far too much writing, far too many photos

The time I woke up screaming:

Binghamton, New York. My fourth year of college. Me, spending the night with P., the woman I was then involved with, at her apartment.

Those years: a strange, turbulent period of this little life of mine. Drama abounded (appropriate, I suppose, for a theater major), me with little real idea what I was doing.

I had recently met, at the apartment of two women friends, a guy slightly older than me who worked with a traveling carnival. Irwin. A hard-edged individual with a hostile, slightly threatening air, using carney slang when talking about people, referring to most as ‘marks.’ Not very congenial, not a guy I was interested in getting familiar with. Never saw him again after that evening, forgot all about him. Or thought I had.

So. Me asleep in bed with P., I begin having a dream. I found myself walking along a tree-lined nighttime street, the sidewalk awash in shadows, the darkness relieved now and then by the light of a streetlamp. I walked for a while, the dream unreeling in the manner of stylized, arty animation, the lines of the image moving as if the scene were being drawn around me as I strode along.

I finally found myself strolling down the sidewalk of a street toward a house, the dream abruptly becoming vivid, clear, real, dropping the style of animation. In front of the house lurked a figure, something dangerous and savage, wearing the form of a human male. The Irwin. (Didn’t look like the Irwin I’d met, but bore his name.) I knew that the only way I could get into the house was by distracting The Irwin — I found myself holding a doll, tossed it well away from the house. The Irwin immediately ran after it, ripping the doll to shreds on reaching it, making sounds that raised the hair on the back of my neck. I ran for the front door, The Irwin saw me, raced toward the house, trying to cut me off. I made the stoop, threw myself inside, shutting and locking the door just as The Irwin mounted the stoop, scrabbling at the door, face distorted with rage. Through a small square window in the door, I could see it toss its head back, letting loose a howl.

It disappeared then, I heard it move down the stoop and away. I walked through the living room and along a hallway, glancing at the windows in various rooms as I passed, making sure all were closed and secured, the blinds down. At the end of the hallway, I entered a room that had three tall, narrow windows at the far end, the kind you might see in an old Victorian house forming a small alcove, a built-in window seat. The blinds in the left-hand window were halfway up, allowing a possible point of entry from the outside. I quickly went to it, began lowering the blinds. Before I could finish an arm came through the window, punching me hard enough that I flew across the room, landing against a wall and sliding to the floor, the windowblinds now partially broken, hanging at an angle.

Sprawled there, my head and upper back against the wall, I saw The Irwin enter, slithering smoothly in through the window like a large serpent, coming toward me. I knew I was about to die, and I felt a scream rise from somewhere deep within. Not just a scream — a primal sound originating somewhere down below my stomach, clawing its way up through my chest and throat.

That was my dream, strange enough on its own. But there’s more:

At that moment, in P.’s dream, someone said to her, “Wake up, r. needs you.” Her eyes opened, she turned over and looked at me just as I came to, screaming — my head jerking up off the pillow, my body clenched, shaking.

Scared the bejesus out of her. Out of me too, for that matter.

The one and only time I’ve ever come back to consciousness screaming.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Now where was I? Oh, right — dazed babble.

For real, there’s been far too much of that. I’ll be on the phone with a friend or hanging out with someone, I’ll realize my conversation is veering all over the place, me interrupting the other person far too often. For no good reason, sounding mighty unfocused.

Ah, well, it’ll pass.

Meanwhile, if you’ve waded through many of this journal’s earlier Vermont entries, you’ve gotten the idea that there’s a whole lot of grass cutting to do here during the warm season. Enough to get me out with the mower for an hour or so most days of the week. A power mower. Loud. Loud enough that it got me way tired of programming in a daily dose of that kind of noise.

Somewhere during recent months an ad for manual lawn mowers caught my attention, I found myself checking out websites that peddle them. Not a practical idea, the push-mower thing, for most of the cutting that needs to be done around here, but appealing for working right around the house. Genuinely, surprisingly appealing. And one day, after a drawn-out process of inner debate, I found myself doing the deal, forking over credit card cash for a brand new mower. UPS dropped it off shortly before my return, I found its components waiting for me in a big white carton covered with assembly instructions and happy pro-product propaganda.

It’s a different animal from the push mower my parents made me use around our teeny quarter-acre lot during my younger years of indentured servitude. A high-tech low-tech machine, if you get my drift. Simply made. Light. Efficient. Not needing big expenditures of calories or ergs (assuming the grass being mown isn’t eight, ten inches long). Requiring slightly more effort than the power mower to get it going, but not much. Producing hardly any noise, and what sound it makes is strangely agreeable. Almost musical compared with the blaring roar of the power-mower.

It got its first run the day after my return, after 36 hours of little sleep and many miles traveled. Probably not the time to attempt something like this: the grass too long, me too tired, too impatient. I switched to the power rig, left it at that. Until a few days ago, when the lawn around the house had recovered to a point of needing another cut. Pulled out the push mower, got to work. And found myself enjoying it, a sensation that felt almost perverse, considering the activity.

Used it again yesterday out here in the yard off this side of the house, the work comfortably low-effort, bizarrely pleasant. Meditative at times. Me cutting away, the mower producing its quiet sound, in no way obscuring cricket noise or the singing of birds.

Weird. Far too tranquilly rustic. But clearly a match for my current slightly-buzzed, abstracted state of mind. Should I be worried about that?

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

Yesterday, not far from here, beneath a June sky:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

During much of the last 12 days, I’ve found myself drifting in and our of an oddly dazed state. Indicating, apparently, a slightly more challenging transition to life back here than I’d anticipated. Hours, days slip past, entries from the calendar blowing by like leaves before a breeze. I eat, sleep, do little things that need to be done. Mow the lawn, now and then drive into town (groceries, gym, maybe some social activity).

I feel a bit unmoored, I think — in time, in place. A bit untethered. Just from the contrast between where I spent the last seven months and where I am now (lots of people/hardly any people; real damn noisy/real damn quiet; intensely urban/intensely rural; etc.) The view out my windows in Madrid? Buildings, construction, little bit of sky. More if I open the window, take a look down at the street, of course (lots of people, vehicles of all kinds), but I don’t always do that. The view out the window here? Trees, fields, big sky; green, rolling mountains. Few people, few vehicles. Lots of critters (winged, four-legged).

Outdoors, amazing moments come and go, courtesy of this planet of ours.

Sunset, yesterday evening:

Life’s gently gaudy way of reminding me that existence is a kickass affair, that I would do well to quit bitching and pay attention to the ongoing parade of spectacular moments in all their forms.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

By the end of a driveway, Calais, VT:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Yesterday, dusk; today, dawn:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

The replacement cable arrived today — a week’s worth of photos have been downloaded, the last three entries have been spruced up with wholesome, arty visuals.

The view from here, continued:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Stepped out the kitchen door this morning, surprising three wild turkeys. Big, healthy-looking buggers, who hurried immediately off toward the gravel road. Once there, they adopted a more dignified pace and an exaggeratedly casual air (as in Human? What human? We wanted to flee toward the road.), before disappearing into the woods across the way.

A whole different type of wildlife from the kind I’ve gotten used to in Madrid.

My bod has not yet completed the adjustment to this time zone, still waking up at more or less the same hour I’d be getting out of bed on the Iberian Peninsula. Not quite as drastic as a few days ago — 5 a.m. instead of 3 a.m. — but still substantially earlier than what I’m aiming for. The scary part: a fair number of folks in these parts get up at that hour by choice/inclination. Talk about alien life forms.

Yesterday a.m.: drove into Montpelier, discovered that someone somewhere had designated yesterday Vermont Independence Day. Not as in July 4th, with people in shorts hoovering down burgers, dogs, ice cream, beer while waiting for fireworks — as in calling for the Second Vermont Republic.

The blue, gaudily-painted Bread and Puppet Theater bus had been parked in the lot behind Town Hall, a crowd of people milled around, getting a parade ready to swing through town. Banners, flags, a goofy marching band. A guy on stilts in an Uncle Sam outfit. A coupla really tall puppets. Stuff like that. I stood out in the street watching, passersby catching a glimpse of the activity and immediately regressing to childhood in attitude and energy at the sight of the big puppets, at the simple possibility of a parade.

Eventually, marchers lined up (sort of — an anarchists’ version of lining up), the band began cranking out a marching tune of a distinctly New Orleans flavor. At the sound of music, traffic stopped, sidewalks quickly filled up, smiling police officers ensured that no cars travelled along the route between Town Hall and the State House.

And here’s the thing — was this a normal parade? No! It was a wacky street procession trumpeting the idea of state secession. Did that bother anyone? No! Everyone cheered the music and the bus and the band and the big puppets and the goofy costumed folks weaving through it all on rickety bicycles and roller skates. Everyone knows the odds are slim that Vermont will be pulling out of the Union any time soon. And everyone loves a parade. So what the hell.

Later, back home. Mid-afternoon. Clouds quickly moved in, the wind rose, sudden rain fell. A downpour, brief but serious. The clouds then moved off, sunshine returned. But the temperature fell a good 20 degrees, since then it’s looked and felt like autumn around here (minus the color show). When I raised the dining room shades this morning, the outdoor thermometer read 40 degrees.

Summer in northern Vermont.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

I’ve been bad. Writing erratically, abusing the “this entry in progress” tag. All that and more. I intend to reform my slackish ways.

Meanwhile, I find myself amid the lush, nearly unearthly beauty of summertime northern Vermont. Whereas the background soundtrack in Madrid mostly has to do with traffic noise and people out in the street, here it’s crickets, birdsong, the occasional vehicle passing out on the gravel road, 100, 150 feet away from the house. Madrid: big, active, sprawling out away from the city center, people everywhere, streets filled with human activity nearly 24 hours a day. Here: er… green mountains, critters, tranquility. Not many people, except in town, which doesn’t sprawl away from its center as much as drift out along small roads, amid abundant greenery, occasional spectacular views.

Cultural contrasts abound, something I mostly encounter them when I go into Montpelier. The gym provides a strange concentration point of those differences, mostly in the people and their manner of interaction, and the music played on the in-house sound system (generally what gets called classic rock and big-hair metal).

Have been mighty selective in what little TV I’ve watched these last few days. No news, no primetime programming. DVDs, mostly (heavy on the Joss Whedon product). A little bit of LAW & ORDER, a little bit of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, maybe part of a film, part of something like The Daily Show. The little bit of the Eurocup soccer tournament that makes it over here — spare, minimal coverage compared with what’s available in Madrid. (*Sob!*) Yesterday morning at the gym, I found myself in a room with a flatscreen TV instead of music. All news, all the time, television types yelling IMPORTANT things at me about IMPORTANT people, IMPORTANT products. Obnoxious political ads — blatantly dishonest, the yelling done with manipulative images and carefully chosen wording instead of volume. Reminding me all over again why I don’t pollute the atmosphere at home with that stuff.

Blah blah blah.

Seen on the drive into town yesterday morning, along back roads:
– In a field off a 4th class road: a doe and a fawn, a young doe by the look of her, though old enough to breed. The fawn vanished into long grass as my car approached. The doe stood and watched as I passed, alert, vigilant.
– Three foxes, hanging out together in a small dirt road that branched off a gravel road I drove. After I passed, they moved carefully out into the gravel road to gaze after me.
– Another doe, bigger than the first, taking off as I approached, crossing a long open field in strong, bounding leaps.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Happens a lot that I hardly sleep the night before a major trip. No big surprise then, Sunday night brought restless hours, me only skimming the surface of sleep, waking frequently, images from the past months drifting through my half-conscious thoughts (a group of college-age Goths in the plaza down the street, one a young woman, tattoed, pierced, dressed entirely in black, including black-leather knee-high platform boots and a knapsack in the shape of a small coffin; a group of gay men passing through the plaza, all dressed as nuns). Finally drifted off to the real deal a little after three. The alarm jerked me awake at four, me talking aloud as my eyes opened: “Okay,” I heard myself babble, “okay, okay, I’m awake. I’m awake, I’m awake.” One of a handful of times I’ve ever come to consciousness talking.

(The only other time I remember clearly: the beginning of my second semester at college — one of the low points in this little life of mine, that period, me lost, drug-addled, flailing cluelessly. I’d moved in with a new roommate, a guy I hardly knew — a match-up so disastrous that when the guy went away for a couple of days at the end of our second week, I found a room on the other side of campus, packed up, moved out. One morning during that brief, purgatorial two weeks, an early-a.m. phone call roused me, dragging me up out of deep sleep, barely conscious, desperate to stop the insistent clanging of the old-style, non-electronic phone. My hand grabbed the Kleenex box — on my bedtable next to the phone — I held it to my ear, calling, “HELLO? HELLO?” Getting no response, not understanding why the ringing wouldn’t stop, close to desperate, stunned tears.)

(And then there was the time I woke up screaming. But that’s a story for another entry.)

Don’t know who I addressed this last Monday morn. The alarm clock? The cosmic management? My blinkered, nearly-sleepless self? No idea.

Got up, managed to get done what needed to be done. Stepped out of the building with my two bags just around 5:30, the sky overhead still dark, the air cool, a chilly breeze blowing. The neighborhood had quieted down during the night, leaving me the only person walking along my street — a rarity — heading toward la Calle de Hortaleza, one of the local main drags, to flag down a taxi.

On Hortaleza, I passed two members of a city street-cleaning crew, talking quietly, paying me absolutely no attention. I moved along, their voices faded, replaced by windchimes, the only sound apart from my footsteps and the wheels of my big duffel moving along the sidewalk.

I rounded up a taxi soon after, found myself being driven through deserted city streets, a thin, sharply-drawn crescent moon hanging low over the eastern sky.

Flight from Madrid to Paris. Transfer. Flight from Paris to Boston. Transfer. Bus from Boston to Montpelier, Vt. Everything going well, both flights arriving on time, the one-hour transfer window in DeGaulle Airport more than enough. The ride from Boston to Montpelier featured the only real transit screw-up, getting me in 30 minutes late. Nothing really, considering the day’s total distance travelled.

Boston: gray, cool, spritzing rain, a damp wind blowing. I sat inside the terminal awaiting the bus. Outside, an airport employee glided past, wearing short-sleeved work shirt, shorts, roller skates.

The sky began clearing during the ride north. A rest stop in White River Junction, just inside the Vermont border, the bus station sharing a building with a buffet-style Chinese food restaurant. A startling number of overweight, pasty-skinned folks paraded by as I ate.

Back outside, post-faux-Chinese-chow: the sky had cleared, the temperature shooting up into the low 80s. Abundant greenery rippled in a warm breeze. New England, summer stopping by to say hello.

And not long after that I was off the bus in Montpelier, into my car (left by a friend at what passes for a bus station here — dirt parking lot, trailer posing as office), making my way in this direction along country roads. Wiped out, yet wired, not wanting to go to sleep. Unpacking, listening to music, turning on the TV (is LAW & ORDER now on 24 hours a day?). Not heading toward the bedroom until my head kept dropping, my eyes closing.

Three hours later, around 3 a.m., woke suddenly. My body had moved around in the bed so that the window — off the foot of the mattress to one side — appeared to be directly off the foot of the bed, like my bedroom window in Madrid, moonlight coming in with surprising brightness. My eyes opened, I thought I was back in Spain. My head jerked up off the pillow in confusion, I heard myself say aloud, “Whoa!” Gradually realized where I was, relaxed. But never made it back to sleep that night. Two nights in a row, three hours of shuteye.

***********

The view from here:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Another day that disappeared at startling speed. Dragged myself out bed and out to the gym. Came home, spent the day drifting around the flat, organizing/packing for tomorrow’s return to Vermont. Amazingly, in a major break with tradition, everything is about ready. Will be getting up far, far too early to catch a 7:10 flight. Tomorrow evening I’ll be back in them green mountains. Goddamn.

Life — it just rolls right along.

Be well.

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

Hardware store window, this morning, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

How is it that the days get whipping by at such unnerving velocity? Who do I have to sleep with to get them to slow down?

Yesterday: had dinner with my landlords — my version of the pre-return-to-the-States last supper, I suppose, with a much smaller cast. The ‘lords (a couple: him American, her British) live out in Madrid’s westerly-sprawling ‘burbs, an hour-long slog, between Metro and bus ride. Since I’d be bringing a pile of cash to cover rent for my months out of country, J. (he of the couple) insisted on driving in to pick me up. I’ve noticed that whenever I’ve given them more than one month of rent at a time, he’s gotten far happier than normal — animated, talkative, positively bouncy. Happy landlords are a good thing, I’m pleased to be a bearer of joy. In this case, they also happen to be great people, any trip out to their place results in huge amounts of entertainment. Add to that the fact that — me having no car here — any time someone drives me anywhere it’s a genuine event, I was guaranteed an afternoon of major diversion.

They live in a development with a slightly rural feel, each plot large enough, with enough trees, flowers, greenery, to provide a drastic contrast to city-center life. Tall grass. Wildflowers. Birds singing. A friendly breeze passing through it all now and then. There were moments, sitting out on their small covered terrace eating curried chicken, when the scene felt like a small preview of next week’s return to northern Vermont.

Visits to Casa Landlords generally begin in the kitchen with food prep./conversation. Politics and family get heavy play, punctuated by comic digressions. Finger food gets hoovered, they uncork a bottle of wine or pull cans of beer from the refrigerator — I generally ask for fizzy water, having little capacity for hooch. I am, I’m afraid, the original definition of a cheap date — one or two beers is all I can handle. More than that, it would be no problem getting me into the back seat to have your way with me. (Though I would hate myself in the morning.) But I don’t enjoy being drunk. It doesn’t feel good. And the morning after REALLY doesn’t feel good. In addition to which, more than a beer or two, the next day I start breaking out. Man, does that suck.

Wine is a part of the culture here, it sometimes seems to throw people when I refuse a glassful. Above and beyond everything enumerated above, I’m just not a wine person. Don’t care for it, never really have, that’s simply the way it is. “That’s too bad,” folks sometimes say, “you don’t know what you’re missing.” Oh, but I do. I’m missing trying to choke down something I don’t like. That’s worth missing, think I.

However. I do enjoy a good beer with a meal, or a glass of good Spanish hard cider. That seems to mollify most people. With a tumbler of something alcoholic on the table in front of me, everyone’s happy.

Blah blah blah. I’m stopping.

As usual, comedy abounded during the visit, reaching a sudden, unexpected peak when the time came for my return to the city. J. insisted on driving me to the bus stop. We’re in the car, approaching the main drag where we have to take a left. A bus passes, heading in the right direction. J. decides we’re going to catch the bugger, begins pursuit. I’m thinking this may not be a great idea, but he’s primed, there’s no stopping him. It was one of those moments when you can feel things accelerating around you, it’s clear you have little control over what’s happening, you can only hold on, assuming things will not turn out catastrophically.

Well ahead of us, the bus pulled over at a stop. We reached it just as the driver closed the doors, J. cuts in to the curb in front of the bus, angled to block the bus in. Really not a great idea, I thought in dismay — words to that effect tumbled from my mouth, falling on well-intentioned but deaf ears.

I got out of the car, went to the door of the bus, the driver staring at me (a 30ish guy wearing big wrap-around shades), making no move to let me in. When it became clear J. wasn’t about to move, the driver opened the doors. I step inside, the guy is radiating anger. I couldn’t blame him, but had no intention of taking the heat for someone else’s actions.

Mr. Driver begins yelling, gesturing at J.’s car, I politely say I know, I understand, I had nothing to do with it. J. begins to pull away, the driver gets the bus going, still trying to chew me out, me politely refusing to take it. This continues until I interrupt him, saying, “¿Puedo pagar, por favor?” (”Can I pay, please?”) He shuts up, staring at me (smoke still pouring from his ears), asks where I’m going. “Madrid,” I say. “This bus,” he says, “is not going to Madrid.” No expression, doing the hard-guy thing. “Where,” I ask, “is it going?” “Alcorcón,” he answers, one of Madrid’s other ‘burbs. That was when I started cracking up. Not appreciated by the man behind the wheel, but I couldn’t help it — my little existence had taken such a sudden, bizarre change of direction. I managed to hand over money sufficient to get me up the road a bit, he produced change/receipt (staring at me wordlessly in between glances at the road), I found a seat.

The handful of people in the back of the bus must have been mighty curious about the show at the front of the bus, but no one stared at me, everyone exhibited impeccable manners.

I get out a few stops along, ready to wait for the right bus. The wrong bus pulls out, J. immediately pulls up — having gotten the picture re: the right/wrong bus thing, he followed, waiting for me to exit. The correct bus is off ahead of ahead of the bus I’d gotten on, J. decides we’re going to make that one. Beginning another pursuit. The bus I’d just gotten off lay between us and the correct bus, the road was narrow, meaning we couldn’t pass to go flying up the road. We had to poke along behind wrong bus, the driver not pulling over to the side when he made stops, meaning us and the rest of the accumulating line of cars had to sit and wait. Which was fine by me. Gave me an opportunity to mention (several times) to J. that getting out at a stop and waiting for the next bus would be okay with me. He wasn’t having it, though.

The road eventually widened, he zipped by wrong bus (aiming the word “Prick!” at wrong bus driver), put the pedal to the metal. Right bus was on a service road, paralleling a several-lane highway. J. pulled onto the highway, flew past the bus. A bus stop loomed on the service road, a crowd of folks waiting. I pointed it out, J. pulled over to the shoulder. We shook hands, I hopped out, sauntered over the stop just as right bus pulled into view.

Routine trip from there. It’s a fine thing, normalcy, especially after an unexpected bout of chaos.

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

Thank you, Ray Charles.

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

Stencilled image, spray-painted on ground — la Plaza de Chueca, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from yesterday's entry]

My blabberings, as I feared, have not done justice to the event. I’m not even sure a camera would have been much help. So much wonderful goofiness, of a brand that mostly needs to be experienced in 3-D. Goofiness that could easily stand up to repeated viewings.

And during it all, some slightly-overblown dramas took place around me, mostly to do with overworked wait-staff fumbling the ball and impatient, even indignant responses from individuals at our table. Further goofiness, not worth itemizing.

I’d gotten minimal sleep the previous two nights, when the show finished up I was ready to totter home. The group took time and work to get organized and out the door, I decided to wait, make my exit when it wouldn’t seem rude, precipitous. Once out in the street, half the women headed off into the night (post two-cheek kissing fest). The rest headed in my direction.

Me: tired, my Spanish-speaking skills beginning to suffer. I noticed two or three of the women talking quietly among themselves as we walked, laughing suspiciously, in classic girly fashion. One finally said to me, “¿Sabes que eres el único hombre con todas nosotras mujeres?” (”You know you’re the only man with all us women?”) Cracking up as she pointed it out. Me feeling like I’m suddenly back in the elementary school playground.

“Uh-huh,” I say. “¿Y qué?” (”And what about it?”) A tone of challenge in my voice. Had them falling about with laughter. All one can do in a scene like that is smile.

At the right moment I said good-night, kissed all available cheeks, disappeared in the direction of home and bed.

This life of ours: packed with entertainment.

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

This morning in the barrio of Salamanca, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from yesterday's entry]

The previous happening has gone unmentioned until now because I haven’t been able to figure out how to wrap words around it in a way that might do it justice.

My neighbor Esperanza stopped by, mentioning she’d be meeting some friends at a club in a neighboring district to watch a singer of traditional music, asking if I wanted to come along. Count me in, said I. Expecting something folkloric, in the vein of a soulful person with a guitar. Colorful in a low-key, flamenco-flavored, from-the-heart way.

Came the evening of the performance, I joined Esperanza and a 30-something friend of hers (both in attractive dresses, Esperanza showing an unnerving amount of cleavage). The route Esperanza took to the club brought us through so many narrow, crowded streets, making so many illogical twists and turns, that I don’t think I could find my way back there if someone put a gun to my head. The club turned out to be an old, lovely, high-ceilinged space on a small cobblestone thoroughfare. Filled with tables, every one packed with people. We hooked up with friends of Esperanza’s, I found myself sharing a long table with nine women, ranging in age from mid-30s through late-50s. Them and me. I suspect they didn’t realize Esperanza would be dragging a male along — an American male, no less, the American part of that something that attracts dubious attention these days, in light of certain world events. Took them a while to warm up to my humble, pointy-booted self.

The performer showed. Not folkloric. Not, as it turned out, low-key. An extravagant late-30s male, looking like an updated Spanish version of a lounge singer — wearing black pants & suit jacket w/ ruffled blue shirt, no tie. Hair in something of a pompador, long sideburns angling sharply down each cheek. An upright piano sat against one wall, the singer set up a microphone stand near it while his accompanist — a bald, older, rumpled-looking gent — set up shop at the keyboard. The women at my table knew the singer, they waved and called out until he came over, kissed cheeks, exchanged hellos. Esperanza introduced me, mentioning my nationality, he responded by loudly chiding me re: the current U.S. government while we shook hands (the first time that has happened to me in all my time here). The moment passed, he moved off. It occurred to me then, while looking around the club, that I was the lone American in attendance, perhaps the lone furriner. A joint full of Spaniards of all ages — loud, happy, ready for entertainment.

The entertainment — a program of coplas, a style of song originally from Andalucía, considered the source of Spanish popular song — got going around 10:30, the singer calling it a ’show’ (his accent changing it to ‘cho’), specifically mentioning the States in his use of the word, a strange passing reference/homage after my moment with him. The pattern: a rambling intro., the singer expounding about the song (or whatever came to mind) for 5, 6, 7 minutes; the pianist then pounded out the tune’s opening bars, the singer launched into the number, the audience often singing along with chorus or important lines. He did not have my idea of a great voice, but he clearly had the spirit of the music, belting out verse after verse, the songs generally lasting 4 or 5 minutes, sometimes longer.

The singer was into it. The crowd was into it. The piano player was into it. A genuine scene — rowdy, communal, high-energy. Me in the middle of it all, on full intake mode, absorbing everything, beyond happy/content. I must not have had the conventional appearance of someone enjoying themselves — Esperanza kept leaning across the table, poking my arm, asking me if I liked it. , I answered every time, meaning it.

All applause had to stop at midnight or the club’s upstairs neighbor would call the cops (I am not making that up). From that point on, everyone held up their hands at the end of a song, waving them silently in appreciation — not as gratifying for audience or performer, and the show came to a halt soon after.

[continued in next entry]

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

Madrid, late yesterday afternoon — around the city center:

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from yesterday's entry]

The drive ended in a slightly rundown section of city along a major thoroughfare, me with no idea where we were. We fall out of the car, my friend J. gets my attention, pointing up into the darkness toward the top of an office building across the street. Where, apparently, during daylight hours one can see the station’s antenna rising up into the city sky.

At the front entrance, someone upstairs buzzed us in. (The station’s alias on the label by the buzzer: el lobo de [the wolf of], er, something.) We managed to squeeze into a small, tired elevator, endured the slow ascent. The door wouldn’t open at the right floor, we went up one more, got out, walked down.

Loud music poured out of a doorway. Blues. At high volume, drums and bass pounding away beneath big-time guitar. A kind of sound I hadn’t heard — apart from the bit earlier in the evening — in a long, long time. The program being broadcast, pumped through an in-house sound system.

We follow the music into what turned out to be the anteroom of a bar — a genuine bar, located on the fourth floor of a nondescript office building in a nondescript neighborhood. No sign on door or windows, no neon lights. Just the bar, tucked away. A pirate bar, fronting the pirate radio station. A foosball game stood beneath a hanging lamp in the center of the anteroom, patiently awaiting players. Another door led to the bar itself, we filed in, the music playing loudly enough that its driving beat began hijacking my heart’s rhythm.

Apart from station personnel, few people were about — 11 p.m. is early in Madrid. Clubs, parties often don’t get truly underway until 1, 2, 3 a.m. A large-screen projection of a top-40 music video station played on one wall of the space, big-hair, leather-suited heavy metal bands flailing away. Providing a strange disconnect between the visuals and the music actually blaring from the in-house sound-system.

Folks involved with the station dispensed free drinks to the growing crowd of mostly male 20- and 30-somethings, brought around free sandwiches, cheese, tapas. The music just got better and better, the kind of tunes that made it difficult to stand still. I found myself in conversation about music on vinyl, then about the first programs that appeared on Spanish television, The Munsters turning out to be one that provoked an extremely affectionate response in the person talking with me. I hardly knew what to say to that.

A week earlier I’d found myself at another quirky musical happening, of a whole different variety.

[continued in entry of 6/8/04]

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

Bad dog…. BAD DOG!!

Madrid, te quiero.

Man, high summer has settled in here and there is no escaping it. Skimpy clothing, streetlife at high ebb, pedestrians slinking along the shady side of the street. And fans everywhere, though not the electric variety — the classic, graceful Spanish numbers that appear in the hands of women of all ages and social types come hot weather. Some simple, basic, others elaborate, made of lace or wood, often sporting hand-painted images. They’ve appeared all over the city during the last week and a half, more numerous with each passing day. So natural to so many of the hands holding them that they’re used unconsciously, spreading open when needed via a quick movement of the wrist (the sound a soft thwip) to fan the user’s face.

Saw plenty of them last night, especially during a Metro ride to meet friends in an outlying Madrid neighborhood. During weather like this, a trip on the Metro is a bit of a crap shoot — sometimes you step into a coach with AC, sometimes into a steambath. Either way, that first moment is a rush — substantially cooler or hotter than the conditions on the station platform. (I found myself without AC, hence the display of fans.)

The ride took me to a neighborhood northwest of the city center, el Barrio de la Concepción. Packed with seemingly endless blocks of tightly-situated multi-storey apartment buildings, stretching away down various streets. Not pretty, most of them. Square, functional, solid, filled with small flats. Built during the years of the dictatorship — originally for American troops stationed at a nearby base, I’m told. The troops apparently moved quickly on, working-class and middle-class Spanish families took over. And that’s how it’s remained. Families, old folks. Lots of street life.

A nice aspect of the barrio: streets lined with tall, spreading sycamore trees, softening an intensely urban district with lots of green.

Found my friends’ flat (a couple: him American, her Spanish) — two adjoining flats, actually, that they’ve bought and turned into one — after a ride up to the top floor in a teeny, wheezing elevator. Met the resident cat on my way in, stopped to say hello. He took a moment or two of petting then raised a paw, took a cranky swing at me. (Hey, if I had to wear a fur coat in this weather, I’d be cranky, too.)

Five people were already there, working on glasses of beer/handfuls of nuts, deep into conversation. I sat, accepted a tumbler of spritzwater, adjusted to finding myself among a group of high-speed Spanish speakers, a shift after sitting at my ‘puter for hours, reading/writing in English. High-energy blues played on the stereo, the first time I’d entered a Madrid apartment and heard with that. The windows were wide open, white curtains billowing out into the early-evening air.

Eventually, the idea of finding a table at a sidewalk eatery took hold, me walking down to the street level with one of the others instead of trying to cram all six of us into the asthmatic lift. Outside, local restaurants had set up tables everywhere they could find space for them, business boomed.

We found a spot among a lengthy stretch of tables set up along a parkside sidewalk. Food arrived, got eaten, conversation hummed all around. Ten o’clock passed, darkness fell as families strolled by, kids running around everywhere. I sat enjoying the way life takes to the street here, the way so many people go out instead of hiding at home in front of the tube, the way kids remain out with the family to hours that some Stateside might think less than proper.

The evening’s main event: a visit to one of Madrid’s pirate radio stations. (There are apparently several.) Around 11, I found myself in a small car, four members of the group crammed into a back seat designed for two very small humans. Me, for some reason, in the front passenger’s seat, with the vague feeling that I was missing out on some excellent, vaguely carnal diversion.

[continued in entry of 6/7/04]

Madrid, te quiero.

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