far too much writing, far too many photos

My second morning in Sevilla — two short weeks ago — I woke from amazing, luminescent dreams of well-being. This morning, my second in Casablanca, I woke from turbulent, disquieting dreams situated back in the States, the political state of things figuring prominently. A shower followed by a walk in morning sunlight and two or three glasses of hot tea at a café brought me back.

They make killer tea here, BTW. And salads. (”Killer”: not a word I tend to associate with tea or salads, but there it is. If they made them in Madrid or the States they way they do here, I’d indulge in both a whole lot more.) Also, as might be expected, some righteously excellent hommous and tabouleh.

When I stepped outside at 10 a.m. this morning, the streets weren’t quite as quiet as those in Sunday morning Madrid, but more sedate than I’d been expecting. I’d had some blinkered idea that Sunday a.m. in a Moslem city would be more or less like weekday mornings in western cities, Friday being the day of religious observance here. Silly me. The Monday-to-Friday business model predominates here as well — stores were dark and shuttered, with few people about. A walk brought me to a café that’s become my default haunt here, I grabbed an outside table, ordered tea, watched the local world slowly come to.

Sitting at cafés here means being an automatic target for the wandering black market vendors who pass by every few minutes (cigarettes; socks/neckties; batteries; sweets; occasionally toys — an enterprising guy with boxes of toy trains passed by this morning). Males looking to shine shoes appear frequently, people pass asking for money. Almost all solicit respectfully, move immediately on.

Looking like a westerner, even one as unobtrusive as me (though salt/pepper hair and honky-white skin work against complete invisibility), has not meant getting hit on more than the locals, which I’ve appreciated. It has, however, meant receiving artificially friendly overtures once in a while from a certain type of male, wanting (a) money or (b) to guide me to a rug shop. They start out with an ingenuously friendly hello in Arabic or French, quickly change to broken English if I don’t respond. I’ve learned the routine, I mostly continue on my way.

The street-encounter thing has been interesting. Curious glances aren’t uncommon, and far more Moroccan women than I’d expected have checked me out in obvious fashion, some returning my gaze boldly, directly. Could be they’re actually scoping me out male/female-wise, could be they’re trying to determine my cash value, westerners apparently assumed to be automatically swimming in money. (All things being relative, it may be that compared to the local standard we actually are swimming in money.)

And there are occasionally lengthier, conversational encounters. I experienced the first of those Friday afternoon after leaving my cross-eyed benchmate. [See yesterday's entry.] A skinny, short 50ish type — copper skin, receding hair, day-old stubble, lacking a few teeth. We jostled each other along a stretch of broken, uneven sidewalk, I said, “¡Perdón!”

“¿Español?” he asked. “Sí,” I answered, meaning yes, I speak it — not necessarily his question. He spoke a little Spanish, some English, immediately began a conversation that veered between them and French, laying a complicated story on me about owning a boat and a marine company, about Spanish business contracts that keep him going between Spain and his country, Mauritania, about mechanical problems that had left him stranded in Casablanca for a week.

A true tale? A fanciful yarn? Total rubbish? I couldn’t tell, didn’t press him to find out. I listened, genuinely interested in this character, enjoying the unexpected encounter, wherever it led.

***********

I have no idea what this billboard is getting at.


[continued in next entry]

Though Casablanca is the largest city in the country, a modern center of business (as the guidebooks chant over and over), it appeared tired, rundown, shabby in yesterday’s post-rain afternoon light, as if slowly breaking down beneath the sheer weight of high population and widespread poverty. Heavy traffic circulated through the streets below (older vehicles, mostly, including weary-looking, rust-streaked city busses), bicycles and pedestrians threading their way through it with little concern. Compared with Madrid and Sevilla, it suffered. And of course I looked at it through the prism of my own mindset, not at its finest right that nanosecond in the wake of language gap, general airport scene, wildass, death-defying ride into town. To the point that I gradually realized as I sat there that a part of me wanted to curl up into a ball and pass out for a good long while — part sleep, part fetus-like retreat. Either do the fetal thing or call my travel agent in Madrid, change my return flight from tomorrow to today. The guidebooks I’ve read say there’s not much to do in Casablanca, touristically speaking — the prospect of walking its crowded streets for two days didn’t seem hugely appealing.

And on the heels of that, I became aware of another part of me, feeling what I can only describe as glee at the fact that I’d just arrived and had already been neck deep in adventures. Goddamn, I found myself thinking, staring out over the downtown, the tower of a distant mosque visible above surrounding buildings, what an experience!

An hour later: me, out poking around the downtown area, trawling for an ATM, checking out stores, restaurants, people.

And the people here are unbelievably interesting. Like the city itself, a messy mixture of cultural elements — Arabic, French, Spanish. Skin colors and ethnic types from all over the Arab world. Business suits, hooded desert robes, streetwear you’d see in any occidental city. Most, though not all, women sporting the hair shawl, a few completely hidden away in burkas. Cafés everywhere, virtually all the clients men, drinking coffee or tea, reading newspapers, checking mobile phones for messages.

One thing I noticed: the city seems mostly dog-free (in wild contrast to Madrid). The upside of that: poop-free sidewalks (in wild contrast to Madrid). Depending on where you go, however, Casablanca conpensates for the poop deficit with garbage or mud. And compensates for the dog deficit with feral city cats, looking reasonably healthy and comfortable with their lot.

I found my way toward the Medina, the old walled neighborhood — the original site of the city before the French arrived and tossed together the current impressively alive, untidy monstrosity — now known for the market that sprawls through most of the quarter’s streets. On the way in, I found myself behind three Dutch 20-somethings, two males, one female, all in jeans/t-shirts. On impulse, I drifted along in their wake. A few Moroccan males they passed whipped their heads around to watch the young woman, their stares burningly intense.

Friday, it turned out, is the market’s least active day due to religious observations, the atmosphere was quiet. Interesting, but not scintillating. I drifted along (buying nothing, endearing myself to no shop folk) — man, talk about an overabundance of shoe stalls — passing different cassette tape stalls, each playing music, one song fragment giving way to another as I walked. Somewhere in there, I became aware of a soap opera playing on television sets in various shops. A badly-acted soap, Arabic dialogue and melodramatic music following me along several narrow, winding streets until I passed out of the Medina into afternoon sunlight and traffic exhaust.

A nearby park presented itself, my butt settled onto a bench near a busy street/sidewalk. Busses, cars, trucks. Mopeds, bicycles, motorized carts loaded down with produce or scrap metal, young males hanging off on all sides, the odd bicyclist holding on for a free tow, looking like a slightly goofy pilot fish.

I sat, pulled out a notebook, began writing. A cross-eyed, limping 20-something I’d seen in the market appeared, threw himself down on the opposite end of the bench, facing away from me. Five minutes go by. He does a sudden 180, now facing me, one arm up on the bench back, head resting on forearm. I continue writing, he sits there, motionless. Minutes go by. I glance over — he might be staring at me, it’s impossible to tell: his crossed eyes are bouncing around in their sockets like amphetamine-fueled billiard balls. Suddenly ready for a change of scenery, I get up and cross the street, wading out into the traffic with some other pedestrians.

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

Detail, Casablanca hotel room:

[continued in next entry]

Touching down in North Africa

Oops. In all the hubbub my little life has seen recently, I forgot to mention I was heading to Morocco this weekend.

I write this sitting in a smoky, poorly-lit cybercafé in Casablanca, butt planted in a sophisticated instrument of torture posing as an old, old office chair. Nothing but Arabic males share the café with me, apart from the elderly French-speaking woman planted behind the rickety desk by the door; a teeny, ancient black & white television behind her plays a French channel (the picture actually a distressed-looking, nausea-inducing dark lavender and white), its murmur a constant in the background.

I knew I was in for a different trip when I boarded the plane this morning in Madrid, finding myself among Spaniards, French, Moroccans, a handful of young, partying Germans and (I am not making this up) the Namibian national rugby team. All of them. And me — the only native English speaker in the bunch. Though I spoke Spanish, so no one knew. This talking-Spanish thing is great — it completely confounds some folks, and my accent is decent enough that they can’t place me from that. One of the Spanish flight attendants seemed to be checking me out, trying, I think, to figure out just where the hell I hailed from. Or maybe simply fascinated by my sheer animal magnetism. (Insert laugh track here.)

But I digress.

The plane landed beneath turbulent skies, dark gray clouds trading off with bursts of sunlight. Inside the terminal, things were grimly serious. The unsmiling old fart who seized my passport took a good long time inputting my info into a ‘puter. After which some burly uniformed types made me (and everyone else) put baggage and coats through an x-ray machine. After which I joined crowds of loud, hyperverbal families trying to maneuver carts piled high with suitcases and monstrous duffel bags through grimly serious customs types, the inspectors barking orders at many of the over-baggaged travelers, ordering them to nearby tables/counters for forced unpacking. Me and my two teeny carry-on bags tiptoed through, unharassed.

Out in the terminal: plenty of signage, all in Arabic or French. No Spanish, no English. All signage, all conversation: Arabic, French. No one spoke anything I did, which gave them all license to ignore me. I managed to get cash, managed to wring a bus ticket out of one functionary, a large framed photo of King Mohammed VI (an image found all over Mohammed V Airport) propped up atop a nearby filing cabinet. Asking where the bus might be found produced vague arm gestures in the general direction of outside.

Outside: no signs indicating a bus stop (I’d begun getting the hang of deciphering French signage). No bus stop visible anywhere, in any direction. Tons of taxis, though. Mostly stressed-looking Mercedes Benzes. I saw a pair of older Spanish women from the plane, asked one about the bus. She strongly recommended forgetting the bus — unreliable, slow, with apparently no guarantee of actually getting where you want to go. Take a taxi, she said.

The one big hitch: the taxi drivers. A wild bunch who seemed bent on ignoring me. I watched one of them move his Mercedes when his turn came to inch forward to the head of the line. He opened the door, got out, pushed the car ahead, straining against its dead weight. Not a great omen. This, of course, turned out to be my driver.

I get in the car. The driver speaks Arabic, French, nothing else — we blather ineffectually back and forth. He will not negotiate and quotes a price, substantially above the figure the Spanish woman suggested. Take it or leave it. On impulse, I go with it, hand over the cash.

He has no idea where my hotel is, begins quizzing other drivers, a crowd quickly collects around the car, arguing, debating, arms waving, voices raised. I manage to raise my voice above theirs, I mention the hotel’s street address, they all go, “OHHHHHH!”, begin arguing about the best way to get there.

A consensus is finally reached, the other drivers drift off, my driver gets going. Out on the road, he gives his Mercedes the gas; I find myself flying down a foreign highway, well over the already-high speed limit, the driver drifting back and forth across the lanes, riding the white line when no other cars are near, hitting the horn when we get within several hundred feet of other vehicles. Riding right up on their rear bumpers, complaining until they’re out of the way, flying ahead when they are.

We stop at a small row of toll booths, he pulls a card from his pocket, hands it to the attendant. There is no conversation to be heard anywhere outside, from anyone. Dead quiet, eerily so; the quietest toll booths I’ve ever passed through.

The airport is 20 or 25 kilometers outside of the city, the countryside consists of low, rolling, scrubby land. Most houses are built within walled compounds, the buildings looking like impoverished cousins to the adobe houses of New Mexico. Yellowish and brownish-greens predominate the landscape, with stands of orange wildflowers. The occasional mule or horse stands out in the middle of it all, grazing.

As we reach Casablanca’s outskirts, traffic increases, most everyone driving like my guy. Mopeds abound, I come to appreciate the piloting one of those teeny buggers through the increasing vehicular chaos as an act of massive, demented courage.

My driver uses his horn any time he approaches another vehicle. Also any time another driver appears to be thinking of changing lanes. Also any time another car turns onto the main drag from a side street. Also any time he breathes in or out. (Most drivers around us seem to have been trained at the same Academy of Four-Wheeled Aggression as my cabbie.) My driver engages in one life-threatening maneuver after another, me sitting quietly in the back seat, having reached a blissful state of detachment — almost clinical disassociation — as a way of coping with imminent death, laughing quietly to myself in well-mannered amazement at the video game unspooling outside the cab’s windows.

We have one especially close brush with a major accident, my driver must have interpreted my terrified, rictus-like grimace as smiling approval of his skill. He asks me, using a combo of French and big gestures, how many days I’ll be in the city. I answer two, he immediately commences a hard sell re: hiring him for my return drive to the airport. I briefly debate saying something about snowballs and hell, let it go, smile, answer his continuing shpiel with a pleasant, noncommittal ‘Quizá, a ver’ (’Maybe, we’ll see’).

I made it to the hotel alive, found out there that no one at the desk spoke either of my languages. The desk people summoned a young woman from the office — hair under a shawl — she spoke a bit of English. We sorted things out, I soon found myself in an eighth-floor room. A room that struck me right then as a cousin to the dungeon I shared with G. in Sevilla — dark, no windows, with a mysterious, stale odor. A hallway extended off from one side, leading to the bathroom. A hallway with windows looking out over the city. I dragged a chair out into that passageway, sat down to catch my breath and get an eyeful of Casablanca.

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

Twilight over a tired-looking Moroccan city:


[continued in next entry]

I don’t know what I expected when I went to Sevilla — whatever it may have been, it didn’t include me walking about, mouth half-open, teeny little mind boggled by a seemingly endless display of beauty.

We wandered through narrow streets, stopping to eat now and then, getting something to drink — passing, in one district, shop after shop after shop of wedding/confirmation/communion dresses. One tienda after another, display windows filled with gowns, some modest, some elaborate and showy. A startling peek into one aspect of local life, apparently a high-priority aspect.

And everywhere we went, beautiful architecture, beautiful old buildings in various states of care and repair. If I go on about this the way I’m inclined to, it will become brutally tedious in no time flat, so I’ll foist some images on you instead:

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, in order to get a room with separate beds, G. and I had to book a triple, which turned out to have two single beds jammed together (miming a double) and one lonely single bed lurking just off the foot of the faux double. Three beds, a desk, a chair (along with the stray night table), all crammed into a small, dark space. A door led to the bodily functions annex: a long, narrow tiled room with a humongo, family-sized bathtub, and a more modest tiled dungeon with toilet/bidét/sink. Thank god for the annex, man. There were windows in there, and it didn’t have the faint, mysterious, stale smell that the bed chamber had.

It had been a while since I’d shared a room with another male — I’d forgotten the locker room aspect of having another guy in one’s living space. There were a couple of moments when I surprised G. as he’d just finished taking a whiz, he seemed surprisingly jumpy. I found out why when a folded, slightly moist square of toilet paper fell from his hands to the floor. A peeny pad! (Something I will confess to having used from time to time.) Yet another confirmation of an old, uncouth truism: No matter how you shake and dance, the last few drops go down your blahblahblah.

He’s an older guy, he doesn’t have a ‘puter, he has no idea I’m writing about this. That’s probably a good thing.

Prepare yourself: I’m about to go on about the weather. (To quote a Groucho Marx aside to the audience, “I have to stay here, but there’s nothing stopping you from stepping out into the lobby until this blows over.”)

Back before this last trip to Sevilla, Madrid experienced a spell of seriously user-friendly weather: weeks of sunshine and mild temperatures, feeling like spring’s leading edge. People shedding coats and sweaters, streets and parks filling up with city residents out enjoying air, light, the promise of warmer days. Sevilla, as you might imagine — 2-1/2 hours to the south via high-speed train — seemed even deeper into the vernal thing. Conditions that foster relaxation, good humor, days spent outside hanging about with friends.

Last Thursday afternoon, we hopped the train for the return trip to Madrid, and as the city drew near, the sky took on a more wintery look, a look that went neatly with the wintery air that met us on stepping out of the train at Atocha Station. Vacation had clearly, rudely terminated.

Next morning brought rain, and since then — with the exception of late Saturday and Sunday — gray skies and cold, damp conditions have been the story here, the temperature dipping low enough this morning to produce snow. Big, fat flakes, 20 or 30 minutes’ worth, before changing back to rain.

I’ll say one thing: this kind of weather gets Sevilla looking more and more attractive. I’m told Andalucian summers are brutally hot/humid — escape plans might have to be made for that stretch of time. I get the feeling, though, that life in that city would feel mighty fine during rest of the calendar year. (We all have our daydreams.)

When we arrived in Sevilla, ten days ago now, we stepped from the train into early summer. Which made my little bod extremely happy, almost loopy with abrupt warm-weather joy. Maybe a bit unbalanced from the sudden euphoria, G. and I opted to walk with our baggage from the station to the old quarter of the city, where we would try and track down our hotel. Never, ever (not kidding here — NEVER) do that to yourself. Grab a cab or stick your thumb out, see if a local driver will take pity on you. Steal a bicycle, scooter, skateboard, shopping cart, pack animal or sherpa — any option will be an improvement over our baggage-laden slog. Some other friends arrived at the station about five minutes after G. and I set out. Smart friends, who took a cab to the hotel where they met us when we finally showed up. Relaxed, already installed in their rooms. Smiling smugly. (Bastards.)

It’s immediately apparent when you step into Sevilla’s old quarter (el barrio de Santa Cruz) — the streets narrow, it’s cleaner, the buildings are more beautiful. Old, old structures are strewn all over the place, many of them churches, many featuring small shrines along an outer wall. In fact, there are small shrines everywhere — I’ve never seen anything like it — most consisting of images done on tiles and a legend identifying the saint. Many with a small shelf below the image for flowers, palms, candles. Some with a slot in the wall below all that for donations, usually featuring a discrete plaque saying ‘LIMOSNE’ (alms).

We staggered our way through winding streets, heading in what we hoped would be the general direction of the hotel. Coming upon, along one especially narrow block, an especially striking shrine built into a long, otherwise featureless wall. G. pulled out his camera, began taking shots of it. As he did, a tiny, stooped, elderly woman limped toward us, stopping by G. to face the shrine, where she made the sign of the cross, muttered a brief prayer.

G.: startled ex-Catholic tourist. Little old woman: true believer.

I’ve seen a lot of pre-lenten devotional behavior lately. This morning, on the way out of the gym, a young woman entered from the street just as I neared the door. She passed me, making a quick sign of the cross.

I, too, live a spiritual life (believe it or not). Just of a different variety.

To each their own.

Four short hours ago I found myself waving so long! to my friend G. as he made his way toward the metal-detection/security-checkpoint thingie at Barajas airport. Soon as he stepped through that bugger, I turned and bolted, practically sprinting down the long succession of moving walkways that connect one terminal to another, heading toward the in-airport Metro station and back into Madrid. Feeling like I’d just been let out for school vacation after an unexpectedly long slog of classwork.

Ten days of nearly continuous time in the presence of this friend, far too much time to be spending with someone I’m not sleeping with. If you know what I mean.

Not that he isn’t a terrific guy. He is. Enough’s enough is all I’m saying, at least for me.

I know G. from a large social group I belonged to in late-80s/early-90s Boston/Cambridge, a sprawling, ever-shifting horde of people who got together each weekend for dinner, excursions to movies, day-trips out of the city. A group that grew a bit inbred with time, romances and intrigues taking form then dissolving, dynamics within the group becoming more complex, more dramatic, until the growing dramas overwhelmed the fun and the group gradually disintegrated.

I’m currently in touch with a only handful of individuals from that phase of my little life. G. is one of those, er, lucky few. Two days after his arrival here, we hopped a high-speed train down to Sevilla where we met up with J. and D., two more friends from that phase of my existence (along with a lovely woman from the British midlands, involved with D.).

It’s going to take time to organize my thoughts re: the following days. For now, suffice it to say there was more than enough of this kind of thing:

Also, fortunately, a staggering amount of this kind of thing:

Sevilla: one of the most beautiful cities I have ever set foot in. Friendly people. The women return a smile, seem to take to chat easily. Excellent flamenco can be found at different nightspots. And, during the course of my last evening there, I discovered the single greatest tapas joint I’ve ever had the good fortune to stumble into.

Details will follow as time permits.

(Parting shot: a comment delivered by one of our group, in amazed response to the wild profusion of tearful religious imagery we encountered in some parts of Sevilla: “Weeping virgins everywhere!”)

Er… ‘The Birds’?

Seen yesterday in the course of dragging a friend around Madrid —
a) a corner of the gardens around el Museo Sorolla
b) one side of la Plaza de Oriente
c) a detail of the national cathedral
d) believe it or not, the main post office building, la Plaza de la Cibeles
e) an art installation in homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds (part of a
citywide contemporary art event)
f) closer view of installation

Life’s gotten mighty busy around these parts. The kind of busy that leaves me blinking with surprise if I stop and think about how stealthily it transformed my once-more-leisurely life into a blur of activity. Activity that’s only going to increase in the coming days.

Tomorrow my friend G. arrives from Boston. On Friday, we catch one of Spain’s high-speed trains down to Sevilla where we’ll rendezvous with three other friends (from the U.K./Ireland) for a weekend of hilarity. Monday G. and I rent a car, heading south to spend time in Cádiz and drive some of the Route of the White Villages. I’ll be the only one of our group who speaks Spanish, and I suspect my slowly growing Castellano may get a workout, given the accents in Andalucia. (The last such workout: this past Sunday during a eight-person dinner, three of whom were Spaniards. (One of whom was Andalucian.) They provided the first truly spirited exchange with a discussion/argument about the current state of Spanish schools — not good, according to them — during which I understood essentially everything being fired back and forth. As multiple conversations in Spanish began flying around the table, however, it got progressively harder to sort things out, until my teeny brain began overloading and finally hit the wall, slipping into low-function mode and remaining there for the rest of the event.)

Entries will likely be a bit spotty here for the next week and a half.

In the meantime, one of this journal’s entries has been included in the 50th issue of the Virtual Occoquan. Go read it.

Hey, last night I had a celebrity dream — my first ever, I think. (I say ‘I think’ because I tend not to remember most of my dreams. For all I know I’ve been having nocturnal escapades with A-list types for many years. Or not. I have no idea.)

The celebrity: a Jack Nicholson who didn’t give a shit about my humble self, despite me being genuine, sincere, wearing my heart on my sleeve.

In the world of this dream, Jack was in charge of… er… a community of some sort. A bunch of people living together in a village or a cluster of buildings around a two-lane road, the area looking West-Virginia-esque. A cult for all I know. The cult of Jack.

I’d been part of that social milieu at some point in the past but wasn’t when the dream took place, due to vaguely unpleasant circumstances I did my best to ignore and rise above.

What I remember: I’d been out doing errands, then stopped by the community’s village/compound, pulling up near their big three or four-bay garage, parking, getting out of my vehicle. I’d picked up two or three bags of groceries during my travels, apparently didn’t want to cart them around during whatever errands remained to be done. So I transferred them to one of the community’s vehicles, a minivan parked in a garage bay. Why I thought that would be all right I can’t explain — I can only assure you it made perfect sense to me at the time.

A woman I knew was in the minivan, not pleased to find me storing my groceries in the back seat. “Hey!”, she said in protest. I politely ignored her.

Word of all this apparently made its way around the community instantaneously, reaching Jack at lightning speed. I found myself summoned to his small, unassuming, country-style office where we had a chat. After the briefest possible small talk, Jack let me know that me warehousing my groceries in their vehicle was not appropriate, that the bags needed to go back to my vehicle. Pronto.

He did this in a way that attempted to turn giving me an order into getting me into the spirit of doing the right thing. I in turn tried to communicate a bit of the pain I felt at the earlier falling-out with the community and with the current situation. He brushed that casually aside, continuing with the attempt to make me feel some enthusiasm about getting with the program. “I really need you to get behind me on this,” he said.

“I’ve never not been behind you, Jack,” I answered in a tone of reproach.

“I know that,” he said smoothly, giving me his trademark heavy-lidded half-smile (as opposed to the devilish, full-wattage Nicholson grin) — a smile so well-practiced that it had become second nature, something he could do in his sleep. Totally phony, communicating that he knew it was phony and didn’t give a rat’s patoot.

I had to retrieve my bags of groceries and put them back in my car, waking up immediately after that. Feeling dejected about what I’d just been through, especially the obviously-insincere Nicholson blow-off. (Bastard.)

I spent a few groggy minutes under the covers, grumbling, until I reminded myself I was grumbling about a dream. After which I began feeling better.

Jack, you loveable hardass — all is forgiven, phony smile and everything.

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

Seen around Madrid this last weekend —
a) the Plaza de Chueca, Friday a.m.
b) human with vigilant cocker spaniel — the barrio of Salamanca, Saturday.
c) mural/optical illusion — la Calle de Montera, city center.

Poking around the web during a successful attempt to avoid studying and/or writing, I eventually found myself at spamrevenge.com where I discovered the longest, funniest ‘HTTP 404 – File not found’ error message I’ve ever had the dumb luck to stumble across. Good geekish diversion.

The complete text:

The requested document is no more.
No file found.
Even tried multi.
Nothing helped.
I’m really depressed about this.
You see, I’m just a web server…
— here I am, brain the size of the universe,
trying to serve you a simple web page,
and then it doesn’t even exist!
Where does that leave me?
I mean, I don’t even know you.
How should I know what you wanted from me?
You honestly think I can *guess*
what someone I don’t even *know*
wants to find here?
*sigh*
Man, I’m so depressed I could just cry.
And then where would we be, I ask you?
It’s not pretty when a web server cries.
And where do you get off telling me what to show anyway?
Just because I’m a web server,
and possibly a manic depressive one at that?
Why does that give you the right to tell me what to do?
Huh?
I’m so depressed…
I think I’ll just crawl off into the trash can and decompose.
I mean, I’m gonna be obsolete in, what, two weeks anyway?
What kind of life is that?
Two effing weeks.
And then I’ll be replaced by a .01 release,
that thinks it’s God’s gift to web servers,
just because it doesn’t have some tiddly little
security hole with its HTTP POST implementation,
or something.
I’m really sorry to burden you with all this.
I mean, it’s not your job to listen to my problems,
and I guess it is my job to go and fetch web pages for you.
But I couldn’t get this one.
I’m so sorry.
Believe me!
Maybe I could interest you in another page?
There are a lot out there that are pretty neat, they say,
Although none of them were put on *my* server, of course.
Figures, huh?
Everything here is just mind-numbingly stupid.
That makes me depressed too, since I have to serve them,
all day and all night long.
Two weeks of information overload,
and then *pffftt*, consigned to the trash.
What kind of a life is that?
Now please, let me sulk alone.
I’m so depressed.

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

Doorways seen around the neighborhood today, a spectacular early-spring Thursday in Madrid:


Ice-cream/anarchy — gelati shop entranceway, Gran Vía, Madrid

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

Yay! Time to get the aberrant St. Valentine’s Day marketing underway!

Spam: going to the dogs. Literally.

Er… flying Viking Kittens make a bunch of noise.

A different kind of think tank.

And a different kind of chat.

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

For anyone devoting much time to Spanish newspapers and TV news lately, the general atmosphere in these parts may feel fairly unpleasant — the way I imagine things might feel to many in the States or the U.K. right now. Turbulent, distressing, rife with strange happenings, ugly accusations. The campaign season is underway here, elections set for March 14, so the blathering and posturing is at a higher pitch than normal. Add certain recent events to the mix, the result is a loud, colorful, ill-spirited spectacle.

Last week, it came out that a highly-positioned member (Josep Lluís Carod) of the recently elected Cataluñan government — a provincial government the current Spanish governing party, el Partido Popular, doesn’t care for at all, being well to the left politically, with a strong streak of defiant independence — had a clandestine meeting with higher-ups of ETA, a Basque terrorist/separatist group, in an effort to open dialogue aimed at convincing them to give up violent tactics. However well-intentioned the meeting may have been, its timing was a major blunder, given the combination of election season, the fiery emotions most Spaniards have toward ETA and the complicated question of Basque autonomy. (Not to mention the political party to which Carod belongs has strong separatist leanings) The uproar, driven by the PP in full campaign mode, forced Carod’s resignation.

Within two or three days, however, came another discovery: the PP had known about the meeting because they’d had the Fuerza de Seguridad del Estado (National Security Force — essentially, a bunch of spooks) spying on it — tape-recording it, in fact. And knowing about it, the PP apparently opted to let it happen without detaining the ETA personnel, to make political hay out of the situation. The resulting uproar from that disclosure has been impressively intense. The PP has so far effectively stonewalled all demands for explanations.

However, the fallout from the recent admissions in Washington and London re: botched pre-Iraqi-invasion intelligence has rolled downhill to Madrid, the PP being the lone political party that backed the war, ignoring the country’s overwhelmingly anti-war sentiment. The head of the Socialists is demanding an explanation to the “lies,” the PP has played the stonewall card.

This is a highly simplified rundown of a complex set of events, including recent instances of misbehavior on the part of PP office-holders. The PP has been in power for something like 8 years now and, as happened with the previous Socialist administration, signs of corruption have recently been surfacing in strange, startlingly brazen, sordid, relatively widespread ways.

Not a whole lot of fun, all this. Many Spaniards I know are weary of it, and I can see why. Apart from reading the paper in the morning as part of my ongoing Spanish-language work, I do my best to ignore the ongoing racket. Which is not so hard to do, really, daily life in this city being so full with so many things to call and occupy one’s attention.

Take yesterday, for instance. A day in which things to be done sent me to two or three different districts of the city during the afternoon and evening. During which I seemed to find street musicians everywhere I went.

Boarded a crowded train in a Metro station. The doors close, a violinist halfway down the car cranks up a boombox, a Mozart number starts (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik) — mid-note, well into the piece. The musician starts playing along, his violin plugged into a small Peavey amp strapped onto a two-wheeled cart, the boombox lashed securely on top of that. Most musicians I see playing in the Metro are in their 20s or 30s, from Central or South America. Not this guy — short, late- to mid-50s, neatly-trimmed gray hair/beard, dressed in running shoes, sweat pants, a windbreaker. And a hunter’s cap of classic red/black plaid.

The guy played that violin like a veteran, like someone with many years’ experience. The train neared the next station, he stopped mid-note, turned off the boombox, made a quick circuit of the car for change — picking up more from us than I usually see Metro musicians receive.

As soon as that music stopped, the music from the Walkman worn by a 30ish longhair (dressed in black from head to toe, eyes hidden behind shades) standing next to me took its place, loud enough that I could hear the drums and chords of speed metal music with jolting clarity. Talk about a contrast.

Must have been a portent because shortly after that, I passed the local heavy metal street musician. Planted on a sidewalk, feet spread apart, churning out metal chords and melody lines, the music boiling out from a small Pignose amp. The day was mild enough, the sun strong enough, that he played with no coat on, just his customary black ensemble (Doc Martens boots, jeans, sleeveless t-shirt), one arm gripping the guitar, the other flailing away at the strings.

All that was yesterday afternoon. That evening, coming up out of the Metro in la Plaza de Callao I heard a saxophone playing a line from “Swing On A Star,” a fragment of melody so familiar from childhood that my little brain automatically supplied the lyrics as the notes were played. (’A pig is an animal with dirt on his face….’) The player: a 60-something black man from the States who can often be heard in the evenings around Callao. Tall, a bit stooped, usually sitting down. Rarely plays an entire melody line — generally works on a phrase, playing it once, pausing, playing it again. Always sounding fluid, relaxed, usually looking a bit tired. Again a pause, then he’ll play more of the line, or move ahead in the song. Now and then he’ll stop to look around, maybe swab his forehead with a handkerchief before putting the sax back between his lips.

And a short time later, after 9 p.m., the streets of the city center crowded with people, I turned a corner, almost stumbling over another violinist — a short, timid 70ish man. Playing quietly, scratchily, not very well. A cigar box lay open atop a carton in front of him, a few coins visible in it.

Shortly after that, on my way home, a 30ish couple passed, walking in the opposite direction. Both dressed nicely, talking together seriously. Pushing a baby stroller containing an infant, maybe six months old. Wrapped up in warm-weather clothing and scarves to within an inch of its young life, its eyes about the only bit of exposed face — dark eyes gazing tranquilly up at the strangers passing by. Like those of a tiny, overdressed buddha.

One final thing seen yesterday: an enormous poster in the Metro, consisting of a photo of an oversized, exceedingly healthy potted venus flytrap, the lower half of a person sticking out from between two of its, er, lobes — legs waving helplessly around. The caption: “Éste San Valentín, diselo con flores.” (This St. Valentine’s, say it with flowers.)

Hard to beat a sales pitch like that.

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Madrid, this morning — along Gran Vía:

Around the corner from here along la Calle de Hortaleza, one of the neighborhood’s two main drags — the first Monday of February, the first sunshine in several days:

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Received in today’s e-mail
(are they actual instructions, as in actually actual?
who can say? — they’re not bad, though):

ACTUAL IN-REHEARSAL INSTRUCTIONS TO THE ORCHESTRA
FROM PROFESSIONAL CONDUCTORS:

Please don’t use the depth-charge pizzicato.

Pianissimo doesn’t mean to drop the fuck out.

Listen to the tune, and then accompany it in a non-disgraceful fashion.

Let’s see if you can pizzicato together in a non-banjo-like way.

It’s very hard to raise money for something that sounds like this does.

Imagine you’re getting enough money for what you do.

Not so bright. It sounds like “Orpheus in His Underwear.”

Play short, especially if you don’t know where you are.

That was a drive-by viola solo.

Horns, imagine that you’ve had a really ugly breakfast and it’s about to come up.

There is a lot of fishing for notes. I wish you would catch them.

Strings, I know what you’re thinking: “With all this racket going on, why am I playing?” Well, there’s no time for existential questions right now.

This must be much more agitated. Think of someone you hate. Think of your mother-in-law.

The place where you will be shot if you come in early is the bar before 26.

Now forget all the nasty things I said and play naturally.

You’re all wondering what speed it’s going to go. Well, so am I.

Play as if you were musicians.

[For further jokes in this vein -- far, far too many of them, in fact -- go here.]

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Also making the e-mail rounds: a bit called “‘Rings’ characters discuss Oscar snub.”

An excerpt:

“At least one individual, calling himself Smeagol, claimed to be making plans to steal the Oscar statuettes. ‘Oscar is sooo pretty, sooo golden,’ said Smeagol. ‘We will take the statuesss once the Hollywood snobses are dead! Ye-esss, precious!’ He then quickly added, groveling at the feet of reporters, ‘No! No! We wass only joking! Smeagol wouldn’t hurt a fly! Nice movie industry.’ He crawled away before he could be questioned further.”

The entire bit, along with other entertainment, can be found at Reservoir Hobbits.

From The Non-Fan’s Guide to Super Bowl XXXVIII:

“It is an immutable physical law that at any Super Bowl party of sufficient size, some non-fan will offer the insight that football is, in fact, very, very gay. The wag will then point to terminology (tight ends, backfields in motion, etc.), customs (the center snap, ass-slapping, etc.), and off-field activity (hugging on the sidelines, teammates taking each other out to dinner and then having sex with each other, etc.) as evidence that football is a festival of latent homosexuality. Football fans will inevitably respond with anger, and a teasing melee will ensue. Do not get involved in this discussion. It never goes anywhere, and it’s an unfair attack on football fans and their incredibly gay sport.”

For further provocation, see yesterday’s entry at Fanatical Apathy. (Note: those football fans who have not yet gotten the concept of ’satire’ might want to avoid this particular entry.)

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A quiet, gray Sunday morning in la Plaza de Chueca.

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