far too much writing, far too many photos

This morning: pulled myself out of bed as grey light filtered into the flat. Stumbled down the hallway to the bathroom. Turned on the light. First thing my eyes fastened on: my adorable face in the mirror. Normally not so horrifying. This morning, however it featured a prominent addition: a red blotch on the very end of my nose, appearing so large and nasty to my barely-awake self that I just about screamed out loud. Not much one can do about that kind of development except douse it with whatever appropriate skin-care stuff happens to be lying around and begin making burnt offerings to the skin-care gods.

Dragged myself to the gym for a fast bout of sweat ‘n’ suffering. Returned home. Saw that the… thing…. that has taken up residence on my nose, while it isn’t very pretty, it isn’t as huge and hideous as I first thought. Big sigh of relief.

Changed clothes, went out for the morning espresso & croissant. When I finished at the caffeine pusher’s and stepped back out in the chilly morning air, I saw a crowd gathering across the narrow street, far more people than normal for that location at that time of the day. All in office clothes, everyone talking happily as if on a field trip, several individuals in official wear mixing among the growing multitude, wearing day-glo vests, some labeled Policia Munipal, some labeled equipo de alarmas y evacuación. (Equipo = team.) Those in the second group carried walkie-talkies and worked at managing the growing crowd.

Hard to know what to make of any given street gathering here right now, the way things have been in Madrid during recent weeks. The country’s largest right-wing political party — the party in power a few years back, that dragged the country into the invasion of Iraq four years ago against the will of the overwhelming majority of the population, that was voted out of power a year later because of the resulting Madrid bombings (and has so far been incapable of admitting its massive blunder, opting instead for outright denial — against all the clear, obvious facts — that the bombings had anything to do with Iraq, coupled with a strategy of attack/smear toward the political opposition) has been latching onto anything it can find or fabricate to assail the socialist government, calling for street protests that have featured increasingly bold participation by groups of the far-right, including La Falange, the party of Franco. It’s easy to see how a civil war could have erupted 70 years ago — there is a division of perspective in the population at large that seems to go impressively deep, and little visible show of will re: reaching across the divide to find common ground, especially from the right.

This gathering seemed too benign for any of that, however, everyone enjoying fresh air and conversation. More people arrived, all streaming in from one direction. I walked down that way, passed a doorway left standing open, an alarm inside going at high volume. Continued on my way, screaming alarm gradually giving way to more normal barrio soundtrack, that of a sunny weekday morning, life going on all around. Normal life, carrying on in pleasing fashion, with all the small, pleasing details we tend to take for granted. Shops open, people chatting, sunlight and slanting shadows painting walls and sidewalk.

Friday morning in the barrio. Madrid.

España, te quiero.

Un cuentito (un poco retorcido) de hadas:

La zorra. Como no está mamá, la hermanita adoptiva siempre está en el sofá con la tele puesta, viendo programas del corazón. Pero en cuanto vuelva a casa mamá, de repente está por aquí y por allí con una escoba como si hubiera estado trabajando como una mula. Y si decimos algo, indignadas, se pone tímida e inocente como un ser purísimo, como si fuera la encarnación de la bondad. Claro que la odiamos.

Fuera de la casa, ella mantiene la pinta de una chica más que buena — pero aquí dentro, cuando estamos solas, su aspecto cambia. La sonrisa agradable se convierte en una sonrisa de desprecio, ella adopta una actitud de superioridad. Nos susurra lo que de verdad piensa, que va a dejarnos detrás, que tendrá una vida de lujo y riqueza mientras nosotras, las hermanas feas y patéticas, nos quedaremos aquí, enterradas vivas en esta casa de mierda. (Desde luego que últimamente hemos llegado a estar gordas — la única diversión que tenemos es comer caramelos. Cuando me veo en un espejo, la criatura que veo me deja horrorizada.) Claro que la odiamos.

Y ahora — no sé cómo — ella ha logrado tener una hada madrina. Y la ve como su billete a la vida que merece. Ha pasado la mañana describiendo lo que ha tramado para conseguir su sueño, como va a ir al baile de etiqueta real y conocer al príncipe y tal. Y mi hermana y yo nos miramos cada vez más desesperadas porque sospechamos que todo eso pasará, que ella nos dejará atrás, atrapadas en esta casucha de mierda.

Claro que la odiamos.

España, te quiero.

It happened as he sat at a table outside a cafe in a Spanish city, enjoying the sunlight and mild air of a mid-March day, one of those days that blossom as springtime eases its gentle way in. One hand rested on a thigh, the other held the ceramic handle of his coffee cup, fingers stroking its curve absently as his thoughts wandered. The constant movement of passing people, the coming and going of voices in conversation, mostly Spanish, occasionally German or English.

And then he saw her. Diminutive, walking gracefully, talking with friends, her voice mingling with theirs, words dissolving into light peals of laughter. Blue jeans, long black hair, a top that ended an inch above her pants, revealing smooth skin, flat stomach. College age, moving quickly by, her overall look and what he saw of her features so similar to someone he once knew that for a moment he thought it was that long-gone someone, a woman from two decades earlier he hadn’t thought about in… he wasn’t sure how long. Many months. Possibly years.

She’d entered his existence suddenly on a day like this one, walking by as he sat on concrete steps with friends, their eyes meeting, something about her and the way her glance took him in literally stopping his breath. He saw her again a day or two later, found a way to begin talking to her, and from there time seemed to accelerate, her entering his world so completely that he had trouble imagining how his life could have functioned before she materialized.

When the end came, it arrived suddenly, problems erupting with a ferocity that amazed them both, tensions that had previously seemed trivial suddenly swelling, disrupting communication, turning routines once sweet into thorny, uncomfortable passages that multiplied, until the couple’s ability to hold things together collapsed a few short days after the initial trouble.

And then she was out of his life, and it seemed to spin off its axis for a while — a long while, long enough that friends worried, until he finally, slowly appeared to regain his emotional sea legs and everyone around him breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Years passed, other relationships came and went. He married, divorced, changed careers. And he moved through it all as one does: getting up in the morning, carrying on day-to-day life, always moving ahead in time, the passing days’ events slipping by, fading, becoming distant in memory, along with all the people who come and go in one’s life, growing less substantial with time until they become nothing more than flickering memories, stories one tells to friends.

He moved through it all, believing he was fine, until this passing moment at this table in this foreign city, when the seeming appearance of someone from his past ripped the cover off something deep inside him, and ballooning emotions left him disoriented, feeling an ache he hadn’t allowed himself to experience in a long while. By the time he’d collected himself, the woman was gone, replaced by other passing people, other voices speaking a language not his own.

He sat for a while, unsure what to do with himself, feeling alone and hollow in a way he hadn’t in many years — nearly two decades worth, in fact. His body eventually took over, hands pulling money from his pocket for the bill, legs getting him unsteadily up from the table, feet taking him down the sidewalk, away from there. He simply kept moving, his body mixing with the countless others in the city center until he finally disappeared. Just one more mote of dust swirling in spring sunshine. Glowing for a brief moment in the afternoon light, then gone.

España, te quiero.

This evening in the city center: near the end of rush hour in la Plaza de Callao, nine characters standing to one side of a busy pedestrian way, making a whole lot of noise. A brass band (plus four accordion players), seriously caffeinated by the sound of them. Playing high-spirited tunes, some of the happiest, most chaotic live music I’ve heard in a long, long time.

España, te quiero.

Arranged to meet with one friend and his retinue (sweetheart, sister, sister’s fiancé) around 11 at Borough Market to hang about, catch up, drink good cappucino, take photos. Arranged to meet with another friend — one half of a couple who would be putting up with me putting me up in their adorable house out in one of London’s southeasterly ‘burbs — later that afternoon, post-market-fun.

I’d planned to hop the tube down to the Strand and duck into a newspaper shop I knew stocked El País. Would have been simple if huge expanses of certain tube lines hadn’t been closed for weekend work. Included was one of the lines I needed, leading to a messy change of plans, trawling for a bus that would work. Found one. Enjoyed the ride. Got the paper. Figured out an alternate tube ride to get to my destination. Got there. Hooked up with S., his sister and her sweetie. S. and I began to catch up, speaking mostly English, a little Spanish. Any time he turned to speak to the others, they all spoke Flemish. Surpringly, I got the gist of the exchanges whenever they dealt with simple, practical things. Soon as they turned to more personal subjects, they lost me.

Waded through a small vat of excellent cappucino, sitting in a rustic café/bakery around the corner from the Neal’s Yard cheese shop. Tried Marmite, kind of liked it.

Got out camera and took far too many pictures. Bought cheese to inflict on those who would be hosting me for the next two nights. S.’s live-in sweetie showed up (he’s Belgian, she’s Mexican, they live in England — go figure), we began blabbing in Spanish. More coffee, wading through crowds getting more intense by the minute, past stalls selling huge arrays of fine looking food. At the two-hour mark, said good-bye, hopped the tube back to the hotel to pack and meet with friend #2.

Him: Belgian, her: Mexican, etc.

Back at my room, taking my coat off, beginning to pull myself mentally. Had to pack everything up, grab a taxi, meet with my friend at the Baker Street tube stop. A knock on the door stopped me. I answered to find the slimmer of the two eastern European women working at the hotel, light bulb in hand. I let her in, she replaces the bulb, we talk, both enjoying the encounter. She asks how much longer I’ll be staying, I mention that I’m about to bolt, tell her why. An expression of disappointment seems to flicker across her features. We talk more, say so long, she disappears, leaving me to pack and take off.

Which I do, finding myself soon thereafter standing at the tube station entryway. Soaking up lovely afternoon sunlight, watching the parade of passing people, of all colors and modes of dress.

C. saunters slowly up, reaches into his pocket as if looking for a spare coin or two to give to my indigent self. We shake, head to his car (wading through a small river of kids apparently out on a field trip, me trying not to flatten any with my body bag). A minute later, we’re cruising through London streets, the city buzzing with Saturday afternoon life.

The streets of the city center lead to streets further out, through areas I don’t know, C. supplying details of his personal history in those areas as we zip through. Bits about his past, about his sister and her husband, about his wife’s past. Interesting, especially the parts about working in the casino biz, something he did for years, something his wife, J., continues to do.

C. steers the car into a parking lot, a space presents itself. We’re out and walking through residential streets, around a large green, to the river where we walk, enjoying the light of the lowering afternoon sun. Plenty of people about, walking like us or seated at tables, on benches, on escarpments, the air alive with many conversations, with the sounds of kids and dogs and folks out enjoying themselves.

A stop at a pub to order a pint (for C.) and a half pint (for me). Waiting and waiting at the bar, noting how others managed to weasel their orders in ahead of ours, shrugging mentally because I was enjoying the woman behind the countery, a classic example of a certain of lovely English woman — features not what might be called fine and what some might disapprovingly call a bit too zoftig — but very attractive, with a likeable way about her. Then to a table outside, where overcast had thinned out the sunlight, the air picking up a chilly edge, the sun close to the horizon and slowly, steadily drifting lower. We mostly talked about Second Life, something C. had only read about, I supplied a few choice anecdotes from in-world. (From a conversation overheard in one of SL’s darker corners — and I am not making this up: “when i feed you, i give some of my blood for you to drink. but if i feed ON you, i drink some of your blood only for myself, just to stay fit.” And from later in that same conversation, the same person talking: “give something back? i didn’t ask you to give me your blood, i simply took it.” Oops!)

[this entry in progress]

España, te echo de menos.

I went out for the morning espresso/croissant later than normal today, dragging a bit after two consecutive nights of restless sleep. Afterward, when I stumbled back out to the street — slightly more awake, feeling marginally more human — a 50-something gent stood at a nearby intersection, blowing a saxophone.

Short black hair, clothes neat and almost formal enough to wear to an office job, his overall look like a musician from a 1950’s jazz club. He played slow, melancholy lines of music, working his way through a song at a relaxed pace, stopping now and then to look around, wipe his mouthpiece off before starting again, picking up where he left off.

He finished a tune and paused, people walking past in all directions. I pulled a few coins from my pocket, went over and dropped them in the instrument case laying open at his feet. We exchanged a few words, he spoke with an accent that indicated he hailed from a part of the spanish-speaking world somewhere beyond Spain’s borders. I didn’t ask where, just waved and started off, listening as he began to blow again, beginning another song, music rising into the morning air, resonating clearly and sweetly off overabundant concrete and brick.

A Tuesday morning, mid-March. Madrid.

España, te quiero.

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Drifted in and out of delicious sleep, sounds of hallway voices and closing doors mingling with dreams. Finally came to after midday, decided to venture out, see how things felt.

Showered, shaved, fell out of my teeny bathroom and began to drag on pants. A knock at the door stopped me, a woman’s voice asked an unintelligible question. I pulled on a shirt, stuck my still-damp head out into the hall to find the buxom eastern european woman dressed in housekeeping togs, wanting to know if I wanted my lair cleaned. She seemed a bit flustered in a nice way to find my bleary self there, partially dressed. I declined the room cleaning, asked for more shampoo, she thrust a wad of packets into my hand, we said good-bye.

A short time later I was threading my way through crowded lunchtime sidewalks on Oxford Street. People of all ages, from all over the map. Languages of all kinds being spoken. And lovely women all around. Took the tube down to the Strand, picked up a copy of El País, tried to ignore the news about the ongoing civil war between Spain’s two biggest political parties. Stopped into a café/upscale lunch shop the size of several shoe boxes laid end to end, jammed myself into a chair at a teensy table, had a slug of caffeine and a croissant. Then another slug, managing to get it all down before the jostling of passing elbows could send any of it into my lap. (The place had one lone, hardworking woman to deal with the lunchtime flood of customers — whatever she was being paid, it wasn’t enough.)

Back out into the afternoon, clouds and sunlight trading off, a chilly breeze gusting up now and then. Wandered, enjoyed sights and sounds. Eventually passed an Indian joint with a good-looking lunch menu. Stumbled in, discovered I was the only customer. A waiter, a man behind the counter, a cook banging pots and pans in the kitchen. And me. Had an excellent meal, depressed-looking staff tossing plates of fragrant food at me.

Returned to teeny, cozy hotel room. Cranked up the laptop, talked with friends, visited Second Life (a place in which I spend far too much time). Had intended to head back out, find my way to the theater district, do something arty, but couldn’t seem to pull myself out of my chair. Debated crawling back under comfy covers, drifting back off to sleep. Didn’t do that either. The minutes trickled by, at some point I went to the window, looked out into falling darkness, discovered it was raining like hell out there. Went back online, feeling blessedly free of nasty, opressive guilt.

When the rain let up, I pulled on a coat, went out to round up something to take care of sore throat/runny nose. Ducked into a chemist shop, left with a bag of stuff. Thought about an evening meal, followed promising-looking sidestreets past busy restaurants, pubs, wine bars. Thought how nice it would be to have company, someone to eat with, chat with, hold hands with. (Sniffle.) Wandered damp sidewalks, eventually wound up back at the hotel. Brewed up hot water, drank a surprisingly comforting cup of Lemsip. Crawled into bed, drifted off to restless sleep.

Not the finest night of sleep I ever had, but better than nothing. And the day’s hours of lounging about helped. When I tottered to my feet the following a.m., my energy level felt higher than it had, my throat less sore. Threw on clothes, did the breakfast thing, finding two eastern european women presiding in the dining room this day, the second a cute, slim blonde woman who seemed every bit as interested in me as her partner. Ate a decent meal, went upstairs to phone friends I’d be having a rendezvous with.

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Faces seen at the Borough Market, London:

España, te quiero.

Thursday: woke up far too early, something that sometimes happens when I have a day of traveling ahead. Made myself more or less presentable, crammed far too much stuff into the monster wheeled duffel, dragged ass to a local caffeine pusher for a few relatively quiet minutes of substance-assisted (espresso/croissant) coming to.

Made the slog to the airport (three separate trains on three separate metro lines followed by a bus to the newest terminal — open but with no metro connection). Found myself in a half-full plane mostly surrounded by reserved middle-aged brits talking in quiet voices and young, boisterous spaniards, chattering and laughing loudly.

A smooth flight, followed by the semi-frenzy of Gatwick. After a brisk walk through miles of corridors, I entered the passport control area where a portly gentleman in an official looking sportcoat met me with the friendly question, “You all right, sir?” When someone calls me sir, my first impulse is to look around, see who they’re actually talking to. And until I readjust to being back in the U.K., my first impulse when someone asks me if I’m all right is to check to see if I’m hemorrhaging profusely from an exposed body part. He was talking to me, and I could find no obvious bleeding. I answered, “Fine, thanks,” he smiled, life went on.

A shuttle to a different terminal, a train ride into the city (a pretty, good-humored 30ish spanish woman with a Louise Brooks ‘do talking on her mobile phone across the aisle, at one point telling the person on the other end, “No es una amenaza — es un consejo” (”It’s not a threat — it’s advice”)).

Early March skies mostly overcast, tattered patches of blue showing here and there, shafts of sunlight shining down on orderly spreads of english homes, stretching off across rolling terrain.

Victoria Station, people of all colors everywhere. Found the right bus stop, waited patiently, realized I had not dressed for London’s chilly air and brisk breeze, hopped and jiggled about in a vain attempt to warm up, nipples beginning to hurt from the unexpected cold.

A bus ride through busy city streets to a small hotel a few blocks off Oxford Street. Discovered that my reservation of a month earlier had not been taken, then discovered it was my fault. Didn’t matter — a room was available, it turned out to be perfect.

Went online, blabbed with friends. By the time I pulled myself together and skipped out the door, darkness had fallen. Found my way to the theater district. Wandered. Found a short street that featured a row of interesting restaurants. Stumbled into one, had a good meal. Sat writing/reading, which seemed to intrigue the wait staff, two of whom were attractive 20-something women, one English, one French. Enjoyed their attention, left an excessive tip.

By the time I returned to the hotel, my throat had become sore, scratchy. Finally drifted off to sleep, passed a night full of strange dreams in which my 3-D life intermingled with surreal happenings, me surfacing at times, confused, unsure what was real and what wasn’t.

My eyes opened as sunlight crept into the room around curtain edges, throat sore, feeling woozy, out of whack. Got sluggishly out of bed, pulled on clothes, stumbled down to breakfast where a buxom 40-something eastern european woman presided, seeming interested in me in a way that cut through a lot of my personal fog. When I returned to the room, I found myself feeling wiped — throat sore, nose beginning to run. Wanted nothing more than to crawl back under the covers.

Did that. Slept.

[continued in next entry]

España, te quiero.

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