far too much writing, far too many photos

Back in northern Vermont after days of traveling, starting out from Madrid. From there, the itinerary:
London — one night
Cambridge (Mass.) — one night
Northern Vermont — two nights
Provincetown, Mass. — two nights
Cambridge (again) — one night
Kittery, Maine/Portsmouth, N.H. — one night

Sleep turned out to be mininal in the course of those seven nights, so that by the time I got back up here this last Tuesday, I was a bleary-eyed case of burnout, overwhelmed with unpacking and work to be done inside and outside the house. I shifted into incommunicado mode, avoiding computer and telephone for the first day or two. When I finally attempted to plug back in, I discovered that both (a) computer and (b) internet service were completely out of whack, resulting in a long process of pulling together the high-tech side of my little existence. Not very painful, all things considered, just long.

Early this week, the weather in these parts transitioned from gray/cool/rainy to sunny/humid/hot, and that’s how it’s remained. Hazy, the temperature cartwheeling up and down in the low 80s to low 90s range, depending on cloud cover. Brutal at times, walking outside into direct sunlight feeling like stepping into a blast furnace. Which gets the locals — used to long, cold, intense winters and brief, generally moderate warm seasons — confused, occasionally looking genuinely befuddled. Just this morning (temperature in the low 90s, humidity high) standing in line at the post office, the 50-something woman in front of me blurted out (voice edged with desperation, expression that of someone at the end of their rope), “I hope the weather breaks today like they’ve been saying.” Montpelier is further north than Toronto. This kind of weather causes authentic distress.

On the other hand — I went directly from the post office to a nearby java joint, The Capitol Grounds, for a big cup of iced coffee, the only kind of local brew that, for me, doesn’t suffer in comparison with the café in Madrid. Then headed to the Montpelier library, the second time in two days. A big old building on one of the town’s two main drags, a couple of broad, ancient shade trees standing out front. Both mornings, a daycare group of some sort hung out in the shade on the front lawn, kids from 2-6 years old, in the care of a bunch of folks, from teenagers to 60ish types. Relaxed smiles everywhere. In fact, walking around town — gym bag in one hand, iced coffee in the other — I experienced one of the things I appreciate most about Montpelier: folks smiling with little or no provocation, saying a friendly hello. Not everyone, of course, but an absurdly high percentage. As if we’d all just stepped out of Mayberry R.F.D.

Chueca, my Madrid neighborhood for the past six+ months, sees a whole different kind of wildlife than my current pastoral ‘hood (where trees and animals overwhelmingly outnumber humans). There: the two-legged variety, searching out food, drink, music and wandering the streets until all hours. Here: several varieties (four-legged, winged, crawling), often searching out food, which frequently turns out to be each other.

Today’s brushes with local wildlife:

a) Saw the woodchuck out by the barn, the third year running he’s been around. A big plump bugger, apparently making a good living here. When I opened a window, he bolted.
(b) Found evidence of mice in the far end of the house a couple of days back. Put out a Havahart trap with a few shelled walnuts as bait. Caught the first of the little buggers last night. This morning, on the drive into town, I let it out about a mile from here by the side of a dirt road. It left the trap slowly as if having trouble absorbing the fact that it was suddenly free. Then headed off into the brush, disappearing from view.
(c) About a mile along from there, a female mallard led seven ducklings along the side of the dirt road. I slowed up, went slowly by, keeping to the other side of the lane. They all slipped into the roadside grass as I rolled past, disappearing from sight.
(d) A short time ago, back here at the house. Standing in the kitchen, I noticed movement out in the yard between the house and the barn. Glanced out, saw a red fox trotting by, heading toward some birds that hung out in the gravel road. On the fox’s approach, the birds took to the air, finding refuge in nearby trees. The fox continued along the gravel road, moving out of view.

Seen or heard during recent travels:

T-shirt, Madrid (up the block from my flat, shortly before leaving for the airport):
NEW YORK FUCKIN CITY

T-shirt, Barajas airport, Madrid:
I’M SORRY!

Billboard, London:
(Three lines of advertising copy, positioned above and below a large photo depicting the bikini-clad torso of a notably well-endowed woman:)
Above:
DISCOVER WMD’S
Below:
LOWEST FARES TO THE SUN
EASYJET.COM

Provincetown, Massachusetts:
Part of the shpiel of a transvestite advertising a drag queen cabaret:
“See the show the lesbians are raving about!”

Bumpstickers, Massachusetts and New Hampshire:
a) THESE COLORS DON’T RUN
b) WHEN CLINTON LIED NO ONE DIED

Oddly out-of-season sign at a gas station, Kittery, Maine:
Nothing says Happy Holidays
like a full tank of gas!

Last night: for the first time in a while, fell asleep around the outlandish hour of 10:30, resulting in a good night’s worth of shut-eye. I needed that. In recent weeks, I’ve fallen into the habit of conking out in the wee hours and waking up far too early. Recently, my body has been letting me know loudly and clearly that more sleep would be a fine thing. We’ll see what happens to my snooze schedule when I’m back in the States.

This morning: up at 8, got a laundry going. Picked up the paper at the kiosk in the plaza, got the day’s baguette and a fine, fine empanadilla of spinach and cheese at my favorite local bakery. The empanadilla: reminiscent of a small, compact calzone with a crispier crust. Addictive. I am going to miss this bakery something serious. In fact, I’m going to miss all the local joints I frequent for food, etc. (Waaaaahhhh!)

Came back, finished with the laundry. I’ve conducted a bit of a hunt for used jeans this weekend — tried a local tienda yesterday that deals in all sorts of inexpensive attire, new and used. Abundant used jeans, none the right size. This morning I took a trip down to el Rastro to check out a stall there I nosed around a couple of times in months past, one with a good selection of used jeans. Couldn’t find the bugger this time, at least not where it used to be located and not in the half of the market I had the time to scope out. (El Rastro is immense, filling many, many, many blocks of city streets with stalls and people. As flea markets go, it’s a monster. To any visitors to Madrid who might check it out, it’s a Sunday-only event — try to get there before 11 a.m. After that, it’s generally mobbed. The half of the market near the top of the hill is touristy, though if you venture into the narrow side streets it gets more interesting, more into antiques and used flotsam. Down near the bottom of the hill, the fare becomes more varied, ranging from antiques to hardware to cut-rate clothing and household goods.)

Standing on a corner in front of a doorway, off to one side of all the activity, stood three guys — one on a simple drum, one on guitar, one on clarinet — making some fine, wild tunes. All three probably in their 40s — each looking old before his time, faces weathered and wizened, teeth missing — they produced joyful music, a jumping blend that slid around between Django Reinhardt, Jelly Roll Morton, the Klezmer Conversatory Band and something blown in from the deserts of north Africa. Their spot was tucked away behind stalls so that not many people actually saw them, no more than a scattered handful stood watching, but the music drifted through the area at the top of the hill, I could see lots of folks responding to it with nodding heads, swaying bodies. An aisle or two over, in front of a crowded stall, a scruffy-looking, gray-haired 50-something stood with a jews harp to his lips, whaling away on it, audibly playing along with the other three musicians.

From the Rastro, I caught the Metro and headed over to the city center’s east side for a quick run through la Reina Sofía (only open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, but with the entrance fee waived as compensation for the short hours), Madrid’s world-class museum devoted to Spanish/European art from the 1800’s on. Worth a visit just for the building, a former hospital build in the late 1700’s, now with two glass and steel elevator shafts built onto the front, a weird concept that works far better than it sounds. Riding to the top floor in those things provides a great view of Madrid rooftops under the broad Spanish sky — I usually go up and down at least two times without getting out every time I go to the museum. At one point today, after all other passengers had gotten off at the third floor, I found myself alone, staring out at Madrid. The next elevator, also empty, also motionless at the same floor, began moving downward, and for a moment I thought mine had started going up. Then mine started going up. A genuine Whoa! moment.

They get some pretty funky exhibits at la Reina Sofía. I took a look at three different temporary shows today, the first one all photography, big, big prints by a Finnish photographer, of scenes from all over Europe, many (including most of my faves) from Finland. Two big rooms were devoted to the show. I checked out the first one, the smaller of the two, then walked into the larger one which was empty of people right then. No furniture. No carpet. Nothing but large, striking photos. For some reason, Roberta Flack’s old number, Killing Me Softly, began running through my head, I found myself whistling it. (I know we’re not supposed to whistle in museums. Sue me.) When I paused, the echo from my whistle hung in the air, taking a long, long time to dwindle and disappear, easily more than five seconds. I tried it again. Same thing. Long, long decay, then silence. After which people suddenly poured in the door to the space, eight or ten of them, the silence replaced with footsteps, voices, the room suddenly alive with noise.

The rest of the visit, boiled down to some notable basics:

– One room containing many photos of mummified bodies from the Cappucin catacombs in Palermo, Italy. Yowza!

– Another room, containing many photos by Jesse Fernández (Havana, 1925 — Paris, 1986), heavily weighted toward notable folks from the arts, mid to late 20th century. A shot of Marlene Dietrich, caught mid-conversation, was the featured image for the exhibit, occupying the rear leaf of the biographical program/leaflet. Stepping into a men’s room later on, I found that someone had left a copy of the program propped up on the top of the urinal, arranged so that the fabulous Marlene smiled benignly at me as I took a whiz.

– Another exhibit, a strange, atmospheric collection of work by an eccentric wacko, featured small paintings, all about 8″ x 10″ arranged sparely around four large, large spaces, three of the spaces furnished with glass-topped wooden tables, beneath whose glass were many more strange paintings, writings, goofy collages, etc. By one strange little painting of a dog sailing downward through the air were the words:

While I was shaving this morning the mirror slid.
For a moment I thought I was falling.

Which brought me back to the bit in the elevator all over again.

Two recurring images in this person’s work:
(a) People walking, angled away from the viewer just enough that faces were never visible. A few of those pieces featured a walking woman, a small man clinging to one side of her torso, a rifle slung across his back. What did it mean? No idea.
(b) Males pulling their shirts off up over their heads. Two of those little paintings featured the words Painting and Punishment. What did it mean? No idea.

I fly out of here tomorrow, first to London, then back to the States. Posts will be sporadic for the next week and a half or so.

Be well.

Two evenings ago, around 7:30, standing looking out a window before class started. Watching the evening street life down on la Calle de Arenal. I notice that one of the crawler-type light readouts over a storefront includes the time and temperature among the advertising hooha. The temperature at that time: 38ºC. That — according to this handy online temperature conversion thingie, works out to 100.4ºF.

June 11. 100º. Granted, there’s no way of knowing where the thermometer responsible for that reading was positioned. Could make a difference. On the other hand, maybe not. Late in the day, sun getting low in the sky. Air feeling warm enough that the actual temperature might possibly be in the 100º zone.

After class, went out to hoist a caña, gobble down a pincho of tortilla with the professor, the other lone student in class, and a couple of female language instructors from the school. Nice people, good food, tasty potables. A nice time. When we stepped back out into the street around 10, the air wrapped itself softly around us, its heat impossible to ignore but too gentle to be oppressive. Yesterday continued hot. But this morning when I dragged myself out of bed and tossed open some windows, the weather had taken a turn toward something a bit cooler and fresher. At least during the morning hours. The afternoon got intense, with all the concrete, asphalt, bricks soaking up the sunlight and radiating it back.

I’ve paid little or no attention to the local weather reports lately. Summer’s arrived, the deal has been more or less the same from day to day for a while now. Not much point in hearing them tell me how hot it’s going to get, that’ll just get me thinking more about than I already do. What comes along comes along, and overall it’s been pretty sweet.

It might be taking its toll on the locals, though, because there have been strange things happening. (WARNING: SPORTS AND POLITICS COMING!) First there’s Real Madrid, Madrid’s premier soccer (or fútbol, as they call it here) team, an expensive collection of many of the soccer world’s biggest names. Who, despite all the heavyweight talent, don’t have to will or the chemistry to rise to the level everyone wants them to rise to. They rise tantalizing high, high enough to get everyone feeling happily smug, and then they stop delivering. After taking Manchester United in the Champions League semi-finals, they couldn’t get the job done against Milan, leading to the first ever all Italy final. Same thing in the Spanish league, where they should be kicking butt. They just can’t seem to deliver.

Then there’s the Spanish national team. Another collection of tremendously talented players, with two games this last week in the Eurocup competition. They lost the first game, to the Greek national team — “¡A Grecia,” said D., my intercambio, last night, “que es una mierda!” (To Greece, who suck! His words, not mine, I add hastily for the benefit of anyone of Greek descent. Me, I know nothing.) Then two nights ago, they played Northern Ireland and couldn’t do any better than a 0-0 tie. They created loads of shooting opportunities but couldn’t get the job done. Against two teams nowhere near as packed with talent and savvy as the Spaniards. Strange, but there it is.

And then there’s local politics. The poop hit the fan a few days back and continues to fly in bizarre fashion. The Socialists (el PSOE), after eking out a major win in the May 25 elections by taking the government of the Community of Madrid from el Partido Popular by one seat in the Madrid Assembly (in combination with la Izquierda Unida — the United Left, the current incarnation (I’m told) of the Communist Party), ran into major, unexpected difficulties. Earlier this week, on the day of the new Assembly’s first session, the day officers of the chamber are elected — two Socialist councillors deliberately did not show up. They not only didn’t show up, they did not answer their phones all day, remaining carefully and completely out of touch. Two people, exactly the number needed to give the PP a one-vote edge, which enabled them to take the post of President of the Chamber, and which has thrown the Socialist party and the Community government overall into an uproar. The two members had no real explanations for their disappearance — one of them tried to explain it away, without success — so that they were quickly expelled from the party, and will apparently be brought up on charges of corruption, there supposedly being what some people feel to be sufficient evidence of possible bribes to justify the charges. Meanwhile, the Socialists are two seats short, the results of the election have been essentially trashed, and the PP wants new elections immediately, while the PSOE wants time.

Two people. Exactly the number needed to give back control of the government to the PP. There are those who find that highly suspect. And there are others who are quietly happy with the change in fortunes, while the higher-ups in the PP, after a day or two of what appeared to be civil restraint, are making political hay.

Sports and politics. Not bringing much joy to many here right now. The prospect of new elections does not promise much fun, and has me appreciating the fact that I’ll be far away for a few months. Up in the green mountains of northern Vermont, in what could easily pass for paradise during the warm season (once the black flies go away). And into some of the cold season, for that matter, right up through Halloween.

Soon. In a matter of days.

Meanwhile, life in this beautiful city goes on. Hot, a bit tumultuous, but satisfying, with no shortage of entertainment.

Damn, I’m good at futzing about and wasting time. (Should I be concerned about that?) There is always something I can turn my attention to do which will piss away major chunks of temporal reality, especially if that something has any connection with my computer and/or the ‘net. Sit me down in front of my little laptop and, without achieving anything of substance, I can wipe out hours and hours of the day in no time flat. Or that at least is how it feels. Computers, like televisions, are time machines. Turn ‘em on, and mornings, afternoons, evenings immediately wink out of existence. It’s a bona fide phenomenon, one that should be studied and harnessed for the good of, er, whomever.

I do not spew empty blather with that first paragraph. No, no — I speak as one who knows at least vaguely whereof he speaks, one who just spent an entire afternoon sitting in front of his computer doing a whole lot of, well, nothing, really. Not that all of it was intended to be pointless. A chunk of it got spent trying to transfer the software for my Salon.com webpage from my old, ailing laptop to my new, perky laptop. (According to the Radio UserLand license, that bit of software may only reside on one lonely computer at a time. Which means that if one wants to make entries to one’s Radio UserLand blog from a different computer, one has to MOVE the software.) The problem: the new, youthful, high-tech laptop uses only CDs, no floppy disks; the old, ailing warhorse only writes onto CDs. I attempted emailing the various files to myself, sending them from the old codger to the young punk. That simply didn’t go the way it should have — do you have any idea how many little teeny piddling files there are in that goddamn software package? — and it wouldn’t surprise me if you experienced the resulting teeth-grinding as something that felt like distant tremors.

And before I knew it, early afternoon had given way to six o’clock, the day continued galloping on toward the evening hours, when I had an intercambio scheduled. Managed to pull myself away from all the afternoon’s fun, made the day’s first meal (it’s real damn easy for me to forget to eat — how do I do that?), hoovered it down. Pulled on clothes, got out into Madrid’s hot weather version of fresh air. A long walk took me through rush-hour crowds and traffic to a table at a halfway point between here and where D., today’s intercambio, works. Which turned to be one of Madrid’s only Starbucks outposts. Not a place I frequent in the States if I can possibly help it. Here, to rendezvous with a new Spanish friend, what the hell.

A fine intercambio – conversation in Spanish and English about sports, work, language, women, movies (most of the basics) — compensating for some for the buggering-up of the previous five or six perfectly good hours of sunlight. Recently, I’ve gotten hooked up with some great intercambios, meeting fine people in the process, people I hope I’ll remain connected with when I get back here in November (he said wistfully).

This morning I stopped in at the local centro comercial, visited three or four of the stalls I frequent, picked up enough groceries to last me until I get out of here on Monday. The last grocery shopping for this time around. (*SOB!*)

Right. Enough of that. I will not get maudlin. At least not right this nanosecond.

To finish up for today: a brief rundown of some genuine websearches conducted through Google and other engines which have led unfortunate souls to this webpage:

Tomato Vender (sic) in Spain

Women’s Belley (sic) Button Photos

Incredible Hulk Tattoos

liquid refreshment photos

homemade diapers

It’s time to get current with the madcap world of art:

Oh, quiet down.

Bothering the good folks of Birmingham.

A paean to the modest, underappreciated art form of signage

And Barcelona beats the record.

Down in the Metro this morning, waiting for a train. Not well ventilated, the Metro, so that it has a strong tendency to get stuffy when the mercury heads toward the stratosphere, as it has here lately. I’ll head into a station, take stairs or escalator down into the Earth, the air initially feeling like a cool contrast to the warm air/intense sunlight aboveground. Until I get down to the train platform where as soon as I stand still I can clearly feel that the air is not only warm, it is thick in a way the air up in the street is not. My sweat glands immediately swing into action, beads of moisture popping out all over my body.

That was essentially the case today. I’m planted on the end of a bench, waiting for the train, the underground air feeling close, uncomfortably warm. I look down the platform, the air stuffy but absolutely clear, and a hot weather memory of standing on the platform in a west-side subway station in Manhattan comes to mind, 96th Street maybe — whichever station one uses to change from the local to the express during the commute from the west side’s northern reaches to downtown. High humidity combined with pollution so intense that the air in the tunnel looked like mist. And then I remember spells of summer weather in Boston so outrageously humid that the covers of paperback books in my apartment would surrender and curl up like large, damp wood shavings. So much moisture in the air that it looked like thin, diffuse fog, the only real difference between that weather and rain being that raindrops generally move. Weather that can be real common in Boston/Cambridge, depending on the summer. Which puts my few minutes in the Metro’s stuffy air in perspective, so that I immediately feel better.

In the train, two mid- to late-20s women stand together, talking. One wore tan suede running shoes, red/white plaid flared, cuffed pants, a black skin-tight top. Hair dyed a dark, unnatural red, with a piercing dead center between the inside ends of her eyebrows where something tiny glittered. (A diamond or its cut-glass equivalent.)

Later, in the barrio of Salamanca. Walking along the shady, tree-lined, park-like, mid-avenue walkway that stretches for blocks along la Calle de José Ortega y Gasset, the dappling of tree shadows and sunlight poured down the back of a 60ish man walking ahead of me, so smoothly, so clearly that it looked like a special effect, like something projected onto his back from a machine.

Still later, coming up on 2:30. Walking north along a street with wide, tree-lined sidewalks, on the way to meet a friend for lunch. The sun far enough over in the western half of the sky that buildings were casting deep shadows, the kind that smart pedestrians seek out during the summer months here. Deep shadows, meaning three to four people deep. Spaniards tend to have a different sense of space when walking in public places, as compared to the rest of us, er, honkies. They tend to spread out and occupy as much of the space as possible. So that a pedestrian approaching from the other direction never knows how they’ll move. Today, with everyone wanting to remain in the shade, it made for fine people-watching. Some moved further into the shade to make room. Others spread apart, some moving out into the sun around me, then back into the shade. Some clearly preferred not to give way, presenting me with two options: move out into the sunlight to pass them or walk straight ahead, not giving way, and see what happened.

What happened: a remarkably smooth process of people deciding in the moment whether to give way or not. Me or them, didn’t matter. No one (including me) cared enough to make an issue, someone (sometimes me) always moved aside to allow passage.

Correction: a few elderly folk cared enough to make an issue, grimly maintaining their course, with no intention whatsoever of making way for an approaching pedestrian, even if there were only two elderly folk walking together, spread well out to occupy as much of the shadowed sidewalk as possible. Not a problem, thought I. They have undoubtedly paid their dues in this lifetime — I’m happy to give way, let them take up as much sidewalk as they want.

Arriving back here in the barrio. As the train pulled into the station, a slim, aging hipster — old jeans, a tired flannel shirt, long graying hair pulled back in an unruly ponytail, face abundant with salt and pepper stubble — stepped over to the door, positioning himself so he would be the first out. The train stops, I stand behind him as he hits the door lever. Nothing happens. He tries it once more, twice more. Still nothing. We both turn around, heading to another, already-open door, him behind me, literally pushing me as we go. I hold the other door open as I exit so that we’ll both get out. We make it, he says, “Vale” (Okay), moving past me, starting up the stairs first. I go up the stairs two at a time, my usual mode of going upstairs. I pass him on the way up, something about that must have seemed like a challenge to him. He picks up speed, reaching the top of the stairs and pulling even with me as I walk down the corridor. We approach a slow-moving person, there isn’t room for all of us to walk abreast — the slow person is in front of the hipster, I speed up to give the hipster room to move over and pass slow-walker. Hipster speeds up to match my speed. I slow down to allow him to pass. He slows down, again matching my speed instead of taking the opportunity to pass slow-person. In that moment I realize there’s some sort of head game going on. It is so clear, so brazen, so silly that I burst out laughing. To which he responds with a strange mix of energies, his expression softening into a half-smile, as if part of him couldn’t help acknowledging the silliness, while also radiating sudden anger, as if genuinely pissed off at my open acknowledgment of the situation. Looking straight ahead, he starts talking, his voice reflecting the mix of smiling, slightly sheepish acknowledgment and anger, saying, “Claro, vaya — ja! ja!” (Sure, hey — ha! ha!) All the time matching my walking speed. It is so bizarrely, comically surreal that, on impulse, I break into a full sprint toward the escalator, still laughing, waiting to see if he’s going to do the same. His speaking volume increases, his tone of voice still split between humor and anger, he seems to be torn between wanting to go after me and not wanting to appear too silly. I hear his voice behind me — further and further away — as I reach the escalator and head upstairs into a beautiful summer afternoon, the air full of the sounds of life: the conversations of people in the plaza, sparrows chirping, dogs having a close encounter.

Life: packed with amazing experiences, unpredictable people, unexpected turns and twists. Rarely, if ever, boring.

When I dragged myself out of bed and opened some windows this morning, I was met by a classically beautiful summer morning. Blue, cloudless sky filled with swifts performing their usual virtuoso-level flight acrobatics. Morning sunlight, clear and soft. Air just warm enough to indicate a hot day in store.

And quiet, one of the things I enjoy the most about weekend mornings here. Quiet, gentle, starting up in slow, gradual fashion.

My first morning in this flat [see entry of 9 September, 2001] looked and felt nearly identical to this one, apart from the angle of the September sun, moving toward equinox as opposed to solstice. The bell of the neighborhood church rang at 9:15 and 11:15, the city cleaning crews picked up after the previous night’s revelry, folks slowly, gradually appeared in the street, heading toward the kiosk in the plaza to buy a Sunday paper, or to one of the few tiendas open on Sunday morning to cop a baguette or two. Now and then the sound of a dog barking from the plaza resonated between the buildings on this narrow street. Same as today.

Yesterday was a day of some festivities in this barrio and a neighboring one, Malasaña, to celebrate ‘Barrios Abiertos’ (Open Neighborhoods). When I walked through the plaza this morning to pick up a newspaper, there were garlands strung up around the space from which hung little teeny flags, representing countries from all over the world. Now, it may be nothing more than coincidence that all the teeny flags appeared in conjunction with the Barrios Abiertos thing. It may be nothing more than the neighborhood tarting itself up for the high tourist season, the barrio’s way of saying Isn’t this just the cutest, quaintest plaza you’ve ever seen, all you tourist-type furriners laden with money you’re dying to spend? Please, spend it right there. Drink yourself yourselves silly. Have something to eat. In return, we’ll relieve you of some of that cash that’s taking up so much room in your pocket/handbag/wallet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I hasten to add. It is, in fact, a nice plaza, a good place to hang out for a while, get a taste of the local scene and then range around the neighborhood from there.

When I passed through the plaza, older neighborhood denizens sat on the several concrete benches that run along the plaza’s east side, talking, reading papers, watching the local edition of the world. A couple of coed groups of 20-something folks sat out in the middle of space, talking and drinking beer. Not the usual sight on a Sunday a.m. Maybe finishing up a long night out.

The neighborhood remained quiet well into the afternoon (apart from occasional hammering from some overmotivated maniac doing renovation work somewhere close by). I, good boy that I am, persuaded myself to go to the gym, hopping onto the Metro where I stepped into a car and found a place at one end, leaning up against the bulkhead, working my way through a few pages of a Spanish translation of The Thin Red Line. The car was crowded, every seat taken, a handful of people standing. As the train got underway, I realized that one of the standing passengers, a white-haired 50-something a couple of doors down had begun talking loudly in a strange, slow, sing-song way, holding up a few crumpled pages on which words were written, too far away for me to make out. The noise of the train prevented me from making out more than a few words here and there, what little I heard didn’t seem to make too much sense. He turned slowly back and forth as he spoke, angling the papers so that they faced whichever direction he faced. This went on until shortly before the second stop. At that time, he folded the papers up, slowly made his way along the car to stand by the door near me, mouth partially open, until the train stopped, when he got out.

Hmmm.

On the way to the gym, a family sat outside a fancy restaurant in the barrio of Salamanca, four of them sitting together on a comfortable-looking wooden bench deployed there beneath lovely, overarching shade trees by the city. A late-30ish male stood in front of those four, a camera in hand, taking snapshots of them. Off to one side, a teenager with a videocamera filmed the whole process.

As I walked into the gym, ‘Stir It Up,’ a Bob Marley and the Wailers tune from the early 70s, played loudly on the in-house sound system. A good tune, one that felt fine to hear. Excellent step-right-in music.

It’s now Sunday evening, coming up on 9:30, plenty of light still in the sky. Early, really.

Time to go out and enjoy the evening.

This morning, walking down la Calle de Hortaleza, I passed three males standing together at a point along the way that sees little pedestrian traffic at that hour on a Saturday a.m. Well into an early-morning (or all-night and then some) bender, one of them holding a nearly-empty liter-sized beer bottle, each with a cigarette in hand, discussing something probably not earth-shaking but important to them there in that moment, as is often the case with drinkers in the middle of a marathon. Arms waving around, focused intently, talking loudly, rapidly. Three guys I could swear I’ve seen in every single big city I’ve ever spent time in, or three guys fitting the description of certain universal types, the kind that get sent out by a central casting agency to fill slots in the ongoing beerified street theatre that seems to be a feature of urban life. Not that they’re on every block or street, but sooner or later I’ll pass them or their brethren in just about any population center of any size that I pass through in this strange, ongoing concern we call western civilization.

Not destitute individuals. Not the truly down and out souls who live on the street, carrying bags of belongings or pushing shopping carts packed with mysterious collections of stuff. Not the kind with skin and clothes that have taken the intense, sustained punishment of weeks or months in the urban outdoors — toughened, weathered, darkened from the ground-in accumulation of grime. The three guys I saw this morning were dressed in perfectly presentable jeans, casual shirts, sneakers or standard issue shoes, a bit rumpled from hours of carrying on as they were, a bit unkempt, but indicating lives with some sort of home base, some sort of money, shelter, basic self-care, all that. All slender, one slightly tall 20-something, one 30-something with longish frizzy brown hair, one straighter looking 40-ish type. The first and the third completely nondescript and inoffensive-looking, the kind who will blend into any crowd. The second was a more recognizable type, a kind whose look immediately identifies him as a character of this kind of scene.

And here’s the thing. I walk by, they’re energetically discussing/debating whatever, and I realize they sound exactly like the counterparts I’ve seen in other places. But exactly. They speak fast, in blurry streams of unintelligible sound that’s impossible to break down into understandable language, punctuated by certain exclamations or common swear words or obscenities used as adjectives or adverbs, window dressing to provide the appearance of the indigenous language. But apart from those few recognizable — purposely recognizable, I think — words, they weren’t speaking Spanish any more than their counterparts in the States or London or Paris or Rome speak English, French, Italian. They’re speaking some blurry cross-cultural, even supra-cultural lingo that none of the rest of us can understand. A sly, mutated Esperanto-ish thing that provides universal communication among their fraternity while remaining absolutely indecipherable for the rest of us.

I am not normally given to paranoid wonderings, but how can one avoid it with something like this?

I go down the street, drop a DVD in the rental shop after-hours return slot (this being Madrid, shops like that don’t open until noon so that everyone, staff and customers alike, can recover from late night activities), dump some recyclables in nearby recycling bins. I walk back along Hortaleza, the three aliens have vanished, not visible in any direction, along any visible street or sidewalk. Hmmm.

I continue along to one of my morning espresso spots, step inside behind two 30ish gay guys, both mid-height, wearing skin-tight short-sleeved jerseys, pulling wheeled suitcases. A stool presents itself at the counter, just a few feet inside the entranceway, I plant myself there. To my right sits a 40ish male, deeply into one of the daily sports newspapers, a small brandy-snifter style glass to one side, half full with either rosé wine or a drink that’s a combo of red wine and Casera, the local version of lightly flavored spritz-water. To my other side, sits a tall, lanky, slightly made-up gay 30-something, turned around on his stool in my direction watching the TV, long legs crossed, slightly hunched over, left elbow resting on the bar, left hand holding a cigarette. A cup of café y leche sits on the counter, now and then he sips from it.

Behind me, a table of young 20ish and 30ish Africans is making a huge amount of noise, one of them literally shouting. And as I order my espresso and churros, he continues yelling. Yelling is apparently how he converses. Not the kind of start to my day I had in mind. I finish up quickly, walk a couple of blocks to a different place, the cafeteria at the Plaza de Chueca down the street from here. Also noisy, but more diffuse. No yelling, just Spaniards just carrying on morning conversation. Much more user-friendly. Better for café and newspaper.

It’s now 12:30. Early-starting (^*%#!!!) neighborhood construction noise has tailed off and the day is getting underway, gradually, quietly (for the most part). In a short while, I’ll be heading out to lunch at my landlords, a trip that can take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half each way, depending on trains/buses. They’re an entertaining bunch, I expect to be well diverted.

On to the day.

After a few days of fine, slightly cooler weather, high summer has slipped back into Madrid. Went to the main post office at la Plaza de Cibeles around 10 a.m. to mail a box of stuff back to the States, when I returned the air had shifted from nicely mild to warm and getting hot.

The settling-in of summer has been evident around the city center with the increased numbers of tourists. People of all ages pulling big wheeled suitcases, younger folks with backpacks strapped on, most wearing shorts, t-shirt, sandals. Lots of young folks standing at doorways to buildings with hostals, poking at door buzzers, waiting for a reply or calling into the intercom in English and/or Spanish. Snatches of passing conversations in German, French.

After the post office, a quick cup of espresso and a visit to the bakery down the street for the day’s baguette and a couple of their excellent empanadillas, I headed back this way, passing a 50-something gray-haired male strapped into a full backpack, bedroll lashed across the top. He walked slowly, as if weary or not entirely sure of his bearings. Olive green t-shirt, black jeans, running shoes. Neat, but rumpled from travel. The backpack/bedroll were dark blue/gray, a small green stuffed teddy bear hung from the rear of the pack, bobbing a bit with the traveler’s steps, its features set in a blank fixed half-smile.

In ten days I’ll also be travelling. Not a thought I’m crazy about, so I think about it as little as possible. Yesterday I called the friendly people at Telefónica in an attempt to get my internet service put on hold during my months back in the States, something they assured me, when I first ordered the service, that would be easy to arrange. BWAAAAAAHAHAHA!!!!! About five minutes into the first attempt — not proceeding quite as smoothly as I’d hoped — the woman I was speaking with hung up on me. After a short laughter/cooling-down interval, I called back, spoke with another representative, a guy. A better experience, though Telefónica still wants to make me go through some hoops to get the service suspended. Have not yet decided if it’s worth hurling myself through them to save myself some shekels. Will decide during the next few days.

The fact is that since my arrival in August of 2000 and the subsequent dealing with local utilities to set up my first flat, they (or at least Telefónica) have made major efforts to improve the quality of the experience. Dealing with the power company back then was unbelievably unpleasant, the phone company only slightly better. With my current landlords I don’t have to deal with the power company, for which I give profuse, grovelling thanks. I’ve had to deal with Telefónica, however, and it’s become clear that they have put tremendous effort into being more pleasant, responsive, kind, humane, all of which I sincerely appreciate.

On the other hand, I spoke with a Spanish friend yesterday and mentioned my attempts to get my ADSL service put on hold. She laughed out loud at the very idea, saying (through snorts of hilarity), “It’s impossible!” Impossible? Well, no. Easy? Hmmm — the word I would use is doable. Doable, with some contortions on my part. We’ll see if I’m up to it.

Passing voices in conversation drift up from the street. A few minutes ago, the bell of a local church rang midday in counterpoint to the beep-beep-beep of a truck backing up into la Calle de Gravina, post-grocery-delivery to one of the shops that ring the plaza.

A quiet Friday morning in Madrid, the hours drifting steadily by, each one warmer than the last.

[Continued from entry of June 3]

Due to the speed at which we hurtled down the highway, we made it to the outskirts of Toledo pretty damn quickly. Outskirts like that of many Spanish towns/small cities — not ugly, not pretty. Businesses and apartment buildings: practical, undistinguished. And as we drove along local roads, the old city gradually appeared ahead — a large sprawling redoubt, an eye-catching, ascending concentration of winding medieval streets and buildings that cover something too imposing, too extensive to be called a hill — enclosed by an impressively-sized ancient wall. An archway entrance faces what is now a rotary which channeled traffic to the left and the right, both four-lane roads that skirt the steeply-rising slope of the land, heading off around the curve of the land and out of sight.

V. pulled over to the curb just ahead of where the rotary gave out to the right to point out some details in the archway’s stonework — the city crest: two-headed eagle, all that. One of two cops standing near the archway noticed us and immediately headed in our direction, stepping out into traffic that wisely gave him a wide berth. He strode directly across the circle toward us, his expression all business. V. hastily put the car into gear, we took off, heading to the right around the old city’s northern section.

A deep, broad gorge runs along the west side of the city, channeling the Tajo River through fairly wild-looking terrain, winding into view then spreading out and over a long spillway, the scene reminding me of a browner version of Vermont (minus medieval community/tourist trap, of course). The road we drove along crossed a bridge then ran parallel to the river, providing a dramatic view of the gorge (the river a substantial distance below, after millennia of slowly, gradually carving its way through that passage) and the slope thrusting skyward from there, layered with buildings that stretched successively on up. Spectacular enough that I simply stared, my mouth just about hanging open.

V. found parking on a side street, we got out and made our way to the bridge that stretches across the gorge. I’ve had other opportunities to make this trip in the past, but Toledo has always been described to me as packed with tourists, overrun with tourists, which always put me off. For whatever reason, the place was anything but overrun with people this day. There were folks about, but in comparatively small numbers. A few stood clustered around the western end of the bridge, mostly inside the shadows of its soaring entrance archway. A few walked across the bridge in either direction. Some folks headed up the upward-slanting streets of the town’s west side ahead of us. But not a lot, not a suffocating number by any stretch. Why? Got me. We’re talking about a beautiful Saturday at the end of May, the kind of day tailormade for throngs of frothing tourists. Made no sense to me, but resulted in a quiet, relatively peaceful first exposure to this beautiful place.

Narrow streets winding up and down inclines. Old, old buildings everywhere. The sky alive with swifts soaring in every direction, their high calls resonating in the warm air. Turning corners sometimes lead to small courtyards, a passage on the opposite side of the space leading off at sharp angles. Large plazas hove into view, more people suddenly around, restaurants or touristy shops grouped around parts of the periphery. Many of the streets had long swaths of white fabric suspended along their length, a couple of stories up, providing relief from the intense sunlight along with a feeling of being somewhere vaguely Arabic. Which is not far from the case. Before what’s called the Reconquest of Spain and the purging of the Jews and Moors by Ferdinand and Isabella, los Reyes Católicos (the Catholic Kings), in the late 1400’s, Toledo was an example of a society in which the three faiths co-existed prosperously, harmoniously. There are Arabic elements in the architecture, as well as Gothic, Baroque and others I couldn’t name, and the combination of it all is striking.

And through it all, V. and I are wandering around, blabbering in Spanish and English. He’s pretty much taken control, turning me here and there, me going in whatever direction I get pulled. Mr. Pliable, putty in your hands.

We paused in one small plaza where V. wanted to show me an old, old Jewish temple, now a museum. Door locked, sign informing us that it’s closed due to work being done inside. Thwarted, but recovering quickly, V. dragged me down some nearby narrow streets and around a corner where we immediately got on line to take a look at a fresco by El Greco. A line composed of: tourists! Bunches of them! Spaniards and Germans — this was where the rascals had been hiding. The fresco in the foyer of an old church (the foyer: austere, except for the fresco; the church itself: wildly ornate, in disorienting contrast to the foyer) had originally been commissioned by a local bigwig to show how pious he was (not that there’s anything wrong with that! spending money in ways that support local arty types is a fine way to squander your riches!), turning out to be the largest painting I’ve ever seen by El Greco, and after dragging my butt through any number of museums and royal/religious institutions in this part of the world, I’ve seen a bunch of his stuff. A 40ish Spanish woman stood in front of the big metal railing that keeps the great unwashed (us) away from the fresco, talking about El Greco and this particular piece to a restless crowd mostly composed of a large, unruly group of Germans. Not many of whom spoke Spanish and therefore blabbered among themselves until the rest of us who wanted to hear this poor woman got them to quiet down. Which actually worked out well. She spoke loudly and clearly, a couple of young German women translated, and the shpiel turned out to be interesting.

As the guide talked, gesturing with her right hand, her left hand held two items: un abanico (a fan, an item that’s become a fairly normal sight in the recent warmer weather) and a cell phone. Pretty much summarizing what some might call the old Spain and the new Spain in one neat package.

[This piece in progress -- more to come]

I’m afraid I went to see The Matrix Reloaded yesterday. For the second time. Please don’t hold it against me. I couldn’t help myself. The scary part: I enjoyed it at least as much as the first time around. And perversely, I especially liked aspects of it that I’ve heard critics complain about. Not to be contrary — I just like ‘em.

A sample of film dialogue some people may love, some may hate:

Lock: Goddamn it, Morpheus, not everyone believes what you do.

Morpheus: My beliefs don’t require them to.

Moment of note: heard from a police radio at one point during the long, intense highway-chase sequence — “1 Adam-12.” Have never seen the show, but even I got the reference.

From the credits: two different outfits involved in the special effects:

Giant Killer Robots

Pixel Liberation Front

Afterward, walking home along Gran Vía amid rush-hour crowds, came across the local heavy metal busker. Standing right up by the front of the Telefónica building, legs spread apart, churning out heavy metal chords punctuated by turgid melody lines, all of it boiling out of a small Pignose type amp. Black jeans, heavy black shoes, a ragged khaki-colored short-sleeved shirt which showed his skinny biceps off to good effect. Head bobbing as he played, long black hair waving in time. He looked up now and then at passing people, generally remained hunched over his guitar. Most everyone glanced or stared at him as they passed, almost no one slowed or stopped. One young couple paused, she dug into her bag, came up with some coins, dropped them into his cup. And one elderly woman in a matronly print dress and thick, clunky shoes walked slowly by. Slowly, slowly, slowly, staring at heavy-metal dude the entire time, her mouth open, her eyebrows knit. Looking completely, absolutely nonplussed.

I stayed there for a while, watching the ongoing extravaganza, then headed home.

This morning. Considering that I managed maybe four hours of sleep — tops — I did just fine. Dragged myself out of bed, got my sorry butt dressed and out the door. Hazy skies, muted sunshine, humid enough that I could feel it in the air — a rare experience here during the warm season (yesterday’s weather reports warned about possible rain today, possible storms). Got to the gym without mishap. Persuaded my little body to cooperate. Endured an hour and a half of the local version of FM top-40 radio (KISS FM — los 40 principales), the same 40 songs sprinkled with classic sentimental pop (if I have to hear “Unchained Melody” one more time I may not be responsible for the result). In the process, discovered the gym has a heavy-metal member, a slender 20-something with long, long black hair (parted in the middle, tied back in a ponytail), black shorts, sneakers and Judas Priest t-shirt. Slim, quiet, stays to himself. Works out in slow motion, takes loads of time between sets, staring ahead blankly. Can’t explain exactly why, but the recurring heavy-metal thing got me smiling.

Later, heading down into the Metro for the ride back here, a stocky 20-something black guy in sunglasses sat by the bottom of the escalator, singing a reggae tune at top volume, with all the lung power he had, hammering steadily away at his guitar. Loud. Dropped some change into his bag just to acknowledge all the calories he was burning.

A train pulls in, I step inside, two dark-skinned South American guys are playing a Peruvian tune, one on acoustic guitar, the other alternating between a smaller, dobro-type instrument and a recorder. Playing and singing, loud, and pretty damn good. Giving it everything they had, holding the attention of most of the people in the car — not often the case with in-train music. Gave them some change, as did a bunch of other people up and down the coach.

Clouds began moving in shortly after I returned home. A mild, humid, gray afternoon. Did some studying, went out to rent a DVD on the theory that I might watch it after class tonight. Wound up running into J., someone I met in Spanish classes during my first few months here (autumn/early winter 2000), a good guy whose Spanish at that time was advanced enough that being in my class must have bored the bejesus out of him. At that time, the school had no classes more advanced than ours. Scary thought, ’cause back then my Castellano was not too swift. His suffering didn’t last long — after a couple of weeks he returned to the States, one of many good folks who passed through classes I’ve taken, disappearing off into their own lives after varying spells in Madrid.

People come and go in this life of ours. It’s nice when they turn up again, even if just briefly.

When I emerged from the rental shop, the sidewalks were speckled from light, brief rainfall. One of my sainted landlords (I do not say that facetiously) stopped by a little while ago carrying an umbrella, reporting light rain. The sky remains gray, continues darkening. Who knows, maybe there’ll be heavy-weather fireworks tonight.

We’ll see.

Later.

These last few days have slipped by in a long sustained flash of beautiful weather punctuated by lots of activity and occasional brief intrusions of clouds and rain. High summer conditions elbowed their way in near the end of last week during the course of one particularly warm afternoon. Walking through the crowds in Sol that evening a little after 9, I heard someone say, “¡Mira! ¡Más de 30 grados!” (Look! More than 30 degrees!) A glance at the time/temperature clock confirmed a readout of 31º — 87 or so dry, light Fahrenheit degrees. A summer twilight. Fair weather clouds overhead showing bright highlights from the setting sun, the sky alive with the motion of countless swifts putting on a spectacular display of evening flight.

That was Thursday, I think. It’s hard to remember for sure with the days skidding past the way they have been.

Recent moments:

– An ad for Gino’s restaurants, seen in the course of a 10-minute pre-film bludgeon-the-customers-senseless-with-adverts extravaganza: an attractive 30ish couple sits at a table in an Italian restaurant, eyeing each other with lascivious ardor as they eat pasta, slowly, teasingly. A lovely, stylishly-dressed woman enters the restaurant, sees the couple. Her expression darkens, she moves in their direction, her vibe suggesting someone who’s just discovered she’s being two-timed. When the second woman arrives at the table, she picks up a glass half-filled with wine. The seated man and woman, caught mid-food-bacchanalia, sit back in surprise, faces registering shock, guilt. Close-up of him, eyes widening apprehensively. The second woman tosses the wine into the face of the seated woman, the audience suddenly getting that the seated woman is the cheating lover, not the man. The second woman sets the glass on the table, the seated woman sits, stunned, face and chest soaked with wine. The second woman pulls out a set of keys, brandishes them high before dropping them to land in front of the seated woman, then strides away with righteous intensity; the seated couple sit paralyzed, staring at each other, the restaurant around them suddenly silent. We see the keys, partially submerged in the seated woman’s pasta and cream sauce. The tag line: “¿Qué sería la pasta sin pasión?” (What would the pasta be without passion?)

– Here in the neighborhood, Saturday a.m. Walking back to my building, post-errands, carrying bags of groceries. It’s a bit before 11, few people are about. A handful of shops are open, more are in the process of opening. A shaven-headed mid-30s male, about my height, approaches, walking in the opposite direction. Wearing sunglasses and black, well-worn jeans/t-shirt. Abundantly pierced, arms completely engulfed in dense swirls of tattoos. He carries a bulky, shiny metal briefcase, as we pass each other I see that it’s locked and handcuffed to his wrist.

Late Saturday a.m., I get a phone call from V., one of my intercambios, someone in the process of becoming a friend. He wonders if I’d have any interest in a jaunt out to Toledo, a beautiful, small medieval city built on a hilltop, 40-45 minutes southwest of Madrid. Having had no real plans for the day, apart from avoiding schoolwork and writing, I immediately say yes. Forty minutes later, we rendezvous down the street from here in the plaza, get in his car and take off.

I love being ferried around. It’s nearly always okay with me if someone else wants to drive. With someone else behind the wheel, I get to talk, watch the world go by, check out any tapes or CDs that might be within reach. Much better than dealing with traffic. And with me having no car here, any time someone drives me somewhere becomes an occasion. I get to see Madrid from a whole different perspective from the usual pedestrian/Metro rider deal. Which makes me happy like you wouldn’t believe. Plus, with the local female population in summer togs, I get to take that in with carefree piggish joy, whereas if I were behind the wheel I’d be an easily-distracted danger to myself and everyone around. Which, now that I think about it, would mean that I would fit right in, no more dangerous than any of the other maniacs piloting their cars through the ongoing pinball game of Madrid traffic.

It’s a beautiful city, Madrid, as I’ve written here far, far too many times, and seeing it from the perspective of a car shooting through one neighborhood after another is a lot of fun. V. eventually finds his way to the highway that extends out from the city’s southwestern sectors toward Toledo, plugging into high-velocity Saturday highway traffic with pedal-jamming ease. Vicente Calderón stadium looms to the left as our speed picks up and residential areas give way to more industrial landscapes, then to the brown, hilly Spanish countryside.

Since we’ve got this intercambio thing going, the afternoon’s first hour is spent speaking Spanish. English takes over for the second hour. After that, it’s kind of a free-for-all, conversation sliding back and forth between the two languages, both of us making plenty of errors but doing fine. I get a serious charge out of this two-language thing and am wildly grateful to any Spaniards willing to indulge in it with me. We blab about this and that, V. swinging back and forth between lanes, traffic getting lighter and lighter. Spaniards tend to drive real damn fast, but V. tends to drive real damn faster than most of the rest of them. Might be unnerving if I were paying close attention, but we’re talking about movies, books, language and whatever else comes to mind, so it’s easy to ignore what’s going on driving-wise, and I mostly do. Not that anything overtly dangerous happens. We’re moving along at high enough velocity that I might not be able to see any moments of danger until we were well past them, and then they would only register as passing moments of possibility/probability in a continuous supersonic stream of like moments.

[Continued in entry of June 5.]

A brief exchange of correspondence, begun when I sent my best buddy the following note, containing a news article I came across in the course of web wanderings. The town mentioned in the article — located across the flats from the easternmost reaches of the Catskill Mountains — is a strange, interesting, charming, goofy, rapidly-growing place.

Sent: Thursday, May 29, 2003 3:41 AM
Subject: in the news

You’re probably aware of this already, but on the chance you’re not check out the following article about what’s going on an hour north of you in New Paltz, where my brother has lived since going to the college there far too many years ago now (and where I lived for a year post-college); the Times article — more complete — linked at the bottom is also interesting:

Environmental news from GRIST MAGAZINE:

Jason West, a 26-year-old member of the Green Party, is shaking things up in New Paltz, N.Y., where he was elected mayor earlier this month — an outcome that has the local political establishment in a tizzy.

West ran on an ambitious environmental platform that rallied support from many students at the State University of New York at New Paltz, of which West is an alumnus. On June 1, West and his two running mates will take control of the village’s five-member board.

West’s agenda: curb sprawl, promote solar energy, power government vehicles with soy-based fuel, and purify sewer water by filtering it through artificial wetlands. The defeated incumbent, 71-year-old Mayor Thomas Nyquist (D), is not bowing out graciously. “I always considered myself an environmentalist, too, but what they’re talking about is ridiculous,” Nyquist said. “We have issues that are much more pressing than putting solar panels on Village Hall.” Meanwhile, on the national level, some Green activists are urging the party not to nominate a presidential candidate in 2004, but instead to throw its support behind a Democrat to increase the chances of unseating President Bush.

straight to the source: New York Times, Claudia Rowe, 25 May 2003

straight to the source: Washington Post, Brian Faler, 27 May 2003

My friend’s response, received late yesterday:

You must think that I read the news, that I listen to what goes on around me, that I take my head of out of the sand. You are heartily mistaken, my friend. Har har har. Well, tomorrow is June, the month you return. And is that still true? I just finished my five-day workshop on {a play he will be directing at a New York City theater} and am trying to catch up at {the public radio station he works at}. In the meantime, the economy is spanking my butt, so that the fund drive that was supposed to last ten days has lasted 17 and we are doing 2-1/2 more days next weekend to reach our goal. And it wasn’t even a high goal! Argggg. It’s making me look bad, and I look bad enough as it is.

In the meantime, life is as exquisite as a knee in the groin. All right, more exquisite than that. Actually, it’s like ten minutes after the knee in the groin. When you are really hallucinating and the pain has left your nether parts and is heading into the rest of your body looking for a home, and you think you are either numb or oversensitive. And you think, wow, life is just so damn REAL. Every moment of it. It is this freshening, always. Oh, my god, I think I’m going to cry.

Anyway, I hope you feel the same way, and if you don’t then you are a lot saner than I am, my friend.

My response to his response, sent this morning:

Dude:

The scary thing about your note: I think I understood it.

Wait, was that what I meant to say? Never mind.

Yes, today is June. June is today. It has arrived. And so will I. Soon. I leave here on the 16th, stay at a friend’s place in London that night, return to the States on the 17th, stay with friends in Cambridge that night, take the bus back up to Vermont on the 18th. Two days later I will drive back down to Mass. and spend the weekend with friends in P-town for the film festival. I’ll be back up in Vermont the following Tuesday. At which time I’ll try to stay put for a while, maybe get serious about trying to find a home for the goddamn novel. Also, get serious about rewriting the first year to 16 months of the online journal and try to foist that on some unsuspecting agent or publishing house. Also, get serious about mowing the lawn. Or maybe I shouldn’t get too serious about that. If I don’t, though, I’ll walk out there one morning without my machete and disappear into the ever-growing thicket. They’ll find my pointy boots and my bleached bones months later, at which point my house will be sacked and left abandoned.

Mow the lawn. Get the car worked on. Work on the house. Mow the lawn. Mow the lawn. Mow the lawn. Would you explain to me why I’m going back to the States again? It sounds like it’s going to be so much fun. Wanna come up and help me hang a bunch of doors, maybe do some repainting in an effort to improve on the godawful job the previous owners did?

It will be nice to be back in the country after all these months in the city, he said in a rare moment of clarity and seriousness. Yesterday, a friend and I drove out to the ancient walled city of Toledo (Spain, not Ohio), which somebody dumped out in the middle of beautiful, hilly, high-chaparral kind of country. An amazing thunderstorm came through, and we went to the edge of the town to get a gander at its approach. I smelled smells of the earth and of rain in country air, odors of the sort I haven’t smelled since I left Vermont last, er, whenever it was. Centuries and centuries ago. It’ll be nice to back amid that again. And songbirds. And wild critters. And friends coming up to visit (nudge nudge). All that. At least for a few months. Then I’ll come back here and start shovelling down tapas again.

Re: the whole knee-in-the-groin allusion — should I be worried about you? Life is real, pal, and I will confess to loving the bugger. You probably do, too, once you find your way around the whole damaged-gonads thing.

Babble babble. I should go eat something. Hope this finds you and the rest of the clan having a fine Sunday.

It’s great to hear from you, BTW. I was just thinking of you yesterday, wondering if I should send you a note about things other than towns being taken over by college students. Apparently I should.

We’ll talk soon. Right?

Love from Madrid –

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