far too much writing, far too many photos

One difference between here and the States — something I noticed almost immediately upon arriving (3+ weeks ago now) — the fragrances used here are not at all like the fragrances one encounters in the States. Or at least not to my nose. It’s a difference I’ve noticed in the U.K. as well — the scents used in bathroom and personal care products are completely different. And now that I think about it, with the surge of sensitivity to smells that’s taken place stateside during the last however many years it’s been, I’ve gotten used to a general lack of, er, scents — must have something to do with the Vermont. Or the people I spend time with. Or something.

Where was I? Oh, right. Suddenly I’m faced with having to buy personal care products that stink a bit. Or they register with my senses in that way ‘cause of what I’ve grown used to.

One difference between the barrio I’m in now and the barrio in which I spent several years (before the last year and a half back in the States): there’s an actual supermercado a block away from this building. I like the small shops and the centro comercialies, big buildings packed with small shops and stalls, but when it comes to heavy items, it’s nice to have the bigass market right around the block. Not that they make certain aspects of the experience easy. The first big shopping expedition for this flat turned out to be big enough that I tried to arrange home delivery. Tried. The store has no management offices or customer service counter where one can bother store personnel with questions or requests. A sign advised that one should speak to personnel in a certain place to arrange a delivery time. Asking store workers produced bits information, until I finally got that one of the cashiers was the person who had to be spoken with (a cashier wearing nothing that would indicate that, whose post had no signs that would indicate that). A bunch of hooha followed, the upshot of which was that they had no delivery times available until the following day. At which time I gave up, bought piles of stuff and dragged it around the block myself.

I go back there for certain items, go to small shops along the main drag for bread, meats, produce. There is an arcade of shops along the main drag – a modest version of the big, crowded centro comercial in the old barrio. When I pass, it mostly looks empty and forlorn — shiny, clean and in need of customers.

The supermercado, by the way, carries a line of paper goods called Bosque Verde — Green Forest. Not recycled paper, any of it. So I’m assuming the name refers to the forest they’re gradually mowing down to create the products I’m dragging home to use in kitchen and bathroom. Either that or some corporate marketing funcionario has a wicked sense of irony.

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Local shopworkers do the Halloween thing:

España, te amo

Have now been here nearly three weeks. Shelled out the cash for a monthly Metro pass the first woozy morning back, have been airing it out on a daily basis, often 3, 4, 5 times a day. A thread running through many of those trips: musicians. In trains, in station hallways, out on the street outside Metro entrances.

For instance: Peruvian dudes. Or Andean. You know. With guitars, pan flutes, homemade gizmos for percussion. Groups of 2 to 5 (always male), cranking out extremely catchy tunes, impossible to dislike. They show up on a regular basis during Metro rides, rushing in when the doors have opened at a stop, finding a place to stand, launching into a song. Doing a number that lasts to the next station or maybe one more, passing through the car holding out a pouch for change, disappearing off into the next car.

I usually ride the Metro on my feet, leaning against a door, wading through a book. Interruptions are always welcome distractions. Or, well, almost always. A couple of weeks back a tall, slim male stepped in the door at a stop, a small amp entering with him, strapped to a handcart. He stopped directly in front of me, held a microphone to his mouth, began crooning out a muzacky ballad, reverbed voice slithering in and out of syrupy strings that oozed from the amp as accompaniment. A bona fide karaoke nightmare. Loud enough that moving down the car didn’t provide enough relief — at the next station, I fled to a different car, giving thanks that I wasn’t worried about whether or not my hasty exit might hurt crooning dude’s feelings.

(Another kind of interruption: individuals who appear, launch into a loud, slow, lugubrious, heavily practiced speech asking for money, their vibe often so creepy that everyone in the car looks down, waits until the individual has finished, passed through the car and disappeared. Every now and then someone who is clearly in genuine need appears, their speech coming from the heart, not manufactured. They get money.)

Musicians are fixtures around heavily-traveled stations. Often doing music +1 renditions, playing along to a tape or CD. Guitar, harmonica, keyboard. One older male — late 50’s? — dressed all in black (shirt and jeans scarily form-fitting), sings an unnerving version of ‘Hotel California,’ boombox accompaniment resonating through the hallways. A 60ish woman stands to one side of a busy passageway in the station at Sol, gray hair pulled back and up, sawing away at a violin — putting in long hours, clearly serious about it. Not professional but, compared to some I’ve seen, not bad.

There used to be a skinny heavy-metal 20-something who haunted station passageways in the city center. Clad completely in black, standing with legs apart, feet firmly planted, long black hair swinging as he thrashed away at a long-suffering guitar, relentless chordage churning out of a small amp so that he was always heard long before he was seen. I even spotted him now and then on Gran Vía, thrashing away, not looking at passersby, ragged music boiling out of his amplifier. Haven’t seen him at all this time around.

These people have an impact on my day, almost always positive — doesn’t matter (mostly) what kind of music they’re producing. Just the fact of them being there brings color, life to what would otherwise just be transit. And every now and then I cross paths with the genuine article.

Two or three days ago: a saxophone player sat in a passageway between train platforms. Mid-morning, not many travelers about — his bum rested on his tiny amp, a lovely Miles Davis track played, he blew lilting, relaxed saxophone lines that weaved easily through the tune. I stopped and listened until he took a pause, thanked him, dropped coins into his bag. He had an easy smile, responded to my thanks in softly-accented Spanish, possibly Argentinian. As I walked away another tune started up, he played along, eyes closed, in no rush at all, saxophone singing sweetly.

That one encounter made my day.

España, te echo de menos

Last night, 1:30 a.m.: A bigass, unnerving racket jerked me out of sound sleep — the sound of something large and heavy falling to the floor somewhere off in the flat ,of things breaking. The sound of potentially serious damage, hefty enough that neighbors were likely sitting up in bed like I was, wondering what in hell had just happened.

Turned on bedside light, got blearily to my feet, wandered out of bedroom searching for source of racket. Turned on a light in the living area, found ground zero: a sizeable faux antiquey kind of wall mirror had come down, shattering. Nearby lamp knocked to floor, glass shards scattered about. Amazingly, despite the size of the mirror and it colliding with furniture with on the way down, there didn’t seem to be any other damage. No scratched wood, no torn fabric, no gashes in floor parquet.

I slowly cleaned up, put lamp back on table (lamp and lightbulb responding cheerily to being turned on, as if they’d experienced no mishap at all), swept up glass. And finally examined the wall. Found a hook insufficient for the weight of the mirror, found the mirror’s eye-screw hanging from that small, abused hook — also too tiny, too light for the weight it was supposed to hold. Whoever did the job had done it shoddily –- it was a miracle it hadn’t come down sooner, a miracle nothing more had been destroyed

The flat is furnished, the owner is elderly, someone undoubtedly did the work for her. Could be they left her in the dark about how the task was done or didn’t know enough themselves to get that what went up would come down, given the way the job was carried out. Mr. Natural once advised, ‘Get the right tool for the job.‘ — if only he were around to enlighten sloppy workmen/workwomen.* So the rest of us could get a night of sleep free of big noise and flying glass.

*Or in lieu of that, dole out enlightenment in the form of some mystical, remedial ass-trouncing.

España, te amo

And so. Two weeks ago, on a beautiful autumn day, a friend drove me to… well, Montpelier no longer has a bus station. To the Town Hall, where the bus now comes to a brief stop. I boarded, surveyed rows of truculent-looking passengers who clearly did not want the seat next to them occupied by anyone other than, er, them, imposed myself on a 20-something woman who cleared her things from the seat at her side with good grace, and headed south, rolling mountains covered with autumn colors providing beautiful scenery beneath dramatic skies. Five long hours later, another friend –- S. — picked me up in front of the station in Boston — the air noticeably warmer than up north, late afternoon shadows of tall buildings slanting across streets busy with rush hour traffic.

Got dragged over to Coolidge Corner and up to the new offices of G., S.’s sweetie, to hang about until G. was ready to go. G.’s office overlooks a small terrace, I went out there to enjoy the view before the evening light bled away. A short time later, back in G.’s office, I noticed a large bird out on the wall at the end of the terrace — a red-tailed hawk, watching the comings and goings in the parking lot below. I let S. know, she began calling to G. loudly — the hawk remained, unbothered by voices, office lights, movement. Watching everything, turning to observe us now and then. I tried taking photos, the glare of office lights off the windows torpedoed the possibility of getting a good image. The hawk finally spotted something down below and went after it, dropping out of sight.

G. — liver of a spiritual life — said that she’d been asking for a sign that the new offices were a good place for her to be. I know some Native Americans who would say that hawk was the answer to that request. Or it could simply have been an unexpected encounter with an impressive being. Either way, I liked it.

Shared a long dinner of killer Indian chow with G. and S., then spent the night at their flat in Cambridge. Dragged myself out of bed the next morning, acted like a responsible adult and took care of things needing to be done. (Found two good cheap shirts at Oona’s Experienced Clothing — woo-hoo!)

Subway station escalators — Cambridge, Massachusetts:

Got driven to the airport (a huge freakin’ luxury after years of dragging travel bags through various subway lines to get there). Ran the luggage-search gauntlet, waited patiently, found myself on a plane as the sun disappeared behind Boston skyscrapers. Hours later, after a night of no sleep, found myself riding a bus in the early morning darkness of Madrid, on the way to Avenida de América to hop the Metro. When I emerged from under the ground in el Barrio de la Concepción, light was swelling in the eastern sky, the cafeterías to the side of that plaza were jumping with people gearing up for the day.

Three or four weeks earlier, I’d swapped emails with the friend who lives in a flat that overlooks the plaza, letting him know I was returning after a year and a half away. He and his sweetie offered a bedroom, I let them know when I’d be arriving, everything seemed to be set. During my last few days in the States I’d had the vague, nagging feeling that it might be a good idea to send an email and re-confirm. I usually pay attention to impulses like that, but I had so much to do during those last few pre-bolting days and our email communications had seemed so clear. This time I shrugged off that gentle tap on the shoulder, ignored the prudent impulse.

And as I stood at of the entrance of their building, waiting for a response to the buzzer — a wait that stretched on and on — I began to worry. I poked at the buzzer again, pondering how obnoxiously early the hour was to be calling at someone’s door, beginning to feel a combination of blossoming guilt at the possibility that I might be dragging friends out of a comfortable, warm bed at an unkind hour and blossoming worry that they might not be home, might have forgotten entirely about my arrival.

A sleepy voice finally spoke from the buzzer-box’s tinny speaker. My friend, J. — home, but yes, pulled out of bed at an unkind hour by some jackoff from overseas. Turned out that they had not understood exactly when I’d be arriving, had expected me the previous day, wondered if I’d missed my flight or what. They let me in, met me in bathrobes, looking sleepy but wearing kind smiles, adjusting quickly to the reality of having me there. They introduced me to my bedroom and to the two household cats (one went immediately into hiding). They pulled together a nice breakfast, we sat and spent a long time eating/talking. Despite a night entirely without sleep (screaming baby, seat in front of me all the way back [meaning practically in my lap -- note to airline economy travelers: when you put your seat all the way back, YOU ARE MAKING LIFE DIFFICULT FOR THE PERSON BEHIND YOU. GET A CLUE.], my bod unable to find the moment or position to snooze), I seemed to be functioning pretty well. Went out, picked up newspapers. J. went to work, leaving me with his sweetie, C. — a psychiatrist, smart and capable — who chatted with me, made things to eat, treated me well.

[this entry in progress]

España, te amo

[continued from previous entry]

The day of the closing — moving day — started between 3 and 4 a.m., skidded by as if seriously cranked on methedrine. Intense, non-stop, but blessed with classically beautiful June weather, birds everywhere outside the house making music, hummingbirds stopping by the feeder for hits of sugar water. The moving truck pulled in somewhere around 8, three 20-or-so-year-olds carting most everything of mine out. With truck full, I led them first to storage compartment then to teeny flat in Montpelier that currently serves as my stateside base/flop. I’d hired someone to come out the house while I was in town with the moving dudes to start cleaning the place, wanting to leave it as close to spotless as possible for the new resident. The new resident was using the same moving company — the very same crew, turned out — so I had time to go back and finish up at the house before her stuff arrived. Found the cleaning person there at work, running nearly an hour late. She turned out to be a very attractive older woman, we got talking, talked some more, kept talking, checking each other out. Her life was in transition (temporarily staying in a small room in her sister’s house, with idea where she’d go from there), my life was in transition (heading to Montreal, then Madrid) — at another time I’d have asked her out to see what would come of it. Instead I paid her excessively well, crammed all my remaining stuff into the car — two carloads stuffed into one aging Subaru Forester, floor to ceiling packed with bags, boxes, loose clothing, rubbish to be tossed. No way to use rear-view mirror, no way to see out of any window except windshield and driver-side front — stuck to backroads all the way into Montpelier to minimize the chance of an encounter with state police or local gendarmes.

The closing was at five, at a law office a few minutes walk from the new squat. Found the buyer there with her attorney and my jackass substitute realtor (who had said nothing to me about attending). He took advantage of the occasion to irritate me several times, me wiped and wanting nothing more than to be done and out of there. And 40 or so minutes later I was. Went directly to bank, tossed check at teller asking her to deposit it. (She did.) Went out, grabbed a copy of the New York Times, went to a pub, ordered a meal and a pint of Guinness, took a long time to eat, drink, do crossword (the Monday and sometimes Tuesday puzzles being the only ones I can actually finish on my own). Late afternoon sunlight slanted in around me, the pub slowly filled up as locals got out of work.

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Madrid, te amo

On the off-chance that you’ve found yourself wondering what in hell is going on in what passes for my life, a summary follows. (As with many of my summaries, it starts off with the intention of being mercifully brief and somewhere along the way becomes a long-winded blather.)

15.587 months ago: your humble douchebag host returned to Vermont from a series of extended stays the middle of the Iberian peninsula to shake up a life gone slightly stagnant. Which meant (in my teeny mind) clearing away a bunch of stuff that needed clearing away with the aim of freeing me up so that I could go skipping off into the world, following interesting impulses, and see what came of it.

The ’stuff’ that needed clearing away: a house. And a big honking mountain of possessions. Far too many possessions for one little person to have. And so on arriving back to my little hilltop fiefdom in northern Vermont I got to work, beginning a long process of going through possessions and getting rid of as much as I could get myself to do. Then going through it again, getting rid of more. Blah blah blah. Also, working on the house with an eye to unloading it. And of course, as any homeowner knows, having a house means doing heaps of work to maintain it, so one can live in it without it falling apart and collapsing on one — that meant far more trivial labors than someone trying to undertake major labors should have to slog through.

I did all that, slaving away through the warm season, and by mid-October the house was ready to go on the market. At which time the market collapsed, along with most of the rest of what gets called the economy. Strange as it may sound, the big economic downtown didn’t phase me — the house sat on 9.59 acres of spectacular land, in the middle of green mountains, with all kinds of wildlife milling about. A beautiful place that I knew would sell itself — all it needed were potential buyers to get an eyeful.

Looking north from that green hilltop

I contracted the real estate agency I’d used when I bought the joint 9+ years earlier. The realtor who wound up handling the sale of the place was a kindly old guy — an ex-dairy farmer, as pleasant a soul as you’d want to hang out with. Extremely pleasant to deal with but didn’t, I noticed as the months passed, bring a single soul out to see the house. October gave way to November, which in turn became December. Cold weather took hold, snow arrived. Hellaciously huge amounts of snow, combining with the media’s constant harping on how bad off we all were to keep potential house buyers huddled up at home watching television and eating junk food.

At one point, the owner of the real estate agency brought out three or four of his realtors to look around and psyched up. They poked around, went away. More snow fell, winter stretched on, finally easing up some in late February. And suddenly the market started waking up, buyers began poking around. March brought a few days of outrageously kind weather, snow began melting away, patches of winter-brown grass appeared. And on one of those lovely March days, a realtor brought a woman to see the house. A smart, slim woman with a beautiful, expressive face, and I had a feeling about her the moment I saw her walk around the corner of the house. Her expression made it clear that she was seeing the place the way I saw it — gorgeous, full of magic. She and her realtor wound up staying for an hour and a half, it seemed pretty clear to me that the new owner had arrived.

And she had. An offer was made and accepted, I began giving her as much information about the place as I could come up with (having decided on a policy of full disclosure, about everything — the opposite of what the folks who sold the place to me did — so she wouldn’t have any unpleasant surprises waiting). Snow continued melting away, March melted away before April.

I made a fast trip to Madrid (to deal with things in storage) and the English midlands (to deal with a friend’s wedding). Returned for the final weeks leading up to the house sale. Found myself going from morning ’til night, faced with an overwhelming mountain of things to be done, me the only person doing them.

Stapling Nailing Pinning flowers to the father-of-the-groom’s chest lapel –
Stoke-on-Trent, England

One day in May I returned to the house to find a message from kindly realtor letting me know he was about to disappear due to a medical procedure, another realtor would be taking over for him. New realtor seemed bent on getting on my bad side, accomplished that mission well before the closing, cemented it during the final pre-closing days and remained obnoxious right up through the closing itself. I tried to remember that he likely wasn’t actively trying to piss me off, but between his skill (inadvertent or not) at it and the increasing stress as closing day veered closer and closer, I didn’t really care. By then, time had begun to accelerate with wild abandon and the mountain of things needing to be done before and on the day of the closing had me going from early morning to late at night. I began telling friends that if I ever expressed the desire to buy a house and/or land as a single person, they had express permission to smack me upside the head as many times as it would take to jolt me back to sanity.

[continued in following entry]

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This evening in the Barrio de la Concepción, Madrid:

España, te echo de menos

Northern Vermont on this third day of October — shrouded with rain and mist, foliage brilliant beneath gray skies.

España, te echo de menos

Someone with pull must have checked out that last post — this morning dawned with blue skies and wan October sunshine, the first radiant a.m. in a while. I was out of bed at a hideously early hour to bring the car in for work (’cause although my debit card has been working overtime this last week, there’s still $$$ in my bank account and we can’t have that), the spectacle of sunshine streaming down through passing clouds boosted my barely conscious spirits in a big way. Enabling me to stumble through calorie burning at the gym with a minimum of pathetic moaning and bitching, then off to take care of far too many things needing attention before picking up the car and handing over far too many sheckels to the service department of the local Subaru dealership.

A beautiful morning, autumn leaves that looked dull/washed-out in yesterday’s rain and overcast shone with spectacular color in the new day’s sunlight. Montpelier is currently overrun with enormous buses packed with folks hoping for the rustic New England autumn experience. This a.m., one pulled over and parked in a right-turn lane at the town’s main intersection. Its door swung open, a stream of gray-haired older folks in running shoes and casual (but not too casual) duds got off — looking around, blinking in the sunlight, then dispersing to get some air, walk in and out of shops and take photos of, well, just about anything. (Local traffic, meanwhile, turned messy from the sudden loss of the lane at that key intersection.)

It’s strange to be back in this compact place after the comparatively outsized city of Montreal. Last week was the end of my time there, a friend was supposed to drive up, we would then head north for two or three days of fun in that lovely, bilingual burg before I packed up my metaphorical tent, gave up the studio flat I’d rented for August and September, returned here to get ready for the next big adventure. The night before she was to join me, I got a late-night call: herself telling me she’d just discovered that her passport had lapsed last year. (D’oh!!) I encouraged her to call the passport people next morning, see if there might be any possibility of getting it renewed on extremely, extremely short notice. She called — no dice. Leaving me to head north on my own to enjoy the city, spend time with friends, pack up, get out.

The final drive to Montreal: mountains of Vermont giving way to farmlands of southern Quebec, barns and farmhouses surrounded by fields of corn that stretched off into the distance, all that greenery turning yellow as September leaned toward October. Saw one big, boxlike piece of farm equipment moving slowly along the near end of a cornfield, three or four rows of corn being methodically devoured by the machine, leaving open space and orderly rows of cornstalk stubble in its wake.

Spent two days in the city, that brief time feeling like the golden tail-end of summer. Made a field trip to the Botanical Gardens on Thursday, found myself surrounded by camera-toting hordes that slowly thinned out as afternoon tilted toward evening, shadows stretching across lush grass and flower beds.

Had intended to call it quits and head south on Saturday, but after spending most of Friday night out having adventures (yeee-haaa!), my bod refused to cooperate on Saturday morning, forcing me to stay put and suffer through one more day of, er, good food, good coffee, time spent with a friend. Cold autumn rain moved in Saturday night, I was packed and out early on Sunday, overcast hanging low and dark, roads wet and slick. Sparse traffic, no one at the border, Vermont mountains rising against stormy skies. Finding myself back here felt strange, unreal, I dragged bags into the flat, dropped them, spent the day in a state of depressed retreat, finally cranking up the t&v, letting the hours slip by. Next morning, a full day of things to be done waited impatiently, leaving no time for boring self-indulgences like depression.

And that’s been the story of the last week: getting shit done. All kinds of shit. Big honking pooploads of shit. ‘Cause this coming Monday I drag my bags onto a bus and head down to Boston/Cambridge where I’ll spend a night staying with friends, take care of errands the following morning, and fly out Tuesday night. Back to Madrid. Don’t know how long I’ll be there, don’t know what in hell I’ll wind up doing. Could be I’ll wind up looking for a place to stay for a while, could be I’ll head off from there to parts unknown. I have no idea what will happen (when friends ask what I’m going to do, I say, “I have no answer to that question.”). I just know I’m ready for some big changes. Time to leap off into the void and see what happens.

España, te echo de menos

Big sleek buses filled with tourists, cruising through local streets and along area two-lanes in search of autumn color. Leaves strewn across lawns and sidewalks, piled up along gutters — perfect for walking through, making lots of noise, sending bunches of them flying with each step. Hillsides once green, now quilted with reds, oranges, yellows, hills and mountains rearing up against dramatic skies. (Dramatic because all that beautiful, golden weather that lasted through so much of September took a powder not long ago, leaving us with days of more fickle dispositions -– often cloudy, sometimes pouring down rain, lately real damn chilly, nighttime temperatures sliding low enough to get weather people squawking about possible snow at higher elevations.)

Autumn in Vermont. A strange one this year — there’s color, but it’s not as wild and gorgeous as it’s supposed to be. Unless you look, er, well, over there — right there, where I’m pointing — oops, sorry, the rain just brought down those leaves, leaving mostly bare branches, traces of faded hues. Poop. Well, that’s okay — take a leisurely drive out of town, see how things look there. All that countryside, all those killer views. (Oh, er — more rain? Sorry.)

There’s color. You may just have to work a teeny bit to enjoy it. And the rain — well, it’s not actually raining all the time, just enough to get one carrying an umbrella every time you step outside. All that moisture helps fill the air with the pungent aromas of autumn. And then when the clouds part and sweet sunlight pours down, there is nothing like it.

Autumn. It’s lovely. (No, really.)

España, te echo de menos

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