far too much writing, far too many photos

Man, that last week flew by. One moment it’s Monday morning, I’m pulling myself out from under warm, comfy covers, next thing I know it’s late afternoon on the weekend, me looking around confused, wondering where the hell it all went. Can’t remember the last time the outside temperature made it above the freezing mark — it’s been a while. The days slide past, many of them gray, snow showers coming and going, so that despite the lack of massive snowfalls, the earth in these parts generally remains asleep beneath several inches of white. I spoke to a friend in the British midlands yesterday, he said snow had fallen in the higher elevations there, enough so that people were out sledding in it. He also said that daffodils were beginning to poke up out of the ground in the lower elevations, which sounded mighty nice to me.

I’ve been in work mode, the days broken up by trips into town for groceries, the manly gym thing, stuff like that. Every visit to the gym this last week, I found myself there at the same time as a guy with what some might call heavy birth defects. Lanky, head shaved, maybe in his 20’s, hard to tell — the longer I look at his face, the harder it is to get a bead on his age. Something about his features gives him an almost ageless appearance.

He has trouble walking without assistance, has trouble talking intelligibly. But he shows up and he works out, going through the machines with one of the staff trainers, a high-energy goofball who has a good way with people. If the trainer has to step away for a minute, his charge sits patiently, sometimes talking to himself, sounding kind of like tone-deaf singing. When he works on machines he genuinely exerts himself, and when one especially challenges him, he vocalizes, he doesn’t hold it in. The trainer counts down the repetitions, keeps up encouraging patter, the little guy begins groaning and wailing, by the time he reaches the end of the set, he’s into his upper register with the volume cranked. Makes me smile every time.

In recent weeks, the music played in the gym has fallen into a nasty rut, a repetitive mix of pop cuts from the 60’s through the 80’s — apparently a channel provided by the local cable company, playing the same stuff over and over again, including some teeth-grinding lapses into disco. One morning this last week, I found myself feeling proactive, brought along a couple of Spanish CD’s when I made the trip into town — one each by two superb flamenco guitarists. The previously mentioned trainer was presiding at the facility that day, I asked if he’d be up for changing the soundtrack — he seemed game, chose one of the CDs, tossed it into the player, turned the volume up. A moment later, serious flamenco was in the air, sounding mighty peculiar after all the American pop. Kind of a jarring change, turned out, the music sounding so different, so alien in the context of the gym — folks lined up on cross-trainers, stationary bikes, stair-climbing machines, sports and news programs playing on a bank of TVs — that the cuts delving more deeply into pure flamenco sounded authentically out of place.

Flamenco vocals are an acquired taste for some ears on this side of the Atlantic — two or three years back, a friend sent an email after listening to a couple of tapes I’d sent him saying he didn’t care for the vocals, that they made him feel like giving the singers a good slap. A fairly extreme comment coming from a normally perceptive guy with an obsessive love for music and a huge, sprawling collection of CD’s, LP’s, yada yada yada. He apparently didn’t get that flamenco is literally the Spanish version of the blues — born of a poverty-stricken, repressed, exploited minority that had been relegated to the margins of Spanish society for centuries. The music comes from the heart, expressing intense emotion, transforming suffering into something transcendent. But it’s distinctly different from your standard American fare, no question, and maybe not for everyone.

The trainer was a good sport, letting the disc play out. Immediately after the final cut, he pulled it, returned it, thanked me, carefully making no comment on the music itself.

Ah, well. Sometimes things are simply not a match.

EspaƱa, te echo de menos.

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