far too much writing, far too many photos

– Two days ago, somewhere in Rome. A young woman passed me on the sidewalk, trailing the aroma of a perfume hauntingly similar to a scent I knew from high school and haven’t smelled since, an association from one of my first passionate relationships. For a minute I vanished into times long-past, engulfed in vivid memories, moments I haven’t revisited in a long time. Until I came to, on a sunlit sidewalk in a foreign city. Traveling thousands of miles and a couple of decades, just like that.

– Yesterday morning in la estaciòn Termini, Rome — me dragging along my monster wheeled duffel, navigating my way through the crowds of people. Two women approached and passed, apparently a 40-something mother and young-20s daughter. Arm in arm, straight-backed, dressed similarly, both wearing large sunglasses. Their gazes settled on me as they approached, walking in unison, expressions impassive, until they drew near and their faces turned away, fixing on something or someone else, somewhere off ahead of them.

– A short time later, as I found my seat on the train that will take me to Florence, a 60-something Italian woman came flying into the coach, hugely upset and expressing it at the top of her lungs. Talking fast enough that I couldn’t get the gist of the problem, nearly wailing, punctuating her words with cries of “Oh, Christo!” and “Oh, Jesu!” She continued like that for fifteen or twenty seconds, finally wheeling about and sweeping out of the coach into the neighboring one, leaving behind a car full of stunned, silent passengers, staring after her or trading perplexed glances, murmuring soft Mama mias and the like. Her voice faded with distance, activity in our coach slowly resumed, people stowing baggage, removing coats, taking seats.

– On arrival at the station at Florence, I headed immediately to a kiosk to pick up a map of the city, maybe a guide book. A tall, sad-faced man who worked there saw me nosing about, asked if he could help. We began talking in Spanish, him listening attentively, thoughtfully, showing me maps and guide books in response. An absolute gentleman in every moment of our dealings. The exact opposite of the 30ish type in the kiosk who took money and tossed back change, making it clear he had no interest in anything well-mannered.

– Two, three hours later, sitting at a table in a small restaurant not far from my hotel. A group of seven businesspeople sat at a table between me and the window, talking loudly. Four 60ish men in suits, all white-haired and/or bald — one of them spoke exactly like — I mean EXACTLY like — Brando as Don Corleone. A fifth man, 50-something, went for the Tony Soprano look, doing a decent job of it due to his build and outfit: black sport shirt, sunglasses tilted up on his head. The final two members of the dining party: two 40ish women, putting up with the men.

– The waiter at the same restaurant — friendly, seemingly happy, in black pants and necktie w/ white shirt — cleaned up after the restaurant emptied out, smiling, singing softly as he replaced tableclothes then deposited silverware at each place setting.

– Today: I sat in a different restaurant, working on one of the most perfectly done roast chickens I have ever had the privilege of stuffing into my mouth, watching people passing outside in the mid-afternoon light and shadows. A couple approached along the street — a beautiful, narrow thoroughfare with scant automotive traffic so that pedestrians may walk wherever they like with little interruption. Him: a tall, 30ish Italian in a long, dark winter coat, his hair a shoulder-length mass of frizzy curls, brown everywhere except in front where it is a white, extravagant tangle. Her: a mid-20s Japanese woman, dressed nicely in leather coat and flared pants. Both push bicycles, both bikes nearly identical down to the black wire baskets hanging off the front of the handlebars, his empty, hers containing a green scarf. She talked, expression serious, all the way along, him listening, looking at her, down at the street, up into the sunlight, back at her.

**********************

One final thing. Something I’ve noticed these past two days: the numerous stores dealing in more intimate wear for women (sexy, insubstantial, beautifully made night-wear and undergarments) use extremely lifelike, nicely-breasted mannequins, all of whom seem to have impossible-to-ignore stiff nipples. Visually striking and attention-getting, but simply not fair to those of us who find themselves brutally beset by male hormones at the drop of an erect chest protrusion.

Ah, well.

Florence. One busy bugger of a city. Not a huge, sprawling, monster of a population center like Rome. More compact. And overrun with (a) traffic and (b) tourists.

I will admit that overrun may be a strong a word to apply to the tourist situation here. But that’s how it seems to me. They’re everywhere. (Yes, I know I’m one of them.) And the city — or at least the city center (the area around the train station, the area around the university, the areas with centuries of serious history) — seems geared to cater to them. Unlike Rome, the city isn’t so enormous that it can absorb the furriners without them affecting the basic feel of the place.

At least that’s how it felt to me yesterday. I spent a bunch of time walking, to the point where one of my little feet did some serious complaining last night, sporting an angry heel blister. (Despite me wearing well-broken-in hiking shoes. These things happen.) Groups of young Japanese women everywhere, gelati shops everywhere. And most of all, traffic, including the most intense concentration of scooters and motorcycles I have ever seen, many piloted by women.

Yesterday afternoon: after plenty of poking around various neighborhoods, I found myself feeling surprisingly unenamored of the place. Went back to my teeny hotel room, pulled out a book, chilled. Darkness fell. I’d seen a handbill earlier in the day for a concert of classical music, decided to go. Went out into the evening, the city feeling a bit more sedate. Wandered off in the direction of the church where the concert was to take place. And found that Florence feels drastically different at night. Less people. More of a sense of how the city of narrow streets and centuries-old buildings feels. More of a sense of how life here must feel. Plus, you’re walking along minding your own business, you turn a corner, you suddenly find yourself confronted with enormous, ancient, genuinely imposing old buildings. Churches, cathedrals, palaces, all with a sense of age that goes far beyond what I’m used to encountering in normal life. Unless you live somewhere like here. (Or Madrid — woo-hoo!)

Got seriously lost trying to find the concert, though not minding it very much, my feet taking me along empty streets, passing entrances to winding alleys along which I could see signs for trattorias, small shops. Reached the point where I could see the road that runs along the Arno River, the waterway that cuts across the southern part of the city, knew I’d gone way the hell out of the way, turned around. Wandered further to the east, along more deserted streets, the only businesses still open being restaurants/bars. Followed impulses that led me further and further into a warren of narrow streets where I passed a sign noting Dante’s home (or birthplace). The concert was to be held in the Church of Dante (la Chiesa de Dante), I figured I must be close.

Followed a further narrow street, leading me past a different church in which a choral concert was underway. Asked the woman (in Spanish, natch) sitting at the table outside about the concert I was searching for. She spewed a response, pointing, gesticulating wildly. I backed away, continued on in the direction she seemed to be indicating. The next teeny street to the right — dark, with few doorways — had a small table and chair positioned by one building, a man with a briefcase exiting the street as I paused and peered through the shadows. He glanced at me, turned around and loped back down that street, stopping at the table where he stopped to stare at me as I approached. A pile of handbills lay on the table, similar to the one I’d seen advertising the concert, the sound of a violin drifted faintly from the building behind the man, who stood motionless, still staring at me. I said I’d had trouble finding the place, he simply stared, almost like a junior high school teacher radiating disapproval at a student who’d shown up late for class. I brandished the money for a ticket, he came to, gave me my change. Then he opened the door, looked inside and gestured for me to enter, putting a finger to his lips.

A small church, given a sense of large space by its vaulted ceiling. Centuries and centures old, and austere, with few decorations, little of the usual Catholic frufru. Some paintings, maybe a tapestry. A display of candles off to one side, three or four burning. Dark, cold. Two rows of two-person pews, one to either side of the space, all filled with people listening, except the last one on the left side where I parked myself next to its single occupant.

A heavyset woman with a large mass of dark frizzy hair stood up on the altar playing a Bach sonata. Just her, no accompaniment, the sound filling the space. She played with assurance, the sound of the instrument coming across like a voice, seamless and rich, the kind of sound someone who really knows how to play the instrument can produce.

I hadn’t been to a concert of classical music in, er, I don’t know how long. A while. And I’d never been to one in quite this kind of setting. Afterward, it felt strange to see people in sneakers, jeans, etc. walking out of the place, dispersing along the narrow, dark streets. I made my way back toward the hotel, saw the Duomo of la Piazza San Giovanni looming above the buildings, headed in that direction. When I emerged into the piazza, I found myself dwarfed by the expanse of ancient structures and open cobblestone piazza. As I stood there, a bit overcome, the male of a couple walking by asked me something in Italian. I turned around, saying, “Sorry, what was that?” in Spanish. He asked again, still talking so fast I couldn’t make it out, I shrugged and said “No sé.” (”I don’t know.”) They laughed and moved on, me with no idea what the moment was about. I wandered around the piazza taking the enormity and sophistication of it in, a few other people out, mostly couples. Then I headed back to my temporary dive.

Question: why is there a bottle opener screwed to the wall of the bathroom in my hotel room? Am I supposed to hang out in there and drink?

*********************************

Two cartoons from an old New Yorker (Oct. 2002), read on the train ride up from Rome:

– A job interview. The interviewer sits behind a large desk on which rests a plaque that reads ‘PERSONNEL.’ The interviewee sits in a chair facing the desk. Interviewer: “How do you feel about doing time?”

– A 60ish couple, well-dressed and well-off, in a nicely appointed home. He’s halfway up a staircase, apparently on the way to retire for the evening, she stands in the foyer below. Him: “Before you come up, dear, don’t forget to secure the perimeter.”

Sometime yesterday, I shifted into full input mode and the data/sensations have been flowing in, me scribbling as much of it into my little notebook as I can manage. How I inflict all of that on whoever stops here without reducing them to idiocy, I don’t know. Plus I’ve discovered that internet access here in Florence — where I arrived a few short hours ago — is wildly expensive, so I may spend less time flogging this blather. We’ll see.

The major discovery of this last 24 hours: this speaking-Spanish-in-Italy thing? It’s fun. Many folks here know at least some Spanish, those that don’t mostly get the gist of what I’m trying across, the languages having so much in common. They often seem intrigued by this Spanish-speaking weirdo, the few who start out treating me as your garden-variety English-speaking tourist have to switch to Spanish or ask for help, either of which induces a different ‘tude. Woo-hoo!

Rome: Far more chaotic than Madrid. Feels more like New York than any European city I’ve been in. The subway trains are covered in graffitti. Traffic is heavy and wild. Life is fast-paced, to the point where just stepping out into the street gets my pulse cranking. Much of what I’ve seen of the city looks more tired than Madrid, the streets and buildings in poorer repair, more dog-eared. But the people? Genuinely interesting. A good-looking bunch — physically attractive, stylishly dressed, whether you’re talking high style or low style. And then there’s the language. Like constant singing. A slightly repetitive repetoire, but easy on the ears.

Last night as I walked back to the hotel from a meal, I passed through la piazza Barberini, alive with pedestrians and the usual river of fast-moving traffic. Out of nowhere, amid the usual mix of buses, taxis, passenger vehicles, five ATV’s came whizzing around the corner. Moving at high speed — each sporting two huge banners waving from poles attached to the rear of the vehicle, the riders standing up as they passed — they whipped by then were gone, disappearing up one of the streets that feed into the piazza.

Roma.

More tomorrow.

I’m sitting at an internet cafe in a neighborhood north of Termini in Rome, a few blocks from where I’m staying. Have been in Rome less than 24 hours. The high points so far: (a) the food, (b) me speaking Spanish to confuse the Italians who deal with me as if I were an American tourist. (It works.)

The flight from Madrid got underway late. Late, late, late. Thirty minutes after takeoff time we still sat on the tarmac, one of the flight crew announced we were delayed because “some people” were searching through passengers’ luggage. Meanwhile, the strange mix of jazz and muzak-version popular songs Iberia tends to play on their inboard sound system pooted along, at one point spewing a scary lite-remake of Hey Jude, then a bit later We Can Work It Out. Somewhere in there, I glanced out the window, noticed a handful of airport personnel grouped around a large flatbed cart that contained six or seven large pieces of luggage. Talking, laughing (the people, not the baggage). After a while, an airport truck showed up, they tossed the baggage into it, it took off. The employees disappeared. We finally headed out to the runway and got going.

Next to me sat a 30ish Italian couple. Tan. Way tan. Maybe from vacation time on the Spanish coast. And big into snuggling, big into handling one another. (Which is okay by me; it’s just been a while since I’ve spent so much time in close proximity to that much foreplay when I wasn’t one of the participants.) A couple of hours later, we were in Rome.

Termini Station: the single longest railway station I’ve ever seen. Got off the train and began walking. Continued walking. And walked some more. Walked and walked and walked, dragging my luggage. Then walked some more. As I neared the station, I passed a couple of close-set columns between which sat two 20-something males looking as if they might have been through recent hard times, a bit soiled and street-weary. Sitting in the shadows, sharing a loaf of bread and some cheese, pouring some wine. I walked past, the aroma of fresh bread filled the air. Fifty, sixty feet away, on another track platform, the lights of a large vending machine apparently dealing in beer or harder stuff shone in the evening darkness. The illuminated words that ran across its top read “SELF BAR SELF BAR SELF.”

Managed to figure out the subway, managed to find my stop, managed to get upstairs to the street, managed (with help from a kind Italian woman) to find my hotel. Checked in. Asked the man behind the desk if he spoke Spanish or English. He spoke both, didn’t care which we used, we blabbed in Spanish. By this time, it was nine o’clock. Tossed my stuff into my room, went back out for something to eat. Found a neighborhood joint tucked away in a narrow cobblestone backstreet-almost-alley. Talked Spanish to them. The proprietor knew Spanish, everything was fine, though I don’t think they knew what to make of me. I suspect they see me, they check me off as an American. Then I start with the Spanish.

Went back to the hotel, checked out Italian TV. Watched some of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu and Gabriel Byrne emoting their way through a strange version of The Three Musketeers. On shuffling into the bathroom this morning, I found me dealing for the first time with a phenomenon I’ve heard about: a corner of the room posing as a shower. There’s the usual washbasin/mirror thing, two feet to the right there’s a showerhead poking out of the wall and a drain in the floor beneath. And that’s it. Got it going and, despite my elaborate attempts not to spatter water everywhere, managed to spatter water just about everywhere. (We’re talking about the culture that gave birth to miracles of engineering during the days of the Roman Imperium. Can’t they hang a shower curtain? Oh, never mind.) A large, beautiful bathroom, apart from that one glitch.

A cold, sunny morning. Streetside trees along the walk to the Metro stood studded with oranges.

And here’s a weird feature of the local subway system: many stations don’t vend tickets — one has to find a shop aboveground to procure them, usually a tobacconist. I had to wander around the plaza until I located one, a currency exchange shop. Plunged belowground, grabbed a train, returned to Termini, picked up a train ticket for tomorrow’s journey to Florence. Also picked up a Spanish-Italian dictionary.

The outing for the day: the Villa Borghesi, a sprawling, beautifully preserved estate north of here. A beautiful place — many, many acres of wooded land, rolling expanses of lawn. Also, several enormous old buildings, one of which houses the art collection. The public is only admitted every two hours, only in limited groups. I had an hour and a half until the next entry time, picked up a ticket, found a bench out in the sun. (Temperature around 60, people from all over the planet strolling around, soaking up the rays, all kinds of languages being spoken.) Shortly before entry time, I went to the in-house cafeteria, down in the building’s basement, for some chow prior to showtime. The white-costumed guy behind the counter had me pegged as an American dimwit, asked me what I wanted, his tone bored, condescending. I replied in Spanish, he stopped with the ‘tude and dealt me some food.

The collection: pretty interesting. Many, many rooms hinting at a seriously wealthy lifestyle, most large with high, vaulted ceilings and marble to burn. Statuary everywhere, mostly depicting what might be called females of a robust physical aspect. (How long can one hang around staring at carvings of nymphs, goddesses and shapely, naked Roman babes? How could people live with that kind of thing in every room and concentrate on daily life?)

A strange feature: the Daphne and Apollo room. Daphne: a nymph, fathered by a river god, Peneus (pause for loud, editorial throat clearing), whom Apollo found extremely attractive. So attractive that after her rejection of his advances, he pursued her physically, deciding to have her one way or another. As he closed in, she called to her father to turn her into something else. Mid-stride, she turned into a laurel tree. The central piece in the room is an impressively crafted, life-sized sculpture of the pursuit, Apollo getting his hands on her just as she began the transformation. However: on a nearby wall is an oil painting of Apollo, seated in a rustic locale, naked, in all his virile glory, except for a green spread around his lower body. For some reason, he holds a violin, both arms thrust into the air, the one with the bow waving toward the sky. Behind him, near the left edge of the painting is a nubile babe in a white dress — Daphne, I’m guessing — cavorting by some trees. And off behind her, toward the horizon stand what appear to be several modern buildings, as in 20th century architecture. The two furthest toward the horizon thrust up into the sky, looking for all the world like office buildings or tall blocks of luxury flats.

I stood there for quite a while trying to figure it out, finally gave up.

Walked back to this neighborhood from there, along the length of la via Veneto, a concentration point of stores selling expensive neckties. One — Villi? Zilli? Gilli? can’t remember — claims to sell the finest tie in the world. Might be they do, I can’t say. I hate wearing neckties.

So there you have it, Rome, day 1. Off to Florence tom’w for four days, then back here. Further updates will happen at some point.

Later. Be well.

This morning a friend is flying in from out of country for the weekend (and boy, will his arms be… never mind). On Monday I leave for nine or ten days in Italy. Which means there will probably be far less of far too much writing for a while. (Woo-hoo! Think of all the free time that’ll give you! Try to use it wisely. Party with moderation. You might even want to sit quietly down now and then for some navel contemplation.)

By the way, remember the Swedish chef from Sesame Street (as in Bork, Bork, Bork!)? Should you ever get the desire to re-set your Google preferences in his argot, you’ll probably want to go here.

Later.

Seen on the Metro recently during the evening rush-hour, in a car crowded with people in business attire: a 30ish guy seated mid-car sporting a long, dirty blonde billy-goat style chin beard — a thick tuft of hair jutting out from the point of his jaw, waving around mid-air. He sat expressionless, eyes hidden behind dark glasses. A baseball-style cap (bill forward) emblazoned with a “Motley Crüe” logo perched atop his head. The rest of his outfit: a black-leather jacket bore insignia on both biceps which THE CLASH in big, white block letters; blue jeans; heavy, scuffed, thick-soled black shoes. When he stood up to get off at la estación Callao, I saw his hair had been pulled back into a long, thin braid that hung down from the rear of his Motley Crüe headpiece, terminating just above his butt.

I got off at the next stop. On exiting the train, I could hear the churning sound of an electric guitar pumping out heavy metal, growing louder as I ascended the stairs from the Metro platform. At the first cross-passageway, a rocker in black leather and black jeans stood about ten feet down the corridor, feet wide apart, planted solidly on the concrete floor, the player bent over his instrument, pick hand flailing away at the strings, the thick, swirling sound of tortured chords filling the hallway around him. He paid no attention to the stream of Madrileños in office dress hurrying by, heading home after a long day of work. They in turn paid no attention to him.

I moved on, out of the station and up the stairs into cold air and busy evening streets.

[continued from yesterday's entry]

Lots of parents and kids — 20- and 30-something parents with youngsters, middle-aged parents accompanied by teens and 20-somethings, older folks with kids of all ages. Lots of little ones around, hand in hand with bigger folk or in strollers. I can’t imagine what the scene must have felt like to someone that young. Beyond absorption, maybe, apart from getting the sense of an ocean of people, lots of noise.

Close by me, to the right of the doorway, standing against the building, stood a tall, unshaven, gray-haired 40-something. There on his own, maybe with nowhere else to go. Smoking, watching the scene, directing comments at nearby people. With time, it became apparent that he was either a bit drunk or off in some other way. Whatever, he was there when I showed up, he was there when I left. He may still be there.

The building’s front hall was open, a booth selling lottery tickets situated a few feet inside, open for business and getting it from some of the couples and family groups who ducked inside to catch their breath. As time passed, more and more people slowly collected in the space beside and behind me, an indication of the gathering intensity outside as thousands and thousands of Madrileños continued pouring into the plaza. The pace at which the stream of humans that had been flowing steadily by gradually slowed as the crowd’s density skyrocketed until movement essentially came to a halt, the throng packed tightly together. And still the tide of people arriving from east of the plaza continued.

Somewhere between 8 and 8:30, three speakers read a prepared piece from a platform in the center of the plaza — Pedro Almodóvar (Spanish film director, now up for two Academy Awards) and two other people — after which sirens began going off as if a bombardment had begun, followed by a brief burst of explosions and smoke, I suppose providing a graphic reminder of what this massive gathering was all about –- the threat of bombs raining down from the sky in a country on the other side of the Mediterranean.

The crowd in our part of the plaza had come to a standstill, the only forward motion happening fitfully, at a snail’s pace. Further people had pushed their way into the doorway next to me, including a drunk who settled in next to me and began playing with a baby seated on its mother’s shoulders right in front of us. Neither the baby nor the mother wanted anything to do with the guy, who took no notice of their displeasure, continuing to trying to take the baby’s hands, moving its arms around, chanting something inane the whole time. A group of 50 and 60-somethings in front of me decided right then to try and get to the north-south street, I stepped down from the doorway behind them, intending to ride their wake to the nearby street and around the corner in the direction of home.

The atmosphere had become tense with so many people wanting to move and not being able to, everyone feeling the growing pressure of the sea of bodies behind being pushed into us by the continuous arrival of marchers. Ten or fifteen tense minutes later, we made it around the corner, where the pressure began to slowly let up as we moved away from the plaza. A stream of folks heading in the other direction, attempting the laughable task of entering the plaza, slowed things for a while until we reached a point where other streets branched off and the horde began to thin out.

I was ready to be away from crowds by then, made my way as quickly as I could between chatting, walking groups toward this barrio. Gran Vía had little traffic apart from the river of pedestrians, moving across the avenue at will, the few cars making their way slowly, carefully along. I passed someone pushing a wheelchair through the crowd, a full-sized plastic human skeleton seated in it, its hands holding a sign that translated to something like, “Oh, I don’t know — Bush seems okay to me.”

Though the crowds thinned some after fleeing the area around Sol, there were still more people here in the neighborhood than I’ve ever seen apart from Gay Pride weekend, a monstrous weekend in these parts, considering Chueca is Madrid’s version of Greenwich Village. When I finally reached my building and stepped inside, the relief at being alone after all that time in a mob scene felt indescribably sweet.

That was Saturday.

Sunday: quiet Madrid streets, abundant sunshine, blue, cloudless skies. I’d had an impulse to go to a show that evening, checked the listings, found something promising in an alternative theater. Almost immediately, the phone rang, a Spanish friend on the other end of the line began telling me she’d been thinking about going to a show.

That night we found ourselves in the alternative theater watching three French knuckleheads — Les Poubelle Boys — careen their way through a display of organized musical chaos. They played with language (French, Spanish, English, a bit of German, liberally sprinkled with nonsense dialogue), they abused each other, they danced, they engaged in cheap sight gags, they sang, they played complex musical routines on household/industrial objects (especially janitorial supplies), until they arrived at a place of weaving wildly back and forth between insistent clowning and some accomplished renditions of jazz standards.

Sunday shows are often lower energy affairs. Not this one. This audience was ready to party, and by the end of the gig’s first half, the Boys began looking a bit surprised to find themselves in the middle of a scene that was practically shaking plaster dust from the ceiling. They spent the second half alternating between appearing a bit stunned at the whooping madhouse their Sunday evening crowd had become and milking it for all it was worth.

It was one of those occasional performance events when everything falls into place, the event transforming itself into something way beyond the expectations of performers and audience. A collision of chemistry and timing, sprinkled lavishly with fairy dust.

This is the Boys’ last week in Madrid. I have an Irish friend coming for the weekend — I may have to inflict these nutbags on him.

It’s now mid-week. I’ve been to Spanish class, I’ve been writing. The scope of the work across the street increases daily. Today generators and worksheds were trucked in, along with palettes of bricks and other supplies. Big noise has begun.

I’ve had this piso for over a year and a half, a lovely, mostly tranquil time — numerous people from the states/the U.K. have threatened to come visit, none have. Now that construction has begun right in front of the building and peace&quiet is fleeing toward the horizon with its ass on fire, one friend is showing up this weekend, others have made inquiries about March and April.

Ah, well.

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

On a completely unrelated note:

What’s it gonna be? Salvation? Or pursue a degree in evil?

Something that’s been happening frequently in recent weeks: three or so hours after I fall asleep at night, I wake up. Feeling warm. Way too warm — hot, even. If I’m wearing anything — socks, sometimes a lightweight pair of thermal bottoms — I pull ‘em off. Usually makes no difference. I generally have to turn on the light and read or get up and sit at the computer for a bit before heading back to bed/sleep. It’s as if my body’s got a cycle of some sort going in which the inner thermostat gets turned up during the wee hours. If I drag myself out from under the covers for a while, I can usually get a few hours of sleep afterwards. Strange, but there it is. Or maybe it’s not so strange. Maybe plenty of people experience something similar.

So, last night: fell asleep just before midnight — bear with me, I swear I won’t go on endlessly with this — woke up around three. Got up, turned on the ‘puter. Went back to bed sometime later, read a bit, drifted off. Hammering woke me up around 8:30 — both in the building to the rear of this one (rehabbing, from old apartments to new condos) and in the soon-to-be ex-empty lot across the street.

In fact, on opening my eyes yesterday morning I noted the tink-tinking of hammers at work across the street. After several weeks of nonactivity [see entry of January 10], two or three workmen had shown up and were (a) working the soil, digging out debris, burning any chunks of wood they came across and (b) working on the walls of the neighboring buildings, hammering away all plaster and concrete until they reached the underlying bricks. Readying those surfaces for the soon-to-be-abutting walls of the coming building.

This morning when I left the building (one of my few vaguely Elvis-like moments), there were six or seven workmen out there working around the lot. If the builders have held off ’til now on the assumption that the Madrid weather would be doing its usual second-half-of-February-warming thing, they may have to re-think that. Winter has crept back in over the last few days under cover of skies blue enough and sunlight brilliant enough that the early to mid-afternoon hours supplied the illusion of vaguely spring-like weather. Weather with the teasing promise of something spring-like. The air today is genuinely cold, the sky a heavy, uniform gray, a kind of sky that often heralds snowfall in the northeast U.S.

Went out, did some stuff, stopped in the plaza on the way back to pick up a newspaper. The friendly old coot dealing with me stopped suddenly mid-deal, looked worriedly up at the gray above. “¡Jo!” he said. “Creo que he sentido una gota de agua.” (”Bugger! I think I felt a drop of water.”) “Puede ser,” I said, also looking up at the sky. Went out to lunch a bit later, when I emerged back out into the street afterwards, snow had started up. Light as could be, individual flakes drifting down here and there. It’s intensified a bit since then, though still not enough to threaten any accumulation — the first time I’ve seen snow fall here during the day.

But enough about the *^$@#!! weather. It’s time to talk about

What I Did This Weekend

What I did? Lots. Tons. Plenty. All sorts of stuff.

Friday: went to see “About Schmidt” (here called “A Propósito De Schmidt”). Bwaaaahaha! What a hoot! A fairly dark hoot, to be sure, but a hoot nonetheless. Some seriously funny stuff, along with some seriously poignant stuff, along with some seriously uncomfortable stuff. All kinds of stuff tied up in one entertaining package. (End of review.)

Saturday: spent a lot of time out in the cold, sunlit air enjoying the city, watching its people. Late afternoon, went to another movie, “Al Sur de Granada” (”South of Granada”). Like most of the Spanish films I’ve seen here, a high-quality production. Beautifully made, good acting. The problem was the story’s protagonist, an English 20-something git, a young writer from a wealthy family, ‘roughing it’ for a year in a poor town in the south of Spain, to experience some real life. Has adventures of all sorts with the locals, gets involved with a beautiful, intelligent (though uneducated) young woman. Gets her pregnant, spews a lot of high-minded blather about love and nothing being more important than their relationship and the coming birth. Goes back to England to attend to things with family/friends, promising to return soon. Returns three years later, married. Married, but concerned, so concerned about his child and ex-life-partner, in a way that’s supposed to seem sensitive and high-minded. Blah blah blah. Pillock.

The theater was a few blocks from la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, one of the three concentration points of the anti-war mobilization taking place that evening. The demonstrations here in Spain — a country that is heavily against the war (anywhere from 80% to 90% of the population, depending on which poll you consult) despite the actions of its ruling party in support of the Bush Administration — promised to be huge and high-energy, something I’d decided to experience and observe. So that when I left the theater, I walked the few blocks to Sol where I found myself in the middle of a quickly-swelling ocean of people. An ocean that, it turned out, stretched a mile eastward to the huge traffic circle in front of the main Post Office building, then a further mile to the south from there to Atocha, another major traffic circle. An immense showing of people — nearly a million according to the Spanish media; closer to 600,000 according to the ruling party, the only political faction from the current Congress that did not take part in the turnout. Once in the middle of the crowd, it was nearly impossible to move. The main avenues were clogged with people streaming into the plaza, most of the rest of the space was fenced in. The only recourse was to attach oneself to the few lines of people snaking their way through the crowd in search of ways out. Which I did, people-watching the entire time.

The crowd seemed to consist largely of families, cutting across the spectrum of age/economic standing/political orientation in a startlingly balanced representation of Spanish society. A kind of universal, all-inclusive gathering of people that I don’t think I’ve ever seen at what might be called a political gathering, most sporting NO A LA GUERRA stickers or signs. Banners flew, along with Spanish flags. Waves of chanting broke out, moved across the plaza, then faded away. The energy seemed mostly positive, maybe rejoicing in the coming together of all parts of the political spectrum, though loudly, vociferously making the underlying point of the mobilization.

Quite a scene.

I finally found a line of people that successfully made its way to the edges of the scene. Once free to move around, I decided to grab the Metro down to Atocha. Down in the Metro station, I discovered I’d left my $$$ and my Metro pass at home, so that leaving Sol was not an option unless I wanted to walk north toward home. Not what I was looking to do just yet. I followed the periphery of the plaza east, until the volume of people arriving from that direction made it impossible to go any further, where a wide, nearly-empty doorway presented itself, looking to be a good vantage point. And once I’d parked myself there, I found that it was indeed a good vantage spot, with clear lines of sight, situated only 70 or 80 feet from a north-south street that could take me in the direction of home when I wanted to bolt. So there I remained for the next hour and a half, as darkness fell and the tide of people moving into the plaza steadily intensified.

For the hour and a half, I watched Madrid take to the streets in a massive show of unanimity.

[continued in next entry]

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

Just went over to myway.com to check mail. Following are two of the four featured Entertainment headlines in the portal’s news rundown:

Baywatch Women Say They’re Back On Track
Johnny Cash Covers Nine Inch Nails Song

I’m at a loss for words. (Probably a good thing.)

Further genuine web-searches conducted recently via Google and other engines that have linked people to runswithscissors:

dealing with a dominating man

tapas dispenser

gym contortionist boys

ballerina decorations for bedrooms

my father came

dog leashes italy shaped like hot dogs

pee break

“yea though I walk through the valley” cat walking picture

lettuce entertain you zapa

self pity resentment normalcy adult children alcoholic

funny bitch slap stick figure signs

In recent weeks, my nighttime hours have been packed with dream activity. All sorts of adventures and carryings-on, all night long. Not a whole lot of it comes back with me to my waking state, I remember enough to know a lot’s been going on.

Last night, I drifted in and out of sleep (the streets here in the barrio were alive with the sound of happy revelers all night long, literally until 8 a.m.), slipping back and forth between finding myself here in my bed and finding myself in other places, journeying. Buses, planes, cars, lots of people around. Just before I woke up a short time ago, as daylight was breaking here in Madrid, I was in the middle of traveling with a very nice woman, the two of us on a bus together. The kind of bus you ride at airports. We were both standing in the bus, both with a piece of wheeled luggage, talking to each other. The bus stops, we get out on a concrete path that heads up a gentle hill and down the other side. As we walk up the hill, a black cat darts out onto the path ahead of us, pausing there, its tail up in the air. I pause to say hello, stroking it, its rear elevating a bit in happy response, the cat looking at me, enjoying a quick encounter with a human. It then takes off and we continue on, over the hill to a road where we head toward a parked car, along with a third person, a male we apparently know. As we’re nearing the car I start singing:

Ain’t superstitious, but a black cat crossed my trail.

Well, I ain’t superstitious, but a black cat crossed my trail.

I wish I knew the last line to this verse.

I remember the other two people looking at me, smiling, the male just reaching the car.

And with that I woke up, the Jeff Beck version of “I Ain’t Superstitious” floating through my thoughts, over and over, and has remained so through the day (alternating with “We Are The Champions” by Queen, which was on the telly when I went to lunch at la cafetería Vivares). Me still not remembering the last line of that verse (or of the second verse, for that matter) until I finally tracked it down on the net.

Well, I ain’t superstitious, but a black cat crossed my trail

I ain’t superstitious, but a black cat crossed my trail

Don’t dust me with no broom, babe, just might land in jail

Well, the dogs be howling all round my neighbourhood

Dogs be howling all round my the neighbourhood

Sure is a bad sign, babe, don’t mean no earthly good

(Lyrics and music by Willie Dixon – © 1963)

When I pulled myself out of bed, the sky was mostly overcast. It quickly burned off, except for high hazy clouds through which has filtered strong February sunlight. The kind of day that looks nice and mild until you get out there and find out it’s actually *^%#@!!! chilly, with a cold breeze nosing around that makes everyone pull their coats more tightly around themselves.

As I walked around in the middle of the late Saturday a.m. bustle, I realized that this is my favorite part of the week: Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The one block of weekend daytime hours when people everything’s open and the streets fill up with people getting errands done before the 2 o’clock closing time. People move freely through the streets, in and out of stores of all kinds, from neighborhood grocery jobs to hardware stores to pharmacies to clothing stores of all kinds, and everything in between. Cafes and corner joints are hopping with folks getting café and something to eat. Bakeries do big business. The sidewalks are aswirl with people striding along, carrying bags, often with baguettes sticking out the top.

I picked up a couple of baguettes myself at a neighborhood bakery that makes delicious tender ones which actually last a couple of days instead of hardening up after a few hours. Then grabbed a newspaper and a cup of morning café. After which I walked for a while, winding up out on Gran Vía where I made the error of going into Madrid Rock, my venue of choice for music purchases.

More and more CDs lately seem to be available at heavily discounted prices, and they’re moving. Could be that the music industry here has finally absorbed the fact that the soaring, rapacious prices (17-21 euros per undiscounted CD) are a great deal of what’s responsible for the vibrant health of the black market counterfeit CD sales in Madrid. The store swarmed with Saturday shoppers, many there in groups, chattering as they drifted through the aisles. Back in the bargain section, a 20-something Spanish guy riffled through rows and rows of titles, a stack of 12 or 14 discs in hand (heavy on the Jethro Tull), deliberating at great length, pausing every couple of minutes to go back through what he had.

I recently heard something on the radio from a band called Sexy Sadie, and saw that all their CDs were heavily marked down, including their brand new release, and decided to take a chance on the new one. At the register, I found that the purchase included a free pass for two people to an upcoming Madrid concert by the band, which made me insufferably happy.

It remains a beautiful day here. Most tiendas have closed for the weekend, the streets are quieter, more tranquil. A good time to head out and see what diversion there is to be had.

Later.

For last minute shoppers, some Valentine’s Day card ideas from Stacey Nightmare:

Card 1

Card Front: Valentine, you’re always on my mind!

Card Back: Please drop that whole “restraining order” nonsense.

Card 2

Card Front: Will you be my Valentine?

Card Back: No?? Why the fuck not?! What are you, gay?!

Card 3

Card Front: Happy Valentines Day!

Card Back: I will make you love me!!!!

Card 4

Card Front: Hey, Valentine, thanks for a great year and a half!

Card Back: Does this mean we’re dating? Can I hold your hand in public now? I’ll try to stop crying whenever we have sex.

More (far less polite) card ideas can be found here.

Man, I had a hard time concentrating today. On anything. I mean, seriously. Distracted, not a happy boy. The solution: go see “About Schmidt” (here called “A Propósito de Schmidt”). Which did the trick. God bless Jack Nicholson.

Something I noticed in the film’s closing credits: of the seven Drivers listed, three had nicknames. They were:

Sparky

Sluggo

Johnboy

Afterwards, when I walked into the men’s room, the gent who entered ahead of me walked into one of the three little toilet closets — they don’t seem to have stalls here very often; mostly little rooms with a door to close and (in theory) lock — and shut the door. There were five urinals lined up along one wall with a guy standing at the middle one. I parked myself at the far left one and as I dumped the ballast I noticed why the fella who entered ahead of me opted for one of the toilet rooms: the guy at the middle urinal seemed to be in the middle of a crisis. He stood right up against the porcelain, his body actually leaning into the bugger, his head bent forward so that the top of his skull rested against the wall. When I first took note of him, he seemed to be shaking, almost quaking. That settled down, but his general air remained tense, one of something approximating existential angst (perhaps in keeping with the film we’d just seen). At one point, as he stood there tinkling away, he raised a closed fist and began slowly punching the little FLUSH button, causing repeated spritzing by the urinal. When he finished, he zipped up and rushed immediately out the door. I noticed the floor in front of that urinal had been left generously puddled with liquid, no humongo surprise. Then I noticed that the floor in front of the one next to me looked about the same. The floor in front of mine, on the other hand, was clean and dry. I am such a grown-up.

And with that, I swaggered proudly, smugly back out into the world.

Later, at a bookstore I wandered into, I happened to glance at a shelf of self-help books. The following five titles were leaning up against each other:

¡Sí, tú puedes! (Yes, you can!)

El Dragón Ya No Vive Aquí! (The Dragon Does Not Live Here!)

¿Por Qué Nunca Tengo Suficiente? (How Come I Never Have Enough?)

¿Quieres Cambiar Tu Vida? (Do You Want To Change Your Life?)

Como Hacerte Rico Usando Tu Imaginación (How To Make Yourself Rich Using Your Imagination)

¡Madre Mia!

Meanwhile, it’s Valentine’s Day (love notes or correspondence of a flirty nature can be sent to runswithscissors@myway.com). I’ve translated three more love letters from this last Sunday’s El País weekly magazine. (See journal entries for 11 Feb. and 13 Feb. for more.) Don’t let the title of the first one confuse you:

Nine love letters

In none do I write my name. Neither do I write yours. Between lines: “passion that burns me,” as between the curtains I see you, luminous, in the mornings.

When I recognize the soft sound of your steps on the landing and then open the door and bump into you, as if by chance, in the elevator you rob me of my breath.

All the songs that I hear on the radio talk of you.

At the banquet, the feast of your kisses, I am never invited because your husband is always there.

I pass the hours in my studio, and between lines: “passion that burns me.”

And like my literature, which no one will ever read, I keep these nine letters in a drawer in the hope that the tenth will say I love you.

– J.G. Mindundi

72 years

72 years. One says it quickly. 72 years getting up and going to bed early. Day by day. Week by week. Month by month. Year by year.

72 years of affection, of chats, of quarrels, of company, of tenderness, of work. You in the house. Me in the mine. The two of us in the country. And a war. And a post-war. And hunger. And cold and misery. And six children (one already buried).

72 years of joys and pains, of shared dreams, of walking the same road, step by step, hand in hand, skin against skin.

72 years and now you’ve gone. And I… I don’t know who I am.

– Aquilino Oveja Alvarez

Weakened

Dear Sandra:

Last night I learned to love you. I never imagined that it would make me so tired. But it’s worth it.

Many kisses –

– Pablo González-Posada

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

That’s right, it’s Saint Valentine’s Day. Let the people in your life know how much they mean to you.

Later.

Pucker up.

Another love letter from this last weekend’s El País Sunday magazine (copyright 2003 El País) [see journal entry of two days ago for others]:

My dear love,

I always saw you, but one day I saw you. What dignity! What you hid behind that elegant, provocative hat! And that radiant smile….

I finally saw you, dear neighbor: finally you pierced me. (Metaphorically, of course.) My heart — not a beginner — recognized immediately the furor, the uncontrollable madness of a love being born. That event — one has to be precise here — took place in the sixth decade of a life, one that I considered to be full, complete. My god, dear neighbor, the ache.

We stole glances at each other through your windows, my windows. Then came the conversation at the mailboxes, the small, indiscreet grafittis, the exchange of e-mail, of intense letters. We did foolish things to meet, to find each other, and only God knows how foolish they were.

And now you’re there, my dear love, a man among my books, my poems, my plates, my clothes, my writing pads, and you’ve settled in the landscapes of my heart (landscapes not very calm, but sincere).

Your napkin holder is in my kitchen, your pajamas are tucked away beneath my pillows. It’s what happens when two people are neighbors, very close neighbors.

Happy Valentine’s Day, neighbor.

– Silvana Croze

Lately – meaning the last couple of weeks – I’ve been experiencing the song-on-an-endless-loop phenomenon. To the max, at times. I’ll be out walking somewhere, I’ll be here sitting writing or in the kitchen making something to eat, suddenly I’ll become aware that part of a song is repeating itself over and over in my head. Could be a bit of a melody I heard a musician playing in the Metro. Could be something I was listening to at home earlier in the day. Could be something that found its way into my head all by itself, out of the blue — a tune I haven’t heard or thought of in months, years.

Generally, I don’t fret too much about this sort of thing. These song fragments tend to go away on their own. If one hangs around well beyond the time its welcome has worn away, I’ll switch on the radio or turn my attention to something else. We’re not talking about major disruption of life.

However.

Early this morning, pre-daybreak:

Me: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz…

My Teeny Brain: (The intro to “Journey To The Center of The Mind” by The Amboy Dukes begins quietly, followed by the first verse:) Leave your cares behind, come with us and find…

Me: …zzzzzzz… *snort*… huh?

My Teeny Brain: …the pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind….

Me: Wha’? Oh, no. Oooooh, no….

My Teeny Brain: (Getting louder:) Come along if you care, come along if you dare….

Me: …oh, god, please. Please, not that one….

My Teeny Brain: …take a ride to the land inside of your mind….

Me: Not the fucking Amboy Dukes

My Teeny Brain: Beyond the seas of thought, beyond the realm of what…

Me: … not stoner rock at… what time is it, anyway? (Squints at clock, moans.) Early, that’s what time it is. Way too *&$%#^*!!! early.

My Teeny Brain: (Paying me no mind:) …across the stream of hopes and dreams where things are really not….

Me: Must ignore. Must breathe. (Tries a moment of calm, relaxed breathing.)

My Teeny Brain: (Fading:) Come along if you care, come along if you dare…

Me: (The breathing has some effect.) That’s it. Breathe: in, out…. Relax those muscles….

My Teeny Brain: (Fading further:) …take a ride to the land inside of your mind….

Me: (Breathing more slowly, more deeply.) Better. That’s right, relax.

My Teeny Brain: (Fading even further:) But please realize you’ll probably be surprised, for it’s the land unknown to man where fantasy is fact….

Me: (Mumbling to self:) Much better. Muuuuch better. Mmm… sleeeeep….

My Teeny Brain: (Beginning to fade away:) So if you can, please understand, you might not come baaa-aaa-aaa-aaack!

Me: (Just beginning to fall back asleep:) Mmmm… zzzzzzz….

My Teeny Brain: (TED NUGENT GUITAR BREAK AT FULL VOLUME)

Me: (Wide awake:) Oh, bugger.

The song cleared out at some point, I fell back asleep for real. When I woke up, no further tunes inflicted themselves on me. Until this afternoon at the gym, when a popular Europop number playing on the sound system, “Soy Yo,” worked its way into my head and came home with me.

Not a bad number, really, as pop trifles go.

And what tunes have been whirling around in your head?

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