far too much writing, far too many photos

[continued from previous entry]

These final days here in this flat have turned out to be — and this is not a phrase you will hear from me very often, given that I tend to live a charmed life — a fucking disaster.

One reason: las obras –- the rehab work that has been going on for more than 3-1/2 years in this building (more than 3-1/2 years!!) — returned to the teeny hallway on this floor yesterday morning. Meaning noise and a constant, unstoppable flow of dust into the living space while inside. Leaving the flat or coming back means plaster dust all over clothes and a mix of dust and wet plaster smeared all over footwear. Put it all together: pure joy, beginning at 8 a.m. and stretching to 6 p.m.

Another reason: Telefónica, the Spanish telephone company, is apparently incapable of terminating my phone/internet/cable services in a timely, coherent, efficient, effective, productive, trustworthy manner. (Pause to ponder tacking a few more adjectives onto that description.) Three or four years ago, when I disconnected internet service, the process was simple: write up a letter with the details, fax it to them. Did that three or so days before the desired date, worked just fine. This time they can’t and won’t guarantee anything in terms of timing. They no longer accept a handwritten letter — they send a form by mail (that may take up to 15 days to arrive, they emphasize) that must be filled out and faxed. So far, six days later, hasn’t shown up. They did manage to turn off my internet and cable services last Friday morning, though, ignoring the May 1st date I’d given them for the shut-off. Calling customer service produced a wall of double-talk and a refusal to pass me to a supervisor. I apparently made an impression, however — a few hours later, after I’d gone out to clear my head, I found the service restored. They called three times on Saturday, apparently anxious to make sure I handed over the cable box before bolting — I stonewalled, working from the presumption that anything I said might wind up in another surprise loss of service. Yesterday a.m. first thing, feeling more tranquil, I called and resumed the process for internet/cable termination. So far: nothing more from them. Called earlier today to give them a gentle nudge, since I’m out of here tom’w. Did not go well with the first woman — apparently asking them to work with you on coming to some sort of arrangement to get things taken care of does not compute for some of the personnel. When she wouldn’t stop talking over me every time I tried to say something, I hung up, called back, dealt with someone else. The second individual heard me and had a suggestion or two that might turn out to be a solution.

Spent the last few days getting ready to move things to storage. The truck came this morning, I had to force the work in the hallways to stop while I carried everything down four flights of stairs — I will never live in a fourth floor walk-up again — so that the truck crew could take over from there. Unhappy workers standing about, refusing to go away until I was done, not looking my sweaty, heavily-breathing self in the eyes. Had to raise my voice at one who didn’t want to stop and clear the hallway to let me do what I needed to do. Me navigating plastic sheeting on floors and walls, bags of plaster, workers, and items placed on stairs by workers, crowding the way enough to cause problems. (One near-catastrophic result of all that pointless horseshit: the destruction of my cellphone and one of my cameras — the one that took the below image.) Possibly the single most unpleasant move I’ve ever just barely survived.

The positive side: the truck crew. Fast, efficient, were in and out leaving me here to do clean-up. Another positive side: sunny, cool, lovely weather. Yet another positive side: with all the work that had to be done to be ready for this morning, much of what’s left to be ready for tomorrow’s departure is done. And one more: a Spanish friend has been a real friend during the last few days.

Short on sleep, tired, not in my finest state of mind. In all the complications with the morning’s move, two or three items didn’t get included, me too tired and distracted to realize until the truck was gone. Will have to be left in the flat, a donation to landlords or future tenants.

Blah blah blah.

One strange note: for some reason during the past week, this has happened to me many times -– I’m walking somewhere in the barrio, I hear a telephone ring. An old one, the ancient kind with an actual bell. A sound that gets me looking around, expression puzzled. Someone nearby digs into a pocket or bag, pulls out a cellphone. A cellphone that has a ringtome of an ancient telephone. Suddenly they’re everywhere. A kind of analog retro-chic thing. Madre mía.

Assuiming I survive carrying far too much luggage out through nightmarish rehab work and down several flights of stairs to the street (never again will this boy live in a elevator-deficient multi-story apt. building), I will be in transit tom’w, touching down in Boston, spending the night in Cambridge. Send good thoughts.


Along la Calle de Augusto Figueroa, Madrid:

España, te quiero

[continued from previous entry]

I’ve done this back and forth thing a lot, a bunch of times, yet I seem to completely forget certain aspects of the experience until I’m immersed in them all over again. Like the way time seems to begin accelerating when the day of departure is five or so days off. Literally seems to begin picking up speed and momentum. A function of the number of things absorbing attention, probably, the feeling of so much to take care of in steadily diminishing pool of time. Logically explained, I´m sure, probably something most everyone experiences. But strange, regardless.

This week has slipped by at what feels like a ferocious pace in retrospect, punctuated by tasks; bizarre, not so user-friendly happenings; and increasingly beautiful weather. The dark and damp gradually shifted over the course of last weekend, transforming back into springtime in Madrid. Found myself walking a local street Tuesday morning and heard the sound of the swifts — the local version of swallows — for the first time this year, the one decisive sign that marks the arrival of the warm season for me. The days have grown increasingly summery, the streets choked with people out enjoying it, the murmur of voices five flights down a constant apart from a brief period in the early morning. And in the background, coming and going, the swifts’ soft keening call.

The plaza down the street is full most hours of the day and night now, musicians come and go. The same ones, mostly playing the same tunes. A short central American guy with a tape player mounted on a handtruck — taking up position, turning it on, pulling out a pocket trumpet, playing ‘Hello, Dolly.’ (No renditions of ‘My Way’ so far, from anyone, for which I am deeply, sincerely grateful. On the other hand, there have already been far too many renditions of ‘Those Were The Days.’ Far, far too many.) Singers. Jazz musicians, playing soft, lilting music that winds softly in and out of the murmur of all the voices in conversation. And people with accordions. Not just here in the plaza — everywhere. Enough of them spread out through the course of the day to give one the feeling of being stalked by a fraternity of older types playing ‘Lady of Spain’ and ‘The Shadow of Your Smile.’

[continued in following entry]


Evening, late April, Madrid sidestreet

España, te quiero

[continued from previous entry]

Before leaving, went for a fast look at my brand new rental space, home to my modest heap of rubbish for the next twelve months. Out of the office into chilly air. Up stairs. Up more stairs. Down strange surreally artificial-looking hallways (floor, walls, doors (all identical apart from their numbers), more doors, still more doors, fluorescent lighting). All the way to door B032. Convinced key to fit into lock, fiddled until door opened. And there it was: space. Two meters squared worth. Not a whole lot of space, actually, I realized, staring at it. But enough, my life here being on the austere side when it comes to material hooha.

Locked door, retraced route (hallways, stairs, more stairs), found myself out in chilly open air, sound of passing cars from the nearby arterial providing post-modern ambient soundtrack. Made long, long trek to pedestrian bridge, sun peeking through clouds now and then. Crossed sometimes-four-sometimes-six-lane. Got to bus-waiting-shelter thingie a minute or two before bus pulled up, nearly full, passengers silent. A business-suited, shades-wearing, iPodding 20-something sat on the aisle seat, blocking access to one of the few free sitting spots. I gestured at the empty space, making a gesture of inquiry, he graciously got to his feet, letting me squeeze by. I sat, he sat. Bus pulled out. Time passed. Passengers got off, others got on. Eventually found myself back underground, doing the Metro ride in reverse. (Same entertainment during inter-train transfer: woman/mid-tempo pop, male playing pretty decent accordion.) Finally surfaced back here in the barrio (the face of Spongebob Squarepants smiling at me from a pin on a 20-something’s daypack), sun gone once more, arrived here in the building to the thunderous din of workers having far too much fun hammering on increasingly plasterless walls. (See previous entry.)

Pulling the trigger on the storage rental became the unofficial starting point for getting serious about putting my life here on hold. Shelves and drawers are slowly being emptied, some things being tossed/recycled, others getting stuffed into boxes. People outside in the halls pound away at walls/ceiling (tinny transistor radio blaring), dust finds its way in around the cracks in the door, complicating life, giving vacuum cleaner plenty of exercise.

A month ago, that vacuum cleaner died. Brought it to a shop tucked away on a sidestreet in a barrio a hefty Metro ride away. A week later, had it back, giving thanks for the simple blessing of a working dirt sucker. A few days ago, realized that the washer was no longer spinning, meaning clothes had to be wrung out by hand, taking forever to dry. Got the okay from the landlords yesterday morning to phone a repair-person. Made the call, half an hour later a rumpled 60ish guy appeared at my door, tool kit in hand — tired, friendly in a world-weary way. I pointed him into the kitchen, a trail of white plaster footprints appeared in his wake. A fast diagnosis, a price for the work that I went with. He returned to his truck, came back carrying a plastic bag bulging with belts. A ton of belts, but none of them, turned out, the right one. He offered to return later in the day with the correct item and finish up. Several hours later he was back, bringing the washer to life. White footprints followed him out of the flat, me calling out profuse thanks as he disappeared down the stairs into clouds of drifting dust.

[continued in next entry]


Empty display window/abandoned shop, Madrid:

España, te quiero

Last Friday morning: gray, cool, rainy. (One of a series of a.m.’s like that, the week turning away from spring, back toward late winter). I made my way out early, through the piles of plaster fragments and swirling dust created by the workers slowly destroying redoing the walls inside this old building. Bought the paper, hopped the Metro, began a long trip out to an industrial park not far from Barajas airport. A subway ride followed by a long transfer (passing two musicians along the way: a woman with a boom box and microphone doing a music-plus-one thing, singing along to generic, mid-tempo pop tunes; a male playing a jazzy accordion like he knew what he was doing), the second train nearly empty, rush-hour over. Transfer to bus with grumpy driver, emerging from underground darkness onto the high-speed sometimes-four-sometimes-six-lane that extends out away from city to airport and beyond. When I boarded and asked about the destination, Scowling Dude told me it would be the third stop. Turned out to be the second, I would have missed it if he hadn’t done me the favor of calling it out. Stepped out, found myself in cool, damp air by a service road lined with industrial park buildings (architecture a combination of sleek and hulking) seeing no sign anywhere in view indicating where I wanted to end up.

Where I wanted to end up: a rental-unit facility, one of only two within doable distance of the city center. I’d investigated both — the other was closer in, more accessible, involving only a ride on one Metro train with a bit of a hike at the other end. An attractive difference, me living a carless life here. I made the trip to the closer facility, found them distant, formal. They quoted me a fairly high price, but the info sheet they handed me specified a low-price guarantee (”MEJOR PRECIO Garantizado — In the spirit of improving the quality and attention to our clients, we will equal the offer of our competitors in the case that they offer the same services and conditions”). A call to the outfit I was currently en route to produced friendlier people, lower prices, but a longer, more complicated trip. I phoned the first to see if they would match their competitor’s price, a young woman told me the guarantee only applied to ‘competition within our zone.’ (There was no competition in their zone, the way she defined it.) Could be that bit about ‘in the case they offer the same services and conditions’ provided the way to weasel out of delivering. I forged ahead in the nicest, most reasonable way, assuming the lure of hundreds of euros in combination with my limitless charm would make some headway. Nothing doing. She remained unyielding, my business went to their competitor.

That competitor turned out to be a hidden away a half-mile along the service road, bringing me to an office buried away inside a maze of buildings where the owner greeted me with genuine friendliness and the deal was done.

I opted for the storage idea after re-discovering something I’d experienced a few years back, when it seemed like I might be on the verge of closing out my Madrid life: that prospect felt so bad that it provoked a sensation of panic, of drowning. Me trying to tell myself something. I listened, calling up my patient landlords (after having given notice), asking if it was too late to keep the place. (It wasn’t, I groveled at their feet (metaphorically) with relieved gratitude.) This time around it does feel like the moment to move on has materialized, at least from this flat. The logical option: a small trastero to hold my modest pile of stuff until I figure out what’s next.

[continued in following entry]

España, te quiero

If I were forced to describe the recent state of this life of mine, I would have to say: not so much a soothing garden party as a jaunt in a burning plane piloted by some head case on acid. Strange, hair-raising twists and turns. Big emotions. With the details of the daily ride designed to cause unrest.

On the other hand, after several days of rain — spring replaced by a cooler, less user-friendly imposter — Saturday brought sweet, abundant sunlight and a general lifting of spirits, a state that’s remained in place since then. Which I appreciate the hell out of, let me tell you.

Have been slowly working my way through what needs to be done to put my life here on hold for now, wading through it all at an unhurried pace, trusting that I’ve started far enough ahead of time that the last-minute frenzy will be blessedly light on the frenzy part, or at least not so frenzied that needle on the stress meter slides up into the meatiest part of the red zone.

Several weeks back, the rehab work that’s been making its way through — and literally rebuilding sections of — this old building for the last 3.6587 years started on a new phase, laborers showing up every morning and working away on external details of the first couple of floors. After a month or so that crew disappeared, producing a brief period of tranquility that ended last Thursday when a different bunch materialized in the hallway outside this flat. Three males with hammers — partying wildly as they pounding away at ceiling and walls, removing plaster. Producing a massive sea of plaster chips along with clouds of slowly-swirling white dust. For the first day or two, they didn’t bother to cloak stairwell or apartment doors, producing an ongoing cascade of white bits, giving the stairwell a stylishly impressive post-earthquake look from this level all the way down to the foyer.

I did not get the entire picture of what the hubbub would mean until I opened the door of the flat to find my welcome mat buried under two or three inches of plaster, chips pushing aggressively into every crack along the bottom of the door. Then glanced back into the flat and realized that dust had been insinuating its way in around the door, saw my footsteps in the pale sheen of powder coating the floor, saw that the bottom of my socks had turned ghostly white. Brief time-out for clean-up, stuffing sheets along door bottom, closing all in-flat doors to minimize dust flow. And even with that, dust sneaks quietly into the living space, turning horizontal surfaces and sock bottoms pallid.

The workers inch their way along — now on the floor below this one, for which I give sincere thanks — partying away in the middle of the dust, free of cumbersome protective details like breathing masks, calling back and forth in high-speed Spanish, the youngest of them laughing like a hyena.

Spent some time talking with a friend about all that, about strange endgame happenings with my good-hearted landlords — an account of which I swear I will provide someday — about this strange passage of what passes for my life. And when, post-caffeine boost, we’d paid up and stepped out into the cool springtime air of Madrid, we stood talking more, and at some point I noticed a small face staring up at me from the sidewalk. A passport-photo-sized portrait dropped by an unknown individual, its subject gazing skyward — at me, at my friend, at the legs of anyone walking by. Hair receding and weirdly cut, looking tired, not exactly overjoyed and a touch lost amid the noise and motion of the 3-D world.

There may be a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’m going to spare us all the pain of me digging for it.



He is Bonzi!

España, te quiero

In recent days:

James Taylor songs playing everywhere — from the windows of a car passing on Gran Vía; blasting from the door to a tienda here in the barrio; drifting faintly out the open window of a flat, playing in the background on the radio in a morning caffeine joint as I worked my bleary way through an espresso and a croissant, paging through a morning newspaper. Machine Gun Kelly, You Got a Friend, Sweet Baby James. A sign, apparently, that his recent concert CD arrived here. Can’t remember the last time I heard his voice before this sudden onslaught. Centuries ago.

Recent highlights from the Spanish press:
– A classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, Hobbes ambushing Calvin upon his return home from school. (Final panel — Hobbes: “He pensado que después de siete horas de aburrimiento en la escuela te gustaría disfrutar de un momento de absoluto terror.” Calvin: “Déjame coger el bate para darte las gracias.”)
– An article comparing Bush the father with Bush the son, lapsing into English to theorize that W. stands for ‘weak.’
– A piece about the HBO show ‘In Treatment,’ the article’s tone coming across as a mixture of intrigued wonderment and objective reportage (”Es puro voyeurismo televisivo….”).
– Ongoing reports about the Spanish real estate ‘crisis,’ prices now falling sharply after years of wild inflation, the term ‘ciudad fantasma‘ (ghost town) being used — exaggeratedly or not — to describe massive construction projects of apartment buildings now standing near empty.

Walking through the empty streets of the barrio of Salamanca on a weekend morning, the local world still in bed, en route to an exhibit of minimalist art. On a bench along a sidewalk, a blue baseball cap left by individuals unknown, bold characters enumerating the year ‘1975′ across its front. At the exhibit, staff outnumbered me and two other early-rising art-goers (early in Madrid terms: 10:45 a.m.), drifting after us from room to room to ensure we committed no vandalism.

Sports reports about recent bullfights in which bulls got the upper hand, featuring alarming photos of toreros suffering some serious damage. Further sports reports about the Spanish fútbol scene, the season in its final stage, the leading teams all limping toward the end, suddenly incapable of pulling a winning match out of their weekly encounters.

Me perched on a stool at a café window, paging through a newspaper, P.J. Harvey playing on the in-house sound system, one of my favorite CD’s, one I hadn’t heard since… not sure. Millennia. Feeling like a small cosmic balancing out of the earlier James Taylor onslaught. Outside the café window, late a.m. tilted toward early p.m., sky a milky blue. Tourists with slightly desperate expressions (apparently unprepared for the slow coming to of local life on weekend mornings) and drowsy locals pass in clusters.

runswithscissors: six-pack abs and rhythm to burn

España, te quiero

These last few days have brought springtime to Madrid, the genuine item. Four or five days in a row of temperatures drifting up into the ‘70’s, sunlight flooding the barrio’s narrow streets. A long enough stretch that cold weather coats have all disappeared, apart from those worn by some older folks during the hours of morning chill. Around midday, the bars scattered around the plaza down the street from here set up row upon row of tables and chairs, the space filling up with people, the air filling with the murmur of many voices. The crowds remain through the afternoon, the evening and long into the early hours, until the table and chairs disappear and the soundtrack changes from conversation to sloppier, alcohol-fueled verbiage, more erratic as groups, waves of people pass through periodically, everything quieting down around 7 a.m.

It’s a cycle I’ve lived with (and written about ad nauseum) for a long time now, and during the course of these last few months I’ve had the growing feeling that it may be time to make a change. I’ve been at this point before, or thought I was, but was not ready to let go of being here, could not make the move. Looks like it’s for real this time around.

I’ve spent these last few weeks pondering that, prodded by the unrest you’re now far too familiar with if you’ve waded through this journal’s recent entries. Last weekend it felt like a decision had to be made — the end of the month loomed, 30 days notice had to be given, as sweet as the weather has become, the prospect of living with the warm weather version of this barrio’s nightlife did not bring much joy. Monday evening, I called the landlords to give notice. A couple I’ve known now since the summer of 2001. Her English, him American, both living here since the ’70’s. Good people, good landlords. Friends, even, for a while.

(What happened re: the “for a while” part of that last bit is a story for another day.)

Long story short: I made the move. Gave notice, will be out of this piso on the last day of April and back in northern Vermont on May 1. Will then begin the process of emptying out the house — what that will mean re: the options of selling things, giving things away, dumping things and/or putting things in storage, I don’t yet know — and putting it on the market. Where I go from there, I have no idea. At least not yet. Like most humans, I tend to figure things out as I go along. No reason this should be any different. Right now, it feels like I’m getting ready to toss myself into the void. Or at least back onto a plane and off to points not yet known. Applications are now being accepted for the dubious experience joyous adventure of taking in a pointy-booted stray with an adorable bum for a short, medium or long-term stay.


Above la Plaza de los Cubos, Madrid:

España, te quiero

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