far too much writing, far too many photos

Sunday morning in Madrid. Diffuse sunlight, a blue sky dimmed by high, hazy clouds. Everything quiet.

Went out to an ATM, found the streets nearly empty (normal on a Sunday a.m.). Stopped in at a neighborhood joint for a quick espresso. On the way back, the forlorn look of the wall across the street caught my eye, I stopped to glance at it. I confess, I miss the old back and forth between the poster pasters and the city cleaning crews, the poster/no poster two-step. I miss the constantly changing array of album ads, concert lists and cryptic, unclassifiable images, all the colors and images, spanning the entire spectrum of taste from sophisticated and subtle to cheesy as all get-out. Right now, except for the handful of posters off at one end, the wall is an unsightly expanse of old poster fragments and faded, splotchy gray paint. Way attractive. In the lot behind the wall, the sumac trees — one a full four and a half stories tall — are in full foliage, providing a graceful bit of green.

Everything changes.

Time to eat something. Later.

This being back here has turned out to be deeply emotional for me. Didn’t expect that.

Got to bed late last night, slept more fitfully than the night before last. Went to sleep without covers, didn’t rouse myself enough to grab a blanket as the temperature dropped in the early hours. When I dragged myself blearily out of bed around 9:30, my body seemed less than pleased, overall. Had to get up to go to my bank to take care of some administrative biz -– the bastards weren’t open, but I siphoned enough €€€ out of an ATM that I could give my landlords what I owe them when they show up in an hour or so.

And it’s another beautiful morning. Streets quiet after an active Friday night, cleaning crews rounding up the abundant debris, a cool breeze blowing through it all. Sunlight, skies slightly hazy. Shops of all kinds open for Saturday business.

Went to pick up something at the butcher’s, found myself with a strong impulse to continue shopping at the usual tiendas (fruit, produce, etc.) and investigate some others (clothing, books, household doodads). Resisted that urge (being here only until Tuesday), aimed myself instead at the neighborhood cafetería/café next door to my building. Where the owner smiled on seeing me, shook my hand, brought me a café cortado and a plateful of churros. I read the papers, let the sounds of the place wash over me. People drank coffee, ate morning toast, one or two worked their way through a beer. Customers came and went, those leaving calling out, “Hasta luego!” Someone stood putting money into the local version of a one-armed bandit found in many cafés, a machine that produces overabundant music and sound samples. When I stepped back out into the street, my head had cleared a bit.

I noticed yesterday that someone –- the city or a private owner -– has finally taken steps to break the cycle of posters/poster removal associated with the wall across the street. On Thursday, it stood in its normal state, covered with posters. Sometime yesterday, they were removed, the words “Prohibido Fijar Carteles” (”Post No Bills”) were left stencilled in their place, along with a warning noting that the businesses advertising would be charged with the cost of poster removal. Down at one end, some rebellious poster paster slapped up four new ones, including an ad for the current issue of Rolling Stone’s Spanish edition. The rest of the wall had been cleaned off, though not as thoroughly as in the past — as if now that the game has changed so decisively, the city crew lost interest. Used to be they’d clean off every single scrap of paper, no matter how minute, scrubbing the wall clean, often finishing the process with a new coat of gray paint. Currently, there are remnants of old posters everywhere, the gray paint looking faded and patchy. Disspirited, ragged. Many of the neighborhood’s little dogs still pause to lift a leg against it, though, as their owners have them out for walkies and a breath of air.

Last night, on my way back to the piso, I passed through the plaza, crowded with people out enjoying the night. In the flow of revelers moving past me I saw a group of seven nuns in full black and white regalia — all seven suspiciously young, three of them male.

Chueca –- a sacrilegious barrio.

Yesterday: went to the movies (”Monster’s Ball” -– in English with Spanish subtitles). When I entered the theater, the Beatles’ White Album blared from the in-house P.A. “Helter Skelter” started up as the ticket-taker handed me back my ticket stub. They had it playing everywhere –- in the lobby, in the hallways, in the men’s room, in the theater before the film. Talk about setting a mood.

Man, it feels good to be back in Madrid again.

Flew out of Boston last night, arrived at Heathrow around 7 this morning after a zippy 5-1/2 hour flight, thanks to an enthusiastic tailwind. Spent 2-1/2 hours of sheer bliss in Heathrow, then another nearly 2-1/2 hours of further flying. The payoff being spectacular June weather when all the mileage was done.

June weather. In April. Ahhhhhhhhh!

Within 30 minutes of arriving, I spotted numerous women wearing unbelievably tight pants (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The tightest pants I’ve seen since, well, my last time here (January through March). They’re fairly common in this part of the world, them tight pants.

And here’s something I’m not sure I noticed before, having nothing to do with tight pants: the Spanish sunlight is not golden during the warm season -– it’s white. White, and strikingly different from the light back in the States, or at least from what I know of the eastern U.S.

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

Two items from the cover of a recent issue of Tattler magazine spied on British Airways flight 214 early this morning:
– How To Spot A Gold Digger
– Beauty Special – Look Great Naked

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

As I waited on line to go through security at Burlington Airport two to three weeks back, I overheard a married couple in conversation with a woman apparently traveling with the couple. The woman asked what Heathrow was like, mentioning that it was an example of a place she’s seen featured in many books and movies yet had never actually seen in 3-D. The she of the couple replied, “It’s just like any other airport. You could be in any airport in the world.” An easy, glib answer, one many people might agree with, and granted there’s some homogenization in most airports we pass through. But to say that Heathrow is no different from any other airport in the world is like saying the Grand Canyon is no different from any other hole in the ground. Forget things like the outrageously complex international mix (and the sheer number) of travelers who pass through, not to mention the languages and accents you hear from travelers and airport employees. Forget the weather and the quality of the light you encounter when you look outside. Just the size of it alone puts it in a class with very few airports in the world.

Our plane this morning parked away from the terminals, buses took us to Terminal 4. I had to take a further, surprisingly long, circuitous bus ride to Terminal 1. During the ride, an exasperated American woman commented to her husband, “This airport is bigger than Kansas.” An overexaggeration, but I get what she meant.

Found my way upstairs at Terminal 1, one of the first sights was a smokers’ lounge planted in the middle of a large seating area, separated off by floor-to-ceiling walls of thick, clear glass or plastic. The air within appeared impressively dense and polluted, spilling out the entrance to unleash a dubious perfume for a good 20, 25 feet around.

Down the hallway, the space opened up into an equally impressive commercial arcade — a long, upscale shopping mall — turning a transit point into a sophisticated set-up designed to separate traveler from money. The selection of shops now doing business in Terminal 1 includes:
– Faxcessory – The Filofax Specialist
– The Cigar House
– Pink
– The Beauty Centre
– Caviar House
– Glorious Britain
– “Est Est Est – Ristorante, Pizzeria & Caffe, Bar”
– Harrods
– The Disney Store
– World of Whiskies (I am not making that one up)
– Etc., etc., etc.

Also, a shoeshine joint whose sign read:
Hodgson’s
“Fly ‘n’ Shine”
Heathrow
Shoe Shine
First Class Feet
Only
£2.20

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

Hmmm. Lack of sleep is suddenly catching up with me. Time to chill.

A gorgeous morning in northern Vermont. Cold — 20 degrees outside when I pulled myself out from under the covers at far too early an hour — but gorgeous. The mercury has now cautiously made its way above freezing, enabling birds of all kinds to wrench themselves up from the grass where they’d been frozen in place, bursting into songs of relief at still being alive.

I’m getting ready to load a couple of bags into my car and tool down to Cambridge/Boston where I’ll do some errands before heading to Logan Airport for that flight back to Madrid. Now, if you’re like everyone to whom I’ve mentioned the fact that I’m heading back to Madrid today, you may be asking yourself the question, “Huh?” I’ve been asking myself the same thing — considering I just left Madrid 3-1/2 weeks ago — and will probably continue asking it all the way through a transatlantic night of little sleep, through a bleary-eyed, early morning stopover in Heathrow, then through the final 2-1/2 hour jog to Madrid from London. And when I step off the plane into Madrid’d sunshine and 70-something temperature, the question will vanish, going wherever it is irrelevant questions go when they evaporate in warm Spanish sunlight.

It’ll be interesting to go from sleeping in a house in a location that’s as quiet as a person could possibly want to a piso in the middle of a barrio in which people stay out all night partying, letting everyone within earshot know about it until the sun rises and they begin stumbling home to recover from a full night of self-destruction.

Right. Time to stop babbling and pull myself together. There’s a car to be loaded and last minute things to be bumbled through.

I’ll be back online tomorrow. Madrid here I come.

[Author's note, 11/22/05 -- Re: the reasoning behind this sudden trip back to Madrid: I think I told myself I was returning to retrieve belongings, cart them back across the ocean to Vermont. A pitifully transparent excuse, really, to drag my sad (though adorable) butt briefly back to a place I suspected I would be missing.

Springtime v. late winter. People/activity/street life v. quiet northern Vermont hills still receiving the occasional snowfall. And, as the final paragraph of the previous entry mentioned, I'd been feeling swamped by life. Couple all that with cheap airfares and the question of whether to go or not involved no deliberation, just a fast, flailing grab at a credit card followed by a flight reservation.]

Tuesday morning in northern Vermont, the world outside white. White, white, white, with touches of dark green, brown and gray showing through.

Question: what’s with all the white? Answer: snow fell yesterday. This being Vermont and all. Started with flurries late morning, grew gradually heavier and stretched on into the night, the view up the valley from here completely obscured for most of that time. The earth is warm enough that the accumulation was minimal, but the trees around the house are weighted down with heavy, wet clots of white.

Beautiful though it all is, I’m hoping it will shift quickly to milder temperatures, green countryside.

I’ve been a bit swamped by life lately. Tomorrow I drive down to Cambridge, Mass., pahk my cah, then head to Logan Airport for a flight back to Europe. Thursday morning I’ll be in Madrid and will be there until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. I’m looking forward to being back there, and I’m looking forward to being back here afterward, being in more or less the same place for a while.

Soon.

Sign seen over the door to a restaurant en route to Danbury, N.C. from Greensboro, N.C. this past weekend:

“Duke’s Restaurant — Meat and 2 Veggies — $5.00″

Meat.

Another sign — tacked to a telephone pole by the side of the road out in the middle of nowhere:

“Repent”

I have repented and continue to repent. Why do I have the feeling it might turn out to be a full-time job?

To sum up: Greensboro — a nice town, and green enough to warrant its name.

Am now back in northern Vermont. The last 2-3 days in North Carolina were sunny, genuinely warm — Vermont surprised me with similar weather when I landed in Burlington yesterday afternoon. Warm, hazy, skies partially sunny. The elevated temperatures must have jump-started the peepers ’cause they’re out in force along the small river that winds its way alongside Route 14 down in the valley — loud enough that I can hear them up here. Birds are carrying on, all sorts of insects have appeared (inside and outside the house). Greenery’s starting up.

Inside my personal hilltop fiefdom, the house remains in a state of semi-chaos. I’ll probably be working away at that for weeks to come. Which gives me a reason to live, I suppose. This weekend a bunch of weirdos will be here visiting for a couple of days of fun — I’m trying to get enough cleaning/organizing done that I’ll feel comfortable having people in the space in its current state.

There’s a lot going on in this little life of mine, though you wouldn’t know it by the lack of entries in this journal. It’s because of the quantity of things happening that there’s been precious little writing. That will change.

Spent most of Thursday traveling, nearly a full eight-hour shift from the time I left home in the morning to the time of arrival here. In this case, both legs of the trip (from Burlington, VT to Greensboro, N.C.) were short, 1-1/2 hours and an hour respectively, most of the day spent hanging around airports. You know the drill: you read, you watch people, you wait for flight announcements. Once boarding starts, you jockey for position. Mostly I people-watch — in this case, having returned from Spain a week and a half ago, that mostly means observing the differences between Americans and Europeans in manner, attitude, mode of dress. And there are differences, as you might expect. Every culture, every country has its way of dress, of presenting oneself, at least in my limited experience. Every culture certainly has its quirks.

Over the course of the last 40 years, Americans have gone from dressing stiffly, formally, without much style sense, to dressing casually, often extremely, outrageously so — frequently in variations of sneakers, jeans/khakis, sport shirt/t-shirt, windbreaker/fleece. That’s a generalization, of course, but a striking percentage of the travelers I saw during the course of the day wore some variation of the basic casual formula. Go to DeGaulle airport in Paris or Barajas in Madrid, Americans are easy to spot: sneakers (often white Reeboks or some equivalent), jeans/khakis, etc. Almost like a uniform.

The French and Spanish are more fashion-conscious, seeming to devote more time and care to how they look when they walk out of the house. Sneakers are becoming more common in Spain, though, with younger folks straying more and more from the standard look of the 30+ bracket. Piercing, tattoos, wilder modes of dress — common, at least in Madrid.

So they dress differently in Europe — who cares? Maybe no one. It’s just a noticeable difference, and interesting, at least to me.

I’m in Greensboro as I write this. When I arrived, the temperature had coasted up into the 70s, the sun shone, birds were everywhere, singing their hearts out. Yesterday dawned cool, gray, drizzly, staying that way most of the day. Today’s skies have been filled with clouds, dramatic ones, their movement overhead providing continual coming and going of blue sky and sunlight. Dogwood trees in full bloom are everywhere, with a dense concentration of blossoms like I’ve never seen anywhere else. I like it.

Had some fine barbecued pork for lunch at Stamey’s, a local joint — a kind of barbecue that doesn’t use tomato sauce. Lip-smackin’ good, as stupid as that may sound.

Flowering bushes and trees provide vivid color as one drives through the streets of the city. Greensboro is green and getting greener, the air moist and soft. A comfortable place to be at this time of the year.

Right, I’ll stop — I’m rambling with little real focus.

More tomorrow.

The hair on this head of mine grows at a pace that is practically inhuman. At a nearly hyperactive rate. I’ll get it cut as short as a finger’s-width — two, three months later, it’s all over the place. Not that I’m complaining — having a full head of hair is a fine thing, especially compared with some of the alternatives.

I mention all this because I went for a cut today. At a little joint called Acme Hair in Montpelier. A one-room operation on the second floor of a brick building on State Street, up above the Capitol Grounds (a good, funky café). The woman who runs the place turned out to be a genuine character — pushing 60, as slim as they come, hair partially dyed an unnatural red. Talkative, frequently bursting into a nearly noiseless laugh. She asked me what we were doing today, I told her we were cutting my hair short, real damn short.

I do that, let my hair get excessively big and bushy, then get it sheared off. It’s fun, that kind of change and contrast. Plus, my hair is so easy to take care of when it’s short. Then it grows in, goes through all sorts of stages — some pleasing, some less so — until it reaches critical mass and becomes a serious pain in the hind quarters.

I’m flying south tomorrow for a few days. To spend a few days cavorting with a representative of the opposite sex. Eight or nine hundred miles south, where spring is in full swing (like it was in Madrid — sniffle). I wanted a warm-weather cut for the trip, that’s what I’ve got.

I’ll write from down there. Maybe. And one of these days I might get back to throwing together real, lengthy entries. We’ll see.

A milder day — foggy, misty, at times rainy. Looking north up the valley, only the ridges of the hills are visible as uneven lines of treetops. Between 50-something temperatures and falling moisture, the remaining patches and banks of accumulated snow are fading, white giving way to green.

This afternoon: went down the hill to visit Maurice and Kay. (Spelled Maurice, pronounced Morris.) Mo’s family has lived here in East Calais for generations, he’s the dictionary definition of a local boy. Eighty years old, went to school in a one-room schoolhouse over on the other side of the hill (the schoolhouse still there, now a residence). Mo and Kay live in a small home tucked up against a rise in the land, set right out by the gravel road that runs up and over the hill. A place with a bit of Appalachia about it: old furniture on the L-shaped porch, an old, rickety, doorless double garage, both containing mounds of stuff — even more now since the chimney fire they had just before the holidays — including a varnished board on which are mounted several sets of antlers.

Mo’s a hunter, has been one all his life. He set traps as a kid, would check them during the hike to and from the schoolhouse. He has a Chevy pick-up truck that he adores, during hunting season he drives with a rifle on the seat next to him, covered by his jacket. He loves fishing, loves being out on the water for hours at a time. He loves being out in the woods. Just before I left, we went outside to take a look at his ATV. This 80-year-old character bought the bugger because he can’t stand not being able to get to places off in fields and wooded land that his increasingly infirm legs no longer can take him to. “I told Kay,” he said, “when I go, it’s not going to be in a wheelchair in front of a TV. I want to be out in the woods.”

I get it. The woods here are beautiful and they go on and on and on — for many miles, depending on where you are.

This morning: me standing at my front window, looking down the slope of the hill. Noticed something moving through the brush, visible now in a way it won’t be in a month or so, once everything has greened up. From the way it walked, from the movement of its body and tail, I thought it was a cat. It threaded its way slowly, steadily through the bare brush in the direction of the road. On an impulse, I got out a pair of binoculars and trained them on it as it approached the road. Turned out to be a fox, a fair-sized one, with a big, bushy, white-tipped tail. It traveled quickly up the slope to the road, paused there to look around, smelling the air. Then it slipped across the gravel lane and under the cover of the trees, making its way up the steep grade of the hill and out of sight.

I’m not in Madrid any more.

Man, talk about negligence — me, away over a week, ensconced in a house up on a hill in northeast Vermont, adjusting to the jolting reality of being six time zones west of Spain. And it’s been an adjustment. Madrid: full-out springtime — warm temperatures, sunshine, flowers, trees green, birds singing, streets full of people in warm-weather duds, out enjoying the new season. Vermont: no leaves (except the brown, dead ones beneath the patchy snow). No flowers. Sunshine now and then, flurries. Birds singing hopefully (those that aren’t frozen to the ground). But beautiful, truly beautiful, in a late winter way.

I’m adjusting, will probably continue adjusting all the way through black fly season and into the month of June when the warm season finally arrives, surprising everyone with its short-lived splendor.

Anyway. More tomorrow. Really.

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