far too much writing, far too many photos

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This morning: I found myself laying on a massage table, the massage person had classical music playing — Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor. Which got me thinking about a name from my past: Russ Kassoff.

He was part of my musical life in high school (music, along with art, being the most dominant part of those years for me). An outrageously talented guy, multi-instrumental, with perfect pitch. I have a memory of him presiding over a rehearsal of Handel’s Messiah, sitting at a battered upright piano hammering out an mighty respectable accompaniment to the choir, especially respectable considering he’d never looked at the score prior to that. He’d managed to worm his way into being the choir’s student conductor (an extremely good choir with a national reputation), and was in charge of that rehearsal. Making him — a gangling, slightly hawk-nosed 17 or 18-year-old — the sole figure of authority over an 80+ person ensemble on this occasion, plowing through pages and pages of music, laughing a fair amount of the time because he was genuinely flying by the seat of his pants. And because he was hugely talented and knew it, and there it was, on sloppy, joyful, undeniable display for the rest of us.

In March of my last year in high school, I drove up to the State University of New York at Binghamton to audition for the vocal department. Russ decided to try out for the music-instrumental department, we took off in my family’s aqua-colored VW Bug, tooling in through N.Y.C., up the Thruway to Route 17, up through the Catskills, past Liberty, Monticello, Callicoon and Hortonville to Broome County and Binghamton. A lovely sunny day, mild for that time of the year. We entertained ourselves all the way up, meaning loud, excessive carrying-on. Russ at that time was teaching himself trumpet and had brought one along, playing it out the window whenever the impulse hit. Ten or twenty miles outside Binghamton, traffic backed up — we found ourselves sitting in the middle of a captive audience, Russ rolled down his window and let go with some goofy Tijuana-Brass-style noodling, both of us hooting with laughter.

At the University, I think we stayed in a friend’s suite in Hinman College, though I have to confess I can’t remember where we actually wound up sleeping. No humongo surprise, that lapse of memory, considering I spent the evening getting wildly stoned, running around the dorm laughing hysterically. The next morning, my vocal audition went underwhelmingly, but I’d had so much fun overall that I decided this was the school for me. I applied, they said sure, the State gave me a full Regents scholarship. And that was that.

I never saw Russ again after graduation, though I heard occasional rumors about him working at hotels up in the Catskills, playing or directing music, less than ecstatic about it all. Contact with my old high school crowd dwindled, finally ceased altogether, and with that any news of Russ. Until today, when I went online and found out Russ has been busy working with people like Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Tony Bennett. Way to go, Russ!

The note Russ scrawled in my 12th grade yearbook:

“It’s been a great year for the both of us even Rufus. Remember marching band and Jake and Binghamton and even Misterogers. Then there was donkey with boiled moth under glass. Keep up the Art-Janes and say when to pay cards. Good luck and best wishes. Russ Horns”

I’m sitting in the sauna yesterday morning at the gym in Montpelier, I say to the guy sitting next to me, “You know, I could really use some warm, dry weather. So I wouldn’t have to keep retreating here (to the sauna).” The weather remained moist and less than optimum yesterday, but this morning dawned in a promising way (not that I was up to watch it. By late morning, a beautiful day had taken shape — sunlight, user-friendly temperatures, etc. Around mid-afternoon it began morphing back to its more usual m.o. for this warm season, meaning clouds, excessive humidity, thunderstorms on the way. So I’m going to have to shut down my ‘puter soon.

If it feels like I’ve been writing about the weather far, far, too often here, that’s because I have been. Apart from this being the strangest warm season I’ve ever experienced, the real story is internal (in the personal sense) and I’m not prepared to write about a lot of that right now.

Lightning and thunder have started up. Time to batten down the computer, followed by the house windows.

July 6 — chilly, gray, damp. Clouds began moving in today after noon, and between 2 and 2:30 it suddenly got dark. The temperature took a dive, intermittent rain started coming down. It looks and feels like the Cascades, east and north of Seattle — same kind of country, same weather.

Since then, the sky has shifted back and forth, light and dark, turning strange colors. It’ll be deep, deep gray to the west and a strange dirty salmon color to the north. A short time later, the sky to the north will be a nasty, uncomfortable-looking shade of rose while off to the southeast it’s vague yellows and greens. I’m not making this up. (This after Thursday’s entry re: the sky turning green.)

Late afternoon, fog moved in, bringing with it silence and little to no visibility.

The upside of all this: yesterday I put a few tomato plants into the ground not far from the house. They’ll get lots of moisture while they acclimate.

Saturday, of the quietest 4th of July weekend I’ve ever experienced. And a whole different thing from what some folks are experiencing out west.

A short while ago: me, sitting here at the dining room table, noticing that clouds had rolled in, that the breeze had disappeared. The local weather forecasters have warned of thunderstorms later today, the phrase “the calm before the storm” drifted through my thoughts. Which got me thinking about something my sister-in-law had once described to me, from her younger years in Indianapolis, when the air had turned green before a tornado passed through. And that got me remembering a late afternoon/early evening when I was 13 or 14 years old and saw the air turn green.

Happened in April on Long Island, where my family lived during the school year. Must have been April — the warm season hadn’t quite asserted itself but the weather had become mild, and though this event took place around 6 p.m. there was still plenty of light. Clouds had made their way in earlier that afternoon, the neighborhood was quiet, quieter than you’d expect it to be at that time of the day, with people arriving home from work, the parkways and main drags congested with traffic.

I’d been in our teeny house, happened to glance out the living room window where I saw the air had turned a strange, almost luminescent shade of green. The kind of soft green that I associate with the upsurge of fresh new growth as spring settles in and the world gradually grows warmer. Except that this was the air itself, shining with a muted radiance that made everything look different -– soft, fresh, mysterious.

I stepped out of the house into my suddenly unfamiliar neighborhood, walked to the corner, where I found Peter Opramolla staring around at the amazing display. Just him and me, no one else. The air had transformed itself yet people weren’t running out into the street to gaze about, call back and forth across small front lawns about the strangeness of it all. In fact, the neighborhood seemed uncharacteristically quiet, which just reinforced the odd, hushed, heightened quality of the event.

Peter was two years older, with a mature, self-contained air. We ran in vastly different circles, knew each other hardly at all. And we got to talking, began getting acquainted, one of the first instances in this lifetime of mine when someone older spent time with me like that. The air shone softly around us, a distinct, luminous green that gradually faded as we talked, growing more and more muted until we found ourselves standing out in an ordinary overcast evening, when we finally said so long and returned to our respective homes.

The overcast here on my hilltop in northern Vermont has lightened a bit, though thunder rumbles faintly off in the distance. The color green is all around, just about everywhere but in the air. Being out here away from towns/villages, there’s been no real sense that it’s July 4th. No crowds of people, no fireworks, no sounds of barbecues or games of softball. I’ll be heading into Montpelier later to go to a film. The town’s official July 4th activities took place yesterday evening, but there’ll be people around, there’ll be restaurants open, there’ll be families out walking and ice cream and red, white and blue bunting.

Have a good holiday.

Mother McCree, it’s hot. For most of the day, passing fair weather clouds minimized the direct sunlight. Within the last hour they disappeared, the temperature immediately shot up. According to the thermometer outside the dining room window, the temperature right now is, er, high. Real high. Much higher than it was for most of the rest of the day, though when I got up this morning that same thermometer read 80 degrees in the shade. I made the mistake at that time of going outside, spending an hour doing desperately needed weeding in the perennial beds off at the far end of the house. The word is hot — not a word I usually use ’cause it really has to be hot for me to feel hot. Then the fair weather clouds moved in and everything seemed to level off a bit. Until, well, you know.

When I bought this house, the sellers made a big point about the ceiling fan in the dining room. Seemed kind of silly to me, a ceiling fan in a house in northern Vermont. ‘Cause there aren’t normally more than a handful of days in any warm season when you’d have an excuse to turn the bugger on. Today’s one of them, though, and I’m giving thanks for frivolous amenities as I soak up an artificial breeze.

Also on the plus side, it’s late in the day, the sun will be backing off soon as it eases down behind the trees off to the other side of the road. And speaking of evening, last night I saw my first display of fireflies for the season. The downhill slope in front of the house consists of several acres of field, a major hiding spot for fireflies during the day. When darkness falls, they rise up and party. And it’s a fine show.

I realized today that I’m picking up a farmer’s tan. Color from partway along my biceps down to my hands, color on my face, maybe some on the back of my neck. Everything else remains white ’cause I’ve usually spent time outdoors dressed to discourage blackflies. (One upside to hot weather: it tends to wipe out blackflies that have hung on looking to pick up a free meal whenever I step outside.) Yesterday and today I’ve walked around in shorts and not much else, so the color should become distributed more generally.

Weather. My tan. Blackflies. Can you believe I’m boring you with this stuff? Shouldn’t you be doing something outside instead of sitting at your ‘puter?

That’s where I’m heading. Outside. Soon’s I smear some bug goo on.

Be well.

So I was doing my eye exercises for the day [see journal entry of June 23] and when I got to an exercise that employs a word chart, a line of type — very small type up near the top of the chart — that has until now been just beyond my ability to make out, became clear. With no difference in the physical details — same distance from me, same lighting. Man, what a feeling. My vision is improving.

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It’s been warm and humid all day. Not hot, really — temperatures in the 80s — but the kind of humidity that produces a heavy haze. The kind of humidity many find mighty oppressive. Between that and light overcast, the heat’s felt pretty manageable to me. But the people I heard talking about it in Montpelier this morning seemed to find it brutal. Everything’s relative, I guess. When you spend most of the year in cold temperatures, days of high humidity and mercury climbing to the mid-80s have an impact. Plus I’m out in the country. Could be that in town, in an apartment with less than wonderful ventilation, the situation might be less user-friendly. I have to say, though, compared to summers in Boston and New York, this seems positively benign. Three summers ago, I was in D.C. for the Fourth of July weekend. Compared with the hellacious combo of heat and humidity I experienced there, this comes off as gentle, benevolent. And then there’s the summer heat in Madrid, which reaches seriously elevated levels. No humidity, though, so it generally feels manageable to me. At night, the mercury drops so that the wee hours usually feel cool, fresh, even in the heart of the city with concrete all around. One learns to stay to the shadows as much as possible when moving through the streets during the days, at night everyone goes out. A liveable mode of being. And of course, at the end of July half the population takes off until the end of August/beginning of September, leaving the city quieter, the traffic less crazed. A good time to be there. And I will be, two weeks from now, for the second half of July. Hot damn!

Life mostly consists of the little moments that comprise each passing day, the moments that generally slip by unnoticed as we stumble along preoccupied with whatever has our attention at the time — sitting at a table near a window, a summer breeze drifting in; looking out at a northern Vermont morning, most everything green except for the shirts, pants and towels billowing on the clothesline in that same summer breeze; waking from restless sleep to the song of crickets.

I haven’t been having a whole lot of fun lately, but when I’m present enough to appreciate the pleasures of the passing moment I know I’m doing fine.

It’s been a strange time, these last couple of months, a period of transition weirdly similar to one I went through back in the 80’s. At that time, I’d returned to the Northeast from 16 or 17 months in Los Angeles. This time, I’ve come back from a stay of similar length in Madrid (not counting three or four months of brief trips stateside). Both times it wasn’t so much that I made a decision to return as a decision was made somewhere down inside me and I found out afterward when it suddenly became apparent that the time to leave had arrived. Both were relocations of major cultural and geographical distance. Both times I returned to places in the country -– then my family’s place north of Albany, New York, now a house in northern Vermont -– both places that served me well, providing comfort, quiet and space to collect my thoughts. Also, both places in which (I gradually came to feel) I wouldn’t want to live on a permanent basis.

Both were times of flux as far as the relationships in my life. People come and go anyway, but in both these two periods the movement grew much more concentrated. These last couple of months have seen the letting-go of a bunch of friends and such — some by me, some by other folks, some permanent, others maybe just changing their basis or needing some time off (or me taking a long, long time to reply to e-mail, currently happening a lot, for which I grovel with apologies).

The 80’s post-L.A. transition led me to connect with folks who became the medium through which I wound up living in Cambridge, Mass. Though my connection with those people didn’t last, Cambridge became my home for many years, the place I’ve lived the longest in this lifetime of mine, to this point anyway. I seem to have let go of Cambridge when I vacated my apartment there at the end of 2001, though that could change.

When I left Madrid, I told people I would be in Vermont for the warm season, with no idea where I’d be after that. That remains the case — nowhere seems to be calling to me right now. Don’t know where I want to be, don’t know what I want to be doing. Not an exceptionally comfortable place to be, though like everything else in this life it will change.

The time has slipped by at a disorienting pace. I have to ask: how the hell did it get to be July? Scary.

It’s full-blown summer here, has been for most of the last week. Temperatures in the 80s, the days sometimes clear, sometimes hazily humid. Wildflowers springing up in abundance, songbirds hanging about in the line of trees off the end of the house. The Vermont tourist season is in full swing, Montpelier bustling with people up for a shot of the north country’s most user-friendly time of year, the season some consider paradise.

And the World Cup came to a close yesterday a.m. with Brazil’s emergence as the best of the bunch (final score: 2-0). The Brazilians played some beautiful fútbol, and the Germans — a team which did not come with great expectations, surprising many by making it to the finals — played their hearts out and provided some passages of real competition.

Back to regular life.

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A short article which appears in the current issue of Seven Days, a weekly alternative-style newspaper out of Burlington, VT, from the column News Quirks (”Odd, strange, curious and weird but true news items from every corner of the globe”):

Bad News for Picnics

Scientists have discovered a supercolony of ants stretching almost 4000 miles along the coastline between the Italian Riviera and northwest Spain. [NOTE: I think the writer means here that the supercolony literally follows the coastline from the Italian Riviera west to Spain and all the way around the Iberian Peninsula up to the Spanish provinces of Galicia and Asturias. Off the top of my head, I would have thought that to be substantially more than 4000 miles, but I could be dead wrong. God knows, it's happened before.] The colony consists of billions of Argentine ants living in millions of nests, all related closely enough to recognize each other, despite being from different nests with different queens, the Swiss, French and Danish research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. They noted the supercolony is the largest cooperative unit ever recorded.

[Author's note, 11/23/05 -- A brief shot of perspective re: the expressions of Vermont-related discontent that surface now and then during these months' entries.

As I write this, nearly four and a half years after the original entry, Vermont remains part of my life's foundation. Which is not to say that the unhappy mumblings that bubbled up in some of these entries were simply hot air. It's just that through the miracle of hindsight I've come to believe that whatever they were going on about, they were all expressing the same thing: displaced misery at the prospect of leaving Madrid behind.

Vermont has had a hold on me since the first time I crossed the state border, a grip that grew stronger, harder to ignore through summer visits to friends in Hardwick during the time of my one and only marriage. I can't think of any place in the States I'd rather be, am not sure I could live anywhere else stateside.

Blah blah blah.

My point: complaints related to Vermont should be taken with a fistful of salt.]

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