far too much writing, far too many photos

Earlier today — Katrina passes through northern Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Yesterday morning, the wee hours: woke up to hear a strange, persistent noise from down the hall instead of the usual peace and quiet. Realized what it was as I got up to investigate: with the recent cold nights, certain critters have begun the search for warm winter quarters. Meaning I’d caught the first mouse of the coming cold season. The noise it was making: its equivalent of banging a metal cup up and down the bars of its cell. Probably also yelling some version of “Lemme outta here, screw!”, but pitched too high for me to hear.

I shut the door to that room, went back to bed.

Later, around midday: took the inmate over the hill, let it out in the woods. Forced relocation #1.

In the slammer:

Today: while cutting grass, had the season’s first encounter with a writing spider. Have come across at least one of them at summer’s end for three years running. Big buggers, impressive. Don’t look quite as intimidating as black widows seen during my year and a half living in L.A. (many lifetimes ago now), but they’re contenders.

This one had set up shop off the side of an adirondack chair, one I had to move to cut a section of lawn. I transferred its nearly-golfball-sized egg sac off to the shelter of some bushes, then did the same with the maxi-arachnid. Forced relocation #2.

Not to be messed with:

Northern Vermont has been blessed with spectacular, sparkling late-August weather these last 2-3 days, the kind of fare that that practically has me stumbling around in open-mouthed, bug-eyed amazement at the extreme beauty of it all. A guy in the locker room at the gym today, resorting to the standard conversational gambit of talking about the weather, responded to my hello with a mumbled comment about the gorgeous day happening outside, saying something about the weather people having forecast ‘a couple of good days.’ I mentioned once hearing someone say that any day aboveground was a good day. He stared at me uncertainly, headed off to the shower trailing comments of doubtful semi-agreement, sounding like he wasn’t really buying an outlook so freakin’ positive. (Not that he had to.)

Yesterday afternoon: met a friend in Burlingtonn, sat at a table with her along the Church Street pedestrian mall talking, sipping iced coffee, watching the parade of passing people — the kind of activity that gets me thinking about Madrid. After which I skipped over to the Spanish-speaking group that convenes every Friday evening, a couple of short blocks away. Which turned out to be a bit stranger than usual, most of the Latinos taking off in short order, leaving us honkies to fend for ourselves while a jazz band cranked up a Miles Davis number, overwhelming attempts at conversation, finally sending us to a table out in the relatively fresh air as the daylight dimmed.

The day has skidded by at unnerving velocity. As I write this the sun has slipped down behind the trees across the road, the evening air cooling quickly, though alive with the music of crickets.

The liars in the weather biz claim that the weather may become dodgy overnight, far less user-friendly. We’ll see. After all, any day aboveground yada yada yada.

Later.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

This part of Vermont’s been doing the late-summer schizo thing lately, the days veering between classic, golden late August fare and gray, cold autumn. Rainfall coming and going, countryside green and moist, sky clearing long enough to dry everything out before the next bout of showers. Allowing me to drag out an the extension ladder from the garage and scrape paint, caulk seams, etc. Homeowner stuff, me in work mode, ready to do things that need to be done. And just in time, ’cause there’s a pile of stuff waiting to be done.

When not flailing about around the outside of the house, I’m inside flailing away at the piano, attempting to get enough of a handle on J.S. Bach that he can stop spinning wildly about in his grave. Or at the computer, pretending to be a writer. Or attempting to organize my little life so that I can head back to Madrid in six or seven weeks without my material existence on this side of the Atlantic falling apart.

Every couple of days I drive to Montpelier, stop in at the gym and pump up my manly self, drop wads of cash at the grocery and hardware stores, maybe stop somewhere to toss down an iced coffee. Today brought one of those excursions, getting me up and out of the house at far too reasonable, far too grown-up an hour.

For some reason, self-talkers were sprinkled all over the town’s diminutive downtown, taking advantage of beautiful weather — a multi-ethnic array of individuals carrying on loud conversations with themselves, one of them an Asian woman who had the look of a high-functioning adult until I heard her spewing a slightly surreal, fairly paranoid narrative about, well, something she didn’t care for. Down the street from there, a college-age busker had taken over a stretch of sidewalk, whanging away at an acoustic guitar in accompaniment to the angriest, thrashingest street singing I’ve heard in quite a while. I passed, aiming a smile his way, he briefly paused the angst to give a courtly nod in return.

Seen/heard today at the gym:
– A mid- to late-60’s woman, completely rigged out in sweat gear and leg warmers, doing a long, elaborate, disciplined workout, clean and jerk style. Preparing for a competition, it turns out.
– A small, serious, glasses-festooned 70-something woman quietly doing floor exercises, one renegade foot practically stomping in time to a Ten Years After song playing on the in-house stereo. (The music at the gym during the week tends toward hits from the 60’s-70’s-80’s, and while I’ve heard enough classic rock to last me several lifetimes and then some, I’ll take that over the generic big-hair/heavy metal stuff they crank up on the weekends.)
– A baseball discussion in the locker room between two 40ish males morphing into a heated exchange, one saying he’d heard the 50’s Dodgers referred to as Murderer’s Row, the other claiming (in the outraged tone of a true believer) that only the Yanks had been called that, only the Yanks deserved to be called that. Which got me remembering my father telling me he’d seen Jackie Robinson play at Ebbets Field, the pleasure in the parental unit’s voice offsetting the scary realization on my part of how old that memory made him. Fine, the ‘rents had me late in their lives and the old man was a young goofball in the Ebbets Field years. Even so. Goddamn.

But I blabber. And there’s work waiting to be done.

*********

Unlike other years, leaves around here have not yet started the autumn color thing despite September closing steadily in. Today, however, brought the season’s first pumpkin sighting:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Today, after a night of rain:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous post]

So, yeah, a good day. And real damn interesting in a way I hadn’t anticipated. To wit: I’ve passed this summer in fairly solitary fashion — me, here at the house, out in the country, surrounded by extreme beauty, floating through my days doing whatever needs to be done. And as just about any homeowner knows, once you have a house/land to take care of you can find work needing to be done any time you’re in the mood to get busy. Add what might loosely be called business-related work to that, it’s produced a summer that’s kept me well occupied, between one thing and another. Essentially alone during the days spent here (not counting phone/email contact, occasional trips to town). Which has been just fine with me — balancing out months spent in Madrid, in the middle of densely concentrated humanity.

All of a sudden, friends show up — people equipped with furry, four-legged adjuncts — and I’m not alone in the space any more. I get to see my way of living contrasted with how other humans carry on here, and when one spends a lot of time on one’s own, one develops ways of living, of doing things. Watching someone else here doing things their way provides the opportunity to observe me noting and reacting. Noting where I get the impulse (or not) to impose a way of doing things. Good information. And the first day had some bumpy moments along the way. Not, I hope, excessively bumpy. Not the kind of bumpy that gets friends running the other way, I hope. Informative. Entertaining.

(Nighttime hours featured the pitter-patter of kitty feet as they did the nocturnal exploration thing, now and then slowing by the door to my bedroom, peering in at the strange human in bed there before running off for further snooping around.)

Next day: much better, me having adjusted to sharing the space with other beings. Independent, well-intentioned beings I liked having here.

Another morning of food, talk, waking up slowly. Whole different kind of day going on outside — gray, cool, rainy. Nowhere near as user-friendly, though good for the Earth and all that. (Grumble, grumble.) The kind of weather that gets me ready to curl up with a book or something good playing on the idiot box. Went out for a hike in the woods with S., up into the woods across the road, along the series of paths that wind through the local hills. Paths apparently little traveled this year — overgrown, with detours due to a couple of downed trees. Everything damp, soaking pants and hiking boots in no time flat. With many hungry mosquitoes about looking for a donation.

I returned home within an hour, leaving S. to continue on solo for a while. Found myself with the desire to get the TV cranked, shove something into the DVD player. Managed to mostly stave it off until after lunch and friends’ departure. At which time the tube went on. And stayed on. Reminding me all over again of television’s time machine aspect: crank it up, suddenly it’s hours later.

How I sometimes react to intense bouts of time spent with other people: an immediate post-socializing immersion in book, computer, television (and/or food). Decompression, sometimes lasting quite a while.

Monday: Another round of hacking/digging away in the garden, like every Monday morning for the past month. Becoming less and less diverting with time. More like, er, suffering, penance, something along those lines. Not the way I prefer to live. Think I might be reaching the end of that kind of activity for this year.

After that, the traditional August cold snap settled into these parts. Days pretty, nights real damn cool. Temperature at 7 a.m.: 40 degrees. Couple of days worth of that, just to remind us of where we are and what lurks not too far off in the future.

Last couple of days, that eased up, summer more or less edged its way back in. Gray, damp, but milder. Tonight, my uphill neighbors — the local writing celebrities — throw their annual ‘neighborhood’ party, an excuse for the six households scattered around this hill to get together, eat, drink, carry on. Probably provide all sorts of wholesome entertainment.

Later.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Yesterday morning: woke up around four from vivid, involved dreams, the last one featuring snakes. I like snakes, generally have several encounters with them in teh course of the short warm season here — garter snakes, mostly. Inoffensive creatures. Neighbors, putting in an appearance now and then, getting some sun or hanging out near where I’m working in the garden or mowing lawn, melting away into the greenery when I get too close. The snakes in the dream were bigger than those, three or four times so, though not threatening. Until the final one, a small, green serpent, more or less the size of a garter snake — but clearly dangerous, poisonous, and fixed on me. Intent on coming at me, readying itself, my efforts to put some distance between me and it having no effect. My eyes opened as it lunged at one of my legs, I found myself in bed. For a while I remained prone, trying to shake off the dream’s vivid intensity — without success, finally turning on the light, getting up, moving about the house until my head cleared.

Times like that, it’s nice to wake up and find your sweetheart sleeping next to you, hear her soft, steady breathing. In those moments, I notice that particular gap in my current existence.

Got back into bed, picked up a book and read for a while, the world outside moving slowly toward dawn.

It’s been an interesting, active week. Last Friday afternoon, I made the drive over to Burlington to meet up with the Latino group [see entry of July 23], spent a couple of hours speaking Spanish. A small turnout that time, me the only honky for most of it. The Chilean couple were there, sitting at a sidewalk table with a 60ish Puerto Rican woman I’d never met before. Juan Carlos showed up, personable and chatty as always. Off beyond our group, a shaggy college-aged 20-something male in shorts and sandals sat on a towel by the front of the café, back against the building, sometimes strumming a guitar, other times talking to himself. Another self-talker happened by, accosted a skinny fella standing in the café’s doorway. In unpleasant fashion, apparently, his voice rising as the exchange progressed, the guy in the doorway, asking him to back off, go away, finally retreating into the café. The acoster stood staring into the café for a while, then moved on.

Light spritzing rain came and went, attractive women passed by, most wearing what seems to be the unofficial warm-weather outfit in much of the northeast (including Montréal): shorts, t-shirt/tank top, flip-flops. A car pulled up, a guy got out, reached back in and slowly extracted a string bass (in carrying case), the instrument looking so oversized that removing it from the vehicle (and therefore stuffing it in at some earlier point) appeared to defy the laws of physics. Around 7:30, the rain — providing more atmosphere than moisture to that point — decided to get more serious, sending the rest of the group indoors. I had friends arriving later in the evening, so headed homeward.

Rain. More rain. A bit of an adjustment after the recent weeks of spectacular, rain-free weather. But good for the Earth and all that. (Grumble, grumble.) Friends arrived around ten — G. and S., a couple who brought along their two cats (with my blessing) for the adventure of it. A lesbian couple, together now for twelve, thirteen years, something like that. Two of my favorite people, both attorneys. (I’m aware that there are those who would write them off as human beings for being (a) lesbians, (b) attorneys, or (c) lesbian attorneys. To that part of the population I say: get over it.) G. and S. set up camp in the downstairs guest room, let the cats out, put together a temporary litter box that resembled a small, cardboard doghouse. One of the cats immediately disappeared under the bed. The other remained out in the open, cautiously dealt with finding itself in a strange living space.

G. and S. joined me upstairs for a bit of blab, we retired to our respective bedrooms, calling it a night.

Next day: a long, lazy morning spent catching up, a field trip to a swimming hole in the afternoon (another perfect Vermont summer day, the water in the pond clear, cool, filled with schools of curious fish), a trip to the circus, each part of the day better than the last. The circus — the performers between 10 and 18 years of age, the entire gig happening in one ring in a small, intimate big top, the audience at least 60% kids, all of whom seemed entranced — turned out to be a ball. Inspirational. The greatest circus-type thingy I’ve ever been to.

I covered the circus tix, G. & S. bought dinner afterward. A fine wind-up to a fine day.

[continued in next entry]

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Northern Vermont, a mid-August Saturday morning (far too early) — the air sultry, crickets singing everywhere:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

This morning — a monarch pays a visit:

Thanks to Spacetramp for the Nat’l Geog. link.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

[Continued from entry of August 7]

And then the waiter (a relaxed Indian 30-something in casual duds, complete with baseball cap) materialized, plates of food appeared, most of them large, circular metal affairs reminiscent of mutated TV dinner trays. Each bearing helpings of two different entreés and a pile of basmati rice. I dug into mine, took the first mouthful, found myself quickly immersed in a state of mind I often experience when tossing down good Indian food: an intense, tightly-focused state where not much exists apart from chow, mouth and implement ferrying chow to mouth. A transcendent place where the velocity of the action seems to increase at a steady rate until the plate reaches food-free status, me staring at it in despairing surprise.

The waiter had mixed up my order of bread, bringing some fancy-ass paratha instead of the simple, plain version I’d requested. I let him know. And, not sure my words had registered, I let him know again. And again. And bless the guy’s heart, he dealt with my slightly overdone tenacity with grace and admirable attitude, the paratha I’d wanted showing up quickly, followed soon after by a complimentary helping of a lentil dish (which went down just fine).

One of my meal’s two entreés had some real kick, my mouth tingled long afterward, my body feeling wide awake and then some. The waiter brought cups of tea, everyone else at the table went for dessert, balls or small ovals of sweet confection, good enough that Max went for another, then another, steadfastly ignoring Tom’s counsel for moderation.

While the others inhaled that last course, I watched the parade of customers coming and going — families (including a fair number of mixed couples of various configurations), black folks, dreadlocked types (both black and white), two or three young Indian women, white hipster-geeks all dressed in tattered, oversized black gear. All sorts of people, providing great viewing.

The bill arrived, I started to dredge cash out of a pocket, Tom informed me my food was paid for. Which somehow made everything I’d eaten taste even better, despite being after the fact. Freed from financial hooha, I stepped out into the early evening to get some air, my bod feeling SO happy, as if it were floating slightly above the sidewalk.

Back in the car, me again crammed between Kelly and Max, riding the, er, hump in the rear seat. Conversation took an entertainingly foul-mouthed turn, I found myself explaining a top-notch Spanish insult, “Que te den por culo.” (More formally: “Que le den por culo.”) Translation: may they give it to you up the butt. An earthy sentiment capable of getting people real upset, not to be used lightly around folks who might not care to be given, er, it. (Up the butt.)

It’s possible that of all the time I spent around Ben and Max, explaining that may have been the only moment they truly paid attention to me.

At the homestead: hung idly about with Tom and Kelly, finally pulled myself together, began the hike back to the Metro station, T., K. and Jack the most excellent family dog walking with for a while. We did the farewell thing around the halfway point — Kelly kissing both my cheeks, which endeared her to me like you wouldn’t believe — they disappeared down a sidestreet. I continued on, catching the last part of a fine sunset near the station. My bus was just pulling out as I showed, I waved my arms hopefully, the driver made a sad face, a polite shoulder shrug indicating I was too late. I showed her and took the Metro instead, emerging aboveground in a downtown active with people out enjoying Saturday evening. Music wafted from the performance stage a couple of blocks away, couples passed, talking in French and English. I had plans to be up and on the road around dawn, so resisted the temptation to wander and enjoy the nightlife. Headed home, packed, went to bed, slept little, probably in anticipation of getting my adorable patoot up and out at an unwholesome hour. Which is just what happened.

Early-morning Québec countryside zipped by, few other cars about. Traffic moved slowly at the border as a customs agent emerged from his cubbyhole to drag a bunch of stuff out from some poor soul’s car. I wound up dealing with a different agent, one in a fine, relaxed mood, who asked a few friendly questions then waved me on.

And here’s the thing: I love being north of the border. I loved investigating Montréal, and I want to do more of it, want to explore Québec more seriously, in more depth. And then I cross back into Vermont and I’m in love all over again with this tiny corner of the world. I cannot describe the feeling of finding myself back among this green countryside, the hills rising out of it, growing larger, more dramatic as they stretch off into the state. It’s literally beyond my pathetic facility with words. So you won’t have to wade through me flogging lame attempts to draw the picture.

I’ll just go back to anticipating future times up north. And future stays in Madrid. And future seasons back here. And the August days will continue to unfurl and blow past, me surrounded by the almost unearthly loveliness of Vermont at this time of year. Planted on a hilltop in the middle of it all, in a place that feels like home for now.

Montréal sidestreet — detail of a long, hyper-elaborate graffiti mural:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Dusk, yesterday:

Dawn, today:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

[continued from entry of August 3]

Did not sleep as well Friday night as the night before. Don’t know why. Found myself awake in the wee hours, the kind of awake that means no returning to the realm of shuteye any time soon. Turned on the light, read for a while (‘Last Train To Toronto‘). Finally edged off to sleep as dawn lightened the sky outside, woke up after eight to sounds of kitchen prep. Got up, pulled on sweatpants, shuffled out to the bathroom.

I’d had the bog to myself the first night. Not any more — a lodger had arrived, someone who didn’t get the simple system for determining whether the bathroom was in use or not. (When not in use, leave door open — if the door is closed, don’t enter. The bathroom door did not have a locking mechanism, making the door open/door closed system key in minimizing the possibility of untimely intrusions and unintentional, embarrassing comedy.) Sure enough, post-shower, me at the sink scaping away the morning’s stubble, I heard the door of the neighboring bedroom open, followed by a hand gripping the bathroom door handle, trying to push it open. My body weight against door stopped that, my warning, “It’s in use,” prevented a second attempt.

Back in my hideyhole, pulling on clothes, etc., I heard voices out at the dining table, laughter. When I made my appearance, I found four people there — the two young women of the previous morning had given way to a middle-aged French-speaking couple (him: slim, an academic, with glasses and thin black hair spreading out from a bald spot; her: plump, white-haired, a bit shy, with a bright smile), a bi-lingual woman from Toronto, a 30ish French-speaking woman with decent command of English (dark-haired, skin slightly olive-colored, pretty, with the barest trace of hair on her upper lip). For a while they talked mostly in French, giving me time to slowly feed myself and continue the ascent toward consciousness. The woman from Toronto — an academic, intelligent, with a kind manner and an accent suggesting English may not have been her first language — finally roped me into included me in the conversation, leaving the middle-aged couple in need of a translator any time I contributed anything. A sixth person appeared, a cheerful 30-something male originally from Calgary, now living in Ottawa, the partner of the 30-something woman.

Every seat at the table occupied, conversation going at full throttle, swinging back and forth between English and French. A real good time. The couple who ran the joint tried to leave us be, finally gave up when the party showed no sign of winding down, began clearing dishes around us. When the time neared 10:30, I got to my feet and spoke with the proprietors, letting them know I’d be vacating my room early the next morning, too early for breakfast. The idea that I might hit the road on an empty stomach produced expressions of such concern from them that I found myself momentarily not knowing what to say. They instructed me to take whatever I needed from the refrigerator, make whatever I wanted before heading out the next morning — a degree of menschness I’d never experienced before in a B&B.

By the time I’d gotten myself out the door, another spectacular day was underway. I navigated the several blocks to a bus stop, planted myself on the bench to wait for transport. Montrealers strolled by, bicyclists zipped past. Saturday traffic came and went, now and then pausing when the light turned red. A dead ringer for Jerry Garcia sat in one small car, staring straight ahead, expression serious, taking off when red switched to green. Dylan sang from the stereo of another car at a moment when no other vehicles were around, the sound of The Times Are A-Changin’ rising into the air, until the light changed and the car took off. A hefty 60ish woman passed, accompanied by a small fuzzy dog on a leash, the little critter dancing and bouncing about with the joy of being out on a beautiful day, walking with its human.

The bus showed, life swung into motion. Did the art museum thing, afterward found myself back out in a beautiful Saturday. Hopped the Metro, got off in a French neighborhood. Walked around, found a sidestreet with a bunch of restaurants, tables spread in front of each. Grabbed a seat at a middle-eastern joint, ordered a dish of chicken and couscous. A pair of musicians materialized, stationed themselves not far away. Him playing guitar, her whanging away on a washtub bass, singing older stuff, St. James Infirmary and the like. Good. Really good. Made up for the weekend’s only so-so meal.

Headed back to the B&B, gave my feet a rest. Called Tom, made plans for a late afternoon rendezvous. Looked like we were going to do an Indian meal, a kind of cuisine I hadn’t had the pleasure of gobbling down in a long, long time. I was ready.

An hour later: hit the street, hopped two buses, bringing me to Tom’s neighborhood. Found his place, skipped up the stairs, rang the bell. No response. Knocked. Rang again. No response. I’d told him I’d get there between 4 and 4:30 — pulled out my cellphone, checked the time. 4:20. Hmm. Called his number, heard the phone ring. No answer. Knocked, rang doorbell once more, gave up. Pulled up a patch of grass on the lawn by a tree, settled in to wait, watching the swallows put on a show in the sky over the houses. Five minutes later Tom hove into view, along with a friend of his, a woman named Kelly.

Did introductions, went inside, Kelly and I grabbed stools in the kitchen area while Tom hovered around. We were apparently going to an especially authentic Indian joint, the kids were coming with — we waited on them to return home from wherever they were, talking about this and that. The boys showed, Ben sporting a beret and a t-short adorned with the ubiquitous image of Che, his hair and features bearing a startlingly strong resemblance to the image. More conversation, and then we were outside, squeezing into Tom’s little car, me assigned to sit on the, er, hump that swelled up out of the middle of the rear seat, between Max and Kelly. Leaving me with nothing to hold onto for support, swaying heavily about every time the car rounded a curve, first against Max (who took it impassively, in a way that suggested he might be feeling less than ecstatic about our sudden intimacy), then against Kelly (who seemed unconcerned), over and over again throughout the drive, at times having no choice but to extend an arm in front of Max’s face, groping for a bit of door to provide some stability.

The restaurant was located without problem. Parking turned out to be another matter, though, as hunting for a space down a sidestreet lead us around the block, the block turning out to be enormous, endlessly huge, extending on and on and on in a way that may have indicated a worrisome breakdown of the laws of physics.

The restaurant: in keeping with many Indian joints, the set-up was just this side of a cafeteria, the walls adorned with some combination of what seem to be standard Indian restaurant design elements: wonderfully tacky paintings, tinsel, Christmas lights, etc. Most tables were occupied, the variety of diners as impressive as the variety of Montréal’s population in general. A not-quite-life-size cutout of an attractive, sari-garbed Indian woman stood by the counter, hands together palm-to-palm, greeting us valued customers. And beneath the counter lurked a display case stacked with Indian desserts, tray after tray, each one piled high, a showing of sweet-tooth bait like I’ve never seen in any Indian restaurant anywhere. Eye-catching. Impressive.

Plates of good-looking fare were being dropped off at other tables, menus appeared on ours. We read, discussed, pondered. Gave our orders, waited, watched the ongoing show. A steady stream of take-out customers arrived, disappeared bearing bags of chow. Ben and Max claimed to be nearing dangerous levels of hunger, the kind that might produce auto-cannibalism.

[Continued in entry of August 10.]

Mural — Rue Ste. Lauren, Montréal:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Since the return from north of the border, life here’s been packed. Not packed in a city way. Low-key, but going from morning to evening.

Have been taking the first steps to convert land along the sunny side of the house from a formless, weed-dominated, small-scale Bermuda Triangle (things disappear into it) into what I hope will be a garden. Pulling up overgrown undergrowth, dumping compost and peat into the soil, planting stuff to finish out this season — flahrs mostly. Annuals, the kind of greenery that will croak when the cold season rolls around, leaving a brand new plot to slave and toil away at next year. Found a local high school girl who’s hiring herself out for work like this — a genuine sweetheart — she’s come out here the last two Monday mornings. After she bolted this last Monday, I spent the balance of the day laboring away solo — more with the digging, etc, followed by a bout of lawn mowing. By the time I’d given up for the day, the sky had darkened, rain began coming down. Lightly at first, until the drops turned fat and heavy. A few minutes of that, then the clouds opened up, some serious wind got blowing. I’d retreated inside, begun washing off the day’s layer of dust and topsoil that had accumulated on my bod, when I heard clattering. Took a look outside, saw marble-sized hail bouncing off everything. Three or four minutes later, the storm turned back to simple wind/rain, that continued for a while. Then it all moved on, clouds gradually giving way to sunshine, late afternoon turning to evening.

And it’s August. The culmination of June and July — flowers everywhere, crickets and their cousins in the grass making music 24 hours a day, cicadas keening from the treetops. The birdsong that filled the air here from dawn to nightfall has quieted down, a sign that southern migration has begun — the thrush that sang in the woods across the road has moved on, several different kinds of birds that summered over in the windbreak at the near end of the house are gone. Hummingbirds are still making appearances at the feeder, but will likely be out of here soon. Even the robins have begun slipping away. (Sniffle.) I’ve spotted the occasional praying mantis hanging about, however, which gets me all excited. (Glad you don’t live with me, aren’t you?)

The evenings are coming on earlier now, the days clearly moving in the direction of autumn. Boggles my teeny mind how quickly it all passes.

Went into town a couple of evenings back to join a packed house viewing Ladies in Lavender. Nice to see that kind of turnout for that kind of film.

And the movie? Well… nice. A nice story, nicely told. Nice seaside scenery, nice music, blah blah blah. But no big deal, really. (Probably a low-budget affair — how else to explain the boom mike that intrudes above the actors over and over again throughout the film? Someone needs to be given a serious beating for allowing that.) There are two good reasons to see it, however: Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. All by themselves they make it worthwhile.

Right. Enough with the blabbering. On to the day.

Beware: more on Montréal will follow.

Northern Vermont, storms coming and going:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

Friday. Woke up after a long, lovely night’s sleep to sounds of breakfast prep. (I’d been given a hideyhole right off the B&B’s dining room/kitchen. Any activity out there sounded like it was, er, right outside my door.) Stumbled out to the shared bathroom I had to use, showered, etc. Wandered into the dining room, still groggy, sat myself at the empty table. The he of the couple that owned the place said a friendly ‘Bon jour!’, set a cup of fruit salad in front of me. I marshaled motor functions, picked up a spoon, began transferring fruit to mouth.

A young woman appeared from a rear bedroom, college-age, exchanging happy-sounding good-morning greetings with the host, clearly Quebecois. She sat down near me, I managed to get my vocal apparatus working, said good morning, she responded in nicely accented English. We talked a little then lapsed into silence, me nowhere near awake enough to simulate real, substantial conversation.

Another young woman appeared, seated herself across from me. Younger, wearing braces, also Quebecois, saying not a word of English, not looking in my direction. Conversation in French ebbed and flowed around me, now and then a question or comment in English came my way, I mustered concentration, managed to respond. At some point, I apologized for my near-comatose state, expressions of understanding coming in response.

Drank a cup of coffee. Drank a cup of tea. No change in consciousness level. Tossed down one of the best omelets I’ve ever had the privilege of stuffing into my mouth (made by the proprietor, a kind, capable guy), finished up toast, yogurt, blahblahblah. Told the women it had been nice meeting them. The younger one looked at me for the first time, they both responded nicely in English. Got up, retreated to my temporary lair, fell back into bed, back to sleep.

Later, post-snooze –- me walking downtown. Happier. Awake. Grabbed a cup of coffee, read a local weekly alternative rag. Found myself in an area where the streets had been cordoned off, a sizeable performance stage set up in front of a plaza. Looked like festivities were planned. Saw the Museum of Contemporary Art off to one side, went in on an impulse. Saw some interesting stuff, walked around the galleries, content. Came across a large room consisting of nothing but a huge screen hung diagonally across the center of the space, showing a video of 20ish Japanese women taking part in a kyudo ceremony, apparently in this case a coming-of-age style ritual. Intimate, the camera in close on one individual face after another, no talking, just concentration, slow movements, the sounds of arrows being released. I watched. And watched. Then sat down and watched some more. Beautiful. Spectacular. Hypnotic. (At least to freakish types like me with disturbingly high geekitude quotients.)

Sat through the entire thing twice. Roused myself, headed back outside. Walked around Montréal. Walked and walked. And walked and walked. Found an internet joint, went online for an hour. [See entry of July 29.] Saw some funky neighborhoods, some quirky sights, loads of interesting people, lots of interesting women. Tracked down a place that sold Spanish language stuff, picked up a copy of the latest Sunday El País. Finally found my way back to the B&B, gave my feet a rest before undertaking the evening’s assault on the city.

Funky neighbohood: the Plateau Mont-Royal district, Montréal:

Quirky sight: outside the Mont-Royal Metro station, Montréal:

Post-time-out: tried to get into the city’s art museum. Without success. [See last entry for details.] Pondered the evening’s possibilities given the change in the situation. Consulted a map, saw the city’s tiny Chinatown, looking to be a brief, cheery downtown hike. Saw Old Montréal just beyond Chinatown. Two destinations I’d felt ambivalent about investigating, given their big-time touristy orientation. Suddenly found myself walking in their direction, me apparently having decided to take advantage of the open evening that lay ahead.

Walked and walked. Walked and walked and walked. Gradually realized this had proven to be yet another case of the difference between how close things can look on a map as opposed to the big-distance 3-D reality. (D’oh!) Heavy traffic streamed through the rush-hour streets, people packed the sidewalks. The Friday evening restaurants and bars were alive with happy humans, eating, drinking, talking, laughing. Nice, all that, the city continuing to demonstrate that its people know how to enjoy themselves.

I passed through the area I’d seen around the contemporary art museum that morning, traffic blocked off, many, many people out enjoying music, food, the evening’s perfect weather. A band with a female vocalist played onstage, their music sounding like a pleasing Patsy Cline/Cowboy Junkies hybrid. I listened for a while, my feet finally turned me around, got me moving toward Chinatown once more. I passed two 40ish black women with two kids, a boy and girl, 8 or 9 years old. The women wanted to watch the performers. The kids wanted out of there, the boy with the tip of an index finger plugged into either ear. I didn’t hang about to see who prevailed.

The guidebooks use words like ‘compact’ to describe Montréal’s Chinatown. They’re not kidding. Small, rough-edged, bunches of it clearly aimed at the numerous tourists, that last detail not exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t feel drawn toward any restaurant I passed, continued on to Old Montréal, my feet beginning to complain about the miles they were accumulating.

The old part of the city: way more oriented toward tourist money than I’d been looking for. I moved along, lingering nowhere, my interest by that point reduced to the simple task of finding a restaurant that might provide a decent meal. Checked the menus at one place after another, nothing grabbed me. Saw one last establishment off at the fringes of the district, on the corner of Ste. Laurent, decided to take a fast look, see how it felt. If it didn’t appeal, I’d grab a bus, head back toward the B&B, trawl for dinner there.

To my surprise, the menu looked all right. And the place had live jazz, starting soon. Stepped inside, spoke with a young woman who had exactly the right vibe, who went out of her way to find me a free table near a window. The woman waiting on me turned out to be solicitous, good-humored, kind. And the food? Good. Real good. Decent jazz, too.

Passed a genuinely agreeable couple of hours there, stepped out afterward to find a beautiful, fiery sunset happening in the western sky. Groped around for my camera, saw that my bus had just arrived at the nearest stop, a block away. Took off in that direction as fast as my feet could carry me, forgetting about camera/photo op., tourists giving me the hairy eyeball as I sped by. Made the bus before the doors closed, dropped into a seat, watched the city begin to move by.

Four Quebecois women got on at the next stop, looking to be in the late 60s to early 70s age range, acting like four college girls. Talking loudly back and forth in animated French, bursting into frequent laughter, one snorting comically when she did, increasing the laughter from the other three. One got off a couple of stops along, prompting a flurry of good-night cheek kissing. The others quieted down after her departure, the bus began filling with folks out for Friday night.

When I got off, I found myself walking through crowded sidewalks, past crowded restaurant terraces, music and loud conversation coming from open doorways. The weekend getting underway in Montréal.

I eventually returned to the B&B, everything quiet, no one about. Entered my room, turned on the bedside light, got horizontal. Pulled out a good book, read for a while.

End of day two north of the border.

[to be continued]

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Montréal, Thursday evening: me, heading down into the rush-hour Metro. Two packed trains and one crowded bus ride later, I’m out in the city’s western reaches, in a residential area disorientingly similar to neighborhoods I know from Long Island and the Boston area, swallows streaking in and out of view above abundant, spreading trees. There to visit a cyber-friend in 3-D for the first time. Tom, a big congenial bear of a guy — long-haired, unshaven, smile shining through the follicle foliage. Him, his dog Jack, his two teenage sons (Max, Ben), in a flat that clearly belongs to a bunch of males. Lived in, in a nicely rough-edged way, the vibe active, alive, with a healthy edge of testosterone.

Conversation as Tom made food and the boys surged in and out of the kitchen, me pleased to be there in the middle of it all, north of the border. Dinner took place in the basement, the television room — couch, chairs, shelves of DVDs, shelves of books — me hoovering down two plates of pasta (Jack watching me, politely hopeful), the meal taken up a level by generous helpings of seriously excellent locally-made Italian sausage. An episode of The Kids In The Hall played, punctuated by bursts of laughter. Meal over, life moved back upstairs, the evening drifted along, the kids’ attention shifting to life online.

Darkness gently fell, Tom and I walked to an area of shops and cafés, loads of people out enjoying the evening, the air humming with conversation in English and French. Himself picked up a cup of his current vice, a sweet coffee topped with foam and caramel syrup. I went for a decaf, Tom seeming to find my low-octane choice inconceivable, shocking, sad, given the number of tantalizing options readily available to get my clueless ass wired in no time flat. I wasn’t looking to get wired, though — I intended to continue enjoying company and conversation until my bod began to run out of gas, at which time I’d return to the B&B, crawl into bed, sink into sleep.

It’s a funny place, Montréal. What I’d seen of the city itself — apart from downtown, where traces of European-style architecture are scattered about — reminded me of any number of North American urban and suburban areas. The people, the signage, the energy were something else, however. A 50-something woman at a table near Tom and I spoke a mixture of French and English into her cellphone. When a young woman joined her, that mix extended to include Spanish, shifting fluidly between the three. I confess, that suits me far more than hearing nothing but English all the time — or just Spanish, for that matter — the same way that the wide variety of Montréal’s people proved to be a source of real pleasure for me.

Like Madrid, nightlife seems to be a part of existence in the city (though not to the wild, bacchanalian extreme that they take it in the Spanish capital). Along with an abundance of good food, movies in various languages, music. And like Madrid, it appears to be a place where coffee is basic, the city heaving with establishments to sit, drink, chat, people-watch. (There’s a quote attributed to Mark Twain that goes something like, “You can’t throw a rock in Montréal without breaking stained glass,” referring to the quantity of churches. Could be time to update it to something like, “You can’t throw a rock in Montréal without smashing someone’s coffee mug.”)

It’s a city, I realized, that feels extremely comfortable to me in many ways, like clothing worn enough that one’s body recognizes it, slips into it easily, almost with a sigh of contentment. A funky, homey place, an urban center on a human scale. Almost, at times, with a small-town feel. (Example: next day, Friday, late afternoon, I make the trip from the B&B to the city’s art museum, figuring to spend the evening hours getting a shot of culture. I get there, see no one about. And of course no one’s about: it closes at 5 p.m. on Fridays during the summer. (Huh?) Closes at 5 p.m. every day of the week. Except Wednesdays, when it’s open late. (Huh?) I get up the next morning, make the trip a second time, arriving shortly after the doors open. Once again no one about. Just me and a handful of other intrepid types. Could be because it’s summertime. Or not. Got me. Strange, though. Meanwhile, I stop into a museum men’s room at one point to dump the ballast, position myself in front of a urinal. I look down, notice a blue rubber strainer-mat spread over the urinal drain, see that it has the saying “‘Non’ a la drogue” printed across it. First time I’ve ever seen an ad or public service announcement placed to be read mid-whiz. Wish I’d taken a photo of it.)

Art lover? Dairy lover? — Outside the Musée des Beaux Arts, Montréal:

Conversation with Tom moved along (women, movies, writing, women, actors, directors, life in Montréal, food, coffee, women, the various ways the city and its people were striking me), him progressively more amped up as his cup gradually emptied, the terrace around us packed with people out enjoying the evening. Later, back at the flat — down in the basement once again, me nosing through the DVD’s — chatter continued, caffeine and love for the craft of filmmaking generating passionate movie commentary from Tom.

Somewhere in there my energy began flagging, Tom offered a ride back to the B&B via a route with better vistas than the Metro. I could not refuse. He checked in with the kids, discovered the younger one, Max, was resisting the early bedtime hour Tom had been pushing. I listened unobtrusively, thought about how clearly Tom’s love for the boys shone out in his interactions with them. The kind of ongoing, unmistakable display that reflects a heart with depth, a person of quality.

When we finally straggled out to the car, Max had joined the expedition, tossing himself into the back seat, remaining mostly quiet as Tom drove through neighborhoods that could have easily been lifted from one of Long Island’s older districts, placed neatly down in this northerly locale.

Tom followed roads that led through Mount Royal Park — the lights of nighttime Montréal spreading away to the north and south — then down into the neighborhoods north of my B&B, Himself enthusiastically plunging us into French enclaves, giving me a fast eyeful of neighborhoods I might want to investigate. At some point — my energy-drop having reduced my part in conversation to one-syllable nonsense — I bailed, made the rest of the trip on increasingly tired feet.

That was the first evening.

[continued in next entry]

Madrid, te echo de menos.

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