far too much writing, far too many photos


Monday, March 31, 2003

Daylight savings time arrived here two mornings ago, which meant the magical disappearance of an hour yesterday a.m. The day felt oddly shorter while at the same time feeling oddly longer as the evening sky remained light until sometime between 8:30 and 9. It turned out to be a work day for me so that the afternoon flashed by, exacerbating the confusing feeling of temporal goofiness.

This morning, a different story. I'd resolved to get myself up and out to the gym early so that I could return home and get some work done before the pre-midday hours had galloped completely away. Going to the gym early here has a whole different meaning than it does in the States -- the Spaniards don't seem to hold with this rising-before-dawn-to-go-punish-one's-body thing. Meaning the health clubs here don't open their doors until 8 a.m. on weekday mornings (or I at least have yet to come across one that does). When I arrived around 9, there were few souls to be found doing the workout thing. And no wonder. Between the daylight savings time morning sky not getting light until somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 a.m. and early morning clouds/showers rendering the outside world even darker, pulling oneself out of bed was not a very good time.

As I got myself ready, left the house, squeezed into a packed, silent Metro train, I found that I simply could not wake the hell up. My mind remained clouded, my eyes didn't want (and one still doesn't want) to focus. Got to the gym, stumbled down to the locker room, pulled street clothes off, dragged gym outfit on, stumbled upstairs, began subjecting myself to various exercise machines where this little body of mine did everything I asked of it, though me and it remained half-asleep. At one point, I'm standing at a chromium monstrosity doing a bunch of reps, a petite 30-something Spanish woman appears three or four feet to my right, at the next machine over. Very cute, done up in a skin-tight outfit, every hair in place, headphones plugged into ears w/ walkradio playing. Within a few seconds of showing up, she (it had to be her -- no other humans were nearby) let go with a ferocious, silent explosion of flatulence, her expression innocently impassive, betraying no involvement in the sudden murderous release of human mustard gas. Brutal. And even that didn't wake me up.

The sun managed to work its way free of the clouds during my time indoors, so that when I stepped outside the atmosphere had changed quite a bit, blue sky showing, the temperature elevated to a jacket-opening point. That helped a little bit. I'm making my way down the street, a late-50s denizen of the barrio is out walking his dog. A pup -- a big pup, the size of many full-grown dogs. Appeared to be a mix of a golden and some other kind of retriever, so that it looked like a very sizeable golden with pale, almost white fur. And it's happy to be outside with its human, prancing along, tongue hanging joyfully out. They approach a bench, the pup decides it must get up on the seat, which it does, making the 50-something come to a stop. The pup gets up on the seat, puts its front paws up on the bench-back, bringing it just about up to face level with its human, where it starts nuzzling and wriggling about. I'm a sucker for that kind of display, it gets me smiling in a way that lasts for blocks and blocks. Still not yet what I would call truly awake, but a touch more comfortably here in the day.

Recently, I've been seeing a lot more big dogs than I used to, and most of them have been odd mixes. I was sitting at la Plaza de España late this afternoon when a gent walked by with a dog that -- lessee, how can I describe this? At first glance, it looked like a German shepherd. On second glance, it still looked like a shepherd, only one that had gone through some strange changes. After a minute of study, I figured it out: same size as a shepherd, same color, exact same body, only with the head and tail of a collie.


There is often a detail of two mounted police officers who hang around la Plaza de España. Today, for the first time, they'd parked their horse-trailer-style truck in the plaza, just off the main promenade. When I arrived it was just sitting there, no sign of life or activity in its vicinity. Turns out the officers had been around back getting the horses ready -- all of a sudden a ramp goes down, next thing I know the two Madrid municipal cops appear out of the back of the vehicle on a pair of the biggest, most beautiful horses I've ever seen. Pure white, all sinew, moving like each bulging muscle contained a coiled spring. One officer gets his horse out of the truck, they move around to the side and come to a stop, the officer stroking the neck of his mount, getting it settled. The other horse was either spooked or feeling its oats, ‘cause it came out of that truck like it was ready to toss its rider. Jerking around in an unpredictable manner, bouncing sharply here and there, going around in circles, doing everything but full-out bucking. Its rider managed to guide it away from the truck to an expanse of dirt/sand where the two of them slowly got things sorted out.

Man, it was a glorious day -- mild temperatures, with an indescribable sense of constant glowing light, despite the sky being about 75% filled with huge white clouds. Birds flying everywhere, feeling springtime in their bones and expressing it with flight and song. A dramatic kind of day, exactly like the last full day I spent with my mother, even down to the detail of the two horses. With all that distinctive sensory detail unreeling around me, I suddenly found myself transported me back to that some moments of that last day in my mother's company in sudden, intense, vivid detail.

But that's another story. Maybe I'll dig into that tom'w.


Seen in the credits to Soldados de Salamina, an excellent Spanish film in first release here in Madrid:

On Set Meals Provided By: Catering Hepburn

rws 3:24 PM [+]

Friday, March 28, 2003

I see very few cats in Madrid. There don't seem to be many households with a resident feline, and apart from some feral kitties I've seen in el Retiro, Madrid's version of Central Park, I can count on one hand the number of times I've encountered any outside of an apartment building, whether hanging about in the streets or putting in time as a working cat in a storefront.

Dogs, on the other hand -- Madrileños love dogs and it shows, ‘cause they're everywhere, a fundamental element of the scene. Most every time I pass through the plaza down the street, dogs are an animated part of the flow of life that streams through the space. One dog, at minimum, pretty much regardless of the time of day -- often several, having close encounters of one kind or another with their happy, panting peers.

This morning: got out reasonably early to the gym. Returned just before 11, picked up a paper and stopped into the plaza cafetería for café and churros. When I stepped back out into the mild air, a flurry of loud, strident yapping exploded to my left. Two little dogs -- one small hairy bugger, the kind whose eyes are invisible behind long shaggy bangs, and one teeny, almost microscopic critter, looking to be a member of the chihuahua clan -- both mouthing off angrily at something around the corner, out of my line of sight, down the pedestrian way that leads out of the square to a nearby street. Creating a huge amount of noise, especially the smaller of the two, as it moved challengingly in the direction of whatever had gotten its ire up. Until it realized it had gotten itself into something that might have consequences and began a hasty retreat, barking less, though the other one, the one that hang back by the relative safety of the news kiosk, continued with the noise.

And then a German shepherd surged into view from along the walkway -- a big one, with the unmistakable air of a creature you mess with at the risk of physical damage -- straining at its leash toward the two teeny nitwits, not barking, but making deep, intense sounds of a seriously threatening nature, serious enough that the chihuahua hurriedly skidded over to its little hairy friend, who also began retreating. Clearly, if the big boy got free, the two smartmouths would be in a heap of trouble, and they knew it. Their vocalizing became more tentative, they tried hiding behind each other, and when that didn't make them feel any safer they tried finding shelter behind a human or two. Attempting to save as much face as possible with the occasional yip, but clearly understanding that they were completely out of their league.

The shepherd's owner pulled it past the kiosk, keeping the big dog a safe distance away from the two now-terrified canine midgets, and when its human had gotten it past the newsstand, the shepherd turned its attention to more relaxed pasttimes (the canine signatures left at the base of a bench, then a lamppost), until its owner gave its leash a tug and they both moved on.

The two little dogs did their best to forget their brush with death, ranging out from the kiosk once the coast was clear, looking up at passing people, leaning forward to sniff at human feet that moved past.

I moved off, walking along the west side of the plaza, where several people were clustered together in the warm morning sunlight, chatting, reading the morning paper. Two leashed dogs stood with those folks, both of a size halfway between the shepherd and the furry sea monkeys that had started all the racket on the plaza's far side. Both enjoying the sun, calmly looking around, listening to the various human and canine sounds washing by. Minding their own business, appearing completely satisfied with where the morning had so far taken them.

I rounded the corner and headed away from the plaza, just one of many people walking along the late-morning street.

Friday, late March, nearly midday. The moments passing as they do, life moving on.

rws 12:15 PM [+]

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Some days I take myself to a nice café somewhere, intending to sit and write. The inmate out for a field trip, a change of scenery that brings all sorts of sensory input, lots to watch, pleasing things to drink and nibble on. Sometimes I get wherever I'm going, I actually do write, the promise of a nicely-productive interlude is fulfilled. Other times I arrive, sit down, immediately sink into some kind of stupor. Endlessly stirring my cup of espresso, staring out the window, half-seeing what's out there, half-lost in thought.

This morning I got myself out at a fairly early hour, made the trek to the main post office at la Plaza de las Cibeles to mail a package. The walk took me past the big Circulo de Bellas Artes building, whose first floor houses a large, beautiful, high-ceilinged, art-filled café. Having been awake and alert enough to leave the house armed with notebook/pen, I decided to stop in at the café after bothering the post office personnel. (And this mornings' postal representative did seem to be bothered by me and my early-morning version of the Spanish language. La de freakin' da.)

It's been raining on and off here since late yesterday -- today more on than off. There once was a time when I enjoyed weather like this, savored it even. Lately it seems to have lost its allure. Not sure why. Too much time spent in New England's dark, cold, wet seasons? Too much time spent in Madrid's long, normally glorious warm season? Don't know. I only know that now when rain begins falling, I mostly wait for the sun's return. Not always, but often enough that it's caught my attention.

So I'm out walking, umbrella up, a spirited breeze now and then whipping falling moisture into my little supposed anti-moisture zone. I'm in and out of the post office, I go back to el Circulo de Bellas Artes, a big, beautiful building on la Calle de Alcalá, right across from where Gran Vía empties out onto Alcalá. Beautiful architecture everywhere, wide avenues which channel cars, buses, motorcycles, scooters in different directions, pedestrian traffic passing all around, many umbrellas bobbing above the flow of walking bodies.

For people who are not staff or members of el Circulo de Bellas Artes, it costs one euro to get into the building. A worthwhile outlay, even if you're just going to the café with no interest in checking the current art exhibits. ‘Cause it's a beautiful place. Beautiful enough that when local a.m. news shows do talking-heads-blathering-about-current-news, they often film them a corner of the space, in one or two groups of sofas and comfortable, overstuffed chairs, enormous windows looming behind, looking out on the avenue.

I walked in, paid up. Found the perfect window table waiting for me, took possession. Got out newspaper and writing stuff, ordered my morning cortado. Whipped quickly through the paper (bad news, bad news, bad news -– ahhh, sports!), uncapped my pen, applied it to paper, wrote three, four, five words. Glanced outside and immediately drifted away. Stirred my café, sipped a little. Drifted away again. Watched people walking by (especially female people!). Thought about this and that. Stuck spoon in café again, swirled it around. Sipped further cafe. Looked outside once more. Felt a pang of guilt, looked down at paper, trying to will myself to come up with something worth writing. Looked back out the window, absently observing the stop/go of traffic as the intersection's traffic lights went through their cycles. Watched passing people a bit more. Noticed a small sea of black umbrellas bob by, then a bunch of other colors, just about everything but black, including one done up like a giant sunflower, another in a difficult-to-ignore mixed-bouquet floral motif. Looked back at notebook, picked up coffee cup, sipped more café.

Blah blah blah.

Not a bad morning, really. Went from there to an internet joint, sent a couple of letters, accessed Mimi Smartypants' page, the first time I've been able to get through in nearly a week. Chortled my way through a couple of entries. Then logged out and left, satisfied. Out on the street I remembered I didn't send the two notes I'd meant to send when I walked into the place. Bugger.

Despite all this seemingly pointless lack of industry, I swear that I only appear to be a lazy git. I swear to you that as I do all this apparently idle floating about, I'm in a sort of work mode. Thinking, reflecting, watching what goes on around me, checking out people, sometimes stopping to take notes. Sometimes stopping to take lots of notes.

And then every once in a while I'll get an impulse to go somewhere and hit the jackpot in terms of sheer people-watching fun.

Two days ago. Went to see the film "Frida" (great soundtrack, GREAT visuals, not a very good script -– two out of three ain't bad, you know?). Afterward, walking through la Plaza de España, something reminded me of the teeny cluster of Chinese businesses that lurk in the underground passageway to the plaza's parking garage. Saw the stairs heading below ground, on impulse veered in that direction, visions of excellent Chinese food dancing in my head. A 30ish Chinese guy passes me as I head down the steps -- apparently coming from the little restaurant I was en route to, still chewing loudly, mouth open, spewing the odd speck or two of food. (Er, bleah.)

Found the joint, walked in to find nearly every table in the postage-stamp sized place occupied, everyone but me Chinese and speaking Chinese -- Mandarin, I imagine. One table emptied out, the skinny, diminutive waitress gestured me there. In the far corner, a TV sat on a shelf above a table hosting a family of five. The TV played Chinese music videos, the lyrics displayed in two lines of Chinese characters at the bottom of the screen, first white then changing to blue, character by character, as the words were sung. Now and then, the youngest of the family's three young boys would spring to his feet and dance about a bit to the music.

The guy behind the counter brought me a menu in Chinese. I asked for a replacement in Spanish, he brought that, smiling in agreeable amusement. I ordered, a bottle of spritzwater, a plate of solid matter. A minute later the waitress brought the water, left it on the table unopened, walked away. Not the kind of bottle you can twist open, as I discovered when my hands tried wrenching the cap free. I stared at it, then looked up to see a lone diner at another table watching -- a tall, lanky type, looking like he should be studying physics at M.I.T. My situation registered, his hand went up to signal the waitress at the same moment mine did. The guy behind the counter saw us, came over laughing, opened the bottle. I smiled a thank-you to the other diner, he nodded then dug into a fine-looking plate of Chinese fare, head down low over the plate as chopsticks ferried food to mouth.

More tables opened up, the space clearing out some. A pair of 30ish, hip-looking business types entered, one in a sharp suit, the other in black pants, leather coat, white shirt, black necktie. They walked by me, speaking a comic, drawling version of Chinese, sat at the table behind me. A minute later, a third 30ish male appeared, carrying a folded-up Chinese-language newspaper, the two behind me spotted him the same moment he spotted them. Surprised, laughing cries of greeting started up, he walked by me, hitting one of the seated males with the paper, the laughing exchange getting louder.

At that moment, the guy behind the counter appeared at my table with a steaming plate of food and a fork. I asked for chopsticks, his eyebrows lifted in surprise, he disappeared, reappeared a moment later with the requested utensils. I dug into the food which turned out to be a killer pile of fried noodles with sprouts and mystery meat, my mouth practically going slack with pleasure when the first mouthful arrived. A short time later, I'd inhaled all my food and drink, went up to the counter to pay. The grand total: 3.80 euros.

Afterward, walking home through rush-hour crowds along Gran Vía, enjoying the amazing display of humans streaming around me. At one point I passed a short 50-something woman, pushing her way through the crowds. Done up in a brightly colored, wildly disharmonious outfit, clothes in visible disarray, streaks of off-the-mark make-up arranged helter-skelter on her face, mouth in a wide smile, talking happily to herself. A joyous psycho-dowdy, hustling along at her own pace and having a fine time of it, letting nothing and no one slow her down.

We humans -- we're a wacky, beautiful, chaotic bunch. Pure, high-octane entertainment.

rws 12:41 PM [+]

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Three items -- two personal ads and one poem of tortured love -- seen in the Metro station at la Plaza de Chueca in Madrid, all scribbled on an oversized ad for BasiqAir:

1) Busco novia
Soy Chino

Girlfriend wanted
I'm Chinese

2) ¡Ni vivir en tu auscencia!
¡ Ni vivo cuando te veo!
¡Ni es del mundo este deseo
que [consume] mi existencia!
Nieve soy en tu auscencia
Y volcán lejos de ti.
Es que tienes sobre mi
Tal poder que dudé al verte
Si era el amor o la muerte
Lo que en el alma sentí.
¿Cómo vivir en tu auscencia
[Y no] merezco el infierno
Si el amor es fuego eterno
Y yo mortal existencia?
¡Sí he perdido la conciencia del tiempo
y de mi razón!
¡Sí es la vida mi prisión!
¿Cómo sacarte de mi
Si me robas el corazán?

I don't live in your absence!
Nor do I live when I see you!
Neither is this desire that consumes my existence
Of this world!
I'm snow in your absence
And volcano when I'm far from you.
You have such power over me
That I doubted when I saw you
Whether it was love or death
That I felt in my soul.
How to live in your absence
And not deserve hell
If love is eternal fire
And I mortal existence?
Yes, I have lost the consciousness of
Time and of my reason!
Yes, life is my prison!
How can I get you out of me
If you steal my heart?

3) Busco novio activo.
Soy divino.
91 522 6231

Active boyfriend wanted
I'm divine
91 522 6231

rws 4:26 PM [+]

Somewhere during the course of the day, clouds slipped quietly in and a cool rain began coming down. Not Madrid's usual weather for this time of year. And once again, the sound of helicopters prowling about has been part of the neighborhood's ambience. Kinda strange. Like being back in L.A. Or something.

My day's been spent on work of one kind or another, and the time has skated right on by. All of a sudden it's nearly 6 o'clock. How the heck does that happen?

So I won't be putting much of anything thoughtful (or, er, interesting) here today. Just this:

One more list -- each seems to be a bit scarier than the last, don't you think? -- of recent genuine searches conducted through Google or other engines which have brought people to this web page:

tall blocks

quotes about clotheslines


forearm hair

women licking themselves contortionist

the roof is on fire

feather duster fur coats for kids

naked women body builder

men who wear pantys [sic]

rws 12:12 PM [+]

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

I've been hovering around the computer for the last couple of hours, wanting to sit my little bod down and write something but not ready to, I guess. (Until now.) You know the routine. You circulate around, futz with whatever catches your eye around the living space. Turn the radio on, shut it off. Wander down the hall to the kitchen, look at the paper, make something to eat. Eat, half lost in thought, half listening to the sounds from outside (little dogs barking like overexcited castrati, a car going by, the voices of people in conversation drifting lazily up as they walk past the building on their way to the plaza or the Metro or a café or points unknown). And I have been appreciating more than ever the sense that life carries on.

It feels quite fine to think on how many things goes well, how many things work perfectly, how many things we take for granted. The planet spins around in its steady way, daybreak arrives right when it's supposed to, the world slowly wakes up as the light grows stronger. People wander into the street out to begin their daily deal. There's coffee to drink, sweet rolls, croissants or churros to eat, newspapers and baguettes to buy. There are people to watch, strangers to smile at, exchange a hello with. Humans take their dogs out for a spin, most of the furry four-leggeds appearing extremely content to be right where they are, walking with their person, smelling everything they pass, lifting the occasional leg (the canine version of graffiti). Now and then they encounter another dog, they approach each other in happy vigilance, tails erect and wagging stiffly. Maybe they'll get a chance to smell each other's naughty bits, maybe their humans will drag them off before that kind of fun gets underway. Some bark, others don't feel the need. Some will be allowed to smell passing points of aromatic interest, others will be dragged past those hot-spots by their person, still straining to get a good whiff of whatever it was until they give up and turn their attention to other, closer patches of sidewalk or asphalt of fragrant note.

The newspaper kiosk here in la Plaza de Chueca generally does brisk business from the time people begin streaming through pre-9-a.m. until they take in all the papers and magazines then lock the place up around 2 p.m. It's run by a couple -- him a 6-foot tall husky type; her an inch or two over five feet, slightly chunky, very affable, hands roughened from work, with a nice smile -- along with two or three other middle-aged males who hang about greeting people, getting the paper or magazine you ask for and handing it over. Sometimes the hangers-on will take your money, passing it along to the half of the couple currently lurking within the kiosk, then passing the change back to the waiting customer. Sometimes they take the money, dole out the change themselves. There's never any telling what the routine will be.

The owners have seen my face coming and going several times a week now for quite a while, and as they've gotten used to that, they've begun using the more intimate form of address, ‘tú,' instead of the more formal ‘usted.' The woman, Paloma, is around more than her husband, she began addressing me differently a few weeks back, as our exchanges have gradually became less utilitarian, more familiar. Her husband just began using the more familiar mode of address within the last couple of days. Little teeny changes that mark the progression of life as the days slip by.

Spring, after it's jubilant, intense coming-out party a couple of weeks back, has slipped back into the more customary soft, gradual creeping in, daytime temperatures usually sliding up into the 60s, occasionally stretching up to around 70, as with today. In some barrios, trees are well along with new leafage, the grass is full, thick, a bright, vibrant green. Tables and chairs appear outside cafes, cafeterías, restaurantes on a daily basis, as the warm season continues slowly asserting itself and life here becomes more and more oriented toward hanging about outdoors.

Blue skies, hazy high clouds, the arc of the sun moving higher into the sky as the days become lengthier, remaining light until 8, 8:30. The year moves along, ignoring the dramas, comedies and sweet daily episodes of life taking place all over the globe.

A great deal of local attention has been devoted to both the current international bellicosity and the Academy Awards, and it's been interesting to watch the country has respond to Pedro Almodóvar's good fortune regarding "Hable Con Ella." He has a long track record of filmmaking here, is a well-known personality. Many Spaniards I've spoken to aren't what you might call full-blown aficionados of Almodóvar's work, or they at least choose carefully from among his many films when they discuss him. "Hable Con Ella" did not get what I would call an enthusiastic reception when it came out last spring -- the critics mostly seemed to give it lukewarm reviews, the public did not jam the theaters to check it out. And yet it's had staying power -- remaining in one or two movie houses, doing steady business -- and a wave of pride and affectionate acclamation has risen during the last couple of months as the film began picking up more and more international recognition, along with a fistful of prizes, the most recent being for best script at the Academy Awards. And there's been further appreciation from most quarters for his outspoken position against the war, including his statement at the Academy Awards ceremony (less gentle and polite than most American viewers got).

There's a lot going on here. Enormous discontent re: the war and the ruling party's refusal to acknowledge or respond to the opposition of the vast majority of the population. Up in the north, in the Basque country, there are moves in the Parliament to convert the region into a free state, with its own sovereignty, though still associated with Spain. Within a day or two of that becoming public knowledge, regional government types in Cataluña (the region that includes Barcelona) began making the same noises. Here in the capital, controversy and political battles continue in the wake of disturbances at the end of Saturday evening's several-hundred-thousand-people-strong pro-peace gathering in the city center.

And with all that swirling about in the atmosphere, life goes on. Businesses open their doors at the beginning of the day, restaurants fill up and empty out as the various meal times come and go. The markets do plenty of business as the locals buy what they need, walking home with white plastic bags in which one can see fruit, tomatoes, containers of milk or olive oil, packages of meat or fish, the ends of a baguette or two protruding from the bag's open top. People sit in the sun in the plaza, reading the paper, talking in groups, eating a sandwich, drinking a soda or beer, maybe heading into one of the nearby establishments for café or a glass of wine. Dogs and small children run around between clusters of people. Clothes hung out on balcones to dry sway slightly back and forth from the occasional breeze.

Life continues.

rws 1:20 PM [+]

Monday, March 24, 2003

And then there are those moments when something brings you back to full consciousness -- sometimes just for a minute or two, sometimes it lasts quite a while. (Not that you're ever really unconscious. It's just that now and then -- sometimes more now than then -- events, worries, fatigue are allowed to cloud one's vision.) And you remember how satisfying it is to be alive, and you can see the brilliance of existence shining through every single thing your eyes take in, animate or inanimate.

There's never any telling what will be the prod. Could be as simple as the expression of goofy, guileless pleasure on the face of a two-year-old stopping to gaze happily around after weaving its way through a long tottering course in a park, one or both parents hovering nearby. Could be stepping out into the late afternoon light of the city after seeing a matinee, the strange, plotted world on the screen giving way to you rising up from your seat, pulling your coat on, following people you don't know out of the theater where suddenly a sky of startling blue peeking through thin, high clouds spreads itself out above you, the shadows on the sidewalks long and sharply slanted, hundreds of people passing around you heading in as many different directions as there are to head in.

And maybe that moment will give way to moments more mundane, the more usual immersion in your day, and who cares? There will be things to enjoy in that, things to savor. Good food, an unexpected whiff of a subtle, pleasing odor, the angled shaft of sunlight running down a wall to extend across the floor, a moment of unexpected laughter, the sound of a friend's voice on the other end of a telephone line, a loved one's arms around you.

I didn't use to feel this way, you know. Some years back, my outlook was quite a bit darker, sadder.

Change is good.


rws 12:44 PM [+]

Saturday, March 22, 2003

The honeymoon between Madrid's police and the protestors apparently expired yesterday as the demonstrations grew in vehemence, and the police responded with short tempers and flaring nerves. Demonstrations continue around the city, both large-scale and very small-scale. The sound of chanting voices and whistles or the sight of signs and banners bobbing in the air above groups of people have become as common as the sound of helicopters coming and going, the government keeping track of the dissent rippling around the various sections of the city.

I personally have not witnessed any instances of conflict between the two factions, though I've seen brief glimpses of videos on local newscasts, the camera's unblinking eye avidly following intense images of police beating protestors with rubber truncheons. (Between this and the continuing broadcast saturation of war coverage, I watch TV selectively, staying away from things I can do nothing about which get my stomach churning.) I have only seen a careful co-existence between protestors and police, for which I am grateful.

The outrage here continues to build as the intensity of the American bombardment grows in scale. Aznar's party -- the Partido Popular -- is alone in their support of the war. The approach they've taken these last months, as the invasion went from possible to probable to imminent to HAPPENING, has been to label any expression of disagreement by representatives of other political parties as either "disloyal" or "opportunistic" -- a tactic that only seems to have aroused deeper and deeper discontent and anger in both the general population (already overwhelmingly opposed) and the political opposition. Coupled with Aznar's steadfast refusal to listen to feedback from anyone not in complete conformance with the course he has insisted upon, the result has been growing resistance from the rest of the political spectrum, including the defection of the one or two smaller political parties who have traditionally supported el Partido Popular in the Spanish parliament, so that the PP is now effectively isolated from both the voting public and every other political party in Spain.

Once the invasion began, Aznar and his Vice President, Rajoy, made statements suggesting somewhat pugnaciously that all political parties should now join the PP in forming a consensus of support for the war -- a suggestion that went nowhere. Considering how successful Aznar and the PP have been up until this last autumn and the sinking of the Prestige off Spain's northwest coast (and the resulting waves of crude oil washing in along the Spanish coastline), their comportment these last few months has been a mystery to me -- so grossly ineffectual, so steadily counterproductive that one would expect fundamentally intelligent people such as these to note and adjust, to try out other angles, adopt different, possibly softer manners of speech and political interaction. Municipal elections are scheduled for May -- it will be interesting to see how the different sides fare. I suspect it will be seen as an early indication of how next year's national elections will play out.

Today dawned with mostly cloudy skies, sunlight coming and going, until the cloud cover thickened late afternoon and a cold breeze picked up. After picking up groceries in various places this morning, I returned home and spent two or three restless hours with no clue re: what to do with myself -- unable to focus on any one thing, with no idea what I wanted to do in the coming hours. To the point where it became obvious I needed to get myself out of here and take a lengthy walk.

Threw some things into a bag (notebook, dictionary, mobile phone, pens, something to read). Headed outside. Immediately felt better. Lots of people about. Life, energy, movement. Humans to watch.

Took a long, leisurely trudge along Gran Vía, stopping along the way for a cup of Italian ice cream. Found my way to la Plaza de España, grabbed a bench along the long promenade that stretches between the two immense fountains. Enjoyed the parade of humans streaming through the plaza. Did homework. The chilly breeze cranked up a bit, I began realizing I'd dressed for warmer conditions (having gotten used to spring weather), zipped up my fleece jacket and stoically continued with schoolwork, feeling chillier by the minute.

At one point, someone across one of the streets that demarcate the plaza set off something explosive -- bigger than a cherry bomb, more like an ashcan or M-15. Big enough that I could feel the concussion in my chest. I jumped, my breath seizing up for an instant. And then heard whistles sounding off in the distance. The whistles continued in the following minutes, slowly moving closer, sounding as if they were approaching along Gran Vía. Police vehicles began showing up, I wondered if I needed to prepare for trouble. And before too long, a demonstration moved by -- orderly, peaceful, making their point and continuing on. The police held off traffic until the marchers passed, then remained directing it until the congestion in the wake of the marchers eased off. I breathed a bit easier, zipping my fleece jacket all the way up as the breeze grew colder.

All together, I sat on that bench for a couple of hours. People came and went -- families, couples, groups of young folks, individuals with dogs appearing overjoyed to be there. Laughing clusters of young women. Teen-age kids with soccer balls. The occasional person on a bicycle.

A tall, slender African man with a toddler walked slowly by, following his child's meandering course. At some point, the little boy -- maybe two, two and a half years old -- noticed me sitting there. I smiled at him. He smiled back, moving closer. He hauled himself up on the bench by me, his father hovering nearby then bending over to the settle the little guy against the back of the bench, where he sat looking around. I gave him another smile, his smile got goofily broad in response. He carefully checked out the bench, then he looked at nearby pigeons. He noticed his pants legs and checked them out. He tried to stand up to check something else out, his father bent over to steady him. I sat watching the whole show. When both the father and I were paying close attention to the fun the little one was having examining everything he saw, I said to the father, "Cada día un nuevo mundo, ¿eh?" ("Every day a new world, eh?" I know you could translate the "¿eh?" bit yourself -- I threw it in there for the sake of completeness.) He seemed a bit startled that I'd said something friendly, took in my smile, smiled back, saying, "¡Sí!" As if I'd made an understatement.

A short time later a 30-something Central American couple, with a little girl about the same age as the little guy, sat down by me. Olive skin, straight jet-back hair. Dark eyes, almost almond-shaped. Startlingly similar in look to the Japanese. The parents completely ignored me. The little girl noticed me, I gave her a smile but she wasn't having any of it. She stared at me, her expression uncertain, then she moved over to the other side of her mother where she could peer around at me if she wanted to, then lean back out of view if I looked back.

As I've written this, sitting home early Saturday evening, a helicopter spent a long time hovering a few hundred feet up a block or two away -- probably keeping an eye on protest activity centered around Gran Vía. When it finally moved off, the barrio's noise level settled down to the more normal Saturday night hubbub.

Two of Madrid's three professional fútbol clubs are playing each other tonight (Atlético Madrid and Rayo Vallecano), el derby Madrileño. Time to act like a normal guy and watch some sports.


rws 5:08 PM [+]

Friday, March 21, 2003

I admit it -- I'm ignorant, at least when it comes to this particular question. Ignorant, clueless, all that. So I'm asking for help:

Please, can someone explain to me what it is women are doing when they're in the bathroom with the door closed going through half a roll of toilet paper? Are they eating it? Are they wetting it and making little sculptures that they flush guiltily down the tubes before opening the door, returning to their pretense of normal life? Are they acting out some mysterious rituals we males never find out about? Or making big TP spliffs that they light up and enjoy, carefully venting all smoke and odors before letting anyone else use the facilities? I genuinely want to know. It can't simply be for reasons having to do with going to the potty -- what on earth would consistently demand such massive quantities of paper for post-activity clean-up and restoration of order?

So there it is, one of many questions I've pondered lately. I've been living on my own, I tend to have my patterns of usage when it comes to the different aspects of home life. Plenty of women have played feature roles in this life of mine, both as sweethearts and as friends, and I have seen this particular mystery crop up time and again. I've wondered, about it but it's never been a question so urgent that I brought it up for discussion. Recently, however, two different males have spent some time here as houseguests -- a friend from Ireland spending a long weekend, another friend relocating from Pamplona to Madrid. Both of whom have used enormous amounts of toilet paper in very short time-frames, the first time I've witnessed that on the part of male humans. Makes me wonder what exactly is behind it all, and why it has suddenly expanded from a gender-based phenomenon to something perniciously bilateral. So I pose the question: what in hell is up with this?


On a completely different theme:

How you can tell that ham (jamón, here) is one of the major food groups when it comes to the Spanish diet: there are cafeterías and restaurants devoted to it. Entire chains of them. Here in Madrid, one can dine at:

-- El Palacio del Jamón (the Ham Palace)
-- El Paraíso del Jamón (the Ham Paradise)
-- And the largest, most ubiquitous of all: El Museo del Jamón (the Ham Museum).

It's not just a food, it's an object of adoration. They have palaces for it. They have museums. There is a *#^%!!! paradise of ham! (It's Paradise!! And it's full of ham!!)

They sell more than ham at these outfits, of course. Each one has what is essentially a deli counter, with an extensive variety of meats and cheeses on display. Each has a counter from which friendly Spanish gnomes serve up café, beer, tapas, bocadillos (sandwiches on baguetes) and more. Some even have dining tables or a separate dining room tucked away out of sight where ham worshippers can retire for a quiet fix without being molested. All have squadrons of big waxed pig's legs hanging above the counter or above other prominent, scarily extensive areas of the premises.

They do good business, these places. And why shouldn't they? At the very least, the food is decent; often, it is genuinely tasty.

I have yet to meet a Spaniard who, when given the opportunity, hasn't waxed poetic about Jamón Serrano, about it being one of the few things they couldn't live without.

We humans -- we're a wacky bunch.

rws 1:01 PM [+]

Thursday, March 20, 2003

The last couple of days here in Madrid have reminded me of a kind of April day I remember from upstate New York: deep blue skies, warm sunshine, the air still holding on to a feeling of chill. The only clouds to be found were the ones rising from Iraq, at the other end of the Mediterranean. The news of the eruption of open warfare was everywhere, TVs covering it everywhere I looked, newspapers splashing it across the front page, to the point where it felt a bit surprising (and came as a comfort) to find normal life going on all around. Went to the gym, went for a quick café, met a friend and went to el Museo Thyssen. Went to lunch, talked and talked. Came home, studied. I had Spanish class tonight, and as I got ready to go, the sun going down but plenty light remaining, I began noticing some sort of racket outside, the kind you get from certain kind of engines, a kind that can set one's teeth on edge after a while. Coming and going, fading then returning. And with each return, it seemed to grow in volume.

On stepping outside, the source became visible -- a helicopter, hovering several hundred over the small intersection nearest to this building. As I made my way toward Gran Vía, I saw more of them, making slow passes over the barrio. The streets were crowded with people and the din had many looking up toward the sky. The only time I've seen helicopters here putting on that kind of display were during the recent peace demonstrations. And indeed, as I approached Gran Vía I began to hear voices, began to see what appeared to be a crowd spread out at the end of la Calle de Hortaleza. The anger at the commencement of the U.S. attack on Iraq had shown itself in a spontaneous demonstration, a large one, that spilled across the avenue, stopping traffic, making enough noise that the sounds from the helicopters were no longer dominant. Banners, chanting, whistling, many, many people, channeling substantial amounts of outrage into a show of feeling at once peaceful and assertive, impossible to ignore. Not that anyone was trying. The police spread out across the boulevard did not appear threatening, possibly because they, like the vast majority of the country's population, are against the war. They seemed to deploy themselves with more interest in holding back any impatient drivers than anything else. Not that any drivers appeared to be upset with what had brought traffic to a standstill. No car horns sounded, no drivers showed impatience. Many smiled in sympathy, many actually appeared happy, talking with each other companiably. Some got out of their vehicles and joined with the ongoing chants from the protest.

I made my way past, noting the general vibe of community, the absolute absence of horns sounding or anger toward one another. When I came to a side street, I veered down that into the network of pedestrian ways that fill the blocks between Gran Vía and la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, walking quickly, slipping through the evening crowds. Nearing Sol, I began hearing the kind of noise I'd just left behind on Gran Vía, and when the plaza came within view I could see that it was filled with yet another enormous crowd out in response to the conflict going on to the east. Same situation: chanting, whistling, sprawling crowds, police deployed around it all and acting in remarkably tolerant fashion, routing traffic off in other directions.

At school, a TV was on in the office, when I noticed it someone mentioned that a bombardment was underway right then. The school remained open, classes continued, though the awareness of what was happening on the international scene hummed quietly beneath it all.

Afterwards, I walked toward Sol with a woman from my class. People streamed past us, moving away from the plaza, Spaniards of all ages from the very young to the very old, many with banners or flags, most wearing large stickers or buttons bearing some variation on the message NO a La Guerra. The plaza itself remained full out to its periphery, chants rising periodically, swelling than fading away. My classmate and I stood and talked for a while, the night air slowly turning cold, until we went to a nearby tapas joint for a something quick to eat before heading off in different directions, to home.

I found my way toward one of the main pedestrian ways that run between Sol and Callao, still crowded though all businesses had closed for the night save some cafeterias/sandwich shops. A group of five police officers -- four male, one female -- walked slowly by in the other direction, talking, expressions serious but not appearing to be on edge. Ahead, I could see what appeared to be white streamers waving high into the air. As I approached the FNAC building, I saw that a 30-something male armed with a long roll of industrial strength paper towels -- the classic "pull down then tear" kind -- was winding the paper around the grids in the enormous air vent that's sunk into the concrete along the center of that length of the walkway, doing it so that he left long, long lengths of slack that the steady current of vented air brought to graceful, rippling life. I stood for a while, watching the long streaming arcs of white paper eddy restlessly about above the heads of passersby.

When I found my way out to Gran Vía, I joined a crowd waiting at a crosswalk to get the green light. The sidewalks were filled with people, the street packed with traffic now circulating steadily along, the earlier demonstration apparently having moved on. An ambulance approached from down near la Plaza de España, lights going, siren in full cry. As traffic parted and the emergency vehicle surged past, a mime done up in white face and a gaudy harlequin outfit (complete with a classic court-jester's headgear) -- 20 or 25 feet away, behind us and slightly to one side -- suddenly began barking loudly, stridently, so that people around me jumped in startled surprise.

The light turned green, the crowd moved out into the street, some glancing back at the mime who still carried loudly on, distinctly un-mime-like. The sidewalk on the other side of the street was clogged with people walking, I veered back out into the street, breaking into a trot until I'd passed the congestion and was able to move onto the sidewalk once more, slowing to a walk. Behind me, the mime started up once more with the barking, his voice slowly diminishing amid the noise of people and traffic until it finally faded completely away.

rws 5:55 PM [+]

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Somewhere during the course of the last few years I discovered that I like living in a reasonably clean, reasonably orderly living space. Like it, as in prefer it. The kind of thing hetero males not suffering from terminal analness aren't supposed to do without raising the terrible spectre of Felix Unger.

I haven't lived with roommates a whole lot in this life of mine. The last time, maybe eight, nine years ago, I shared the third floor of a three-family building in West Cambridge, Mass. with my best friend for a year and a half. We both pitched in, the flat generally remained in presentable condition. Easy, essentially painless.

Living on my own in a small living space, cleaning was a periodic but doable pain in the butt. And in a larger space? Before too long, I'd find myself in trouble. ‘Cause I simply don't want to devote much time to that stuff. I'll vacuum every couple of weeks. I'll maintain the bathroom. I'll wash the dishes, keep the kitchen from becoming a disaster area. Once in a long while, when the accumulation of dust begins making book titles difficult to read, I'll go from room to room with a feather duster, but this is not my idea of a good time -- ask me to do it more than once in a while or ask me to wash windows, scrub floors, wash walls, go over various living space surfaces with a damp cloth, etc., then I'm in deep shit.

My last place in Cambridge, a two-bedroom in the top floor of an old Victorian house that served as home for nearly six years, was a large enough space that keeping it from gradually morphing into my own personal version of a toxic waste dump took more time and energy that I was willing to put into it. Which meant, as time went on, that I had a decision to make. The residents on the other two floors had people come and clean every week or two, which left their living spaces looking pretty good. I began noticing that a substantial number of other people I knew did the same thing. I was making enough money that taking on that expense twice a month would not be painful, would not be a bad exchange for getting someone else to do work I didn't want to be saddled with, and at some point I began asking some folks for recommendations. Got one, called her, she began showing every other week. All of a sudden, I found myself in a different living space. A cleaner one, more comfortable. I discovered I liked it. And with the place clean, I began to see that the problem wasn't simply cleaning but dealing with clutter, with having too much stuff (the legacy of growing up in a family of professional pack rats), an issue I gradually began dealing with.

In spite of those extremely positive benefits, hiring a cleaning person turned out to be emotionally complicated, much more than I'd anticipated, to the point that I noticed I was being careful who I chose to disclose it to. As if it were something to be ashamed of, like I was afraid some people might think badly of me. Like I'd suddenly become the enemy of the proletariat, one of those who would be lined up and shot when the revolution finally arrived.

Part of it did have to do with nervousness around being judged through the filter of have/have-not mentality. And if that were all it had been, it wouldn't have had the nagging, persistent power it did. It baffled me, leading to discussions about it with friends. And after conversations with one or two who shared my ethnic background (Irish), I realized that part of what was going on had to do with family matters. Namely, I was the first person in mine that I was aware of who had crossed this particular line. ‘Cause in my Irish-American gene pool, it was far more likely that people would work as a house-cleaner than hire someone to clean. And hiring someone instead of doing it all yourself would be seen as insufferably uppity. Like I'd suddenly become an example of the lace-curtain Irish, the kind who walked around with their noses in the air and were disliked and envied by those who worked menial jobs and had ten or twelve kids. ‘Cause a person who puts on pretensions of financial comfort is more likely to squeeze through the eye of a needle than to get into Heaven, blah blah blah.

That seemed to get at the root of the issue and relieved some of the mental hooha I had going.

When I came to Madrid, I found myself somewhere where hiring someone to come in and help with housekeeping seemed to be a part of the culture. Even Spanish instructors of mine, people who made very little income, did it. So that I eventually started doing it myself. And now every two or three weeks a bright, extremely nice 30ish Polish woman named Catalina shows up, spends two and a half half to three hours doing work I really don't want to do, for which I am fervently grateful. To the point where I will essentially arrange my schedule so that I can be here to let her in whenever it is she wants to show, and am grovelingly happy when she walks in the door.

She showed up this morning, early. Ungodly early, considering today is a holiday, a día de fiesta, in Madrid -- one more in the infinite number of holidays they have here, this one being el Día del Papa (Father's Day), meaning both Father's Day as it exists in the States and the day of Saint Joseph, the father of all the saints. Most stores and businesses are closed, lots of newsstands are locked up. People were out all night partying here in the barrio, and I mean all night, until past 7 a.m.

Catalina knocked on my door at 8:20. I figured I'd use having to get up for that as an excuse to get myself out the door to the gym, something that hasn't happened much during these last few weeks. Which I did.

I'd heard something yesterday about this being a día de fiesta but did not get the full import. (You'd think I'd learn after 2+ years here.) When I went out at 8:30, I found the streets nearly empty, the plaza down the street devoid of the usual weekday morning flow of people the news kiosk closed. Only a few hardy souls rode the Metro, some of whom appeared to have been out all night, their heads forward on their chests, snoozing. I got out in the barrio de Salamanca, the ritzy district where the gym is, made the chilly several block walk. Hardly any traffic cruised the streets, hardly any people walked the sidewalks. And when I reached the gym, I found it closed and dark. Bugger.

I found an open newsstand, picked up a paper, noticed an open corner café, stopped in for a cup of espresso and some churros. When I walked in, the guy behind the counter was the only other person in the joint. Someone walked in right after me and planted themselves at a table in the rear corner of the small space. When the counter guy dealt me my food and drink, I sat myself at another table. And then people started trickling in. Neighborhood folks, mostly older males, small in physical stature, white-haired, unaccompanied. A few workers, dressed in the one-piece blue or gray outfits that the local painters, plasterers, etc. wear. And into that walked a 50-something couple, him in a suit, her in one of the most massive fur coats I've ever seen, probably residents of the ‘hood. They found a pair of stools at the counter and joined the rest of the souls hovering along the counter waiting for caffeine. Chatter about sports, head-shaking about the American government and its madcap hijinks. The sound of the espresso machine, the clatter of cups/saucers. The local version of the morning routine.

When I stepped back outside, the morning air had lost some of its bite, the day promising to warm up nicely. Still no one about. On returning home, I cranked up the computer, sat down to do some work.

Outside, the barrio has been slowly waking up. Teeny dogs, out for walkies with their people, yelp at each other. The construction lot across the street, relatively quiet this last week since the big machinery disappeared, is blessedly empty and still. The cafes have been slowly opening their doors one by one. Stereos have started up in one or two pisos, their windows open so that music drifts with the late morning breeze. The local equivalent of cherry bombs have gone off a street or two away, someone taking the holiday thing to heart. The occasional car drives through.

In another hour or so, the cafes and bars in the plaza will begin putting out tables and chairs, people will sit down and pass the afternoon in conversation, enjoying the sunlight and clear skies. Life will carry on, despite the strange doings at the international level.


What's that? You claim the French didn't do squat to help the American Revolution? Au contraire.


And, finally, the last page.

(Thanks, Gill.)

rws 12:51 PM [+]

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

If I were allowed to perform one superhuman feat -- meaning an activity that would be a flagrant breach of the laws of physics as they exist in this physical 'reality' of ours -- it would be to fly. To lift off from the Earth under my own power and move in any direction I felt like going, at any speed I felt like, consciously, with complete control. That would be it for me. I can't think of anything that would feel more thrilling, more intensely delicious in just about every aspect, and I'm sure this accounts for my hankering to try hang-gliding or sky-diving. (Sky-diving! Once they pried my hands off the side of the plane's jump-door and pushed me out, I would be euphoric, inundated with the sensation of being in mid-air, the sky spread out above me, the Earth spread out below. And now that parachute technology has vaulted forward to include far more control and far less risk, they might not need to do much hand-prying to get me out of the plane.)

Actually, now that I think about it, if I could be assured that I would die immediately on impact, falling from a great height would be a pretty good way to go. Yes, I'd probably scream like a drunken banshee all the way down, but that would be part of the entertainment factor, not just an expression of abject terror.

Why am I going on about this? Because of a dream I had two nights ago.

I love dreams -- amazing, wildly inventive stories I get to take part in every night. Even the creepy ones or the out-and-out nightmares -- I get to experience them, then I get to wake up. They fade away, they lose their scary vividness, life continues. Next night I go back to sleep, I have a whole slew of new adventures. (I also love daytime dreaming -- either purposely imagining adventures or futures I would love to experience, or drifting off into moments of escapist fantasies. But this is a slightly different breed of dreaming, one that deserves its own entry.)

Part of the reason I've come to savor dreams is that during long stretches of this adult life of mine, the nighttime hours have passed without any sensation dreaming. For weeks and weeks, for months on end -- nothing, not even a feeling of distant awareness of dream activity. Blankness, nothing more. And then comes a night when I remember bits of one or two, vivid scenes of activity, whether banal or amazing, and I wake up happy, wide-eyed, enjoying my waking hours more, looking forward to further nighttime escapades.

More recently, for whatever reasons, the sensation of dreaming has become a more normal part of my existence. Sometimes it's returning to the waking state remembering fragments of dreams, sometimes it's just the awareness of activity, of events and happenings taking place somewhere below my threshold of consciousness. It's a trend that's been gathering momentum during these last few years -- a time, coincidentally (or not), in which my waking life has become one of finding myself actually living some of my dreams.

There are people who dream of flying frequently, or if not frequently then often enough that it's not something exceptional or rare. I've had some of those dreams myself, but mostly of a variety that's been strangely constricted in one of two ways: (1) either as an exaggerated form of running, springing upward with each step to tantalizing heights but always returning immediately to the ground (pretty much the way the Incredible Hulk used to cover ground in the original Marvel comics, in big, goofy bounding leaps), or (2) actually flying, horizontal to the ground, but unable to attain more than two or three feet of height. I have clear memories of dreams of both those types, the predominant feeling in both being frustration at being unable to cut loose. In one, I was flying from room to room within a house, unable to rise more than about two or so feet from the floor so that I had to wind my way between the furniture. Silly stuff.

And the few occasions in which I've flown freely in dreams? I can count them on one hand.

The first happened about twenty years ago, post-college, after returning to live in the northeast after a hilarious not-quite-year-and-a-half in L.A. During a weekend spent with a bunch of people in an inn near Ascutney, Vermont. The dream took place in a hospital, involved the feeling of being pursued and unable to find my way out. In the climactic scene, when it appeared that I'd truly been cornered, I remember running down a hallway, and as I ran my body began transforming, my arms turning into wings, my feet lifting up from the floor as my wings propelled me on, until I'd become an owl, flying through corridors and doorways, always up near the ceiling, above the amazed faces of the humans I passed, just high enough to avoid capture.

The second happened maybe seven years ago, during a long interim period -- post-withdrawal from the wacky world of the theater, pre-Madrid. The dream took place during the American Civil War, another situation in which I was being pursued, this one with my life at stake, in extreme physical peril. I remember flying eight or ten feet above a small river, going as fast as I could, a pursuer with a firearm flying a couple of hundred feet behind me. I remember shots being fired and me being able to maintain enough speed that the bullets drew close but finally lost height and momentum, dropping into the water behind me. I went under a bridge, following the course of the river, staying ahead but gaining no ground, so that the sense of danger remained constant. Until finally, in a burst of effort, I began to surge slowly ahead, my body transforming as I pulled ahead into that of another person. A complete change so that I began experiencing the situation through someone entirely different.

Pretty cool, both dreams, but in both cases harrowing experiences in which I didn't exactly experience freedom as part of the flying. That changed the third time, a couple of years back, during the course of days spent in London and Ireland.

I spent a Saturday in August 2001 wandering around London with a bunch of folks from both the States and the U.K., mostly spent in the City, an area practically empty on weekends. At the end of the afternoon, we found ourselves hanging out on the lawn at St. Paul's Cathedral and someone came up with the idea of everyone getting quiet, sitting with eyes closed just to see what would happen. We did so, and I found myself experiencing the sensation of flying -- me, on my own, at some height -- vivid enough that I could hear the sound my clothing made from the wind, could feel the air moving against my face. I opened my eyes, looked around, tried to clear my thoughts off anything but quiet. Closed my eyes again, found the same flying thing happening. Interesting on one hand 'cause it felt so clear, but kind of hokey on the other hand 'cause what the hell was I doing in a group meditation on the lawn at St. Paul's, imagining myself flying?

I flew out of London to Dublin the next day where a friend picked me up, we drove out to Kilkenny to take in some of its annual arts festival. My first night in our B&B there, I had the most intensely vivid dreams of flying I'd ever experienced -- as me, not changing into anything or anyone else, not limited by height, speed or any other factor. Free and taking full advantage of it. Amazing dreams that stayed with me during my waking hours for through the rest of a great trip west of Dublin.

And that's been the extent of my flying dreams. Until two nights ago, when out of nowhere I had yet another exceptionally vivid dream, this one taking place on a small mountain. Me standing on a steep slope, trees all around, the land from which they sprung dotted with clearings and rock outcroppings. Nighttime. I had to get to another place on the mountain, a bit lower in elevation. And I simply lifted off, sailing out into the air away from the slope, my body remaining vertical, everything about the experience easy and natural, the sensation of being up in altitude and moving through the air as clear as if I were actually experiencing it. (Some might suggest that in some way I was -- I will not speculate on that.) I took an easy elliptical course that brought me around the curve of the mountain's face, my feet finally touching down gently. I stood looking back up from where I'd come, then turned around and moved off toward wherever it was I needed to go.

That has stayed with me since I woke up yesterday morning. Strangely satisfying. What does it mean? Who knows. Whatever it's about, I like it.


Meanwhile, somewhere in England, a sportswriter for The Guardian seems to be experiencing more than his share of existential angst.

rws 12:34 PM [+]

Monday, March 17, 2003

Written this last Saturday night:

"Today: the eighth day in a row of spectacular spring weather. Conditions like this show up here, people start pouring out into the street and before you know it, the plazas are full of Spaniards of all ages hanging out, sipping tasty liquids, gabbling happily away as they pursue the national warm-weather sport: people-watching. (No wonder I feel so at home here.) Meanwhile, tourists stumble about, appearing stunned at the blind luck that’s dropped them in the middle of an urban paradise.

"Saturday morning continues to be my favorite time of the week here -- everyone out buying groceries, taking walks, tossing down cups of fine coffee, sitting outside enjoying the weather, talking in groups, reading newspapers. People walking in pairs or groups, carrying bags of groceries, bouquets of flowers, baguettes. Most of the shops close at 2 p.m., the activity shifts from commerce to lunch or what I just described in that last paragraph.

"An extra wrinkle -- today had been set aside for the next wave of gatherings against the war. This is a major deal here. Apart from the fact that the population is nearly unanimous in their opposition to an invasion of Iraq, they’ve been galvanized into expressing it in response to Aznar’s refusal to acknowledge the country’s strong sentiments. This, in combination with an accumulation other things, has shaken off what some Spanish acquaintances have described to me as a more traditional passivity. There has been a happiness in the air today that could be attributed to this the weekend or to abundant spring weather or to the coming together to express something the community feels strongly about. Or some combination of all that. Whatever it is, I could feel it all day long."

I got no more written ‘cause I’ve been discovering that I have a hard time focusing for this kind of cyber-scribbling when I have company staying in the piso. I’ve been getting lots of writing work done lately, with and without company around, but whatever focus I’ve needed to produce entries for this journal has been hard to come by.

So. Saturday. Amazing weather. A friend who has been mostly out of town called, we went to see ‘Chicago’ (which has been packing them in here). Afterward, a walk to Las Huertas, one of Madrid’s more intense party zones, to sit at an outdoor table for a table for talk and tapas-hoovering. Lots of people about for that early in a Saturday evening, many carrying peace demonstration accoutrement. This tapas joint sits in a long row of like restaurants and cafes that run along the south side of la Plaza de Santa Ana, a narrow street -- literally one car wide -- extending along the block between the sidewalk and the plaza. At one point two or three cars went by, the handles adorned with hand-tied white bows -- apparently the aftermath of a wedding.

Then a walk to la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, where the demonstration was to wind up. It’s an enormous space, Sol, Madrid’s central point, with 8 or 9 streets and pedestrian avenues that feed into it. We arrived at sunset, the plaza overflowing with people, more beginning to pour in so that the crowd density quickly shot up to an intense, uncomfortable level. We made our way along the plaza's south side, a long, slow process until we neared a side street and I got motivated to move laterally and up that street in search of some relief. Found some elbow room, hung about for a bit, talking, people watching -- as with the massive mid-February mobilization, this gathering largely consisted of families, those in attendance ranging from 10 and under to 70 and over. At one point, ‘Imagine’ played over the gathering’s sound system for the occasion, the crowd of two to three hundred thou’ quieting for it, the sound of piano, drums, voice floating over the scene, crystal clear. (The crowd count is one of the more entertaining aspects of this particular gathering. The mid-February mobilization was monstrous to the point that no one could deny it, not even the Spanish government -- this time, however, they claimed the turnout to be around 120,000, an extremely creative estimate. The demonstration's organizers took creativity in the other direction, claiming a figure of around one million, identical to last month's turnout. The news media put it in the neighborhood of 300,000, probably the most realistic figure, and not one to be ashamed of.)

After a while, the crowd density again began intensifying, we headed up the side street, away from Sol, eventually finding out way to la Plaza Mayor for a bout of further people watching/café drinking.

This is often what weekend nights are like here. Wandering from one place to another with friends for food/drink/entertainment/conversation. The amazing part is watching how the crowds continue to grow as the night wears on. When most cities throw in the towel and head to bed, Madrid gears up, the streets filled with people.

A few different musical groups had arrayed themselves around the plaza, playing to the crowds at the restaurants and cafes. The one nearest us consisted of guitar/double bass/violin/accordion, and dealt in lite versions of classical music’s greatest hits. There is nothing quite like Pachelbel’s Polka -- er, I mean, Canon in D -- played on an accordion.

If the tone of this entry is a bit -- what, scattered? boring? -- it’s ‘cause I have some getting-back-in-the-saddle to do, journal-wise. It’ll get better.

rws 1:12 PM [+]

Friday, March 14, 2003

Friday evening in Madrid. Spring arrived a week ago, ignoring the calendar and blessing this peninsula with weather which has only improved with each passing day. The temperature yesterday and today coasted smoothly into the upper 70s, which has had people hanging out at cafes, soaking up sunlight, chatting over glasses of soda, beer, wine. I've been one of them at times during recent days. Upon stumbling out of the gym yesterday, I spotted an empty table at a nearby sidewalk restaurant and grabbed it, tossing myself into a chair for my first open-air meal of the year. On two or three other occasions, in walking through the plaza here in the neighborhood, I've come across an available table and chair that were impossible to pass by, leading to 30-60 minutes of sloth and people-watching. Time well spent, I think, especially given the local color.

To balance that out, I've been working hard here at home on writing during long stretches of the last three or four days, which has also felt like time well-spent. The inward-diving of the few days post-Italy seem to have morphed into these recent days of productive work hours alternating with brief passages of indolence. Not a bad balance.

A friend is staying here this weekend. Between that and the offline writing, I have no idea how much I'll be posting here. In the meantime, entertainment abounds at other cyber-locales.

For instance, yesterday's entry at Struggle In A Bungalow Kitchen featured one of the finest lead-in lines I've seen in quite a while: Today in Literary History: Leah Does Not Vomit or Toss Novel Across Room

And Mr. Crunchy's chatting with Saddam Hussein.

Over at Fussy, Mrs. Kennedy is making preparations to attend the Day After St. Patrick's Day Guinness-and-Corned-Beef Paint-Peeling Fart Hoedown and B.Y.O.B. potluck bingo brawl.

Meanwhile, Sarah B. is thinking of moving and is soliciting opinions on likely destination cities. At last count, the number of comments stood at 177.

And last but most definitely not least, Mimi Smartypants is getting cranky, she's laughing, smiling and setting her mouth in a thin unhappy line, and she's rounding up rejected fragrances for the spring season. Talk about getting some bang for your entertainment buck.

Yes, I admit it. All of those links -- high-quality fare, every one -- are an elaborate cover for the fact that I don't have much of my own to offer today. I've been working too hard or not getting enough sleep or been too distracted with people crashing here. Or something. I'll do better tomorrow. Or Sunday. Maybe. We'll see.

rws 3:49 PM [+]

Thursday, March 13, 2003

More genuine web-searches conducted recently via Google and other engines that have linked people to runswithscissors:

pompador models

computerized scissors

mixed wrestling theater

flip flops for wedding favors

surrealist hotel bars

Crate and Barrel bags

embroidered jeans

mixed wrestling feet scissors

Hoover vacuum parts

forearm hair

psychology "cowboy boots" footwear

clonation pictures

Galleries of Naked Males

sound effects free car door closing

free pr

rws 1:21 PM [+]

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

The bit of real estate across the street where the new building is going up is not a large space. Just a small plot of urban land, compact and cramped, especially when packed with workers, building supplies, big machinery.

When the construction folks finished for the day yesterday, they pretty much cleared everything out -- trash, palettes of bricks ‘n' stuff, big machines, site trailer. Everything but a compressor, and a few items tucked neatly away by the big temporary fence they've had running along the front of the site since immediately prior to Christmas. All of a sudden the visual clutter's gone. One guy showed up this morning, working around the perimeter of the space where the foundation pilings are being sunk. One other person has shown up, they've mostly watched the first worker dig, drill, clear away soil. Little noise, little dust being raised. There's some racket now and then from work being done in other spots around the neighborhood, but it's more sporadic, less concentrated. Not directly across the street.

When I stepped outside a while ago to pick up a paper, a bag of produce, a cup of coffee, the temperature was already around 11C (low 60s F). Another spring morning, relatively tranquil, comparatively relaxed. I grab a newspaper, first thing that catches my eye is a story on the back page.

I go spend a few days in Rome [see entries of Feb. 25 through March 6], what happens? I return to Madrid, it seems like Rome's followed me back. Over the weekend, sitting at a table here in la Plaza de Chueca, two Italian college-age guys are holding forth loudly at a nearby table. Two days ago, I visit a friend's website, I find the article about subterranean Rome [see journal entry of March 10]. This morning, it's an article about the Colosseum and the characters who flounce around its environs in centurion garb. The gist of the story: Rome's City Hall tries to protect tourists from the Forum's colorful rogues. "The times of improvised uniforms and the merciless hunt of Japanese tourists has ended," begins the article, "for the centurions who hang about daily in the vicinity of the Forum. Beginning this spring, they will be employees, subject to an entrance exam and to meticulous control of their appearance, training and work location." The ones I saw during my hours around the Colosseum provided a comic flourish to the experience of exploring one of Rome's highest-profile tourist destinations, though they've apparently at times carried on with a predatory edge. Their new situation will elevate their position in some ways, turning them into legitimate representatives of the city, guaranteeing steadier income, granting them the power to take action if they catch, for example, someone scrawling graffiti on an ancient structure. "In exchange for reaching this new status as hosts," continues the article, "they will have to leave home not just their street clothes but certain old modalities frequently used to encourage tourists to take photos of them, from an intimidating attitude to deliberately forgetting to mention that the photos weren't free."

I love this. Rome is such a complicated experience, some of it charming, even welcoming, some of it less so, and the total is an intriguing mix that everyone should get a taste of.

The sense of age -- of thousands of years of history, of countless lives having come and gone – was a major part of the city's feel. I found myself walking through ancient places or encountering art, statuary created hundreds, thousands of years ago, and it got me thinking about the continuous interweaving of life and death. Of people being born, living their span of years, passing away. And I found myself thinking about life/death in relation to me, in particular what I'll leave behind.

For many years, the idea of occupying a plot of land in which my physical remains will rot away has seemed silly. Why, think I, take up that kind of space? Burn my remains, strew the ashes in a couple of locations that were special to me. Have a party in my memory, leave it at that. But in Rome I found myself pondering the idea of leaving something behind, something solid, visible, which I think I would only do if there were some entertainment value to be had. Like a cemetery plot with a punchline. For instance, a headstone that reads:


Or a headstone bearing the simple, time-honored message:


Both attention-getters, both classics in their own way. But the second one – talk about a burn! ‘Cause after all, what's the deceased character next to you going to do once you've got your very own I'M-WITH-blahblah stone up and running -- move?

Of course, you'd need to attend to fundamental details: make sure you actually get planted next to another dead person instead of, say, an empty patch of lawn or a trash basket; get the I'M-WITH arrow indicating the right direction, (less of a concern if you'll be taking the big sleep between two existing plots). Get those right, you've got centuries, maybe millennia of hilarity to look forward to.

My oldest brother -- many years older than me -- passed away unexpectedly in the late ‘80s. He was into loud, heavy-metal rock ‘n' roll, and music played a major role in his life. My parents (very Catholic, very straight) put together a very normal, very depressing wake/funeral. Not the kind of thing my brother would have put together for himself, I don't think. Some of us did manage, though, to throw together a tape of the kind of music he would have wanted to hear. So that although the wake looked and felt for the most part like the kind of deal I hope my remains (and my friends/loved ones) will never have to go through, if one listened carefully, you could hear the wail of whanging guitars and screaming singers playing in the background, including a song called D.O.A. (by an old, extinct band called Bloodrock). I still feel a bit of glee when I think of that.

Death. One more opportunity for some cheap laughs.

rws 12:56 PM [+]

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Hot damn, yet another day -- this makes four in a row now -- of bona fide, bigtime-sunny, ideal-temperatured springtime mojo! Extravagantly spectacular weather, the kind that requires one to leave coats and sweaters at home so that one may cavort in skimpily-clad, skin-exposing comfort.

With the all work going on across the street, my windows are not getting opened during the day, me not looking to have a layer of construction dust accumulating over everything in the piso. But once the construction clears out late afternoon, I slap those buggers wide o. and enjoy the sound of life in the barrio drifting up from the street. A sound I'm not sure I ever expected to find myself enjoying. I can't remember savoring the New York/Seattle/L.A./Cambridge, MA neighborhood soundtracks like this. But that's life, isn't it? Things change, surprises await.

I've been on a bit of a movie-going binge this last week and a harf. Started in Rome with The Quiet American and Chicago. Continued here with, er, let's see -- The Hours, Punch-Drunk Love, My Life Without Me. Fine films all. More than fine -- great films. Excellent films. Then yesterday, after hearing a poz report from a friend, I went to see Daredevil. I pause here to consider what I'd like to say about that one. And what I come up with is, well, they can't all be gems. It had its moments. Especially the prologue -- the kid who plays the young Matt Murdock did a seriously great job.

Afterward, walking along one of the pedestrian walkways that extend from la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol to Gran Vía, lined with stores and cafes, filled with people enjoying the evening. I see an older guy, walking with a funny shuffling step, seeming to be muttering something. Then I notice he's walking with a little black puppy, one that's feeling its oats and has taken one of his pants cuffs in its mouth, refusing to let go, so that the guy is walking along as best he can, mumbling different versions of "¡Sueltalo! ¡Joder, sueltalo!" (‘Let go! Goddammit, let go!') to the puppy, which is being dragged slowly along, the nails of its rear legs scratching against the pavement.

A minute or two later, I pass one of the two or three women's-intimate-wear shops, notice a 70ish grandmother type with what must have been a grandchild, a little guy, maybe six years old. She's pulling him closer to the shop window, a window that features six or seven mannequins in various modes of near-undress. She seems to be drawing his attention to two mannequins in particular -- half-mannequins, actually, extending from mid-ribcage to knees -- side by side, both sporting the skimpiest of black thongs, one facing front, the other presenting two finely-sculpted nether-cheeks to the world. "Mira," she's saying. (‘Look!') "Mira!"

I am not making that up.

This afternoon, I'm sitting for a while with a notebook over at la Plaza de España, one of my favorite people-watching hangouts. Though it's a weekday afternoon, the weather has brought people out, the plaza and the expanses of grass around its perimeter are filled with groups of people talking, soaking up the sun. Large bushes that look to be cousins of the forsythias I'm familiar with from the States are slowly putting out large yellow blossoms. The two huge fountains are tossing water into the air. A nice scene.

To my left, a group of three 20-somethings are hanging out. One of them, a young woman, catches the eye of a pigeon that's been wandering nearby in hopeful maybe-someone-will-feed-me-over-here circles, extends an arm, beckons with her hand. The bird cocks its head, walks a few steps toward her, falters, thinks better of the whole thing, changes direction and walks quickly away, head bobbing. The young woman lets out a sharp, devilish laugh that suggests that bird may have made the right decision.

On impulse, I go to a nearby movie theater to see a Spanish film, La Vida de Nadie ('Nobody's Life'), which turns out to be one heavy-duty bugger about a guy with a happy marriage of 20 years who actually had no life, no job, and lived two different existences. I walk into the theater, I'm the only person there, they're playing Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere by the Who on the soundsystem. Loud. It's all I can do to keep myself from doing the Watusi right there in the aisle from pure joy.

One of these days I'll pull myself together and get down to, er, doing something more productive. In the meantime, I am having some serious fun.

rws 2:16 PM [+]

Monday, March 10, 2003

Just found out about the city of Rome that lies below the city of Rome. Bugger. Now I have to go back to do some exploring. (Damn, that means I'll have to eat more excellent Italian food!)
(Thanks to Kristen for the link.)

Monday. After a weekend of blessed quiet, the construction noise started up again across the street at 8 a.m. One thing I'll say about this change in local existence: it gets me appreciating how nice it is to hear nothing but the normal sounds of barrio life, without the added layers of industrial white noise -– compressors, power tools, the occasional jackhammer. Which leads me to something larger: how much I've come to appreciate the simple experience of being alive with all its normal details. But that's another entry.

The weather here in Madrid these last few days has been spectacular. Chilly mornings, the mercury gliding up into the 70s (20+ C) by midday. Blue skies and brilliant, warm sunlight in abundance. With the sky staying light until after 7:30, it's feeling like the warm season may be rolling into town for real. We'll see -– a call like that could be a teensy bit premature, this being early March and all.

I'm still doing the going-inward bit I wrote about a few days back. Something about that trip to Italy has triggered serious ongoing reflection –- ill-timed in that a friend was staying here for a few days after my return, and I may have come off a bit, er, I don't know -– stiff? Odd? Preoccupied? Unless he chalked it up to me being my normal weirdo self. (Yes, I get to say that about me. You don't.)

Friday, early afternoon. I'm doing errands around the barrio, lost in my thoughts. I've stopped at the neighborhood recycling bins, am dumping glass, paper, blahblahblah. I feel a hand on my arm, I look up to see a very pretty woman talking to me. Couldn't seem to place the face, though she apparently knew me. I'm staring, trying to get my teeny brain to engage, it sinks in that she's asking me about the trip to Rome, then I realize it's the travel agent who booked my flight for me (her hair color changed from blonde to dark brown since the last time I saw her, contributing to my cluelessness). I finally get up to speed with what passes for reality, my brain jerks into gear, my mouth gets into sync, I answer her question about the trip, saying it was fine. She replies, "Me alegro" ('I'm glad'), and takes off. I stand watching her walk rapidly (maybe a bit too rapidly) off, thinking there may possibly have been something more than professional interest going on there, wondering if I'll ever find out.

Saturday, early afternoon. Me, sitting at a table at la Plaza de Chueca, just down the block from here. Soaking up sunshine, watching people, sipping una caña, reading. At the table next to me are two young-20-something women. Beyond them, two kids -- a chunky 10 or 12-year-old boy with a girl half his age -– wander through the scene. The come upon some pigeons, both kids run at the birds, the girl laughing, the boy yelling, "You! Get out of here! Fly!" at the birds. He continues with that, veering toward pigeons situated near the table next to me, his shouting and manner growing more vehement, more extreme, until he's right next to the neighboring table, yelling with unnerving volume and intensity, the two young women staring at him, mouths open. The kid runs off with the little girl, the young women look at each other, bursting into laughter, glancing self-consciously around to see if many people are staring.

Later: walking through neighborhood streets. Someone has a canary in a sizeable birdcage out on their piso's balcón. Between the sunlight and mild air, the little bird is singing in incredible fashion, as if bursting with joy at being alive. It's song rises and falls, going on and on without pause, resonating along the barrio's narrow streets.

Seen in the front window of a neighborhood bakery: an apple cake -– more a broad pastry than a cake, actually, baked in a broad pan, the creation only as tall as the pan's rim. Its surface is covered with apples slices, beautifully arranged, topped with a honey-colored gel. Sophisticated, high-quality bakery fare, scrumptious-looking. Someone has plunged a swizzle-stick into it that bears a small sign which reads ES DEFÍCIL HACER ('IT'S HARD TO DO'). No price, just those words.

Saturday evening, around 8:30. The streets of Chueca are filled with people, some strolling, others going in and out of clothing/footwear stores. Couples, young and middle-aged, and groups of young folk. Lots of chatter, lots of cars going by, windows open, conversation and music drifting into the night as they pass. I turn off a main drag onto a small, quieter side street. Fewer stores, fewer lights. I approach the door to a tienda that deals in custom-made clothes, a small, narrow shop with edgy, unusual pants and shirts in the window. The front door is open, a wedge of light extends out across the sidewalk. As I draw near, I can hear latin music playing -- fast-moving, with a heavy, driving beat and lots of percussion, loud horns playing atop it all. I draw even with the door, the music pours out from the space. Inside, the shop is empty except for a slender 20-something couple dancing in front of a mirror to the music, side by side, their steps identical and exactly in sync. Then I'm by, the music quickly fades. The sound of a bus going by at the end of the street surges, fades, the laughter of two young women walking in the opposite direction on the other side of the street floats in the night air.

Madrid. It's my home.

rws 2:46 PM [+]

Friday, March 07, 2003

Have been lost in my thoughts today, reflecting on the state of my little life and all that. Something which insists on being done now and then.

Coincidentally, went and saw The Hours yesterday afternoon. A light comedy about life, death, desperation, holding on, letting go, allowing joy into one's experience, and big moments in the guise of the little moments that compose the passing days. I have to confess I'm a teeny bit surprised to see the recognition it's getting -– good for us movie-going humans.

Two things:

1) On the way to the film, I passed a clown trudging in the other direction. Bright lime-green wig, black tail-coat, classic baggy Harlequin pants (material printed in a design of many-colored diamond shapes). No clown shoes, I'm sorry to say. Just black, sensible jobbies. He checked his watch as he walked by, frowning, shoulders drooping, mouth compressed so that his red lips protruded tightly. Not a happy clown.

2) The cavalcade of advertisements/previews before the film reminded me of the unbelievably lengthy pre-film ad-fest I saw at two movie theaters in Rome -- a good (or bad) 20 minutes of ads/trailers, an outrageous example of audience abuse. Here in Madrid it tends to be more like 10 minutes. Less abusive, plus I get some language practice out of it. There are times, though, when I feel like Malcolm MacDowell in A Clockwork Orange, mid-aversion-conditioning. What the various advertisers don't seem to get is that I'm being conditioned to avoid purchasing anything they advertise (given that I've handed over a few euros to see a film only to myself being subjected to ten minutes of ads).

Blah blah blah.

I am blessed with a life that currently affords me the leeway to spend an occasional day reflecting on my existence, go sit at an outdoor café for a while, soak up some sun as I think, maybe write for a bit, maybe take in a movie for some relief/distraction, then vent about the ads if I feel like it. I am extremely grateful, extremely fortunate, and take none of it for granted.

So. To wrap this up with a heartfelt nonsequitor:

My favorite part of the end-credits for Punch-Drunk Love:
"Score Recorded at 2 Beers + Everyone Sings"

rws 1:24 PM [+]

Thursday, March 06, 2003

12:30 p.m., a beautiful Madrid Thursday. Sunshine coming down with springlike strength, the sky nicely blue, the occasional fair weather cloud drifting by. Got to bed around 1 a.m., found myself awake just before 7, the kind of awake that I could tell would not lead me back to sleep. Got up, went to the gym. Came home afterward, got groceries. Was in the kitchen unpacking them, a Maria Jimenez CD playing ("Canta Por Sabina"), the room alight with sunshine, and I realized how good it felt to be back here. A smile spread itself across my silly face, my little heart did some cartwheels in my chest. As if I were home and feeling it. And maybe I am home, racket from construction across the street and all. Could be I am.

Some parting snapshots from Rome:

-- Two evenings ago: walking down a narrow backstreet, a couple passed, going into a restaurant. Him: completely done up in black, from his extravagant pompador, to his fringed, silver-studded leather jacket, to his vinyl pants (way shiny, way baggy), to his standard-issue black footwear. One black-clad son-of-a-bitch.

-- Yesterday a.m. Sitting at a table on the sunny side of la Piazza Barberini, watching the constant stream of traffic and pedestrians flowing by. In sitting there, I broke my own rule about never patronizing a bar/restaurant that advertises itself as American. But it was the only place around the entire goddamn piazza with tables/chairs. If I wanted to spend time enjoying sun and spring-like temperatures, I had to bite the bullet. In so doing, I bought the single most expensive cuppa cappucino I've ever sipped (three and a half euros). Which reinforced my theory about bars/restaurants of that ilk: they're tourist traps. Avoid 'em -- unless they have well-situated tables/chairs and there's no other option.

-- I sat watching people, reminded all over again about certain crimes being currently committed in the name of fashion. In this case, I refer to the faux cowboy-boot look that's in here this winter/spring. They're all over the place and they're mighty silly. Using the basic cowboy-boot template, then exaggerating the look in one way or another -– huge, high heels or pointy boot-toe that goes on and on and on, as if the footwear originally belonged to a cowboy clown, or wildly exaggerated angles, flaring outward from the heel to the balls of the foot, then sharply inward toward the toe. You get the idea. Many, many women in Rome and Florence wore 'em, as do many women here, along with many Spanish men. Not many Italian men that I saw had taken the 'this is stylish' bait. My pointy-toed boots -- black w/ soft leather uppers, little shiny mental curlicues on either side of the toe -- are nice buggers, bought back in the States, probably way more comfortable than the euro-imitations.

-- Took a bus route I'd never been on before to the train station, doing it during the morning as a dry run, a rehearsal for later in the day when I'd be weighted down with luggage and not wanting to encounter any unexpected surprises. On the way back, the driver, perhaps post-one-too-many-espressos, went as fast as possible -- stopping and starting sharply, rattling around sharp corners at serious velocity, showing no quarter to other traffic. As he neared la Piazza Barbieri, threading his way down a narrow street, he clipped a truck, his side mirror coming off with a loud noise, flying up into the air, landing hard on the sidewalk, everyone in the bus watching with eyes large as dinner plates. He pulled over at the next bus stop, sat there for a few moments before finally getting out and heading back to retrieve the pieces. Many passengers (including me) took the opportunity to exit the vehicle and slink quickly away.

-- Thirty or forty minutes later, sitting at my little table in la Piazza Barberini, the noise of a collision directly in front of where I sat announced another mishap, this one between a bus and a small blue car. The bus stopped where it was (traffic behind it honking indignantly), the car pulled over in front of the bus. The larger vehicle probably suffered little damage. The car's right rear corner, on the other hand, had been drastically altered. Both drivers got out, conferred. The woman studied her little blue buggy, apparently decided the damage had been her fault, got back in the car and drove off. All the passersby who had stopped to watch moved on, some looking a bit disappointed.

-- Four Brits sat at the table to my right, immediately stripping down to t-shirt and milk-white skin. Most of the Romans who walked by kept their winter togs on and zipped up, looking as if the idea of removing them would be an act of lunacy.

-- Went trawling for a likely lunch joint. Not a trattoria this time as my flight schedule didn't allow for the hour or so that would involve. Looked around my hotel's neighborhood, found a hole-in-the-wall that dispensed cafeteria-style lunch food, took a chance. Ordered a sandwich, then asked about the pasta. The counterman conducted me to the other end of the shop where he shoveled a mountain of linguini in cream sauce and lemon onto a plate for me. Not bad, as it turned out, leading to some serious hoovering action on my part.

-- On the nearly-empty train out to the airport, two young-20s Chinese women carried on a loud, animated conversation, punctuated by near-constant laughter. One received a phone call, talking enthusiastically to whoever called, the other finding most everything she said hilarious.

-- Leaving the city, the train passed apartment buildings whose roofs bristled with concentrations of television antennas, all sitting atop long, high masts. Also, bridges covered in colorful graffiti and patches of dense greenery, including stands of urban lemon trees.

-- Checking in at the airport, the counter person told me the flight was already delayed by an hour. We found out why when we were finally in the air and nearing Madrid: major storms had swept through the area, were moving on east as we began to descend so that we moved between huge, rolling white mountains of clouds, passing through vast airborne canyons, an amazing display. As we rounded one thick, towering bank of thunderheads, I could see long trailing streamers extended down toward the shadowed land below from the bottom of a cluster of dark clouds

To the west, Madrid glistened in evening sunlight, streets and sidewalks drying out.

And speaking of Madrid -- seen here on the Metro: a young woman reading a translation of "I, Claudius." The title in Spanish? "Yo, Claudio."

Yo! Claudio!

Down wit' da homies in ancient Rome.


rws 1:32 PM [+]

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Yesterday, mid-afternoon. Me, sitting at a café a few blocks from here, soaking up user-friendly afternoon sun, warm enough that I was down to shirtsleeves. Thinking Excellent Italian weather, a smooth cup of cappucino, and enough free time to explore the deadly sin of sloth in all its splendor. I could learn to live like this.

Back to Madrid today, where I will do my best to emulate the Spaniards' version of that fine state of being. (At least for a day or two.)

rws 3:49 AM [+]

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

I'm in a huge cybercafe in la piazza Berberini, looking over that last entry, which turns out to contain several egregious typos and elementary writing screw-ups. I know a bunch of you read that bugger after I posted it -- I keep track of that kind of thing. You couldn't say something, maybe send a polite note? You had to let me embarrass myself by writing like a pre-schooler? Grumble, grumble.

I've said this before, I will undoubtedly say it again. It is often the case that my first drafts contain less than wonderful writing which gets cleaned up the next time or two I check in here. Sometimes posts here need a day or two before they're actually readable. Just something to keep in mind.

Today: the first occasion of blue, cloudless skies since last Thursday or so. Impossible to tell from my hotel room 'cause the ancient wooden shutters outside the window are locked closed. The alleyway outside (actually a step or two above an alleyway -- more like a narrow, cobblestone pasillo, a neighborhood passageway, clean and lovely) is deep in shadow during the morning hours, providing no weather clues apart from rain/no rain. It's only when I step out the building's front door that I get the picture, and this morning's picture is a fine one, air fresh and cool. I got out early enough that no tourists were about, only Romans on their way to work, beginning the day's activities.

My current squat is located near the Fountain of Trevi (la Fontana di Trevi), a major tourist collection point that is to a fountain what Niagara Falls is to a place where some water falls from somewhere high to somewhere lower. A mammoth grotto kind of thing, really, an enormous pool into which water falls by way of a sprawling, grandiose expanse of statuary and fake rocks, located at an intersection of narrow pedestrian ways deep within a tangle of winding backstreets. The sound of the water falling echoes off the surrounding buildings in a way that multiplies it to pleasing effect. I can see why it attracts so many out-of-towners. It's fun and, considering where it is, an example of charming, entrancing incongruity. (Did I actually write that? "Charming, entrancing incongruity"? Someone stop me, before I kill again.) Plus, the pool is actually laid out in front of a huge white building, and the statuary and fake porcelain rocks all kind of morph out of the building's front facade, which looks much more intriguing than I suspect it sounds.

Something I love about Rome: fountains. They're everywhere. And not just the big honkin' buggers with loads of water cascading down over heroic statues -- little ones also, tucked unobtrusively away on back streets or on busy corners. Teensy things, more like fonts, really -- small spigots from which a quiet, modest stream of water falls into basins of no more than a bucket's capacity and often far less, often overflowing to the sidewalk.

But I blather.

I skipped breakfast at the hotel this a.m. Yesterday morning's turned out to be a debacle -- the dining room is a cramped, microscopic space into which nine or so tables have been crammed, making it uncomfortable and nearly impossible to move around. Not a place that produced much happiness for diners or staff. I got myself out walking instead, stopping in at a neighborhood joint for a cup of morning espresso that went down in friendly fashion.

My body's had it with this trip, I think. Way too much roaming about -- miles and miles each day. Eating experiences that can vary drastically from meal to meal, from the sublime to the ridiculous (last night's dinner had both). This morning as I dragged myself out of bed it let me know clearly that it's ready to go home. I reassured it as gently as I could that we head back to Madrid tomorrow, it seemed to settle down.

So. Yesterday's field trip: the Roman Forum and the Colisseum.

The Metro, nearly packed to capacity, reminded me all over again how much I love studying people and, in particular, people's faces. They're beautiful things, faces -- living, organic canvases on which the inner life gets aired out in delicate, complicated ways. Bodies are great, too, don't get me wrong (yowza!), but faces are a whole other thing. And the Metro or a crowded bus is a prime location for taking them in. Something which has to be done carefully, of course, since it can easily get intrusive. (What's that old George Carlin line about elevator rides? Something like, "Nothing to do but not look at the other guy.")

There were a few 20-something couples on the train yesterday a.m., all in a romantic mood. Standing close, arms around each other, kissing softly, talking quietly, occasionally closing their eyes and kissing deeply. Something I've gotten used to seeing in Madrid -- open, easy demonstrations of love, affection. (Make love, not war, etc.) Other people talked quietly or endured their morning ride, eyes closed, still waking up.

Got out at la estacion Colosseo, as I passed through the exit turnstiles a guy dressed in a Roman Centurion costume, complete with fake sword, crossed in front of me toward a newstand, running into someone he knew, a person in business dress. They stopped, shook hands in loud, smiling greeting and conversed for a while. (Later, I saw more of his kind, standing in groups of two and three, calling out to tourists "Take your peecture weeth us!", resulting in some seriously funny photo sessions.)

And outside, under a low, gray sky, the Colisseum loomed. Off to the right lay the Forum, I headed in that direction, up a long slope via an old, old, old cobblestone path. The Forum and the Palatine Hill turn out to cover many acres of land, a major spread of ancient real estate planted in the middle of the contemporary city. The hill provides quieter, more contemplative wandering, at times through gardens, complete with orange and lemon trees and groups of school kids from all over running around like puppies. Other sections are more wide open, and strewn with ruins -- walls and foundations of buildings, bits of columns and statuary. All up on a bluff from which one can see modern Rome spread out on other hills, the sound of traffic coming and going on the wind.

And yesterday came with plenty of wind. In fact, it felt like a sudden return of winter. Cold, gray, somber, at times hostile. People walked around with collars up and coats zipped. The expanses of grass and clover between the ruins up on the hill were sprinkled with tiny flowers, blossoms of white, yellow, pink shivering in the chilly breeze.

At one point, I heard the sound of voices raised, turned to see a 30ish French couple having an argument. He threw an umbrella to the ground, she kicked it. He turned away, pulled out a guidebook, retreated into it. She picked up the umbrella. He wandered off out of view, she followed.

Shortly thereafter, a more placid group of four French women passed me -- two 30-somethings, two in their young 20s -- one of them reading aloud from a guidebook, her voice sounding like music in the cold air.

The other part of the Forum is down in a natural basin that covers quite a bit of land, an area crowded with the remains of large-scale structures -- temples, baths, a shell or two of what were enormous buildings, feats of engineering all. An impressive, vivid array, a place that must have been powerful and exciting in its day, crowded with people and activity. As it was yesterday, in particular crowded with large groups of high-school age kids from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, guided by patient, good-humored older folks.

And the Colosseum. Not what I'd expected. Yes, the main structure remains what I'd seen in countless images. Inside, though -- not the clean, wide expanse of sand I'd pictured. The circular lower level is filled with the remains of a network of structures, above which there was apparently a surface at the level of first ring of seats in which the blood-spilling took place. According to my 1991 Let's Go Italy guidebook, "Within 100 days of [the Colosseum's] AD 80 opening, some 5000 wild beasts perished in the bloody arena (from the latin word for sand, harena, which was put on the floor to absorb blood). The floor (now partially restored and open for various concerts and TV shows) covers a labyrinth of brick cells, ramps and elevators used to transport wild animals from cages up to arena level."

Scaffolding now provides what arena-level surface there now is -- a wide passage cutting across the middle of the arena, extremely cool to cross, with a large deck area at one end. I found that if I devoted much thought to the original use of the structure I didn't enjoy being there very much. If I simply enjoyed being present in that string of moments -- the sun breaking through the clouds, people from all over the world in generally happy attendance -- it was a great place to be. I found stairs, headed up to the structure's top level where I walked around at a leisurely pace, discovering a short flight of steps that the original builders had thoughtfully provided for 21st century sunbathing. Parked my hinder there, pulled out a copy of El Paìs I'd picked up earlier and relaxed for a while, languages from all over the map drifting in the sunlit air around me.

One exceptional sight that presented itself to me: two 30ish German males in virtually identical black corduroy, vaguely cowboy-style suits (the corduroy of a thick, soft pile, with wide ridges). Matching black flared pants, black matching coats, vests, neckties, w/ white shirts and big, shiny buttons. Each wore a black cowboy hat, one of shiny leather, the other suede. Both wore thick-soled black shoes. They stood at the deck end of the arena-level scaffolding, leaning on the railing, studying the complicated network of structures on the ground floor, talking the entire time.

This world of ours: just one big kick in the ass.

Today's field trip: gonna take in some art. Maybe. Time will tell.


rws 5:59 AM [+]

Monday, March 03, 2003

Florence, late this last Saturday afternoon. Me in an internet joint finishing up the day's entry, positioned at the computer nearest the door, the only place in the room that gets natural light. The street outside is narrow but busy, the doors are wide open. The noise is considerable at times, but the motion, the people walking by, the bicycles passing all compensate.

I'd gotten absorbed in writing, paying little attention to the scene outside, and at some point, just before I finished, a huge amount of noise started up -- many footsteps, people shouting, and, strangely, no vehicle noise. I looked around, the street was packed with people walking by, chanting stuff, holding banners. Some caribinieri stood on the curb in front of the internet place watching the passing river of people. A demonstration, seemingly out of nowhere, probably re: Iraq. For a few minutes, the sound of all those passing people filled the shop. Then they were by, several bicycles rattled past in the sudden quiet, motor vehicle traffic resumed.

I was out of there shortly after, just the other side of 5 p.m. The sidewalks and streets were alive with people and activity, lots of whom had been involved with the demonstration. The atmosphere felt nicely energized. I walked a bit, stopping in at a café I'd been to a day earlier where a genuinely congenial counter person had prepared me a fine cup of cappucino. Two German families were in there this time, juggling all sorts of food/drink, talking German and English, their three 10 or 12-year-old boys carrying on, eating sweet stuff. The counterman recognized my face, waved, whipped me up a cappucino that easily matched the previous day's cup. I inhaled that, used the facilities (used them carefully, I might add, having committed quite a bit of comedy the previous day, to wit: (a) went downstairs with the key, discovered four doors to choose from, all locked, all without signage; fumbled with each before I find the right one, managed to get it open; (b) entered, tripped and nearly fall over a small step located a foot or two inside the door; (c) going back up the stairs, I put my hand on the bannister, it came off its mounting rods so that I nearly fell over, recovering to find myself carrying a surprisingly light eight-foot length of brass; I rest it back on its support rods, regain composure, return the key upstairs, get out of there). Then I'm back out on the street.

The city bustled, at least as busy as it was at that hour during the previous weekdays. I head into the area of the central market, a warren of streets surrounding a gigantic square market building, street vendors' carts lining every street. I walk for a while, enjoying the busyness, the sounds and visuals. I find shops that remind me of Madrid -- meat shops, egg/chicken shops, bakeries and bread shops. I spot a couple of unique places -- one whose wares consisted almost entirely of chess sets, sets of all kinds, all sizes, all colors, filling most of the shelves in the shop; another that seemed to have nothing but masks, of amazing variety, sizes and designs.

I decide to head back to the hotel, discover I can't seem to find my way out. This was an area I'd been in and out of quite a bit, the idea that I'd gotten lost again seemed ridiculous. I bucked up, headed down some crowded streets that just seemed to bring me back to where I'd been, going around the market area in a large circle. For a while, then, I did a circuit around that building, figuring something somewhere would look familiar and lead me to freedom. Nothing doing. This went on and on, me beginning to smile in amazed disbelief, getting nowhere. And at some point, I widened the circle, moving further out into the neighborhood. Still no luck.

I'm walking slowly along, wondering what the hell is up, and I approached a corner where the neon lights of a cafe shone above the door, stopping me in my steps with a display of the universe's incomparable sense of humor. The lights read -- I swear I am not making this up -- "IL TRIANGULO DELLA BERMUDA."

I get out my notebook, begin scribbling the whole story down, groups of people walking by, brushing against me as they pass, some casting me curious glances, me leaning against a wall, writing away, a silly smile on my face. I finish up, do another circuit around the market building. This time everything falls into place, things look familiar, I head down the streets I'd been looking for with no problems.

My last evening in Florence.

rws 3:50 PM [+]

I can't remember the last time I found myself getting lost as I have during these few days in Rome/Florence. (In terms of streets and such, I mean. This is not a life allegory. Then again, what do I know? Maybe it is.) Happened again last night. I decided to go to see The Quiet American, which entailed finding my way through the tangle of narrow streets around my current squat to la Via Corso, a north-south main drag. Thought I had it all under control. HAH!!! Within minutes I'd gotten myself way lost. The kind of lost you just can't fake your way out of. The upside: folks I've asked for help here have been models of good manners/good will. I speak Spanish, they speak Italian. They're patient, gracious. And I usually manage to get where I'm looking to go. Last night I got myself to la Piazza Venezia (meaning I wandered south instead of north, NOT what I'd intended), which turned out to an overgrown traffic circle wrapped around a monstrous, elevated, becolumned structure which, from the looks of it, suffers from a wild excess of testosterone. I grabbed a bus from there whose itinerary appeared promising. It pulled out, I took my Metro day pass from my pocket, ready to validate it for that ride. At which point three city employees, all dressed like Metro cops, announced they wanted to see everyone's pass, began checking all passengers.

Why, you ask? During the day, up to 9 or so p.m., passes can't be bought on the buses. They have to be bought at certain vendors (tobacconists, certain newstands, change shops). When you get on the bus, you go to the validation machine, insert your pass, it stamps it. A system that lends itself to cheating, the odds being good a cheater won't get busted.

The Metro cop who made the announcement last night hit on me first. I handed my day pass over, he scrutinized it, handed it back with a curt, "Grazi, signor." An Asian couple to my left weren't so lucky. Their passes were invalid in some way, two of the cops closed in, began grilling them, demanded ID, wrote out fines. A strange, hard-nosed scene.

Meanwhile, the bus took me nowhere near where I wanted to go so that I finally grabbed a taxi, which took me north, thick crowds of Sunday evening strollers periodically making it nearly impossible to move. We passed the Spanish Steps, one of the infinite number of local tourist focal points, continued north, finally found the theater. The evening moved along.

Something I noticed up in Florence: poinsettias were everywhere -- in store windows, on tables at restaurants -- maybe in connection with Advent/Easter. Also banners in rainbow colors, emblazoned with the word "PACE" -- peace. I first noticed them on the train ride to Florence, hanging from windows and balcones as the train entered the city. They're here in Rome, too, though they tend to get swallowed up more easily amid the city's overwhelming size, movement and concentration of visual input.

And another thing -- the streets in Rome, and especially Florence, are remarkably clean. Clean in a way that Madrid isn't. Madrid would be rapidly buried under trash if it weren't for the cleaning crews that toil away most hours of the day and night. I've seen a few street-cleaning workers here, but nothing like the number of laborers in Madrid, and the Roman/Florencian streets are far tidier. I mean no unfavorable comparison between Rome and Madrid here. I'm not sure I'd want to live in Rome, or at least I don't think I'd want to move here without knowing anyone, whereas Madrid won my heart unconditionally within 24 hours of touching down there.

Something else: the Italians seem to be receipt-obsessed. They insist on foisting a receipt on me for every single thing I spend money on, no matter how small. Newspapers, cups of coffee, an orange. Everything.

On the other hand, as with Madrid, it's easy to find good food here. A bit easier in Florence, since the city was so much more compact and easier to explore. Rome is so ^#*%!!! enormous that I find myself rendered a bit timid in the face of it, hesitant at times to try out an eating joint because there are just so many of them. There are two kinds of eateries I tend to avoid: any that use the word "American" in the name (i.e., a tony-looking dive across the piazza from here which has the words "American Bar" painted in the windows in large letters) and any that have a statue of a cute, rotund chef, face adorned with a big, curly stereotyped Italian moustache positioned out front. These sad distant relatives of garden gnomes usually hold signs emblazoned with things like "IT'S A REAL ITALIAN RESTAURANT!"

Maybe it is. Think I'll go somewhere else, though.

Today's field trip -- the Coliseum and the Forum. And a good meal or two.

It's Monday in Rome.


rws 5:22 AM [+]

Sunday, March 02, 2003

When I woke up this a.m. in Florence, church bells were ringing (along with a nearby shop's burglar alarm, apparently feeling its oats), rain fell. The rain followed me back to Rome where church bells continued to ring as showers came down intermittently.

I've had a serious urge to wander, which led me to a neighborhood north of here this evening, to a theater that shows original voice films. Saw The Quiet American (god bless Michael Caine), discovering in the process that, unlike Madrid, Rome's o.v. theaters don't use subtitles. Meaning they get a large enough English-speaking (or at least English-comprehending) audience that subtitles aren't needed. Pretty interesting.

Watched crowds of Italians out in the streets -- couples of all ages, groups of kids out together. Far less in the way of families out walking than I see in Madrid, an interesting difference. But loads of stores were open, something else not seen on a Sunday evening in Madrid, most high-end clothing and footwear joints, most closing around the 8 o'clock mark.

The streets were also crowded yesterday evening in Florence, at least as congested with people at 6 p.m. as they were at that time on a weekday. I like that.

Two things I've rediscovered that I love: cappucino and Pellegrino water. I could easily get used to having them both as part of the daily routine.

And for anyone who may have wondered: yes, Italian women are beautiful.

I'm blabbering, I know. And not about much of any real import. Time to pack up my tent for the night.

More tom'w.

rws 4:56 PM [+]

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Florence is starting to get a grip on me. I felt it this morning as I made my way through a barrio of unbelievably narrow flagstone streets on the south side of the river, heading to el Palacio Pitti, the Medici's one-time stronghold. There is something haunting about this place, and I'm not sure I can get at what I mean with any other word. It's a strange city -- unique, distinctive, overrun with tourists and the ghosts left behind from many centuries of life.

Last night I went to yet another concert, in a church right around the corner from the concert of two nights previous. A different church with a whole different atmosphere. Not austere, not restrained. The more standard Catholic-Church-overdecorated-grandeur thing. And okay. A nice place to be for a couple of hours. High, vaulted ceilings, lots of paintings, little of the graven-image business (except up around the altar which, compared with the church of three nights ago, was a hotbed of graven-image frufru).

Classical music yet again, this time with three musicians: a violinist, an organist, a flautist. Started off with Summer from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, just the single violin supplying the melody with the organ providing everything else. Nice, very sweet. The violinist then disappeared, the organ player did a solo number. Again, nice, but nothing more. No fireworks so far. The organist started up with another solo piece, Bach's Toccata and Fugue, a number we've all heard far too many times. A trite, overdone son-of-a-bitch. I resigned myself to sitting through it. The instrumentalist lit into the bugger, taking it a bit fast, a bit too fast I thought. And shortly after that something oddly dramatic began to happen. The music began to assert itself, the organ player began to feel it. And his playing started to change, slowing, becoming stronger, filled with different energy. His bearing changed, the way he held his body, his way of moving, of touching the keyboard. Right in front of us, his performance transformed into something drastically stronger, the music streaming through him and out through the massive array of pipes up in the choir loft at the rear of the church. As if a merely competent musician had somehow connected with something far deeper within himself, something transcendent, with transformative power.

These are just words that I'm stringing together here, they do not get across what began happening. The power of that music rolled through the church and all of a sudden we were listening to something fresh, getting a glimpse of the music that Bach actually wrote instead of the usual rote bit of Toccata-and-Fugue-hackmanship. The power of that creation began shaking the place and I found myself sitting forward, adrenaline moving through me. Witnessing a genuine transformation, an electrifying happening in which the performance took over, blotting out time and thought.

Blah blah blah. I can't really get across the feel of the thing, so I'll stop poking at it. Trust me, though, whatever expectations I had for the evening were surpassed in spectacular fashion. And afterward, out walking through the streets of some of Florence's older neighborhoods, passing young couples walking close together, passing clusters of chattering people outside gelaterias, looking up now and then to see looming domes and steeples, the crowning elements of beautiful structures thrown together when the renaissance was in full swing, I found myself grateful to be alive, in the middle of it all.

So, let's see -- field trips.

Yesterday: took myself to see La Galeria de los Uffizi. An enormous, majestic building just off la Piazza della Signoria, near the Arno River. Packed with a staggering overabundance of renaissance art. I mean, dear god, the building itself is beautiful. The hallways (lined with sculpture, the walls densely hung with portraits, the hallway ceilings themselves painstakingly, intricately painted) are beautiful. The galleries, which just go on and on, are packed with an embarrassingly extensive collection of renaissance art. It's unbelievable.

On the other hand, I've seen more than my share of religious paintings done by dead white males, so I burn out pretty easily on that at this point in my existence, if you know what I mean. Therefore a collection of this magnitude is a double-edged thing. The solution? Keep moving, don't feel like I have to stop and scrutinize every single "%*$^#!!! depiction of annunciations, holy families, crucifixions, doubting Thomas's, blahblahblah.

I can do that. And did.

Many, many, many religious scenes. Scenes from mythology. Portraits, scenes from history. And every now and then a bit of cheesecake, usually under the guise of mythical happenings, but once in a long while in the form of an out-and-out, no-pretense-made naked Renaissance babe.

And the artists. You got your DaVinci's, you got your Botticellis, you got your Titians, your Caravaggios, your Canalettos, along with an infinite number of pieces by lesser-known paint-tossers. Plus a bunch from outside Italy, including three Rembrandts (one a killer self-portrait of the young-20s artist), two Goyas and one lonely El Greco, surrounded by canvases of Italian religious mayhem, probably thinking to itself How in god's name did I wind up here?

An interesting note about the building: the cupula -- impressive from within, very pretty from outside -- sports a metal representation of a flag, a banner, made to appear like it's rippling, eliminating the need for something as unreliable as a friendly breeze. Possibly history's first permanent wave.

Today's excursion took me to el Palacio Pitti, as mentioned at the top of this entry. Another example of an outrageously extensive, overwhelming display of art, housed in what may be the single most grandiose example of opulence that I've personally experienced in this lifetime. Again, far too much artwork, though a few stood out, including a canvas by Titian of la Magdalena, an alluringly naked study of a religious figure that is both unassailably pious, and slyly, undeniably sensual. Pretty crafty, them Renaissance arty types.

Again, many, many ancient sculptures of naked guys and dolls from history, both real and mythical. And as you probably know, these sculptures portray males who are fully equipped, if you get my drift, usually without a convenient jock strap or fig leaf. One difference in this collection: for whatever reason, at some point during the passing centuries many of the sculptures depicting males suffered losses of an extremely specific nature, leaving them with testicles but with no bare pipe. Once I noticed this disturbing lack, I kept finding more and more examples of the same unfortunate defect. Which raises the question: vandalism? inferior art supplies? astigmatism on the part of the sculptor, leading to a very specific blind spot? or could it be that the eclipse of this ancient civilization had less to do with wars and societal entropy than the simple inability to reproduce?

Just a thought.

Two images seen yesterday:

-- a bit of graffiti spotted on the side of lovely, centuries old building in a quiet Florence street: a large image of a young woman's face, done in the style of Japanese anime, her features framed by jet black shoulder-length hair, forehead neatly covered with bangs. Next to the image, in large, spray-painted black letters: EMILY RULES

-- Florence has many, many narrow streets, so frequently traveled by the city's buses that the sight of one turning carefully into or out of one of those streets is common. As darkness fell during yesterday evening's rush hour, at an intersection of a busy main drag and a narrow side street, a bus sat patiently at the mouth of a side street waiting for the green. When the light changed and the bus began to make a slow, wide turn out onto the larger avenue, motorcycles and scooters that had been waiting behind began squirting out around it, shooting along the narrow bit of space between the bus and the curbs, flying out ahead of it. Looking like a mess of unruly, cranked-up pilot fish moving around a particularly enormous, slow-moving shark.

Tomorrow: back to Rome.


rws 11:39 AM [+]

For some reason, an entry I wrote and posted yesterday afternoon never published. This is attempt no. 2:

I continue scribbling down things seen and experienced here in Florence, sometimes at a feverish pace. How the hell I'm going to get even part of it typed into this godforsaken journal in coherent fashion is beyond me.

To begin: last night I saw God. She appeared in the form of a waiter bringing me one of the most wonderful dishes of gnocchi I have ever had the opportunity to shovel into my mouth. Once done, I slobbered all over this poor waitperson in abject gratitude, an experience he may never forget.

Prior to that, as part of the day's wanderings, I walked along the Arno River, an expanse of opaque, dull-green water that cuts across the southern part of the city, bringing me to Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). An old bridge, like the name says. Old, old, old. And interesting, mainly because it's a covered bridge, the covering including numerous shops that line most of both sides of the bridge, hanging off the sides of the structure like square-cornered burls. All high-end jewelry joints, it turns out, apart from the one or two souvenir shacks in the center of the bridge, the only part of the structure without built-on shops, and therefore the only place on the bridge where there's actually a view one can check out. And as I checked it out, I discovered that on the west side of the bridge, where the railing intersects the rear corner of the shop buildings, an electric cable runs down the side of the structure past the railing. Someone at some point got the bright idea of fastening a small padlock around the cable, who knows why. The idea caught on, there are now anywhere from one to two hundred diminutive padlocks hanging on the one cable I investigated, clustered together along a three or four foot length, many padlocked to each other in a thick wad of chunky, angular metal. Some of them have been there a long time, sporting years' worth of rust and corrosion, and most bear messages, written in pen or thin-point magic marker. Messages like:






I read. I did not weep.

Afterward, I wandered back toward the city center, stopping to take in the ambience and eye-popping visuals at la Piazza della Signoria, one of several truly spectacular locations in the city's older sections. Just after lunch, mid to late afternoon. An enormous concentration of people swirled about the space, mostly tourists (of all ages, from all over the map, speaking all sorts of languages), including school groups moving in and out of the open space in long, ragged lines, guided by mostly-patient older folk. People of all colors, physical types, manner of dress. Continuous noise, motion, energy. And through all of that, a 20-something Italian couple threaded their way across the piazza, arms around each other, talking softly, taking little note of the scene around them. They moved from east to west, finally entering a small, narrow sidestreet and disappearing.

Two more moments:

-- Walking along a narrow street paved with flagstones that saw little automotive traffic, pedestrians everywhere. A 30ish woman in a long, dark coat and spiky hair dyed white passed through on a normal, non-racing-style bike, complete with wire basket hanging from the handlebars. She came on at serious speed -- sitting bolt upright, pedalling hard, face showing no expression, making little effort to avoid pedestrians so that it was wise to get of her way -- passing through the street with a rattle of bicycle parts, then disappearing around a corner.

-- Stopping at an ATM machine not far from la Piazza della Signoria, I noticed a sticker someone had pasted to the front of the waste container hanging below the machine. White, with a black outline, in the shape of a dialogue balloon from a comic strip. The words in the dialogue balloon: BITE AND RUN AWAY ART

More tomorrow.

rws 9:38 AM [+]

Need to get a message to a dead loved one and don't trust your current connection? Afterlife Telegrams may have the answer.

rws 9:10 AM [+]


August 2001
September 2001
October 2001
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November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
June 2009
July 2009

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .


London '01
Italy '03
U.K. '03
Italy '04
La Sierra

Madrid -- arrival
Emergency Room I
Holidays 2001
Holidays 2002
Holidays 2003
Holidays 2004
Holidays 2005
A neighbor's passing
Madrid -- March 11 bombings
  and aftermath
Emergency Room II
Israeli friend/Madrid Marathon
Madrid -- Royal Wedding
The DELE exam

GONE, a novel:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

JOE ROCCO, a novella:
-- Part 1
-- Part 2
-- Part 3

a screenplay:
-- Part 1
-- Part 2
-- Part 3
-- Part 4

Short stories:
Murphy's Wife
Another Autumn
La Queja de Una
  Hermanastra Muy Conocida

-- Personal History
-- Hormones On Parade
-- Accidents, Random Mishaps,
    Personal Problems

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .


fudge it
fear not
idle words
rebel market
letting me be
out and about
kung fu grippe
fanatical apathy
baghdad burning
wfuv's music blog
kexp's music blog
mimi smartypants
between the miles
just a hippie gypsy
the impossible cool
tomato can brushes
vermont homestead
sugar mountain farm

Good Clean Fun:
dave barry
human clock
internet archive
self-portrait day
my cat hates you
out of context quotes
surrealist compliment
strindberg and helium

Makin' Musical Whoopee:
last fm
soma fm

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .


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