far too much writing, far too many photos

Another upside to life in the country: I can walk outside and take a whiz any time I feel like it (and have sufficient bladder ammo). Standing in the fresh air, surrounded by amazing views, watering the wildflowers. Not an option in Madrid. At least not if I want to maintain the last shreds of my self-respect. (There are those individuals who relieve themselves outdoors in Madrid, but they mostly stink of booze and have problems talking coherently.)

Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. I tend to pee outside when I’m here. At least during the few months when there’s no snow on the ground and the place isn’t teeming with blackflies looking to siphon off hemoglobin. And why not? It’s easy, it’s convenient, there’s no flushing afterward (and therefore no handle to jiggle — er, except mine). The air smells and feels great, the views are massively superior to those in the bathroom. And it puzzles the wildlife. Probably leaves traces whose bouquet gives the local red fox something to think about.

Why am I going on about this? Because the first thing I did after hauling myself out of bed this morning was unlock the kitchen door, step outside, head around the end of the house then down the hill to the section of land I refer to as the UFO landing pad — an extensive, flat, circular plot of mown grass with a fine view in both directions up and down the valley — where I spent a couple of minutes enjoying the vista while passing a pound or two of ballast. Birds singing, the wide expanse of sky spread out above, air rich with the scents of grass, flowers, trees. Not a bad way to start the day.

Oh, the simple pleasures.

But enough about whizzing outdoors.

Yesterday morning in Montpelier, during my brief visit to the town supermarket. Me, walking past the spritz-water. The in-store muzak (something I tend to ignore) suddenly caught my attention. Wasn’t sure why for a couple of seconds, till I realized the musical pap of the moment had originally been a Steely Dan song.

They’re strange moments, that kind of recognition. I recently came across a scrap of paper containing a few words scribbled on a December morning in 2001, as I sat in Barajas Airport in Madrid. Waiting to board a flight — 7 or so a.m., not many folks about, a few Christmas decorations strung up here and there along otherwise featureless walls. Just sitting, lost in bleary thought, until I realized that the p.a.. had begun a muzak rendition of “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac (the original line-up). I looked around, startled, a neutered version of a classically obscure Fleetwood Mac number the last thing I’d expected to hear at that hour. No beat, no guitars. No real personality. Just the melody, all sugared up.

I thought about that as I stood absorbing my first exposure to Steely Dan as muzak yesterday morning. And then I remembered the first time I heard a muzacked Beatles tune: Norwegian Wood, in an office building elevator. Felt kind of like an ambush, that occasion. I stepped into the car, the doors quietly closed behind me, my ears slowly picked up the quietly lush sound of many violins playing the Lennon-McCartney tune, my mouth dropped open.

There never really is any knowing what’s about to come around the corner in this life of ours. Sometimes it’s muzak, altering old familiar tunes in strange ways.

I have yet to hear muzak versions of anything by Nirvana or Pearl Jam or the Donnas or Weezer. But I mostly don’t pay much attention to muzak. I don’t tend to linger too long in joints that play muzak. There may be all sorts of music I love being transformed into aural anesthetics.

On the other hand, I imagine every time a song gets muzacked, the writer gets royalties. A bunch of studio musicians make some money playing the new versions. Resulting in a product that will play quietly in the background as I pay a quick visit to a supermarket., occasionally providing a strange surprise.

I’ll survive. And maybe I’ll spend more time at Montpelier’s food coop — a muzak-free zone.


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