far too much writing, far too many photos

This city: a fine combination of beautiful, quirky, hilarious.

Went to a late lunch at a cafetería I tried once before. El Cañizo — a joint on Fuencarral, one of the barrio’s main drags. You glance in the front windows, you walk into the front room, you find a perfectly respectable-looking tapas bar/cafetería. But walk through the front room and down a hallway, you find yourself somewhere else altogether. We’re talking a couple of dining rooms — one small, one large — filled with nicely set tables. Walls mostly marble except for one long expanse of floor to ceiling wood paneling which manages, in some intangible way, to toss a monkey wrench into the rarified atmosphere the marble tries to generate. Some vaguely kinda faux art deco wall-mounted lamps are scattered around, along with numerous examples of the tackiest paintings this side of a 1950’s Holiday Inn, each painting with its very own illumination lamp mounted above the frame. An amazing combo of looks is at work in these rooms. As if whoever threw it all together aspired to some nebulous image of classic Viennese refinement but couldn’t rid the place of some serious cinderblock VFW Hall ambience.

From there I wandered up Fuencarral toward Tribunal, intending to check out el Museo Municipal (the municipal museum — a nearly 300-year-old building, originally a hospice) — a lovely old edifice whose entrance is framed by an gigantic, unbelievably ornate facade. Located in a part of town that is completely overrun by hordes of drinking, partying youths on weekend nights, and though I’ve passed the place many times, for some reason it never occurred to me to investigate. Something about the sprawling weekend crowds of shouting, shitfaced teens and 20-somethings. Until something I recently read about it piqued my curiosity.

The museum concerns itself with Madrid, essentially from the 1600’s on. Many large paintings by less than stellar artists, often anonymous, and a smaller number of paintings by genuinely accomplished artists. Lots of beautifully-preserved old furniture. But nothing too exciting until the timeline rolls into the 1800’s. At which point many large paintings concern themselves with the uprising against the Napoleonic occupation, and things get a bit livelier. There’s also a model of the city, created over the course of 22 or so months around 1830, which occupies an entire room. Worth a long, leisurely look.

On the way out I happened to notice the door that led to the gift shop and stepped inside to find the greatest collection of Madrid-oriented consumables that I’ve come across in my time here -– books, postcards, gifts, spanning the spectrum from the tacky to the sublime. A bonanza, a genuine find.

A month from tomorrow I’ll be heading back to the States. Changes are in the works.

Walking through la Plaza de Chueca yesterday, the focal point for a lot of activity and energy in the barrio, I noticed the banners hanging from many balcones (since last spring) had changed. [See journal entry of September 16, 2001.] The old ones read VIVIMOS AQUI — CONTROLA EL RUIDO (WE LIVE HERE –- CONTROL THE NOISE), their number dwindling since the original burst of anger re: nighttime noise that resulted from intense all-night partying in last year’s Orgullo Gay (Gay Pride) weekend. The new banners say: PELIGRO: ZONA CONTAMINADO POR RUIDOS (DANGER: ZONE CONTAMINATED/POLLUTED BY NOISE), they hang from balcones all around the plaza, including an enormous one that spans three or four balcones. The slow settling in of spring has increased the nocturnal revelry during this last month, with a corresponding rise in noise, but I guess I hadn’t realized the extent of it. I’m down the street from the plaza and up five flights. Must be a whole different experience for people in the buildings that ring the plaza.

A number of “Se Vende” (“For Sale”) banners have also appeared. Clearly, a bunch of someones recently decided they’d had enough.

Life. So much drama.


I’ve been neglecting my Simpsons calendar, but happened to glance at it today and noticed that a horde of heavy-hitters were born this month, among them:

Johnny “Guitar” Watson, b. 3 Feb., 1935
Rosa Lee Parks, b. 4 Feb., 1913
Betty Frieden, b. 4 Feb., 1921
Hank Aaron, b. 5 Feb., 1934
Rip Torn, b. 6 Feb., 1931
Francois Truffaut, b. 6 Feb. 1932
Bob Marley, b. 6 Feb., 1945
Charles Dickens, b. 7 Feb., 1812
James Dean, b. 8 Feb., 1931
Lon Chaney, b. 10 Feb., 1905
Abraham Lincoln, b. 12 Feb., 1809
Christina Ricci, b. 12 Feb., 1980
Art Spiegelman, b. 15 Feb., 1948
Matt Groening, b. 15 Feb., 1954
Michael Jordan, b. 17 Feb., 1963
Toni Morrison, b. 18 Feb., 1931
Amy Tan, b. 19 Feb., 1952
Nina Simone, b. 21 Feb., 1933
W.E.B. DuBois, b. 23 Feb., 1925
Johnny Winter, b. 23 Feb., 1944
Winslow Homer, b. 24 Feb., 1836

There are lots more listed, of course, but it’s a funny thing about this calendar -– the featured birthday folks are overwhelmingly male. What’s up with that?

Yet another secret diary from The Lord of The Rings
(I swear this is the last of them):


Day One: Frodo stabbed by Morgul blade. Oh,
no! Pippin cried. Told Pippin it would be all right
as Mr. Frodo far too hot to die. Did I say that out

Day Three: Have followed Mr. Frodo to Rivendell
where Elves will heal him. Gandalf told me to help
get poor unconscious Mr. Frodo out of dirty clothes.
So took clothes off him and gave him a bath. And
another one. Then gave him another bath. Gandalf
came and told me six baths was quite enough,
Samwise Gamgee. Poncy old git probably hasn’t
taken a bath since the Second Age.

Day Four: Wonder if it is time for Mr. Frodo to
have another bath yet?

Day Six: Mr. Frodo awake! Is doing well although
seems concerned as to why his fingers are all
wrinkled. Decided not to tell him about all the

Day Seven: Snuck into Council of Elrond. Frodo
offered to take Ring to Mordor. Mr. Frodo is so
brave, handsome, tall and wonderful! Well, okay,
possibly not very tall.

Day Eight: Off to Mordor. Other members of
Fellowship v. dodgy if you ask me. Especially
Boromir. “Teaching Merry and Pippin how to
sword-fight” my Aunt Lobelia. Obviously a
pervy hobbit-fancier who likes to roll around
with small men in shorts.

Day Nine: Aragorn just as pervy as Boromir.
Obviously fancies Mr. Frodo. Will kill him if he
tries anything.

Day Eleven: V. dark in Mines of Moria. Used flat
edge of sword to whack Aragorn every time he
tried to pinch Mr. Frodo in the dark. Gandalf fell
into bottomless pit. Good. Pippin says Legolas
is shagging Gimli. Ick.

Day Thirty: Lothlorien v. pretty. Blonde elf lady
absolutely hitting on poor Mr. Frodo left, right and
center. Pippin agrees. Told Pippin height
difference would make relationship impossible.
Pippin said Mr. Frodo could stand on stilts. Hate

Day Thirty-Two: Leaving Lothlorien. Bye-bye
grabby elf lady.

Day Thirty-Three: Boromir finally acted on pent-up
lust for Mr. Frodo. Got shot down of course but not
before made spectacle of himself. Claims was trying
to take Ring so as to rule world and bring down evil,
but we all know that’s a big fib don’t we? Later,
Boromir killed by orcs. Knew orcs good for
something. Frodo off to Mordor. Taking me along,
hurrah! Mr. Frodo needs cheering up. Seems
depressed and claims is now sure he will die a virgin
in the barren wastelands of the Dark Lord’s realm.
We’ll see about that.

The following was received via e-mail a couple of weeks back (thanks to Gill). It’s undergone a bit of rewriting and clean-up:

The Lord of The Rings meets Bridget Jones’s Diary:


Day 1: Ringwraiths killed: 4. V. good.
Met up with Hobbits. Walked forty miles.
Skinned a squirrel and ate it.
Still not King.

Day 4: Stuck on mountain with Hobbits.
Boromir really annoying. Not King yet.

Day 6: Orcs killed: none. Disappointing.
Stubble update: I look rugged and manly. Yes!
Keep wanting to drop-kick Gimli. Holding
myself back. Still not King.

Day 10: Sorry no entries lately. V. dark in
Mines of Moria. Big Balrog. Not King today

Day 11: Orcs killed: 7. V. good.
Stubble update: Looking mangy. Legolas may
be hotter than me. I wonder if he would like
me if I was King?

Day 28: Beginning to find Frodo disturbingly
attractive. Have a feeling if I make a move, Sam
would kill me. Also, hairy feet kind of a turn-off.
Still not King.

Day 30: In Lothlorien. Think Galadriel was
hitting on me. Saucy wench. Nice chat with
Boromir. He’s not so bad. Took a shower. Yay!
But still not King.

Day 32: Orcs killed: none. Stubble update: subtly
hairy. Legolas told me that a shadow and a threat
had been growing in his mind. I think Legolas
might be kinda gay. Nope, not King.

Day 33: Orcs killed: Countless thousands. V. good.
Boromir killed by Orcs. Bummer. Though he died
bravely in my arms, am now quite sure that he was
very definitely gay. Not so sure about Gimli either.
RIP Boromir. Still not King, but at least Boromir
seemed to think I was. That might, however, have
been blood loss.

Day 34: Frodo went to Mordor. Said he was going
alone, but took Sam with him. Why? My God, is
everyone in this movie gay but me? Not so sure
about me either. Still not King, goddammit.

========================================= >

The Very Secret Diary of Boromir of Gondor

Day 1: Went to Council of Elrond. Aragorn
acting all superior as usual. He thinks he’s so great
because he’s shagging that bit of elf crumpet on the
side. I mean, just because someone has a broad
chest, firm, defined muscles, an outdoorsy tan and
loads of manly stubble doesn’t mean that…. er,
what? Oh, sorry. Got distracted there for a bit.
Seem to have agreed to go on some sort of mission
while distracted by Aragorn’s enormous… rudeness.

Day 3: Stupid Ring, stupid Quest, stupid Fellowship.

Day 4: Frodo dropped Ring today. Picked it up,
but Aragorn made me give it back. Arrogant bastard.
Wonder how he’d feel with Horn of Gondor shoved
right up his…. Stupid Ring.

Day 5: Is obvious that Aragorn is strangely attracted
to Frodo. Ha Ha! Ha! Sam will kill him if he tries

Day 6: Aragorn still into Frodo. “Boromir, give the
Ring back to Froooodoo.” “Boromir, let *me* carry
Frodo up Caradhras.” “Boromir, quit trying to cut off
Frodo’s head while he’s asleep so you can get at the
Ring.” Blatant favoritism most annoying.

Day 10: Why isn’t Aragorn into me ?

Day 11: Carried Frodo out of Mines of Moria.
Kind of liked it, actually. Hope am not turning into
pervy hobbit-fancier like Uncle Windermir. Not
after what happened to *him.* Merry and Pippin
are cute little things, too…. In other news, Gandalf

Day 30: In Lothlorien. Galadriel quite a babe.
Feel sure she was attracted to my rugged yet
unwashed manliness. Legolas took a bath in her
fountain. Got in trouble. Ha Ha! Big elfy git.
Am quite sure he dyes his hair. Also, he has
spot on his nose. Aragorn suggested we take
baths as well. Only realized in nick of time he
did not mean with each other. Stupid Aragorn.

Day 33 : Frodo being all weird about the Ring.
Won’t even let me look at it. Must admit I had a
bit of a tussle with him trying to get a gander at
it. Rolled around on him till he went invisible.
Resisted urge to have a little cuddle (made easier
when he punched me in the face). Aragorn
would be jealous. Ha! Later, I was killed by orcs.
Stupid orcs.

Went to see a film yesterday in a theater over by la Plaza de España, an area that’s actually a hotbed of theaters showing films from other countries in what’s called voz original (original voice) –- undubbed, in the original language with Spanish subtitles. Great practice for someone learning Spanish — the subtitles generally change fast enough that if your attention lapses you’ll miss dialogue. Meaning you must be on your toes. It feels like a major achievement for me to take in films from France, China, Germany, Sweden in the original tongue with only Spanish subtitles to rely on.

The Metro I use to get to la Plaza de España is line 10, the one that takes the most work to reach of the all the Metro lines here. Mainly because it’s so far underground that it takes anywhere from four to six long, long escalators to get down there –- with the occasional hike from one escalator to the next. You’re well below the planet’s crust when you’re riding la linea 10, almost as if when they started digging the bugger they had so much fun playing in the dirt that they didn’t come to their senses until they were halfway to the Earth’s core. By then it was too late to do anything but lay track and order a horde of escalators, hoping nobody would notice the faint acrid odor of magma.

Black market vendors are extremely common in the subways here, dealing in CDs, sunglasses, scarves, wallets, handbags, watches, mobile phones, and in one passageway between escalators on the way down to Linea 10 at the station Tribunal there is someone who peddles Christian paraphernalia. In particular, they have framed illustrations of Very Holy Individuals which light up. There’s a portrait of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in which the illustration is strategically perforated to provide a halo for each of them, and red lights mounted behind the illustration blink on and off, first providing a halo for Jesus, then for Mary, then for Joseph, one after the other, over and over and over. This, I suspect, may be the equivalent of Elvis on black velvet for the 21st century.

According to news sources, the pirate CD trade here now accounts for somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% of all CDs sold in the country — a huge enough dent in that market that great noise is now being made re: cracking down on it. In particular, the national police force (la Guardia Civil) announced this last week that they will be making a major effort to cut into the illegal CD trade and I heard something on the news this morning about a raid on a manufacturing site.

Many of the vendors are Africans –- Spain has an immense problem with illegal immigrants (from Morocco, from sub-Sahara Africa, from eastern Europe) coming up across the straits at night to the beaches in Andalucia, similar to the situation in the southwest U.S. (minus the Mediterranean, of course). The vendors are poor folk trying to make a living -– that’s not a justification, just the situation. The pirate CDs generally go for around three euros, a price that attracts buyers.


Madrid’s recent springtime temperatures seem to be settling in. There’s no telling if this will turn out to be the real item or a long, pleasant tease, but it is unbelievably beautiful, bringing people out of the woodwork into warm sunlight and reasonably fresh air.

Throughout these last few days, as temperatures have crept upward, I’ve seen folks wandering around in shirtsleeves, either due to hardy constitutions or wishful thinking running wild. Today is the first day in which one truly could go about without a coat –- anyone, not just the mildly insane. The crowds around la Plaza de Chueca just down the street from my building have grown with the rising temperatures, the plaza ringed with bodies sprawled against the buildings or standing in groups talking, often holding a drink, soaking up the sun.

Pedestrian traffic at la Plaza de España, a great people-watching site, has swelled in recent days. The plaza literally teemed with people yesterday, waves of bodies in motion moving in both directions along the promenade between the two gigantic fountains. Couples, families, groups of young folk, people with dogs. Lots of younger types from Central and South America on vacation, brandishing cameras, taking shots of each other. The occasional group of Japanese tourists.

The City has planted long beds of petunias and pansies there, and trees are blooming, including one entirely covered with white blossoms. There’s a feeling of liberation in the air, a sense of being released from winter clothing, winter temperatures.

This is why people here put up with the heat of July and August, because the spring and autumn both last for 3-4 months and are intoxicating.

In three or four short weeks, hordes of American tourists will materialize. By that time, I’ll be getting ready to return to the States.

Time just rolls on.

This morning: managed to drag myself out the door by 10:30 — early for a Saturday a.m. in these parts. Had errands to do over in Madrid’s west side, in a neighborhood down on the flat below el Palacio Real. Got out early enough that few folks were about, making for an easy Metro ride, easy walking. Headed north along el Paseo de la Florida, a wide avenue in a high-population neighborhood, the street lined with large old trees, one of which already sported some green up top.

By 11:30, the streets were full with people out shopping and doing errands before the two o’clock closing of the tiendas, they’ve remained full with people soaking up sunlight and mild temperatures.

Got some lunch at a joint a couple of blocks from here on la Calle de Hortaleza — the street still largely a pedestrian mall because of the continuing work. A tall transvestite sat perched at the table next to mine, along with a slender, equally tall gay man, conversing as they ate. Afterward, back outside, I found a band playing at the plaza down the street, loud and spirited. Guitars, trumpets, accordion. A crowd had collected in front of Angel Sierra, in the moments between band numbers, the murmur of voices came and went, a bit like the distant sound of surf.

I love all this. I’ll miss it. And until I’m out of here several weeks from now, I’m going to enjoy it.

Back home, I found a text message on my mobile phone from a friend in East Anglia, England, informing me that they were experiencing snow and gales. She asked if I was glad I wasn’t there. Bwaaaahahaha!!! Silly question.

[Author's note, 11/15/05 -- Sorry to intrude. Don't have much choice, though, given that last entry.

The me of nearly 3+ years ago: kind of a dork. A fairly private dork, real freakin' picky about the info. he shared, preferring not to devote much time to complaints, melodrama, personal problems, etc. A preference the me of here/now still shares. Except when it leads to things like the dumping of important factoids (in this case, me getting the hell out of Madrid, apparently for good) on the reader in passing without even the vaguest explanation of what the hell is going on, without even the sketchiest bit of background.

Blah blah blah.

What happened: me getting ill. Really ill. And finding myself essentially alone with it. Or maybe more accurately, finding myself feeling that I had no one in my Madrid life I could impose on when my situation became dire. Not a great place to be.

And not the first time I found myself in that particular place. Happened once before, during one of my last summers in Binghamton, New York, near the winding down of my university time. In August. Woke up one morning feeling sick enough that I couldn't eat, drink, drive myself anywhere for help. Could barely get to the bathroom and back to bed, could barely get down teeny amounts of water. Burning up, and in my disoriented state I couldn't differentiate my physical fever from the summer heat. I know I called the woman I'd involved with, but she had two kids to take care of and I don't think she got just how bad off I was.

Woke up on the third morning, could feel the fever had broken during the night. Could get to my feet, eat, drink, wash myself up. Began the return to life, and began to realize how ill I'd been, did not like the fact that I'd been alone during it all.

The fact that I found myself going through a version of it once again shook me, seemed like a clear sign that changes needed to be made. And as much as I adored being in Madrid, I think I felt the need to retreat, spend some time taking stock.

I'd been in close contact with a woman from the States during the previous weeks, the possibility of that turning into something substantial added force to the idea of shifting life back to the far side of the Atlantic. And somewhere during the week or so it took to recover from whatever it was that had knocked me flat, the decision got made to head back to Vermont, me thinking the time had come to wind up my time in Madrid.

This did not invalidate the ongoing I-love-Madrid attitude that following entries flog -- if anything, all of that became more poignant for me, more deeply-felt. How much of that comes through I can't say, but there it is.

It also fueled the traveling frenzy of the following few weeks, me cramming as much into my remaining time in this part of the world as I could manage.

Further annotations will be added as necessary. Onward.]

Today: beautiful, like one of those early April days you sometimes get in New England — bright sunlight, blue skies, air still a bit chilly. The kind of day that makes you get out and walk, that brings a smile to one’s face.

After dragging my adorable culo out of bed and off to the gym, I took advantage of the waning days of the January sales (las rebajas!), picking up a pair of heavy, thick-soled black boots. Man, footwear is inexpensive here. These buggers were priced at about one-third of what they’d go for in the States.

On the way back in this direction, I passed la Fundación Telefónica, a good example of an interesting phenomenon here — divisions of corporations which pour money into the arts and sponsor free exhibitions (often in their own spaces) of all kinds of art, which lots of people attend. The current exhibit: Otras Meninas, consisting of work by more than 30 artists, all centered around images from Las Meninas, possibly the most widely-known canvas by Velazquez. This link right here includes a detailed explanation of the painting and why it’s so intriguing. The exhibit: a hoot, featuring great work, some of it hilarious, some genuinely beautiful, some of it way out there.

Fun. Or at least I thought so.

Had a satisfying lunch, went to a movie. Picked up a sandwich, came home to bother you.

It’s okay, this life.

Madrid’s western sky produced an amazing display of sunset color this evening, ending a day in which the air carried the promise of spring. Just warm enough that I could walk about with jacket undone, just chilly enough that a jacket remained necessary.

Had my first real day out of the house. Went to the gym, went to an internet café, shopped for groceries, went out for lunch, took a nap, spent time online at home. Did whatever I wanted, just like a real grown-up.

It’s good to be able to do the simplest of things — throw on a coat and walk out the door. Go out to eat. Enjoy the sunlight and the motion of people in the streets around you. Enjoy the sight and sound of all those other humans, all those lives going on as you go about yours.

It’s mysterious, this existence of ours — a mystery I wouldn’t mind exploring for many more years.

More tomorrow. Maybe. We’ll see.

[continued from yesterday's entry]

They did not leave me in the examination room American style, waiting ten, fifteen, twenty minutes until a doctor showed. The doctor was there, ready to go — an attractive, tired-looking Spanish woman, mid- to late-30s. Slender, my height, typically Spanish-featured including dark, moderately-heavy eyebrows, dark hair streaked lighter blonde. She sat at one side of a small writing table, I sat at the other. “Díme,” she said (the informal version of “Tell me” pronounced ‘dee-may’; “Dígame” = the formal version). I did, or tried to. I had trouble doing anything more complicated than stare blearily ahead, mouth slightly open. She listened, she asked questions, she examined me, she told me I’d need X-rays and a blood analysis, I quickly found myself back out in a waiting room. One of the more comfortable ones this time.

By that point, Madrid was well into Friday night. E.R. traffic had increased, every available seat had been taken, people milled about. Family members and sweethearts hovered around patients. Three or four older, heavy-set men lounged unhappily about, wearing oxygen masks. Folks of all ages and social types waited. At one point the scene became so crowded, so noisy and entertaining that staff members cleared out all non-patients. Uniformed security guards stood conspicuously in the hallway until all intruders were gone and peace had been restored.

With relative tranquility re-established, I became aware that I could hear the elderly woman in the wheelchair from my first holding pen. Having apparently changed ethnic allegiance, now going “Oyyy!” every few seconds.

After a while, a young woman came along, took a blood sample from me. A sizeable blood sample. Back in the days when I did ambulance work — a madcap six-month stretch of time that provided strange, indelible memories — I used to be able to watch that kind of thing with no problem. Hell, I could come upon fairly serious carnage without blinking too much. These days I find I don’t especially want to watch a needle going into my arm or my blood filling up a vial. So I don’t. I watched the other inmates, the medical worker finished up and took off, I found myself waiting more.

A bit later someone ushered me to radiography (radiografía) for two quick X-rays, then ushered me back to my chair. People came and went. A young, thin woman appeared, flung herself down in a chair down at the other end of that waiting enclosure, not happy. She clutched a large plastic bag of stuff, occasionally slipping an inhaler in her mouth and taking a shot, scowling, stressed, complaining loudly that she wasn’t getting the attention she wanted. If another inmate listened, she’d talk to them. If everyone ignored her, she’d complain via monologue. She had no intention of keeping her feelings to herself. After a while, disgusted by the lack of medical attention, she took out half a submarine sandwich, started in on it. A passing nurse said something to her about food not being allowed in the emergency area, she replied that no one had told her that and if she had to sit and wait for hours she was going to eat, goddammit! The nurse wisely moved along.

By this time, friends and family of patients had begun filtering back in, the level of noise and activity rising to a more entertaining level. And before too long, the sound of a body hitting the floor could be heard from the neighboring waiting area, followed immediately by an alarmed voice calling, “¡Qué alguien venga!” (”Someone please come!”) Medical personnel came running from all directions, a gurney showed up a minute or two after, a middle-aged woman already in a hospital gown was gently lifted onto it and taken away. Things quieted down once more.

After a while I got up to stretch my legs, found a more comfortable chair with a view of the hallway. Two hours later, a medical worker approached calling my name. I raised my hand, she came over, immediately started getting out medical equipment, the kind that suggests further blood loss. Looked like she had some papers that might be the results of my blood test, I asked about that. She told me the result of the first test was that they wanted to take another one, then hoovered a tubeful from my other arm and disappeared. That was near midnight. I’d arrived around 7:15.

Nearly two hours later, the doctor I originally dealt with retrieved me and gave me the lowdown. I had a serious lung infection, she said, serious enough that it had impacted my whole system, flu-like. She handed me several pieces of paper, including test reports and one page filled with unreadable scribbling that I was to bring to a pharmacist. She gave me two X-rays as my very own souvenirs and sent me home.

When I stepped outside, I found that the night had turned cold during my 7+ hours indoors. Really cold. The kind you don’t often get here. Two passing empty taxis ignored my waving arm, I found myself starting to shake. The third taxi pulled over. I fell into it, saying, “Chueca,” he started off. Turned out to be a long ride ’cause the police had cut off access to a number of places and were siphoning all Saturday night traffic through one system of thoroughfares, my taxi driver becoming more upset each time we were turned away from a street that led in a direction he wanted to go. He finally made it a few blocks from here via back streets, we found ourselves trapped in a line of cars behind a garbage truck that worked its slow, halting way up the block. My taxi driver, by this time, was practically foaming with impatience. I paid up, got out, walked the last few blocks home.

Saturday: hit a pharmacy, took care of myself. Existence has been easier since then. Yesterday, Monday, I returned to the hospital to pay for Friday night’s fun. At an information desk in the main lobby of the hospital, a woman directed me to a neighboring building. Over there, I followed signs to Facturación (billing/invoicing). A woman there directed me to yet another office. It began to feel like no one knew what to do with someone who actually wanted to give the hospital money. At the next stop, a man in a jacket and tie asked if he could help me, I told him I wanted to pay for a visit to urgencias, explained my situation. I handed him the piece of paper I’d been given on my entry to the hospital, he scanned it, asked me to wait, disappeared off through rows of desks and workers into a small office. A couple of minutes later, he reappeared with another jacket-and-tie type, they headed in my direction, looking mighty serious. On arrival, he told me that because the City of Madrid was in the process of changing the departments that were responsible for hospital billing, they were going to keep it simple and give me the medical care free. My eyebrows shot up in amazement, he smiled. I said, “¿Seguro?” He affirmed it, we shook hands, I bolted.

Outside, a beautiful afternoon was underway. Sunny, chilly, lots of people about. It felt good to be alive and making my way through it all.

Alive, making my way through it all. It surely beats some of the alternatives.

Man, I’m glad it’s this week and not last week. ‘Cause I was having so much fun for a few days there that I don’t know if I could have taken much more of it. It got to the point Friday night where I was having such a ball that it became clear I needed to drag myself to an emergency room. Phoned a friend, got a recommendation for a good hospital, grabbed a taxi.

A chubby munchkin of a woman met me as I stumbled through the emergency entrance, asking what was up. I thought the answer would be obvious, given my pathetic state. Apparently not. As nicely as I could, I told her I was ailing. She referred me to a small room ringed with what looked like bullet-proof plastic which fronted numerous receptionist stations, all of which were vacant. A woman in another enclosure saw me, came over and said, “Dígame.” (”Tell me.”) I told her. She asked if I had a health card, I said no. She asked if I had a credit card, I said yes, but not with me. (I’d barely managed to get myself dressed, forgot to put on a belt so that my pants — never a tight fit to begin with — were drooping noticeably after three long days of being unable to consume anything but water.) I had some cash with me, when I mentioned that she said she couldn’t take money, sternly instructing me to return to the hospital the next morning and proceed directly to the correct office to settle up. I intended to pay, but only after I’d had the weekend to recover from the fun of the past few days. I didn’t tell her that — just said, “Vale” (”Okay”), let her take my passport info., accepted a receipt to present when I returned to pay, then headed to the E.R. desk.

A medical type there said, “Dígame.” I diga’d. They nodded, took my name, took my blood pressure, told me it was fine, led me to the nearest waiting room — there were several, all lined up next to each other. An omen I might have taken note of if I’d been feeling clearer.

Now that I think about it, though, the first one, the one they gently dumped me in — white linoleum floor, white ceiling, white walls, ugly four-unit modular plastic seats, fluorescent lights — was a genuine waiting room. A holding pen where you did nothing but enjoy whatever condition had brought you to the E.R. to begin with, watching everyone else do the same. The other waiting areas were all rooms with counters, sinks, storage cabinets (packed with medical supplies), oxygen masks, comfier chairs, and a spartan bed at one end where the occasional individual spent time.

A universal truth, known from earlier times working in an ambulance, rediscovered in the course of this outing: there is nothing quite like an emergency room in a hospital in a large city on Friday and Saturday nights. Emergency rooms see it all anyway — on a weekend night in a major population center, it’s just that much more of a party. All sorts of characters show up, in all sorts of states. It is one lively display.

The first waiting room contained two rows of plastic seats, facing each other, people sitting in them. Nothing else. No tables, no rugs, no TV, nothing on the walls, though one had a large window looking out on the E.R. desk. Nothing to read. No distractions. I slowly, carefully planted myself in one row of seats — one person occupied each end seat, leaving two open seats, so that I had to sit next to one of the two people. After three or four minutes, the woman I planted myself next to got up, relocated to another part of the room.

An elderly couple sat together in the opposing row of seats, off to my left, in the corner. Normal folk — the woman small, grey-haired, serious expression, the husband larger with a bit of a stomach, receding hair, expression also serious. Impossible to tell which was the patient until the husband pulled out a large plastic bag, began vomiting and hawking up stuff into it. A 20-something guy sat across from me, wearing sports clothes/sneakers. Not looking like he’d come from a sporting event, just doing the casual thing. (A bunch of people showed up that evening wearing training pants and sweat shirts or training jackets. With sneakers. A popular ensemble.) Nothing visibly wrong with him. Didn’t look like he felt ill. No apparent injury. He simply sat quietly, watching the rest of the inmates.

An older man shuffled slowly into the room — late 70s, cane-assisted, mouth opening and closing. Baggy pants, slack white shirt. Small in stature and build, unshaven, each cheek/ear sporting streaks of scars and discolored skin from serious lesions at an earlier age. Couldn’t make out his current complaint either. Maybe he was there for the sensory input of it all. He spent his time shuffling in and out of the room, gazing around. Other inmates came and went. Now and then a nurse materialized, called out a name, an inmate got up, follow her away.

Forty-five minutes into my stay a nurse wheeled an elderly woman into our holding pen, explaining to her that she’d have to wait there until a doctor could see her. The elderly woman replied, “Vale, vale,” the nurse took off. Time passed, the new arrival began going “Ayyyy!” every few seconds. Once in a while she’d reach around, place her hand on one side of her lower back for a moment, saying, “Ayyyy!”

An hour and fifteen minutes later, a nurse appeared, called my name. I staggered to my feet, followed her into an examination room.

[continued in entry of 19 February]

Have been seriously under the weather. It’s ugly, you don’t want to know the details.

So no love letters today, or anything else.

Hope you get to connect with a loved one on this St. Valentine’s Day 2002 (here in Spain they also call it el día de los enamorados — the day of the sweethearts) and let them know you care. Do it tomorrow, too. And make a habit of it. You know?

Well. Today? Spent most of it in bed. Mostly because I’ve been under the proverbial weather and my body’s not letting me ignore it.

The truth is, this being under the weather is something I’ve been devotedly trying to ignore. For this reason: my mind gets so goddamn bored when I’m forced to lay around. If I’m tired or sleepy and I choose to flop for a while, that’s one thing. That’s by choice, that’s fun. If I have to lay down (and stay down), after a short while my little brain starts nudging and nudging and nudging. “Hey, come on,” it says, “get up. Get up, wouldja? Jeez, get the hell up. Pleeeeeeeeze, please, please, please. I’m so BORED. Look at it outside — it’s beautiful! It’s beautiful out there! And here you are in this amazing city with so much going on and you’re frickin’ LAYING there. GET UP!!! Quick, come on, you can do it! That’s it, prop your little corpse up and swing those legs over the side of the bed. Good boy, now put your feet down, there you go, you can do it… YAAAAAYYYYY!!! You did it!! Now let’s go! Let’s go get something to eat or turn on the radio or go to the gym or write something or we could take a walk or go to a movie or go sit in a plaza and watch the people (especially the wimmen! nudge, nudge).” Kind of like a hyperactive chimp on amphetamines. And while all that’s going on, my body is saying, “No…….. no, no……… mustn’t……. ignore me…….. must……… get……….. rest……….”

The general truth is that if I feel halfway decent, I get up. Even if that means I simply putz around with no real direction — on the computer, off the computer, get something to eat, look outside, make a phone call, on the computer, go online, check e-mail, try to beat the computer at hearts, get off the computer, sit down, try to read for a while, get up, turn on some music. Anything, pretty much, except rest.

I didn’t used to be like this. Back in the States, especially in Vermont, I was way chilled. After a while, though, I came to feel like that Woody Allen line, “If I get too mellow, I have a tendency to ripen and rot.” Ultimately, there wasn’t enough input out there in the middle of nowhere. Maybe if I’d been part of a couple or a family it would have been different. But it was me.

My body’s been tired for a while now and I haven’t given it the time it needs to truly fill up the tank. ‘Cause every time I start to chill and I take enough time that the tank begins to get anywhere near, say, half-full, that little brain of mine goes, “Hey, great, look at that! Half-full! Woo-hoo!! Hot damn! Let’s go!” And I go.

I may have to take some real time and pay real attention to my body, ’cause it’s a good body, an adorable body that’s treated me well. I’m tired of living on the edge of a cold, of having a cough that starts up every time my energy goes below a certain level. It would be nice to get truly rested up. It’s been a while.

Within the last few days I’ve had headaches. Man, I *never* get headaches!! Time to listen up before this bod of mine has to hit me harder to get my attention.


In observance of St. Valentine’s Day (tomorrow — yikes!!), more love letters from this last Sunday’s El País Sunday magazine, translated into English:

For my girl, Marga
When Marga is not here, everything is Marga. The paste in my toothpaste tube is Marga. Marga is the bags under my eyes and the little desire I have to get up today. And also my neighbor, who greets me and seems to say, “Marga.” Today more than ever Marga is Argentina. And salad with roast chicken breast. Today Marga is not my nap because thinking, thinking so much left me unable to sleep today. This afternoon Marga is my legs that take me little by little as if they were alone, without considering the rest of my body useful, which also is Marga. And the agreeable sound of my steps on the floor. And my breathing. Marga is Dostoesvki. And also Mario Benedetti and Miguel Hernández. And my Daniel Pennac. And coffee with milk and nutcake and raisins. Marga is 9:30 and 9:45 and 10:20. And it’s then, at 10:30, when Marga is here and all the rest don’t exist. And only Marga exists. Only Marga.
– Martín Civera López

In a drawer
I put your letter away in a drawer. And I have sworn not to return to open it until seven years pass, the time necessary for the indifference to swallow the pain I feel and digest this love that’s just ended.
– Pedro José de Pablo

Love in reverse
You say that ours has no remedy because we planned it meticulously and it never ended well. For once, if you want, we’re going to do it all in reverse. I’ve started to read the word AMOR in reverse, and… I have in my hands two airline tickets for ROMA. A final opportunity?….
– Guillermo Merayo Bello

I dream of you as the father of my children. It’s you or no one.
– M.A.S.

Went to a lunch today at a small restaurant around the corner from here. This barrio, Chueca, has a substantial gay presence, it’s clearly evident on that stretch of street. On turning the corner, the first storefront on the left is a tienda devoted to the gay universe, A Different Life (the name is actually in English). One or two doorways down is a club I’ve never ventured into. The name Eagle (again, in English) is emblazoned on a panel to one side of the doorway, on the wall inside the entryway are written (in chalk) the following words, one above the other, all inside large chalked arrows pointing toward the door: LEATHER, UNIFORM, S&M, FETISH, KINKY.

Once you get into S&M and fetish, what the hell else would be considered kinky?

The restaurant I stopped in at: La Rincón de Pelayo (the Corner of Pelayo, so named because it’s a little teeny corner on la Calle de Pelayo). Nice lunch spot -– a bit more elegant than other neighborhood joints, with more care taken in the cooking and presentation, though no more expensive. A heaping bowl of olives and a couple of small loaves of excellent bread go with the meal’s two courses. Afternoon sunlight streams past the front door’s floor-to-ceiling windows, pop music plays softly, a TV above the door plays with the sound off -– today a rerun of The Nanny followed by the 2 o’clock news. A slightly goofy mix of lunchtime sensory input.

A toddler met me when I entered, maybe a year and a half old. Standing directly in my path, head thrown back, eyes meeting mine, a large, sloppy, infectious, unself-conscious smile on his puss. His parents sat at the window to the left of the doorway, watching us, also smiling. “Hola!” I said to him. He backed off a bit, laughing, letting me pass. After I took my seat, I watched the wait staff deal with him, especially a 30-something gay man who handled the little guy with kindness and gentle humor. Fun, until the teeny customer got restless, began wanting to go outside every time the door opened. His parents finally finished up their meal, followed him out into the open air.

I had rabbit (conejo) for lunch. Please don’t hate me. Left to my own devices it would never occur to me to kill a rabbit. It’s the Spaniards’ fault — like the Cantonese, they pretty much eat anything that moves, and the menus are filled with strange, interesting possibilities. I’ve eaten more meat in the year and a half here than I did for many years in the States. I have yet to see cat or dog listed, but I wouldn’t put that past certain establishments. Wasn’t crazy about the rabbit, by the way. After all the work of getting it off those little bones, there wasn’t much to show for it. (The bunny’s revenge.)

On the way home, after turning the corner onto my street, I noticed a man approaching, a slim, compact 60ish man, dressed in nicely casual style, with short, wavy gray hair. Normal looking. Except that his eyes were fixed on me as if he knew me. I’d never seen him before, but met his gaze, and for a second or so he stared at me, something going on behind that look, until as we passed he suddenly burst out with, “¿Qué pasa, bebé?” (”What’s happening, baby?”) Startled, not sure I heard him right, I immediately said, “¿Cómo?” He waved an embarrassed arm, looking away, saying, “Nada, lo siento.” (”Nothing, sorry.”) I have no idea what happened there, if he mistook me for someone else then realized his mistake or what. No idea. Looked like he felt genuinely silly, though.

Chueca, my barrio. A thrill a minute.


Love letters from this last Sunday’s El País Sunday magazine, translated into English (by me):

“I’ve lost so many things
that I can’t count them.”
One is never prepared for that precise moment in which your life changes.
For me it happened in that afternoon of trees, where the springtime said farewell to the orange blossoms.
Your farewell filled me with vertigo and nights without you.
I still search for you in forgotten poems, in other songs that we never heard.
Only in the dusk do I look with the hope of seeing you from afar, of contemplating your return.
But it’s already too late for almost everything.
My farewell is this letter. I know you’re reading it.
At least tell me that, yes, you’ve gotten it.
-– Virgilio Sánchez García

You make the sun rise
This is my love letter for you.
I love you because you’ve procured for me the happiest moments of my life, because you’ve made me know fantastic people. I love you because you have shown me the magic of autumn beneath our little evergreen oak, because you made me pay attention to the inside of a conch shell until I could sense the sea, because you showed me how to draw on the sky and to write on the waters. Because you make the sun rise every morning and die each night, because you’ve made me feel happy with myself.
For that, and only for that, I love you, Earth.
-– Victor Casanova Abón

Dear H.
When you enter my thoughts, I know that you’re going to bring a good moment so that I let you enter my mind the same way I let you enter my body: receiving you with open arms.
You’ve become my friend, my companion, my lover, my forbidden love, my breath. Who said it wasn’t possible to fall in love after your forties?
It’s true that there are too many things that join us, but there are also too many factors that separate us: you will leave me, or I will leave you for fear of the pain when you leave me…, but I am sure that within many, many years we will walk together on the beach, maybe hand in hand. I will tell you of my rheumatism and you will complain about your prostate, I’ll make an easy joke we will smile with nostalgia…. We’ll continue walking, searching for shells for our grandchildren and remembering the times (that are these times, don’t forget) in which you descended to the bottom of the sea and searched for shells and conches only for me.
-– Alicia de la Calle

My gift for Steven
Take it, it’s for you. Hey, handle it carefully! No, no, please don’t shake it. What weighs so much? Sure, love, it’s full with tenderness and understanding. Have you already sensed what it could be? Of course, it’s my heart.
–- María Belén Polo

Strange weekend. Spent huge amounts of time on the phone with friends stateside and in the U.K. Hung up the phone one time, it rang the nanosecond I put it down, I was immediately into another call.

Did almost nothing yesterday, at least as far as activities I could enumerate. Stayed in bed until… when? Don’t even remember. When I dragged myself out from under the covers, a beautiful day waited, brilliant with sunshine. By the time I stumbled down to the street and through the plaza to the paper kiosk for the Sunday paper, a large crowd had already accumulated in front of Angel Sierra and spread across the street into the plaza itself, basking in the sun, glasses of soda, beer, vermouth in hand, the hum of conversation floating in the air. Went back home with the paper, didn’t come out again for the rest of the day. Weird. Not what I’d intended. I’d thought about heading over to la Reina Sofia, one of the city’s three big-time art museums. It occurred to me to check the hours in the paper, discovered it’s only open from 10 to 2:30 on Sundays. Found that out at 2 p.m. Poop.

Instead, I ate, read some, went online, went offline, went online, went offline. Read a bit more, watched some TV. Went online, went offline. Brooded some during all this –- not my usual, more sprightly mode of being. Luckily, the evening brought two extended calls from loved ones in other places, bringing me up out of wherever I’d been.

I’m restless. Will be heading back to the States in May, back to Vermont — for how long I don’t know, where I’ll finally end up I don’t know. There’s a lot to be done there, and whatever unfolds could wind up taking me in any number of directions. These coming months may be the end of my stretch in Madrid, and with that thought floating around my teeny little brain, every step I take out in this city’s streets feels poignant, every view of a narrow calle stretching away in shadows and Iberian sunlight seems to reach inside me and prod something deep.

In the meantime, I get to write, I’ll take more classes, I’ll have visitors at times, I’ll take a couple of trips. Life rolls on.


Just went out to the nearby centro comercial [see journal entry of February 9], stopped at the small bakery stall there for a couple of loaves of bread: a baguette integral (whole wheat), a Gallego loaf, along with a croissant and a caña de chocolate (mmmmmmm… chocolate — the caña being a variation on a chocolate croissant, only longer, lighter in color, a bit cylindrical, the crust different though still flaky). The cost of all that: 2.66€, or just under $2.40 American. An aspect of life here that just knocks me over.

Walking across the plaza, I could hear a bird up on a rooftop letting go with a springtime kind of song. For the past week there’s been a growing sense of change approaching, of seasons turning once again. The sun’s up later in the evenings, well past 7, and is now beginning to rise earlier than the 8 a.m. hour it’s kept for the past three or so months. Last year at this time, the City planted flowers all over the place during February, so I expect I’ll begin seeing daffodils, jonquils, pansies, petunias soon.

On the way out of my building, someone nearly fell into the foyer as I pulled the door open, a young woman with a bundle of pamphlets, reminding me of yet another difference between life here and in the States: junk mail here doesn’t actually arrive in the mail. People — lots of them — deliver junk mail to each building, personally shoving the pamphlet or circular into your mailbox. If they can’t access your box, they leave a pile of material on the floor nearby. If they can’t get into the building, they leave a pile of stuff by the door. They don’t like that last option, and since they don’t have keys to the buildings, they stand outside and ring buzzers until they successfully nag someone into letting them in. When I first moved in here the buzzer would start going off mid- to late morning. If I was dumb enough to answer the intercom, I’d find some over-caffeinated junk-mail pusher jabbering impatiently in my ear, fast enough that my Spanish couldn’t keep up. If I didn’t immediately buzz the door open, they’d start talking faster, more impatiently. If I didn’t respond immediately to that, they’d start punching at the buzzer for my piso again. I learned pretty quick to ignore the call of the buzzer during daytime hours.

The young woman I ran into this morning left a pamphlet for ocular surgery (cirugía ocular) in every mailbox.

Junk mail advertising here is called publicidad or propaganda. Indeed.


You’re probably aware that St. Valentine’s Day is slouching our way. In yesterday’s El País Sunday magazine (El País Semanal), they ran a mess of love letters sent in by readers. Some were pretty striking, so — and I don’t know what’s come over me here — for the next few days I’m going to risk breaking every copyright law in existence and translate two or three of them a day here. (All copyrights belong to El País.) Please feel free to ignore ‘em.


Caught by the hand
From the time you took my hand, everything has been different.
-– Elena Del Rio

¡Ay, chico mío!
A year of excuses (a whole one!) waiting for this day.
Today I will not let you talk: when you go to speak –- zap! -– you will have my lips over yours cutting off your words, because they say that if there’s love, words are superfluous, and I love you more than anything in the world.
-– Carmen Castro Manzanares

Mysterious love
Twenty years have passed and I still continue searching for love.
To be in your arms at dusk, to see your smile, to feel your look, to hear your breathing, to kiss your mouth… they’re things that I lack, that I need.
Something is wrong in people when no matter how much one loves they don’t continue to be loved.
Mysterious love that’s put in the blood like a drug.
-– Juan Lanzarán

During the last few days I’ve been taking some time to go through old entries and do rewrites, add links. Some of ‘em have needed it. This process will continue for a while.

Just so you know.

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