far too much writing, far too many photos

[continued from previous entry]

That mystery remains unsolved, but was elbowed aside in following days by weightier, more sobering matters. I’ve been working with photos taken just shy of four years ago, in the days after the Madrid bombings in March of 2004. None are images of carnage, all are shots taken in places where spontaneous memorials sprang up — melancholy, not disturbing. Evocative for those who were in the city at that time.

And then this last Thursday morning, I received the news that a friend from back in the States had passed on — I., a great person with a heart of gold. And not a sickly individual. Active, in good shape, and young for all that.

I’d known him for 15 years, give or take a century, had hung about with him when I lived in the Cambridge/Boston area. When I moved on, our contact shifted from 3-D to cyber — email, im’s, and most recently via Facebook, often in the form of poking each other in silly ways via the blatantly frivolous Superpoke application. The last time I’d heard from him was early this month (him throwing a virtual cheesecake at me via Superpoke), and since our communications tended to ebb and flow, a week or two of no contact rang no warning bells. I had no clue he’d dropped off the twig until I received a note from a friend of his — again, via Facebook — letting me know.

I mentioned it to a few friends who’d also known him, one found a funeral home’s webpage that featured a wake announcement (along with a bad photo of I. — maybe all that could be found on short notice). I noticed the page’s various blurbs said nothing about how he’d died, had a sneaking suspicion that might mean something some would find unpalatable

[continued in next entry]

España, te quiero

A strange observation I’ve made over the course of the past 7.5632 years: in the States, when I get a haircut everyone mentions it, usually in a friendly, neutral way, just commenting on the fact of me having gotten sheared. “You got a haircut!”, for example, or the ever popular, “I see you got your ears lowered.” (And may the person who came up with that second bit of hilarity be condemned to spending eternity listening to third-rate imitations of the ‘Who’s on first’ routine, performed by depressed, shitfaced, slurry-voiced Shecky Green clones.) Here nobody says a thing. And I mean that literally: no one. says. a freakin’. thing. Which seems mighty interesting to me given how ubiquitous hair joints are in this part of the world. They are, and I am not exaggerating, everywhere, at least here in the capital. And my tendency to go from fairly long, abundant to drastically short hair makes the silence even more interesting to me.

I mentioned all that (minus the Shecky Green bit) to a Spanish friend this morning. She couldn’t, she said in response, speak for the male half of the city’s population, but when it comes to the female side haircuts are a delicate issue. Meaning, she continued, cuts dished out at local joints often turn out either extremely well or extremely, extremely not so very well. And there is no telling how a given individual might feel about what she wound up with, so that mentioning it might produce any number of possible volcanic reactions.

All of which I can understand, given my experience here when it comes to the realm of clip jobs. The word I would pick to describe the overall sitch: checkered. Some cuts have been okay, far too many others have veered off in disastrous directions. In every case, I’ve had to return directly home, glom onto a pair of hair scissors and repair/modify the top of my adorable head. These last few months, I’ve had the good fortune of finding a woman at a shop right here in the barrio who has done a pretty decent job. A nice person who takes her time, does the work with care, then washes my hair afterward, giving me a head massage in the process that is just about worth the price of admission all by itself.

The most recent cut? Last Saturday morning, me trading a head of abundant hair (just getting long enough to develop a rebellious, uncooperative mind of its own) for a shockingly short cut. A cut I made even shorter when adjusting it at home afterward, me still in an alpha state from the head massage, so that I didn’t really get how radically truncated my hair had become in the space of 30 fleeting minutes. Until the next morning when I shuffled blearily into the bathroom, flicked on the light and nearly screamed at what I saw in the mirror. (Not that it’s a horror show — it turned out pretty darned well, I say in all feigned modesty. It’s just a massive change.) And despite all that, despite the jarring contrast in my look from one day to the next, no one here has said a thing about the change. Not a peep, not one errant syllable. Everyone has maintained a level of discretion that is kind of mind-boggling in its relentless politeness. A discretion continued in this morning’s conversation about all this, even after I gave my friend the opening of bringing the topic up and commenting on it myself.

[continued in next entry]

España, te quiero

I don’t plan on going seven, eight, nine days between entries. Time just gets going, before I know it I’m seriously in the hole.

The days have been slipping past in alternating streaks of winter weather and conditions feeling like early spring. One thread running through it all is the gradual increase in daylight, a slow shift apparent more in the evening. Daylight still doesn’t really get going until near 8 a.m., but the sky now remains light until close to 7:30 p.m. Lovely.

I’ve been hard at work lately and fairly productive (though you wouldn’t know it by this webpage). As a reward, I took myself to an afternoon matinée last Tuesday. Beginning of the week, the local world embroiled in daily work hooha, a good time to sneak away to a movie. You would think.

Grabbed a bus, made the trip through the city center to the zone near la Plaza de los Cubos, home to four different multi-screen theaters that show films in original language with subtitles. Me figuring to check out The Oxford Murders, expecting to breeze into the cinema, toss them money, settle into a comfortable seat in a nearly-empty theater.

Made the hike from the bus stop beneath gray skies (excellent conditions for movie-going), city life going on all around. And as I approached the plaza, I noticed something I’d never seen before — never ever, not even on the busiest holiday weekends, when half the local world crams into the city’s cinemas: a line of people extending out from the plaza to the sidewalk and partway down the block. All, it turned out, waiting to get into the cinema I’d been heading to — a line that stretched out the door, snaked around the plaza, around the corner, etc. Ugly.

Gave up on that cinema, continued along, figuring there’s be something worth seeing at one of the others. Next theater: big line. The theater after that: another line, not quite as big. The fourth and final theater: the shortest line of all, and I noticed a poster advertising Juno, a film about which I’d heard great word of mouth. Got in line, bought a ticket, found myself in a comfy seat in a mostly empty sala. And loved the movie (sharp, super-ironic dialogue; great, for the most part, cast; good quirky storytelling). Skipped joyfully out the door afterward. Happy ending.

(Saw ‘The Oxford Murders’ this last weekend. This writer’s verdict: good cast — especially John Hurt — wasted on a godawful clumsy screenplay. Ah, well.)

Afterward, waiting at a bus stop along the main drag. A 30ish mother arrived holding an infant wrapped up for the chilly weather. A recently-arrived infant, staring at everything, expression amazed. I watched, smiling, it saw me, smiled in response. Looked around, expression turning to amazement again, the tip of a pink, fat tongue sticking out between fat, pink lips. Its eyes shifted back to me, taking in my smile, its lips formed a smile in response. The mother noticed it smiling at me, began smiling as well. The three of us stood together exchanging smiles, rush hour traffic passing.

Time slipped by, no bus arrived. More time, still no bus. On impulse, I headed off to a nearby Metro stop, hopped a train. Changed trains two stops along, emerged in the plaza down the street from here as the daylight began fading. Stopped near the newspaper kiosk to watch all the life happening in that large open space — people passing through in all directions, others standing in small groups talking, children running through it all. And noticed for the time ever — after passing through that plaza who knows how many thousands of times — barbed wire strung discretely along the roof of the kiosk. Logical, I suppose, given the kind of public inebriation that goes on there most nights of the week, all night long in some cases — a basic measure to prevent shitfaced partiers from climbing up, falling off, breaking bones (theirs or someone else’s). But still. A strong image, feeling strange that I’d never noticed it till then.

Which somehow sums up part of life for me. The picture is never complete, open eyes bring all kinds of surprises.

Anyway. Later.


Good, clean fun: stopping time at Grand Central Station.

– runswithscissors: to let at excessively reasonable rates

España, te quiero

Sitting in a lunch joint down the street from here. Seated at a small table to one side of the space, next to a cabinet that serves as the stand for the in-house T&V (the telly perched up top, scant inches from the ceiling, where everyone can see it). Now and then I’d look up from the newspaper I was paging through to see diners’ eyes trained on the TV screen, faces expressionless, chewing a mouthful of chow.

On the other side of the cabinet, three 50-something manual workers sat at a small table, shirtsleeves rolled up, working on lunch and glasses of wine, arguing politics. Arguing and arguing, the volume steadily increasing, until one began pontificating loudly enough that everyone in the joint could hear him, voice hard and insistent, pounding the table now and then, going on and on, rolling right over what his companions tried to say. An adherent of the right side of the political spectrum, determined to flatten all other opinions, talking so loudly and stridently that his words cut through the ambient noise — and that is saying something, given how intense the racket in a Spanish lunch joint can be. Around the space, conversation stopped, people standing by the bar with drinks in their hands turned and watched, mouths partly open. And I found myself remembering all over again why I do my best to steer clear of the political part of life — I really don’t enjoy most of what it seems to bring out in us, and being around all that does not leave me feeling joyful or mentally healthy.

The last couple of days here have brought mild temperatures, sunlight pouring down between buildings into the barrio’s narrow streets. Mild enough that many walking the streets wear light jackets or winter coats left open (and by ‘many’ I mean, er, me). Days with the promise of spring on the way. A kind of weather that promotes easy breathing, relaxed walking.

Two days earlier, on a cooler, more seasonally appropriate day, I sat in a different joint — a café in one the Madrid’s nicer areas — having a spirited chat with a friend, S., one of those conversations that veer all over the map, zig-zagging more erratically as the quantity of caffeine being guzzled swells. We sat a table in the rear of the place, absorbed in an exchange about… politics? gossip shows? the joy of life? something… when out of nowhere appeared a clown –in full make-up and clownish duds — en route to the loo.

My companion, a smoker, had a cigarette going. The clown saw that, stopped short, hit S. up for a butt, then borrowed her lighter to get it going. I studied him as he lit up — rose colored shirt, turquoise colored pants, both covered with sequins. Suspenders, big, floppy bow-tie. Full, classic make-up and wig, the only real departure from the boilerplate being a long, slender, pale nose instead of the usual round, red jobby. His serious expression gave way to a brief smile as he handed the lighter back, saying thanks, he then resumed course, disappearing into a short hallway that led to the bog.

S. and I exchanged a look, eyebrows raised, and resumed blabbing where we’d left off. At some point the clown passed again, making the return trip to the front of the shop where he grabbed a spot at the counter. A few minutes later, S. and I pulled ourselves together, paid up, headed out. Clowndude remained at the bar as we walked by, expression serious, cigarette jutting out from his lips, a strata of smoke around his head. I heard him exchanging a few words with one of the women behind the bar — his forearms resting on the counter, shoulders hunched forward, sequined outfit glimmering — and then we were out the door.

Clowns hanging out in cafés — one more reason to adore Madrid.


Chinese restaurant, Madrid:

– runswithscissors: as cute as a freakin’ button.

España, te quiero.

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