far too much writing, far too many photos

I am such a good citizen.

Yesterday, near the end of a busy afternoon: me, putting out the garbage. Going down four flights of stairs to the street level, dumping the bag into one of the building’s plastic garbage caddies. I then climb four flights of stairs back up to my piso where I discover I’m out of replacement garbage bags. It’s late enough in the day that there are no stores open around here where I might pick some up. I dig out an old plastic bread bag to use for organic waste until I can pick up the real thing tomorrow.

So. This evening. I’m in the kitchen making something to eat. I realize the floor could stand a sweeping, I grab the broom and do it. When I’m finished, I remember the garbage sitch. The bag with the organic trash is narrow-mouthed enough that I could easily scatter back to the floor as much dustpan dirt as I manage to get into the bag. Which left me standing, suddenly indecisive, evaluating what to do. At which point a small voice from somewhere back in the darker regions of my teeny little brain spoke up.

“Pssst,” it said. “Toss it out the window.”

The window? I thought in surprised reply.

“Sure!” it said. “It’s not like you’ve got a mountain of sweepings to dump. It’ll just maybe sprinkle a few people with dust, hair, some airborne dirt. No big deal.”

My inner college-age meathead found this idea mighty enticing, the little voice knew it, cranking up the persuasion just a touch.

“Come on,” it wheedled, “it’ll be great! Just think what a BAD thing it would be to do!”

Er, I hemmed, tempted, but knowing it really *would* be a bad thing to do.

“Hey,” the little bugger persisted, “you’re five stories up! By the time the stuff reaches the street, your window will be closed. No one’ll see you! Who’s gonna know?”

I’d know. I’d know, and with that awareness, any possibility of doing the deed evaporated, as much as the doing of that particular naughty deed might have delighted the anarchistic punkboy in me. There was simply no rationalizing away the strong possibility that some person, someone minding their own business, might wind up wearing part of the grunion from my kitchen floor.

Man, what a grown-up. What a good boy. Me, not straying over to the dark side, despite the strong temptation of a sure-fire, low-brow cheap thrill.

I can’t tell you how obnoxiously, goofily smug this has made me.

Life. Ain’t it grand?

I find myself feeling dangerously, er, something today. Mellow, maybe, though the word ‘mellow’ doesn’t really do the job. The morning and afternoon have been gray, relatively quiet, folks here in the barrio going about the Saturday shopping routine. Some carry bags or pull little two-wheeled carts containing groceries, others drift in and out of cafés, conversation trailing behind them in the cool air.

After yesterday evening’s class, a classmate and I drifted through the city center — streets busy with people doing the Friday-night-out thing — finding our way to over to Princesa, a zone just north of la Plaza de España that’s a concentration point of four different multi-screen theaters that all go in for international fare and adventurous Spanish films. Not the destination for a person seeking your standard Hollywood pump-’em-out product, and yet a place that packs the audiences in, there being a thriving market in Madrid for non-Hollywood type films.

We stuck to speaking Spanish, both of us being at more or less the same level with the language, high-intermediate. Both lapsing into English from time to time, both discovering similar limitations when it comes to understanding rapid-fire Spanish-speakers, or speakers who tend toward blurring their words together. But not doing badly overall, able to carry on life here without retreating to an English-speaking community. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of retreat — I’m just looking for something different.)

We took in a Spanish film called ‘In The City’ (’En La Ciudad‘), which turned out to be so good in a quiet, bittersweet way, so beautifully acted and shot, that I found myself swept up in much of it, completely absorbed. After which we wandered back out into late-night Madrid, the post-midnight streets and Metro still busy, the evening nowhere near being over for the locals.

After a night of not nearly enough sleep, got myself up, blew off going to the gym, sought out a pre-errands cup of espresso at one of my two usual local a.m. neighborhood joints, read a newspaper. Where I came across two articles that caught my attention:

First, all the poop about the flap at yesterday’s Davis Cup matches in Melbourne, Australia, where the anthem for the Second Spanish Republic (the pre-Franco epoch) was played instead of the current national anthem. Certain Spanish politicians affiliated with the right-of-center ruling party, el Partido Popular, have been spewing outrage ever since, while the Spanish tennis players apparently viewed it all with more like bemused amusement, accepting the seemingly heartfelt Australian apologies and letting it go. (Headline from the Australian newspaper The Age: Australia 1, Spain 1, Diplomacy 0.)

Second, an article from the back page of the hard-copy version of El Mundo concerning a 76-year-old Indian hermit/holy man who is claimed to have lived on nothing but air since he was eight years of age and who recently underwent an intensive 10-day examination by 100 medical personnel which produced no reason to call that claim into question. From the article: “[Prajlad] Jani was interned this past November 12th in Sterling Hospital, in the city of Ahmadabad, in the east of India, and observed 24 hours a day via television cameras and security guards. They gave the patient neither food nor water for ten days, then checked his state of health. This messenger of the gods, who underwent piercing long before Occidental adolescents made holes in their navels, underwent the testing with legs crossed and without using the bathroom, whose door in any case had been completely blocked off. ‘This man seems to have some strange ability to challenge hunger and thirst,’ asserted Urman Dhruv, Secretary of the Association of Doctors of Ahmadabad and one of the specialists that have studied the case.”

As I sat and read, slowly returning to something resembling functional consciousness, the café/cafetería remained quiet, only two or three customers besides myself sitting at the counter sipping espresso, maybe eating a croissant or sweet roll. The television played quietly in the background. The owner came in at one point, we exchanged a wave and a greeting. (”Muy buenos,” he said, a local version of ‘buenos días.’)

As I stood and paid up, one of two men who had just entered asked me a question in rapid, slurred Spanish, pointing at the stool I’d vacated. “Sí,” I responded, assuming he’d asked if the stool were free. He glanced at the counterman, expression a bit disconcerted, I realized the question had been more like Still using that?, meaning I’d just told him, Yeah, I am. (D’oh!) The counterman cleared it up, explaining that I’d finished. The guy commandeered the stool, I headed out the door, digesting one more instance of my limitations when it comes to understanding Spanish spoken by regular folks.

Science: working tirelessly for women.

And: an unbeatable opening line for a news article — “More than 100 staff were evacuated from a city centre bank HQ after the bomb squad were called in to detonate a chocolate Santa. ”

Two evenings ago — Tuesday, right about this time (late afternoon/early evening) — the weather in Madrid took a sudden turn. From fresh w/a cool edge, to brisk. Then cold. Then colder still, a stiff breeze springing up, forcing everyone to pull coats closed, walk faster, hunch shoulders. The change didn’t register for me until I was in the middle of a long walk to meet a Spanish friend, dusk settling in, me wearing the same clothing I’d had on earlier in the day — light pants and shirt, jacket over that. At some point, I realized my hands were getting stiff with cold. Then I realized my nipples were getting stiff with cold and were not happy about it. (That may be more information than you wanted, I admit. But there it is.)

The kind of weather that gives the simple act of walking into a heated building an extra kick of pleasure.

The friend is named Daniel — technically, it’s more of an intercambio than a friendship (intercambio: when an English speaker and a Spanish speaker get together for conversation, talking half the time in English, the other half in Spanish), though one that seems to be leaning comfortably toward something friendly, relaxed. Part of my ongoing Spanish studies. Which also include classes three nights a week.

The instructor I had for classes this last spring was a 30-year-old named Jesús — a good guy, extremely bright, knows how to teach Spanish. My current class is presided over by a young woman named Fátima. Genuinely nice, but newer to teaching, and at times it’s shown.

Currently in class with me: Tracey, a bright, enjoyable 30-something from California, in Madrid for a few months to experience life in another country and study Spanish. Brian, a 30ish fella from Ireland — relatively quiet, not revealing much, at least in the classroom, and as soon as class is over he vanishes; there’s clearly stuff going on in there, but so far he’s mostly kept it to himself. This last Monday evening, a young Japanese woman named San joined the group. Diminutive, very sweet, lives in Germany.

So. Monday. Fátima decides to inflict the indirect style on us — el estilo indirecto. When one talks about things that have already happened or been said — “Go to hell” becomes “He told me to go to hell.” Or, in Castellano, “Vete al infierno” becomes “Me dijo que fuera al infierno.” Or “Cuando salgas, ven a verme” becomes “Ella me pidió que cuando saliera, viniese a verla.” I think. It’s complicated, with bunches of possible verb changes, including instances of the subjunctive verb form, an element of the Spanish language possibly created during an especially nasty phase of the Inquisition. Enough to get one feeling fairly incompetent, all of this.

From the moment we began work on that bugger of a usage the evening became a messy downhill slide, compounded by Fátima being less prepared than she should have been. San, thrust into it all with little apparent prep., had a particularly hard time. When 9 o’clock arrived, we all bolted, everyone appearing a bit stunned at the class’s implosion. Except Brian, who disappeared instantaneously as usual, so that there was no knowing what was up with him.

As class ended, I asked Fátima for exercises to do at home, she had none to give us. I tried going over the material on my own on Tuesday or Wed., not succeeding in generating anything but dread at the prospect of another class on the topic, which Wed. would surely bring.

And it did. And Fátima was far more prepared, actually had a handle on the class. As did little San, who clearly had hit the books and found enlightenment. The rest of us were a bit more fifty-fifty. I understood some of it, remained clueless around other parts, didn’t seem to be getting any clearer. And could not get there by peering at the explanation sheet Fátima had given us, though I had the growing feeling there was a mathematical simplicity behind it all, so that my inability to get it resulted in rapidly-inflating frustration.

Not a happy boy, me. And when it seemed like everyone else but me had gotten it, when it might have been better to back off, let it go for the night, I could not take my teeth out of it, and got Fátima to make one more attempt at clearing it up. Which, in keeping with the other attempts, did not get through to me. (Not the fault of her explanations, believe me.)

At this point, I’d reached an intense enough emotional state that the rest of the students grew quiet, seeming to lean away from me. Or at least Tracey and Brian seemed to. San began nodding her head in agreement with Fátima’s explanations, a happy smile on her face. Which made me, feeling thicker by the moment, mighty unhappy. Until San — wanting nothing more than to be helpful — extended her little hand to my copy of the explanation sheet, pointing out to me something she thought might make things clearer. Which pushed me right over the edge for a moment, me letting San know clearly and sharply that her help was not helping and not wanted. She pulled immediately back, Fátima asked what had just happened, I said, “Nada, nada, nada,” we finished out the last remaining minutes of the class. My frustration now compounded by guilt, embarassment, humiliation.

What a ball, huh? As soon as class ended, San and I turned to each other, she started to apologize. I assured her she’d done nothing wrong, she had nothing to be sorry for, I was the one who needed to apologize. She showed me a flashcard she’d made, laying out the various elements of el estilo indirecto in reasonably simple style. I — making flashcards at home this last week for vocabulary — had thought about doing just what she did for this usage, but didn’t get around to it. Leaving me feeling particularly stupid.

Oh, the drama.

So. The good part of it all: I did apologize right away, I let San know she was without blame, got all that over with immediately instead of letting the moment pass by. And I’m aware that my strong reaction to the whole sitch indicates that it matters to me, that the learning-Spanish thing is important to me. And after class, I walked with Tracey and San for a bit. Then came home, made something to eat, watched the second half of a Champion’s League game, with some pretty dynamic fútbol being played between Real Madrid and Marseilles.

It all passed, today I’m my usual brilliant self.

And frankly, this being Thanksgiving, I give thanks for being alive in the middle of all this, for being conscious, awake and fully human, for putting myself out there, making the occasional mess, and cleaning it up as best I can afterwards. I give thanks that I’m where I am, doing what I’m doing. I give thanks that I care, that some things matter to me with particular urgency. I give thanks for it all.

There’s been a strange distance to the whole idea of Thanksgiving for me this year. (Logical, me being some distance from the place where I’ve observed Thanksgiving so many times.) I would have had no sense of the American version of the day if not for contact with friends Stateside in the throes of holiday prep. One of the things I like the most about Thanksgiving Day is how the world settles down, how quiet the streets become. How little traffic, how little activity outdoors. Life here goes on in normal fashion, and I like that, too, the life here being something I enjoy being surrounded by.

They both feel good to me. I hope wherever you are is feeling fine to you, and that the abundance of this life is apparent to you on this day of giving thanks.

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

Today, dusk, near the Bilbao traffic circle in the Chamartín district of Madrid:

(Thanksgiving Day in the States, just another Thursday here in Spain.)

Madrid is in the middle of a spectacular November day — skies washed clean by recent rainfall, sunlight pouring down through scatterings of wispy pre-rain clouds, here in advance of gray/wet weather predicted for tomorrow. Air cool and fresh. A fine day to be out in, a good day for taking care of errands

The construction across the street [see yesterday's entry] brought a huge cement truck in early this morning, one equipped with a massive crane that, when extended, stretched way the hell up toward the blue sky. The workers used the boom to pour concrete on the roof of the building, right across from here, five stories up (in American terms; four in European). Noisy, but interesting to watch. Not the kind of activity you see every day at this altitude.

Traffic accustomed to cutting through the neighborhood on this narrow street found itself blocked out, producing long lines of confused, unhappy drivers along with the occasional chorus of blaring horns. Down the block in the other direction, the sounds of construction and motorist tantrums faded quickly, life in the plaza carrying in normal fashion. Busy, people passing through, some heading into or out of the Metro, others stopping to pick up a paper. Others sifted in and out of tiendas and restaurants, trailing snatches of conversation. Dogs came and went, brought to the plaza by their humans for fresh air, exercise, maybe some fraternization with fellow canines. A young woman appeared, holding a three or so month old pup in her arms, one that will grow up to be the kind of strange-looking dog George C. Scott had in ‘Patton.’ (Strange-looking in a cool way, I think, not freakish or oogly, as a past sweetheart of mine put it after we saw the film and she felt compelled to comment on the dog.) She rushed over to a 20-something guy in a puffy coat sitting on one of the concrete benches, they huddled together over the puppy, talking happily to and about it.

And all of that pretty much describes the normal soundtrack around that part of the neighborhood: footsteps, voices in conversation, the occasional dog barking.

Nothing special, really. Normal life. Though special for that, rich in its normalcy. At least when one takes a moment to absorb it — the light, the sounds, the movement. All the lives going on, all the coming and going, the hours slipping by.

Normal life. Nothing special. And good to be in the middle of. A gift we sometimes lose sight of — the simple living of life.

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

Two images from the front window of a shop down the street from here, just beyond the plaza. A quirky little joint, packed with all kinds of unashamedly kitschy tchotchkes. Keep in mind that this shop is located in the heart of Chueca, Madrid’s version of Greenwich Village, a happening neighborhood with a substantial gay element. That, in combination with Spain’s long history of intense Catholicism and a strong streak of sentimentalism, produces an interesting mix of wares.

The legends at the top and bottom of the clock in the first picture read: Conjugal Barometer — So my husband is today. And moving around the dial, starting at 1 o’clock, the husband is happy, active, tired, cuddlesome, joyful, very affectionate, indifferent, variable, biting (as in scathing or sarcastic, not as in love nibbles), grumpy, crazy, furious. The legend on the photo of the two women reads, “And when I through your love came to know joy, then began my true life.” And of course, in the framed superhero moment, Robin is telling Batman, “You’re my hero!”, Batman looking suspiciously happy about that.

The second photo: The saying in the central framed piece reads “Congratulations to all the people who feel proud to be who they are.”

An aspect of Madrid that has not changed during my months away: the ongoing construction. It’s everywhere. I’m not sure I’ve wandered down a single street these last few days that didn’t feature construction of some sort somewhere along its length. Scaffolding stands up against facades (or in sprawling piles on nearby sidewalks, waiting to be erected), the target building often wrapped in green or blue netting to minimize the dust and falling objects landing on pedestrians. Dumpsters piled high with debris indicate work being done inside somewhere. Mounds of bags or lumber, the same. Some streets are torn up, some blocks feature sidewalks half ripped apart. But it’s literally all over the map, and has been since my arrival, mid-summer 2000. I’m told that Danny DeVito passed through Madrid at one point during the last 2-3 years and was so impressed with the sheer number of gaping cavities where the Earth had been opened up for construction projects that when he left town he commented, “I hope they find the treasure soon.”

Here at home, the construction that began across the street last January with the bulldozing of an empty lot — first the wall around it, then the two-to-three-story-high sumac trees in it, then the ground itself, dump trucks showing up on a daily basis to cart away loads of earth, leaving a huge, ever-deepening hole — has produced the skeleton of a four-story building slowly being filled in with bricks, concrete, etc. And when I say across the street, I mean right across the street. Right the hell across this narrow, one-car-wide street. So that if I leaned out my window and snapped a towel, I could just about get one of the happy manual laborers on the butt. Er, not that that’s how I pass the time — just a pithy illustration.

It’s a major change in ambience, is what I’m getting at. Where there used to be sunlight and greenery and a long wall that featured a rapidly-changing display of posters, there is now darkness, dust, stacks of supplies, all that. Not that I’m bitching. Everything changes. Chueca is a hot neighborhood, it’s only logical that empty lots large enough for a liveable structure are going to experience big transformations. I’m on the top floor of my building, the top of the new building across the way is about even with my windows. So I’ve just had a change of view, not loss of sunlight.

Why am I going on about all this? Just blabbering about a ubiquitous aspect of daily life in a rapidly-growing city. Please ignore me.

After a day and a half of rain, punctuated by thoughtful pauses for drying off, sunlight broke through a short time ago, a gray Monday a.m. giving way to lightening skies. All day yesterday, the city remained quiet — few people could be seen walking about, less Sunday traffic clogged the streets. The only major concentration of humans encountered by me were standing in front of the movie theater when I attempted to see Mystic River (which picked up stellar reviews here and is apparently packing ‘em in, both in theaters playing dubbed versions and those with original-lanuage/subtitles). After several minutes on a long, slow-moving ticket line, I bailed, deciding to do some live theater instead. Which took me to a teeny little alternative theater for a revival of a two-personshow that played elsewhere earlier in the year. A show which turned out to be a case of the marketing being far more effective than the product, the marketing consisting of posters appearing all over this neighborhood last week, vanishing as fast as they went up as people grabbed them to take home.

I went to this bugger because of the poster. A two-person show with grand (even grandiose) ambitions in a little bitty performing space. And I wanted it to be as hilarious and sharp as the poster made it out to be. Ah, well. The woman in the poster, Laura Inclán, did as great a job as she could manage with the material. A triple-threat: great dancer, good singer, great clown.

And there you have it, a fast brush with the local arts scene.

BTW, the word in Castellano for both construction work and theatrical works is obras. Mighty convenient, that.

Right. On to the week.

Entropic effervescence:

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

Those who have previously passed through this corner of the web are probably aware that this page tends not to remain static, whether new entries have been posted or not. Existing entries get cleaned up or rewritten, photos are sometimes replaced by others. Happens a lot. I’m sneaky that way. Or restless. Or suffer from my own laughable version of perfectionism.

Regardless, it’s something to keep in mind. (Or not.)

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

Marketing overkill currently at work here in the barrio:


This morning, seen right around the corner:

And elsewhere — be afraid, be afraid

Time and time again, I am knocked out by the way the days flash by. I arrived in Madrid three days ago — the time in between has blown past at mind-boggling speed. Every now and then there are more leisurely passages, the present moment seeming to flow by at a more relaxed lope (or, in the case of the 24 hours without electricity in Vermont this last Friday/Saturday, at a snail’s pace). Then I look back on it and it seems to have streaked past, like the rest of this life’s moments, swirling about in my internal rear-view mirror like leaves in my wake. Not to push the metaphor thing to the point of strain.

Daily existence has been coming together bit by bit. Groceries, bank, Spanish classes, gym, sleeping, eating, blahblahblah. On Monday, in the flush of my first hours back, I found myself speaking Spanish easily, the words flowing like old friends. As time went by, interactions became more complex, telephone calls to the phone company and dealings with a counter person at my bank provided slightly harder-edged perspective. But not demoralizing. Considering I’m freshly off the plane after five months away and am only beginning to catch up on sleep, I’m doing fine.

A couple of days back, after pulling myself out of bed at the blissful hour of 11:30, I wandered outside and made the hike to my bank — one of whose cash machines had devoured my ATM card the night before without warning, giving me no $$$$, instructing me to speak to someone at my home branch office. A beautiful, mild day, the air practically glowing with autumn sunlight. I passed a bar/café I’d been to a few times in the past, veered inside, ordered an espresso. My butt parked on a stool at the end of the bar, with a fine view of the world outside, I sipped at my little cup. During which I noticed a shoe shop across the street, the words ALMACÉN DE CALZADOS painted above the storefront (SHOE STORE, basically — literally, STORE or SHOP OF FOOTWEAR). Their awning had been unfurled above the sidewalk, the words ZAPATOS – ZAPATILLAS – ALPARGATAS emblazoned along its edge. I’m reading that — shoes, sneakers — and I stop dead at the third term, thinking What the hell are alpargatas? Completely baffled. A look at a dictionary later on defined the word as canvas sandals, or espadrilles. Should it worry me that discoveries like this just about make my day?

The only other customer in the bar/café, a small neighborhood joint, was a diminutive, elaborately-coiffed, fur-coated, 70-ish woman a couple of stools away making her way through a cup of coffee and a croissant (browned on the grill, her working at it with knife and fork, as is local custom). Studiously ignoring me, a stranger with the accent of a furriner. Sometimes that’s how it goes. Other times it’s different. Today, for instance, post visit to the gym, I’m strolling along a main drag in the barrio of Salamanca, arguably Madrid ritziest neighorhood. I come upon a poster for the Christmas lottery at a bus stop [a big deal here, whose impossible-to-avoid advertising campaign just got underway -- see photo at top of page]. I stop, pull out my camera. While I’m doing that, the person parked nearest the bus stop gets in their car, pulls out, leaving a postage-stamp-sized bit of parking square-footage available, immediately claimed by a 60-something woman, who pulls up, backs carefully into it. As she gets out and heads toward the local version of a parking meter, she says to me, shaking her head, “¡Madre mía, qué pequeño ese espacio!” (More or less, “Man, what a small space!”)

One of the achievements of the past couple of days: straightening out the kinks in the camera/computer thing, taking my first pix on this side of the Atlantic. During which I’ve discovered that this camera is not dealing well with the light here, beautiful light that provides a strong element of the local flavor. I’m walking around this morning, shooting away, absurdly thrilled at the prospect of how they’ll look. I get home, do the download thing, find out the light in many of the pictures simply washes right out, leaving a creeping off-white in its place. [See photo immediately below, taken this a.m. right here in the 'hood.] Not okay — either I figure out how to work around that or pick up a better camera.



Yesterday evening: this trip’s first foray into Spanish classes, back at the school I’ve been showering with euros for a while now. Afterwards, went out for a beer with Jesús (my instructor from last spring, not he who waltzed on water) and Carolina (another teacher at the school, one of the most beautiful women I know). Two lovely folks who herd me to a kitschy local hole-in-the-wall. Conversation follows, straying from classes to politics to the Matrix. At some point during the politics part, I realize I’ve come up against my limits with my language. All I can do is hang in, try to keep up with the other two without too many lapses into gibberish. Overall, not too catastrophic.

During the conversation, the subject of Spanglish came up (or Espanglish, as they call it here), something that occupied a chunk of class time before that. A phenomenon that’s apparently taking stronger and stronger hold with younger folk. This morning, on the way out of the gym, I notice a handwritten message on the bulletin board, a woman saying she left her watch on a bench in the locker room, didn’t realize it ’til she got home, went back to look for it, it had disappeared. In the note, she requests the watch’s return, no questions asked, closing out the plea with the phrase, Muchas thank yous!

Espanglish, the language of tomorrow.

That’s it for now. Muchas thank yous.

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

A touch of autumn color in the barrio of Salamanca, Madrid:




And after a long, protracted, even grueling trip: Madrid.

‘Long?’ you might ask. ‘Protracted?’ Well, yeah — first the bus ride from Montpelier down to Boston (hitting traffic in Boston, getting me to Logan Airport 45 minutes later than scheduled). Then the flight to Paris. (I’ll say one thing about Air France: good food.) Then a seven-hour(!!) wait for a flight here. Quite a bit longer than the planned layover, but this is sometimes how it works out.

‘Fine,’ you concede. ‘But grueling?’ ‘Mama,’ I answer, ‘and how.’ Thankfully, blessedly, it’s over. I can now write about it as an experience that’s come and gone, mercifully brief in the overall flow of time.

Some high points:

Monday morning, Chaz DeGaulle Airport. Every check-in window in sight is open at the crack of dawn if not earlier, tending to hordes of travelers. Except the two counter spots for Iberia, the major Spanish airline. They don’t open until a leisurely 9:30 or so, forcing many dismayed luggage-lugging people to orbit the area in confused fashion, not understanding Iberia’s vacant, lifeless counters given that working hours were well underway for the rest of the airline world. (So Spanish, this.)

Iberia check-in finally opens, I sidle up to the window where it is discovered that my travel agent back in Montpelier, Vermont booked both my flights — from Boston to Paris on Sunday the 16th; from Paris to Madrid on Monday the 17th — for the 16th. I am sent to a neaby on-site ticketing office, where a lovely, good-natured Frenchwoman takes charge, making sure I’m on the flight I’d thought I was on to begin with.

That seat turns out to be on a flight that is maybe half full. I get the window spot (over the wing, no view — D’OH!) in the only fully occupied three-seat row — something I didn’t cotton to until it was I was well ensconsed and the plane was about to take off. My row-mates: a maxi-sized 60-something Spanish woman and her alarmingly decrepit 92-year-old mother, mom belted into the aisle seat. The mother unable to walk, barely able to hold her head up. They’re already seated when I get there, the mother having been brought in by wheelchair earlier, so that me getting to my seat necessitates a major deal, the mother needing to be lifted up, moved around, teetering about on barely functional legs, grabbing at the seat in front of her, then not letting go, eveyone nervous/stressed, other passengers trying to get to their seats, unhappy and making noise about having to wait for our little scene to clear itself up.

During the flight, the daughter — one of the most nervous passengers I have ever found myself planted next to (sighing loudly, putting her food tray down apparently just so she can tap all the fingers of both hands on it (loudly, in long, distracted displays of edginess), craning her neck to peer around me out the window, dropping things to the floor that she was then unable to reach due to physical heft preventing her from bending over sufficiently, jumping to support her mother and push her gently back against the seat (the mother having been slowly falling forward as far as the seat belt would allow), turning at one point to put the fingers of a hand against her mother’s forehead and gently push her head back against the seat).

Though 92, the mother has decent vision and demonstrates it, aloud, reading first from the big what-to-do-in-an-emergency instruction card (’NEVER INFLATE YOUR LIFE VEST *IN* THE PLANE!’), then from the airline’s information magazine (’DESTINATIONS IN EUROPE….’). Speaking slowly, clearly, loudly, for far too long.

As the plane touched down in Madrid, it swayed back and forth a bit from side to side, prompting loud, alarmed cries of “AY!” from mom. “AY! AY AY AY!”

This life of ours: just a never-ending cavalcade of sheer entertainment.

A t-shirt seen on a zoftig, college-aged female traveler during the post-flight wait at the baggage-claim carousel: FUCK FASHION! (The second letter in ‘FASHION’ being the symbol for anarchy, a slashing A in a circle.)

And I eventually stepped out of the terminal into mid-afternoon Madrid, autumn sun coming down in abundance, temperature nicely user-friendly (57, 58 degrees, like that). A bus carted me into the city center, streets busy with traffic, sidewalks active with people. City life going on all around.

A lot of the hours since then have been spent getting my existence here back on its feet after five months away. The only major fly in the ointment so far: the dock for my digital camera has not yet wanted to work, despite me picking up a power transformer and plug adapter. Meaning no photos have been taken/downloaded to this point. Until I can supply my own pix, I will resort to ones taken by a Spanish friend now attending Stanford University in northern Cal (¡Hola Marta!). The image at the top of the page — an amazing merry-go-found (’tiovivo’ en espanol) — was taken during an outing to Segovia, northwest of Madrid. [Note: that photo has now been replaced -- 11/20.]

More another time.

Later.

Yesterday morning, about two and a half hours after posting the last entry, the power here went off. And stayed off. Genuinely cold outside, wind and snow blowing hard, me trying to get ready for tomorrow’s departure for six or seven months in Madrid. What a ball.

Around 4 o’clock, with daylight waning, I rounded up all the candles I could find, deployed them around the kitchen/dining room, got ‘em going. Would have been happy and festive in different circumstances.

At 6:30, I called the local power company (Washington Electric Cooperative, Inc.) to see if they could give me some idea of how much longer the juice would be off. The woman I spoke with had been given a message to pass along to customers like me (and she made it clear she was just passing it along): they’d had crews out since the previous morning and were sending them home at 7 p.m. — in 30 minutes time. If I didn’t have power before then, it wouldn’t be restored until sometime today, and we would have to live with that.

Well, yes, we would. But not happily.

And the night from that point on? Not much fun. Kind of grim, really, me not a happy boy. As bleak and lonely-feeling a time as I’ve had in quite a while. But it passed. With the first light, I stumbled out to the car, drove into Montpelier to the gym. Nice warm gym. Nice warm shower afterward. Did some errands, drove home. Pulled into the driveway, hit the garage door opener, holding my breath. The door goes up, I immediately begin giving thanks to the universe at large. Talk about a relief.

Running water. Flushing toilets. The hum of the refrigerator at work. Lights shining happily. These are good things.

Tomorrow morning I’m out of here, arriving in Madrid mid to late afternoon local time on Monday. Back online Monday night or Tuesday.

Be well.

Yesterday, late afternoon.

Northern Vermont — eight inches and still coming down:

Yesterday evening, driving home from Montpelier, I spotted a house strung with the first Christmas lights I’ve seen this year. (The real item, not the ones left up all twelve months. Several offenders of that kind also had displays going.) Kind of nice, actually, those graceful points of white light shining in the darkness.

Had appointments with dental hygienist and haircutter today. Various weather reports heard along the way mumbled ominous predictions of major snow coming our way tonight — anywhere from two to eight inches, depending on the weather mumbler. By midday, the sky had grown wild, flurries came and went, driven by strong breezes. I went about my biz, teeth getting cleaned, hair getting cut. My haircutter is a genuinely entertaining woman and we got talking, distracting me to the point that it simply didn’t register I’d been given one hellaciously ragged, uneven clip job. (The sign mentioned in the last entry remains on the door at Acme Hair, BTW.)

Got home, got absorbed in doing things that needed doing. Did not pass a mirror until 20 minutes before I needed to head back into town for a film. At which time the picture I was presented with, the extent of the disaster, nearly stopped my little heart. One of my hands grabbed scissors, began flailing away in a fast, dirty repair job.

It’s been a while since I’ve had to save myself from a hair massacre.

Drove back into town, flurries growing heavier, more insistent. Met a friend, ate, saw Lost In Translation for the second time. Outside, the snow got more serious, wind whipping it this way and that. The drive home: long and intense, the road slippery, treacherous. There is nothing quite like navigating a dark, winding country two-lane in heavy snow.

I sit here writing this in a comfortable house, warm, lights on, wind rattling windows, snow piling up. It’s good to alive in the middle of it all.

A November morning, gray and cold. Woke up early, got the coal stove going. Futzed around the house for a while, finally pulled myself together, drove into Montpelier.

I am blessed with a full head of abundant, fast-growing hair. My last cut having happened a couple of months back, the load up top has begun getting a bit thick and heavy, prompting me this week to make an appointment with Tamsen at Acme Hair for a serious pre-travel shearing.

This morning in Montpelier: I climbed the steep flight of stairs to Tamsen’s second floor lair on State Street, arriving exactly on time, bells outside tolling 11 a.m. I knock, no answer. No lights visible inside. I pace along the hallway, read some posters hanging by a massage practitioner’s office door. I knock again at Acme Hair — pointlessly, already knowing no one’s inside. A chair flanks Tamsen’s door (for removing footwear, in accordance with the artfully hand-scrawled sign taped to her entryway: “No one will wear shoes inside! No way! No one ever! No! No! No!” — the numerous other teeny No!’s strewn around the sign ensure the reader gets the message), I sat down for a while. Ten minutes later, I heaved myself to my feet, headed downstairs and out into the street for some fresh air. Where it’s looking and feeling like December in classic fashion — cold, crisp, gray sky looming overhead, air feeling as if snow could fall at any time. Ponds along the drive into town are frozen over, the ice cover appearing thick, solid. Holiday music already plays in some shops, displays of Christmas paraphernalia have materialized. Kind of nice.

For a while, I stood on the bridge over the North Branch, one of two rivers that cut through Montpelier, a warmly-dressed couple strolled by, smiling. Then dragged myself up the stairs to Acme Hair once again, knocked on the door, received the expected silence in return.

Veteran’s Day. My haircutter slept in.

I left, still hairy, walking along streets nicely quiet, many storefronts dark, few cars driving past.

A slice of decent pizza at a nearby town joint provided consolation. (Breakfast. Mmmm — olives, garlic.) Rented a couple of DVDs, headed back home via winding back roads. Listened to the midday weather report along the way, they spoke of coming snow. Sure enough, shortly after pulling into the garage, the lightest, most ethereal flakes began falling. Within minutes, it had intensified, blotting out the surrounding hills and ridges.

The time for my annual Christmas music fest may be upon me.

Watch out where the huskies go, don’t you eat that yellow snow. — Frank Zappa

This morning: Cold, cold, cold, inside the house and out. Got up, got the coal stove going. Afterward, made a pit stop in the bathroom, en route to getting the morning underway. The toilet, on being flushed, refused to empty, then began running without pause — a lethal combination. Before my still-half-asleep little brain could grasp it all, the water had risen up to the seat and begun to overflow. I managed to shut off the water supply before waders became imperative. Then managed to get everything clean and dry reasonably quickly.

I’ll tell you one thing: that woke me up in a way coffee simply can’t.

It’s a beautiful, sunny, frigid day outside. Cold, quiet, sedate, apart from the occasional sound of a gunshot echoing off in the distance, this being hunting season. And — not to sound callous — just in time. There have been deer around these parts in wild abundance, to the point that — and I am not exaggerating here — there’s deer poop everywhere. Simply taking a walk around the surrounding countryside has become hazardous to footwear.

Every once in a while, a non-hunter will walk down the gravel road, out enjoying this early winter day. Wearing at least one item of intensely bright orange clothing. It’s that time of year when a simple walk in the country means loud duds. If you want to survive.

During the last couple of days, the concentrated cold has popped open the milkweed pods that hadn’t cracked apart before now, so that milkweed fluff has been flying freely about. Looking a bit like wintertime butterflies, swooping and widdying before passing breezes.

I received a note from Madrid a week or two back saying that if a hard frost didn’t hit before my arrival, I stand a good chance of seeing some autumn color there. We’ll see. At the very least, it’ll be nice to step back in time, season-wise, to be somewhere the deep freeze hasn’t yet settled over.

A week from today, I board a bus that will take me down to Logan Airport in Boston, where I’ll hop a flight across the broad Atlantic. Seven short days.

Damn, these last five months have raced by.

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