far too much writing, far too many photos

Nearly done. There is nothing like boxing up the contents of a home to bring one into direct contact with the true extent of the accumulated dreck.

This last Monday, my friend Dermot arrived, a friend of his named Hubert in tow, both here to assist with the move. Like peas in a pod, those two. Earlier, I lowered my adorable butt into a chair in what’s left of my living room to take a load off for a few minutes and got the chance to listen to them blab back and forth. Whatever frequency they’re on, they’re on it together.

Tomorrow a.m., everything gets stuffed into a U-Haul truck and taken up to Vermont, where it will stay until I return. Whenever that turns out to be. Could be sooner, could be later — depends on what life tosses my way.

Monday night I grab a flight to Paris, Wednesday I land in Madrid. It’ll be interesting to be back.

Later.

Written yesterday, 11/24/01:

A November day of partial overcast, the light sometimes strong and full, other times thinner, more meditative. I’m seated at the dining table in a condo owned by two friends in Provincetown, Massachusetts, out at the tip of Cape Cod. In front of me are sliding glass doors, beyond them a porch, beyond that the bay, glittering chips of sunlight flickering across the expanse of water.

I arrived almost exactly 24 hours ago after an easy two-hour-plus drive down from Cambridge. Something I love about the holidays: the decrease in traffic. Thanksgiving Day and the morning after, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, to a lesser extent the days between Christmas and New Year’s. Less intensity. Except in shopping areas, where the pace picks up. A mall just south of Boston sported a packed lot. Jammed, cars prowling for nonexistent spaces. This at 8:30 a.m., mind you. Before leaving the house, I turned on the TV, saw some stores had opened at 6 a.m. for the now traditional day-after-Thanksgiving Christmas shopping binge, many people out there for the opening bell.

A 6 a.m. shopping frenzy. That can’t be healthy. (Then again, what do I know? Could be exactly what the doctor ordered for some deviants.)

My friends live at the far end of Commercial Street, a residential stretch of condos and pretty houses off away from Provincetown’s center. Yesterday afternoon, we stepped out into the November air, wandered in the direction of stores, galleries, restaurants, people. Before we knew it, we’d joined the rest of America in observing the first blast of the yuletide shopping season.

It’s a distinctive place, Provincetown, from the location — out at the end of the Cape, surrounded by water, miles of beaches stretching away to the south — to the character of the town itself and its madcap blend of residents and tourists, straights and gays, arty charm and brazen commercial hucksterism. Prior to last year, I’d never made the trip. Or rather, I’d attempted it on two different occasions, both during the summer, both times running into many long miles of traffic snarls, traffic so badly fouled-up, at such a standstill that I finally turned around and retreated to Cambridge. After that, I lost interest in further attempts. Who needs the aggro? I asked myself. And should you make it through the traffic, what’s at the other end? Tourists, chaos, blahblahblah. Which may be true during the summer, but not so much off-season. In fact, right now it’s a seductive little town — surrounded by natural beauty, filled with life.

Christmas lights are slowly materializing — first in stores, then on more and more houses. The temperature ranges from appropriately chilly to amazingly mild (60 right now), sea gulls sweep through the air above the town as residents and visitors below carry on with their days.

Tomorrow I return to Cambridge for dinner with friends and the resumption of packing, etc. On Monday, a buddy arrives from Dublin to help with the final stretch of the moving process and to engage in a little retail therapy.

Life rolls on.

Written today, 11/25/01:

As you may have noticed, posts have been erratic and infrequent since arriving back in the States — in part because web access has been limited, in part because energy and attention has been focused in other directions. In eleven or so days I’ll be back in Madrid, at which time entries will likely resume their usual, irritating frequency. Until then, enjoy your free time.

It’s looking like not dragging my laptop along for this trip may have been a miscalculation. I left it in Madrid after hearing that laptops were currently targets of intense security scrutiny at airports. Opting to minimize stress, I assured my little buddy I’d be back in December, left it on the dining table (where it normally lives).

My downstairs neighbors here in Cambridge use part of my apartment as an office for their architecture business, and they have — kindly, graciously, generously — allowed me to use their computers now and then. In an effort to impose as little as possible, I went out this last week, rented a small laptop for writing purposes, the theory being I could sit and pound out text on the bugger, save it to disk, go to the Cambridge Public Library, use one of their machines for uploading the material to this page. A fine plan. Yesterday, however, when I turned the rented unit off after doing some work, it hung itself up on the ‘Windows is shutting down’ screen and has since refused to power down, clear the screen, or do anything more than persist with that final lying message. Tomorrow it goes back to the rental shop, for now I’m back in Ron & Sarah’s office, consorting with their computers.

If you’ve checked out the previous two entries to this journal over the past 48 hours, you may have noticed that the writing and presentation appeared even shoddier than usual. They were typed up on that truculent, uncivil rented laptop, transferred to disk, then uploaded at the library. Somewhere along the way, all graphics were converted to question marks, so a phrase originally written:
“Dear God, don’t touch that sexual adjunct, Billy — you don’t know where it’s been.”
came out as:
?Dear God? don?t touch that sexual adjunct? Billy ? you don?t know where it?s been??

Annoying.

After performing text clean-up, the accept/post button disappeared, so I had to cancel out, log back in, stumble through the process again. And again. And yet again. After which I gave up. When I logged on today, all the uploaded attempts showed up, one stacked on top of the other, complete with thousands of questions marks.

Someone is getting some fine entertainment at my expense. Which may be all that counts.

A week ago, I had lunch with a friend in Boston, spent a couple of hours beforehand on my own. Picked up a new pair of pointy boots at Walker’s Riding Apparel on Boylston Street — they’re kinda tight, but they’ll stretch. A friend in England — a lovely person who has so far only known me via email — read an earlier entry in this journal in which I mused on my affection for pointy boots and promptly sent me a note saying she hadn’t realized I was a dandy.

A dandy??? Screw that — we’re talking about an essential of life, something fundamental to my current existence.

But I digress.

Once finished at Walker’s, I took a walk down Boylston into what used to be called the Combat Zone: an area adjacent to Boston’s Chinatown, formerly overflowing with sex shops, XXX-theaters, hookers. Seedy. Ugly. A bit dangerous even. Thoroughly urban-rehabbed now, though still home to Jack’s Joke Shop — an institution, around for nearly 80 years. A treasure trove of plastic vomit, rubber dog poop, vampire teeth, sneezing powder.

I stepped into Jack’s, found a slightly dingy, slightly tired, dimly-lit space crammed with trash. An amazing collection of trash, trash of a classic, indispensable kind. Your whoopie cushions, your plastic snot.

Three middle-aged men slouched around, all thin, tired-looking, all a bit stoop-shouldered. Glum, lacking spark, low on zest for life. Three gentlemen who clearly had had their fill of squirting cigarette lighters and fake ice cubes containing fake house flies. The youngest of the trio stepped out from behind the counter, asked if I needed help. “I’m looking,” I replied, “for a rubber chicken.” (A Christmas gift for a friend. No, really.) “Ah,” said he, moving toward the back of the shop. “This way.”

The space turned out to be surprisingly deep, lined with packed shelves, a forest of items hanging from the ceiling. Something along a shadowy length of the counter burst into bizarre noise as we passed — like wild, derisive laughter. With the phenomenal overabundance of junk, I couldn’t pinpoint the source of the sound. The sales guy turned halfway around as we continued on, asking, “How many would you like?” “Er,” I said, startled by the question, “just one.”

We reach a section of shelves near the rear of the store, the designated dead fowl area. Many, many rubber chickens hanging from wall hooks. I take one, check it out: it’s rubber, it’s a chicken. My mission is complete. I notice it has a large capital D painted on its neck, then glance at the others — they’re all similarly marked. “What’s this?” I ask, pointing at the letter. The salesman glances at it frowning, then scans the others. “Must be the brand,” he says. “Oh, right,” I say, “from the chicken ranch.” We chortle briefly at that, he asks, “Will there be anything else?” “No,” I answer, “this’ll do.” He nods, the nanosecond of hilarity over, he drags ass back to the counter. On the way, the screeching noise starts up again. I see something called The Screaming Skull — in the right area of the counter, looking low-fi enough, tacky enough to match the sound.

The salesman stuffs the chicken into a bag, I pay up and leave. Throughout the entire transaction, the other two men remained perched silently on stools, appearing dispirited, almost bitter.

Once out in the brisk November air, I took a moment to check the hour, get my bearings. Seeing that I had time to spare, I moved off at a leisurely pace. Turned left off Boylston onto a cross-street, noticed a large, old brick building across the way, vaguely industrial-looking. Saw the name ‘Dainty Dot’s Hosiery’ on the near wall. A factory? A store? Don’t know, didn’t take the time to check it out. Up ahead, across the street: two lunch shops. To the left: Real Taco. To the right: Daddy’s Roast Beef. The clientele in Real Taco appeared to be office folk. Daddy’s customers looked working class, all male. The thought of a plate of tacos twinkled briefly in my teeny brain, until I remembered I was actually on the way to meet someone for lunch, reminded myself it wouldn’t do to hoover down an entire meal beforehand. For the hell of it, I checked out the prices in the taco joint — way too expensive. There are fine tacos to be had in Cambridge — at Boca Grande, for instance — for much friendlier figures.

Continued along, turned a corner, passing the Boston Rescue Mission, then the Psychic Eye (a place to get, er, psychic readings, far as I could tell).

[more to come]

This being here doing the packing thing — it’s pretty weird.

First, there’s being back during my favorite time of year. This flat is at its best during autumn/winter, it’s felt like a strange irony to be here closing it down while it feels so pleasing. One could, I suppose, choose to look at it as (a) I get to experience the place at its finest once more before bolting, or one could look at it as (b) it makes it more difficult, more painful to bolt.

Or one could substitute ‘poignant’ for ‘difficult’ and ‘painful.’ Making it possible to accept both (a) and (b).

Much better. Why choose when you can vacillate between options?

So I’m sorting — boxing some items up, pitching others. (More boxing than pitching to this point, I admit, lapsing into a sudden abundance of sports verbs.) Today I came across my high school yearbooks, took some time to go through them.

I bought a yearbook for every year of high school — three in all. I have no idea how normal or aberrant that is, I just did it. ‘Cause I had a life in high school. After three grueling years of junior-high misery with few friends and zero self-esteem, I suddenly found myself with a genuine, substantial life, rife with activity and amigos. Could be I needed the yearbooks as proof of that. Three yearbooks full of notes from people who enjoyed having me around, who liked seeing my face day after day. (”You like me! You really like me!”) Maybe I needed tangible evidence of that shift. Maybe I just found it all so hard to believe that I needed pages and pages and pages of people expressing appreciation for my sadly insecure self.

So I gave me that. Not that all the notes were that kind of sterling character reference. There were form-letters (”You’re a great guy! Don’t ever change!” “It has been nice knowing you — good luck in the future.”). There were a handful of notes giving me a gentle talking-to — not a bad idea in light of some of the dramas I got myself involved in (”Try to see past the bad because there lies a great horizon of good.” “Don’t let everything have such an impact on you.”). But mostly there were expressions of friendly regard, from the blithe scribblings of acquaintances (”Have fun being a senior, it’s the best time of your school years but also the saddest.”) to expressions of real emotion, real appreciation from friends (”You are probably the warmest person I’ve ever known and I have truly treasured these last years.” “I will always be there [for you]. That’s a pretty difficult thing for a person to say, but when I’ve found a gem as wonderful and rare as you, it can be said truthfully.”).
[Note: the woman who wrote that last bit pretty much dropped out of contact immediately after graduating. Hmmm.]

And then there were the unclassifiable scribblings:
– “As the year comes to a close, go blow. This year has been hell — oh, well. This summer is National Party Time — I’ll see you at quite a few. Keep smiling, you fag. As always….”
– “It’s been a great year (choke!). School sure is a wonderful experience, as we all know. Well, it’s over and you’re going to a far better place (choke!). Your pain-pal….”

My high school years: turbulent, wacky, intense, brilliant, lost, hilarious, heartbreaking. Wrenching, comic, surreal. Hormone-sodden.

At a certain age, the biological imperative kicks in, beginning the prep. for reproduction. Granted, the ensuing clarification of our sexual polarities is deeper than the simple drive to reproduce, but ignore that for the moment. At a certain point, these physical mechanisms of ours begin acting on instructions buried deep within the system and the secretion of life-altering substances begins. What a sneaky move. Our bodies spring massive, unnerving surprises on us (menstruation, growth spurts, nocturnal emissions, acne) at the same time that we become wildly insecure about ourselves. A demoralizing combo.

Life would be so much simpler without the hormones, don’t you think? (Just say yes.) Strictly speaking, I don’t know that the pre-hormone me would have been described as happy, in the original sense of the word happy (i.e., happy) — but I at least wasn’t completely out of my fucking mind, you know? Once the hormonal era arrived, chaos progressively became the order of the day. Sanity, peace of mind, stability pretty much flew directly out the window.

But you don’t want to hear about that.

Hmmm — I notice I’ve strayed a bit from yearbook stuff. Probably all for the best.

Well. Cambridge, Massachusetts. A beautiful, blustery November afternoon, wind blowing, bringing down leaves. And there are still leaves, there’s still color to be seen. When the plane made its final approach to Boston on Monday afternoon, after a long mother of a flight across the Atlantic, it came straight up the South Shore, the land below showing reds, oranges, yellows — some of it past peak, becoming November’s normal browns and faded greens, but a fair amount still bright and alive. The last exuberant display before winter.

Being back’s been interesting, for the most part in good ways. I’m pretty much ignoring the political side of things — a small part of life, really — leaving piles of other stuff to absorb time and attention. Good stuff, by and large. Friends, autumn, daily life in Cambridge, the process of packing up an apartment and all the reflection that comes with that. TV, way better here than in Madrid. (Is there dreck? And how. But the decent programming is generally leagues ahead of Spanish programming.) Plus I get to plug back into the Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in English. A drastic improvement over the dubbed Spanish versions, in my humble, ignorant opinion.

The flight: long, surprisingly smooth. The only hiccup: the little Hitler working for American Airlines who grilled me before I checked in. I’m living a fairly unconventional life right now, and looking a bit shaggy on top of that. (Every haircut I’ve gotten in Madrid has been less than wonderful, the most recent an out-and-out disaster. That was a few months back, I’ve simply put off dealing with the increasing topside abundance till getting back here.) He didn’t know what to make of me or some of my answers to his questions. And that was fine — he’s simply doing his job, he didn’t seem hostile in a personal way. At least until he took a good look at my passport. My original had disappeared about five weeks ago — I literally have no idea when or how it vanished. Theft? Loss? Don’t know. I went to the American Embassy where they confounded all stereotypes about U.S. government bureaucracy with kindness, sympathy and extreme efficiency, replacing the passport in two hours. But the new passport was blank, all the accumulated international stamps gone — something Torquemada apparently couldn’t deal with. From there, the grilling intensified, stretching on and on. And, maybe because the Q&A went on so long, I was immediately grabbed for a random luggage search. That agent pulled on latex gloves in a way that made me wonder just how thorough a search I was in for. He turned out to be polite, well-mannered, fast, for which I gave thanks.

Post-gauntlet, everything went smoothly. The flight was maybe 40% full, the onboard crew in great spirits. The customs process in Boston proved to be more rigorous than in the past, but the agents — all of them — did their damndest to be considerate and courteous while getting the job done.

And I abruptly found myself in Boston, then Cambridge. Cold, cloudy, a bit misty, leaves on the ground. Very familiar, surprisingly pleasing

If you’ve read many of this journal’s overabundant posts, you know I’ve missed fall. Autumn in Madrid is fine, but the northeastern U.S. version is more intense, more dramatic. Deeper, more extreme, packed with color. Part of it is simply being further north than the Spanish capital, part of it is the difference in the terrain/vegetation. New England is autumn country in the way I think of autumn.

Out back of my apartment here, off the small porch that juts out from the building, stands a line of old maples. Old and big. Five, maybe six stories in height. Come autumn, they turn a shade of yellow that is practically luminescent, and they waited for me before they started letting go. In the afternoon, sunlight slanting through them produces a brilliant, unearthly kind of brightness and color. The light and shadows are in constant movement, the cold breeze gets the leaves sounding strangely like surf at the beach. Other maples around here turn brilliant reds, when the breeze gets going leaves of all these colors fill the air.

With all that going on outside, I’ve been inside, working away at packing. My question: how the hell do we accumulate so much shit? Is it innate or is it the trained behavior of a consumer society? Or is it part of nature’s aspect, something that develops over time, slow and insidious, the way hangers breed and multipy in closets? (And if so, do socks disappear during the washing process as part of nature’s attempt at balance?)

I’ve been addicted to music since the age of four. I’ve played instruments, sung (admitting that some might wish to quibble with that), had musicians as friends and sweethearts. I’ve heard scads of jokes about musicians and musical instruments, but have never seen a collection of those jokes as extensive and far-reaching as the one an individual at MIT has put together. (An individual with way too much time on their hands.)

Some examples:

Q: What’s the difference between a soprano and a terrorist?
A: You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Q: What’s the difference between an alto and a tenor?
A: Tenors don’t have hair on their backs.

Q: What’s the definiton of “perfect pitch?”
A: Throwing a viola into a dumpster without hitting the rim.

Q: Why was the piano invented?
A: So the musician would have a place to put his beer.

Q: How many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb?
a. Why? Oh, wow! Is it, like, dark, man?
b. Only one, but he’ll break ten bulbs before figuring out that they can’t just be pushed in.
c. Two: one to hold the bulb, and one to turn his throne (but only after they figure out that you have to turn the bulb).
d. Twenty. One to hold the bulb, and nineteen to drink until the room spins.
e. None. They have a machine to do that.

*********

Sunday night in Madrid, a cool, damp November evening. Early tomorrow — way, way, way too early tomorrow — I catch a flight back to the States. Will be gone for a month, spending it in New England.

I have deeply mixed feelings about this trip — in part ’cause this is my first time back since June, in part ’cause this will be my first time in the States in its current atmosphere of, well, whatever it turns out to be. And other things. I’m letting go of an apartment I’ve had for 5-1/2 years, and a city — Cambridge — I’ve lived in (not counting the coming and going of the last 2, 2-1/2 years) since Feb. of ‘82. A long time, passing through several lifetimes in that nearly 20 years.

People ask me whether I’ll be staying on in Spain permanently, people ask what exactly it is I’m doing. Good questions, both of them. Wish I had good answers. I’m winging it. I’ll find out what happens pretty much when you do. (Maybe a few hours earlier.)

Right. Off to finish packing, then cop a few hours sleep.

Entries here may be sporadic and shorter than normal during the next month. Count your blessings.

So I was right about yesterday’s crop of posters. Most of them were covered over by this afternoon. The current generation features a slew of notices about Melon Diesel in concert. (Melon Diesel????)

********

You know, when it comes to the longer entries that I inflict on y’all via this journal, you might want to wait until they’re a day or two old before wading through ‘em. They tend to go through rewrites, clean-up (something they often desperately need), cuts, additions.

Just so you know.

Called one of my intercambios to see if he wanted to get together this weekend. He did, which I appreciate. Nicer than that, though, was me getting through the conversation in error-free Spanish. Not that we’re talking about a lengthy conversation, but still. In recent months — me reaching a point in learning Castellano where I began realizing exactly how much I don’t know (far, far more than I do know) — I began feeling intimidated by the depth and complexity of the language thing. If I’m talking with someone and I start screwing up the genders or missing the right words to get across what I want to say, nerves sometimes take over. Not a great time. So that the occasions when it goes well produce a feeling of achievement, of real satisfaction.

Simple pleasures.

Went out to meet a friend for lunch, riding the Metro down to Lavapiés (”washes-feet,” maybe referring to the old story about Jesus washing someone’s feet), a barrio south of Sol and la Plaza Mayor. An interesting place, busy, with narrow streets that wind up and down hills, a district of high-density population, includes many arty types, many immigrants. The plaza right around the metro stop is usually an active spot, today was no exception. I met my friend Paco, we scurried around the corner to an Arabian restaurant called La Alhambra (named after, er, La Alhambra). A medium-sized joint, just one large room and a bunch of tables with a bar off to one side, usually busy, usually filled with Arabs.

My first time eating at La Alhambra, I was with G. & S., two women friends visiting from the States. Two Jewish women friends. We stumbled across the place, went inside to check it out, encountering a room filled with men and cigarette smoke. Conversation around us came to a standstill as we found our way to a table, gradually resumed once we were seated. No women present, apart from G. & S. Just Arabic males. The waiter looked to be in his early 20s, and it might be that our simple presence spooked him. He made like he couldn’t deal with my Spanish, quickly backing away and consulting an older, thirtyish guy at a nearby table, who got up and came over to us with a menu. I started ordering, he realized there was no problem, turned and yelled at the young guy, “Hablan español, tonto!” (”They speak Spanish, dummy!”) before finishing with our order.

A genuine scene. In one corner played a large TV, a major focus of attention. The room reverberated with loud conversation — reminding me all over again that the word ‘dinner’ begins with ‘din’ — men sitting down, standing up, moving between tables, gathered in groups over by the bar. After we’d started eating, another group of non-Arabic types came in, bringing another couple of women to thin out the mix of cigarette smoke and testosterone just a bit.

The food: just fine. Good salads, I had an outstanding plate of lamb and vegetables over couscous, and the after-dinner tea with mint leaves went down nicely. I think G. & S. may have been a bit less taken with the chow than me, but I could be wrong. An older waiter took over serving us, when I gave the thumbs up re: the lamb/couscous, he seemed pleased.

I’ve been back there a couple of times, but not since the happenings of this last September. For some reason, I got a strong urge to go today, and when we entered I wasn’t sure what the reception would be like.

In fact, no one paid us any mind at all. We walked in the door, the place was at least as loud as the last time I was there (meaning: loud). We found a table, the younger waiter came over, seemed to remember my face, we got on just fine. After ordering, I checked out the scene.

Once again, not a woman in the joint, almost all tables occupied. Loud conversation. The TV played a local news show going on about tensions between Morocco and Spain. Almost everyone watched, discussing it the entire time. Morocco is just across the Straits of Gibraltar from the Iberian peninsula, it may be that most, if not all, of the men in the room were Moroccans. None had an Afghani kind of look. A story about the sitch in Afghanistan started, attracting, sure enough, way less interest. Attention turned from the TV to food, conversation, whatever. And no one seemed to notice Paco and me. Shortly after that a family group entered, bringing two women into the mix. Within minutes, three more coed groups entered, including a threesome with what appeared to be a young Arabic woman in a sweater and jeans.

I wish I had photos of the faces in this place to flog you with — amazing faces. Casual dress, for the most part, with a few younger characters dressed in ways that would have fit right in some neighborhood pizza dives in the States. At one point a table near me finished up and left. An older guy got up to assist the waiter clear it off — face deeply lined, teeth missing, stubble, graying moustache, receding hair. Moving slowly, deliberately, clothes slightly soiled, though not in a way suggesting homelessness. He brought dishes over to the bar, returned to the table at that same deliberate pace, hands held out in front, as if already focused on more dishes. At another table, an extremely thin 50ish guy glanced at me curiously a couple of times, then resumed reading a newspaper, lips moving as he read.

Again, an excellent meal, I let the waiter know it. He seemed enjoy having me there this time. And when Paco and I stepped out into the street, I felt satisfied.

Paco took off to meet some other folks, I caught the Metro to go see a movie.

The train passed through Sol, where a large group of people got on, many with the look of South American Indians — round faces, dark eyes and skin, thicker features, hair black in a way that’s almost shiny. I was standing in a corner, a 30-something mother with a stroller got on, took the corner opposite me, positioning the stroller so that her baby, a little girl, faced me. Sound asleep, staying that way through all the motion of her mother getting them onto the train and settled in. The mother leaned down and fussed over her, her fingers — thick and rough, maybe from hard work — handled the little girl lovingly. The child remained dead to the world through it all.

She wore a spotlessly clean pink dress, with an outer layer of lace reminiscent of large, immaculate doilies, sheer and in perfect condition. A beautiful little girl, with the broad face of a dusky-skinned, South American angel, her hair abundant and fine. After the mother finished fussing, I watched the little one for a bit. Her fingers moved slightly in her sleep, her head rocked with the movement of the train.

Today’s a holiday — All Saints Day (El Día de Todos los Santos) — the city nicely busy, with an entirely different feel from workday busyness. Happier, more leisurely. Lots of families about. I had time to kill, when I emerged into the daylight at la Plaza de España, I grabbed a bench by the side of the promenade that runs between the two immense fountains and enjoyed the scene. Sunshine, people from all over passing through. Families, couples, kids. Someone went by with two dogs, a smaller one on a leash, and a golden retriever mix, young and so happy to be alive it could barely contain itself. Lithe, full of energy, its feet hardly touching the ground.

The movie: a Spanish film called Visionarios (Visionaries), about an event that took place in the north of Spain, in el País Vasco, just before the Spanish Civil War — a sighting of the Virgin Mary by a group of people that was, depending on whose side you hear, a fraud or a cover-up by the government. Pretty good story.

And here’s a quirky feature of some Spanish multiplexes: they don’t allow moviegoers to exit through the theater, post-film. Everyone has to go out the emergency exit into dark, unadorned corridors that feature restrooms and generally spit the customers out behind the building or onto a side street. Theater employees tend to lurk at the rear of the theater when the movie finishes up, turning away those who try to get out in that direction. Don’t think I’ve ever experienced that before.

I stumbled out of the theater to find darkness coming on, a few brightly lit clouds hovering over the western horizon. The number of people in the plaza had doubled, a crowd had gathered on a plot of grass around a group of people drumming and dancing.

When I arrived back here, a poster party was just winding up across the street, a mess of large, ugly concert announcements pasted over the last generation of ads. Bet they’ll be covered over by tomorrow afternoon, their brief lifetime lasting less than 24 hours. We’ll see.

Autumn returned to Madrid overnight, edging aside yesterday’s return to summer. Bright November sunshine, high swirls of cirrus clouds drifting across a blue, blue sky. In fact, weird as it sounds, something about the look of the day reminds me of the light in Vermont during the month of February. Same angle of the sun (equinox seven weeks away); the walls of this flat are white stucco, the way the sunlight strikes them creates something like the intense light of sun on snow.

Last night’s cool air brought down sumac leaves in the vacant lot across the way, the trees beginning to appear appropriately skeletal after a chilly Halloween evening. A short time ago a crew of three street cleaners went slowly by, sweeping up fallen leaves, dumping them into wheeled barrels.

I’m in the living room of my piso. No music on, no TV going — just the ambient sounds of the flat and the world outside. From time to time the windows produce a creaking sound as the sun heats up the building. An occasional murmur of voices from down in the street comes and goes, mingled with the occasional sound of a car’s passing. From the kitchen, down the hallway, I can hear the humming of the refrigerator and the water heater.

And there’s an item made differently from its counterpart in the States: the water heater. Here they don’t use storage tanks, or at least the heater in this piso doesn’t. My landlord mentioned that the Spaniards as a whole tend not to use units that hold water and heat it periodically to maintain temperature. Instead, they use units like the one in my kitchen — when the tap is turned on, water passes through the unit, gas burners heat the liquid as it passes. When the tap gets turned off, the burners shut down. During warm weather, one flips a switch so that the machine will only produce hot running water. During the cold weather, flipping that switch in the opposite direction initiates heat. A primitive thermostat on the unit gets fiddled with until you find the level of comfort you want in the living space. From that point on, it pumps hot water into the radiators when needed.

For some reason, when the switch is turned to cold weather function, the unit produces a humming sound, whether actively heating or not. As if humming to itself while it waits for the piso to cool down.

I can hear that sound drifting down the hallway. Once in a while I hear the sound of water flowing or a toilet flushing from another flat in the building.

Now and then my laptop makes a short, soft chattering sound to itself. My fingers tap on its keys as I write.

And that’s it. The sounds come and go, solo or in combination. Writing them down like this, it sounds like a fair amount of noise. In reality, it’s quiet, tranquil.

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Has anyone else noticed the uncanny resemblance between Penelope Cruz and Joe Perry of Aerosmith? Should something about that make us nervous?

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