far too much writing, far too many photos

And finally. Finally, springtime has begun settling in. And when I say springtime, I mean leaves on trees (thick enough to cast flickering pools of light/shadow on sidewalks and streets), air mild enough to make coats/jackets unnecessary, a general feel of the world opening out after months of so much gray and rain. Man, it’s nice.

One morning late last week, the swifts arrived, one of the definitive signs that the warm season has taken hold. Didn’t matter that rain and gray skies dominated for several days running, that temperatures had cooled. Didn’t matter that the big plume of airborne volcanic ash overspread the area like an Icelandic anti-aircraft, er, thingie. The season has turned. And two, three days back — the first day of clear skies and sunlight in nearly a week — it was suddenly clear that local trees had made serious headway putting out greenery under cover of gray and rain. And with sunlight came temperatures fit for springtime clothing. I could feel my bod going ahhhhhhh…. as I walked down the avenue.

The swifts are a part of the warm season here that I love in a way that would be hard to express. Amazing flyers, always careening about above in the open sky in groups, keening out the joy of being alive. Waking up in the morning to the strange music of their calls has an effect on me, registering — warning: purple prose alert — in the cells of my physical self with a deep, mysterious pleasure. Seriously. It’s an example of the kind of thing that provokes inexplicable pleasure. Surprisingly deep and meaningful.

And something else that provokes pleasure: walking down a rain-damp sidewalk this afternoon, I came across a 50 euro note. No one else around, no one from whose pocket the bill could have slipped. Whoever the previous owner was, they’d folded the note to within an inch of its life, so that what I found was a small, curled rectangle of paper, soaked through from moisture so that the colors were muted, neutral, not the usual loud orange and white of the 50 euro bills. So for a brief instant, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. But only for the briefest of instants, until brain processed vision and body immediately bent over, hand snaked out, grabbed damp bit of paper, wiped it clean, slid it into shirt pocket, made sure it was snugly in place, not likely to climb out of pocket to freedom a second time.

This was not the first time I’ve made that kind of find. I used to come across bills and change everywhere I went, including a $100 bill discovered on a sidwalk in downtown Boston. But it’s been a while.

Fun.

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Note, to whomever this may apply to: if the original Hendrix version of ‘Manic Depression’ is playing on a decent sound system, please — PLEASE — if you’ve got a tin ear and can’t even manage a vague approximation of the melody, don’t whistle along loudly. ‘Cause you absolutely crucify the moment for those who would otherwise be enjoying the tune.

Seriously. Please. Contain yourself.

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Abandoned bar, Madrid --

Madrid, te amo.

Lately, I’ve been finding that I am far too easily distracted when at home in my current squat. Far, far too easily distracted. Which is sometimes the death of productive work. Meaning I have to pull on clothes, grab notebook/pen, go to a café to sit and scribble for a while. Or walk the streets, taking pix in the hope of coming up with something worth the time and shoe leather. (Or boot leather. Or sneaker rubber.) That’s what I do. Sit, get caffeinated, write. Then the tendency is to return home, get distracted and do nothing productive instead of cranking up laptop, transferring scribbles to webpage. It’s sad. I write most days, but not much of it finds its way here. Which may be a good thing for the world at large, but not good for the life of this page, not good for discipline, and certainly not good when it comes to already difficult task of justifying my sorry existence.

Distracted. Lazy. Undisciplined. Though I have been keeping myself entertained when it comes to photo work. That, I hope, is something.

And my recent one-pic-a-day offshoot of this page has been looking okay. (At least in my humble, unimportant opinion.) That’s something. (Reminder: pix that get posted here have to be downsized, so lose a teeny bit of resolution/clarity. Pix on the new one-image-a-day page don’t need to be downsized, don’t lose resolution, so can be ogled in all their dubious glory.)

I also like hanging out at the café, a very different kind of bugger from the class of café one tends to see stateside. More than a century old, with a storied place in the city’s history, scene of social gatherings featuring individuals of note (arty types, brainy types, loud annoying coffee-guzzling types). That’s fun. I myself even rendezvous with friends there now and then. Also fun.

But an awful of writing is getting done then immediately disappearing. Which, while that may be a good thing for the world at large, it strikes me as the teeniest bit sad. A lot of the writing deals with very, very, very in-the-moment concerns, so if it doesn’t get pasted here real damn fast it pretty much reaches the limits of its shelf-life, er, immediately. Wasting paper, ink, wrist-muscle exercise (re: scribbling, not for anything nasty, filthy minds), etc.

All of this is, I think, a symptom of me being in a strange moment in this life of mine. The kind of strange that doesn’t translate well to writing unless one doesn’t mind wading through blatherings of the navel-gazing variety. And that right there may be why I’m allowing a lot of the current writing to sink out of sight. ‘Cause I am not, I don’t think, especially gifted when it comes to turning navel-gazing into something worth reading by anyone who is not me.

Hmmmm….

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So I spend far too much time walking backstreets, taking far too many pix of stuff that catches my eye, spending far too much time at home working on what comes from that, airing far too much of it out on a photographic website that currently serves as a workshop. And what all this means is that digital cameras have given me back what was at the center of my existence growing up — spending long, long hours Which gives me a feeling of having some focus in this clownshow that passes as my life. On certain days it gives me a reason to pry myself out of bed, pull on clothes, stumble out the door. Depending on how you feel about what gets produced as a result of all that, getting me out of bed and doing something theoretically constructive is a good thing.

Generations of graffiti on a news kiosk — Madrid, Spain

All that gradual shift of focus that’s happened during recent years, my life progressively orienting itself around my cameras to the point of near-obsession, has left me feeling less and less satisfied with how images look when posted here. ‘Cause for purposes of storage space, reducing the size of image files is a real good idea. The problem: images produced by both my cameras lose quality when the files get reduced. Add that to the sad current state of this page since it was hastily forced to move from its previous home a couple of months back and a general state of flux in my little life which gets me feeling a little too overwhelmed a little too easily, to the point that I can only juggle so many things without starting to get a bit — warning: slight exaggeration alert — sliding into a state of near catatonia, leaving me with the desire to do nothing more than lose myslef in camera hooha (which, now that I think about it, has become a form of ongoing occupational therapy) — warning: run-on sentence alert! — and with the photo thing occupying an ever-more prominent place for me, I felt the need to create somewhere to show pix with no quality loss, a clean page, simple, devoted to nothing more than photos.

The result: this bugger here. Simple, updated daily. Leaves me feeling better about having somewhere to inflict what I love on whatever unfortunate souls happen through.

[this entry in progress]

España, te amo.

There is something so sweet in this season between seasons. The softening of the weather, the sudden lengthening of daylight hours (full darkness not falling until 9 p.m. or beyond). Bird singing their hearts out, such a nice counterpoint to the standard soundtrack of traffic or construction work.

There is, however, one strange aspect of this time of year: the sudden appearance of American high school students, herded by squads of middle-aged chaperones. Most everyone looking stressed and badly-dressed. Possibly having a hard time with the timezone adjustment, most of the kids thrust into foreign surroundings for the first time, dealing as best they can (possibly dealing better than I would have had I been stuffed into a metal tube at 16 or 17 of age, flown across the ocean and dumped into the streets of this city, dragged from one touristy locale to another, short on sleep and long on sensory overload).

(Prime sighting: on an already crowded platform in one of the city’s older Metro stations, a crowd waiting for the next train. American high school students straggle into view, pushing their way down the platform, herded by tired chaperones, everyone appearing worn out. The group — in the neighborhood of 40 souls altogether — pushed forward until the crowd prevented further forward motion, at which point they milled, chaperones trying to maintain order, students murmuring to each other, sideways and backward baseball caps everywhere, baggy jeans worn so far down skinny bums that their owners literally couldn’t do more than shuffle. The locals watched, resigned, pushing forward when a train arrived, elbowing students and chaperones aside, everyone finally finding a place inside, locals and school group crammed together, bodies right up against the doors when the train finally resumes foward motion and disappears into tunnel.)

That happens in the week or two before Easter, the school groups standing out even more than than they might normally with the city being half-empty, quiet. Easter weekend arrives and passes, the locals who had bolted for hometowns or the coast or cities in Andalucia (for the Easter processions hooha) return, and another wave of tourists pours in, this time sprawling groups of Japanese threading their way through touristy points of interest, naturally disciplined and well-behaved, cameras pointing in all directions. And Europeans, speaking French or German, or English-accented English. Sidewalk cafés are suddenly in full swing, local businesses raking in deeply-needed euros after a longer, harder, economically-stressed winter than usual.

And during all that, springtime has quietly taken hold, the frequent rain of recent months giving way to much kinder weather (well, mostly), mornings cool, afternoons warm enough to go without sweaters, jackets, even older folks (traditionally the most resistant to shrugging off winter gear) cautiously surrendering to the freedom of less clothing.

I sat at an outdoor café table with a friend last week, talking about how this kind of weather can destroy the desire to work. I get the sentiment of that from earlier years of indentured servitude, spending days, weeks, months in offices in exchange for paychecks. With my current sitch, however, the shift to more sunnier, sweeter, more user-friendly days has kind of the opposite effect on me. Most of my time is spent indoors in my current squat, perched in front of laptop, doing one of the two kinds of work to which I currently devote myself. With the local world sliding slowly into springtime, I find myself getting sucked out the door, camera in hand, to spend a hours hiking around the city, doing the second kind of work: following whatever catches my eye, taking far too many photos. This city turns out to be ideal for that, providing gritty, beautiful eye candy everywhere. With the weather turning, the urge to run out the door and wander city streets is hard to resist.

[continued in following entry]

España, te amo.

[continued from previous entry]

It continues to astound me how time slips by. Someone I once knew said that for them the passage of time felt slow in the present moment, then seemed to have moved at lightning speed in retrospect. I don’t experience it in a set way — its speed seems elastic, sometimes loping along comfortably, other times driving forward at warp speed. But almost always, looking back, I’m at a loss to explain to explain where it all went and how it all got by.

Easter week, for example. The city quieting down as people streamed out for the long, long weekend, starting the Friday of the weekend before Easter, the exodus continuing for nearly a week. Producing a very different, much more manageable Madrid — the reason I prefer to stay put when the locals bolt.

The Metro, for example: a whole other experience compared with its normal crowded self. And traffic — far less of it, the drivers seeming less crazed, less wired, less potentially murderous. With no rush hour to speak of (no rush hour!) — the kind of change that makes a city more user-friendly in a deep, fundamental way.

So. Peace. And relative quiet. The problem: this turns my current barrio into a kind of dead zone. A dead boring zone. Meaning one has to flee to find life, diversion, something to hold attention. And that’s what I’ve been doing — fleeing the barrio on a daily basis, heading into parts of the center where a different kind of long weekend was underway. With stores, restaurants, streets and sidewalks alive with people. A less intense class of crowd than the normal variety, with a far higher percentage of tourists — in the capital for Easter weekend, window shopping, strolling, chatting, taking photos.

[this entry more or less continued in next entry]

España, te amo.

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