far too much writing, far too many photos

[continued from previous entry]

I have never experienced the kind of friendliness toward strangers that’s come my way during this swing across the Atlantic. It’s been clear since my first time outside London (whenever the hell that was — three or so years ago now) that there’s a real warmth to the English character, a kind of warmth that extends itself easily. But since my first afternoon in Newcastle-under-Lyme, a week ago, when folks passing on the High street dropped a hello or a wink, there’s been a friendliness and curiosity that’s prompted all sorts of people to strike up conversation, especially during this last couple of days. It’s caught me by surprise (in the nicest possible way).

So. Yesterday morning, 8 a.m. sharp: hammering. Not at the door — across the narrow street from the hotel, where a building has been gutted and is being restored as flats. Though it could just as easily come from down the block, or around the corner, because there’s work going on everywhere. The plague of rehab., construction and public works that’s made life in Madrid so messy and chaotic has hit Sevilla. (The simple mention of this to the cabbie who drove me out to the airport yesterday evening provoked a confirming monologue at once exasperated, dismayed and resigned.) A short-term solution: stuff earplugs into the appropriate apertures. I did so, dropping back off for a while, eventually pulling myself out from the, er, compact single bed that came with my one-person hotel cell, making myself vaguely presentable, stumbling out for caffeine.

When trying to decide on an establishment for food/drink in an area I’m unfamiliar with, I sometimes follow the crowds, working on the assumption that a place might be popular for good reasons. A joint down the block from the hotel seemed to be heaving with Spaniards, I followed a group of people in. Found a spot at the bar, ordered an espresso, asked for a croissant. No croissants, they told me, adding insult to injury by handing me a cup of offensively mediocre brew. Finished up quickly, paid up, went to another, quieter place further along the street. Better coffee. And croissants — good ones. A leisurely while later, I headed off for the first of many long walks through the city center.

I’m not entirely sure why walking seems so therapeutic to me. Could be the people-watching, could be the ongoing process of trawling for things to aim a camera at, could be the losing myself in the simple activity of moving, covering ground, with senses on full input. Whatever it is, it works. Big-time, inexpensive therapy (though potentially hard on feet shod in pointy boots).

Sidestreet graffiti, Sevilla

At some point, I became aware that a song had lodged itself in my teeny brain and begun playing itself over and over — a quirk that’s been happening far too often this last week. A few days back, after a discussion about Queen, ‘We Are The Champions’ took up cerebral residence, hanging around for many hours. This morning, waking up in a hotel room in Liverpool, I realized that ‘Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey’ had somehow taken root overnight and was running on an endless loop. (Someone please shoot me.) The song in Sevilla was a tune I’d heard from a nearby radio — happily, I can’t remember it, meaning it won’t have the opportunity to lodge itself in my gray matter a second time — providing a soundtrack as I walked, finally fading and giving way to the sounds of the city.

[continued in next entry]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The east end of la Plaza Nueva on a spring morning — Sevilla

España, te quiero.

Yesterday morning: gray skies, rain, me getting ready to hop a plane for a fast couple of days in Spain. My host, Dermot — one of the most patient, generous people I’ve ever had the dumb luck to count as a friend — left for work before I roused myself, leaving me a quiet house to stumble around in as I gathered what passes, in my case, for wits before heading out.

Packed. Dumped bags in rear of rental car. Returned car to agency, where a friendly lad named Simon wrapped up the rental hooha and drove me to the train station in Stoke.

Found myself on a two-car train tooling through an area of rundown businesses and buildings, followed by English countryside. That ride terminated outside Manchester, a half-hour later a sleek Virgin train pulled in, collected me, spat me out in Liverpool — gray, damp, but interesting. An exceptionally likeable, exceptionally loquacious cabbie drove me out to John Lennon Int’l airport, talking enthusiastically about anything that came to mind — life in Liverpool, local points of interest, his coming retirement, the Beatles.

Anonymous traveler, between Stoke-on-Trent and Liverpool, England

Sometime later, I found myself in a Ryan Air 737, the British landscape dwindling below, clouds giving way to sunlight. A genial 60-something couple from outside Liverpool — her looking and sounding English, him looking Irish as all get-out but sounding 100% British — provided conversation for much of the next three hours, confirming my general experience with the English from the midlands: warm, friendly, enjoyable folks.

And then the plane touched down outside of Sevilla, I found myself out in cool evening air following a straggling line of folks into the terminal, herded in no-nonsense fashion along the marked path, that slightly anal intro offset by a friendly smile and Hola from a pretty 20-something Spanish woman outside the terminal doors.

One immediate contrast between the U.K. and Spain — in Manchester, my bag literally appeared the moment I walked into the baggage reclaim area, almost like magic. In Sevilla, we waited. And waited. Twenty-five minutes later — plenty of time to check phone messages, send textmessages, watch fellow waiters, walk about doing nothing in particular apart from wait — my monster wheeled-duffel appeared, freeing me to grab a taxi.

The scene outside the terminal: strangely chaotic, a long line of travelers diving for a long line of taxis. When I finally got a cab, I asked the driver if he was familiar with the hotel I’d be staying at, a small one tucked away along a narrow backstreet used mostly by pedestrians. No answer. I let him get underway, then mentioned the street and hotel again, asked him once more if he was familiar with. His answer: a diatribe saying of course he knew, why was I bothering him after I’d supplied the information he needed. Pure silliness, me waiving it off, feeling far too pleased to be back on Spanish… — well, not soil exactly, but close enough — to let meaningless dreck bother me. I cut through it, asked nicely how life in Sevilla was going, asked how the Sevilla fútbol teams was doing, the second question sparking a long, rambling conversation which got interrupted once we were in Sevilla proper when another taxi pulled up next to us and the driver pulled up next to us, asking my cabbie why he hadn’t turned off his green ‘available’ light. His answer: a joking shpiel about giving me a free ride, during which I began realizing that the guy had decided to do my ride off the books, it dawning on me that the guy saw me as a mark, nothing more, would likely charge me an inflated fare at the end of the ride.

And shortly after, he turned off the main avenue that would have taken us near my hotel, began following narrow streets for far, far, far too long, blathering the entire time, arriving finally at the hotel where he charged me too much, saying, “Cheap for a nice person like you”. And I found myself feeling so happy to be done with the ride, so pleased to be back in the streets of Sevilla, that I paid it and surprised him with a tip before skipping off into the hotel.

Checked in, dumped my bags in the room, went back out to enjoy the barrio’s active nighttime streets. Restaurants and bars all around were open and alive with people, their energy spilling out doors and windows.

Walking eventually took me past a restaurant that advertised a decent-sounding menú del día, I entered to find the place empty except for a non-Spanish-speaking 60-something English couple seated at the rear, having some trouble communicating with the owner. Feeling at my meddling best, I tossed myself into the breach, helped get their meal ordered, then grabbed a table and studied a menu. The owner of the joint took my order, brought me a small beer and a basket of rolls and breadstick curlicues, I started in on it, feeling absurdly pleased with existence. The owner’s wife got to work in the kitchen, the smell of food prep. practically put me in an altered state.

Food arrived, I inhaled it. Two 30-something Spanish women entered, accompanied by a 40ish Spanish male, they planted themselves at a neighboring table. I happily eavesdropped, tossing down food and drink. When my various plates had been scraped clean and I’d hoovered down an after-chow decaf., I stopped to say good-night to the Brits, wound up talking with them for quite a while. From Durham, near Newcastle, they’d spent the last six weeks traveling south through France and into Spain until their car seized up in Sevilla, the problem being a part that had to be ordered from the U.K., leaving them stranded here until it arrived — more than a week so far. I let them know they could have picked far worse places to spend days on end with nothing to do but enjoy themselves, they agreed, we talked on. They finally invited me to sit down and join them (no, I had not been hinting around), I thanked them and declined, feeling the growing need to put myself to bed.

Returned to the hotel, turned on the tube, listened to programs dubbed in Spanish until the light went out and I drifted off.

[continued in next entry]

España, te quiero.

Quotes heard yesterday:

From the despairing coach of a local soccer club, watching one of his players during a match:
“Fuck, he’s turning away! Every time the ball comes near him, he turns away!”

From an audience member to a companion after attending a performance of the Mozart Requiem at the beautiful Litchfield Cathedral:
“It’s always the same here, isn’t it? Two of your senses are indulged because of the music and a third sense is in turmoil from these bloody seats.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Attempting to take a team photo of a local soccer squad, the lads a high-spirited bunch not yet managing to focus — Newcastle-under-Lyme, England:

España, te echo de menos.

Wednesday morning: my flight touched down in Manchester around ten, a short time later I staggered out of baggage reclaim to find an old friend waiting, and the sight of his friendly face was a balm to my sleep-deprived spirit. He relieved me of one of my bags, gently herded my bleary self out of the terminal into morning sunlight. (Sunlight! In Manchester! I sat next to a tired pilot on the flight up from London, him returning home after working all night. We looked out the window at English countryside awash in sunshine, he said he’d moved to Manchester from Glasgow for his current job and described Manchester as a place where if it wasn’t already raining, it was getting ready to rain.)

Dermot and I filed into a nearly-empty elevator. One or two floors later, a swarm of people joined us, all free space disappearing. When my guardian angel and I got off at the top floor, the mob remained inside, all of them having elected to crowd into an upward-bound lift instead of wait for a descending one.

Dermot’s ride: a Porsche (Dermot being something of a car nut, getting immense pleasure out of being able afford a sporty, eye-catching number like that), parked out in the sunlight, its trunk just large enough to fit my stuff into. We mounted up (or mounted down, the vehicle being a ground-hugger — first time I’d sat in a Porsche in, er, maybe forever), Dermot fired it up, and we were off, me paying what attention I could muster to the driving-on-the-other-side-
of-the-road stuff ’cause I intended to do some of it this trip.

He chose a route that extended through sparsely populated country. Horse farms, expensive houses behind tall hedges, expanses of green grass stretching off into the distance. And sunshine pouring down on it all. Lovely.

Something that made it lovelier (warning: far too much unsavory information coming): at some point during the early hours on the flight over from the States, for some unknown reason — airline food? air pressure? — my bod began producing noxious gases. Might not have been a problem given the plane’s high ambient noise level and near gale-force air circulation, except that for some reason my body refused to vent — the poisonous vapors remained trapped in my nether regions, growing quickly uncomfortable, then a bit painful. Stayed that way through landing at Heathrow, through the delightful early morning forced march through miles of airport hallways, through the forced bus ride between terminals, through the forced herding through customs checkpoints, and all the way through the flight between London and Manchester. Arrival in Sunny Manchester and the presence of a friend apparently induced systemwide relaxation, the problem slowly relieved itself with surprising stealth and a gratifying absence of damaging odors, causing neither embarrassment nor damage to car/passengers.

This is my first time in Dermot’s new home, ‘new’ meaning purchased after my last stopover in the U.K. two years ago — it turns out to be a lovely little semi-detached house, a comfortable space to live in with a fair number of windows, which means plenty of light and a sense of airiness. Which some might consider a mixed blessing, given the house’s location: fronting a small road which in turn fronts a small fringe of trees, which in turn fronts a fairly major highway, six lanes in all if one counts the exit/entrance ramps that send vehicles whizzing past. (On the other hand, I remind myself, beyond the dual carriageway, the earth extends off in rolling expanses, a gentle valley rising gradually toward low hills — a fine view.)

Himself in his lair, at leisure.

The house sits at the bottom of a sizeable hill, the slope of the land pronounced enough to threaten cardiac misfunction for anyone with the bad judgment to attempt walking up the bugger. A nice home in a weird site, though not unbearably weird — the neighborhood has its middle-class charm. Including a house around the corner belonging to a motorcycle gang, The Outlaws U.K. — a den of iniquity that apparently provokes the occasional police raid, but not at all a hovel. A presentable building the owners clearly take pride in, maintaining it to a level that fits in with the neighborhood.

[this entry in progress]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Late afternoon, rain clouds breaking up — Newcastle-under-Lyme, England:

España, te echo de menos.

Yesterday morning: woke up early, something that sometimes happens the morning of a big travel day. Real damn early in this case, the kind of early that provokes half-awake mumbled complaints. My eyes opened, the bedside clock’s readout read 3:54. Pulled myself out from under nice warm covers, made the stumble to the loo to dump the ballast. Returned to the bedroom, resumed horizontal position. Pretended to sleep, hoping I’d fool my bod into drifting off. No dice.

Seven hours later, I stood at the end of the driveway in Montpelier (where my car will hang out until my return) waiting for a taxi. Enjoying sunlight filtering down through clouds, temperature in the 30’s. Somewhere off in the neighborhood, a cardinal sang. A hopeful sound, promising imminent spring. (It better be imminent or one of these wintry mornings that cardinal and his cheery compatriots will be found frozen to the ground.)

At the bus stop, a couple got out of a car, clearly country folk. Him: a big bear of a guy with an imposing belly, a gold stud in one ear, longish brown hair, a salt and pepper beard, dark glasses, thick hands that always seemed to be in motion. Compared to him, the woman — smaller, quieter, with thick features, looking like a person from the back country — almost seemed to disappear. They pulled one suitcase after another from the car, each one progressively bigger. Moving to South Carolina, they said, making the shift by bus. One of their bags was a cooler, they brought it onboard. Once seated, he pulled out a can of Mountain Dew, took pulls from it, every now and then a drop of liquid fell from his beard to his stomach bulge.

My first seat companion: a college-age woman, plugged into a personal CD player. Didn’t talk, just listened to tunes, drifting in and out of sleep.

The bus headed south, the austere late winter/early spring beauty of Vermont all around, fields and forested land riding the curves of rolling land. Fifteen, twenty minutes south of Montpelier, all snow pretty much vanished, the landscape a combination of the silver and gray of bare trees, the light brown of dormant grass, the green of fir trees. Above it all, dilute sunlight filtered through patchy clouds, blue sky. The only real snow/ice were the frozen cascades of water stretching down the faces of rock outcroppings.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

T-shirt seen in Heathrow airport early this morning, worn by a portly gent:
Do you want to ride my FAT BODY?

España, te echo de menos.

That jaunt to the U.K. I mentioned in the last entry? Happens tomorrow. I will be hauling my adorable carcass out of bed at far too early an hour to catch a bus down to Logan Airport in Boston. From there, well, you know — points east.

The first day of spring brought hours of light snow, in keeping with these days of winter reasserting of itself. I headed out at far too early an hour, made the post office in the village a mile from here the first stop to put mail on hold for the next month. A grizzled 60-something woman stood at the counter, a small box in front of her — recently-arrived mail, apparently. Marked “LIVE CHICKS.” And sure enough, the peeping of many tiny voices emanated from it, that small enclosure packed with a dozen or so chicks of an exotic Chinese breed. The woman lifted the lid now and then to look in at them or address them reassuringly — didn’t look to me like it made them feel any better about their lot, though one of the inmates took advantage of a lid-raising to attempt to go over the wall. (I’d have done the same.) Unsuccessfully, baby chicken legs not having the oomph to get the job done. And just before I left, the woman reached in, gently pulled out one of the chicks — as she said, not your standard breed. Colored white, brown, tan, with a tuft of feathers on top of its tiny head that looked kind of like an oversized beret.

Country life.

I’m in pretty good shape as far as packing and other prep. Might be because I decided to cut myself some slack and blow off other work waiting to get done. It’ll have to continue waiting. The sun poked through the overcast during the afternoon, the first real blast of blue sky and golden light in three or four days — lifted my spirits very nicely.

Tomorrow a.m., I drive into Montpelier, take care of one or two remaining errands, suck down a shot of caffeine, leave my car in a generous friend of a friend’s driveway and drag my bags to the bus station. Wednesday morning, I’ll stumble off a plane in Manchester, England where a friend will be waiting to whisk me away. From there, who knows? Different scenery, English accents, fun and games. And just in time. I’m hankering for some adventure.

Reports will follow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Northern Vermont, light springtime snow falling:

España, te echo de menos.

My eyes opened at 3:58 a.m., saw the readout on the bedside clock, closed again. My little brain did not return to sleep, though. Too cranked up, apparently, occupied with things needing to be done. And there’s a pile of things needing to be done, a growing pile, some of it tasks or labor that would need to be performed/resolved anyway, some of it things to be taken care of before I hop a plane on Tuesday and head to the U.K. for a month (yee-ha!). And then there’s the need to speak with Telefónica, the Spanish phone company.

When I bolted the flat in Madrid in December, I suspended the phone service, a condition Telefónica told me they allow for three months max. Tomorrow makes three months. Instructing them to cut off the service should be simple, you’d think: call ‘em up, say cut it off (a phrase that should be used with caution outside of this particular context, though in Spanish it might not have quite the same genital-shrinking connotation). The problem: the phone numbers the company provides for information and customer service don’t function from outside the country. I’ve tried calling other Telefónica numbers and asking them to transfer me to an appropriate number — they refused, telling me I needed to call international information here in the States. Which would be fine except that I have so far had no luck with international info. here in the States, though I’ll keep trying in the hope that one of the helpful gnomes there will break down and put in the effort needed to track down a functioning number. Email seems to be out, as I’ve been unable to find any webpage anywhere where Telefónica provides one. I finally sent a note to the she of my sainted Madrid landlords (who notified me recently that the destruction rehab work continues in the building and in the flat there, with no end in sight). I’m hoping maybe she can get the phone folks to either terminate the service or else provide the details for a fax that might get the job done.

One way or another, the situation will be resolved. In the meantime, I get big fun and games.

Update, written later:

I continued trying to get that simple phone number. I begged, I pleaded, I groveled. And I experienced the most spectacular demonstration of buck-passing by a succession of American companies that I have ever had the misfortune to endure — a brain-busting cycle of telecommunications concerns refusing to help, virtually every individual I spoke with uninterested in extending themself to assist me in finding a place that might actually provide international directory assistance (with the exception of a woman named Tina at Quest — unfortunately, the two numbers Quest provided her to hand out resulted in more dead-end horseshit).

At some point, I came to my senses, got off the phone, pulled myself together. Went back online, began doing some very devious searches, one of which eventually led me to a number at Telefónica in Madrid that claimed to be connected somehow with customer service. I girded myself, called, and found myself talking to a guy in an office somewhere in the Spanish capital who listened sympathetically, dug around until he found a number I could use and gave it to me. A number that actually worked. And when I’d finished with that, I called the she of my sainted landlords — a genuine sweetheart — let her know I’d finally gotten through, told her to ignore my earlier email.

Pulled on a coat, fled the house, made the drive into Montpelier. The day: gray and cold, winter having reasserted itself a few days back, light snow coming down now and then. Kind of a shock after the week of above-freezing temperatures — nothing tropical, but enough to kick-start the year’s first mud season, turning a length of the road going down this hill here into a slippery, treacherous swamp. Winter’s return turned it back into a road, now decorated with lots of ruts and furrows it didn’t have before. Which is a good thing: it slows people down (me being one of those people).

On impulse, I picked up a hitchhiker in North Montpelier, a grizzled, limping 40ish guy in a leather motorcycle jacket, hair covered by a red kerchief. We got to talking about the conditions, he said a car of his had once gotten so deeply mired in a back road not far from here that he gave up on it. He and a friend got shovels and assisted it in sinking out of view.

True? Not true? No idea. He talked about it as if he’d lived it, that’s all I know.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Montpelier, Vermont, winter holding on:

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

For the exam’s big finale Lois wanted to take retinal photographs, a process requiring dilated pupils. She mentioned that at some point during the non-stop chatter, approached me with a dropper of liquid that she said would produce the desired dilation, applied two or three drops to either eye. A few minutes later, she’d finished up everything but the photos — my eyes, however, were not yet doing the dilation thing, she sent back out to the waiting area to hang about until the drops took effect, then disappeared for a while with another client. I’m pawing through the available magazines, none of them holding my attention. Five minutes pass. Ten minutes pass. Somewhere during a scan of Motor Trend’s car of the year, I realized the stuff had taken effect. My eyes were on drugs, and they were having a major party.

The world I saw had become radiant in a way I can only describe as psychedelic. Trippy in a way that put a big goofy smile on my face, affecting my state of mind in strangely happy-making fashion. Everything around me glowed, everything I saw shone, my eyes sensitive to light in a reality-altering way, leaving me a teeny bit whacked out and having far too much fun.

Lois reappeared, took a glance at my eyes. My state must have been obvious. She smiled at me, I smiled happily at her. She crooked a finger, I floated up off my chair and followed her into an exam room. She directed me to a seat, got me harnessed to the camera, killed the lights, began looking deep into my eyes (talking the entire time). Took a couple of photos, brought the lights back up, a printer spat out post-card size images of my eyes. Two big orbs, reddish with capillaries. Not a hugely attractive sight.

More talk, explaining things to me, until we were done and I found myself writing out a check, my vision, if anything, even more intense than before, everything luminescent, me wisely keeping my Oh, wow, mans to myself.

Lois gave me the option of ordering glasses of a very weak prescription for any time my eyes might become excessively tired, for the hell of it I took her up on it, a mighty cute woman from the office tending to that with me, a process that took no time at all. And then I was out the door, feeling light on my feet, the world glowing, me functioning with no problem in the middle of it all. In the car, I took a look at myself in the rearview mirror, saw a smiling wild man, my eyes enormous and strangely dark.

Drove to the co-op in Montpelier for groceries, me functioning like a competent human being every step of the way, everyone there returning my persistent smile. If they noticed anything out of the ordinary, no one showed it. Drove home, experienced no difficulties of any sort along the way. My state of mind didn’t lend itself to writing or anything vaguely productive. It worked just fine, though, for watching re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Somewhere around three o’clock, my eyes began de-tripping. Two hours later, all special effects had given way to the normal world.

And last night I slept like a baby. A big baby, the kind that wakes up needing a shave.

This life of ours: there’s never any telling what the hell it has in store for us, is there?

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Early March, East Montpelier, Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

This morning, far too early: dragged my bod out of warm, comfy bed, got the stove going. Staggered about for a while, slowly returning to consciousness. At far too reasonable an hour, pulled on a coat, got into the car, drove into Montpelier — on the way to the first eye exam I’ve undergone in many years. Many, many years.

My vision’s always been excellent. As long as I’m rested, anyway. That, in fact, has been the surefire barometer of how I’m doing in that department: sufficient shuteye — see good. Snooze deficient: see less good. Drastically short on Z’s: start to see bad. Take 40 or 60 or 80 winks: see more gooder. Yada yada yada.

These last couple of months have featured me having to get up every morning and get the stove going, the house good and chilly due to arctic conditions outside, the stove taking a while to get cranking out the heat, me knowing that if I don’t get up early on mornings of genuine cold that the house will remain freakin’ freezing if I don’t pull my adorable booty out from under the covers. And once I rise and dirty myself up, there’s no retreating back to warm, comfy bed afterward. Add to that periodic creeping discontent from being here instead of, say, Madrid. Add to that big time bouts of work. One result: me sometimes waking up in the wee hours, unable to get back to sleep. Producing snooze-deficient nights. (Refer to previous paragraph.)

I’ve noticed in recent days that my eyes are tired from all of that, tired enough that my vision’s been less than its usual wonderful wonderfulness. My drivers license gets renewed next week, the Vermont DMV’s gonna want me to look into their funny eye-test thingy. I decided not to chance getting into a wrangle with them about vision stuff, made an appointment with an optometrist. For this morning.

The optometrist: a fairly wacky Asian woman named Lois who began talking the moment she picked up the clipboard (holding pages and pages the friendly munchkin behind the counter had given me to fill out, pre-exam, sheets covered on both sides with overabundant rows of boxes waiting to be checked (or not) and blank spaces waiting to be unblanked with personal information (or not)) and didn’t stop. Barely paused to breathe.

An interesting person, actually with an attractive, friendly face, black page-boy style hair showing strands of gray, worker’s hands (nails short, skin dry, needing loving care). And of course non-stop blather, continuing through the hundreds and hundreds of tests she put me little eyes through. An unending monologue, veering off on frequent tangents that she’d rein in as soon as she realized she was off topic (followed seconds later by other tangents), accompanying an unending series of tests (eye paddles, lights going on and off, space-age style eye machines swinging in and out, charts popping up everywhere). Serious entertainment. No, really — I don’t know what I expected when I walked in there, but it wasn’t world-class diversion. And with all the fun, my eyes perked up and acted like their normal happy, clear-visioned selves. Clear enough that Lois gave me an official-looking note — and I am not making this up — telling the DMV that I should be excused from their eye exam. Shades of fourth grade.

[continued in next entry]

~~~~~~~~~~~~

This afternoon, light snow falling:

España, te echo de menos.

Man, that last week flew by. One moment it’s Monday morning, I’m pulling myself out from under warm, comfy covers, next thing I know it’s late afternoon on the weekend, me looking around confused, wondering where the hell it all went. Can’t remember the last time the outside temperature made it above the freezing mark — it’s been a while. The days slide past, many of them gray, snow showers coming and going, so that despite the lack of massive snowfalls, the earth in these parts generally remains asleep beneath several inches of white. I spoke to a friend in the British midlands yesterday, he said snow had fallen in the higher elevations there, enough so that people were out sledding in it. He also said that daffodils were beginning to poke up out of the ground in the lower elevations, which sounded mighty nice to me.

I’ve been in work mode, the days broken up by trips into town for groceries, the manly gym thing, stuff like that. Every visit to the gym this last week, I found myself there at the same time as a guy with what some might call heavy birth defects. Lanky, head shaved, maybe in his 20’s, hard to tell — the longer I look at his face, the harder it is to get a bead on his age. Something about his features gives him an almost ageless appearance.

He has trouble walking without assistance, has trouble talking intelligibly. But he shows up and he works out, going through the machines with one of the staff trainers, a high-energy goofball who has a good way with people. If the trainer has to step away for a minute, his charge sits patiently, sometimes talking to himself, sounding kind of like tone-deaf singing. When he works on machines he genuinely exerts himself, and when one especially challenges him, he vocalizes, he doesn’t hold it in. The trainer counts down the repetitions, keeps up encouraging patter, the little guy begins groaning and wailing, by the time he reaches the end of the set, he’s into his upper register with the volume cranked. Makes me smile every time.

In recent weeks, the music played in the gym has fallen into a nasty rut, a repetitive mix of pop cuts from the 60’s through the 80’s — apparently a channel provided by the local cable company, playing the same stuff over and over again, including some teeth-grinding lapses into disco. One morning this last week, I found myself feeling proactive, brought along a couple of Spanish CD’s when I made the trip into town — one each by two superb flamenco guitarists. The previously mentioned trainer was presiding at the facility that day, I asked if he’d be up for changing the soundtrack — he seemed game, chose one of the CDs, tossed it into the player, turned the volume up. A moment later, serious flamenco was in the air, sounding mighty peculiar after all the American pop. Kind of a jarring change, turned out, the music sounding so different, so alien in the context of the gym — folks lined up on cross-trainers, stationary bikes, stair-climbing machines, sports and news programs playing on a bank of TVs — that the cuts delving more deeply into pure flamenco sounded authentically out of place.

Flamenco vocals are an acquired taste for some ears on this side of the Atlantic — two or three years back, a friend sent an email after listening to a couple of tapes I’d sent him saying he didn’t care for the vocals, that they made him feel like giving the singers a good slap. A fairly extreme comment coming from a normally perceptive guy with an obsessive love for music and a huge, sprawling collection of CD’s, LP’s, yada yada yada. He apparently didn’t get that flamenco is literally the Spanish version of the blues — born of a poverty-stricken, repressed, exploited minority that had been relegated to the margins of Spanish society for centuries. The music comes from the heart, expressing intense emotion, transforming suffering into something transcendent. But it’s distinctly different from your standard American fare, no question, and maybe not for everyone.

The trainer was a good sport, letting the disc play out. Immediately after the final cut, he pulled it, returned it, thanked me, carefully making no comment on the music itself.

Ah, well. Sometimes things are simply not a match.

España, te echo de menos.

This morning: sunrise through light snow — East Calais, Vermont

España, te echo de menos.

Morning, the first day of March (temperature: 0°F) — East Calais, Vermont

España, te echo de menos.

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