far too much writing, far too many photos

Every now and then, I’ll come up out of the Metro into what passes as fresh air in Sol, the very heart of Madrid’s city center, and someone earning slave wages will be standing at the top of that long, steep set of concrete stairs that give out to the extreme edge of the plaza’s west side. Performing the thankless task ofthrusting a handbill at everyone who passes — a small square of white paper, maybe 4″ x 4″, its size and color indicating that it’s the latest edition of my favorite example of advertising, hands down.

Whoever puts these wonderful bits of propaganda together uses the same boilerplate. The name, phone number and address change, the headline gets tweaked, but the text is identical from one edition to the next. Always harping on about the amazing qualities of a great, illustrious African clairvoyant (GRAN ILUSTRE VIDENTE AFRICANO), the person in question sporting impressive handles like PROFESOR MARA or PROFESOR NNASTA, the professor being someone who helps to resolve diverse problems quickly, guaranteed (¡AYUDA A RESOLVER DIVERSOS PROBLEMAS CON RÁPIDEZ Y GARANTIA!)

From that point on, the text is always the same — the Master Afridan Shaman Blahblahblah, Great Magical Spirit Medium, with natural powers and blahblah years of experience in all fields of High African Magic, helps to solve all types of problems and difficulties, no matter how knotty they may be: chronic illnesses related to drugs and tobacco, any and all marital problems, the recovery or attracting of a loved one, sexual impotence, love, business, legal problems, luck, the elimination of curses, etc, etc. All solved immediately, with positive results, 100% guaranteed, in 3 to 7 days at most (not exactly immediate, but let’s not be impatient). Open 7 days a week.

I absolutely adore this. Don’t ask me why — it’s just one of those things. All I can tell you is that any time I find myself with a brand new edition of this low-level, intelligence-insulting advertising in hand, it sends me down the street with a happy smile on my silly face.

It’s good to be easily entertained.

España, te amo.

And speaking of dreams — ‘cause, you know, that is what I was blathering on about in that last entry — yesterday morning, I found myself awake in the wee hours, thinking (for reasons unknown) about a classic, deeply creepy episode of Dr. Who. Images of weeping angels, individuals thrown back in time against their will with no way to return to where they should be. With no idea why my thoughts were embroiled in all that. Fell back asleep, and from then on drifted back and forth between sleep and a half-awake state, dreaming about weeping angels, about being trapped in times I didn’t belong in. Two or three hours of that, until I came to, a quiet, beautiful morning taking shape outside, me getting to my feet, shaking off nocturnal creepiness.

Then this morning: me awake early once more, this time thinking about spiders, with no idea why my teeny brain had fastened onto that subject. Drifted back off to sleep, spent two or three hours dreaming about, yes, spiders — surfacing now and then, half-awake, dreams continuing as I floated in and out of sleep, never fully awake during the times of not being fully asleep. When I finally came to, I returned from a dream scene in which I examined a long white porcelain utility sink, its surfaces covered by webs, all spun by tiny spiders, lots and lots of them.

Got up, shook it off. Showered, shaved, pulled on gym duds. Stepped out of the building into a crisp morning, sunlight just beginning to show over the very tops of neighborhood buildings, local streets busy with rush-hour traffic, sidewalks alive with locals walking. Life everywhere, another day beginning in a city I love.

Not a bad waking life to escape to after hours of weeping angels and spiders.

España, te amo.

A couple of people asked me recently if I’ve dreamed in Spanish, my second language. The answer: I’m not sure. I know I have nights of dream-filled sleep, but for the most part hardly any of it returns to waking life with me apart from vague images and sensations. It’s a genuine occasion when I return with something clear, usually the product of a dream that’s especially intense or strange in some way. Which is what happened about five nights back: a kind of dream I’ve had a handful of times in this life of mine, featuring she who is The One. Mate, partner, true sweetheart — whatever description applies.

They’re lovely dreams, those few that have featured that woman, leaving me pleased for having experienced them, not bothered that they’re only dreams and so disappear when my real life eyes open. They’re sweet, intimate, emotionally profound. And fun. I have no memory of who she is/was, have no idea if it’s always been the same individual or someone different every time. Ni puta idea, as some Spanish friends might put it. And it doesn’t matter. They’re dreams, the rules of waking life don’t apply.

I also, every once in a long, long while, experience dreams that are not so freakin’ pleasant. Not very pleasant at all. Unpleasant, really, even nasty, nightmarish. Or just not much fun, and intense enough that they wake me. In that case, I turn on the light, get up or grab a book, start reading. I don’t try to hold on to them, make no effort to remember details. It’s fine with me if they disappear from the memory banks. And they do.

I love dreams, these adventures that kick in when we check out of real life for a few hours. And it would be okay with me if I remembered more of them. But I’m not so disturbed by not remembering that I’m willing to make myself jump through the various hoops that pass as methods to improve dream recall. I went through a period when I’d turn on the light and make notes once I found myself awake in the wee hours with fresh details of nocturnal hijinks galloping through my teeny brain. Man, I hated that. By the time I’d finished scribbling everything down — in hideous, rushed, indecipherable handwriting — I’d be too wide awake to slip back off to sleep. Far, far too high a price to pay — ’cause, frankly, I love getting good sleep much more than I love waking up from it remembering whatever the hell went on while the real-life lights were out.

Anyway. On to the day.

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Seen along a local street this week:

España, te amo.

The rent was due this last week. That meant a call to the landlord, followed by a fast walk-through by her to collect the gelt.

My current landlord: an elderly woman — short, a bit squat, hair done up in the classic feathered helmet style. Walks with short steps, just this side of a shuffle, recent treacherous weather making her movements even more tentative, cautious. Talks very formally with me, employing the ‘usted’ form instead of the familiar ‘tu,’ though has begun to relax a little with me after three months of landlord-tenant relationship.

We arranged a time for her to stop by, she showed up in her version of winter gear, meaning a long cloth coat and shoes designed for sidewalks festooned with ice and slush. She shuffled in, we made small talk. When she saw me get out money, she reached into a coat pocket, pulled out an untidy mix of euro notes and assorted bits of paper. That began a slow process of sifting through it all, fingers carefully pulling out pieces of folded paper, trying to open them up to appraise. No receipt was found, that batch of paper got tucked carefully back into one pocket, a second batch appeared from a different pocket, went through the same slow process. It became clear that she had all kinds of euro notes tucked into every single pocket she had, from fives up to hundreds, along with a extensive collection of paper scraps, all kinds of paper scraps — notes, receipts, movie ticket stubs, bits from newspapers, most folded up double or double-doubled so that they had to be opened to see what they were..

“I like to have money when I go out,” she explained, continuing the slow search through yet another handful of paper.

“I can see that,” I said, teasing gently.

At some point, after the event had stretched on and on, I just started laughing. She laughed a bit, but I could see she was beginning to grow uncomfortable and let her know she could come back at another time to drop off the receipt if she’d rather, that this was not a big deal in any way. She continued with the search, picking through the contents of pocket after pocket for a second time, saying quietly that this was a big deal, clearly growing embarrassed, me continuing to let her know it was nothing to be worried about. Until she finally gave up, agreed to stop by with a receipt sometime soon, then tottered out of the flat.

The image that stayed with me: handfuls of paper being slowly sorted through, euro notes of all colors and denominations sticking out in every direction. A whole lot of abundance stuffed into each pocket.

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

Abandoned storefront, Madrid::

España, te amo.

Woke up this morning with part of a David Bowie tune running through my head.

Oh, don’t lean on me, man, ’cause you can’t afford the ticket
I’m back from Suffragette City….

Why that tune? Why that bit of lyric? No idea. Haven’t heard any Bowie music in a while, haven’t even heard his name mentioned since… can’t remember. A while ago.

Not a bad tune, as tunes go. But I decided I didn’t want rattling around in my teeny brain for ever and ever. Pulled myself out of bed, showered, shaved. Stumbled outside into a seriously cold morning, temperature around -6C. Possibly the coldest daytime temperature I’ve experienced here.

Was out with friends a couple of nights ago, in a barrio not far from here. An Italian joint. This being Madrid, dinner didn’t start until just before 10. (Good antipasta plate, good salad. So-so pizza. Killer tiramisu.) Stepped back out into the street around midnight, a few stray snowflakes falling around us as we pulled collars up, pulled on gloves. (A days back it snowed all day long, from morning to night — first time I’ve ever seen that here. Nothing stuck, but it sure looked beautiful.) I expected to ride a bus back home, discovered after pacing back and forth at the bus stop for a few minutes that buses on the routes I’d need stop running at 11:30. Got feets moving, arrived home 20 minutes later — cheeks red, ears tingling, hair acting wacky from cold weather static electricity. Since then temperatures here have slowly, steadily dropped. A friend in the U.K. said it snowed all week up in that part of the world. Yee-ha!

This morning, after picking up the paper I directed myself to one of my preferred wake-up places. Spent a little while coming to, courtesy of chow and caffeine. Returned home, have remained inside since then. Wearing thermals and warm socks, ’cause the windows in this flat are hilariously inappropriate for this kind of weather. The old single-pane, wood-frame, full-length-window doors that open in from the teeny balcony let in so much breeze that the curtains billow in and out. A blanket stuffed along the bottom of the doors has taken care of some of that. All radiators are going at full throttle, further clothing will be pulled on as needed.

There’s a reason the sidewalk tables outside café disappear for a while in Madrid. Now and then winter decides to remind the local world exactly what winter weather is supposed to feel like.

And as I write this, snow is coming down once more. Sticking, this time — around an inch of accumulation so far.

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Storefront, off hours — Madrid::

España, te amo.

[continued from previous entry]

When I fled in early October, I wasn’t sure where I’d end up or how long I’d be gone, so hadn’t taken precautions like removing battery from car to store indoors. Which turned matters like the question of whether the car would start after sitting out in subzero temperatures for weeks ‘n’ weeks into just one more adventure. (It started — yee-ha!)

Showered, shaved, toasted a bagel that didn’t fare well after three months in the freezer (mmm, warm, buttered cardboard….). Cranked out espresso decent enough to jump-start my system. Started in on stuff needing to be done as other people in the building left for work, the school across the street came to life. Appreciated things like working heat, working phone and internet, working radio, warm liquids. Did a fair imitation of a productive, high-functioning human.

Errands took me out into the cold, down along Main Street into Montpelier’s small downtown. Christmas lights shone, stores and cafés did good business. Booted feet walked along shoveled sidewalks, bodies covered in all kinds of winter wear moved along sidewalks, vapor coming out mouths.

Noted a big difference in holiday atmosphere between the Spanish capital and Vermont. Madrid: the city hangs big bunches of lights — in plazas, along main avenues, down pedestrian ways. Montpelier: municipal lights and decorations were minimal (though nice) — the bulk of the displays get mounted by businesses and homeowners, a side of holiday hooha not seen much here. Apartment buildings in my current barrio will have a small artificial tree in the lobby, with lights, maybe garlands, maybe a few gift-wrapped boxes around it on the floor. That’s about it – - nothing around entryways, nothing in windows. Apart from city street lights, displays are minimal, understated. Most of the energy goes into the gatherings that occupy a huge part of holiday life. And yes, gatherings play a big role in holiday life stateside, but the number and intensity of family-gatherings here remains impressive to me — Christmas Eve, Christmas day, New Year’s, little Christmas (January 5 and 6, the arrival of three kings). In this building during the last two weeks, the aroma of massive meals being prepared, the sound of gathered people in flats all around mine was frequent, extending through evenings, throughout days, feeling near-constant. Yesterday was the season’s wrap-up, local streets remained quiet, most business closed — life happened indoors, in homes filled with families and children, preparing meals, hanging about into the evening.

Er, where was I? Oh, right — Vermont. Being busy, productive, blahblahblah.

Contacted a friend who’s been taking care of my mail, met to buy him dinner that night. He arrived hauling a grocery bag packed with nine weeks of mail — 95% of it unwanted, destined for the recycle bin. Most of it from nonprofits (and a few catalog-spewing businesses) who have ignored requests to stop sending stuff, ignored further requests to stop selling/sharing my address with other groups.

Talked. Ate. Slowly defrosted. (Temperature outside: around 0°F/17°C. Chilly.) Returned to my teeny squat at around 3:30 a.m. (Madrid time), marveling at just how teeny it actually is. Very, very compact. And laid out around a corner of the building — what used to be a big Victorian home — so that the space is narrow and sound does not pass easily from one room to another. The stereo in the living room has to be seriously cranked to be able to hear it in the kitchen, and since the lease specifically forbids noise loud enough to bother other tenants, each room in the flat requires its own source of radio/tunes. (I pause here to remind myself that I picked this place specifically so that I would not be able to settle comfortably into it, would feel motivated to get out into the big world outside. That was my intent. And it worked. ‘Cause spending too much time there gets a teensy bit claustrophobic, and it surely gets me wanting a change of scenery.)

One good thing about being back in that teeny space: a closet full of winter gear, something that did not get packed nine weeks earlier (again, me not knowing how long I’d be gone, where I’d end up, wanting to travel light, etc.).

A second good thing: genuinely kickass high-speed wifi internet, as compared with the moody, grumpy high-speed connection Telefónica has given me in my current Madrid squat. (Though I will say one thing for Telefónica: their concept of what service means has drastically evolved, from something not far removed from audible snickering — if not outright yawning — to requests for aid, to something way more reliable and trust-inspiring.) Uploads/downloads on my Vermont connection happen bizarrely, almost surreally quickly. Not that I’m complaining.

Went to sleep real damn late, a habit deeply ingrained from life in Madrid. Which would be fine if my bod weren’t still coming to on Madrid time, meaning ungodly early in Vermont time. Had me up and out to the gym, then out taking care of more errands, the hours skidding past at disorientingly high velocidad.

[this entry in progress]

España, te amo.

[continued from entry of December 29]

As hoped, within an hour I was ensconced in the flat of friends, G. and S., using my paltry charm on S. in an effort to get her to head down Mass. Ave. to a café (me hoping a shot of caffeine might perk up my tired bod, my system having been up since before the previous midnight, Cambridge time). We went. It worked. For a while anyway. Long enough for S. to make dinner, for G. to return from work, for us to shovel down the meal. After that is mostly a blur of fatigue, me falling out on the sofa in front of the T&V. (It’s a comment on how comfortable and at home I feel with G.&S. that I would fall asleep like that, in the middle of their home life, instead of retiring to the guest room to poop out more discretely.)

Next morning: my bod, on European time, came bolt awake around three, I could feel that there was no chance in hell I’d be drifting back off to sleep. The flat’s residents slept quietly, the world around me lay dark and silent, both indoors and outdoors.

The wee small hours:

Suddenly the thought of leaping into rental car and doing the three-hour drive north seemed like a good idea. A lot of things needed to be attended to during the short time I would be back in Montpelier — the thought of driving before roads and highways got frantically busy, of arriving earlier rather than later leaving an entire day to work with, made so much sense that I found myself pulling on clothes, packing, leaving a note in the kitchen explaining my disappearance, stepping out into wee hour Cambridge, cold, crisp air filling my lungs.

Early morning New Hampshire, out in the middle of nowhere:

The drive passed in a smooth early morning blur of images — empty urban streets, interstate highways spooling past. Pausing for bladder relief in the middle of nowhere, me the only source of sound/movement, the air soft with misting rain. Pulling off the interstate into Montpelier’s compact downtown before rush hour.

And suddenly I found myself pulling up in front of the garage stall that shelters my old Subaru, found myself dragging body bag up narrow stairway (leaving snowprints on old, tattered carpet), found myself in the teeny flat I’d abandoned nine weeks earlier. Everything quiet, the local world not really up and cranking yet. Bed and living room furniture covered with sheets. Radiators shedding waves of heat to counter serious below-zero temperatures outside.

[continued in next entry]

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Para Madrileños: hay que pasar por esta web, una obra de varios payasos que se trata de restaurantes en el centro de la capital. Tiene pocas entradas pero merece la pena leer las que hay. Una página web entretenida y poco respetuosa:

La contraguía para zampar en la Gran Vía

España, te amo.

Yesterday morning: after a long, delicious night of sleep, stumbled out into a gray morning, headed directly to the newspaper/magazine kiosk that’s planted about 15 feet from my building’s front entrance.

From Monday through Saturday, a 20-something male presides there, cloistered inside the snug space inside the small structure, accepting money, giving change, doling out extras that sometimes come with papers/magazines. Not very talkative, at least with me, and puts in long, long days, opening up around 8 a.m., closing up shop around 8 p.m. On Sundays, an older couple takes over — the ‘rents, I suspect. Both gray-haired, both 50-something, working in shifts on the day of their son’s rest..

When I pulled up there yesterday morning, the 50-something male lurked inside. I grabbed a copy of El País, pulled a 20 euro bill from my shirt pocket, handed it over. The bill was accepted slowly, the man’s hands unfolding it, smoothing it out, straightening a crimped corner. His eyes shifted from the bill to a pair of men who stopped to buy a paper, then back to the bill, his manner slow, methodical, a bit strange, his expression a bit dour.

He inserted one end of the bill into a small black-light bill reader that crouched to one side of the kiosk window, the machine looking brand-spanking new. It sucked the bill slowly in, spit it slowly back out. The man took it, examined it further, holding it up to the kiosk’s ceiling lights. Then he slipped it back into the machine. The two males at my side began to get restless, I began wondering why this bill — one I’d gotten from my bank’s ATM — was being examined so intensely. The proprietor accepted money from the two men at my side, someone else appeared, bought a paper, disappeared, my twenty continued being scrutinized. “Is there a problem?” I asked. No answer. “Is the bill no good?” I asked. The bill disappeared into the new high-tech toy once more, smoothly reappeared. “I think it’s okay,” the proprietor finally said. “Yes, I think it’s okay.” “Good,” I said, my tone politely communicating, Would you please give me my freakin’ change then so I can get on with the rest of my life? He did, his manner not terribly warm. I accepted it, said thanks, took off.

What exactly happened? I have no idea. One of those blips that appear unexpectedly on one’s radar screen, an interaction with another human that don’t go the as expected. The good part: they pass. And life goes on.

Sure are mysterious though.

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Sunday morning in the barrio, Christmastime — quiet, tranquil, awash in wan sunlight.

España, te amo.

This morning: dragged my sleepy bod out from the between the sheets at an indecently early hour. Showered, shaved, pulled on gym clothes. Stumbled out the door into not very user-friendly weather — gray, cold, rain pissing down. (The case most mornings this week, the local jerkoff weather deities apparently having decided to make us work and suffer for our Christmas spirit.) Made the mercifully brief slog to the gym, part of a general decision to get back into a vaguely regular schedule with that, after a wildly erratic three-month span.

Have been paying little attention to the end of the year thing — best-of lists, reviews of the year’s news, blah blah blah. On one hand, the hooha about the end of the calendar year (to me, an arbitrary division) mostly provokes in me a reaction of shrugging indifference; on the other hand the days have been skidding by at such whiplash-inducing velocity that there just hasn’t been time to wade through the tsunami of year-end spewings.

So, yes. Skidding by. And suddenly here we are the end of one more jaunt around the sun. After running around the barrio this morning being responsible, taking care of errands, my afternoon got spent in a sustained bout of responsibility avoidance, doing as little as humanly possible without descending into total, irredeemable, slothful decadence. Retreating, basically, in an effort to deal with a sense of panicked disbelief at the speed at which our year-long clownshow careens by — days, weeks, months whipping past, holidays being one reminder of all that, path markers pounded into the overgrowth at the side of the path, providing hair-raising reminders that it wasn’t so very long ago that we passed that very same spot along the year’s trail. Only then the markers were scrawled with the number ‘2008′. (Remember 2008? Feels so long ago now, so very freakin’ distant. Almost prehistoric.)

But I blather.

This evening, the weather took an ugly turn. I went out to meet up with someone, found myself being pelted with intense rain, a cold wind working to make the experience even more hilarious. The rain let up, then returned as hail. Then sleet. Then as rain again.

Most everything was closed, this being New Year’s Eve. The few joints that had their doors open for business were absolutely crammed with people, lines of chatting, drinking humans spilling out entryways to the street. Between that and the meteorological comedy underway, my companion and I decided to return to the warm, cosy shelter of a living space equipped with heat, running water, cooking facilities, all that. To eat, to talk, to cuddle. (Maybe in that order, maybe not.)

Feliz año a todos y todas. See you in 2010.

España, te amo.

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