far too much writing, far too many photos

[continued from previous entry]

The day from there: the long drive back north, crossing from New Hampshire into Vermont, greenery becoming progressively skimpier as the road stretched north. Fat fair weather clouds, blue sky, sunlight flooding down. And back to the local world, to what passes for normal life, this part of the globe sliding slowly toward the warm season. Something I appreciated: finding myself experiencing mental re-runs of moments from the last half inning of the previous day’s ball game instead of my automotive slip-up.

Next day, all that lovely weather had evaporated, replaced by gray skies, cold temperatures, rain. Everything comes and goes, it’s all transitory. Days of ugly weather, nearly a week’s worth, until sunlight returned, fair weather, warmer conditions.

And through it all: songbirds making music, hordes of goldfinches, purple finches and rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeder outside the dining room window. Dandelions popping up, creating washes of yellow along expanses of lawn still shifting from winter green to the deeper warm season shade. The days slipping past, hours of daylight growing slowly longer, morning light creeping around window shades earlier and earlier.

Buying bags of topsoil, bags of cedar mulch. Picking up packs of flowers, tomato plants. Digging holes in the soil along the sunny side of the house, dumping shovelfuls of compost into them, followed by young plants — a supreme act of faith in this part of the world, at least prior to the last weekend in May when spring finally seems to take hold. (Two nights early last week, nighttime temperatures dipped down into the 20’s, frost scattered liberally around the mornings after.)

And now: Memorial Day weekend, me mostly staying put, enjoying the quiet. Eating, reading, doing work inside and outside the house when the impulse hits.

Sign seen at a booth in the farmers market in Montpelier on Saturday:
LIFE’S SHORT… EAT COOKIES!

License plate seen in Montpelier a day or two earlier: BRRMONT

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Sunday morning, late May, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

This morning (far too early), northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

I backed slowly down the road, saw that not too far along the land to the right appeared solid. Looked like it would be easy to pull off there, turn around, head down the hill. And I was right — it was solid, backing off there to turn around would have been a snap. If I pulled off at the right place. But I didn’t stop the car to take a careful look around, gauge how far I needed to go. Didn’t think I needed to, apparently. And when I turned to back off onto the roadside — five feet too soon — the car’s rear wheels slipped down a deep washout. Deep enough that me and my little all-wheel drive vehicle were stuck, not going anywhere without some careful help from a bigass towing rig.

Not much fun, moments like these, where you realize you’ve gotten into something that’s about to send your day skidding off in unexpected directions. (Heh.) Though in this case I had the funny feeling there was nothing to be concerned about. Might sound stupidly counterintuitive, but there it was, strong and clear. I’d get to my friend’s home after a ten-minute walk along lovely country roads (sunshine pouring down, friendly breezes keeping most blackflies away), I’d call AAA, we’d see what would happen.

Ten minutes later, I stood rapping at her front door. The family dog, Lacey, began making a fuss off at the back of the house, appeared a moment later holding a big floppy stuffed animal in her mouth, barking around it as she advanced toward me (looking like she was throwing her voice), D. behind her beaming. She has an infectious smile, D., and a great, loud laugh. Hugged her, made nice to Lacey.

Lacey

Called AAA, arranged a tow. Sat at the dining table chatting, sipping tea, until the tow driver called, when we ran out to D.’s car and tooled up over the hill, parked as close as possible, hiked down to my vehicle where the towing guy already stood, scoping out the scene. Seeing my car fresh like that made me appreciate the goofiness of the situation all over again. Car at a 45 degree angle front to back, teetering on edge of road, rear half down in big washout. (BIG washout.) An amazing image. And me, inexplicably sure everything would work out just fine.

Towing guy got the lay of the land, pulled his monster rig a few feet from my little vehicle, hooked up a tow line, got to work. Slow, careful work, himself clearly a crane jockey who knew what he was doing. Pulling the car up a few inches at a time, the front end slowly skidding over to point downhill a bit instead of at right angles to the road. (My heart pounding for a minute or two as he began working.) Working methodically, conscientiously. Until my car stood up on the road, rear wheels right at the edge of the washout.

Towing guy and I checked out the car, found no damage. I followed his rig slowly down the hill, checked the car a second time at the bottom. Again, no damage — nothing bent, no liquids dripping from ruptured lines. Everything fine, the day picking up where it left off, the only difference being that I’d had a bizarre, unexpected adventure.

[continued in next entry]

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

On the way out, we stopped before a video screen showing post-game commentary on NESN, watched a clip of the climax, my teeny brain still trying to absorb everything that had happened. Around us, happy people streamed out into afternoon sunlight, groups of males hooting, crowing, exchanging high-fives. Which got me thinking about the strangeness of how we identify with a team, how that identification breeds competition with other cities, hatred of other teams and other teams’ fans. Couldn’t think about it for long — had to keep up with my friend, S., without getting run down or running down any of the hordes heading away from the park.

Hiking back to the car along Comm. Ave., the afternoon still beautiful, front yards still exploding with the colors of blossoming flowers, bushes, trees. At some point, I realized we were walking in the middle of a small cluster of humans, all striding at the same speed. People in front of us, people in back of us, creating a strange, subtle, creeping sensation of being boxed in by, er, humans. Pulled S. to the side, waited for humans to pass, resumed forward movement, suddenly feeling free, liberated, and absurdly happy about it.

Found car. Drove home. Hung around kitchen discussing food, washing dishes, preparing dinner -– a meal that turned out to be vegetables, vegetables, vegetables, with some grains and excellent baked chicken to offset the overindulgence in dead plants. (My hostesses’ diet: far, far too healthy.) In theory, I have no problem with eating mountains of vegetables, especially when friends are making and serving me a meal. (Just the fact that someone else is feeding me automatically makes chow much more appealing.) The me of earlier years did, after all, spend a bunch of those years as a vegetarian. So why did I find the millet and chicken to be the tastiest part of the meal? Hmmmmm.

I bored my sweet hostesses with a tour of an exhibit of photography I have showing elsewhere on the web. They retaliated with bunches of photos taken on a recent trip to Israel, pix comfirming my suspicion that Israel is a corner of the world worth a visit. I crashed, stumbled to bed, got up the following morning and hit the road for the return trip north.

That return trip was to include a stop in New Hampshire for a visit with an old friend I hadn’t seen since last autumn. A woman who lives with her husband and their daughter in an old house on a dirt road in a small town off I-89.

There are two ways to get to their home once off the interstate, the first along a two-lane that gives out onto other, smaller roads (the longer route, used during the cold season), the second via a small road that begins by a house with a teeny replica of Fenway Park in the back yard then proceeds through woods and up to the top of a long hill (the faster, more direct route, though its last stretch is rough enough that the town will not plow it, closing it instead during the cold season). By May the more direct route is always open, I take it without a second thought. Prior to tise weekend, don’t ask me why, I wondered in fleeting fashion if I should call D. and ask if that road was open and passable. Just in case. But other things came up, access had never been a problem in the past, I forgot about it.

Until I was on it, approaching the final stretch, and saw the ROAD CLOSED sign still up, off to the side. My little car has all-wheel drive, I’ve always through any road regardless of the conditions (except once. several years back. in this town. when I pulled over to the side of a two-lane and discovered that accumulated leaves didn’t hide a safe, solid shoulder but a gulley deep enough that the car’s two right wheels sank into it. in this very town — hmmmmmmm…..), I breezed blithely by that sign. And what I found up the road was a long stretch practically demolished by washouts from heavy spring rainstorms. Impressively deep, broad washouts in places, the kind nothing short of a tank could navigate. All this close enough to the top of the hill where the road becomes paved that I thought I might be able to manage it, and inched along for a while, picking my way through until it became 100% clear that I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in the freakin’ Sahara of getting through the last 30 yards.

[continued in next entry]

España, te echo de menos.

There was a time in what passes for my life when I had lots of friends, all concentrated in one or two places, making it easy to be in touch, easy to maintain a social life. Somehow, somewhere along the way, they got ahold of the bizarre idea that they had lives of their own, that they did not need to put those lives on hold to keep me happy. And everyone bolted, skipping off in different directions, making it impossible to get together for a movie or a meal or a field trip without driving hours and hours first. (Bastards.) I got back at them by moving overseas. Inexplicably, I received no distraught pleas to move back, forcing me to remain overseas and do things like learn a foreign language. (Bastards.)

When I return to this part of the world, after a few days adjusting to being back, I grab the phone and begin reconnecting with some of those alleged friends, making plans for 3-D rendezvouses. (rendezvous’s? rendezvousses? there must be a correct plural form for that goddamn word.) Those calls began last week, the first rendezvous happened this last weekend.

Sunday morning found me up far too early, dragging bags out to the car, heading south. Shortly before midday, I pulled into a parking space in Cambridge where spring was well underway, greenery abounding, flowering trees and bushes putting on a shameless display of color. And not long after found myself in a friend’s Subaru, being driven through Cambridge to Brookline where the car was left on a sidestreet and we made the long hike to Yawkey Way to watch the Red Sox tangle with the Baltimore Orioles. My first time in Fenway Park in… (pause to count slowly on fingers) …a while. A long time. Years. A sellout, families there in full force, park employees reminding us every few seconds in one way or another that it was Mother’s Day: signs, announcements, blurbs on the diamondvision screen in the outfield, salesdudes hawking sox-related gifts suitable for mom. And big, bulky ballplayers wearing pink sweatbands on heads, wrists, forearms.

The game gets underway, the first inning sets the tone. The Orioles are at bat, the Sox commit errors, the Orioles score two runs. The Sox are at bat, the Orioles’ pitcher is in complete control, the Sox go down in no time flat, scoreless. And so it goes for eight and a half innings: the Orioles in control, the Sox hapless, mentally off in another universe (except for Manny Ramirez, who had shown up but only, apparently, to pick up a paycheck and could have cared less about anything else, especially anything that might involve the word ‘hustle’ — a display that grew more annoying as the innings wore on).

Second half of the ninth, the Orioles are up 4-0. A Sox batter hits in infield pop fly, should have been an easy out. The catcher for the O’s bobbles then drops the ball, the Sox have a man on base. And at that point, maybe figuring the game was already in the bag, the Orioles’ manager relieved the pitcher who had a three-hit shutout underway. After which the game took a fast, skidding 180 degree turn. The Sox woke up and began smacking balls around, the first relief pitcher got pulled, a second one took his place, the Sox continued with the fireworks until they’d pulled within one run of the Orioles. The final batter strode to the plate. The score: 5-4.

A wave of fair weather Sox fans had bolted at the end of the eighth inning, weary of their team’s pitiful showing. Those of us who’d stayed behind found ourselves watching a drastically different game, so radically distinct from the previous innings that the stands quickly morphed into a heaving mass of screaming wildpeople. No one exactly sure how things would go on the field, but loudly hoping for the improbable.

And it all came down to the final pitch of regulation play. Score 5-4, bases loaded, count full. The wind-up, the pitch. Runners jerked into motion, wood hit ball, driving it into the infield where the Orioles’ first baseman snagged it, far enough away from the bag that the pitcher ran to cover first. The first baseman tossed it, not in sync with his teammate who tried desperately to make the out — desperately but unsuccessfully, dropping the ball. The batter made it to first, saw what had just happened, began leaping about with disbelieving joy. Big, bulky men (wearing pink sweatbands) poured out out of the Sox dugout, cavorting wildly. Pandemonium on the field and off. So much happening, and happening so fast that I couldn’t absorb it all. I only knew that events once improbable had become bizarre reality. (My friend, S., at this point wore a huge, blissful smile, cheeks flushed with joy, high-fiving me and all her other neighbors.)

On the way out, we stopped before a video screen showing post-game commentary on NESN, watched a clip of the climax, my teeny brain still trying to absorb the game’s final twists and turns. Around us, happy people streamed out into afternoon sunlight, groups of males hooting, crowing, exchanging high-fives. Which got me thinking about the strangeness of how we identify with a team, how that identification breeds competition with other cities, hatred of other teams and other teams’ fans. Couldn’t think about it for long, though — had to keep up with S. without getting trampled by any of the hordes heading away from the park.

[continued in next entry]

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

The Green Monster, Fenway Park

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

Landed in Boston mid-afternoon, sunlight pouring down, air cool, brisk. Did the customs thing, collected baggage. Waited for a bus. Waited and waited and waited. Found myself headed north, finally, as rush hour began to wind down, mercifully snoozing through much of the ride.

Had arranged for a taxi to meet me when the bus spat me out in Montpelier, a service I’ve used before. One taxi, owned and driven by an interesting, eccentric woman. Weathered face, hair cut short and jagged. With a knack for strange, oblique commentary that is not exactly what I’m looking for at the end of a long 26, 27 hour day. Undoubtedly meaning well, even trying to be friendly in her way, but tough going. She drove slowly this trip — 40, 45 miles per hour, weaving across the center line quite a bit. I smelled no liquor on her breath, trying to talk to her got no constructive response, so I simply held on and counted the minutes. The late-night, northern Vermont highway was nearly deserted, Herself always looped back into the correct lane the few times a vehicle passed from the other direction. And when we finally pulled into my driveway, I breathed several quiet sighs of relief, handed over money, dragged my bags out into cold night air.

And yes — cold. Outdoors and indoors. Cold enough that I headed straight to a thermostat, cranked the furnace, went quickly to bed, quickly to sleep, huddled beneath a down comforter. Four or five hours later my eyes snapped open, my bod convinced we were still in Madrid. Resistance, I knew, would be futile — instead of a vain attempt at further shuteye, I levered myself out of from under covers, got the day underway. A day of disorientation, of things not cooperating. One of several.

That first cold week, a single lonely daffodil poked its head up from an otherwise bare flower bed. Several days later, after the weather turned, a few others cautiously followed suit. Since this journal’s last entry, two short days ago, the weather turned again, brisk conditions taking over once more, the cold breeze reasserting itself. Doesn’t matter — five stupendous days of sunshine and user-friendly temperatures jump-started local greenery. That and the memory of sweet summer conditions will carry me through days of truculent Vermont… whatever it is this transition season is up here. Not true springtime, not winter any more. Purgatory. Limbo. Something.

Two days ago the first hummingbird returned, appearing outside my kitchen window, then moving to the kitchen doorway, peering in at me. Wondering where in hell the feeder was. I rummaged around, found feeder, dusted it off. Boiled up a batch of sugar water, dumped some in feeder, hung it outside. Then, all lathered up from the sudden burst of activity, stuck a bunch of plants in the big tub by the kitchen stoop, a bizarrely optimistic act given recent nighttime temperatures. They’ve survived nights of light frost, with any luck they’ll make it to Memorial Day weekend, the official start of the local growing season.

Me in Madrid: happily maintaining the illusion of being a sophisticated, pointy-booted urbanite.
Me in northern Vermont: abject slave to the plant and animal kingdoms.

España, te echo de menos.

Up early — far, far too early — for an online rendezvous with a friend. Would have been fun if my satellite internet connection had cooperated. It didn’t, despite me doing the standard fix (power down modem, power up modem, reboot laptop) numerous times and camping out on the customer help line for forty-five freakin’ minutes in hopes of getting some assistance from a real live human being.

Have been back in Vermont a little more than a week. A strange eight days — all right in some ways, but rough in others, especially the first two, three days. Not a very tranquil transition. Left behind: Madrid, springtime well underway, streets full of life. Arrived here to find: Vermont countryside austere, leaves not yet making any real appearance, grass just beginning to revive. Cool enough that the house had to be heated the first few days, a chilly, user-unfriendly breeze blowing outside, nighttime temperatures slipping well down into the 20’s. And me here in the middle of it all, basically going Huh?

And then three, four days ago the weather turned, and with it some of my state of mind. Not that I’m skipping around strewing flower petals with wild abandon. But I’m not quite the mess I was for a little while there. And thankfully, the long, long return trip from Madrid (three Metro trains, two planes, two buses, one taxi), has mostly faded from memory, buried beneath the sensory input of the last eight days.

Not that the voyage was a hideous experience. Just interminable, not much fun, dragging on and on and on. Woke up around 3 a.m. in Madrid, stumbled into the house here 26, 27 hours later.

The most interesting part: changing flights in Zurich, the airport clean and orderly, almost clinically so. Despite being midday during the workweek, I found myself at times walking down quiet, empty corridors. Strangely tranquil. And the urinals in the men’s loo had a small illustration of a lit candle down near the drainage hole. The manufacturer’s trademark? A target? A funny high-tech game where the candle goes out if sprayed long enough? Don’t know, didn’t stay to find out.

Another interesting aspect of the day: my first flight with Swissair, who served the single best pasta meal I’ve ever wolfed down at an altitude of 36,000 feet. My seatmates on the first leg of the trip: a 60ish Italian couple, him not looking at me, not speaking to me, making every effort to avoid even the most glancing, incidental physical contact. On the second, much longer flight, an elderly, slow-moving American couple sat cross the aisle from me. A 20-something Indian couple sat ahead of them, the woman not exactly pretty, but extremely sexy, feet bare and painted with henna, an intricate design that covered everything but the soles. Her hands, wrists and forearms also bore traces of henna, too faded and sketchy to make out what it had looked like when fresh.

[continued in next entry]

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This morning, far too early, sun slowly burning through haze and overcast:

España, te echo de menos.

Sitting in a house in northern Vermont, late winter landscape outside gradually shifting to early spring. Grass turning from dark green to the brighter, lighter hues of the warm season. Trees still bare, buds just beginning to poke out. When the chilly wind takes a break, the day shifts to t-shirt weather. Just a tease — the nippy edge reasserts itself, the day cool enough overall that I have the stove down in the basement going.

Four days ago, I was still in Madrid, deep into the unhappiness that usually takes over in the days before a trip back across the Atlantic. (Unhappiness hardly describes it, really. Anxiety, grief, more like that. Not much fun.) Not that my life over there is perfect, not by a long stretch. But that part of the world has a hold on me and that’s the simple truth.

This last weekend was a puente in Madrid, the holidays of May 1 and 2 providing the framework for one more long string of days off. People fled the city Friday afternoon (news programs flogging clips of highways crowded with vehicles heading toward the horizon, the media keeping count of highway fatalities, comparing the figure with a year earlier), though in nowhere near the same numbers as during Easter week. Combine that with the swelling influx of tourists and life in the city center was not tranquil. Partying got underway Friday evening, continued with little in the way of a break throughout the following nights and days. Didn’t promote wonderful nights of sleep, but that sometimes is life in a busy barrio.

Decided to get some culture during the course of the weekend, Sunday morning found me dragging ass along sunny streets surprisingly busy for a Sunday a.m. in that part of the world. That should given me a hint. Two weeks earlier, on a normal Sunday morning, I’d made the trek to la Reina Sofia to see a show of the amazing paintings of Chuck Close. Being a normal Sunday a.m., few people were about, meaning no lines and peaceful art ogling, the experience so user-friendly and the exhibition so amazing that I decided to do a second trip. This last Sunday, however, the second pilgrimage — in the middle of a busy vacation weekend — turned out to be a different experience. A long, long line extended out the museum’s front entrance, snaking across the plaza. On another occasion, I might have called it quits right there, found a local watering hole to sit and read the paper while inhaling some espresso. This time I zipped directly to the end of the line, which moved along at a brisk pace, turned out. Soon I found myself back among big honking portraits, and followed that up with a wander through another exhibit hall containing all sorts of wacky contemporary works. Including a big installation of thick filaments of plastic hanging from ceiling to floor, occupying a large space maybe 25, 30 feet square. Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but watching groups of kids plow into it and wander around inside proved to be so much fun that I finally found waded in myself, moving slowly into its center where I realized that the guards couldn’t really see what anyone in there was doing (a fact that had one or two of them practically jumping out of their skin with anti-photo-taking paranoia), and I pulled out my trusty point ‘n’ shoot and stood for a while snapping excessively arty images until I had the feeling I should put it away and return to real life. An elderly security guard hurried around the corner of the installation as I emerged, him agitated, hyper, apparently looking to make a bust. Saw my camera-free hands, turned away, expression disappointed, almost disgusted. I’m a bad person.

Getting into art — literal

Getting into art — abstract

España, te quiero.

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