far too much writing, far too many photos

[continued from previous entry]

Friday morning at 7 a.m.: -8°. Chilly. I know because I was out in it, bright and far too early. At the gym during the afternoon, the condensation that collects on the inside sill of certain double-paned windows lay frozen solid.

Yesterday around the same time: 10°. By early afternoon, the temperature had floated up into the low 50s, sunshine pouring down, the air feeling positively springlike. Warm enough to compact the snow to the point that I could walk just about anywhere my little heart desired without sinking in, making deep boots or snowshoes temporarily obsolete.

I sat out on the kitchen stoop for a while, soaking up sunlight and freakishly unseasonable warmth, so much snowmelt pouring through the downspout at the near end of the house that it sounded like the hill had sprouted a brook or stream, swollen with post-rainfall water. A kind of sound I’ve never heard here before.

Seven days earlier, I’d been in Montreal, watching the day grow slowly light, sparse Saturday morning traffic moving slowly amid windblown snow, headlights shining through the gray.

I watched from my tenth floor room, enjoying the show, wading out into it late morning for what turned out to be a huge, excellent breakfast at a busy local joint (Eggspectations) where I hoovered down the best cup of espresso I’ve tasted since returning from Madrid. I also witnessed my first bona fide vat of freshly squeezed orange juice, one counterperson filling several pitchers from it, an indication of the volume of food/drink the place cranks out.

By the time I found myself standing out on the avenue in front of the hotel waiting for a bus, midafternoon had arrived, the snowfall had begun to ease up. A bus appeared in the distance, moving steadily, smoothly in my direction, through traffic and snow, riding the city street with the serene air of a sizeable ocean-going vessel, unconcerned with the smaller craft moving around it. (All right, I’m stopping with the marine metaphor.)

I rode it to the end of the line, immediately transferred to a second, far more crowded bus, the passengers as multinational a group as I’ve seen anywhere on the planet, three or four languages being spoken around me, including English with an impressive array of accents. I exited at a stop five minutes along, made the one-block hike from there to my friend Tom’s place, the local world white with new snow, fat, light flakes floating in the air like lazy, nearly incandescent confetti.

Tom and his dog, Jack, met me at the door, Jack appearing at least as happy to see me as Tom, nose sniffing at my reachable body parts, doing the euphoric, body-wriggling oh-boy-another-friendly-human thing. Tom extended a more restrained welcome.

I removed winter-weather gear, we drifted toward the kitchen. Tom flushed out his kid, Max, from his bedroom hideyhole, then briefly disappeared. Max interrogated me about having seen Brian Blessed in a fairly wild show in London, Mr. B. apparently a household idol due to his work in Black Adder.

A field trip for film and dinner had been the evening’s original plan. With the change in weather (and the absence of one of Tom’s progeny, off doing a horror film festival with friends), the film and dinner remained on deck, but transferred to the basement instead of somewhere out in Montreal’s ‘burbs. Max drifted off to devote some time to the online gaming world, cheerfully slaughtering friends and enemies, leaving Tom and I without teenage supervision for a while.

At some point, during one of far too many discussions about movies, Max and Tom decided they had to show me the highlights of a Jackie Chan film, a totally disposable movie as it turned out, except for the final 20 or so minutes, which feature a long, elaborately spectacular fight scene, as excellent as any fight scene I’ve seen anywhere. So good I’d consider buying the DVD just for that.

[continued in next entry]


Yesterday, afternoon giving way to evening:

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from entry of January 25]

The date:

Three or so months back, I received an email from a friend telling me about a woman she’d connected with at a seminar in Montreal, a native Montrealer. In one of their conversations, my friend mentioned she knew someone who really enjoyed the city, a charming, brilliant, hilarious male who intended a return visit north of the border sometime soon. The Montreal woman — M., let’s call her — suggested giving me her email address, saying she’d be happy to connect, maybe get together for coffee. No pressure of any kind, no agenda apart from two nice people linking up.

A few days after receiving that note, I sent a short email saying hello, mentioning I was writing pursuant to M.’s conversation with our mutual friend, saying I intended to be in Montreal after the turn of the year. The response: silence. No answer. Nothing, not a peep.

Weeks passed, a month, two months slipped by. Until December, when a note appeared in my virtual mailbox — from M., it turned out. Saying hello, inviting further contact. Not long after, I returned stateside, we spoke by phone, agreed to get together when I made the trek north.

That trek happened last weekend. We spoke after my arrival on Thursday, arranged to meet up for dinner the following evening, She’d swing by and pick me up at six, we’d take it from there.

And so it was that a week ago, seven days almost exactly to the hour, I found myself in a BMW, being driven through Montreal’s nighttime streets. Next to an interesting, attractive woman, on the way to a meal.

We drove to one of the city’s Friday night main drags, M. turned down a driveway, nosed the car down an alley and into a small private parking lot belonging to a friend. (It’s good to be connected.) A thick sheet of ice covered the lot, we joined hands for mutual support, shuffled slowly out to the street.

Holiday lights shone out from front windows along the avenue. Our feet navigated snow and ice encrusted sidewalks, taking us into a Thai restaurant, where a young woman guided us to a window table. The only other diners sat at the neighboring window table, the hour being early for a Friday night (one of the ways Montreal reminds me of Madrid).

The restaurant: large, strange (a variation on the tiki look predominated, all chairs featured faux leopard skin fabric). The wait staff were almost exclusively young, pretty Asian women, the food turned out to be pretty damn good. Conversation hit a speed bump or two as dinner got underway, then recovered, cruised along from there. When we pulled on warm coats and headed back out into the cold, diners sat at most tables, the atmosphere buzzed with conversation and the aromas of good food.

I suggested stopping somewhere for an after-dinner cup of, er, something, leading to a second window table, this one in a large café. Cappucino. Conversation. Another cappucino. More conversation. She hiked off to the use the facilities, on the trip back noticed a display case featuring sweet stuff. She mentioned one tempting cake in particular, did a pretty good sales job. Next thing I knew, a waitress had brought the single largest slab of chocolate mousse cake that I’d seen in years, maybe decades. I took a taste, banking on my usual discipline and disinclination toward sweets to keep me on the path of righteousness. Turned out to be so good my hand and fork began acting of their own free will, the cake disappearing in next to no time, me scraping away at the plate when the last bits had vanished, stubbornly searching for the final remaining microns.

M. began pooping out, we called it a night. During the ride to the hotel, we talked about possibly hooking up again before I bolted on Sunday, left it to be decided the next day, said good-night.

Nice woman. Great smile. (Looks like Jodie Foster when she smiles, now that I think about it.)


End of day 2.

[continued in next entry]


Late January, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

There are occasions when time’s manner of slipping stealthily past blows me away, moments, hours, days — in retrospect — seeming to have careened by at a kind of velocity that you’d think would catch my attention when I’m in the middle of it, though it rarely does. At least until it’s all gone and I’m somewhere down the temporal stream, in the middle of an entirely different calendar unit.

A week ago at this time, I was just getting comfortable in Montreal. Seven days later, I’m making my way through a different part of January, the midwinter world outside cold and blustery, hard, bright sunlight flooding the countryside as snow blows through the air. Me watching it all, appreciating the bejesus out of things that are normally so much a part of the background that I pay them little attention.

For instance: indoor plumbing. It may seem silly, but I’ll tell you what: on a day like this — classic northern Vermont winter fare — a gift as simple as indoor facilities merits a moment’s appreciation . When I glanced out the dining room window this morning, the mercury hovered around the 16 degree mark. It never rose beyond the mid-20s, a hard-edged breeze making it feel much colder. It’s nice not to have to stumble out into it to dump the ballast or wash one’s face or do the dishes.

Something else: indoor heat. The great, visceral rush of stepping into a warm house from cold winter air.

Comfortable, well-made clothing. Coats and under layers that insulate well on days like this. Winter gloves. Sturdy footwear.

And the simple ongoing show of the day as it slips past, life happening in its mundane ways on this jewel of a planet we call home.

I walked into the locker room at the gym today just as one guy was telling another the time of a party happening tomorrow, realizing a moment later that the gig was supposed to be a surprise — in honor of the individual he was talking to. “Oh, God,” he said. “I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have told you!” Then: “Don’t tell anyone I let you know!” The CYA reflex, kicking in almost immediately.

So human.

It’s good to be here, riding time’s wave through this earthly existence.


Northern Vermont, late January:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

The light went off at 11, I conked out almost immediately. Next thing I knew my head had jerked up from the pillow, I found myself in an unfamiliar (though extremely comfy) bed, a phone ringing. In the darkness, the bedside clock radio read 11:30. (11:30? Phone ringing?) Groped around, found the light, turned it on. The phone continued noisy obnoxiousness, my body — barely awake — somehow pulled itself out from under the covers, found its way across the room, grabbed the thing that wouldn’t stop with the racket. I found me watching what was going on, my little brain seemingly conscious and clear, but unable to get the physical mechanism up to speed. My mouth said “Hello” into phonal mouthpiece, barely able to wrap itself around the letters and produce an intelligible product. Must have done the job because someone on the other end responded, the voice belonging to a Montreal friend I’d called earlier (not home at that time, his son took my message, neglected to relay the part that said I’d call back another time), asking if he’d woken me up. I confirmed the unfortunate waking-me-up thing (providing full dispensation), we arranged a time to speak the next morning, rang off, me putting on a fair imitation of a high-functioning human.

Stumbled back to bed, killed the light. Pulled the covers nicely up, buried head in comfy pillow, waited to sink back into sleep. And waited. And waited. Drifted in and out of shallow, restless sleep at times, but managed nothing more. At some point, gray light began seeping around the edges of the room’s curtains, announcing morning, the sounds of traffic on the avenue below indicating the world outside coming to.

Gave up, got the day underway. In leisurely, lacking-sleep fashion. With the world outside cold and gray, I felt no big desire to toss myself out into it right away, this being a vacation weekend and all. (One side-effect of a comfy, spacious hotel room: less need to go outside when laziness beckons.)

Shower, shave, phone calls, reading. Noon approached — I pulled on coat, scarf, ventured out to a restaurant that had been recommended: an Indian buffet, conveniently situated a block away from the hotel. Walked in the door, they asked me if I had a reservation, stopping me dead. I answered no, my smile hopefully obsequious. Restaurant folk conferred, looked around (as did I, noting that most empty tables bore plaques reading ‘Réservée’). An index finger was raised in my direction by one waiter, indicating, ‘Wait! Be hopeful!’ I waited, hopeful (ever obedient when the payoff involves fragrant, fine-looking chow).

And soon found myself seated at a small table of my very own, equipped with my own little glass, my own napkin, plates, eating utensils. Secured a bowl of tasty soup, a plate of salad. Dug into them, watching the restaurant around me fill up with an array of locals, mostly office workers, the air filled with French and English. Three business types took seats at a small table to my right. One appeared to speak only French, one only English. The third, bilingual, shifted back and forth, acting as translator as they all did the verbal equivalent of the laughing, back-slapping business bonhomie thing.

To my left sat three women, all looking to be office personnel, all speaking French. Directly ahead of me sat a college-age couple, him in sweatshirt, backward baseball cap, talking loudly in English and not sounding like a mental giant. Ah, well.

Two more plates of pretty decent fare later, I headed out, eeling my way through packed tables and a long, long line of diners waiting to round up piles of the kind of stuff I’d just tossed down.

Back out in the cold Montreal air, I walked the downtown streets for a while, plenty of other folks about, the air filled with conversation, abundant shopping bags testifying to consumers enjoying the January sales.

Returned to the hotel, took advantage of the place’s free internet access. Read, hung out. Relaxing before the evening’s activity: an actual date with a female type person.

Yes, that’s right. A date. With a card-carrying representative of the other gender. Or she at least claimed to be, er, carrying. A card. Unless I misheard. (Mutters to self: Lard? Bard? Yard? How could she be carrying a yard? Had to be a card.)

A genuine female is what I’m trying to say.

[continued in entry of January 27]

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from last entry]

An admission: that last bit about two wheels in the air? A lie. Poetic license. All four wheels remained on the pavement, emitting unhappy squeals at being forced to execute undignified cross-traffic scamper. A brief scamper, over quickly, the wave of psychotic drivers past and gone the nanosecond the four wheels made up into driveway apron.

One space remained in the hotel’s driveway, I claimed it, inserted my humble, no frills, salt-streaked Vermont Subaru amid Lexii, Mercedii, etc., a kind of company it’s not used to and an indication of a choice made for this get-away. Namely, as a reward for having survived the thirty days out in the middle of northeast Vermont’s imitation of the Siberian Steppes, I procured a room at a quality joint. Big, spacious, elegant lobby. Friendly bilingual help at the counter, doing their job quickly, without fuss, handing me the keycard to a room on the tenth floor that turned out to be four times the size of the hideyhole assigned to me in the B&B last summer. Tall windows stretching across most of the room’s exterior wall, looking out on part of downtown Montréal, Mont Royal surging skyward behind tall buildings. The kind of place that generates fantasies of being able to live like that. (Hey, we all have our dreams, as short-lived as some of them may be.)

Dumped baggage, ran back downstairs to car, followed doorman’s instructions to parking garage where I descended into the bowels of the Canadian earth and left the Subaru to hibernate for three days.

Post-unpacking, I hit the street, enjoying the cold, the international mix of people swirling along the sidewalks (cellphone blabbers everywhere), the blend of languages in the air. Not much snow around, but plenty of ice, the ugly urban kind, the kind that laughs at manly, lug-treaded, winter footwear. Making stretches of innocent-looking sidewalk unexpectedly tricky to navigate, necessitating a change in walking style from standard-issue human strides to short, tight, mincing steps designed to maximize the possibility of regaining balance should a foot slide unexpectedly in an undesired direction.

I’m not much of a fan of the Old Montréal district, or at least wasn’t when I did the obligatory pass through last summer. Swamped with tourists. But as I’d recently been given a good recommendation for a bistro in that neighborhood, I decided to head down there, see how it went. Made the rusn-hour Metro ride (a walk in the park compared with after-work subway rides I’ve experienced in other places, the trip fast, easy, the train crowded by not in a tin-of-sardines way). Emerged aboveground just outside Vieux Montréal, streets nearly empty of traffic, few pedestrians about. Set off toward the St. Lawrence, holiday lights abounding, same as in Vermont, a friendly, effective countermeasure to the long, cold January nights (effective at least for holiday-light-loving freaks like myself). Shop windows shone nicely out into the evening. Passing women seemed to respond easily to a smile.

I located the correct street, turned a corner, found the restaurant. A sign in the entryway said they were closed until later this weekend. I stayed put for a minute staring at the notice, wistfully wishing it would morph into something more along the lines of WELCOME, TIRED, HUNGRY, ADORABLE TRAVELER! COME ON IN, THE MEAL’S ON US!, then gazed in at darkened space/empty tables, trying to use my feeble mental powers to transform closed/dark to open/busy, friendly staff and happy diners everywhere. Nothing doing.

Gave up, headed back the way I came. One lonely horse-drawn carriage passed, the passenger a middle-aged woman wrapped up in cold-weather clothes, the driver regaling her with loud bilingual patter, hooves’ clip-clop echoing off the surrounding storefronts. A couple of blocks away, two or three other carriages waited in front across from a lovely, old church (its towers stretching up into the darkness, windows shining with blue light), the street empty of cars and potential customers, the hackeys standing about talking, rubbing hands briskly together, looking about as if wondering what the hell they were doing there.

I passed another bistro, the day’s specials chalked onto a sidewalk sign (in French), a couple inside at a window seat deep into conversation, the sound of music drifting through the closed doors. My stomach counseled eating sooner rather than later, I gave in, stepped through the doors.

Lovely warm air. Loud music playing on in-house sound system. A waitress with a friendly face approached, said, “Bonsoir!”, guided me to a table. The music turned out to be local radio, a Quebecois version of rush-goofy hour entertainment. A stream of Celine Dion style tunes threatened to crush my will to live until the happy, chattering tag team of DJs tossed Tony Bennett’s version of Fly Me To The Moon into the mix, restoring some of my faith in life.

The waitress: excessively slim, excessively tanned. Skin looking tough and weathered from too much sun, possibly in combination with hard living. But with a nice smile and a nice manner. Food came, I shoveled it down, did some writing, sipped at a half-pint of pretty good Quebecois beer. An hour later, I was back out in the cold, heading back to the Metro across expanses of iced-up sidewalk. At some point during that hike, I wised up, began following local office workers heading to the Metro and home, people who were so familiar with the walk that they knew what course to take to avoid the slippery patches.

Back to hotel, fell into big, comfy bed, turned on the room’s big TV. Channel after channel of French-language programming, the exceptions mostly American network trash. Shut it off, picked up a book.

End of day 1. Sort of.

[continued in following entry]

España, te echo de menos.

Today: found myself awake in the wee hours, a phenomenon that’s become far too common in recent weeks. Long before dawn, my body apparently still working on Madrid time (despite our having touched down on this side of the Atlantic a month ago), rousing me hours before I’d prefer to be facing the coming day. Same kind of thing happens many evenings — early northern Vermont darkness falls, my little bod starts conking out, as if it thinks we’re still deep in the Iberian peninsula, six timezones ahead with me beginning to point myself in the direction of bed. Weird.

Anyway, this morning: turned on the bedside light, opened a book, read until I thought I might be able to convince my system to drift off again. Killed the light, closed my eyes. Kept them closed, thought sleepy thoughts, my adorable bod not falling for it. Finally surrendered, dragged myself out from under nice, comfy sheets, prepared to hit the road.

Got bags packed and stashed in the car, locked up the house, zipped into Montpelier for caffeine, muffin and fast, post-drive workout. By noon, I was pulling onto the interstate.

It’s a place I generally avoid, the interstate, ’cause as soon as I find myself on that long stretch of high-speed blacktop, the old Boston area driving reflex kicks in, the pedal goes to the metal until the scenery outside the windows is nearly a blur. Happened today, true to form, at least until I made it through Burlington and the road turned directly north, stretching out of sight toward the border. At which point I eased up, decelerated, enjoyed the scenery. Watched traffic thin out, then thin out some more. Until there was only me, heading north. When I made this drive last summer, traffic backed way the hell up at the border, U.S. customs making every vehicle pass the watchful eye of border agents. And today? Nothing. No cars, no trucks, no people. Just me rolling through, pulling up to the single open Canadian entry lane, where a bored agent stared off into the distance as he lay the required questions on me, doing them at sharply caffeinated speed, as if he were reading from a chart after hoovering down far too many cups of coffee. Whipped through them, made a dismissive waving motion with one hand, and I was gone.

Not much snow on the ground in southern Québec. Just small towns, bare cornfields stretching off into the distance, dramatic skies.

(Now that I think about it, the snow petered quickly out west of Montpelier. In contrast to the part of Vermont’s little world east of Montpeiler, which remains under plenty of snow despite last week’s thaw and yesterday’s downpours. Two fresh inches covered everything this morning, the world outside white, white white.)

And traffic remained strangely light nearly all the way into Montréal, finally picking up on the approach to the bridge over the St. Lawrence. The highway dumped incoming drivers directly into the downtown streets, as it does, Vermont’s looming hills long gone, replaced by looming buildings, streets filled with vehicles, sidewalks busy with pedestrians. And in keeping with a custom begun 2-3 years ago, during my first attempt to navigate the thoroughfares of Montréal, I found myself unable to locate the street I needed, cruising city streets in search of my destination. Winding up on an avenue I had no interest in, funneled west along with far too many other drivers, finally squeaking through a traffic light just as green became red, leaving everyone else behind. Then able to locate a street heading vaguely in the direction I thought I wanted, without the company of a crowd of wacked out drivers shouting into cellphones or working their horns.

Found myself heading up through Mont Royal Park, an area I’d been through on the last trip, following that long, sinuous detour up and over the hill into the Mont Royal neighborhood. Trusted my instinct from there, my inner compass kicked in, guided me to where I needed to go (the drive’s denoument a two-wheels-in-the-air U-turn to make it into the hotel driveway ahead of crazed oncoming traffic, years of scrabbling my way through the no-nonsense streets of Boston/Cambridge paying off.)

[continued in next entry]

España, te echo de menos.

Yesterday afternoon: me in the gym lockerroom, post-sweatyness, pulling on clothes. No one else around, the place quiet. I’m buttoning, I’m zipping, lost in thought. I sit down, begin to pull on boots. From the line of winter coats hanging a few feet away, a cheery song starts quietly up. It play for a while — faint, well-mannered — then stops. A few seconds later, from a different coat, another song begins, plays quietly for five or ten seconds, stops. As I’m leaving, yet another starts up.

Cellphones, left in coat pockets.

And this is one of the nice aspects of a small town. People can leave cellphones like that, in a coat pocket, knowing the phone will still be there when the coat gets pulled on post-workout, its human heading back out to the day. Same way lots of folks here return a smile on the street, return a hello.

This morning: me, in bed, drifting and out of sleep. The house lay still, absolutely quiet, the world outside quiet as well. And at some point, I became aware of the sound of footsteps off in another part of the building. Quiet, but clear. My eyes opened, I listened, knowing that all outside doors were locked, that I was the only person on premises. The steps ceased, I heard silence, nothing more. The household ghost, first time I’ve heard it in well over a year.

Rain fell all morning, the temperature hovered around the freezing mark, slowly edging upward as the hours passed, the air feeling soft, almost balmy. Serious, intense rainfall, generating plentiful snowmelt that combined with the rising temperature to produce fog (snow ghosts, I’ve heard this kind of fog called), drifting in spectral fashion across the fields and hills. A week ago, we had a two or three day long thaw, followed immediately by days of intense, bitter cold. Snowmelt from the thaw gathered in large pools, the ground too hard to absorb it, refreezing when the mercury plunged. A week ago I had a driveway. Now I have a skating rink. A big one.

If this keeps up, I may be forced to round up skates, see if my inner Brian Boitano wants to come out and play.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

A few things I’m appreciating the hell out of:

– A fair number of local businesses and homeowners have left their Christmas lights up as a countermeasure to the long Vermont January nights. I will confess that the short days and recent spells of extreme cold have been having an effect on my state of mind — coming across displays of holiday lights shining through the darkness feels very nice.

– Time spent with people. It’s far too easy for me to spend far too much time holed up at home, alone, situated out in the middle of deep-winter nowhere as I am, especially during days of seriously frigid conditions. A neighbor told me about a Spanish-speaking potluck dinner happening two nights ago — I called the place hosting it, had a nice conversation with one of the women in charge. Showed up Sunday night, finding myself in a large, sprawling Vermont farmhouse, amid an unruly collection of folks seated around a long, communal table. Speaking mostly primitive Spanish, eating Mexican style chow, a couple of kids and a pair of dogs slipping in and out of the congenial chaos. A major contrast to my living sitch, recently feeling a bit too quiet and sedate. The house appeared to be the base for a small spiritual community, Tibetan prayer flags hung here and there, pieces of funky artwork were scattered about. Conversation, laughter, motion, energy, decent food, and time spent chatting with the neighbor who clued me in to the event. Then this evening, an hour spent in Montpelier (post manly gym visit) speaking Spanish with two locals at a café/hippy-dippy buffet style joint. One of the other attendees speaks pretty high-level Castellano, the other has a good aptitude for languages, is not afraid of tossing himself into it, screw-ups and all. Simple conversation — good medicine for too much time spent alone.

– Money — specifically, having enough to be able to splurge on a handful of impulse buys. Some DVDs, some good food. Modest stuff, bringing real pleasure to days when life begins to feel like it’s closing in.

– Daydreams, mostly about heading off to other parts of the world. A Canadian friend arrived in India last week, is sending out the occasional short email dispatch. In French, similar enough to Spanish that I can understand it, the brief bulletins provoking major bouts of imagining myself there (eating hellaciously good Indian food). A friend has offered the possibility of house/dog-sitting in northwest Spain for three or so weeks at the end of February, beginning of March. Don’t know if it will work out, my immediate future being so up in the air, but it has my wheels spinning in good ways.

Thursday I head up to Montreal for three days, for a shot of other-placeness. Hang out with friends, eat good food, check out the winter version of a very international city. A good way to open out my little world for a while.


January afternoon, East Montpelier, Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

Yesterday evening, for some inexplicable reason, someone intent on driving me into a state of nervous collapse dropped a quarter into the jukebox that’s tucked deeply away in the recesses of my teeny little brain. The song that began playing (over and over and over): the theme song from The Jeffersons. (Oh, I’m movin’ on up, MOO-VIN’ ON UP!….)

Why that particular tune at that particular time? I have no clue. Many long, joyful years have passed since I saw my last episode of The Jeffersons. Not that I have anything against George, Louise, Lionel, their goofy English neighbor or the hilarity that followed the opening song every single week. It’s just that my life is full and happy without them. And the ongoing repetition of that spirited ditty gets me wanting to rip and claw at my head until I can reach inside and find the off switch.

I can’t remember the last time I heard that theme song, much less sat through an episode of the show. Way the hell back, many lifetimes ago, predating even the eleven or so months spent working at the program’s production company. A gig I stumbled into during 16 strange months spent in L.A., where I ended up after dropping out of my one and only marriage and fleeing cross-country.

The marriage, by the way, was not the problem. For the most part, I was the problem. Too young, too unhappy. Desperately insecure, flailing about beneath the weight of a miserable self-image. Doing my best, god knows, but that, in some ways, is not saying much. And though I married a lovely, intelligent, affectionate, talented woman, an excellent person all around, and with the finest intentions in the world loved her as best I could, I got hitched out of loneliness, not love. Not a foundation that would sustain the union, at least not in this particular case.

And when I finally precipitated out and bolted cross-country, I found myself in North Hollywood, ensconced in an apartment over a three-bay garage, making substantial money doing temporary word processing, a gig that landed me in a sprawling suite of offices in a high-rise building in Century City. Tandem Productions, home to Norman Lear, creator of All In The Family and The Jeffersons, and his two partners, producers of Blade Runner. Where I spent eleven months amid a strange, extravagant mix of personalities, a blend of IT geeks, show-biz types and a rainbow assortment of support staff, dramas and melodramas unfolding all around (some of which, with time, included me). Some great people, some truly weird folks, and some great, truly weird individuals, all of whom had their moments of shining, some in enjoyable, benevolent ways, others in darker, messier ways, their flaws and vulnerabilities on sad display.

(Blah blah blah.)

I had no direct contact with Norman Lear and his partners, apart from him passing silently through my workroom on a couple of occasions to use its access door to the floor’s elevators. But I found myself at one point charged with inputting his rolodex into the computer, a collection of big-name phone numbers/addresses that gave me the illusion of rubbing elbows with the higher strata of L.A.’s entertainment industry. (Providing me with that year’s perfect Christmas gift for two or three women I knew: Harrison Ford’s details — me printing them up, cutting them out to fit into tiny gift boxes that I wrapped with tiny red ribbons, presenting them to the women and savoring their wide-eyed, open-mouthed expressions on seeing the contents. None attempted to contact him, for which I gave silent thanks, though one claimed to have driven by his house at a moment when he stood at a front window, looking out at the street.)

Which describes part of my L.A. experience in a nutshell — finding myself in situations or knowing people that provided encounters with famous faces. Vicarious encounters, generally — once removed — though every once in a while firsthand.

For instance: Century City, lunch hour, me at a local bank, cashing my weekly paycheck. Standing on line, minding my own business, looking at the check, looking out the bank’s floor-to-ceiling windows at the lunch hour world outside, lost in thought. Glancing absently about, noticed at some point that someone I knew had queued up behind me. Or thought I knew. Someone who’d been in my home numerous times via the T&V, frequently enough that the experience of running into her in 3-D felt like encountering a personal acquaintance. Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford), looking far more human than she did on the tube: bags under the eyes, sagging skin below the chin. The real world version of Louise Jefferson.

She didn’t look at me, didn’t speak to anyone. I let her alone, cashed my check, went on with the day.

And here, years later, my teeny brain is flogging her theme music. Go figure.

The temperature yesterday and today has lifted itself above the freezing mark, the air softening, the snow softening, the expressions on people’s faces softening into hopeful smiles. I’ve heard a couple of folks refer to it as the January thaw, which gets me looking around, puzzled. I associate thaws as occasions of sunshine, warm temperatures, abundant patches of green ground poking through, happy birds flitting about, singing with joy — not gray, chilly, quiet in typical Vermont January fashion. I mentioned that to a guy in the gym lockerroom this afternoon after he used the ‘thaw’ word. His response: a laughing shake of the head at my foolishness, saying, “Hey, let’s not get crazy now.”


The sadists in the local weather biz are promising things will get far crazier tomorrow, with temperatures rising giddily into the mid-40s.

We’ll see.


Today, light streaming over northern Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

A short time ago I made the mistake the turning on the radio. Looking for one program, finding myself listening to the Alito hearings instead. Tuning in during comments being delivered by a member of Congress, him sounding like a self-important bag of hot gas, spewing partisan rubbish. Doesn’t matter which side of the issue he was on — it would be clear to anyone who had paid minimal attention to recent disclosures of the candidate’s past decisions and writings that the Congressperson was, er, giving short shrift to what some might call objective reality.

This is why I pay as little attention as possible to the political world on this side of the Atlantic — it doesn’t foster peace of mind. Much less trust in fellow humans.

Five or ten seconds after tuning in, I tuned out. Shut the radio off, turned my attention elsewhere.

Much better.


This afternoon, the view from here:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Since arriving back here in the wee hours last Tuesday, post New Year’s weekend fun and games, I’ve found myself resisting productive activity. In an extremely effective, passive-aggressive, foot-dragging way. To the point that it got me wondering. (It’s a good thing, wondering. Kind of like thinking, something I should maybe do more of.) Which led me to the conclusion that I might want to pay attention and consider following my body’s urgings without making a big hairy deal about it. I worked hard all autumn long between one thing and another, and the nearly three months in Madrid were fairly intense, my sleep patterns mostly blown to hell courtesy of the construction/chaos happening all around me there. My body, I think, has finally adjusted to being back in this part of the world and is ready to recharge its, er, biobatteries.

This house — given where it is, out in the middle of snow-covered northern Vermont nowhere — is a prime spot for quiet time. I did a lot of that my first winter up here, a bunch of years back. Laying on the couch — the first genuinely comfortable couch I’ve ever bought, worth every sheckel I forked out for it — reading, snoozing, listening to music. Good therapy.

This is why it’s been taking forever to finish the entry about Provincetown/New Year’s weekend. Not that you asked. I’m just saying.

It’ll get done. Sometime soon. In the meantime, I can hear the sofa calling.


Madrid, te echo de menos.

This morning, northern Vermont — sunrise through lightly falling snow:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

[continued from entry of Jan. 3]

A high point: tooling around town on S.’s bike, the air cool and soft, the streets relatively quiet. First time I’d been on a bike in over a year, reminding me of how much I enjoyed life in Cambridge/Boston during the years when a bicycle was my main mode of transport. Provincetown is a funky, interesting spot, an excellent place to explore on two wheels, though the experience might be different during the high season, the warm-weather streets crammed with cars/trucks and crowds of wandering humans.

The population density is intense during the high season, the buildings crammed together along the main drags – a mix of old wood-frame structures (some lovely, others plain, some modest, others rebuilt in the McMansion mode) and new condos — filled with folks enjoying the water, the weather, the shops, the art and music, the ongoing show provided by sea of humans streaming along town sidewalks and streets. Old telephone poles line many streets, listing this way and that, overhead power and telephone lines numerous in a way they rarely are in these days of underground cables. During the warm season, the water and the people predominate. During the off months, the village itself becomes a presence, the cables and lines hanging overhead, ubiquitous. The town’s nervous system.

And during the off season a huge percentage of the businesses that line the streets around the town’s center close down, nearly giving the place the aspect of a ghost-town. The businesses: restaurants (from diners to high-end/big bucks), art galleries, art galleries, art galleries, more restaurants, the occasional café, bar, pharmacy. And a few wild cards — done up in wackier, more eccentric fashion than their more conventional, relatively restrained neighbors.

New Year’s morning: me taking a good long time to wake up, eventually going out for a lengthy walk as my hosts did other things, stopping along the way at a nearly empty high-end coffee joint for a desperately-needed espresso. As the two women behind the counter took my order, I discovered I’d left my folding money back at G&S’s place, had only a small handful of change, nowhere near enough for the joe. The women wished me a happy new year, brewed up a decent looking cuppa, gave it to me on the house, me dumping all my change into the big tip jar while grovelling with thanks. Next morning, I stopped in, dumped further $$$ into the gratuity kitty — the grand total more than the actual cost of the espresso and worth every cent. (The espresso: not so great, I’m afraid. The overall experience: excellent.)

January 2 turned out to be more relaxed than expected, a morning of entertaining myself biking around town giving way to a long afternoon meal with G&S, then a group hike up the road in the soft, early January light. Stopping to look in at shop windows, barging into a gallery to snoop around (the three women chatting inside surprised to find themselves under siege despite the CLOSED sign hanging on the door, handling the invasion with good-natured grace). Ending up at a high-end kitchen/bath shop where I swanned contentedly about, trailing G&S as they took a good, long time rounding up food prep. gadgets. And all day long, as we wandered from one low-key activity to another, people hauled luggage out to cars and took off, leaving behind a town growing quieter by the hour.

By the time we managed to organize, get car packed, cram ourselves into it and begin the return drive to Cambridge, darkness had fallen. Word had come to S&G via a phone call with a friend in Boston that a noreaster was approaching, the gnomes in the weather biz warning it would arrive during the night. Which made up my mind for me re: the question of catching a few hours’ sleep in Cambridge or getting immediately on the road to Vermont. From the Cape back up to the Arctic. Wheeee!

And that’s what I did. The drive to Boston/Cambridge confounded my expectations, turning out to be a breeze, traffic light and smooth. Rain had begun falling in the city, after a brief refueling stop in a Korean restaurant (where I followed S.’s example and ordered a dish in a ceramic bowl — delivered to the table piping hot, the bowl designed to keep it hot with the result that the food never cooled off; might have been tasty, I can’t say for sure — I was too busy cauterizing my taste buds), I hit the road, heading north. The rain petered out around the New Hampshire border, the roads remained dry the rest of the way. My energy began to flag as the Vermont border drew near, I passed the trip’s last hour exploring different strategies aimed at keeping my eyes open — self-talk, vigorous face rubs, opening/closing windows, the occasional slap to one or both cheeks. Thank god I was not being videotaped.

And finally home — to fields covered with snow, to a cold house, to sleep under a mountain of covers. Dreaming about travels to come.

A Canadian friend is heading to India next week for three months — the thought of the adventures (and excellent food) that await get me excited like I cannot tell you.

So I won’t. At least not right this nanosecond.

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Yesterday: January sky, pre-snow:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

Life took over last week, as it sometimes does when existence gets sloppily intense. Far too many things demanding far too much attention, the ongoing adjustment to being back in northern Vermont and not in Madrid limping along at its own pace. I continue to wake up in the wee hours as if my adorable bod were still operating on Spanish time, the inner clock set six timezones ahead. Mostly I can feel I won’t be drifting off again, make my way through the Kubler-Ross process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), drag myself out from under the lovely warm sheets, pull on clothes, stumble downstairs to get the stove cranking for the day.

Mind you, I’m not complaining about existence getting sloppily intense. Compared to recent Madrid days of coexistence with encroaching construction, this long, untidy span of north country reacclimation is fine. Or doable. Reasonably benign.

So. A quiet Christmas, joining neighbors for a first-class dinner, weirded out all over again by scheduling here — the event getting underway at 5, me heading home by 8 (going Huh?), an hour early enough that in Madrid the evening’s entertainment would not yet have commenced. The neighbors: an interesting bunch, her a chef running a small café and a catering biz, him a photographer, both their beautiful daughters a pleasure to be around. Their version of the holidays: multicultural, with Christmas, Hanukkah and assorted paganish/solsticey frufru coexisting in harmony. (To any who might feel outraged by that: deal with it.)

Conversation, food prep., manorah lighting, sitting down to an excellent dinner. I tend not to eat a whole of meat when I’m on this side of the Atlantic — don’t ask me why, just works out that way. On the far side of the Atlantic, meat’s more a normal part of my life, meat of all kinds (the Spaniards being a crew that will essentially consume anything that moves). Not here. So the fact that someone not only prepared a killer meal for me, but handed me a plate of prime rib to douse in gravy and scarf down was a major event. And latkes, a pile of latkes. (Yee-ha!)

An interesting aspect of the event: the father — a good guy, intelligent and capable — seemed to feel that the younger of the two daughters needed to be controlled, that her spirit and energy represented the threat of chaos. And what do I know, I haven’t spent a whole of time around her. But I think she’s a genuine delight — bright, good-natured, impish, with one of the most infectious laughs I’ve come across in a long time. A great kid, someone I suspect will be a force to reckon with as she grows older.

Anyway. So went Christmas day — here then gone, passing at disturbing speed. A few post-Christmas days later, I found myself up early one morning shoving some bags into the car, headed south to hook up with friends in Cambridge, Mass. and continue south to Cape Cod. To Provincetown, where G&S have a condo, to pass an extended weekend in the relative quiet of the Cape’s off-season.

An interesting place, Provincetown — a potent mixture of natural beauty (heavy on ocean and beaches), people of all kinds (heavy on gay and arty types, but attracting folks of all stripes from all over, some with big $$$, others with slim, even nonexistent finances), wild energy during the high season, and a more reflective, meditative atmosphere during the rest of the year.

Compared to the high season, the town seemed quiet, nearly empty, many shops closed and dark, far fewer folks than normal about. With nightfall, however, Christmas lights came quietly to life, the few open restaurants did good business, the sounds of conversation and laughter audible as groups of people walked the narrow streets. And this being the holidays, the few humans about were in socializing mode. The result: a weekend largely spent at get-togethers, in the company of many friendly people, everyone into the spirit of it all.

The low point: 30 minutes of an otherwise top-notch New Year’s Eve dinner when an otherwise lovely group of nitwits people cranked the TV, forcing me to watch the Times Square falling ball thing.

[continued in entry of Jan. 6]


Yesterday morning — Provincetown, Massachusetts:

This evening — East Calais, Vermont:

Madrid, te echo de menos.

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