward Troy and Albany.

A half mile north of us on the other side of the river lived a man I only remember being called Yaybo, a character with a friendly, weathered face in his 50’s or 60’s — inconceivably old to me at that time. He had a plot of land with trees, a ramshackle house, no neighbors that I remember, a fine view of the river, and he passed the warm seasons in a teepee.

He had worked on the dredging of the channel and seemed well known to area folk. Frequently, when tugboats with barges went by they’d sound their airhorns — if he was there he’d emerge from the teepee, returning the greeting with a long, relaxed wave of an extended arm. I don’t know if he was actually of Native American extraction — might be he was or it might be he was just a colorful, eccentric individual with an affinity for the Indian image — but when locals went by in powerboats, they would often call out a greeting in a way that sounds unbelievably hokey now — cupping hands around mouth to make a kind of stereotypical Indian call, going “Woo-woo-woo-woo-Yay-bo!” I remember him being well-liked, with no disparaging tones to these salutes. I remember seeing him emerge from his teepee to stand and wave. And I remember the sense of disappointment the times we would pass by and receive no response to our call.

I also remember a few times out in the boat with my father or one of my brothers when we stopped to visit. Protocol dictated that visitors call out a greeting some distance from shore — if Yaybo appeared in response, we’d then head in to his landing, my father or brother exchanging hellos and joking inquiries with him re: health and life before pulling in, tying the boat up. I don’t remember him ever refusing a visit.

In my memories, he lived a simple life, having little in terms of property or amenities. And although we also lived a simple life compared to our existence down on Long Island, he had far less in the way of possessions, his lifestyle appearing, to my unworldly eyes, spartan, unadorned in a way that seemed alien. So that I always felt a bit like a fish out of water during stopovers. He was always friendly, always warm, a genuinely likeable person, yet I don’t think I ever managed to feel truly at ease with him, and I’m not sure I ever provided him much in the way of conversational entreé.

Inside the teepee, I remember a kettle suspended over a fire from a wooden tripod, in which beans usually simmered. He offered me a taste one time, the plat du jour being navy beans. I think I politely, timidly refused, which simply exasperates me now. What the hell was I so nervous about? You just don’t meet amazing people like that every day — this man was probably a walking repository of wonderful stories and experiences, and for whatever reasons I couldn’t come out of my little shell to hook up with him.

Ah, well.

Yaybo. An interesting person.


Went out a short time ago to pick up boots I’d left at a shop two or three blocks from here for repairs. I have, for the last few years, had a thing for pointy black boots with little metal doodads on either side of the pointy toe. I adore those buggers and have more than one pair — two pair of out-and-out cowboy boots, one pair not quite so pointed, looking more like rocker’s boots. Love ‘em. But I’ve been doing this pointy-boot thing for a while and have recently been getting the feeling that they identify me a bit too clearly as an American here, if you get my drift. So I’ve debated picking up some different footwear, and on this last outing began taking a look at some of the footwear shops that abound in this barrio.

And they do abound, especially a block or two south of here, on a street that’s positively filthy with chichi footwear/handbag tiendas.

Most of the shoes on display in these joints are for women, three or four stock footwear for the other gender. I spent some time peering in windows, moving in and out of shops, and after getting an idea of the wares currently in stock I have to say: there is a poopload of ugly footwear being foisted off on the shoe-buying public at this time. (Has that always been the case and I’m only noticing now?)

In particular, there is a certain look for men’s footwear here that I can only call a variation on clown shoes, featuring a bizarre enlarging of the shoe’s front, a widening and splaying of the sole, in some cases actually curling the front of the sole up, suggesting genuine reproductions of vintage clown footgear. I couldn’t imagine wearing them. But to each their own. People buy ‘em here.

All kinds of unkind things are being done with shoes here, including the vending of what look essentially like platform sneakers. Kind of a mutated descendant of moonboots. Sneakers — with big, thick, built-up soles. Lordy.

I found nothing that called out to me on this trip. The search will continue.

Obsession at its absolute finest: Pearl Jam have released CDs of every single date from their ‘binaural’ tour.

To view the selection:

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Remember that spread of nearly-nekkid-male posters on the wall across the street (two entries ago)? Yesterday, some poster paster decided to restore wholesomeness to the neighborhood, covered them with other, less carnal, ads. On closer inspection, I found one lonely nearly-nekked poster had been left uncovered, but considering the visual bedlam of the surrounding posters, it might as well be invisible.

I was about to write that no one would have covered up posters featuring nekkid or near-nekkid women, but that’s not true. A few fairly suggestive ads in the heterosexual vein have appeared on that wall during the last few weeks — they don’t seem to last very long before someone slaps another poster over ‘em.

Could be it’s not a moral statement that’s happening here — could be the racy posters stand out so much that they attract the eye of the next round of poster pasters, becoming targets simply because of high visibility.

Could be. I may never know for sure.


“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Last night’s partying went on until dawn. From time to time the sound of voices down in the street swam into my consciousness, briefly waking me. Then a short time ago a sound I’ve never heard here before started up, the noise of a hammer striking metal. Just one blow, then silence. A few seconds later another blow. Not sounding like the person was trying to put all their strength into it — on the contrary, sounding as if they were trying to do it as carefully and quietly as they could. Which makes perfect sense given the hour: 7 a.m., Saturday morning. On the other hand, if they were really worried about waking up the neighborhood, they’d hold off on whatever it was they were doing until midday.

That continued for a while. I thought about getting up, opening a window, trying to see where what was going on, then yelling as loudly and harshly as I could to please stop with the FUCKING NOISE! But the perp. probably didn’t speak English, and getting out of bed to yell like that would wake me completely up. So I remained horizontal, comfortable, nice and warm, waiting. After a while it stopped.

Silence. Much better. Back to sleep.

Shortly before 8 o’clock, another noise started up, louder. Like the sound rocks would make falling into a 55-gallon barrel. The sound, than a pause, the sound again, another pause. Until I got up once more, pulled the shades, opened the window.

Down in the street: a dumptruck with a bed nearly double the length of your typical dump truck. Filled with coal. Two men with large metal wheelbarrels bringing the coal into a building. One would position his wheelbarrow at the rear of the truck, open a hatch, a load of coal would pour into the wheelbarrow. Close the hatch, go dump the load in a nearby building’s basement while the second worker filled up his wheelbarrow. The street had been blocked off to permit this work, they’d clearly come at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning not only because it’s a time of little traffic here but also because it’s probably the most effective time to wake up the largest number of neighborhood residents.

They actually emptied the entire load of coal, one wheelbarrow at a time. The work tailed off after 8:30. By 8:45 they were gone.

Saturday. Madrid, Spain.

Back to bed.

It’s a holiday in Madrid — El Día de la Hispanidad, which a friend here compared to Commonwealth Day in the U.K. My dictionary defines hispanidad as: (1) group of countries or peoples formed by Spain and by Spain’s colonized peoples whose official language or most spoken language is Spanish; (2) group of common cultural characteristics of those countries/peoples. (My friend also said El Día de la Hispanidad is kind of like ‘el día de la raza España’ — the day of the Spanish ‘race’ — though, he added, that would be more along the lines of the fascist, Franquista take on it.) It falls on October 12th, the day the expedition of Columbus (called Cristobal Colón here) made landfall in the Caribbean, believing they’d reached India. Meaning most of Madrid has the day off. Meaning many people either flee the city or go to the movies.

One effect of the short work week: it magically endows the weekend with two Friday nights. The result: Thursday = party time. Yesterday evening around 7:30, I brought a pair of my pointy black boots to a shoe repair shop a few blocks from here, passing through crowded streets humming with the early weekend vibe. A short time later, I caught a Metro train over to the barrio of Salamanca to meet a Spanish friend, Jaime, for an intercambio. (An intercambio: you get together with a Spaniard who’s working on his/her English; half the time you converse in Castellano, the other half in English.) A train packed with people, many of them young and ready for big celebrating.

I reached the café before Jaime, ordered an espresso, watched the street life streaming by on a mild, pretty October night. People of all sorts, a few in some sort of traditional dress. As in centuries and centuries of tradition, a bit medieval looking, which in the case of two young men featured rows of small crests on the front of their outfits. One of the two played an acoustic guitar as they went quickly by.

I waited. I did some homework (exercises re: the overabundant differences between the verbs ser and estar) because I’m such a good boy. (I actually am a good boy.) (No, really.)

Yesterday was the first day I saw leaves blowing here, reminding me all over again that it’s autumn. There’s not much in the way of color locally, just faded greens and browns. By the second half of August, the leaves on some trees around the city begin to wither up and fall from months of hot, dry weather. Come the end of September, rain arrives, nighttime temperatures begin to cool, the falling of leaves picks up steam. As I stood at a crosswalk yesterday, they came gently down, blowing by me. There’s nothing like the sound of leaves in the street swirling around before a breeze.

A friend wrote me that he spent Columbus Day weekend camping out in northern Vermont. Big color, leaves falling, nippy weather. Rain, sunshine, even an encounter with snow. (It starts up in October in northern Vermont.) I love Madrid, but I miss autumn in New England.

It began raining near the end of the intercambio, we called it a night. I retreated to the Metro and, on emerging back aboveground here in Chueca, found plenty of people out enjoying the night, rain or no rain.

The barrio I lived in last year was fine in many respects, but come the weekend, activity essentially died. When I moved in here, I felt some apprehension about the people/noise factor, but it so far hasn’t felt like much of a problem. Kind of a surprise, that.

Anyway. El Día de la Hispanidad. Big military parade — the Spanish army takes over el Paseo de la Castellana, a major north-south route to the east of here (eight lanes — four in the center, long park-like islands to either side, two more lanes beyond them for local access), and shows off for the political bigwigs, king and queen included. Featuring military aircraft doing flyovers, including three jets trailing colored smoke to suggest the three stripes of the Spanish flag.

Someone said that the incidents of flyovers earlier in the week may have been prep. for this display, with no connection to what’s going on in Afghanistan. Me, I have no idea, but that thought feels better.

A final, unrelated item: yesterday I noticed someone hanging huge spreads of posters on the wall across the street — the same one over and over again, two or three rows high, ten or twelve long, extensive enough to look like wallpaper. Until you move closer and see that they’re ads for a troupe of male dancers — ‘Tomás Dancers,’ vaguely along the lines of the Chippendale Dancers. Big, pumped-up, goofy-looking, nearly-nekkid males that dance for women. Only I suspect this group dances for guys.

To each their own.

According to my Simpsons calendar, this is quite a week when it comes to the birthdays of notable musicians:

Sunday, 7 Oct. — Yo-Yo Ma (b. 1955)

Monday, 8 Oct. — Columbus Day (observed), Thanksgiving Day in Canada (the same day the bombardment commenced in Afghanistan — what halfwit plans this stuff?)

Tuesday, 9 Oct. — John Lennon (b. 1940)

Wednesday, 10 Oct. — Thelonious Monk (b. 1917)

Thursday, 11 Oct. — Art Blakey (b. 1919)

Friday, 12 Oct. — Alistair Crowley (b. 1975), Dick Gregory (b. 1932) — not known for contributions to the musician world, but what the hell

Sat., 13 Oct. — Art Tatum (b. 1910), Paul Simon (b. 1941)

Whoa, hold on — Paul Simon just turned 60? That can’t be right. I was teeny when he and Art G. were cranking out the hits. That must mean that my age is now…. (Pause to count on fingers, followed by sound of embarrassed coughing.) Er… best we don’t go there.

A few more birthdays of note, mostly from the film/theatre world:

Tuesday, 9 Oct. — Jacques Tati (b. 1908)

Wednesday, 10 Oct. — Harold Pinter (b. 1930) (Yeah, Harold! Thanks for all the intense theatrical wackiness!)

Sat., 13 Oct. — Yves Montand (b. 1921)


The following item has made its way around the ‘net for years now in slightly differing versions. It arrived in my mailbox today, maybe the 10th or 15th time it’s sought me out, and considering there’s something taking shape in the world right now that many consider to be (a) a religious conflict, (b) a holy war, or (c) a war against terrorism (pick the term you find most appropriate), it feels fitting to slap the bugger into today’s journal entry [NOTE: this bit of entertainment has always made the e-mail rounds without any author being credited -- if any copyright, er, thingies are being broken, ruptured, spindled, folded or mutilated by me posting this bugger here, I grovel in advance with sincere, heartfelt apologies and humbly beg & plead that you not sue my still-surprisingly-shapely-for-my-age ass without first either giving me a chance to (a) remove this bit of harmless comedy from this web page or (b) supply whatever necessary attribution would calm you down and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside]:

god working to improve his/her/its customer service. . . .


God would like to thank you for your belief and patronage. In

order to better serve your needs, (S)He asks that you take a

few moments to answer the following questions:

1. How did you find out about your deity?

__ Newspaper

__ Bible

__ Torah

__ Koran

__ Television

__ Book of Mormon

__ Divine Inspiration

__ Dead Sea Scrolls

__ My Mama Done Tol’ Me

__ Near Death Experience

__ Near Life Experience

__ National Public Radio

__ Tabloid

__ Burning Shrubbery

__ Other (specify): _____________

2. Which model deity did you acquire?

__ Jehovah

__ Jesus

__ Krishna

__ Father, Son & Holy Ghost [Trinity Pak]

__ Zeus and entourage [Olympus Pak]

__ Odin and entourage [Valhalla Pak]

__ Allah

__ Satan

__ Gaia/Mother Earth/Mother Nature

__ God 1.0a (Hairy Thunderer)

__ God 1.0b (Cosmic Muffin)

__ None of the above, I was taken in by a false god

3. Did your God come to you undamaged, with all parts in good

working order and with no obvious breakage or missing attributes?

__ Yes

__ No

If no, please describe the problems you initially encountered here.

Please indicate all that apply:

__ Not eternal

__ Finite in space/Does not occupy or inhabit the entire cosmos

__ Not omniscient

__ Not omnipotent

__ Not infinitely plastic (incapable of being all things to all creations)

__ Permits sex outside of marriage

__ Prohibits sex outside of marriage

__ Makes mistakes

__ Makes or permits bad things to happen to good people

__ Makes or permits good things to happen to bad people

__ Looks after life other than that on Earth

__ When beseeched, doesn’t stay beseeched

__ Requires burnt offerings

__ Requires virgin sacrifices

4. What factors were relevant in your decision to acquire a deity?

Please check all that apply.

__ Indoctrinated by parents

__ Needed a reason to live

__ Indoctrinated by society

__ Needed focus in whom to despise

__ Needed focus in whom to love

__ Imaginary friend grew up

__ Hate to think for myself

__ Wanted to meet girls/boys in church

__ Fear of death

__ Wanted to piss off parents

__ Wanted to please parents

__ Needed a day away from school or work

__ Desperate need for certainty

__ Like organ music

__ Need to feel morally superior

__ Thought Jerry Falwell was cool

__ Thought there had to be something other than Jerry Falwell

__ Shit was falling out of the sky

__ My shrubbery caught fire and told me to do it

5. Have you ever worshipped a deity before? If so, which false

god were you fooled by? Please check all that apply.

__ Baal

__ The Almighty Dollar

__ Left Wing Liberalism

__ The Radical Right

__ Amon Ra

__ Beelzebub

__ Bill Gates

__ Barney The Big Purple Dinosaur

__ The Great Spirit

__ The Great Pumpkin

__ The Sun

__ The Moon

__ The Force

__ Cindy Crawford

__ Elvis

__ A burning shrub

__ Psychiatry

__ Other: ________________

6. Are you currently using any other source of inspiration in

addition to God? Please check all that apply.

__ Tarot

__ Lottery

__ Astrology

__ Television

__ Fortune cookies

__ Ann Landers

__ Psychic Friends Network

__ Dianetics

__ Palmistry

__ Playboy and/or Playgirl

__ Self-help books

__ Sex, drugs, and rock & roll

__ Biorhythms

__ Alcohol

__ Marijuana

__ Bill Clinton

__ Tea Leaves

__ EST (now called The Forum)

__ Amway

__ CompuServe

__ Mantras

__ Jimmy Swaggert

__ Crystals

__ Human sacrifice

__ Pyramids

__ Wandering around a desert

__ Insurance policies

__ Burning shrubbery

__ Barney T.B.P.D.

__ Barney Fife

__ Other:_____________________

__ None

7. God reputedly employs a limited degree of Divine Intervention

to preserve a balanced level of felt presence and blind faith.

Which would you prefer? Circle one below:

a. More Divine Intervention

b. Less Divine Intervention

c. Current level of Divine Intervention is just right

d. Don’t know.

e. What’s Divine Intervention?

8. God also reputedly attempts to maintain a balanced level of

disasters and miracles. Please rate on a scale of 1 – 5 your opinion

of the handling of the following (1 =unsatisfactory, 5 = excellent):

a. Disasters:

1 2 3 4 5 flood

1 2 3 4 5 famine

1 2 3 4 5 earthquake

1 2 3 4 5 war & holocausts

1 2 3 4 5 pestilence

1 2 3 4 5 plague

1 2 3 4 5 Spam

1 2 3 4 5 AOL

b. Miracles:

1 2 3 4 5 rescues

1 2 3 4 5 spontaneous remissions

1 2 3 4 5 stars hovering over tiny towns & previously unknown hamlets

1 2 3 4 5 crying statues

1 2 3 4 5 water changing to wine

1 2 3 4 5 walking on water

1 2 3 4 5 coincidence of any sort

1 2 3 4 5 getting any sex whatsoever

9. From time to time God reputedly makes available the names

and addresses of Her/His followers and devotees to selected

reputedly divine personages who provide quality services and

perform intercessions in His behalf. Are you interested in a

compilation of listed offerings?

__ Yes, please deluge me with religious zealots for the

benefit of my own mortal soul

__ No, I do not wish to be inundated by religious fanatics

clamouring for my money

10. Do you have any additional comments or suggestions for

improving the quality of God’s services? (Attach additional

sheet if necessary.)

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