far too much writing, far too many photos

Daylight savings time arrived here two mornings ago, which meant the magical disappearance of an hour yesterday a.m. The day felt oddly shorter while at the same time feeling oddly longer as the evening sky remained light until sometime between 8:30 and 9. It turned out to be a work day for me so that the afternoon flashed by, exacerbating the confusing feeling of temporal goofiness.

This morning, a different story. I’d resolved to get myself up and out to the gym early so that I could return home and get some work done before the pre-midday hours had galloped completely away. Going to the gym early here has a whole different meaning than it does in the States — the Spaniards don’t seem to hold with this rising-before-dawn-to-go-punish-one’s-body thing. Meaning the health clubs here don’t open their doors until 8 a.m. on weekday mornings (or I at least have yet to come across one that does). When I arrived around 9, there were few souls to be found doing the workout thing. And no wonder. Between the daylight savings time morning sky not getting light until somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 a.m. and early morning clouds/showers rendering the outside world even darker, pulling oneself out of bed was not a very good time.

As I got myself ready, left the house, squeezed into a packed, silent Metro train, I found that I simply could not wake the hell up. My mind remained clouded, my eyes didn’t want (and one still doesn’t want) to focus. Got to the gym, stumbled down to the locker room, pulled street clothes off, dragged gym outfit on, stumbled upstairs, began subjecting myself to various exercise machines where this little body of mine did everything I asked of it, though me and it remained half-asleep. At one point, I’m standing at a chromium monstrosity doing a bunch of reps, a petite 30-something Spanish woman appears three or four feet to my right, at the next machine over. Very cute, done up in a skin-tight outfit, every hair in place, headphones plugged into ears w/ walkradio playing. Within a few seconds of showing up, she (it had to be her — no other humans were nearby) let go with a ferocious, silent explosion of flatulence, her expression innocently impassive, betraying no involvement in the sudden murderous release of human mustard gas. Brutal. And even that didn’t wake me up.

The sun managed to work its way free of the clouds during my time indoors, so that when I stepped outside the atmosphere had changed quite a bit, blue sky showing, the temperature elevated to a jacket-opening point. That helped a little bit. I’m making my way down the street, a late-50s denizen of the barrio is out walking his dog. A pup — a big pup, the size of many full-grown dogs. Appeared to be a mix of a golden and some other kind of retriever, so that it looked like a very sizeable golden with pale, almost white fur. And it’s happy to be outside with its human, prancing along, tongue hanging joyfully out. They approach a bench, the pup decides it must get up on the seat, which it does, making the 50-something come to a stop. The pup gets up on the seat, puts its front paws up on the bench-back, bringing it just about up to face level with its human, where it starts nuzzling and wriggling about. I’m a sucker for that kind of display, it gets me smiling in a way that lasts for blocks and blocks. Still not yet what I would call truly awake, but a touch more comfortably here in the day.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot more big dogs than I used to, and most of them have been odd mixes. I was sitting at la Plaza de España late this afternoon when a gent walked by with a dog that — lessee, how can I describe this? At first glance, it looked like a German shepherd. On second glance, it still looked like a shepherd, only one that had gone through some strange changes. After a minute of study, I figured it out: same size as a shepherd, same color, exact same body, only with the head and tail of a collie.

Strange.

There is often a detail of two mounted police officers who hang around la Plaza de España. Today, for the first time, they’d parked their horse-trailer-style truck in the plaza, just off the main promenade. When I arrived it was just sitting there, no sign of life or activity in its vicinity. Turns out the officers had been around back getting the horses ready — all of a sudden a ramp goes down, next thing I know the two Madrid municipal cops appear out of the back of the vehicle on a pair of the biggest, most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen. Pure white, all sinew, moving like each bulging muscle contained a coiled spring. One officer gets his horse out of the truck, they move around to the side and come to a stop, the officer stroking the neck of his mount, getting it settled. The other horse was either spooked or feeling its oats, ‘cause it came out of that truck like it was ready to toss its rider. Jerking around in an unpredictable manner, bouncing sharply here and there, going around in circles, doing everything but full-out bucking. Its rider managed to guide it away from the truck to an expanse of dirt/sand where the two of them slowly got things sorted out.

Man, it was a glorious day — mild temperatures, with an indescribable sense of constant glowing light, despite the sky being about 75% filled with huge white clouds. Birds flying everywhere, feeling springtime in their bones and expressing it with flight and song. A dramatic kind of day, exactly like the last full day I spent with my mother, even down to the detail of the two horses. With all that distinctive sensory detail unreeling around me, I suddenly found myself transported me back to that some moments of that last day in my mother’s company in sudden, intense, vivid detail.

But that’s another story. Maybe I’ll dig into that tom’w.

***********

Seen in the credits to Soldados de Salamina, an excellent Spanish film in first release here in Madrid:

On Set Meals Provided By: Catering Hepburn

I see very few cats in Madrid. There don’t seem to be many households with a resident feline, and apart from some feral kitties I’ve seen in el Retiro, Madrid’s version of Central Park, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve encountered any outside of an apartment building, whether hanging about in the streets or putting in time as a working cat in a storefront.

Dogs, on the other hand — Madrileños love dogs and it shows, ‘cause they’re everywhere, a fundamental element of the scene. Most every time I pass through the plaza down the street, dogs are an animated part of the flow of life that streams through the space. One dog, at minimum, pretty much regardless of the time of day — often several, having close encounters of one kind or another with their happy, panting peers.

This morning: got out reasonably early to the gym. Returned just before 11, picked up a paper and stopped into the plaza cafetería for café and churros. When I stepped back out into the mild air, a flurry of loud, strident yapping exploded to my left. Two little dogs — one small hairy bugger, the kind whose eyes are invisible behind long shaggy bangs, and one teeny, almost microscopic critter, looking to be a member of the chihuahua clan — both mouthing off angrily at something around the corner, out of my line of sight, down the pedestrian way that leads out of the square to a nearby street. Creating a huge amount of noise, especially the smaller of the two, as it moved challengingly in the direction of whatever had gotten its ire up. Until it realized it had gotten itself into something that might have consequences and began a hasty retreat, barking less, though the other one, the one that hang back by the relative safety of the news kiosk, continued with the noise.

And then a German shepherd surged into view from along the walkway — a big one, with the unmistakable air of a creature you mess with at the risk of physical damage — straining at its leash toward the two teeny nitwits, not barking, but making deep, intense sounds of a seriously threatening nature, serious enough that the chihuahua hurriedly skidded over to its little hairy friend, who also began retreating. Clearly, if the big boy got free, the two smartmouths would be in a heap of trouble, and they knew it. Their vocalizing became more tentative, they tried hiding behind each other, and when that didn’t make them feel any safer they tried finding shelter behind a human or two. Attempting to save as much face as possible with the occasional yip, but clearly understanding that they were completely out of their league.

The shepherd’s owner pulled it past the kiosk, keeping the big dog a safe distance away from the two now-terrified canine midgets, and when its human had gotten it past the newsstand, the shepherd turned its attention to more relaxed pasttimes (the canine signatures left at the base of a bench, then a lamppost), until its owner gave its leash a tug and they both moved on.

The two little dogs did their best to forget their brush with death, ranging out from the kiosk once the coast was clear, looking up at passing people, leaning forward to sniff at human feet that moved past.

I moved off, walking along the west side of the plaza, where several people were clustered together in the warm morning sunlight, chatting, reading the morning paper. Two leashed dogs stood with those folks, both of a size halfway between the shepherd and the furry sea monkeys that had started all the racket on the plaza’s far side. Both enjoying the sun, calmly looking around, listening to the various human and canine sounds washing by. Minding their own business, appearing completely satisfied with where the morning had so far taken them.

I rounded the corner and headed away from the plaza, just one of many people walking along the late-morning street.

Friday, late March, nearly midday. The moments passing as they do, life moving on.

Some days I take myself to a nice café somewhere, intending to sit and write. The inmate out for a field trip, a change of scenery that brings all sorts of sensory input, lots to watch, pleasing things to drink and nibble on. Sometimes I get wherever I’m going, I actually do write, the promise of a nicely-productive interlude is fulfilled. Other times I arrive, sit down, immediately sink into some kind of stupor. Endlessly stirring my cup of espresso, staring out the window, half-seeing what’s out there, half-lost in thought.

This morning I got myself out at a fairly early hour, made the trek to the main post office at la Plaza de las Cibeles to mail a package. The walk took me past the big Circulo de Bellas Artes building, whose first floor houses a large, beautiful, high-ceilinged, art-filled café. Having been awake and alert enough to leave the house armed with notebook/pen, I decided to stop in at the café after bothering the post office personnel. (And this mornings’ postal representative did seem to be bothered by me and my early-morning version of the Spanish language. La de freakin’ da.)

It’s been raining on and off here since late yesterday — today more on than off. There once was a time when I enjoyed weather like this, savored it even. Lately it seems to have lost its allure. Not sure why. Too much time spent in New England’s dark, cold, wet seasons? Too much time spent in Madrid’s long, normally glorious warm season? Don’t know. I only know that now when rain begins falling, I mostly wait for the sun’s return. Not always, but often enough that it’s caught my attention.

So I’m out walking, umbrella up, a spirited breeze now and then whipping falling moisture into my little supposed anti-moisture zone. I’m in and out of the post office, I go back to el Circulo de Bellas Artes, a big, beautiful building on la Calle de Alcalá, right across from where Gran Vía empties out onto Alcalá. Beautiful architecture everywhere, wide avenues which channel cars, buses, motorcycles, scooters in different directions, pedestrian traffic passing all around, many umbrellas bobbing above the flow of walking bodies.

For people who are not staff or members of el Circulo de Bellas Artes, it costs one euro to get into the building. A worthwhile outlay, even if you’re just going to the café with no interest in checking the current art exhibits. ‘Cause it’s a beautiful place. Beautiful enough that when local a.m. news shows do talking-heads-blathering-about-current-news, they often film them a corner of the space, in one or two groups of sofas and comfortable, overstuffed chairs, enormous windows looming behind, looking out on the avenue.

I walked in, paid up. Found the perfect window table waiting for me, took possession. Got out newspaper and writing stuff, ordered my morning cortado. Whipped quickly through the paper (bad news, bad news, bad news -– ahhh, sports!), uncapped my pen, applied it to paper, wrote three, four, five words. Glanced outside and immediately drifted away. Stirred my café, sipped a little. Drifted away again. Watched people walking by (especially female people!). Thought about this and that. Stuck spoon in café again, swirled it around. Sipped further cafe. Looked outside once more. Felt a pang of guilt, looked down at paper, trying to will myself to come up with something worth writing. Looked back out the window, absently observing the stop/go of traffic as the intersection’s traffic lights went through their cycles. Watched passing people a bit more. Noticed a small sea of black umbrellas bob by, then a bunch of other colors, just about everything but black, including one done up like a giant sunflower, another in a difficult-to-ignore mixed-bouquet floral motif. Looked back at notebook, picked up coffee cup, sipped more café.

Blah blah blah.

Not a bad morning, really. Went from there to an internet joint, sent a couple of letters, accessed Mimi Smartypants‘ page, the first time I’ve been able to get through in nearly a week. Chortled my way through a couple of entries. Then logged out and left, satisfied. Out on the street I remembered I didn’t send the two notes I’d meant to send when I walked into the place. Bugger.

Despite all this seemingly pointless lack of industry, I swear that I only appear to be a lazy git. I swear to you that as I do all this apparently idle floating about, I’m in a sort of work mode. Thinking, reflecting, watching what goes on around me, checking out people, sometimes stopping to take notes. Sometimes stopping to take lots of notes.

And then every once in a while I’ll get an impulse to go somewhere and hit the jackpot in terms of sheer people-watching fun.

Two days ago. Went to see the film “Frida” (great soundtrack, GREAT visuals, not a very good script -– two out of three ain’t bad, you know?). Afterward, walking through la Plaza de España, something reminded me of the teeny cluster of Chinese businesses that lurk in the underground passageway to the plaza’s parking garage. Saw the stairs heading below ground, on impulse veered in that direction, visions of excellent Chinese food dancing in my head. A 30ish Chinese guy passes me as I head down the steps — apparently coming from the little restaurant I was en route to, still chewing loudly, mouth open, spewing the odd speck or two of food. (Er, bleah.)

Found the joint, walked in to find nearly every table in the postage-stamp sized place occupied, everyone but me Chinese and speaking Chinese — Mandarin, I imagine. One table emptied out, the skinny, diminutive waitress gestured me there. In the far corner, a TV sat on a shelf above a table hosting a family of five. The TV played Chinese music videos, the lyrics displayed in two lines of Chinese characters at the bottom of the screen, first white then changing to blue, character by character, as the words were sung. Now and then, the youngest of the family’s three young boys would spring to his feet and dance about a bit to the music.

The guy behind the counter brought me a menu in Chinese. I asked for a replacement in Spanish, he brought that, smiling in agreeable amusement. I ordered, a bottle of spritzwater, a plate of solid matter. A minute later the waitress brought the water, left it on the table unopened, walked away. Not the kind of bottle you can twist open, as I discovered when my hands tried wrenching the cap free. I stared at it, then looked up to see a lone diner at another table watching — a tall, lanky type, looking like he should be studying physics at M.I.T. My situation registered, his hand went up to signal the waitress at the same moment mine did. The guy behind the counter saw us, came over laughing, opened the bottle. I smiled a thank-you to the other diner, he nodded then dug into a fine-looking plate of Chinese fare, head down low over the plate as chopsticks ferried food to mouth.

More tables opened up, the space clearing out some. A pair of 30ish, hip-looking business types entered, one in a sharp suit, the other in black pants, leather coat, white shirt, black necktie. They walked by me, speaking a comic, drawling version of Chinese, sat at the table behind me. A minute later, a third 30ish male appeared, carrying a folded-up Chinese-language newspaper, the two behind me spotted him the same moment he spotted them. Surprised, laughing cries of greeting started up, he walked by me, hitting one of the seated males with the paper, the laughing exchange getting louder.

At that moment, the guy behind the counter appeared at my table with a steaming plate of food and a fork. I asked for chopsticks, his eyebrows lifted in surprise, he disappeared, reappeared a moment later with the requested utensils. I dug into the food which turned out to be a killer pile of fried noodles with sprouts and mystery meat, my mouth practically going slack with pleasure when the first mouthful arrived. A short time later, I’d inhaled all my food and drink, went up to the counter to pay. The grand total: 3.80 euros.

Afterward, walking home through rush-hour crowds along Gran Vía, enjoying the amazing display of humans streaming around me. At one point I passed a short 50-something woman, pushing her way through the crowds. Done up in a brightly colored, wildly disharmonious outfit, clothes in visible disarray, streaks of off-the-mark make-up arranged helter-skelter on her face, mouth in a wide smile, talking happily to herself. A joyous psycho-dowdy, hustling along at her own pace and having a fine time of it, letting nothing and no one slow her down.

We humans — we’re a wacky, beautiful, chaotic bunch. Pure, high-octane entertainment.

Three items — two personal ads and one poem of tortured love — seen in the Metro station at la Plaza de Chueca in Madrid, all scribbled on an oversized ad for BasiqAir:

1) Busco novia

636713466

Soy Chino

Girlfriend wanted

636713466

I’m Chinese

2) ¡Ni vivir en tu auscencia!

¡ Ni vivo cuando te veo!

¡Ni es del mundo este deseo

que [consume] mi existencia!

Nieve soy en tu auscencia

Y volcán lejos de ti.

Es que tienes sobre mi

Tal poder que dudé al verte

Si era el amor o la muerte

Lo que en el alma sentí.

¿Cómo vivir en tu auscencia

[Y no] merezco el infierno

Si el amor es fuego eterno

Y yo mortal existencia?

¡Sí he perdido la conciencia del tiempo

y de mi razón!

¡Sí es la vida mi prisión!

¿Cómo sacarte de mi

Si me robas el corazán?

I don’t live in your absence!

Nor do I live when I see you!

Neither is this desire that consumes my existence

Of this world!

I’m snow in your absence

And volcano when I’m far from you.

You have such power over me

That I doubted when I saw you

Whether it was love or death

That I felt in my soul.

How to live in your absence

And not deserve hell

If love is eternal fire

And I mortal existence?

Yes, I have lost the consciousness of

Time and of my reason!

Yes, life is my prison!

How can I get you out of me

If you steal my heart?

3) Busco novio activo.

Soy divino.

91 522 6231

Active boyfriend wanted

I’m divine

91 522 6231

Somewhere during the course of the day, clouds slipped quietly in and a cool rain began coming down. Not Madrid’s usual weather for this time of year. And once again, the sound of helicopters prowling about has been part of the neighborhood’s ambience. Kinda strange. Like being back in L.A. Or something.

My day’s been spent on work of one kind or another, and the time has skated right on by. All of a sudden it’s nearly 6 o’clock. How the heck does that happen?

So I won’t be putting much of anything thoughtful (or, er, interesting) here today. Just this:

One more list — each seems to be a bit scarier than the last, don’t you think? — of recent genuine searches conducted through Google or other engines which have brought people to this web page:

tall blocks

quotes about clotheslines

mistercrunchy

forearm hair

women licking themselves contortionist

the roof is on fire

feather duster fur coats for kids

naked women body builder

men who wear pantys [sic]

I’ve been hovering around the computer for the last couple of hours, wanting to sit my little bod down and write something but not ready to, I guess. (Until now.) You know the routine. You circulate around, futz with whatever catches your eye around the living space. Turn the radio on, shut it off. Wander down the hall to the kitchen, look at the paper, make something to eat. Eat, half lost in thought, half listening to the sounds from outside (little dogs barking like overexcited castrati, a car going by, the voices of people in conversation drifting lazily up as they walk past the building on their way to the plaza or the Metro or a café or points unknown). And I have been appreciating more than ever the sense that life carries on.

It feels quite fine to think on how many things goes well, how many things work perfectly, how many things we take for granted. The planet spins around in its steady way, daybreak arrives right when it’s supposed to, the world slowly wakes up as the light grows stronger. People wander into the street out to begin their daily deal. There’s coffee to drink, sweet rolls, croissants or churros to eat, newspapers and baguettes to buy. There are people to watch, strangers to smile at, exchange a hello with. Humans take their dogs out for a spin, most of the furry four-leggeds appearing extremely content to be right where they are, walking with their person, smelling everything they pass, lifting the occasional leg (the canine version of graffiti). Now and then they encounter another dog, they approach each other in happy vigilance, tails erect and wagging stiffly. Maybe they’ll get a chance to smell each other’s naughty bits, maybe their humans will drag them off before that kind of fun gets underway. Some bark, others don’t feel the need. Some will be allowed to smell passing points of aromatic interest, others will be dragged past those hot-spots by their person, still straining to get a good whiff of whatever it was until they give up and turn their attention to other, closer patches of sidewalk or asphalt of fragrant note.

The newspaper kiosk here in la Plaza de Chueca generally does brisk business from the time people begin streaming through pre-9-a.m. until they take in all the papers and magazines then lock the place up around 2 p.m. It’s run by a couple — him a 6-foot tall husky type; her an inch or two over five feet, slightly chunky, very affable, hands roughened from work, with a nice smile — along with two or three other middle-aged males who hang about greeting people, getting the paper or magazine you ask for and handing it over. Sometimes the hangers-on will take your money, passing it along to the half of the couple currently lurking within the kiosk, then passing the change back to the waiting customer. Sometimes they take the money, dole out the change themselves. There’s never any telling what the routine will be.

The owners have seen my face coming and going several times a week now for quite a while, and as they’ve gotten used to that, they’ve begun using the more intimate form of address, ‘tú,’ instead of the more formal ‘usted.’ The woman, Paloma, is around more than her husband, she began addressing me differently a few weeks back, as our exchanges have gradually became less utilitarian, more familiar. Her husband just began using the more familiar mode of address within the last couple of days. Little teeny changes that mark the progression of life as the days slip by.

Spring, after it’s jubilant, intense coming-out party a couple of weeks back, has slipped back into the more customary soft, gradual creeping in, daytime temperatures usually sliding up into the 60s, occasionally stretching up to around 70, as with today. In some barrios, trees are well along with new leafage, the grass is full, thick, a bright, vibrant green. Tables and chairs appear outside cafes, cafeterías, restaurantes on a daily basis, as the warm season continues slowly asserting itself and life here becomes more and more oriented toward hanging about outdoors.

Blue skies, hazy high clouds, the arc of the sun moving higher into the sky as the days become lengthier, remaining light until 8, 8:30. The year moves along, ignoring the dramas, comedies and sweet daily episodes of life taking place all over the globe.

A great deal of local attention has been devoted to both the current international bellicosity and the Academy Awards, and it’s been interesting to watch the country has respond to Pedro Almodóvar’s good fortune regarding “Hable Con Ella.” He has a long track record of filmmaking here, is a well-known personality. Many Spaniards I’ve spoken to aren’t what you might call full-blown aficionados of Almodóvar’s work, or they at least choose carefully from among his many films when they discuss him. “Hable Con Ella” did not get what I would call an enthusiastic reception when it came out last spring — the critics mostly seemed to give it lukewarm reviews, the public did not jam the theaters to check it out. And yet it’s had staying power — remaining in one or two movie houses, doing steady business — and a wave of pride and affectionate acclamation has risen during the last couple of months as the film began picking up more and more international recognition, along with a fistful of prizes, the most recent being for best script at the Academy Awards. And there’s been further appreciation from most quarters for his outspoken position against the war, including his statement at the Academy Awards ceremony (less gentle and polite than most American viewers got).

There’s a lot going on here. Enormous discontent re: the war and the ruling party’s refusal to acknowledge or respond to the opposition of the vast majority of the population. Up in the north, in the Basque country, there are moves in the Parliament to convert the region into a free state, with its own sovereignty, though still associated with Spain. Within a day or two of that becoming public knowledge, regional government types in Cataluña (the region that includes Barcelona) began making the same noises. Here in the capital, controversy and political battles continue in the wake of disturbances at the end of Saturday evening’s several-hundred-thousand-people-strong pro-peace gathering in the city center.

And with all that swirling about in the atmosphere, life goes on. Businesses open their doors at the beginning of the day, restaurants fill up and empty out as the various meal times come and go. The markets do plenty of business as the locals buy what they need, walking home with white plastic bags in which one can see fruit, tomatoes, containers of milk or olive oil, packages of meat or fish, the ends of a baguette or two protruding from the bag’s open top. People sit in the sun in the plaza, reading the paper, talking in groups, eating a sandwich, drinking a soda or beer, maybe heading into one of the nearby establishments for café or a glass of wine. Dogs and small children run around between clusters of people. Clothes hung out on balcones to dry sway slightly back and forth from the occasional breeze.

Life continues.

And then there are those moments when something brings you back to full consciousness — sometimes just for a minute or two, sometimes it lasts quite a while. (Not that you’re ever really unconscious. It’s just that now and then — sometimes more now than then — events, worries, fatigue are allowed to cloud one’s vision.) And you remember how satisfying it is to be alive, and you can see the brilliance of existence shining through every single thing your eyes take in, animate or inanimate.

There’s never any telling what will be the prod. Could be as simple as the expression of goofy, guileless pleasure on the face of a two-year-old stopping to gaze happily around after weaving its way through a long tottering course in a park, one or both parents hovering nearby. Could be stepping out into the late afternoon light of the city after seeing a matinee, the strange, plotted world on the screen giving way to you rising up from your seat, pulling your coat on, following people you don’t know out of the theater where suddenly a sky of startling blue peeking through thin, high clouds spreads itself out above you, the shadows on the sidewalks long and sharply slanted, hundreds of people passing around you heading in as many different directions as there are to head in.

And maybe that moment will give way to moments more mundane, the more usual immersion in your day, and who cares? There will be things to enjoy in that, things to savor. Good food, an unexpected whiff of a subtle, pleasing odor, the angled shaft of sunlight running down a wall to extend across the floor, a moment of unexpected laughter, the sound of a friend’s voice on the other end of a telephone line, a loved one’s arms around you.

I didn’t use to feel this way, you know. Some years back, my outlook was quite a bit darker, sadder.

Change is good.

Later.

The honeymoon between Madrid’s police and the protestors apparently expired yesterday as the demonstrations grew in vehemence, and the police responded with short tempers and flaring nerves. Demonstrations continue around the city, both large-scale and very small-scale. The sound of chanting voices and whistles or the sight of signs and banners bobbing in the air above groups of people have become as common as the sound of helicopters coming and going, the government keeping track of the dissent rippling around the various sections of the city.

I personally have not witnessed any instances of conflict between the two factions, though I’ve seen brief glimpses of videos on local newscasts, the camera’s unblinking eye avidly following intense images of police beating protestors with rubber truncheons. (Between this and the continuing broadcast saturation of war coverage, I watch TV selectively, staying away from things I can do nothing about which get my stomach churning.) I have only seen a careful co-existence between protestors and police, for which I am grateful.

The outrage here continues to build as the intensity of the American bombardment grows in scale. Aznar’s party — the Partido Popular — is alone in their support of the war. The approach they’ve taken these last months, as the invasion went from possible to probable to imminent to HAPPENING, has been to label any expression of disagreement by representatives of other political parties as either “disloyal” or “opportunistic” — a tactic that only seems to have aroused deeper and deeper discontent and anger in both the general population (already overwhelmingly opposed) and the political opposition. Coupled with Aznar’s steadfast refusal to listen to feedback from anyone not in complete conformance with the course he has insisted upon, the result has been growing resistance from the rest of the political spectrum, including the defection of the one or two smaller political parties who have traditionally supported el Partido Popular in the Spanish parliament, so that the PP is now effectively isolated from both the voting public and every other political party in Spain.

Once the invasion began, Aznar and his Vice President, Rajoy, made statements suggesting somewhat pugnaciously that all political parties should now join the PP in forming a consensus of support for the war — a suggestion that went nowhere. Considering how successful Aznar and the PP have been up until this last autumn and the sinking of the Prestige off Spain’s northwest coast (and the resulting waves of crude oil washing in along the Spanish coastline), their comportment these last few months has been a mystery to me — so grossly ineffectual, so steadily counterproductive that one would expect fundamentally intelligent people such as these to note and adjust, to try out other angles, adopt different, possibly softer manners of speech and political interaction. Municipal elections are scheduled for May — it will be interesting to see how the different sides fare. I suspect it will be seen as an early indication of how next year’s national elections will play out.

Today dawned with mostly cloudy skies, sunlight coming and going, until the cloud cover thickened late afternoon and a cold breeze picked up. After picking up groceries in various places this morning, I returned home and spent two or three restless hours with no clue re: what to do with myself — unable to focus on any one thing, with no idea what I wanted to do in the coming hours. To the point where it became obvious I needed to get myself out of here and take a lengthy walk.

Threw some things into a bag (notebook, dictionary, mobile phone, pens, something to read). Headed outside. Immediately felt better. Lots of people about. Life, energy, movement. Humans to watch.

Took a long, leisurely trudge along Gran Vía, stopping along the way for a cup of Italian ice cream. Found my way to la Plaza de España, grabbed a bench along the long promenade that stretches between the two immense fountains. Enjoyed the parade of humans streaming through the plaza. Did homework. The chilly breeze cranked up a bit, I began realizing I’d dressed for warmer conditions (having gotten used to spring weather), zipped up my fleece jacket and stoically continued with schoolwork, feeling chillier by the minute.

At one point, someone across one of the streets that demarcate the plaza set off something explosive — bigger than a cherry bomb, more like an ashcan or M-15. Big enough that I could feel the concussion in my chest. I jumped, my breath seizing up for an instant. And then heard whistles sounding off in the distance. The whistles continued in the following minutes, slowly moving closer, sounding as if they were approaching along Gran Vía. Police vehicles began showing up, I wondered if I needed to prepare for trouble. And before too long, a demonstration moved by — orderly, peaceful, making their point and continuing on. The police held off traffic until the marchers passed, then remained directing it until the congestion in the wake of the marchers eased off. I breathed a bit easier, zipping my fleece jacket all the way up as the breeze grew colder.

All together, I sat on that bench for a couple of hours. People came and went — families, couples, groups of young folks, individuals with dogs appearing overjoyed to be there. Laughing clusters of young women. Teen-age kids with soccer balls. The occasional person on a bicycle.

A tall, slender African man with a toddler walked slowly by, following his child’s meandering course. At some point, the little boy — maybe two, two and a half years old — noticed me sitting there. I smiled at him. He smiled back, moving closer. He hauled himself up on the bench by me, his father hovering nearby then bending over to the settle the little guy against the back of the bench, where he sat looking around. I gave him another smile, his smile got goofily broad in response. He carefully checked out the bench, then he looked at nearby pigeons. He noticed his pants legs and checked them out. He tried to stand up to check something else out, his father bent over to steady him. I sat watching the whole show. When both the father and I were paying close attention to the fun the little one was having examining everything he saw, I said to the father, “Cada día un nuevo mundo, ¿eh?” (”Every day a new world, eh?” I know you could translate the “¿eh?” bit yourself — I threw it in there for the sake of completeness.) He seemed a bit startled that I’d said something friendly, took in my smile, smiled back, saying, “¡Sí!” As if I’d made an understatement.

A short time later a 30-something Central American couple, with a little girl about the same age as the little guy, sat down by me. Olive skin, straight jet-back hair. Dark eyes, almost almond-shaped. Startlingly similar in look to the Japanese. The parents completely ignored me. The little girl noticed me, I gave her a smile but she wasn’t having any of it. She stared at me, her expression uncertain, then she moved over to the other side of her mother where she could peer around at me if she wanted to, then lean back out of view if I looked back.

As I’ve written this, sitting home early Saturday evening, a helicopter spent a long time hovering a few hundred feet up a block or two away — probably keeping an eye on protest activity centered around Gran Vía. When it finally moved off, the barrio’s noise level settled down to the more normal Saturday night hubbub.

Two of Madrid’s three professional fútbol clubs are playing each other tonight (Atlético Madrid and Rayo Vallecano), el derby Madrileño. Time to act like a normal guy and watch some sports.

Later.

I admit it — I’m ignorant, at least when it comes to this particular question. Ignorant, clueless, all that. So I’m asking for help:

Please, can someone explain to me what it is women are doing when they’re in the bathroom with the door closed going through half a roll of toilet paper? Are they eating it? Are they wetting it and making little sculptures that they flush guiltily down the tubes before opening the door, returning to their pretense of normal life? Are they acting out some mysterious rituals we males never find out about? Or making big TP spliffs that they light up and enjoy, carefully venting all smoke and odors before letting anyone else use the facilities? I genuinely want to know. It can’t simply be for reasons having to do with going to the potty — what on earth would consistently demand such massive quantities of paper for post-activity clean-up and restoration of order?

So there it is, one of many questions I’ve pondered lately. I’ve been living on my own, I tend to have my patterns of usage when it comes to the different aspects of home life. Plenty of women have played feature roles in this life of mine, both as sweethearts and as friends, and I have seen this particular mystery crop up time and again. I’ve wondered, about it but it’s never been a question so urgent that I brought it up for discussion. Recently, however, two different males have spent some time here as houseguests — a friend from Ireland spending a long weekend, another friend relocating from Pamplona to Madrid. Both of whom have used enormous amounts of toilet paper in very short time-frames, the first time I’ve witnessed that on the part of male humans. Makes me wonder what exactly is behind it all, and why it has suddenly expanded from a gender-based phenomenon to something perniciously bilateral. So I pose the question: what in hell is up with this?

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

On a completely different theme:

How you can tell that ham (jamón, here) is one of the major food groups when it comes to the Spanish diet: there are cafeterías and restaurants devoted to it. Entire chains of them. Here in Madrid, one can dine at:

El Palacio del Jamón (the Ham Palace)

El Paraíso del Jamón (the Ham Paradise)

– And the largest, most ubiquitous of all: El Museo del Jamón (the Ham Museum).

It’s not just a food, it’s an object of adoration. They have palaces for it. They have museums. There is a *#^%!!! paradise of ham! (It’s Paradise!! And it’s full of ham!!)

They sell more than ham at these outfits, of course. Each one has what is essentially a deli counter, with an extensive variety of meats and cheeses on display. Each has a counter from which friendly Spanish gnomes serve up café, beer, tapas, bocadillos (sandwiches on baguetes) and more. Some even have dining tables or a separate dining room tucked away out of sight where ham worshippers can retire for a quiet fix without being molested. All have squadrons of big waxed pig’s legs hanging above the counter or above other prominent, scarily extensive areas of the premises.

They do good business, these places. And why shouldn’t they? At the very least, the food is decent; often, it is genuinely tasty.

I have yet to meet a Spaniard who, when given the opportunity, hasn’t waxed poetic about Jamón Serrano, about it being one of the few things they couldn’t live without.

We humans — we’re a wacky bunch.

The last couple of days here in Madrid have reminded me of a kind of April day I remember from upstate New York: deep blue skies, warm sunshine, the air still holding on to a feeling of chill. The only clouds to be found were the ones rising from Iraq, at the other end of the Mediterranean. The news of the eruption of open warfare was everywhere, TVs covering it everywhere I looked, newspapers splashing it across the front page, to the point where it felt a bit surprising (and came as a comfort) to find normal life going on all around. Went to the gym, went for a quick café, met a friend and went to el Museo Thyssen. Went to lunch, talked and talked. Came home, studied. I had Spanish class tonight, and as I got ready to go, the sun going down but plenty light remaining, I began noticing some sort of racket outside, the kind you get from certain kind of engines, a kind that can set one’s teeth on edge after a while. Coming and going, fading then returning. And with each return, it seemed to grow in volume.

On stepping outside, the source became visible — a helicopter, hovering several hundred over the small intersection nearest to this building. As I made my way toward Gran Vía, I saw more of them, making slow passes over the barrio. The streets were crowded with people and the din had many looking up toward the sky. The only time I’ve seen helicopters here putting on that kind of display were during the recent peace demonstrations. And indeed, as I approached Gran Vía I began to hear voices, began to see what appeared to be a crowd spread out at the end of la Calle de Hortaleza. The anger at the commencement of the U.S. attack on Iraq had shown itself in a spontaneous demonstration, a large one, that spilled across the avenue, stopping traffic, making enough noise that the sounds from the helicopters were no longer dominant. Banners, chanting, whistling, many, many people, channeling substantial amounts of outrage into a show of feeling at once peaceful and assertive, impossible to ignore. Not that anyone was trying. The police spread out across the boulevard did not appear threatening, possibly because they, like the vast majority of the country’s population, are against the war. They seemed to deploy themselves with more interest in holding back any impatient drivers than anything else. Not that any drivers appeared to be upset with what had brought traffic to a standstill. No car horns sounded, no drivers showed impatience. Many smiled in sympathy, many actually appeared happy, talking with each other companiably. Some got out of their vehicles and joined with the ongoing chants from the protest.

I made my way past, noting the general vibe of community, the absolute absence of horns sounding or anger toward one another. When I came to a side street, I veered down that into the network of pedestrian ways that fill the blocks between Gran Vía and la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, walking quickly, slipping through the evening crowds. Nearing Sol, I began hearing the kind of noise I’d just left behind on Gran Vía, and when the plaza came within view I could see that it was filled with yet another enormous crowd out in response to the conflict going on to the east. Same situation: chanting, whistling, sprawling crowds, police deployed around it all and acting in remarkably tolerant fashion, routing traffic off in other directions.

At school, a TV was on in the office, when I noticed it someone mentioned that a bombardment was underway right then. The school remained open, classes continued, though the awareness of what was happening on the international scene hummed quietly beneath it all.

Afterwards, I walked toward Sol with a woman from my class. People streamed past us, moving away from the plaza, Spaniards of all ages from the very young to the very old, many with banners or flags, most wearing large stickers or buttons bearing some variation on the message NO a La Guerra. The plaza itself remained full out to its periphery, chants rising periodically, swelling than fading away. My classmate and I stood and talked for a while, the night air slowly turning cold, until we went to a nearby tapas joint for a something quick to eat before heading off in different directions, to home.

I found my way toward one of the main pedestrian ways that run between Sol and Callao, still crowded though all businesses had closed for the night save some cafeterias/sandwich shops. A group of five police officers — four male, one female — walked slowly by in the other direction, talking, expressions serious but not appearing to be on edge. Ahead, I could see what appeared to be white streamers waving high into the air. As I approached the FNAC building, I saw that a 30-something male armed with a long roll of industrial strength paper towels — the classic “pull down then tear” kind — was winding the paper around the grids in the enormous air vent that’s sunk into the concrete along the center of that length of the walkway, doing it so that he left long, long lengths of slack that the steady current of vented air brought to graceful, rippling life. I stood for a while, watching the long streaming arcs of white paper eddy restlessly about above the heads of passersby.

When I found my way out to Gran Vía, I joined a crowd waiting at a crosswalk to get the green light. The sidewalks were filled with people, the street packed with traffic now circulating steadily along, the earlier demonstration apparently having moved on. An ambulance approached from down near la Plaza de España, lights going, siren in full cry. As traffic parted and the emergency vehicle surged past, a mime done up in white face and a gaudy harlequin outfit (complete with a classic court-jester’s headgear) — 20 or 25 feet away, behind us and slightly to one side — suddenly began barking loudly, stridently, so that people around me jumped in startled surprise.

The light turned green, the crowd moved out into the street, some glancing back at the mime who still carried loudly on, distinctly un-mime-like. The sidewalk on the other side of the street was clogged with people walking, I veered back out into the street, breaking into a trot until I’d passed the congestion and was able to move onto the sidewalk once more, slowing to a walk. Behind me, the mime started up once more with the barking, his voice slowly diminishing amid the noise of people and traffic until it finally faded completely away.

Somewhere during the course of the last few years I discovered that I like living in a reasonably clean, reasonably orderly living space. Like it, as in prefer it. The kind of thing hetero males not suffering from terminal analness aren’t supposed to do without raising the terrible spectre of Felix Unger.

I haven’t lived with roommates a whole lot in this life of mine. The last time, maybe eight, nine years ago, I shared the third floor of a three-family building in West Cambridge, Mass. with my best friend for a year and a half. We both pitched in, the flat generally remained in presentable condition. Easy, essentially painless.

Living on my own in a small living space, cleaning was a periodic but doable pain in the butt. And in a larger space? Before too long, I’d find myself in trouble. ‘Cause I simply don’t want to devote much time to that stuff. I’ll vacuum every couple of weeks. I’ll maintain the bathroom. I’ll wash the dishes, keep the kitchen from becoming a disaster area. Once in a long while, when the accumulation of dust begins making book titles difficult to read, I’ll go from room to room with a feather duster, but this is not my idea of a good time — ask me to do it more than once in a while or ask me to wash windows, scrub floors, wash walls, go over various living space surfaces with a damp cloth, etc., then I’m in deep shit.

My last place in Cambridge, a two-bedroom in the top floor of an old Victorian house that served as home for nearly six years, was a large enough space that keeping it from gradually morphing into my own personal version of a toxic waste dump took more time and energy that I was willing to put into it. Which meant, as time went on, that I had a decision to make. The residents on the other two floors had people come and clean every week or two, which left their living spaces looking pretty good. I began noticing that a substantial number of other people I knew did the same thing. I was making enough money that taking on that expense twice a month would not be painful, would not be a bad exchange for getting someone else to do work I didn’t want to be saddled with, and at some point I began asking some folks for recommendations. Got one, called her, she began showing every other week. All of a sudden, I found myself in a different living space. A cleaner one, more comfortable. I discovered I liked it. And with the place clean, I began to see that the problem wasn’t simply cleaning but dealing with clutter, with having too much stuff (the legacy of growing up in a family of professional pack rats), an issue I gradually began dealing with.

In spite of those extremely positive benefits, hiring a cleaning person turned out to be emotionally complicated, much more than I’d anticipated, to the point that I noticed I was being careful who I chose to disclose it to. As if it were something to be ashamed of, like I was afraid some people might think badly of me. Like I’d suddenly become the enemy of the proletariat, one of those who would be lined up and shot when the revolution finally arrived.

Part of it did have to do with nervousness around being judged through the filter of have/have-not mentality. And if that were all it had been, it wouldn’t have had the nagging, persistent power it did. It baffled me, leading to discussions about it with friends. And after conversations with one or two who shared my ethnic background (Irish), I realized that part of what was going on had to do with family matters. Namely, I was the first person in mine that I was aware of who had crossed this particular line. ‘Cause in my Irish-American gene pool, it was far more likely that people would work as a house-cleaner than hire someone to clean. And hiring someone instead of doing it all yourself would be seen as insufferably uppity. Like I’d suddenly become an example of the lace-curtain Irish, the kind who walked around with their noses in the air and were disliked and envied by those who worked menial jobs and had ten or twelve kids. ‘Cause a person who puts on pretensions of financial comfort is more likely to squeeze through the eye of a needle than to get into Heaven, blah blah blah.

That seemed to get at the root of the issue and relieved some of the mental hooha I had going.

When I came to Madrid, I found myself somewhere where hiring someone to come in and help with housekeeping seemed to be a part of the culture. Even Spanish instructors of mine, people who made very little income, did it. So that I eventually started doing it myself. And now every two or three weeks a bright, extremely nice 30ish Polish woman named Catalina shows up, spends two and a half half to three hours doing work I really don’t want to do, for which I am fervently grateful. To the point where I will essentially arrange my schedule so that I can be here to let her in whenever it is she wants to show, and am grovelingly happy when she walks in the door.

She showed up this morning, early. Ungodly early, considering today is a holiday, a día de fiesta, in Madrid — one more in the infinite number of holidays they have here, this one being el Día del Papa (Father’s Day), meaning both Father’s Day as it exists in the States and the day of Saint Joseph, the father of all the saints. Most stores and businesses are closed, lots of newsstands are locked up. People were out all night partying here in the barrio, and I mean all night, until past 7 a.m.

Catalina knocked on my door at 8:20. I figured I’d use having to get up for that as an excuse to get myself out the door to the gym, something that hasn’t happened much during these last few weeks. Which I did.

I’d heard something yesterday about this being a día de fiesta but did not get the full import. (You’d think I’d learn after 2+ years here.) When I went out at 8:30, I found the streets nearly empty, the plaza down the street devoid of the usual weekday morning flow of people the news kiosk closed. Only a few hardy souls rode the Metro, some of whom appeared to have been out all night, their heads forward on their chests, snoozing. I got out in the barrio de Salamanca, the ritzy district where the gym is, made the chilly several block walk. Hardly any traffic cruised the streets, hardly any people walked the sidewalks. And when I reached the gym, I found it closed and dark. Bugger.

I found an open newsstand, picked up a paper, noticed an open corner café, stopped in for a cup of espresso and some churros. When I walked in, the guy behind the counter was the only other person in the joint. Someone walked in right after me and planted themselves at a table in the rear corner of the small space. When the counter guy dealt me my food and drink, I sat myself at another table. And then people started trickling in. Neighborhood folks, mostly older males, small in physical stature, white-haired, unaccompanied. A few workers, dressed in the one-piece blue or gray outfits that the local painters, plasterers, etc. wear. And into that walked a 50-something couple, him in a suit, her in one of the most massive fur coats I’ve ever seen, probably residents of the ‘hood. They found a pair of stools at the counter and joined the rest of the souls hovering along the counter waiting for caffeine. Chatter about sports, head-shaking about the American government and its madcap hijinks. The sound of the espresso machine, the clatter of cups/saucers. The local version of the morning routine.

When I stepped back outside, the morning air had lost some of its bite, the day promising to warm up nicely. Still no one about. On returning home, I cranked up the computer, sat down to do some work.

Outside, the barrio has been slowly waking up. Teeny dogs, out for walkies with their people, yelp at each other. The construction lot across the street, relatively quiet this last week since the big machinery disappeared, is blessedly empty and still. The cafes have been slowly opening their doors one by one. Stereos have started up in one or two pisos, their windows open so that music drifts with the late morning breeze. The local equivalent of cherry bombs have gone off a street or two away, someone taking the holiday thing to heart. The occasional car drives through.

In another hour or so, the cafes and bars in the plaza will begin putting out tables and chairs, people will sit down and pass the afternoon in conversation, enjoying the sunlight and clear skies. Life will carry on, despite the strange doings at the international level.

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

What’s that? You claim the French didn’t do squat to help the American Revolution? Au contraire.

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

And, finally, the last page.

(Thanks, Gill.)

If I were allowed to perform one superhuman feat — meaning an activity that would be a flagrant breach of the laws of physics as they exist in this physical ‘reality’ of ours — it would be to fly. To lift off from the Earth under my own power and move in any direction I felt like going, at any speed I felt like, consciously, with complete control. That would be it for me. I can’t think of anything that would feel more thrilling, more intensely delicious in just about every aspect, and I’m sure this accounts for my hankering to try hang-gliding or sky-diving. (Sky-diving! Once they pried my hands off the side of the plane’s jump-door and pushed me out, I would be euphoric, inundated with the sensation of being in mid-air, the sky spread out above me, the Earth spread out below. And now that parachute technology has vaulted forward to include far more control and far less risk, they might not need to do much hand-prying to get me out of the plane.)

Actually, now that I think about it, if I could be assured that I would die immediately on impact, falling from a great height would be a pretty good way to go. Yes, I’d probably scream like a drunken banshee all the way down, but that would be part of the entertainment factor, not just an expression of abject terror.

Why am I going on about this? Because of a dream I had two nights ago.

I love dreams — amazing, wildly inventive stories I get to take part in every night. Even the creepy ones or the out-and-out nightmares — I get to experience them, then I get to wake up. They fade away, they lose their scary vividness, life continues. Next night I go back to sleep, I have a whole slew of new adventures. (I also love daytime dreaming — either purposely imagining adventures or futures I would love to experience, or drifting off into moments of escapist fantasies. But this is a slightly different breed of dreaming, one that deserves its own entry.)

Part of the reason I’ve come to savor dreams is that during long stretches of this adult life of mine, the nighttime hours have passed without any sensation dreaming. For weeks and weeks, for months on end — nothing, not even a feeling of distant awareness of dream activity. Blankness, nothing more. And then comes a night when I remember bits of one or two, vivid scenes of activity, whether banal or amazing, and I wake up happy, wide-eyed, enjoying my waking hours more, looking forward to further nighttime escapades.

More recently, for whatever reasons, the sensation of dreaming has become a more normal part of my existence. Sometimes it’s returning to the waking state remembering fragments of dreams, sometimes it’s just the awareness of activity, of events and happenings taking place somewhere below my threshold of consciousness. It’s a trend that’s been gathering momentum during these last few years — a time, coincidentally (or not), in which my waking life has become one of finding myself actually living some of my dreams.

There are people who dream of flying frequently, or if not frequently then often enough that it’s not something exceptional or rare. I’ve had some of those dreams myself, but mostly of a variety that’s been strangely constricted in one of two ways: (1) either as an exaggerated form of running, springing upward with each step to tantalizing heights but always returning immediately to the ground (pretty much the way the Incredible Hulk used to cover ground in the original Marvel comics, in big, goofy bounding leaps), or (2) actually flying, horizontal to the ground, but unable to attain more than two or three feet of height. I have clear memories of dreams of both those types, the predominant feeling in both being frustration at being unable to cut loose. In one, I was flying from room to room within a house, unable to rise more than about two or so feet from the floor so that I had to wind my way between the furniture. Silly stuff.

And the few occasions in which I’ve flown freely in dreams? I can count them on one hand.

The first happened about twenty years ago, post-college, after returning to live in the northeast after a hilarious not-quite-year-and-a-half in L.A. During a weekend spent with a bunch of people in an inn near Ascutney, Vermont. The dream took place in a hospital, involved the feeling of being pursued and unable to find my way out. In the climactic scene, when it appeared that I’d truly been cornered, I remember running down a hallway, and as I ran my body began transforming, my arms turning into wings, my feet lifting up from the floor as my wings propelled me on, until I’d become an owl, flying through corridors and doorways, always up near the ceiling, above the amazed faces of the humans I passed, just high enough to avoid capture.

The second happened maybe seven years ago, during a long interim period — post-withdrawal from the wacky world of the theater, pre-Madrid. The dream took place during the American Civil War, another situation in which I was being pursued, this one with my life at stake, in extreme physical peril. I remember flying eight or ten feet above a small river, going as fast as I could, a pursuer with a firearm flying a couple of hundred feet behind me. I remember shots being fired and me being able to maintain enough speed that the bullets drew close but finally lost height and momentum, dropping into the water behind me. I went under a bridge, following the course of the river, staying ahead but gaining no ground, so that the sense of danger remained constant. Until finally, in a burst of effort, I began to surge slowly ahead, my body transforming as I pulled ahead into that of another person. A complete change so that I began experiencing the situation through someone entirely different.

Pretty cool, both dreams, but in both cases harrowing experiences in which I didn’t exactly experience freedom as part of the flying. That changed the third time, a couple of years back, during the course of days spent in London and Ireland.

I spent a Saturday in August 2001 wandering around London with a bunch of folks from both the States and the U.K., mostly spent in the City, an area practically empty on weekends. At the end of the afternoon, we found ourselves hanging out on the lawn at St. Paul’s Cathedral and someone came up with the idea of everyone getting quiet, sitting with eyes closed just to see what would happen. We did so, and I found myself experiencing the sensation of flying — me, on my own, at some height — vivid enough that I could hear the sound my clothing made from the wind, could feel the air moving against my face. I opened my eyes, looked around, tried to clear my thoughts off anything but quiet. Closed my eyes again, found the same flying thing happening. Interesting on one hand ’cause it felt so clear, but kind of hokey on the other hand ’cause what the hell was I doing in a group meditation on the lawn at St. Paul’s, imagining myself flying?

I flew out of London to Dublin the next day where a friend picked me up, we drove out to Kilkenny to take in some of its annual arts festival. My first night in our B&B there, I had the most intensely vivid dreams of flying I’d ever experienced — as me, not changing into anything or anyone else, not limited by height, speed or any other factor. Free and taking full advantage of it. Amazing dreams that stayed with me during my waking hours for through the rest of a great trip west of Dublin.

And that’s been the extent of my flying dreams. Until two nights ago, when out of nowhere I had yet another exceptionally vivid dream, this one taking place on a small mountain. Me standing on a steep slope, trees all around, the land from which they sprung dotted with clearings and rock outcroppings. Nighttime. I had to get to another place on the mountain, a bit lower in elevation. And I simply lifted off, sailing out into the air away from the slope, my body remaining vertical, everything about the experience easy and natural, the sensation of being up in altitude and moving through the air as clear as if I were actually experiencing it. (Some might suggest that in some way I was — I will not speculate on that.) I took an easy elliptical course that brought me around the curve of the mountain’s face, my feet finally touching down gently. I stood looking back up from where I’d come, then turned around and moved off toward wherever it was I needed to go.

That has stayed with me since I woke up yesterday morning. Strangely satisfying. What does it mean? Who knows. Whatever it’s about, I like it.

*********

Meanwhile, somewhere in England, a sportswriter for The Guardian seems to be experiencing more than his share of existential angst.

Written this last Saturday night:

Today: the eighth day in a row of spectacular spring weather. Conditions like this show up here, people start pouring out into the street and before you know it, the plazas are full of Spaniards of all ages hanging out, sipping tasty liquids, gabbling happily away as they pursue the national warm-weather sport: people-watching. (No wonder I feel so at home here.) Meanwhile, tourists stumble about, appearing stunned at the blind luck that’s dropped them in the middle of an urban paradise.

“Saturday morning continues to be my favorite time of the week here — everyone out buying groceries, taking walks, tossing down cups of fine coffee, sitting outside enjoying the weather, talking in groups, reading newspapers. People walking in pairs or groups, carrying bags of groceries, bouquets of flowers, baguettes. Most of the shops close at 2 p.m., the activity shifts from commerce to lunch or what I just described in that last paragraph.

“An extra wrinkle — today had been set aside for the next wave of gatherings against the war. This is a major deal here. Apart from the fact that the population is nearly unanimous in their opposition to an invasion of Iraq, they’ve been galvanized into expressing it in response to Aznar’s refusal to acknowledge the country’s strong sentiments. This, in combination with an accumulation other things, has shaken off what some Spanish acquaintances have described to me as a more traditional passivity. There has been a happiness in the air today that could be attributed to this the weekend or to abundant spring weather or to the coming together to express something the community feels strongly about. Or some combination of all that. Whatever it is, I could feel it all day long.”

I got no more written ‘cause I’ve been discovering that I have a hard time focusing for this kind of cyber-scribbling when I have company staying in the piso. I’ve been getting lots of writing work done lately, with and without company around, but whatever focus I’ve needed to produce entries for this journal has been hard to come by.

So. Saturday. Amazing weather. A friend who has been mostly out of town called, we went to see ‘Chicago’ (which has been packing them in here). Afterward, a walk to Las Huertas, one of Madrid’s more intense party zones, to sit at an outdoor table for a table for talk and tapas-hoovering. Lots of people about for that early in a Saturday evening, many carrying peace demonstration accoutrement. This tapas joint sits in a long row of like restaurants and cafes that run along the south side of la Plaza de Santa Ana, a narrow street — literally one car wide — extending along the block between the sidewalk and the plaza. At one point two or three cars went by, the handles adorned with hand-tied white bows — apparently the aftermath of a wedding.

Then a walk to la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, where the demonstration was to wind up. It’s an enormous space, Sol, Madrid’s central point, with 8 or 9 streets and pedestrian avenues that feed into it. We arrived at sunset, the plaza overflowing with people, more beginning to pour in so that the crowd density quickly shot up to an intense, uncomfortable level. We made our way along the plaza’s south side, a long, slow process until we neared a side street and I got motivated to move laterally and up that street in search of some relief. Found some elbow room, hung about for a bit, talking, people watching — as with the massive mid-February mobilization, this gathering largely consisted of families, those in attendance ranging from 10 and under to 70 and over. At one point, ‘Imagine’ played over the gathering’s sound system for the occasion, the crowd of two to three hundred thou’ quieting for it, the sound of piano, drums, voice floating over the scene, crystal clear. (The crowd count is one of the more entertaining aspects of this particular gathering. The mid-February mobilization was monstrous to the point that no one could deny it, not even the Spanish government — this time, however, they claimed the turnout to be around 120,000, an extremely creative estimate. The demonstration’s organizers took creativity in the other direction, claiming a figure of around one million, identical to last month’s turnout. The news media put it in the neighborhood of 300,000, probably the most realistic figure, and not one to be ashamed of.)

After a while, the crowd density again began intensifying, we headed up the side street, away from Sol, eventually finding out way to la Plaza Mayor for a bout of further people watching/café drinking.

This is often what weekend nights are like here. Wandering from one place to another with friends for food/drink/entertainment/conversation. The amazing part is watching how the crowds continue to grow as the night wears on. When most cities throw in the towel and head to bed, Madrid gears up, the streets filled with people.

A few different musical groups had arrayed themselves around the plaza, playing to the crowds at the restaurants and cafes. The one nearest us consisted of guitar/double bass/violin/accordion, and dealt in lite versions of classical music’s greatest hits. There is nothing quite like Pachelbel’s Polka — er, I mean, Canon in D — played on an accordion.

If the tone of this entry is a bit — what, scattered? boring? — it’s ‘cause I have some getting-back-in-the-saddle to do, journal-wise. It’ll get better.

Friday evening in Madrid. Spring arrived a week ago, ignoring the calendar and blessing this peninsula with weather which has only improved with each passing day. The temperature yesterday and today coasted smoothly into the upper 70s, which has had people hanging out at cafes, soaking up sunlight, chatting over glasses of soda, beer, wine. I’ve been one of them at times during recent days. Upon stumbling out of the gym yesterday, I spotted an empty table at a nearby sidewalk restaurant and grabbed it, tossing myself into a chair for my first open-air meal of the year. On two or three other occasions, in walking through the plaza here in the neighborhood, I’ve come across an available table and chair that were impossible to pass by, leading to 30-60 minutes of sloth and people-watching. Time well spent, I think, especially given the local color.

To balance that out, I’ve been working hard here at home on writing during long stretches of the last three or four days, which has also felt like time well-spent. The inward-diving of the few days post-Italy seem to have morphed into these recent days of productive work hours alternating with brief passages of indolence. Not a bad balance.

A friend is staying here this weekend. Between that and the offline writing, I have no idea how much I’ll be posting here. In the meantime, entertainment abounds at other cyber-locales.

For instance, yesterday’s entry at Struggle In A Bungalow Kitchen featured one of the finest lead-in lines I’ve seen in quite a while: Today in Literary History: Leah Does Not Vomit or Toss Novel Across Room

And Mr. Crunchy’s chatting with Saddam Hussein.

Over at Fussy, Mrs. Kennedy is making preparations to attend the Day After St. Patrick’s Day Guinness-and-Corned-Beef Paint-Peeling Fart Hoedown and B.Y.O.B. potluck bingo brawl.

Meanwhile, Sarah B. is thinking of moving and is soliciting opinions on likely destination cities. At last count, the number of comments stood at 177.

And last but most definitely not least, Mimi Smartypants is getting cranky, she’s laughing, smiling and setting her mouth in a thin unhappy line, and she’s rounding up rejected fragrances for the spring season. Talk about getting some bang for your entertainment buck.

Yes, I admit it. All of those links — high-quality fare, every one — are an elaborate cover for the fact that I don’t have much of my own to offer today. I’ve been working too hard or not getting enough sleep or been too distracted with people crashing here. Or something. I’ll do better tomorrow. Or Sunday. Maybe. We’ll see.

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

pompador models

computerized scissors

mixed wrestling theater

flip flops for wedding favors

surrealist hotel bars

Crate and Barrel bags

embroidered jeans

mixed wrestling feet scissors

Hoover vacuum parts

forearm hair

psychology “cowboy boots” footwear

clonation pictures

Galleries of Naked Males

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free pr

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