far too much writing, far too many photos

Got back late last night from a trip with friends to the mountains northwest of Madrid, a place where local businesses don’t waste time or energy on fancy marketing euphemisms:

(Cosas viejas = old things)

Details to follow.

***********

Halloween morning, la Plaza de Chueca, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Urban pumpkins (waiting) — la Plaza de Chueca, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Hard to describe how this existence of mine has felt lately. Packed with input, the calendar entries flickering unstoppably past (day, night, light, dark….). The passing hours vivid in the moment, strangely dreamlike in retrospect.

Spent Monday evening with Nacho, an intercambio/friend I hadn’t seen since last May. Several hours of talk in different cafés/tabernas, during which the conversation turned to Thanksgiving. The stateside holiday that touches me the deepest, though I seem to be observing it less and less with time. The holiday that brought out the best in my complicated family, leaving me with plentiful memories of hours spent in the cramped dining room of our small suburban cracker-box, around a table lavishly covered with plates of excellent food. Powerful memories of tastes, smells, and a kind of good humor I don’t always associate with the clan of my childhood. The dinners included folks unknown to me at times, individuals without a Thanksgiving spread to attend, brought home by one or both of my brothers from college or the Coast Guard. (And sweethearts of one or the other of my brothers, females who paid me a kind of sweet attention no one in the nuclear clan did.) I’ve discovered that inviting someone without a place to go feels much better than being one of those invitees, and find myself feeling less and less inclined to take on the invitee role. Probably one of the reasons I’m happy to pass that time of year here, where it’s just another day.

Tuesday: spent a while in a café with an online acquaintance, an intelligent, interesting American woman who’s spent substantially more time in this part of the world than I have, with periods lived in Córdoba and Barcelona, she and her husband currently splitting their existence between Ohio, Madrid, Asturias. My first extended conversation in English since getting back here at the beginning of the month. Enough of a reimposition of those rhythms that the following morning I found myself thinking purely in English instead of the Spanish-English combo that’s become the norm. Had to do a bunch of reading in Spanish to shake it, turn on the TV and radio more than I have been. Which re-introduced a phenomenon — me watching American shows dubbed in Spanish that wouldn’t even occur to me to follow back in Vermont. For instance, now and then I’ll check out one of the CSI franchises here. the Spanish dialogue being a good language workout for me. Back in the States? Nah. On the other hand, I’m happy to watch a few minutes of The Simpsons in whichever language. Found myself eating lunch at a neighborhood joint last week, the in-house TV playing the daily 2 p.m. installment of Homer et al. Chortled all the way through, giggling even harder when I noticed that the subtitles had been enabled and whoever was doing them kept typing ‘Mr. Bunrs.’ (It’s a good thing, being easily entertained.)

This evening: rendezvoused with my friend Jorge. In the same joint as last time, a place I find I’m enjoying more and more. On a main drag, lots of folks coming in and out, resulting in excellent people-watching and a ton of sensory input in general.

Himself walked in, pulled up a stool, we shook hands, began talking about women almost immediately. A topic that seems to be a mainstay for us, one that can occupy us for hours. And yes, it raises more questions than answers, in keeping with most of the rest of my life. But it makes us happy. And that’s what matters.

He broached the political side only once during the course of the evening, doing so with tact, making a statement that more or less encapsulized his current feelings (didn’t like the last government, doesn’t like the current one), then letting it go. As did I, grateful for his brevity.

And while we sat inside entertaining ourselves, rain began coming down out in the street. A change in weather that has the entire country breathing a collective sigh of relief, hoping that the drought of many months has dissipated, that water reserves will recover. Everyone grateful to see the skies opening up, to see streets and sidewalks glistening with moisture. Hoping to see balance restored.

It’s a good thing to hope for, to feel in one’s life, balance.

The coming weekend is long one, what the Spaniards call un puente. I’ve got an invitation to spend some of it outside the city, but suspect I’ll stay here, try to get some work done.

We’ll see.

**********

Sidestreet mural — la Calle de Augusto Figueroa, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Yesterday morning: woke up from a strange dream in which I apparently worked in an office in some capacity, though never saw the office, never learned exactly what my job was. As I ran down a sidewalk, picking up speed (about to lift off, flying to a city somewhere to the east to catch a plane for a transoceanic flight)(why catch a plane for the second leg of the journey? who knows? could be my arms would be tired after the first leg), Chrissy Hynde waylaid me. Apparently superior to me in the office hierarchy, she ordered me to take care of a petty, unnecessary, time-consuming task, insisting on it despite my attempts to reason with her. Once she’d buggered off — smugly satisfied, thinking she’d forced me to comply — I managed to weasel my way out of it, woke up before I could take to the air.

Showered, shaved, went out for a shot of caffeine, wound up taking a long walk through the city center. Saw the following:

– Ahead of me, walking in the same direction: a 30-something male walking a teeny ball of curly fur that trotted ahead of its owner at the end of a long, long leash. I passed the male, slowly came up behind the dog who continued on, absorbed in smelling everything, not looking around but clearly aware of my footsteps. Apparently assuming I was its person. When I drew even with it, the tiny critter glanced over, discovered I was not, in fact, its person — performing, in that moment of surprise, the most human double-take I have ever seen a non-human do.

– A short, heavyset woman stood by a streetside paper recycling bin, reading a magazine she’d fished out. As I passed, I got a strong whiff of the sharp, sour smell of alcohol.

– At an exhibit of paintings by early 20th century realists, I came across several pieces by Edward Hopper, three of which I’ve seen a bunch of times in other places — Boston, N.Y., D.C. American images, stuff I associate strongly with being in the States. Stumbling across them in the middle of Madrid, everyone around me murmuring about art in Castellano, caused a strange feeling of disorientation that didn’t completely dissipate until I stepped back out into the late morning sunlight. I’d found myself wanting to sneak my camera out in the exhibit, capture some images of the space, the people clustered around different paintings, but the security types were far too vigilant. Headed outside, started taking shots as soon as my feet hit the sidewalk, spent the next hour with camera in hand, walking through Madrid.

Cheap, pseudo-arty therapy.

La Plaza de San Martín, Madrid, yesterday:

Madrid, te quiero.

This morning — shuttered storefronts along la Calle de Fuencarral, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

The second week of my latest Spanish class binge is drawing to a close, a substantial part of that time has been spent quietly grappling with aspects of the language that must have been designed for the specific purpose of torturing honkies like myself. Exercises possibly concocted by direct descendants of Torquemada, endowed with a diabolical ability to cloud my feeble mind, get me doubting my ability to reason and understand. And even so, as I stumble along, desperately repeating my studies-related mantra (”Huh?”) over and over, I’m also aware of the distance I’ve come, aware that I’m now capable of entertaining the Spaniards who know me with my version of their language at a much higher, much more impressive level than ever before. Which heartens me. It means I’ve finally reached the point where I can spend an hour or two in the company of, for instance, my friend Jorge and tell him with all sincerity, “¿Sabes? A veces me preocupas.” (”You know, at times you worry me.”)

We met up a couple of nights back, Jorge and me, at a beer/tapas joint a five minute walk from here. We shook hands, started catching up, he immediately diverted the conversation in the direction of his most heartfelt complaints (politics, etc.), providing me with yet another graphic reminder of why I do my level best to avoid wading into those waters: ’cause that kind of conversation makes me so godawfully unhappy. And as the talk began getting louder and hotter, me unsuccessfully trying to steer it back toward more benign chat, I mentioned that I genuinely hate getting embroiled in arguments like that. “We’re not arguing,” he responded. I checked my argument meter, the needle had clearly edged its way up into the red zone. “Of course we are,” I said. “No, we’re not,” he replied, shaking his head. “We’re just talking about things we feel differently about.” Well, yes. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. What is the frequency, Kenneth?

I asked if we could change the subject, he heard me (being essentially a mensch), we switched to talking about women, a subject that, while at times raising more questions than it answers, makes us both happy. And that’s all that counts.

On the walk home, through Madrid streets alive with nighttime activity, I got to thinking. That exchange with Jorge was not the first time in recent weeks that I’ve run into big differences of perception or perspective. Not by any stretch, a fact I note with a nervous attempt at a self-assured smile. Because while that kind of, er, collision festivity has popped up here and there, it’s not like it’s entirely unwelcome. It’s not like it doesn’t have its positive aspects. For one thing, when indulged in with the right people those strange passages don’t leave wounds, nothing gets broken. Another good part: they get me looking at me, how I think, what I do — a kind of system scan that, god knows, needs to be run on a regular basis.

There have been at least three occasions during the last month when I’ve found myself in situations with people I care for where our individual perceptions have been either at cross-purposes or seemingly rooted in frames of reference/perception at such goofily drastic variance that we might as well have been attempting to communicate from separate dimensions. Through null space. And, who knows, maybe we were, at least metaphorically. Maybe we are, all the time, all of us. (Or maybe not. Because, really, do I want to get into that kind of blathering, metaphysical demolition derby right now? Big, emphatic no.)

(Brief pause to pull self together: take deep breath, clear throat, adjust pants in exceedingly masculine fashion.)

It’s packed with mysteries, this life. Which is in its favor. I’d much rather find myself puzzling over strange, confounding events than nodding off from ennui. On the other hand, sometimes enough’s enough.

Like right about now.

Later.

**********

Light streaming above la Calle de Augusto Figueroa, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Disharmony in the neighborhood (upscale shoe store/commentary by upstairs neighbor) — along la Calle de Fuencarral, Madrid:

Caption: “El consumismo perjudica gravemente la salud”
(”Consumerism is dangerous to your health”)

Gracias a Nacho por la claridad.

Madrid, te quiero.

It’s a strange existence, this life of mine.

For instance, this morning I found myself working out in a gym in the Spanish capital city, in an old, busy barrio that’s in the middle of a long period of transformation, construction and rehab going on everywhere — it would not be a stretch to say that there’s work of some kind happening at some point along every single block of the neighborhood. Been that way for three or four years now. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The gym: not as good a facility as one I used to go to here, but less of a shlep — a five-minute walk as opposed to 20-30 minute Metro ride/post-Metro hike. Clientele mostly gay, techno playing constantly on the sound system, German television programming (sound off) showing on three wall-mounted TV’s. Dragged myself out of bed at far too reasonable an hour this morning, pulled on gym gear, dragged my adorable butt out the door. Shortly thereafter, found myself doing the sweaty activity thing, everyone else in the place male (DC, not AC) except the 20-something woman behind the desk. Feeling a bit the way I sometimes feel in this life of mine: like I’m not exactly of the element around me, not sure where exactly I belong.

Got together Friday evening with a Spanish friend I hadn’t seen in nearly a year, meeting up in a far too trendy café. Good guy. Local newscaster. Loves what he does, is good at it. Every time we get together I learn stuff I would never otherwise have known about national or local politics (topics I generally try to ignore), about the Spanish royal family, about Spanish television. The babes women who run the language school I’m currently at think he’s gay, warn me (seriously, I think) to watch myself. I have never gotten that kind of vibe from this guy, have no idea what his personal proclivities are, have never asked — it’s never come up, it’s none of my business. Granted, he doesn’t talk about women the way I might if I were with an obvious hetero, but then he doesn’t talk about guys that way either. Could be he’s asexual. Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. He’s a good person to spend some time with, that’s all that counts.

Saturday: met up with another Spanish friend I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. A 20-something woman, back from finishing graduate studies at Stanford in California. About to pick up and live in Australia for two or three years, the company she’s working for giving her the opportunity. Great person. Smart, capable, sunny personality. On hearing about all this, my profesora in class today gave me the big nudge-nudge smile, would have given me an elbow in the ribs if she’d been close enough. In response, I explained that I’m not in the market for someone twenty or more years my junior, not looking for a daughter. Not sure she believed me. Hard to tell with her sometimes. Ah, well.

It’s Monday. The day is overcast and cool, light rain falls now and then. Outside, life goes on in the barrio, the weekday variety, lots of people around. Sounds of rehab. work erupts now and then — hammer drills, workers calling out.

I’ve got classwork to do. Time to go do it.

**********

Saturday, along Gran Vía, Madrid:

Madrid, te quiero.

Graffiti seen this morning along la Calle de Peloya, Madrid:

Caption: “En que piensan los gobernantes?”
(”What do the rulers [or leaders] think about?”)

Madrid, te quiero.

[continued from entry of 9/30]

During one of those strange, fumbling phone calls — me gripping the receiver tightly, pressing it against my ear as I concentrated in a way I rarely have in this lifetime, straining to understand everything I could of the stream of Spanish coming at me from this intriguing woman — we decided to get together in 3-D, supposedly to talk about her continuing offer re: assisting me in applying for the teaching-English thing. Supposedly. Other vibes were percolating underneath all the job-related blabber, but we didn’t poke at that. Something seemed to be happening — something improbable (given how little language we had in common), arising out of nowhere — and I don’t think either of us wanted to risk breaking the strange kind of spell that seemed to be gathering steam. So we let it be, and arranged a rendezvous, and continued talking by phone, working to get a sense of who the other person was as best we could.

My host — married to a Spaniard, living in Madrid for many years — seem astonished when I filled her in on developments. Spanish women, she told me, simply didn’t do things this forward, this out there. Apparently, said I, at least one of them did. She stared at me in reply, smirking a little, as if she thought I was either (a) a far more interesting male than she’d realized or (b) a classic example of dumb, undeserved luck. Or (c) a blend of the two, worth keeping an eye on if only for the potential entertainment value of the situation I was getting myself into.

And then I found myself walking through Madrid’s west side on a Sunday afternoon, early-September heat thick and deceptively intense beneath the weight of the sun’s direct light (the reason, I realized, many natives slink along the shady side of the street during the city’s hot season). We met up at the arranged spot, strolled together toward a restaurant she suggested, checking each other out as we went, the first time we could actually study the other person, watch the mouth speaking all those incomprehensible words, look into the other’s eyes, watch their body language. A whole lot more communication happening with all the visuals added into the mix. Much more intriguing. And much more promising, at least going by her clear interest in me. So much more promising that at certain moments I simply watched this attractive individual and wondered how the hell I’d managed to shoehorn myself into this situation, managed to wangle a seat across the table from what seemed to be a desirable, intelligent, high-quality Spanish woman.

She brought me to a restaurant that dealt in Argentinian beef — meat, she assured me, of the highest quality. Big, thick slabs of it, turned out, served to us at outside tables, along a wide sidewalk outside the restaurant proper, a canopy above us providing some shade, billowing and rustling in a warm breeze. Me sitting across from this dark-eyed woman, both of us armed with dictionaries, repeatedly digging into them in an ongoing effort to piece together full-blown conversation. (Mine: your standard paperback Spanish-English deal. Hers: a nearly microscopic, severely abridged volume of extremely limited effectiveness. Got me laughing every time she tried thumbing through it, mostly not finding anything helpful, provoking laughter, both of staring each other with wide-eyed smiles of pleased disbelief at us, the situation, everything. We switched dictionaries, me then mostly not finding anything helpful, provoking louder laughter.)

[to be continued]

***********

Color uncoordinated — from one room into another at the language school that’s currently putting up with me:

Madrid, te quiero.

Another morning riven by the sound of low-flying military aircraft. Helicopters. Jet fighters. In this case, because today is a holiday, el Día de la Hispanidad. A big deal — in part Spain’s homage to Columbus (Colón) and his reaching the new world — referred to as la fiesta nacional. As I write this, a half mile from here in la Plaza de Colón, the country’s political heavyweights have gathered to watch a long ceremony presided over the King. Flag raising, wreath laying, anthem singing, long lines of armed forces personnel in dress uniform. Followed, at some point, by a big parade showing off military might. Bleachers have been set up alongside the major thoroughfare that stretches north and south from the plaza, lots of folks will turn out.

Me, I had a night of fitful sleep. Spent yesterday evening in the company of a very nice woman, our chemistry not exactly working, at least not the way it did the first time, one evening last week. Leaving me feeling mighty restless afterward, at loose ends. Being the night before a holiday, the streets were filled with people out to party, bars, restaurants, clubs, cafés doing big business. And good for them. The downside: loads of street noise well into the wee hours, finally letting up when heavy rain began falling around 4 or 5 a.m.

When I returned to Madrid eight days ago, I found this building in more or less the same state as when I left at the end of May — undergoing rehab, being torn partially apart, put partially back together. Scaffolding hung with green netting had been tossed up in front of the structure’s other half during my months away, the hallways remained partway ripped up, coils of wiring and flexible tubing hung from ceiling and walls, white dust everywhere. When I entered the flat, I found the dust had made its way under the door, covering everything with a thin, white film -– everything. Necessitating immediate clean-up (this despite my sainted landlords having mopped floor some weeks back). Dragged the Hoover — an ancient, high-mileage machine that shed one of its wheels a year or two back so that it literally had to be dragged around the place during cleaning — from its hiding spot, plugged it in, discovered it had given up the ghost during my time away. Got out a broom, did what I could. (The landlords — bless ‘em — have since replaced the Hoover with a sleek new dirtsucker.)

This morning, a wonderful woman I know came and cleaned up what I didn’t get, doing a far more exhaustive job than I was willing to do. Much better.

And now the day stretches ahead. Sun and clouds play tag, aircraft flyovers continue, the neighborhood slowly comes to life. I’ve gone out, done the caffeine/breakfast thing, picked up a paper. Time to study. Or write.

Or go back to bed. Or call a friend or two.

Or something. Time’ll tell what.

Later.

Madrid, te quiero.

At a local café, staring out the window:

Madrid, te quiero.

Spent Thursday evening in the company of a Spanish woman, E. Smart, interesting, attractive, with a great laugh. Kind and patient when it came to my Spanish. Got me feeling like I could actually speak the language. Which, in a one-on-one situation like that with a supportive person, I maybe can.

Saturday night: spent about the same amount of time with three Spanish friends, sitting at an outside table in la Plaza 2 de Mayo. People I know better than E., folks I’ve spent time with before. It’s a whole different thing, though, plugging into the conversation of several individuals speaking at high velocity. After an hour, hour and a half, my teeny brain simply began to shut down, I started feeling the need to go home, crawl under the covers, curl up into fetal position and sleep for a few days. When my companions decided to drift toward another part of the city to check out a Ramones tribute band, I headed home. Walking through streets clogged with Saturday night partyers, plenty of noise, plenty of activity, the being here continuing to feel a touch unreal.

I spent the last two months in Vermont in work mode. The days shot by, packed with things to be done, the nights featured inconsistent sleep patterns. Since arriving here, my adorable bod has been wanting sleep and more sleep, maybe sensing the opportunity to finally settle life down a bit — I’m trying to listen. The impulse is to stay up real damn late like the rest of the local world, which throws a monkey wrench into catching up on sleep — I’m beginning to make a serious effort to tuck myself into bed at a wholesome hour. Has me feeling like a bit of a weeny, but seems to be paying off as far as feeling more rested.

And after months and months of persistent drought, rain has begun falling around Spain. The daily papers show a chart depicting the water reserves, everyone’s watched them drop steadily down into the 35% range, the government beginning to hint nervously at the possible necessity of steps in the direction of conservation. Light rain began falling yesterday evening here in Madrid, fell more heavily on and off into the night. More is supposed to come down around the country over the next couple of days. The days here since my return have remained warm, feeling like an extension of Vermont’s strangely extended summer. The local weather types claim that with the changing conditions the temperature will be dropping. Time will tell.

********

Seen over the weekend in the city center, just off la Calle de Montera (a concentration point of prostituion): three policemen standing around a man and woman. The man: a bit rumpled, holding a beer, looking like he couldn’t understand how he’d gotten himself into the situation. The woman: attractive, nicely dressed and made up, and, once I’d gotten close enough to hear her voice, clearly male. As I passed by, she said to the man, her index finger waving in the air as she spoke, “No, guapo. No, no. No me quedo por 30 euros.” (“No, handsome. No, no. I don’t stay for 30 euros.”)

***********

Sunday morning, la Plaza de Chueca, Madrid:

Graffiti seen along la Calle del Almirante, Madrid (”peatón” = pedestrian; the word for “pawn,” as in the chess pawn next to the word ‘peatón,’ is peón. the connection? got me):

Madrid, te quiero.

This morning: woke up to the sound of military aircraft streaking over the barrio, something that continued every few minutes as I stumbled, half-awake, through shower, shaving, etc.

A lovely, cool a.m., awash in sunlight, streets alive with activity. Found my way to a neighborhood caffeine joint, sat sipping at espresso, nibbling at a croissant, the air around me thick with the sounds of conversation and the radio playing Lovefool by the Cardigans, the mix punctuated now and then by the shriek of passing jet planes.

Since arriving on Tuesday, I’ve found myself in a kind of disorientation I don’t remember experiencing before, the being here feeling dreamlike, slightly unreal. My sleep patterns during the last two or three weeks have been all over the place, at times waking me anywhere between 1 and 4 a.m., me not getting back to sleep for two, three, sometimes four hours, other times sleeping blissfully through the night, coming to with the feeling of being in the eye of my own personal hurricane. Here I’ve slipped back into the pattern of staying up late, coming to consciousness during the night to sounds of revelers in the street below, drifting in and out like that, my eyes finally opening for good at an hour far later than my wake-up time in Vermont.

Monday: hopped a late-morning bus packed with a strange mix of travelers, the ride somehow feeling like time spent in transatlantic steerage. An hour down the road, they dumped us at White River Junction, the connecting bus not there, leaving us milling about in strangely summery October sunlight as a Greyhound employee appeared periodically to notify us that the wait would be longer than we’d been previously told. At some point, a bus collected us, New England scenery slipped by, I eventually found myself in an airline terminal — checking in, waiting, boarding, then mysteriously far above a dark, broad ocean. Eating airline food, listening to the conversation of a extensive group of Dutch 20-something geeks seated near me, the male to my right outfitted in classically nerdy fashion, clothing colors strikingly mismatched, a pocket protector the only missing element.

Many weeks back, I booked the flight with KLM, which meant flying with Northwest Airlines for the trip’s first leg. Next day the news about Northwest’s bankruptcy hit the news. Surprisingly, I felt no panic, little concern, having the distinct feeling that all would be well. As it turned out, the only sign of the airline’s troubles was a brief, sad impression on boarding of the craft’s interior appearing a bit dog-eared, in need of attention. The rest of the flight passed without problem. My last crossing had been on Lufthansa, the planes equipped archaically when it came to video, old cathode-ray TV’s that angled down from the ceiling, one every several rows. Each seat in the Northwest flight had its own small LCD screen with abundant choices of what to watch. Somewhere during the early-morning hours, after drifting in and out of sleep, I discovered Bejeweled among the videogame choices. The rest of that part of the journey passed in a contented blur.

Dawn, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. All shops and cafés open, the terminal cunningly designed to suck as much cash as possible from passing travelers during the between-flight hike. The slowest passport/customs checkpoint I’ve ever experienced, or perhaps it just felt that way to my groggy sensory apparatus. The wait for the next flight seemed eerily reminiscent of the wait for the second bus, punctuated by sporadic apologetic announcements of delays. When I finally slid into my seat on the plane, I found myself next to a slender, attractive 30ish Spanish woman using the time to do her nails, a brief whiff of acetone cutting through the mid-trip fatigue. Nice person, turned out. We got talking, my Castellano clicked in, the flight passed quickly, easily.

*********

Windowshopping along la Calle de Barquillo, Madrid (with a ghost of political graffiti past — “[Now ex-president] Aznar, Ignoramus — Resign”):

Madrid, te quiero.

Well. The last few days felt a bit like being tossed into a blender, finding myself in Madrid once I’d finally climbed out and toweled off.

The couple who are taking care of my teeny northern Vermont hilltop fiefdom arrived Sunday afternoon, pulling into the driveway in a minivan with South Dakota plates. Retired, looking to see some of the country, never having been to Vermont before. And good folks.

They’re the fourth different housesitters I’ve had since arranging my life and resources to do this splitting-existence-between-Vermont-and-Madrid thing 5+ years ago — the first ones to actually stay in the house before I’d gone. After they’d settled in some, I took them around the place, inside and out, talking about things that would need taking care of, explaining ins and outs. And at some point, I became aware that there were points when the husband, L., seemed to resist hearing about certain items, moments, apparently, when he seemed to feel that what I was saying was insultingly obvious or that he knew better. As if he simply couldn’t hear me once certain judgments kicked in.

Whatever was going on came to a head the next morning, an hour or so before they drove me into town, where I’d catch a bus and be out of their hair. A final few things had occurred to me to mention, things they might or might not already know, but that should be brought up just in case. I asked L. if he was aware of the need to prime the lawn mower, a long-suffering piece of machinery that’s performed at a level far beyond what it was designed for. His answer: of course — but instead of a simple yes and us going on to the next thing, he spread his arms, making a show of big attitude re: the question’s insulting absurdity. “I’m 60!”, he said. I blinked, then replied, “And?” K. walked into the room, saying something like, “Right, you’re 60, so you know everything.”

“I’m a mechanic!”, he continued, ignoring her comment — he’d worked for many years as an aircraft mechanic — moving on to the subject of the coal stove, making it clear he found my instructions about it all extremely obvious. I asked if he’d ever heated with coal before. A pause before he answered no, as if trying to find a way that he could say yes, then adding quickly that it made no difference, that he didn’t believe it would matter.

Hmmm. Of the three people who took care of the house previously, two — competent folks with extensive experience heating with wood — not only found a demonstration of using the stove to be helpful, they had a learning curve of a few days (as I had when I began using it), emailing me for further input, before really getting it down. All worth it because of the quality of the heat once they’d made the adjustment. The third person — not competent — never got the hang of using it and didn’t seek help in getting the hang of it, producing huge amounts of smoke in the process, leaving traces of coal and ash dust all over the house. The kind of thing that communicating with me — letting me know he wasn’t getting it, asking questions — might have prevented.

L.’s point seemed to be that I shouldn’t be wasting his time, leaving me with the choice of risking offending him further or leaving questions/concerns unexpressed on my part. Seems like a no-brainer to me — a price has been paid in the past for not mentioning concerns or not explaining things sufficiently. I’ve come back to find damage of one kind or another, or things missing. If the choice is between pissing him off and expressing things that might prevent things going undone or done poorly, I’ll go with option #2.

It was a strange display to have to wade through. All he had to do was wait another hour, hour and a half for me to be gone, give me the benefit of the doubt and let explanations he thought unnecessary pass on by. Instead, he pushed harder and more openly against me, impacting my estimation of him to the point that if his wife hadn’t been part of the package — a person who came across as solid, caring, dependable, nice to be around — I’d have seriously considered missing my flight, sending him on his way, finding someone else to take care of the place.

And yet: I pause here to remind myself that this person is a three-dimensional human being, no different from the rest of us when it comes to being a work in progress, with his share of positives and negatives that he contributes to the mix. And it’s not as if I don’t come equipped with my own fairly goofy set of issues and limitations, at times causing me to create some fairly hilarious difficulties as I’ve stumbled through this life of mine. And it may be that this happening when it did — at the end of a long process of preparing to shift my life several thousand miles to the east and leave my home in the care of two strangers — added a little heft to it.

I have no doubt L.’s intentions are good. I hope whatever was going on behind his reactions doesn’t get in the way. Could be he’s brilliant, that what he seemed to consider my stupidly unnecessary instructions and concerns will turn out to be, er, stupidly unnecessary. Okay by me if that’s what happens — just so the place is well cared for.

[continued in next entry]

**********

Philosophical graffiti along la Calle de Augusto Figueroa, Madrid (’Without love there’s nothing’):

Madrid, te quiero.

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