far too much writing, far too many photos

Yesterday: arrived in Montréal after a drive that morphed from Vermont rustic bliss to border-crossing interrogation to Québec farmland/small towns to city traffic hell, Montreal style. Arrived at the B&B, a brownstone on a quiet street not far from the foot of Mount Royal Park. Walked in, realized when I saw the expressions on the young Quebecois couple who own the joint that I’d more or less just committed a home invasion. A moment of groveling apologies seemed to produce forgiveness (”We are used to eet”), the she of the couple then ushered me into a teeny, comfy bedroom, talking in distractingly, appealingly accented English.

Called a friend, arranged to hook up with him this evening, headed out into fine July weather to find an ATM machine. Which turned out to be trickier than expected. Not that they’re not strewn around the city with joyous abandon the way they are in the States, just that they were either out of service or disapproved of my ATM card. One finally relented, spat out cash, I headed to the Metro to join the happy Friday evening commuters.

My first impression of the city’s people: wild variety of looks and nationalities, blending together in the streets and Metro in seriously pleasing fashion. Interesting-looking people everywhere, French being spoken all around. A tantalizing place, reminding me of Madrid in the way life seems to take to the streets, restaurants and cafés everywhere, people out enjoying themselves.

Blah blah blah. I’m sitting in a geek-oriented internet joint along a busy street in one of the city’s French-speaking neighborhoods, all windows covered with shades, heavy-metal music playing at low volume, pale-skinned, wild-haired nerds planted at various ‘puters, looking blankly serious. My bod wants food and sunlight. I must obey.

Updates will follow as possible. Later.

This afternoon — corner of Pins and Ste. Lauren, Montréal:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

This evening, the day’s last light:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

The week in review:

Monday: Hot, humid. Had a delivery of coal scheduled, officially signaling the start of prep. for the coming cold season. The coal company spaced, did a no-show, resulting in a morning of unexpected tranquility. I called, they apologized, we rescheduled. Mowed lawn, practiced piano, then hit the couch, finished up H.P. and The Half-Blood blahblahblah.

Tuesday: Hot, humid. Heard a song I hadn’t thought about in years, remembered a day back in college when a female friend mentioned how much she loved that very tune. Out of nowhere, got the impulse to call her. Tracked her down on the ‘net, found she’s the producing director of this outfit. Called, got through, found myself talking to her for the first time in years. And years. She didn’t remember me. (Boy, was that fun.) She was game, though — we blabbed, she got that we shared plenty of college memories. Don’t know if she ever actually figured out who the hell I was. Nice person, though. Then called my best buddy at his job — someone else I know from university — told him about my adventure with our old schoolmate. He remembered who I was, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Mowed lawn. Went to piano lesson. Went to gym, did sweaty, manly things.

Wednesday: Heat and humidity gave way overnight, the morning brought a classically beautiful Vermont summer day. Spectacular.

Meanwhile: coal delivery. This time they remembered, showed up with five tons of fossil fuel. The most I’d ever ordered in the past was three tons — five turns out to be a genuine mountain of black rocks. Pulled on work clothes and big rubber boots, grabbed a shovel, helped transfer all five tons to its new home in the garage.

Practiced piano. Did yard work.

When the bedside lamp went out that night, the moon hung low in the sky, looking enormous, pale light flooding the room. So bright it poured right through the window curtains, Luna looking kind of like a nocturnal version of the sun symbol from New Mexico’s license plates.

Thursday: Another killer Vermont summer day. After a night of deep, satisfying sleep, spent the morning wandering about drowsily. Never achieved full consciousness, never got completely into gear. Managed to practice piano, then blew off the gym, resigning myself to wusshood for the day. Once again, the moon kept my bedroom alight until well into the wee hours.

Friday: Beautiful. Piano. Gym. Yada yada yada. One of the big developments in my little summertime world has been the locating a group of Latinos in Burlington, an hour from here, who meet up every Friday evening for a couple of hours of social blabber in Spanish. South Americans, mostly, with a shifting group of northern hemisphere honkies looking for a Spanish fix or trying to work on their Castellano. I’ve been the coordinator of a similar group (honkies only, pretty much) in Montpelier for the last couple of years, one slowly croaking from lack of interest on the part of just about everyone but me. I’ve found myself waiting alone for someone else to show up one too many times, the discovery of the deal in Burlington happened right on time.

An interesting bunch. There’s a couple from Chile, who apparently spend the warm season here, migrating to a home in the southern hemisphere when Vermont’s long winter elbows its way in. There’s a friendly, portly Columbian named Juan Carlos. There’s Luis from, I think, Peru, skin color and features indicating a lot of indigenous blood running through his veins. There’s a friendly, chatty, ponytail-sporting Argentinian named Hugo, who lived in Buenos Aires’ city center during the many years of dictatorship and tumult, resulting in plentiful stories to tell.

I keep forgetting that much of the Latin world has a tendency to take appointment times as nothing more than vague reference points. Meaning — me being generally punctual — I’m often the first to show. Not that I’m trying to be. I just keep forgetting. In Spain, I eventually relax, begin showing later and later to events/meet-ups. And still often wind up waiting until the rest show.

I was second on the scene on Friday. Drinks got bought, tables got appropriated. Others trickled in, including a couple of Argentinians I’d never met before — one an attractively frowsy, high energy woman named Constancia who teaches Spanish around Montpelier, the other a guy with an accent so thick that I found myself understanding him less and less, apologizing and asking him to repeat things. Over and over and over. I hate that. Looked like he did, too.

Some locals I’d never met before showed, including one of Constancia’s pupils, a 30ish woman who spoke little Spanish, whose expression grew increasingly desperate as the evening wore on. Around the 7 o’clock mark, individuals began disappearing — literally just vanishing, leaving without warning or fanfare. Including Constancia. When her student realized her teacher had abandoned her, she wasted no more time suffering, practically sprinted out the door back to the English-speaking world.

I left as a high-intensity sunset created fireworks in the western sky, hit the interstate as the light show waned and nighttime edged its way in. Got home just before ten, crickets singing in the grass around the house, the moon peeking up over the hills, the temperature falling in autumnal fashion.

A good week, all in all.

Three days from now I head up to Montreal to rendezvous with a friend or two, explore the city, eat some good food. Expect to hear about it.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

This evening, sunset — Burlington, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Used to be that temperatures over 80 were the exception here and local folks hardly knew what to do with themselves during spells of truly hot weather. Or that at least is what some lifelong Vermonters have told me. If the last few years are any measure, it may be that sweltering weather’s becoming part of the state’s normal summertime mix.

This morning: warm. Humid. So humid, the air so soupy that it looked at times like snow was falling up the valley from here. Creepy. The kind of weather that gets my skin oozing low-grade perspiration on a more or less full-time basis. Not pretty, that, though my natural charm and adorable butt compensate somewhat.

Meanwhile, large portions of the weekend were spent plowing through the latest installment in the Harry Potter series. Yes, I confess — I am one of the hordes that picked up the book within 24 hours of it going on sale. I am one of the hordes that have made J.K. Rowling a wealthy woman. I am not, however, one of the foaming fanatics who blather and argue about the Harryverse in various cyber-hangouts. (Not that there’s anything wrong with blathering/arguing about the Harryverse.) On the other hand, I’m afraid I’ve read each of the first five books in both English and Spanish. And a couple of months back I actually coughed up the shekels to buy the DVD of the third H.P. film. (If the first two had been a bit more than bland, slavishly literal translations of books to screen, I might have glommed onto copies of them, too.)

The big post-installment-6-binge realization for me: it’s been a long while since I’ve found myself reading a book that really grabbed hold of me, kept me whipping through the pages, disappointed when I found myself finished, wanting more. A long, long while. Don’t know what I’m going to do about that. The last one may have been Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx. The last one before that, The Bird Artist by Howard Norman. I’ve read a substantial pile of books over the years — I find I now have far less patience to stay with one that doesn’t really grab me. (Same goes for movies.) The result: I take on far less books. I may need to do something about that — finding myself this last weekend in the middle of a story that hooked me and didn’t let go until the end was fun.

Blah blah blah. I’m stopping.

This morning, northern Vermont — mist, haze, passing showers:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

Major television fare during that Christmas season: indoors equestrian competitions, steeplechase-style courses set up in arenas — me finding them unexpectedly fascinating, surprisingly enjoyable. Gentle, intricate events for a gentle, intricate season. Same with the pre- and post-show atmosphere at the National Theater, with music, people singing, others sitting at tables talking until well into the evening, Christmas lights giving it all a soft edge, the scene grabbing me in a way I hadn’t expected. In fact, London as a whole seemed to show its heart during those two weeks. The cold, the damp, the sun coming up late and disappearing early barely registered — the pros overshadowed the cons in decisive fashion.

A couple of years later, I found myself getting off a plane at Heathrow once more, in April. Easter season. Took the tube to Hampstead, where I had a room at a B&B reserved for the next 11 or 12 days. As I walked along the High Street in faint sunlight, bleary from an all-night flight, light snow began falling, a chilly breeze whipping it along. That trip I did solo, circulating through the city, watching, listening. The reality of the strange, distinct American-English cousinhood taking hold.

I went to a performance of The American Clock at the National, at that time Arthur Miller’s latest play, and found myself in a packed theater, watching a lovely, autumnal show. At that time in the States, snide dismissals of Miller’s stuff seemed to have become stylish for most critics, eliminating the work of one of our greatest writers from U.S. theaters, except for one or two of his most classic pieces. With that as the prevailing reference point, finding myself in an auditorium overseas, a capacity crowd completely caught up in the telling of a very emotional, very American story had an effect on me that’s hard to describe, wrapped up as it was in the watching of the show. An emotional brew heavily tinged with gratitude and respect.

Just because I get sloppily emotional about stuff like that doesn’t mean, by the way, that all my London experiences have been blissful. ‘Cause they haven’t. Though that doesn’t seem to make any difference at all — it somehow all comes together in a way that produces big affection and appreciation on my part for just about all of it. Call me Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but there it is. I love London, and when I’m there I spend huge amounts of time walking around, watching people, listening to voices, way content.

Last December: one chilly night after a show at the National, I ascended the stairway to the pedestrian bridge across the Thames to the Embankment tube station. A 30ish woman sitting by the top of the stairs — wrapped in a blanket, a hat placed strategically before her to collect change — asked me for money in intensely overdone fashion, voice breaking with what sounded like theatrical emotion. Given shere she was (sitting out in the cold, damp dark, panhandling), I figured she might have had good reasons for overdoing it, so dug out a one-pound coin, dropped it in the hat, continued on. Five seconds later, a compatriot of hers shouted a hey-how’s-the-evening-going from a nearby location, she shouted back — sounding like a different person, like a loud, brash professional, all overdone emotion gone — “Not bad, how much have you gotten?”

During my first visit, somewhere in the city center, I choked down the single worst sandwich I’ve ever eaten. In a croissantwich shop. Made with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, straight out of the can. The only truly godawful chow I’ve eaten in London, but so spectacularly bad that I couldn’t hold it against the perpetrators. I had to admire the cheek it took to foist a creation that brazenly stinko on a paying customer. Apart from that, most of my meals in that part of the world have been excellent.

I’ve wandered the city with friends, with groups of weirdos, ridden the tube at all hours of the day, sat in double-decker buses watching the city slide by. I’ve wandered through the huge Camden markets, along the Portobello Road markets, bought great Christmas cards at small church fairs and museum shops. I’ve seen far too much good art and goofy avant garde stuff. I’ve tossed down many cups of pretty respectable cappucino, sipped a lotta good tea, emptied a few glasses of pretty tasty beer. And have had the pleasure of spending time with some of the local folk. All in that one immense, world-class city.

It’s watched century after century slip by, survived good times and bad, seen one epoch after another develop, flower, decline, give way to others. May it thrive for many centuries more.

The South Bank, London — December, 2003:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

I’ve needed time to absorb the recent happenings in London. And what I want to do now is simply appreciate the bejeezus out of that city and its people. Because it’s a place I love.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in London on a bunch of different occasions, each visit packed with adventures and sensory input, leaving me with more images/memories and tales to tell than any sane reader would want to subject him- or herself to, beginning with the moment the bus from Heathrow let me out on Kensington High Street on my first visit in ‘86, my foot touching the sidewalk, an intense, visceral feeling of coming home immediately sweeping my body. Unexpected. And disorienting.

What did it mean? Don’t know — didn’t surprise me, though, that I wound up going back so many times or that I’ve spent much of the last several years living in another part of Europe.

Hungerford Bridge, London (between Embankment and the South Bank) — December, 2003:

That first trip happened in December, a fine time to be London. By chance/coincidence (or maybe not), my best friend and his sister wound up going to London at the exact same time. My buddy and I had become a bit estranged after working together on two productions of my first full-length stage play, a long, difficult haul. We wound up sharing a flat during the London stay, it turned out to be a time that reconstituted the friendship.

We went to what was called an alternative cabaret at a nearly empty union hall in a neighborhood somewhere way the hell out from the city center. Four performers: a bizarre, heavily mannered weirdo called Mr. Nasty who played the ukelele and told jokes (the best: A: Why was Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet like scotch broth? Q: ‘Cause it was rich, thick and full of vegetables.), a 20-something cockney homosexual who blathered about very private aspects of his life (listening to him trying to wrap his cockney tongue around words like ‘erotic’ was worth the price of admission); a 20-something lesbian, also delivering a stream of consciousness talk about her life (smart, interesting, funny); and a guitar-playing, harmonica-blowing singer-songwriter named Rory McLeod who turned out to be a kick in the ass, giving one of the greatest solo performances I’ve ever had the dumb luck to stumble across.

We fell in with a bunch of folks singing Christmas carols in the district of Crouch End, another neighborhood way the hell out from the city center.

We rented a flat from an eccentric theatrical agent whose big gig seemed to be Christmas pantos featuring Sooty. The bed in the single bedroom had bedbugs, I slept in the living room and remained biteless. The proprietor, Vincent, described himself as further to the political right than Genghis Khan and dragged us out to dinner one night at the Royal Overseas League, which, turned out to be strange, stuffy, with pretty good food and a harp player hidden away behind thick maroon draperies. The flat had a kitchen with a refrigerator and washing machine. The upside: we got to buy groceries at local shops and eat in now and then. The downside: Vincent was always doing laundry.

We went to see shows every single day, a pattern that’s mostly held for me in all subsequent stays in the city. Little-known fact: the National Theater saves seats for each performance of every play — no matter how popular the show — often the first row or two of seats, so that if you get up early, haul your sleepy ass down to theater to wait outside the door until tickets go on sale at 10 a.m., you can pick up seats at £10 a pop. That first visit we went for returns, hanging out at theater box offices an hour or two before showtime, waiting for unsold tickets to become available at half-price.

[continued in next entry]

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

Spillway, post-rain — North Montpelier, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Years back, beginning when I was four and too young to resist or escape, I found myself trapped in the woods with my family for ten or eleven weeks of adventure/torture each summer. (I’ve written about this before: no electricity, no plumbing, no kids my age in the vicinity (well, there was one, but she was too much for the pudgy, wildly insecure me of those years).) My sleeping quarters during the first three or four of those life-shaking summers: a cot in a pup tent, shared with my older brother Terry and far too many representatives of the insect kingdom. Including big brown and black arachnids, an inch to an inch and a half across, who spun dense webs in the tent’s upper corners and lurked there, motionless, waiting for food to stop by. Didn’t matter if we cleaned them out — within a few hours they were back. So we just let them be and tried to look elsewhere. Because if we happened to let our nervous gaze slide in their direction, there they’d be, two or three of them at least — big and still and creepy-looking. Wolf spiders, we called them. Don’t know if that’s what they’re actually called or we made it up because they were big, dark and a bit hairy. Doesn’t matter — that’s always been the name I’ve known them by. And I’ve never seen them anywhere else but our woods in upstate New York.

Here in northern Vermont, the short warm season brings an explosion of bugs, all of them partying as hard as they can before the cold weather returns and brings the fun to an end. Including an impressive array of spiders, of all sizes and configurations — but never the big bruisers that haunted my childhood’s summer nights.

Yesterday: I return home after a long afternoon/evening of fun in Montpelier and Burlington. I pull into the garage, get out of the car, unlock the door to the laundry room/mud room and step inside, my fingers finding the light switch, the room flooding with sudden illumination. Revealing, motionless in the middle of the floor, the first wolf spider I’ve seen in years and years. The sudden light/activity apparently catching it flat-footed, it responding by hugging the concrete, remaining absolutely still. Just like the ones I remember. I study it for a moment then move quietly through the room, watching to see if it twitches, moves around, goes for cover.

Nothing. Dead still.

I go upstairs, grab a glass and a piece of paper, head back down, find it still there. I approach slowly, gently bring the glass down over it. It stirs then, looking slowly around. I slip the paper under the glass, capturing my first wolf spider. And during all this, it investigates the changing conditions, seemingly without panic or fear. Looking like a critter accustomed to being in control. Used to being the threat, not to being threatened.

A few pictures get taken, after which the intruder gets escorted outside, dumped into tall grass off the garage end of the house. Out of sight, not yet out of mind.

It’s summertime in Vermont, a season that brings all kinds of houseguests. Some get to stay a while, others don’t. That’s life. I don’t imagine this critter will have any trouble taking care of itself.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Out the kitchen door:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Two days ago: July 4th dawned with blue skies, clear air, ideal temperatures. As perfect a morning as one could ask for. By midday, perfection began giving way to less wonderful things — soupy air, high humidity, skies thick with haze. The local wet blankets in the weather biz began muttering unpleasantly about dire possibilities. Hmm.

Yesterday: gray, sticky. Not very promising. The afternoon found me here working away, adorable butt planted in front of computer, radio playing in the background. The music suddenly stopped, replaced by ten or fifteen seconds of attention-catching honking sounds. In the quiet following that, a voice began issuing a severe weather warning for Burlington and vicinity, 50 or 60 miles west of here. Advising going indoors, staying away from windows, seeking shelter in a basement. Got me eyeing the skies, in light of the heavy weather hooha experienced here a while back. Ran outside, got some quick yardwork done just in case conditions here turned prohibitively damp and unfriendly later on.

Gray skies intensified, but rain held off until later in the evening when thunder began rolling around up in the cloud cover, lightning put on an impressive display. The skies opened up, the general noise level rose, satellite TV and radio fizzled out, the signals lost amid the show happening outside.

And thankfully, that turned out to be the worst of it. No power outage, no hellacious winds ripping through the area, no rain finding its demonic way in through closed doors and windows. Just a normal storm that put on a show then moved on.

Big sigh of relief.

The weird thing: somewhere in the middle of it all, my bod began feeling strange. By the time the storm began letting up, it had become clear that I’d caught a cold. A summer cold. Swell. Complete with sneezing and post-nasal messiness that prevented sleep until well into the wee hours, when I found myself in complicated, restless dreams, first situated in Spokane, later in Chicago. (Both places I’ve passed through in earlier years, places I enjoyed but have never revisited. At least in the waking 3-D world.)

The good part about the cold: it’ll pass. In the meantime, I get to drag my ass a bit, hang out on the couch with stuff to read, until energy levels head back up to normal. Proving that buried away in all that cloud cover still turning the local world gray, there’s at least one silver lining.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Yesterday’s big event: the annual strawberry-picking excursion. Just me and a field full of sunburned families in full berry-grabbing frenzy. This year I saw no toothless/dentally challenged folks, a kind of participant that abounded the last time out. An absence that left me feeling mildly disappointed.

Today’s big event: Montpelier’s Fourth of July parade (the customary day early), where I worked as a volunteer in the pre-procession staging area, several streets of a green, normally quiet neighborhood.

This being Vermont, the event turned out to be a funky, sweetly chaotic blend of people and happenings, including:

– encounters between kindred souls:

– hordes of dancing women:

– inexplicable sightings:

– firetrucks:

– music:

– and, of course, Shriners on go-karts:

One of the event’s most striking aspects: a graphic show of the local tendency toward respectful, even joyful co-existence between drastically contrasting social/political elements. For example, a group of a dozen or so exuberant sailors from the U.S.S. Montpelier preceded a flatbed truck packed with a motley, dreadlocked, multi-ethnic group flailing away at drums, four grass-skirted, dancing women following in their wake, the truck flying a banner featuring the now classic (possibly even clichéd) image of Che Guevara, parade spectators cheering it all.

There is nowhere quite like this patch of green, mountainous land tucked away in New England’s northwest corner. Where, as I write this, fireworks light up the falling darkness.

Have a fine weekend.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

The heat passed, the weather waffled its way through several days of indecisiveness before finally settling on a good imitation of autumn. Today: cool, sunny. Real pretty. A good day for hiking. Or mowing lawn. Or something.

The days have been flowing past in that sneaky way they have of feeling slow and leisurely in the moment, until the evening hours materialize around me and I realize it’s all actually flown by at near light-speed. Disorienting. I’ve now been back in Vermont nearly five weeks and can’t say I have a whole lot to show for that time. Not that I need to show anything. I got back, made the long, slow adjustment to being here once again, have gotten some things done and made lists of other things needing to be attended to. That’s plenty. At times, though, I notice me experiencing a weird combination of feelings, of being actively plugged into life, carrying on in a decent imitation of an actual high-functioning grown-up, at the same time feeling strangely, well, not disconnected exactly. Meditative? Pondering deep questions? In need of much more caffeine? One of those.

This evening I cranked up the tube, stumbled across a showing of Love and Death. I stayed with it for a while, found myself thinking about the first time I’d seen it — way back, in a little theater in Morgantown, West Virginia, while visiting P., a woman I’d gotten involved with in college, three or so years earlier, when she was married to one of my theater professors. She and her then-husband, in the middle of their matrimony’s long decline, had decided to try open marriage. (Mostly at his urging.) I got sucked into it, she and I became involved. Big, drawn-out drama, their marriage finally collapsed, life got messy. After my graduation, she got a job teaching at the university in Morgantown, I made the drive down to visit a few times as our connection slowly dwindled and faded.

I found myself remembering being in the small, darkened theater, P.’s hand in mine, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton cavorting onscreen. Post-movie, when we walked out into the evening, light rain fell. Warm rain, the first time I’d ever experienced that. I released P.’s hand, walked out into the quiet street, turned my face up to the sky. Not minding getting wet at all, sudden pleasure blossoming in my heart.

And that got me remembering yesterday evening here, light rain falling outside, me standing at an open door listening to the sound of it. The clouds thinned, the sun broke through — already well down in the western sky, out of view here in the valley, its last rays shining over the top of nearby hills. Producing a double rainbow, a display that lingered on and on until darkness began settling in and the colors gradually dissolved.

Life — not what I’d call tidy or predictable. But amazing.

From ‘Love and Death’:
Sonja: (Rejecting Boris’s attempt at a kiss:) Don’t, Boris — sex without love is an empty experience.
Boris: Yes, but as empty experiences go it’s one of the best.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

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