far too much writing, far too many photos

My inner jukebox has been in high gear, to the point that there’s no need to turn on stereo, radio, mp3 thingie. My teeny brain is providing all the entertainment. Which, now that I think about it, is more often the case than not in this life of mine. Not sure if that should worry me, but there it is. (Currently playing: Pumping for Jill by Iggy Pop.

Which brings up something I completely forgot about until that tune got lodged in my head: during my weekend in Dublin this last February, I drifted into a pub at the very end of their lunch time, found myself alone at a teeny table, working on the best pint of Guinness I’ve ever had set in front of me, along with a big plate of chicken curry (looked stupendous, turned out to be strangely tasteless).

To my right, in a corner up near the ceiling, two televisions played sports stuff, the volume off. And at some point sports images gave way to ads. I found myself watching Iggy Pop selling car insurance, my mouth hanging open in dumb surprise. Car insurance, Mr. Pop’s craggy face talking to the camera while a half-size replica of him, an Iggy doll, carried on like a headbanging representative of Iggy’s id. Multiple Iggy ads, turned out, one after another, the entire spectacle stretching on and on, me staring, dumbfounded, Guinness and tasteless curry momentarily forgotten before this bizarre video onslaught.

When the televisions mercifully returned to less distressing programming, I returned to food/drink, mulling over what I’d just witnessed. I like Iggy. It would be fair to say that I adore some of the music he’s cranked out over the years. And I don’t begrudge him making a living. But I am so thankful I don’t live somewhere those ads run (or haven’t to this point). ‘Cause popping on the tube to find Iggy and his alter ego flogging car insurance would not make me happy. Not happy at all.

So I breathe a sigh of relief. And I enjoy ‘Pumping for Jill’ taking up residence in my head for a few hours. It’ll disappear as soon as other music gets cranked. And a different tune will have its moment.

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Graffiti moonscape — Madrid, Spain:

España, te amo

Am thinking about keeping a log of songs that get stuck in my head. Could be revealing of… something (though possibly not at all interesting for anyone who’s not, er, me). Today’s tune: ‘Queen of the Highway’, the Doors. Don’t ask me where it came from. In fact, don’t ask me where any of them come from — I have no idea. They appear out of the ethers, take up residence in my inner jukebox for a while, then vanish. And once they’re gone, I seem to do a system dump about them. Any recollection of the tune disappears once the bugger’s pulled up stakes and bolted — ask me what tune was making itself the de facto soundtrack for the previous day, I’d have no answer. Kinda strange, think I. But there it is.

Have been up and out early these last few weeks — at least from Monday through Friday — now that I’m into a steady rhythm of work. I maneuver my sorry bod out of bed, shower/shave/pull on duds. Step outside, grab a copy of El País and hop a bus. Or hop the Metro. Doing a decent imitation of a high-functioning human type person, though the reality is that I am barely conscious, barely staying upright. It’s a miracle I do as well as I do.

And now that the trolls who work in the Metro have stopped with the work slowdowns and every train isn’t packed with heaving, sweating, suffering humanity, the ride is so much nicer. With that extra bit of breathing room, I spend a bit more time noticing fellow travelers. Though there are some who make it difficult to not notice them.

Two days back, sitting across from two plump Central/South American women, one looking to be in her late 30’s, the other early 40’s. Sitting next to each other, yelling back and forth. Especially the younger one. Next to each other. Yelling. Which brought up a memory from my very first trip to London. Sitting on the upper level of a double-decker bus my best friend’s sister — late at night, the Tube already closed. My friend had gone down to the quiz the bus driver re: how we could find our way back to our rented squat. My buddy had a tendency to speak very loudly, and what I and his sister heard from our seats up on the second level was two voices — one quiet. measured, English (driver), the other unnervingly loud, friendly, American.

He’s still an important part of my life, that friend, though I don’t get to see him anywhere near often enough. And he’s still a boisterous dude.

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España, te amo

David Bowie is disappointed in you.

Very. Very. Disappointed.

España, te amo

Woke up this morning in the wee hours. From a nightmare. For a while I lay there and drifted, half-conscious, thoughts still immersed in unpleasant scenes just experienced. Finally realized I was not having a great time, opened eyes. The world outside lay dark and quiet. Turned on the bedside light, the teeny clock on the dresser read around 4:30.

It’s a rare occasion when I have a nasty dream. Extremely damn rare. And the few times they happen, they’re intense enough that they jolt me awake. I have to turn on lights, get out of bed, clear my head, make an effort to turn my attention to other things. If I do all that, the nightmares lose their grip on me, fade away, disappear from the memory banks. Which is fine with me. I don’t want to write them down or talk about them — I prefer to do a short-term memory dump, clear out cobwebs, let in fresh air, all that.

It’s been real warm here the last few days. I met with a friend this afternoon, he stumbled in from the street looking seriously fried, sweaty, hair pointing in every direction, saying he’d just seen a temperature read-out on a bus stop that read 38C (100F). But no matter how high the mercury flies during the day, by the early hours of the morning the air outside has cooled nicely. At least outside my current squat, where there’s a big courtyard garden off the back of the building and Madrid’s version of Central Park across the Avenue that runs past the front.

Once I’d heaved myself out of bed, post-nightmare, and pulled on clothes, I stumbled out onto my teeny balcón and breathed in sweet, cool air.

Never got back to sleep. Went out early, bought a paper and, looking for a tiny bit of well-deserved diversion, I started in on the sudoku. The Monday and Tuesday sudokus are easy. Always. It´s traditional. Today’s Tuesday. Should have been a no-brainer. Except my entertainment didn’t want to cooperate, no matter how hard I tried to break its will. I finally noticed that the puzzle rating read difícil (difficult) instead of fácil. Some newspaper employee had decided to play head games with people like me: innocent paying customers who sought nothing more than a few minutes of stressless fun. Grumble, grumble.

(Cabrones.)

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España, te amo

I love a good parquet floor. My very first flat here in Madrid had one and my current squat has one. Both well taken care of. Which means by getting up a little bit of speed one can slide from one room to another (regressing instantly to childhood, emotionally).

I do it all the time. Makes me so happy.

The summer heat has been making me happy as well. For most people I’ve had encounters with since summer weather really took hold here, the fallback conversational gambit is to complain about the heat (‘¡Ay, qué calor!’). I respond by telling the simple. obnoxious truth: the warm/hot weather feels unbelievably good to my bod. The winter here was long, gray, surprisingly rainy. And while I was able to enjoy fits of warm season days during the seven weeks back in Vermont, there was a whole lot of cold and/or rain there as well. (And we’re talking May/June, in that case.) These days of sweet, dry warmth feel like a gift, soothing something way down inside me.

If I were in the south of Spain instead of a city that shares the latitude of Philadelphia, I might not be so freakin’ sanguine. I might slip into a reflexive state of complaining, like the rest of the surrounding world. But I’m not. And with the exception of one insanely hot afternoon/evening — spent broiling at a table outside a café, bathed in sweat — this period since returning from the States has felt like a gift.

Which is not to say I push my luck, go skipping down sun-baked stretches of sidewalk during conditions that could induce heatstroke. On afternoons like today, the shady side of the street gets all the pedestrian traffic — expanses of sidewalk in direct sunlight remain conspicuously empty. I’m all for comfort ‘n’ common sense ‘n’ like that. And I enjoy the bejeezis out of the being here in the middle of all this.

So for today: simple pleasures. Warm air, a glass of cold liquid, life going on all around.

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Graffiti abstract — Madrid

España, te amo

Feeling a teeny bit adrift in time, the days flipping past like playing cards being shuffled by someone with a sure, light hand.

Heat waves come and go. Two weeks ago, one settled in bringing a spate of intensely warm conditions that lasted a full seven days. Sitting outside a café last Sunday, a friend said that we’d reached the end of the hot weather, that the comedians in the local weather biz claimed we’d see some cooling off the very next day. Meaning, it turned out, Monday featured temperatures in the mid to upper 30’s centigrade instead of 40.

On those days of genuine heat, I found myself getting up real early, pulling on clothes, making the hike to the Metro, getting out in an unfamiliar barrio to spend a couple of hours walking, hunting photos. A working class barrio, with immigrants from all over. And lots of eye-catching details. By 9 or 9:30, the sun’s too high in the sky, the light is too intense, so the hunting ends, I return home to pick through the morning’s images, work on them, see what comes of it.

A good routine.

Since the arrival of genuine summer heat, fans are suddenly eveywhere, and I’m not talking the electric kind (or groupies of world cup fútbol, for that matter). I mean abanicos, the variety that appears in hands, opened with a flick of the wrist, used to create one’s own personal breeze. Found myself on the Metro between two of them one warm morning, a middle-aged woman to one side, to the other the only male I’ve seen using a fan so far this year. Enjoyed backwash from both sides. Brief refreshment before stepping back out onto the street and the summertime heat.

Small pleasures. They rule.

España, te amo

Summer’s in full flower, the days are long and awash in sunlight. The flat’s doors and screenless windows mostly stay wide open, which would be a disaster back in Vermont. Here, apart from the occasional housefly and very, very occasional bigass flying cockroach, there have been no unwanted intruders at all. This morning. on rising and stumbling slowly the space I found two or three big, white bits of milkweed fluff floating slowly through the rooms, languid and graceful, speeding up when I moved by, whirling a bit in the eddying air currents of my passing, then slowing again to drift placidly, meditatively.

Summer. Warm and lazy.

The barrio is quiet, many city dwellers have fled the city for other points on the map — coast, mountains, smaller population centers further north. Tomorrow night, the Spanish national team faces off with the Netherlands in the World Cup finals. I don’t expect things will be very sedate for that. Two nights back, when Spain took on an excellent German squad in the semi’s and defeated them with shocking ease — shocking because up to that point the Germans had been the team to beat in the tournament, powerful and a joy to watch, mostly mowing down their opponents in an unstoppable display of high-level play. The Spanish squad, on the other hand, had mostly not appeared to be the same outfit that took control of the Eurocup two years ago, dispatching one opponent after another with, seemingly, minimal effort. They have a different coach now, they mostly abandoned the style of play that left the other sides at a loss re: how to respond in 2008 and in the World Cup qualifying matches since then. In only one game during the last few weeks did they show that spark and style. Until the semi-final match two nights back, taking me — me, who was prepared for the Germans to roll over the Spanish players and take their place in the final — and Germany by surprise.

During the game, it was often possible to figure out what was happening on the pitch by the sounds coming from open windows ranged around the barrio. Given the heat, there was an ocean of open windows, and so lots of audible noise. The explosion of emotion and sound at the end of the game stretched on into the night, cheering and car horns continuing until the wee hours.

Over 100,000 people watched on big screens set up at Bernabeau Stadium, Real Madrid’s home field. For tomorrow night’s game, the City is going to close streets in the city center and set up several big screens. An ocean of people is expected, dressed in red team jerseys, wearing red/yellow wigs, faces painted, blowing horns, vuvuzelas, blahblahblah. I suspect I’ll avoid all that.

I have no idea what to expect tomorrow night as far as the match, have no idea which version of the Spanish squad will show up, have no idea which team will come out of the game with the title. All I’m hoping for is some good high-level ball. Anything more will be a gift.

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Summer in this city:

España, te amo

About a week and a half ago, late one night. Me back here in Madrid a few days, my bod still making the timezone adjustment, My sleeping schedule out of whack, sometimes leaving me bolt awake at hours when I would rather be out cold. Sprawled out on the sofa this particular evening, drifting slowly toward unconsciousness.

You know how muscles will do a convulsive thing as your body relaxes and sleep gradually takes hold? I remember times from childhood when I’d fall asleep, be off in a dream, and my bod would jerk as muscles suddenly let go in that releasing-tension way, waking me completely back up so I could look around dopily trying to figure out what had just happened.

I’d been watching some T and V this evening a week and a half ago, finally switched off the box and lay there drifting away, my hand holding the remote. Eyes closed, on the way to deep, genuine sleep. Next thing I know, something strikes my face, hard. Really hard. Like an object of unyielding solidity had been dropped on me from several feet up. Fallen off a shelf, maybe. Or come out of a fixture. There’s no shelf above the sofa though, and no fixtures. Eyes fly open, I’m glancing around groggily, forehead throbbing from the concussion, me trying to puzzle out what in hell had just happened. I see the remote laying on my tummy, the hand that had been holding it nearby, fingers unclenched. And I get the picture: I’d just had one of those convulsive muscle thingies and smacked myself in the face. With the remote. Real damn hard.

Me, hitting myself. In the face. With a weapon.

Head really hurting, I levered myself to my feet, shuffled into the bathroom, switched on the light. Looked in the mirror, heard myself cry out with alarm: the area above my nose, between my eyebrows was smeared alarmingly with blood, drops trickled downward, obeying gravity, leaving red slug trails. Turned on water, cleaned myself up, got a look at the injury. A deep, perfectly vertical, paper thin gash, maybe 3/4 of an inch in length. Created when one of the edges of the remote slammed into skin.

Applied direct pressure, slowed the bleeding. Found a circular bandage, covered up the wound. Tried to wrap my head around what had just happened.

Man. It’s not every day we get a goofily graphic illustration of how dangerous we can be to ourselves.

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Morning, Madrid.

España, te amo.

Had an encounter last night with the single most enormous cockroach I’ve ever had the dubious pleasure of stumbling across. On the wall in my current squat’s living room — 2-1/2 to 3 inches long, not including a pair of antennae that appeared at least as long as its body. And as if that weren’t enough joy, it turned out to be one of the flying variety. Probably came in the open doors to the balcón, attracted by lamplight.

Spotted it on walking into the living room, a big black critter perched on white wall, up by white ceiling — looking more enormous than it actually was ’cause of lamplight shadow. Didn’t even consider killing it, that would have meant cleaning up far too huge a smear of dead cockroach. Grabbed a big glass, chased the thing around until I trapped it, took it outside, tossed it off into the darkness.

No mosquitoes here — good thing given the complete lack of screens. But then… monstrous roaches. Haven’t seen anything even remotely similar since returning two weeks ago.

Re: the Metro strike/slowdown once more: saw in this morning’s El País that the spokesperson for the striking Metro workers has been replaced. This is the glowering individual who said, “We’re going to bring down Madrid.” Another P.R. disaster.

According to one of his fellow union members, he’s a “hot-blooded man.” Heh.

España, te amo.

What I wrote about the Metro in that last entry? Bollocks. With me deciding not to repeat Monday’s experience (meaning I stayed clear of Metro stations on Tuesday/Wednesday) and with me not opening a newspaper (where I might have seen coverage of the happening), I was blissfully ignorant of developments. Which meant I had no clue that the gentle workers of the Metro, on their own spontaneous initiative, had changed the slowdown to a total strike, leaving the city with nowhere near enough resources to deal with two million displaced Metro riders, turning morning and evening rush hours into chaos. Oops.

One photo in particular made the rounds of press and TV news: an image from the street of a bus stuffed with passengers, front and center an elderly woman being squeezed by the press of humanity, face appearing to be flattened against window glass, her mouth wide open in a silent cry of pain and/or pleasure. A P.R. disaster for unions and striking workers who convened a hasty meeting yesterday and voted to return to the half-service status originally planned, with normal service restored for the weekend. They say next Monday will begin with normal service, but warn that if the regional or national governments attempt any punitive action against union personnel, it’s back to a no-holds-barred strike.

I took busses this morning and this evening. The result: normal crowds, smooth traveling. Not the frenzied, desperate scene of the past two days. For which I am abjectly grateful.

Meanwhile, two nights ago Spain and Portugal squared off in the second stage of World Cup play. The two neighbors on this big peninsula I currently find myself on, with centuries of sometimes turbulent history. Portugal had been having a great World Cup, in its previous match taking Brazil — one of the world’s strongest and most enjoyable national teams — to a 0-0 draw (not to mention thrashing North Korea by a humiliating score of 7-0). The best game of the Cup so far, for my monopoly money, and a classic case of why the score sometimes has nothing to do with the quality of the event. The Spanish squad, winners of the 2008 Eurocup games and serious fun to watch any time they’ve stepped out onto the pitch during the last three years, had not been having a good World Cup. Their first outing: a bizarre, totally unexpected loss (to Switzerland!). Their following games: strange, uncomfortable affairs, the team mostly looking like a bunch of imposters — hesitant, nervous, lacking rhythm and confindence. They won their last match of the first phase of play against Chile, 2-1, but it was an ugly win, neither side looking like they could hold their own against the tournament’s heavyweights.

I was prepared to watch them go down against Portugal, but something strange happened. The real Spanish squad showed up, neutralizing the Portuguese, controlling the game, and coming out on top 1-0. That single goal came out of nowhere, the Spanish forward David Villa taking advantage of an error by the Portuguese goalkeeper. The barrio here had been silent during the game, the streets mostly clear of people and vehicles. When Villa lofted that ball over the Portuguese keeper and into the net, there was an immediate explosion of people rushing to windows and balonies, screaming, calling out ‘Goooooool!!’, blowing horns and vuvuzelas. The flats above and next to mine, completely silent up to that moment, exploded with the sound of humans leaping to their feet, running around.

So much fun.

España, te amo.

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