far too much writing, far too many photos

[continued from entry of 3/22]

Somehow — and I’m at a loss to explain the particulars — the last days of March have elbowed the rest of the month aside, and suddenly it’s Semana Santa, Easter Week. On top of that, the clock did the sneaky one-hour-forward thing. I stayed up well into the wee hours Saturday night, stayed in bed Sunday morning. When I finally dragged myself out from under the covers, I found a beautiful day happening outside — sunny, mild, feeling like a genuine turning of the season. It sucked me out of the flat, onto a bus, down into the Metro for a brief ride, and when I finally emerged back up into the sunlight, I planted myself at a small table outside a café and watched the local world pass by for a while.

Have now been back here for two weeks. The return trip: not a very good time. An overnight flight featuring next to no sleep, a 3-hour layover at Heathrow (customs, 10-minute bus ride between terminals, far too much time spent stumbling through endless hallways and escalators, waiting, waiting, waiting). Then a flight between there and Madrid, a half-hour wait for luggage, an hour-long slog through various Metro lines. Really, not a hugely entertaining time.

(On the other hand, when it became clear that my video screen on the overnight flight was nonfunctional, resisting all attempts to convince it to play nice, the crew let me move to the business section: more legroom, only half-full (as opposed to the packed steerage — er, I mean economy — section), and yes, working video to train bleary eyes and brain on. Both flights were more or less on time. Subway and bus rain smoothly, getting me back to my squat in one piece. And sweet, user-friendly weather on this end of the trip. Not small stuff, any of that.)

That last weekend in Masschusetts featured non-stop rain, high winds, chilly temperatures. A nor’easter, in fact, the kind that laughs at storm gear and nearly doubles over with helpless hilarity at umbrellas. (They don’t do much to help, umbrellas, when rain is essentially traveling horizontally, driven by hurricane-force wind.)

That first afternoon, me arriving fresh from those strange few days in Montpelier, I found myself being dragged back out into the gathering weather as soon as I dragged my bags into G.&S.’s flat — to attend a matinee of a show at one of Boston’s higher profile repertory theaters. One of those occasions, turned out, where actors did what they could, working with a semi-coherent script and inexplicably botched directorial decisions. Not the most inspirational couple of hours of theater that I’ve ever seen. (And that, sometimes, is show biz.) But endured in the company of friends, which made it a whole lot better.

Much of the rest of the weekend got spent in G.&S.’s cosy flat, staying safe and dry while the weather misbehaved. G.’s uncle was nearing the end of a battle with a terminal illness, he called to tell G. he was close to checking out. That prompted family phone calls and decisions re: sudden travel arrangements, a sense of stress and uncertainty floating through the living space, me trying to find a balance between being decent company and not intruding or getting in the way. Not exactly the weekend anyone expected. (And that, sometimes, is life.)

Spent a lot of time in socks, sweatpants and my black, super-stylish Soma fm t-shirt. Spent a fair amount of time in front of the laptop, when not hanging with G.&S.

Monday a.m., for the first time all weekend, dragged S. out for caffeine — only my second infusion of wonder liquid since leaving Madrid. As I settled down at a café table, I found myself thinking about an old friend. Last time that happened — at this same joint, thinking about the same person — the individual in question showed up in 3-D a few minutes later. I mentioned that to S., warning her not to be surprised if that friend appeared once more. And a few minutes later, there that person was, as if she’d stepped straight out of my thoughts to join us for a while. (I have no idea what’s up with that connection, but it’s kinda cool.)

The trip stateside ended that afternoon, me driving G. to the airport for her hastily-arranged uncle-related flight (perfectly orchestrated by the Universe to fit in with my flight, same as a week earlier when we both flew into Boston on identically-timed flights, me driving her home from airport in rented car.)

[continued in following entry]

España, te amo.

For a whole lot of excellent gif-errific entertainment, take a look at this.

[continued from previous entry]

Next morning: my bod still doing the European time thing – had me up real damn early. I took advantage of that, got on the cellphone, began calling Comcast, looking to reach a supervisor in hopes that might produce better results than the previous day’s calls. Took six attempts to reach one (first call: instead of connecting me with a supervisor, service rep. puts me on hold then connects me another service rep. Second call: service rep. puts me on hold then connects me with Comcast directory assistance. And so on.) — when I did, I got someone who spoke as if hyper-caffeinated, slurring all words together so that it was next to impossible to understand him. It took work to communicate, but was worth it. The evening before, various Comcast gnomes had told me that phone/internet service hadn’t happened because the service tech. hadn’t closed out the work order. This gentleman told me that was nonsense, gave me a number that had to be called to reactivate telephone service. By late morning, I had a working landline. Leaving the most important bit of all — internet.

By early afternoon, had managed to arrange for a visit from a service tech. to figure out why internet stubbornly refused to get cracking. He showed up at 4, spent an hour in the flat’s teeny living room, both of us on a laptop, trying different approaches. The modem got rebooted various times on both ends of the line got gnashed, curses got cursed. Until finally, at 5 p.m., late afternoon sun pouring in the room’s single window, the problem surrendered, I had what I should have had all along — web access.

Felt like being able to breathe again. It’s bizarre how central the ‘net has become to my daily existence.

Lavished thanks on the technician. Spent the next two days getting things done.

Took the friend who’s been looking after my mail for the past few months out to dinner. The bare minimum I could do for him — this person drove me to the bus when I bolted in early October. During that brief midday ride, I asked if he would mind picking up my mail during my months away. He responded with a surprised but gracious yes, and has faithfully gathered mail from my p.o. box ever since. It’s meant I can’t really ask much more of him than that (though, er, I did once). Because he didn’t sign on for more than that, and he’s not a friend it would be kind, proper, respectful or humane to impose on in ways he did not sign up for. So I try not to. And when I’m back there, I take him out to dinner, spend a couple of hours talking and eating good chow. This time at the Main Street Grill, one of the outlet restaurants for the New England Culinary Institute. A pretty good bet for a good meal. I’ve read some reviews online by customers claiming that it’s gone downhill in recent years — I don’t see it. In fact, right now they have a tapas style menu, first time I’ve seen that there. We went for it, it turned out to be stupendously wonderful. Highly recommended for any who find themselves in Montpelier, in need of a good meal.

Anyway. Blah blah blah.

Did the no-caffeine thing all week, hoping it might provide some counterweight to the bod-not-adjusting-to-the-timezone thing. At the very least, it may have been helpful to be less keyed up during those two glorious days of wrestling with Comcast. Got done a lot of what needed to get done. Most of the stuff that needed phone/internet to get done, at any rate. The loss of those two days meant I couldn’t get any of the physical, hands-on work done. Which may affect my life a month or two on up the road. Or not. We’ll see.

Friday morning, the final morning in town. The sweet weather from earlier in the week had given way to gray, colder fare. Decided to break my caffeine fast, walked over to the café that functions as my second home when I’m back in that part of the world. Relaxed a bit for the first time all week, took a long while working my way through a double espresso. Got to thinking about the nearly a year I’d had a small office on the third floor of that building, how good that little workspace was to me. Ran into the place’s owner, seriously pregnant the last time I’d seen her, now looking content, healthy and well past the three days of labor she found herself dealing with back in October. Caught up with her, admired the transformation that’s taken place in the café — now looking more spacious, less cluttered, beautifully looked after.

Got caffeinated, went on with the day, a teensy bit more spring in my step. Finished Season 5 of Weeds (yee-ha!). Got ready to bolt the next morning.

And next morning did just that. Back south to Cambridge to pass the weekend of, I hoped, decompression with friends. The gorgeous weather that had greeted me five days earlier was long gone, rain began as I crossed the Massachusetts line, getting heavier and heavier as I drove until I found myself in a genuine bugger of a meteorological event — a nor’easter, wind whipping sheets of rain every which way, umbrellas not looking like they were providing anyone out in the moisture a whole lot of protection. Steady rain that just went on and on and on, all that day and night. All weekend long, turned out.

[continued in entry of 3/29]

España, te amo.

[continued from entry of march 12th]

The first sign of trouble surfaced when I stopped to grab mail from my p.o. box. A notice from Comcast — the, er, charity that supplies phone/internet/tv for the teeny-tiny living space that passes for the flat I’ve had in Montpelier since I sold my house last June — demanding a pile of money.

Far as I knew, I’d set up automatic payment before I left in October with both Comcast and the local electric utility, the idea being to be grown-up, responsible, a good citizen. ‘Cause grown-up, responsible citizens don’t tend to find this kind of surprise lurking in their mailboxes.

My bleary, non-caffeinated response to finding this note from Comcast: huh? ‘Cause I’d been back briefly in December, hadn’t found any indications of trouble. Nothing from an unhappy corporation holding out a metaphoric cup in my direction, shaking it insistently in hopes I’d quake with fear and fill it with wads of $$$.

Hmmm.

Returned to teeny flat, dragged bags upstairs. Picked up phone: no dial tone. Cranked up laptop (how come no matter how many times I write that phrase it still sounds vaguely filthy?): no internet connection. Turned on the T&V: nuttin’. Looked like Comcast had cut off all my services.

I was back in Montpelier because some things needed taking care of. A bunch of those things needed phone and internet connection to get done. I had four days to work with — there was now no knowing how much of that time would be eaten up wrestling with Comcast gnomes. But I had no choice in the matter — wrestling was now at the top of the day’s agenda.

Grabbed phone, called that mischievous corporation. Got a service rep. who sounded every bit as surprised as I was at the massive cock-up I found myself dealing with. A good guy, turned out, who did his best to get some problem-solving wheels turning. The first of many service reps. I spoke with that day and the next, and possibly the best, kindest, most capable of the lot.

That first service rep. managed to get a local service technician to come out late that afternoon and do whatever needed to be done at the utility pole outside the building. They said I didn’t need to be at home for that. I wasn’t. The upshot: many more phone calls with Comcast personnel who either didn’t know what was happening or gave me contradictory information. At day’s end, I still had no phone/internet, but television had been restored. I drowned my sorrows by watching the first DVD of the fifth season of Weeds (one of the wickedest, most anarchistic series ever made).

[continued in following entry]

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

Unsolicited advice: graffiti – Montpelier, Vermont

España, te amo.

Taking the long Metro home from the airport at the end of of a long, long overnight trip back here from the States. The train pulls into a station, the doors open, a hard-bitten, working-class vision steps into the coach. Looking like a down and dirty Spanish cousin to the classic beehive hairstyle kind of girl — black hair pulled up and back, leavings stiff-looking bangs curling down over her forehead. Eyes hidden behind sunglasses, expression presenting a portrait of someone it’s probably best not to fuck with. Black boots, black stockings extending up legs that disappeared beneath a leather coat done up with faux leopard print patterns and faux fur trim. She headed straight toward me, lowered herself into the empty seat at my side. An emery board appeared, she began filing red, chipped nails, face set in a slightly aloof, slightly distracted frown.

Oh, yes. Back home in Madrid.

España, te amo.

Last Monday morning: got up real damn early, pulled myself together, dragged ass out to the airport, caught a flight back to the States via Dublin. Made a point of staying away from caffeine so I could doze on the plane, that turned out to be an excellent decision.

Traveling is nowhere near as much fun as it used to be for big piles of obvious reasons. But it has its moments. The last two times I’ve flown to Dublin, they gave me a window seat in one of the mid-plane exit rows. Which meant decent views — I do love to look at passing scenery from way high up — and leg room. Made me happy. Which is no small thing.

Made a point of not doing caffeine that morning so I could doze during the flight. The idea being to make up for my usual lack of sleep from the night-before-traveling-days keyed-up thing. Got more sleep than normal this time around, making the need for shuteye while flying less pressing. But skipping caffeine worked anyway. A 20-something Irish couple sat next to me — not aiming a word at me the entire time — all three of us napped, heads dipping forward, flight attendants tactfully leaving us alone.

Dublin Airport now functions as a surrogate for American customs, putting travelers heading Stateside through a kinder, gentler version of the experience they’d go through with U.S. customs. Hadn’t been through it since mid-December, before that jackass burned his crotch to bits in the failed Christmas Day attempt at blowing up an airliner. This time around, they put everyone getting on the flight to Boston through an additional checkpoint, just before getting on board — going through everyone’s bags, followed by a discrete frisking. Done efficiently, but without a hardnosed edge.

Spent the next few hours mostly watching episodes of ‘The Wire.’ Stepped out of the terminal in Boston to find myself in the middle of a beautiful, mild afternoon, late afternoon sun pouring down. Real damn user-friendly.

There are times when the universe has hilarious fun with us (a friend’s recent twitter update: ‘Lose small plastic washer. Order replacement. Rec’v replacement. Find original washer 2 seconds later. The Universe is laughing at me.’) There are other times when it orchestrates happenings with deft, unexpected kindness. I was going to spend this first night back stateside at the home of friends, G.&S. — G. was also flying in from out of town , it turned out that our flights arrived at exactly the same time, to the minute. Amazing all by itself, given the number of planes that touch down on Logan Airport every day. But then my flight arrived nearly an hour early. (One. Hour. Early. Flew the same airline in December, the plane got in 30 minutes early.) Gave me time to get baggage, trot through customs (adroitly dodging baggage-search gnomes), get rental car, then pick up G.

Wormed rental car through rush-hour traffic to G.’s squat in Cambridge. Dumped bags, got taken out for Chinese food. Returned to flat, crashed. Woke up at 3 a.m. (Madrid time, hence my bod’s time, 9 a.m.) Levered self out of bed, dragged bags out to rental car. By 4 a.m., was navigating empty Cambridge streets, heading toward interstate and the way north.

By 5:30, the sky had begun the slow shift from black to deep pre-dawn blue.

By 7 o’clock, I was in Montpelier’s tiny downtown, the air filled with late winter dust, golden from the first slanting shafts of sunlight that found their way over hills and buildings.

[continued in entry of march 19]

España, te amo.

Next morning. Sunshine, cold air. I took a fast look at the TV weather report, they went on about ugly weather arriving from the west later in the day. Made me glad I’d brought appropriate ugly-weather gear.

(And speaking of T&V, the day before while I settled in and unpacked, I did something I never do: turned on daytime television. Oprah in this case, someone I literally haven’t seen in years. The show’s theme: giving makeovers to males stuck in looks from decades past. Kinda scary, I have to say. And what in hell happened to Oprah since the last time I saw her? Sincerely, I had no idea she’d gone through such a transformation.)

(But I digress.)

It turned out that my little hotel was right around the corner from the Hugh Lane Gallery and the Dublin Writers Museum. Sent a friend an sms to see if I could interest him in a little culture, got a message in return saying yes, he’d be there with his bicycle once finished with breakfast. I, in the meantime, found the Writers Museum café — a nice, airy space to sit and wake up in. Once I´d gotten over the shock of the prices on the food, got myself a double espresso and a scone, sat down to read and begin the slow a.m. return to the human race.

Half an hour later, met my friend T. out in front of the Hugh Lane, we wandered inside. A lovely museum, turned out, with a nice collection of work. And also, a temporary exhibit about the work of Francis Bacon. Including a reconstruction of his hair-raisingly junk-filled studio, and of the stairway that led to his studio — under glass, in a hallway, illuminated with soft, spectral lighting.

After that: out into sunlight and cold air for a long plod down O’Connell, T. walking his bike, conversation flowing about whatever came to mind. A wander through the narrow streets of Temple Bar, me bothering proprietors of used book stands for works by Stieg Larsson and Roddy Doyle, T. showing me Saturday produce markets. Picked up a bag of beautiful black olives, immediately started working my through ‘em. Would have gone for a bit of quiche, but as in the café at the Writers Museum, the tasty looking product was apparently made with shavings of gold or platinum — I can’t imagine why else the prices would have been so wildly inflated.

Something I saw a lot of in Dublin: buildings designed to use light from the outside to maximize a sense of air and space. Skylights, indoor courtyards, often with cafés strategically strewn about. I like it. Put all that together with decent food and good espresso, you can’t lose.

Spent time in spaces like that shooting the breeze, drifted through arty stuff for a bit of variation. At the end of it, on the way back to where T.’s bike waited patiently, took a fast look at the http://www.irishfilm.ie/, Dublin feeling increasingly like a mighty liveable place.

T. and I parted ways, I stopped to bother more used-book purveyors (with no success), waved around my camera in suitable arty fashion, taking shots of whatever caught my eye. Crossed the river, the weather turning colder, the sun slowly fading as cloud cover moved in. Felt like the weather might be taking an unfriendly turn, I headed back to the hotel, making a fast detour into the theater across the road. Playing: one of Brian Friel’s more influential bits, on the last night of its sold-out run. I asked about returns, they said that could be a possibility, told me to return that evening an hour before curtain time. I did that, found myself waiting by the ticket windows, part of a small line of hopeful people. Returns trickled in, by 7:30 I found myself shelling out a bunch of euros for a fourth-row seat. Yee-ha!

[this entry in progress]

España, te amo.

Almost two weeks ago now: dragged my sorry carcass out into the cold and rain real damn early, made the hike to the airport. Got into a big, magical metal tube. When I emerged a couple of hours later, I found myself in Dublin.

Not my first time there, but it had been a few years. A city with bunches of ancestral resonance, my father’s side of the bio. family coming from there, Cork, other places in that island’s southeast quarter. Since my last visit, prices had soared, the economy had peaked then crashed, the composition of the faces seen along the busy streets had gotten a whole lot more international.

Cold, damp air. Clouds and blue sky constantly trading off, sunlight swelling, fading to gray, brightening again. Double-decker busses everywhere, sidewalks in motion with crowds of people.

And halfway along O’Connell Street, the Spire — that huge phallic thingie planted in the mid-street pedestrian island like the biggest freakin’ flagpole ever, pointing skyward, so weirdly unrelated to anything around it. Kind of cool and also kind of er, huh? Sleek, interesting, and 100% incongruous. But okay. Cause there it is, thrusting itself up into the dramatic Irish skies.. An unmovable part of the scenery and clearly not going anywhere any time soon.

My little hotel was just north of the main drag of O’Connell Street. Checked in, dumped bags, headed back out into the cold air. Sauntered down O’Connell checking out the show. And it is a show along that gaudy, touristy boulevard. Realized as I went that I’d hardly eaten anything since pulling myself out from under the covers many hours earlier in Madrid. Paid more attention to lunchtime signs posted at pubs and eating establishments, then realized two things pretty damn quick. First, it appeared to be startlingly expensive to get a meal in that town. And second, I got the funny feeling that I couldn’t trust that any joint along O’Connell would provide chow actually worth shelling out the kind of money they were asking.

Bypassed all that, went straight to the Dublin Bus office (located conveniently right by the Spire thingie). Picked up a 3-day pass, an extremely useful acquisition — Dublin may be a small city as cities go, but it’s big enough that it could do with a good Metro system. And since there’s no Metro, busses are the transport de choix. Being able to hop on and off as one moves around town makes ranging around easier, faster, more user-friendly. And I started doing that immediately, grabbing one that paused right outside that office and riding across the river to Temple Bar. Where everyone seems to want to go.

Saw a couple of likely photo ops, jumped off the bus, pulled out camera, entertained myself for a while.

Saw a likely-looking pub, remembered that feeding myself would not be a bad idea, slipped inside. Found the place empty, lunchtime apparently just over. The individual inside was happy to take my money, however, and served me up a plate of chicken curry along with a pint of Guinness.

The Guinness: smooth, fresh, packed with flavor. The curry: beautifully presented, but with strangely tasteless chicken. And the dish so enormous that I despaired at the idea of choking it all down. Ate slowly, savored the pint, watched as groups of people wandered in, many pints of many different beers getting poured. Paid up, stepped out into cool air, wandered.. Through Temple Bar, back across the Liffey, through streets west of O’Connell, rain coming down at times, the air getting ever colder.

For some reason, seedless grapes were being sold everywhere around that part of the city, grizzled women hawking them at ad hoc stands located along sidestreets. I picked up some, returned to the hotel. The previous night’s near total lack of sleep caught up with me, I fell into bed and stayed there.

[continued in following entry]

España, te amo.

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