far too much writing, far too many photos

A few days back, the weather here began heading in a less wintry, much more user-friendly direction. After two or three cold, rainy days, the sun returned, the air felt markedly milder — the kind of mild that suggests a change of seasons. The kind of mild that means walking around with jacket undone. The kind of mild that means birds singing, grass slowly turning green. people practically skipping along sidewalks with joy. After three days of that, each afternoon a bit warmer than the day before, flowering trees suddenly began popping, producing clouds of pink and white blossoms. The kind of weather that gets one hoping an early spring is on the way.

It’s not the real thing yet. Today’s been colder, more late-February-like. But the days are growing longer — it’s just a matter of time now.

A couple of months back I wrote here about my brother, the only other survivor of my family of birth. Substantially older than me, not close (geographically and otherwise), and as of Christmas day, a person dealing with the effects of a stroke.

We’re six timezones apart, enough of a difference to make getting in touch with him by phone (first in hospital, then rehab) wicked tricky. I made it through the day after the stroke — too soon, it turned out, for him to be able to talk comfortably. Every other time I called, he was out of the room. I finally decided to leave him in peace, stop pelting him with voice messages. (We’re not, after all, very close — it could be that me trying so hard to connect was just more source of pressure for someone already dealing with huge matters.) Once, several weeks ago, I received a cc of a brief email from him to his wife, forwarded to me at bro’s request — providing a brief snapshot of how he was doing. I sent a thank-you for being included, heard nothing more.

But he’s remained in my thoughts, and a week and a half ago I decided to send an email to let him know that. Four brief paragraphs, ending with:

“If you get this and if you ever feel like it, let me know how you’re doing — in as much or as little detail as you like. I’m thinking of you.”

Two days later, en email from him showed up in a different account from the one I used to send that note. Not a reply to my email, not referencing my email — sent, apparently, with purely coincidental timing. And a relief to receive. And I have to say, given what he’s been through and is currently going through, he has got some serious acceptance going, some serious patience. ‘Cause he talks about it with a kind of calm objectivity that feels the teeniest bit zen to me:

“it’s been eight weeks since the stroke. i’m at the point where i can walk by myself with a cane. however my hip is still weak and needs to be more stronger and stable. the therapists aren’t confident enough yet to let me trade in my wheelchair for a cane. soon though. at [the previous rehab facility] we were strapped into our chairs, only allowed up to use the toilet or go to bed. now i am in [a different facility] and they are less controlling, no seat belt. so i take advantage of my relative freedom to do things i couldn’t before. for example there is a long grab bar in the bathroom, by the toilet. i use it as an exercise bar and do about 80 knee bends a day. have been doing it for about two weeks now and my knee being so much stronger and stable has greatly improved my walking. it’s been unusually warm this week, over 60 yesterday, so my therapist let me work on walking outside. i went about 300′; it was really nice. my arm is recovering much more slowly, as arms do, but this week i was able to lift my arm to waist height, very satisfying. can do a few other movements in the arm ad some movement with fingers as well. I’m getting there. i met someone i know who lives in the independent living side of [this rehab facility]. she had a stroke three or four years ago and you would never know it to meet her. she said her recovery took two and a half years. so, i’ve got a ways to go.”

Fine, ‘zen’ may be overstating it. But still. I’m not so sure I’d have that kind of level attitude going were I in his position.

[this entry in progress]

España, te amo

Not long after that recent entry about my neighbors, the Godzillas, I ran into them downstairs in the lobby. In passing, exchanging hello’s, nothing more. The first time I’d had a face-to-face encounter with her in months, the first time ever with him. Two older folks, small in stature, neatly dressed, walking in arm. Her with a cane, something I don’t ever remember seeing before. And in thinking about it, the cane, her difficulty walking explains part of what I experience with her stomping around their flat: every other step is much heavier, shakes the floor more. She’s over there right now, clumping limpingly around their living space, every second step more teeth-grindingly percussive than the other.

On one hand, knowing that she has some sort of physical difficulty or disability makes it easier to put the thumping in a sympathetic context. And makes it harder to talk about the stomping around in careless, joking fashion. Which gives me an opportunity to get a bit of perspective (they are, after all, gone a substantial percentage of the time; the noise could be far nastier, far more toxic and/or hair-raising; they seem like good people; blah-de blah-de), makes it easier to listen to the angel on my shoulder and not feel so inclined to spew bad-mouthing one-liners at the neighbors’ expense.

Plus, you know, it’s not their fault that the walls/floors/ceilings in this building are so freakin’ porous, acoustically.

(On the other hands, if she has difficulty walking, why in hell is she always stomping around their flat at high velocity?)

Grumble, grumble.

Woke up this morning from strange dreams, the kind I didn’t mind losing when they faded quickly away after I got up to dump the ballast. A song got going soon after up there in my teeny brain, cranking away on a repeating loop. A tune I actually really liked, for a change. Went to the gym, their in-house soundtrack of technopop washed away that song, I immediately forgot what tune it was, same way I’ve forgotten the early-morning dreams. Sometimes I wonder about me and what passes for my gray matter.

Anyway. On to the day.

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Detail, abandoned storefront — Madrid:

España, te amo

My fingers smell like microwave popcorn. Logical, since I’ve been on a bit of a binge lately — and it’s good I don’t care if anyone knows. ‘Cause if I wanted to keep it a secret I would be screwed — the residual aroma is that tangy and impossible to hide. (Yes, my hands have been washed, thanks very much. Harrumph.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been waking up on recent mornings with music cycling through my teeny brain. Songs or phrases from songs. Two mornings ago the soundtrack was the theme song from the excellent, now-long-defunct British cop show Inspector Morse. And yesterday morning? The very first cut from the very first Grateful Dead album. Believe when I say that I have no freakin’ clue where either of them came from. But they both stayed with me throughout the morning hours, fading in and out, finally disappearing after midday.

Meanwhile, after months of being out of whack — since my return from that fast jaunt back stateside in October — my sleep patterns suddenly seem to have settled back into something close to normal. Meaning getting to sleep around midnight instead of 1, 2 or 3 a.m. Which means, in turn, waking up at hours that are more like my bod’s customary wake-up times, instead of me wanting to remain huddled under the covers until, well, late enough that I don’t feel incurably bleary. I’m hoping this will mean the daily slog back to full consciousness won’t take the hours and hours it’s taken during recent months. ‘Cause seriously, there are days when my state of persistent semi-consciousness gets the teeniest bit pathetic. Makes me dopey and slow and not much for conversation. And at times turns my Spanish into goofy, garbled blathering. Not very dignified.

I’m thinking that the return to more normal cycles may have to do with the gradual lengthening of the days here, sunlight hours now lingering until 7 p.m. My little squat gets dark during the winter months, much darker than what I’m used to, possibly resulting in a kind of reflexive turning inward — which is fine up to a point. After that point, it’s not what I would call helpful or productive. Or fun. Coming out of it feels better. Like being able to breathe more easily.

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El Museo Naval — Madrid:

España, te amo

This morning I saw a tweet from NPR’s Scott Simon in which he mentioned actor Brian Bedford’s performance as Oscar Wilde’s creation Lady Bracknell. It immediately brought me back to memories of a run of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ that I was fortunate enough to be in, in a now-defunct Boston theater. The role of Lady Bracknell was played by a terrific actor named Michael G. — tall, slender, with a weathered face that included bags under the eyes which could just about have qualified as luggage. The idea of casting a male in that iconic role never occurred to me until I saw Michael assume the part. His first entrance of each performance — in a big, beautiful, black Victorian bustledress w/ matching hat — had the feel of a battleship slowly making its way into view (with no need for ostentation, showiness or attitude, ’cause it clearly out-powered everything around it). His work in that role — played without camp — was titanic, pure wonderful theatre magic.

Michael shuffled off this mortal clownshow a while back, and these memories of him have had me smiling all morning. So many wonderful individuals pass through our lives, and it’s good for the heart and soul to appreciate them — it counteracts the tendency to forget just how blessed we truly are..

(To Michael G., wherever you may be: you were one of a kind — heartfelt thanks for all the fun. Sharing a stage with you was pure joy.)

On to the day.

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R squared — Madrid:

España, te amo

The walls in my current squat are not exactly soundproof. Which means that when my neighbors, the Godzillas, are home, I find myself experiencing the unpleasant sensation of having roommates I didn’t sign up for. And when they go out, the blessed silence is such a relief.

Not that they’re terrible people. The few times I’ve met Mrs. Godzilla in the hallway, we’ve always exchanged friendly hellos. (In contrast to an elderly woman who lives across the building’s inner courtyard from me — I saw her once when we were both hanging laundry, I gave her a nice smile, said hello. The face she gave me in return could have soured a quart of fresh milk.) They’re loud though. I’ve never actually met Mr. Godzilla, though he announces himself every morning with an extended fusillade of window-rattling nose-blowings. She, on the other hand, stomps around their flat, with the ground-shaking power of a monstrous B-film lizard on amphetamines (hence my nickname for her), leveling downtown Tokyo at unnervingly accelerated speed.

All of which is to say that there’s a huge difference between the times they’re home and the times they’re out. At home: big noise, mostly in the form of stomping from one end of the flat to the other. Not at home: heaven-sent peace and quiet.

They’re usually away during the weekends and during holidays. That meant, two Christmases ago, lots of tranquility. I expected the same this last holiday season, but they decided to stay here in the city. Which meant a whole lot of yuletide racket. (Christmas morning: arias played at high volume, far too early.) The weekend before last they finally resumed their usual routine, disappearing midday Friday, returning midday Monday. Then did it again this last weekend. Producing three delicious days of stomp-free quiet both times.

And speaking of Christmas, where the hell did it go? What happened to January? I look at the calendar, I see it’s February and I have no idea what happened to the last five or six weeks.

On the other hand, just ten short months until the next Christmas season. Woo-hoo!

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Graffiti logo — Madrid, Spain:

España, te amo

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