far too much writing, far too many photos


Friday, May 30, 2003

Was out earlier doing errands, getting the paper and the morning hit of espresso. Another beautiful a.m., quieter than recent days due to the absence of the rear-end/front-end loader at the construction site across the street.

Heading back to the flat I passed the plaza, where people sat on benches talking, others walked through in transit, folks went in and out of the Metro, dogs did their thing (smelling communal pee spots, hanging out contentedly by their owners, yelling comments at other canines or engaging in close encounters, some friendly, some cautious, others tense or openly hostile). I realized I didn’t have a notebook with me, something that’s been happening a lot lately. Somehow I’ve gotten out of the habit of carrying one, which has led to moments where I go to pull it out to begin scribbling stuff, then remember it’s back at home. D’OH! moments, the real item.

I continued on, making my way through people walking along the sidewalk or out in the street, approaching a woman who appeared to be your standard issue 60ish alma de casa (housewife), dressed in standard semi-casual warm weather older folk garb. She’d stopped in front of a shop window to study something in concentrated fashion, then pulled back, making a loud critical comment about the prices. From her manner, I assumed she was with one of the people around her, but as she turned and headed up the block, it became clear she was solo, which didn’t stop further critical comments. She thought the prices were too damn high and she wasn’t keeping it to herself. I reached the door to my building and stopped, pulling out keys. She continued on, veering out into the street, moving toward the nearby cross-street to move off to the left. Still talking, still righteously displeased, passersby glancing at her then away, all of it just one more passing moment on a lovely Friday in a city of close to five million souls.

She disappeared around the corner, the day moved on.


Following is a post from yesterday that never made it through to this page, in spite of many, many attempts. (It did, I'm glad to say, make it through on this journal's other webpage.)

Thursday, May 29 --

When I stepped out my door earlier today, the air in the stairwell hung alluringly thick with the smell of cooking. The kind of aroma that immediately catches my attention, gets my head swivelling around, nostrils trying to track down the source (me being the kind of person who (a) loves a tasty meal, (b) especially if it’s been prepared by someone else).

I am an extremely good audience for other people’s cooking, and the simple fact that someone else prepared it often makes it automatically that much more delicious. I’m happy to help out with the prep., I’m happy to help with clean-up afterwards and/or wash the dishes. Making me exactly the type of individual who should be sporting the classic WILL WORK FOR FOOD sign.

I suspect the aroma came from the neighboring flat. My next-door neighbor is a late-40s single woman who hosts visiting students, I hear her preparing meals on a fairly regular basis. As I headed down the stairs, the smell gradually faded, the temperature of the air cooled, the illumination from the stairwell skylight slowly dimmed.

Three days ago, the front-end/rear-end loader rematerialized at the construction site across the street, resulting in renewed digging, earth-moving, diesel fumes, and the occasional beep-beep-beep when the bugger backs up. All of which has meant my windows stay closed when big machinery’s in use to cut down on noise and airborne dust. So this morning I hadn’t checked out the air/temperature until I stepped outside and was bowled over once again by yet another day of spectacular early summer weather. Honest to god, it is just about beyond description, -- the sun intense enough that it’s genuinely warm/hot, depending on the time of day and your individual body’s reaction to its direct light. A stroll down one of the barrio’s streets -- moving in and out of shadow/light, the lightest breeze stroking one’s skin now and then -- feels unbelievably good.

Sorry. I have a tendency to spew blissfully about stuff like this.

I went around the block to the recycling bins on la Calle de Augusto Figueroa, then picked up a paper at the plaza and headed back in the direction of la Calle de Hortaleza in search of a hit of espresso. Construction work is happening all over the place here, mostly rehab, one of the more visible signs of the neighborhood’s upward trajectory. A dead young city-planted sidewalk tree stood next to a nearly-full streetside construction dumpster, branches starkly bare in the late morning light, all trimmed short, maybe in the hope of getting it to send out some green. Nearby, a rehab worker stood in dusty t-shirt/overalls and well-worn, paint-smeared work shoes, staring at the tree. Just standing, staring, as if pondering it. As I walked by, he came out of his reverie, looking around, shifting his weight a bit, one hand going into a pocket, the other rubbing at a cheek.

There’s a taberna/café at the corner of Figueroa and Hortaleza, the kind of neighborhood joint that looks like an older folks’ watering hole. Small, a bit dark, not generally showing much in the way of energy or varied clientele. On impulse, I stopped in there today. Late morning, post-traditional 11-11:30 a.m. break, so the place was quiet. A radio played music softly (no TV going, unlike many establishments around here), two older males sat on stools at either end of the counter, both looking to be pushing 60, both dressed in neatly pressed pants and short-sleeved shirts (one white, the other light blue), quietly drinking café. While the place had little in the way of windows, it made up for that with two double-doored entrances, one facing each street, both propped wide open, light streaming in, providing good views of the busy world outside.

I asked the counterman for a cortado, he got to work rounding it up. Two one-armed bandits leaned against each other in the corner between the two entranceways, a mid-30s male stood at one, his nearly-empty espresso cup, jacket and plastic bag containing what looked to be a couple of books grouped together on the counter to my right. They’re multimedia affairs, those slot machines, producing a stream of busy sounds, brightly-lit, constantly-changing number readouts, samples of songs, now and then a voice calling out something. The 30-something worked away at it for a couple of minutes, its lights blinking, its various noises nearly overwhelmed by the sounds of the day going on outside. Then he strode back to the counter, picked his stuff and took off, calling out, "¡Hasta luego!"

My espresso arrived, I sipped at it, taking a quick look through a copy of El País. A 50-something male entered, the older guy sitting in the corner to my left waved. The new arrival put his stuff on the stool to my left, began talking to the older guy, who responded with a cascade of sounds produced from his mouth and throat -- clicks, lip-smackings, swishing sounds, guttural noises, all kinds of stuff -- his mouth forming soundless words amid all that, his arms and hands in constant movement, illustrating his communication. No longer quiet and contained -- expansive, sunny, happy to be in conversation. Just not able to actually talk. I didn’t want to stare at him, and without paying close attention to his face I couldn’t make out what he was going on about. I just listened to the amazing variety of noises that came forth, working my way through a decent cup of espresso, checking out what the paper decided to present as the news for today.

When I finished, I paid up, thanked the counterman, stepped back out into the sunlight.

A woman stands at that corner every weekday up until the two o’clock lunch break. The day’s lottery tickets hang from a cord strung around her neck and across her chest, she listens to a walkman, music or radio playing. She’s there every weekday, all year round. Slightly heavyset, maybe 26, 27 years of age, always in jeans and comfortable white reebok-style shoes. Always standing, leaning up against the wall, just a foot or so in from the corner of the building, always staring straight ahead at a point on the wall across the narrow street. Until this last week, when a folding chair appeared and for the first time ever I saw her sitting.

She was there as usual when I emerged from the taberna today, standing up next to her new acquisition (maybe giving her hind-quarters a break), headset in place, listening to who knows what, traffic and people moving constantly by. The sun had drifted far enough up into the southern sky that she stood in shadow, wearing a light jacket.

I glanced at her when I stepped out -- yep, still there -- then headed off down the street, past groups of two and three women moving in and out of the high-end clothing and shoe stores that pepper that part of Figueroa, others walking slowly along, gazing in at the window displays. Cars that had been lined up because of a red light moved hurriedly ahead, trying to make the intersection while the light remained green. I heard fast fragments of conversations in Spanish as people moved by me.

Madrid, the last Thursday in May, the hours streaming steadily by, disappearing into the noise and movement of the city.

rws 12:47 PM [+]

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

A second quick thing (I remembered!): This journal has been linked on a number of pages (like where? how convenient that you should ask -- try here, here, here, here, here and here, for starters), and I’ve noticed that most change the name -- runswithscissors -- in one way or another. Mostly, the words get separated, sometimes with initial caps. One or two people have modified it to read Running with Scissors. All of which is fine -- anyone providing a link to this page should feel free to morph its name in any way they feel like. It’s just interesting how we -- me, too (and you, for that matter) -- tend to see/perceive things in our own personal way. How we reflect ourselves in the way we perceive and take in the world around us. Creating our own experience of that world, in fact. Not a matter of wrong or right, just one more aspect of life to marvel at.


And now some Spanish terminology you probably shouldn't use (warning: foul language ahead -- if you're not up for it, turn back now):

Ir de culo – to go badly (culo means ass/butt), as in
Speaker #1: ¿Cómo te va? (How’s it going?)
Speaker #2: De culo. (Badly.)

¡Qué te den! -- short for ¡Qué te den por culo! (literally, May they give it to you up the ass). Not to be said unless you want to seriously piss someone off.

Pasarle el chicle -- to kiss, to make out (as in to swap spit), literally to pass him/her the gum.
Estábamos pasándonos el chicle cuando entró su mamá. = We were swapping spit when her mother walked in.
The normal verb for 'to kiss' is besar; kiss, as a noun is beso.
'¡Ven aca y dame un beso!' = Come here and give me a kiss!

Me la trae floja -- a foul version of 'No me importa' (I don’t care or It doesn’t matter to me).
It refers to the speaker’s penis, meaning It leaves me flaccid.

Tener una flor en el culo -- to be lucky (literally, to have a flower in the ass),
as in:
Speaker #1: ¡Él siempre tiene tanta suerte! (He’s always so lucky!)
Speaker #2: Sí, tiene una flor en el culo.

¡Coño! -- Used very commonly. Literally means cunt, a genuinely ugly word in English, but translates out to versions of goddamn! or fuck! (or even an ironic overstatement where gee would suffice) in most usages here. I’ve heard ¡Coño! said on television and have seen it used in newspaper columns by good (certainly legitimate, even literate) writers.

Lamer el culo -- to kiss ass (literally, to lick ass). Also, chupar el culo (literally, to suck ass).
Un lameculos = an asskisser, a brownnose.
Same with 'un pelota,' as in the student who sucks up to the teacher. Pelota literally means ball, as in sports, not as in testicles. How did it come to mean asskisser/teacher’s pet? Who knows?

To be continued.

rws 9:03 AM [+]

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Foggy. So foggy. (Me, not the weather. Outside, it's sunny and beautiful.) Got myself up and out to take care of errands this morning. Managed to drag on clothes without putting anything on backwards. Made it down the stairs without doing a header, got out the front door without walking over anyone. Managed to amble in the direction I needed to go without stepping in any dog poop. Got $$$ out of an ATM. Picked up a cup of café in a joint down la Calle de Hortaleza, a small neighborhood place I've never gone into before, a couple of blocks further away than my usual a.m. watering holes. Decent espresso. The counter guy a real working stiff, hands roughened from years of labor, blabbing away with a couple of guys at the other end of the counter (more of a monologue than a dialogue, really). A 60ish guy sat between me and the two fellas the counter guy regaled -- hair white/longish, handlebar moustache, a pipe. Wearing a tweed sportcoat, reading the international Herald Tribune (in English). Looking like he just walked off a flight from London.

On the counter to the other side of him lay a well-read copy of today's El Mundo. A house copy, I think, complete with address label. I considered stepping around Mr. Tweed, picking it up, giving it a quick scan, but did nothing. It was all I could manage to order my cortado and wait for it. A minute later, a guy walks in, unshaven, long hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, dressed neatly, casually. He steps up to the counter by the paper, looks at it. Ascertains that it doesn't belong to the person next to him, then subtly claims it, sliding it an inch or two to the left, where it's directly in front of him. A minute later, he puts his keys on it, leaves them there. Doesn't pick it up to read, but covertly takes possession. I had the feeling it would disappear out the door with him when he left.

Ah, well. There are more copies where that one came from. Madrid is awash in morning newspapers.

Back out on the street, walking along, a teensy bit less bleary. A tall, attractive black woman pops out of a doorway, apparently having just come downstairs from her flat. She has the end of a leash in one hand, a huge black great dane pops out the door after her, carrying her handbag, happily holding the handle straps in its mouth. She says, "No," takes the bag, the dog immediately adjusts to handbag deprivation, looking around, ears up, eager as it could possibly be to do whatever the hell came next. They disappeared past me.

Did errands, stopped quickly in at el Corte Inglés to pick up some vitamin C. Last time I tried, they were out. This time, it looked like they'd restocked. I pick up a container, eyeball it, sure enough: vitamin C. I buy the bugger, head back toward home, stop along the way at one of my usual café joints for a cup of decaf espresso and some churros. Trying to get my still-sluggish system into something resembling a waking state. Get home, pull the vitamins out to toss them in a cupboard, notice that the container reads 'Magnesio' instead of 'Vitamina C.' I swear to you, when I picked the bugger up in the store, it clearly read 'Vitamina C.' How did I do that? Am I switching back and forth between parallel realities? (There are those who would say yes; let's not go there.)


Have homework to do, which I have so far successfully put off, ignored, avoided. A composition. (Mumbled complaining, sound of unhappy teeth-grinding.) The thought of trying to achieve the kind of high-functioning state in which I could toss together a page of Spanish about, er, whatever I could pull together feels like it would be an awful lot of work. Far, far too much painful struggling. I'd have to clean all the sand, lint and useless, tangled threads of directionless thought out of my mental gears so the cogs would have half a chance of engaging. Better to take a walk. Or eat something. Or read something. Or go bowling. Or take a nap. Better, in fact, to do just about anything else.

There. I think I have my priorities clear.

Two quick things:

First: I was not one of those fortunate souls who saw the first installment of The Matrix in the theatres. I didn't know anyone who had seen it, didn't really notice it until it reached one of the local cheap theatres and stayed there for months. Which got me curious after a while. I toyed with the idea of going, never did. Finally bought the CD in a cheap package deal, together the director's cut of Blade Runner. Watched the d.c. of B.R. once or twice. Watched The Matrix many, many times over the last two and a half years. I have had real misgivings about the idea of the sequel(s), wasn't sure I would go see it. What I read and heard about Matrix Reloaded reinforced that general feeling.

Well. Yesterday, out of the blue, I got the impulse to go. And, contrary to all my expectations, I loved it. For what it's worth, the intellectualizing I've seen in some reviews about the film should be taken with a shaker of salt. It may that those given to intellectual scratching around will not be able to plug into the rush of this bugger. Or it may be that, like everything else, it's simply an individual thing, that it will work for some and not for others, and all the hype and comparisons with the first installment simply lower the odds of being able to connect with it for what it is.

I am not one generally given to 'action films,' and I had a ball. And I am still in genuine awe of two or three of the long action sequences. The burly brawl sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

But that's just my opinion. You may feel differently.

Second quick thing: For the life of me, I can't remember what the second quick thing was. That's probably good.


rws 1:08 PM [+]

Monday, May 26, 2003

So. The Spanish municipal elections happened yesterday, nationwide. A hotly contested event, rhetoric flying in all directions. The results? Pretty interesting.

In the actual number of votes cast, the Socialists beat out the current ruling party, el Partido Popular, the third consecutive round of municipal elections in a row in which the PP’s total has drifted slightly downward. The PP suffered some setbacks, but not as many as some thought might happen, and the party remains strong in certain places around the country, wresting control of a couple of important cities from the Socialists. They clinched the mayorship of Madrid, an important, high-profile office, with an absolute majority of council seats but lost control of the Community of Madrid by one seat, which could turn out to be an important symbolic loss.

Around the country, the results were mixed, with the Socialists gaining control of one autonomous province (more or less comparable to a state in the U.S.), leaving seven in control of the PP, six for the Socialists, two to regional political parties. Essentially, what seems to have happened around the country as a whole is a levelling of the political playing field, with no one having a clear-cut overall advantage. Maybe not a bad thing.

Cheerleaders from both sides of the political spectrum are making a big show of chest-pounding claims of victory, yada yada yada.

After a night of not nearly enough sleep, I dragged my unhappy bod from under the covers and out into the morning air (which, thanks to the cold snap currently holding sway here, has been colder each successive morning since Friday, with genuine autumn-like bite today) to the gym. For which I deserve major cosmic brownie points in recognition of simply showing up, forget going through the pumping/stretching hooha.

Stopped for a fast hit of espresso at the cafeteria across the street from gym (a strange little place where the two 50ish males behind the counter seem to be vying for the brusqueness title), made the trek back to the Metro in soft sunshine, slightly warmer air. Something I’ve come to appreciate very much here is that several major avenues, all consisting of four to six lanes of traffic, feature wide islands in the middle with abundant shade trees, expanses of grass and flowers, pedestrian walkways. One especially wide boulevard -- just east of the city center, extending north from the big traffic circle at Atocha, past el Museo Thyssen, el Prado, and out to the northern reaches of the city -- begins with one such island, then changes to two once it passes the grand, sprawling main post office building at la Plaza de Cibeles. Wandering along one of those walkways -- the ground dappled with the light/shade combo from the sunshine that filters down through the trees, traffic passing on either side, feeling nicely distant -- is a fine way to cover some ground in transit from one place to another. I generally choose a longer route back from the gym to the Metro so I can walk two or three long blocks worth of trees, benches, rose bushes. A nice segue between the pump-up and the rest of the day.

Back here in Chueca, hopped off the train, headed up the stairs to the concourse, made my way toward the up escalator. As I rounded the final corner and approached the moving stairs, I encountered a woman planted near the, er, on-ramp, standing perfectly still, facing the ad that’s replaced the PP’s recently-defaced poster. {See journal entry of 22 May.} Legally blind, one hand holding a long white walking stick of the kind many blind folks here use, the other holding a small, slim, black-barrelled magnifying lens to one eye. Studying the display of subway stops for the two different directions one can go, train-wise. Intent, not moving, paying no attention to anything else.

Getting off the escalator up top, I got my first glimpse of a brand new poster that greets people heading to the down escalator: ¡Bienvenidos al Barrio Más Guay de Madrid! (Welcome to Madrid’s Coolest Neighborhood!) Er, whatever. It’s a hot neighborhood, that’s for sure, attracting hordes of partying types. Come the evening hours, exiting the Metro up into the plaza dumps one directly in the middle of the intense, chaotic nighttime scene, the space overrun with lines of tables and chairs occupied by groups of folks drinking, gnoshing, blabbing. Constant swirling masses of people eddy around all that, the air filled with the concentration of sound from them all. It’s pretty wild, though the last few nights of cold weather have forced a change, the rows of tables and chairs (all shiny brushed aluminium) standing empty, the number and movement of people around the rest of the space that much more intense. After weeks of nights in which every single table is occupied from late afternoon on into the early hours, the sight of them all suddenly vacant is strange.

On exiting the station, I stopped at the newsstand for a paper. The woman who runs it was there alone, bent over a bundle of papers, in the process of cutting the plastic band and setting them out. El País, the headline reading Ruiz-Gallardón será alcalde Madrid y Simancas roza el gobierno de la Comunidad (Ruiz-Gallardón will be mayor of Madrid, Simancas on verge of winning the Community’s government.). “El día después, ¿eh?”, I said. {The day after, eh?} “¡Jo!”, she responded, straightening up, shaking her head slightly, which made me laugh out loud. ¡Jo! (the J pronounced like a thick, guttural H, up against the back of the throat) is the short, more polite/acceptable form of ¡Joder!, the Spanish version of Fuck! Two little letters expressing what pretty much everyone feels: Thank god that’s over with!

And now here it is, midafternoon, the start of another week, the smoke from several weeks of political wackiness starting to clear. The streets are nicely alive with people walking, things being delivered to local businesses, folks heading toward the plaza to sit at a table, soak up some sun, or off to a restaurant for some chow. Life moves on.

Not a bad idea, that bit about chow. It’s lunchtime.


rws 8:25 AM [+]

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Got myself up and out at what many Spaniards might consider the bizarrely (even nightmarishly) reasonable Saturday morning hour of 10 a.m., when only a few hardy souls were about to get shopping/errands underway. And most of them seemed to be crammed into the cafeteria to the south side of the plaza (de Chueca), crowded up around the counter clamoring for cups of café. The two hard-working counterpeople looked like they were under siege. I can understand why.

Some overcast moved in during the night, the warmth of recent days giving way to lovely cooler temperatures. Many folks sported sweaters or light jackets, though they didn’t feel necessary to me (being the thick-hided toughass that I am).

A quiet few minutes with the morning espresso/newspaper gave way to some fast grocery shopping. Come mid-June, I’ll be heading back to the States for a while, and I find the approaching reality of that has me seeing the details of my life here in sharper focus. There are a few local merchants who have had to deal with me on a regular basis these last months, and it’s been interesting to watch their manner toward yours truly change over time, becoming more relaxed, their expressions a bit more open, laughing more easily, smiles softening and broadening. There is a couple that runs the produce shop I frequent and their back-and-forth can be seriously entertaining -- verbal shop shorthand, answering questions posed by the other mid-transaction, husband taking advantage of an opening to tease wife.

Around the corner from them, at the stall where I buy chicken breasts and empanadas de atún (large rectangular empanadas of tuna, softer than the semi-circular empanadas often seen around Madrid, delicious when heated up just a bit), the owner has slowly been working his mid-20’s daughter into the stall’s routine. Up to this point, he had her making deliveries around the neighborhood, conveying everything in the kind of two-wheeled cart used by many middle-aged and older women here for their shopping. Today was the first time I’ve seen her working behind the counter on a more or less equal basis with her father -- pretty, observant, deceptively intelligent.

From there I stopped in at the neighborhood bakery where I pick up my daily one or two baguettes. It’s a perilous place, this bakery. Simply stepping in the door can lead to impulse buys that sometimes get hovered down as soon as I get home.

Went back to the piso, dropped off the purchases. (Did not hoover down the bakery-impulse-buy of the day, a victory for restraint.) Went back out to hit up an ATM machine, followed by a walk through the increasingly busy Sat. morning streets of the barrio. Which led me to the Telefónica building where I decided to check out a large exhibit of photography. This was around 11 a.m. Still early enough that there were no more than a handful of people in the exhibit hall. Quiet. Hushed even. Except for the faint sounds from a different exhibit, several video installations, off in another part of the hall. I passed through them on the way into the photography exhibit, saw that they were made by hanging cameras in different spots on the structures of some hair-raising amusement park rides. Which meant many of the videos consisted of a view of, say, the wildly looping track of a gravity-defying roller coaster, with maybe some blue sky visible behind it. Just that, punctuated every now and then by the sudden appearance of a ride vehicle crammed with screaming, terrified people, shooting in and out of the image, screams lingering after. That was the backdrop for the photography exihibit: the distant sound of people screaming. Made for a strangely unnerving cultural experience.

Back out in the street, lots more people about. Walked out to Gran Vía where I could see that the bank of clouds ended suddenly a ways down the western stretch of the avenue, giving way abruptly to blue skies which made their slow, slow way across the city center. Strolled around enjoying the midday Sat. scene. On the way back here, passed a store on la Calle de Hortaleza, one that deals in a certain kind of products mostly related to films/TV shows of a certain kind (Simpsons, South Park, Lord of the Rings, The Nightmare Before Christmas, blahblahblah) (not that there’s anything wrong with any of that!). Was brought to a standstill by a large, eye-catchingly green Incredible Hulk cookie jar. If I were given to picking up kitschy knick-knacks like that, I would be forced to glom onto this bugger because it is just so admirably wacky: a big, broad monstrosity of a cookie jar, the Hulk’s body starting just above solar-plexus level and rising in aggressively over-muscled ceramic splendor to the scowling face/head which functions as the handle for the cookie jar cover, strangely shrunken in proportion to the rest of the figure so that it will fit into a normal human hand. As if the Hulk had run into the head-shrinking witch doctor from the end of Beetlejuice and come out of the encounter, judging by his expression, severely pissed-off.

And speaking of the the Simpsons, I read recently that the daily 2-3 p.m. Simpsons broadcast on Antena 3 pulls in an average audience of three million. Three million viewers -- mid-afternoon, in a country of roughly 40 million.

It’s dubbed into Spanish, of course. The voices of Marge and Lisa aren’t bad. Those for Homer and Bart, on the other hand.... (Note to Dan Castellaneta and Nancy Cartwright -- and for that matter to Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria -- please, please learn Spanish.)

Seen in an episode broadcast two days ago -- a sign greeting visitors at the entrance of Itchy and Scratchy Land (theme park celebrating Itchy and Scratchy):

Nurse’s Station

rws 9:09 AM [+]

I'm so confused.

Just came across this, a mighty interesting article about water behaving in ways that appear to be cheerfully disrespectful of the laws of physics. Or at least I found interesting until I arrived at the illustration about midway through which explains how the goddamn thing works. Or is supposed to work.

If you take a glance at that seemingly-innocent illusration, you'll see that the legend for it features two different kinds of arrows, red ones to indicate 'Apparent water flow,' and green ones to indicate 'Actual water flow.' Except that there don't seem to be any green arrows in the diagram. None. Not a single blessed *^%#@!!! one. Meaning that there is no actual water flow. Just apparent water flow. (And where are the green arrows? Being dumped onto the market in third-world countries rife with political discord and civil strife where they'll be sold as armaments? Or maybe they've all been planted together to form the grasslike thingy in the middle of the water-thingy, where they can be pulled out one by one as needed when some actual water flow gets underway.)

Reality -- going to hell in a handbasket, and there doesn't seem to be anything we can do about it.

rws 12:18 AM [+]

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The jaw-droppingly perfect weather here continues. I've been trying to scrape together the words to describe it, but it's beyond my skills, I think. Suffice it to say that pretty much every time I walk out the door, I am floored all over again. Days of brilliant sunlight and ideal temperatures, air that feels indescribably good. I can think of a few places that might have comparable, if not even more glorious, weather (Hawaii? Nice?), but the tapas in those locales probably wouldn't measure up.

Yesterday: Got myself out early for the gym. As I've mentioned here a few times, municipal elections happen nationwide this coming Sunday -- M-25, they call it here. The campaign, into its final few days, is hot and heavy, political ads of all stripes have appeared seemingly everywhere. The ruling party, el Partido Popular, has been spending big time, their ads have become ubiquitous. A few days ago, a specially-installed illuminated display case showed up at the bottom of the escalators in the Metro station here in Chueca plaza, set against a wall where everyone going down to catch a train will see it. Featuring an ad for the two PP candidates for Madrid, one for the city’s Mayoral race, the other for the Presidency of the Community of Madrid. Both of them, one photo above the other. EL EQUIPO PARA MADRID, reads the ad's main line of text {THE TEAM FOR MADRID}. As I descended the escalator yesterday a.m., my eyes fastened on the display case, I saw that some prankster with a magic marker had scribbled some dialogue between the two candidates. "Nosotros apoyamos la Guerra!" says Esperanza Aguirre now. {We supported the war! -- not a good thing in a country where over 90% of the population vehemently opposed it.} "Callate," responds Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, "que 'estos' después de un mes se olviden." {Shut up -- so that a month later they forget.}

Caught a train, got off in the district of Salamanca, three stops away. A much wealthier barrio than Chueca. It would make sense that it might be a bastion of PP support. And indeed, on the way up the stairs from the train to the escalators, I passed graffiti proclaiming SOCIALISTAS LADRONES (SOCIALIST THIEVES, perhaps referring to the way the Socialists -- the largest opposition party, which some believe is on the verge of making some headway against the PP in these elections -- finished up their last tenure as ruling party, with a shameful degree of corruption that finally brought them down).

Until recently, the Socialists had taken the high road in the face of the amazing campaign-trail stream of smears and brazenly obvious falsehoods from Aznar, the current president. (An ongoing political cartoon in El País depicts him as an armoured Godzilla, spewing examples of his recent talk, newsbites of outrageous invective.) Apparently, opinion polls began reflecting that his ceaseless rhetoric was having an effect, forcing the Socialists to counterattack by way of repeated mentions of the debacle of the oil spill off Galicia at the end of last year and the government’s involvement in the war. The recent suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Morroco have added some impact to the back and forth re: the war and its consequences, and groups of college-age folks have been disrupting PP campaign events, attempting to confront Aznar outside of other functions, providing great news fodder. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out on Sunday, election day. It seems, at this point, as if the outcome could easily tilt in any direction.

Went to the gym, afterwards stopped in a small restaurant/cafeteria for the morning cup of espresso. Walked in, stepped up to the only available space at the counter, between a woman working on a sweet roll and a neatly-dressed, 30ish guy sitting with a glass of beer. At my appearance, he got off his stool, put out his hand, saying, "Hola," then telling me to take the stool. I shook his hand, politely declined his offer, happy standing where I was. He offered again. It became clear I was dealing with someone deeply into an early-day bender, to the point of being what they call here borracho perdido -- lost drunk. I politely declined increasingly insistent urgings to take the stool (including one brief foray into English -- "sit, please!"), turned my attention to the older guy behind the counter, who eyed the drinker with less than pleasure. I gave my order, my churros quickly arrived, followed by café. I started in on them, nearly making audible sounds of pleasure with my first bite into a churro.

The 30ish guy tried attaching himself to other people, without success. He brandished his nearly-empty glass at the counterman, who responded with a negative headshake, suggesting it might be time for the guy to hit the road. Which he eventually did, attempting to shake hands with a few individuals as he worked his way slowly toward the door, finally disappearing outside into the mixture of sunlight and soft shadows from the overhanging neighborhood trees.

The counterman seemed pleased to have relative tranquility restored, a group of people down the counter from me chattered happily away. Office workers came in on their 11 a.m. break, asking for café and eats. The place became pleasantly busy.

Yesterday evening, after class: stopped in at el Paraíso del Jamón (the Ham Paradise! -- see entry of April 8) for a fast bocadillo accompanied by a caña. I’m working my way through some jamón Serrano with tomato on a small baguette, two or three other people along the counter eating and drinking their own versions of the same. Six or seven individuals stand in line at the deli counter, just across the small space, while the person behind the counter deals in relaxed fashion with an elderly woman ordering a bunch of stuff. The speakers for the music system are somewhere hidden above that counter, silent to that point. All of a sudden, they start up with a Nirvana cut, Curt Cobain howling away. Great song, not one of their better-known tunes. Not only do none of the predominantly older customers in the joint right then show any sign of minding the sudden thrashfest, one person actually whistles along with the melody line. Which gets me smiling like you wouldn't believe.

Nirvana in Paradise.

Afterward, I took a walk through the network of pedestrian avenues run between la Plaza de la Puerta del Sol and Callao, a stretch bookended by immense Corte Inglés department stores. The stores' current summer advertising campaign features Meg Ryan looming over the area's principal pedestrian way in enormous two-story high photos, pitching the summer line of clothes. Something about her appearance in these pictures has nagged at me, I've been unable to figure out what it is, apart from the fact that they're not what I would call flattering. Last night, post Nirvana/Paradise, I realized what it is -- these photos have her looking strongly, unnervingly resemblance to Courtney Love. A realization that left me staring at one humongo, extremely Courtneyish shot of her for a moment. After which I continued on my way, heading home through the Madrid twilight.

rws 9:43 AM [+]

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Springsteen played here last night, the last of three dates in Spain. As might be expected, given he represents an aspect of the American personality and image many Europeans admire and love, the local print media has been all over him. El Mundo referred to him as The Other Face of America (La Otra Cara de America). El País called him the athlete of rock (el atleta del rock). He gets called El Jefe a lot, the local version of The Boss. And then a few days back, the front page of, er, either La Razón or ABC -- sorry, don't remember which -- consisted of a full-page close-up concert shot of Himself, the headline being something like La Apoteosis De Springsteen -- the deification/glorification of Springsteen. Didn't read the article so don't know if they went after it from a positive or negative slant. But still. When was the last time you saw a tabloid rag use a word like 'apotheosis' in a headline? (Anywhere in the paper, much less the front page. Keep your eye out for that same word in one of the headlines featured in that last link -- Spanish publishing brethren recycling each other's ideas.)

He looks pretty good in the concert pix. Buff. Youthful. Pumped.

El Mundo, I was interested to see, renamed two members of the E Street Band, not just once but every single time they printed the names. Who they used to be: Max Weinberg, Clarence Clemons. Who they now are: Max Weimberg, Clarence Cleamons. Could have been worse, I know, but still.

{A side note re: one of the newspapers mentioned above -- La Razón, one of the two dailies that hang out well to the right side of the political spectrum. In Castellano, when you want to say, "You're right," you say, "Tienes razón." Literally, "You have reason." To say, "You're absolutely right!", you say, "¡Tienes toda la razón!" The first time I saw a copy of La Razón, I started chortling out loud because -- according to them -- they're not just right, they don't just have reason, they ARE reason. They are the print media incarnation of being right! That is so wonderfully pompous it still gets me smiling when I see it. We humans are unbelievably funny.}

The other personality splashed all over today's arts sections: Nicole Kidman re: her appearance at Cannes and her performance in "Dogville," the latest Lars von Trier film just screened there. Some big-time vamping for the international camera squad -- a bit distant, a bit colder than the vamps of the 1930's and 40's. But vamping nonetheless. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Two drastically different brands of glamour. Or maybe not so different -- what do I know?

I woke to the sound of the swifts this morning, as I have virtually every morning since their arrival several weeks back. There are no songbirds here in this neighborhood, apart from the caged canaries many people keep (which, it occurs to me, I've never heard sing before 10 or 11 a.m. -- could be the sunlight doesn't penetrate to their balcones until then or it could they're just smarter than their early-morning kin) so I don't hear the type of warm weather early-hour uproar that can rouse a person in northern Vermont. Instead, there's the soft sound of the swift's high keening as they soar above the city.

They fly like nobody's business, the swifts, going at amazing speeds, at tremendous heights, from time to time dipping down between buildings to near street level, shooting past, suddenly turning off in another direction or whipping skyward, disappearing over the buildings. There are mornings I pull myself out of bed, their calling can be heard from all over the neighborhood, resonating off the brick canyonwalls of the streets. I pull up the shades, I see the blur of their small, dark forms flash by. Up in the sky, I'll see immense numbers of them, like large diffuse clouds slowly billowing in the morning light.

They carry on until shortly after midday, then they disappear. Late afternoon, they're back, all over the sky until twilight, when they slowly vanish for the night, giving way (here in the barrio) to bats, who carry on through the darkness hours, until the dawn shift change.

I love all that. If I could fly like a swift I'd be partying up there for hours at a time, too.

Ow. Ow ow. Just got up to make a sandwich, wound up cutting a finger on a tuna tin. Man, there's a good time. I think I'll take the hint and give my little hand a rest.

But before I go:

Vanity plates!

No comment.

And this: a great idea or what?

rws 12:48 PM [+]

Monday, May 19, 2003

Yet another outrageously fine May Madrid morning. This current stretch of spectacular weather seems to stretch on and on -- mornings fresh and cool, though still shirtsleeve-friendly; afternoons warming up enough to feel hot in direct sunlight; temperatures settling down overnight so that the next morning arrives fresh, cool, etc. Twice within the last week, warm days have seen the sudden arrival of dark clouds, thunder and fast showers. Kind of nice, that contrast. People collect under eaves (waiting out the rainfall as they talk, looking up at the sky) or in restaurants (drinking a fast cup of coffee or glass of soda/water) until the rain lets up and the sidewalks get busy again.

I’ve been doing homework for tonight’s Spanish class (verb tenses, substantially more complicated than the English equivalents, me noticing how much more easily it’s coming for me these days). A breeze blows in the flat’s open windows, the late morning air just cool enough to feel good on my skin, I can hear the cord from the shades in the next room clicking against the metal window frame as it moves around. A church bell rang briefly a few minutes ago, maybe to signal midday, and I realized I only have a vague idea of where that church is. Sunday mornings, the bell rings at 9:15 and 11:15, perhaps announcing the start of different services -- a nice sound, one that welcomed me to the neighbourhood my first morning here in September of 2001.

Last night: I’m standing in line at the DVD rental joint a couple of blocks from here in swinging Chueca (in the heart of happening Madrid, or if not actually in the heart, then snuggled comfortably up against the pericardial sac). A young couple stand on line front of me -- her: short, very slender, in a baggy, sleeveless, fairly insubstantial blouse, baggy green painters’ pants, flip-flops. I notice the flip-flops and begin reflecting on how the recent spectacular run of early summer weather has affected women’s attire, leading to (a) lots of tight skimpy clothing or (b) lots of loose skimpy clothing or (c) baggy variations on the first two, like the young woman ahead of me. And sandals, sandals, sandals. Sandals galore, as well as flip-flops and open-toed shoes of all sorts. Summerwear.

I’m thinking about all this, and something about the young woman’s toes catches my attention. I focus on her petite right foot, that being the nearer one as she’s standing at right angles to me (her tall, skinny guy standing behind her, also at right angles to me, noticing me notice her foot, my eyebrows slightly knit with thought). And what I saw was a little foot with a normal big toe, a normal toe, a normal third toe. Something happened in the process of issuing the fourth toe ‘cause it was a little teeny, wrinkled bugger with essentially no nail, just the barest suggestion of a toenail. Shorter, actually, than the pinky toe, as if someone had retracted it for maintenance then couldn’t get it back out to pre-maintenance length. Three normal toes, then a shrunken midget of a fourth toe, then a somewhat normal pinky toe.

I’m looking at that and thinking about feet in general and how strange-looking so many of them are. (Like, for instance, what is up with the folks whose second toe is way longer than the big toe?) Not that I can talk. The toes on my right foot are long and a bit geeky looking; the toes on my left foot -- well, let’s just say they’ve never been quite the same since a major ankle break at thirteen years of age and a subsequent five-months of being crammed into a full-leg cast.

While I’m spinning my wheels about critical issues like feet/toes, the rental place’s resident puppy, maybe three, four months old, is having a laugh riot chasing and torturing a tough-looking fabric toy. He’s a beautiful, happy pup -- sleek dark brown fur, an intelligent face, paws that indicate he’ll grow up to be a good-sized retriever-style bugger. He runs to pick up the toy, mangles it happily for a moment before dropping it to look up at nearby people. One of the humans unfailingly picks up the toy, tosses it toward the other end of the space, four canine legs immediately scramble off in pursuit, the process repeats itself. A continuous puppy party.

Meanwhile, outside the shop’s windows at the three big recycling bins on la Calle de Hortaleza, someone is gradually stuffing an enormous bouquet of dead flowers into the circular aperture of the glass bin. Why not use a more appropriate receptacle, like a trash dumpster maybe? Got me. Could be they had their reasons, though -- what do I know? When I leave the shop, I see the person has two huge garbage baggies crammed with similar dead vegetation. Apparently the stuffing process has only just begun.

The mid-May sky is now staying light to a late enough hour that I sometimes find it disorienting. I’ll be walking somewhere, the light still reasonably full and strong, I’ll see that the time is 9:15 and feel the strangest sensation of being out of whack. No wonder I’m getting to sleep so late -- my body clock apparently hasn’t adjusted to the gradual shift. The day’s first light currently begins seeping in my windows around 6:40, 6:45. The sky remains illuminated until well after ten p.m. And since my body has adjusted to the meal schedule here, meaning a late dinner, I find myself getting a meal ready at 9:30, 10 p.m., or later. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when I’m back in the States a month from now.

If you’ve been to this page before, you’ve probably noticed the change in format. The current font may be a bit harder to read -- bear with me. This change has been a long time coming and will be, I hope, an interim step toward something better. Comments may now be sent via the whimsical ‘now say something’ link instead of being left in unsightly comment boxes.

In one of this journal’s last pre-format-change entries, I wrote about the festival of San Isidro which took place here in Madrid during the past week. I referred to San Isidro as one of Madrid’s patron saints, even linking to a webpage with a similar mention. A Spanish friend of mine responded with a comment stating categorically that San Isidro is Madrid’s only patron saint. Not so -- San Isidro is el patrono of the city, with a feast day in May; la Virgen de la Almudena is la patrona, with a feast day in November. (There are even those who claim the city has two or three patronas.) For more about her, see any of the following websites:



rws 9:15 AM [+]

Sunday, May 18, 2003

And now for something -- I am not kidding here -- completely different.

Today's entry: a joyful guest rant contributed by a friend (Lois -- a true babe and the youngest grandmother I know in virtually every way I can think of) considering certain earthy, fundamental, down-and-dirty aspects of caring for her two-year-old grandson.

WARNING: this piece trades in certain nuts-and-bolts type scatological realities of human anatomy and pre-toilet-training babyhood -- if that is not your cup of, er, tea, you may want to make a fast exit before venturing any further.

Still here? Right, then -- buckle your seatbelt and put on some heavy weather gear:

WHOOO HOOOO!!!!! IT'S POTTY TIME! Nicholas is approaching 2-1/2 years now ---- which is the average age that parents begin to try to persuade, demand or bribe their toddlers to use a potty. Learning to use the potty feels like a future event that may never ever happen for us! I mean.... Nicholas could care less about WHERE or WHEN he does his business. I honestly just don't think it's ever gonna happen! I think only the diaper changers care about the potty training. Why should the kids care? Kids are never even uncomfortable with those super-duper, leakproof, always powder-fresh and dry-as-a-bone -- no matter what -- disposable diapers. Well, they can get heavy..... REEEEAL HEAVY...... but toddlers are so strong and active -- they can still easily outrun most adults with a ten-pound diaper sagging and swinging between their legs. It's amazing.....where does all the stuff GO anyway? I think these new and improved disposable diapers are really miniature septic tanks strapped to the kids' behinds.

Changing a diaper on a toddler becomes almost impossible. When Nicholas' diaper begins to resemble the Goodyear blimp.... he has to be CAUGHT and then wrestled to the floor to get the damned thing off. HELL, NOOOOOOO! he doesn't want a fresh diaper ---- NOT NOW ----- NOT EVER------ thank you very much! And even after catching the little streak of lightning……...... you need at least four hands and a couple extra people holding him down just to get a fresh diaper on before he escapes happily squealing butt-naked across the room! You think you have a hold on him and then SWOOOOSH he's just GONE.

WHOOO HOOOO ---- he just loves being naked! HEY, COME BACK HERE, NICHOLAS! C'MON.....LETS GET A DIAPER ON. PLEEEEEASE! He stands grinnin' from the other side of the room.... touching himself just to make sure he really is naked. Once he escapes.... it becomes like a paintball war game. He waits for me to make a move towards him before he giggles and sprints to the other side of the room again. What a FUN game / NOT! I have to walk around the furniture to get to wherever he stood last --- but he can slither and slide and crawl under or behind almost everything in the room. I shoulda tied a rope around him while he was on the floor. But Nicholas is beyond delighted. OOPS.... NOW HE'S LOOKING DOWN .... THIS IS NOT GOOD! NOT GOOD AT ALL! OH, NOOOOOOO, now he's concentrating on the floor like someone who has just lost an earring. Then he moves his feet about hip distance apart and slightly bends his knees! OHHHHH, NOOOOO -- HEY, NICHOLAS.... PLEASE.... PLEASE...... PLEASE......... OH, PLEASE -- DONT PEE ON THE CARPET ! uhhhhh AGAIN.

Too late.....he already has that "LOOK" on his face. By the time a toddler boy gets to the potty phase of his life…..... he has pretty much peed on everything in the house.... the bedspreads, the carpet, the walls, the moms and dads and mamaws..... you name it…… whatever is in his pee range gets wet. And I dont think you can have a little boy in the house without getting sprayed right in the face at least a few times. But mamaws like me don't care about a little pee from their grandbabies. Their cute little puddles just dont seem like real urine. I used to let Nicholas run around without a diaper on…..yanno, to AIR IT ALL OUT from time to time....... and so what if he happens to pee.......... that is ---- until he did more than just a puddle on the floor. OH MY GOD…. what a mess! He escaped and was sprinting along his tricky diaper-dodging route and pooping at the same time. PLEASE STOP.... PLEASE DONT TAKE ANOTHER STEP! But now he's like a little man on a mission….. happily marching and pooping across the room. YUCK! GAG A MAGGOT! I finally get a hold on his waist, put my hand over his bottom, hoping to stop what's happening, and manage to make an even bigger mess. I shoulda just let him keep marching along. At least it wasn't being scattered and smeared, too. Omigod... I do believe someone has been feeding this child superglue laced with sulpher! SHOOOOO ! It took a whole box of those baby wipes to erase the trail of poop. ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, are little kids thrilled with their own body waste or what? They will poop as easily on the floor or in the bathtub as they do in their diaper. And you better be reeeeeal quick grabbing it before they do! You don't have time to get a tissue! Better just grab it before he does! Yep, even a kid like Nicholas who can't stand dirty hands will pick up poop for some reason. Must look like play dough....... ‘cause toddlers wanna creatively squish it and smear it into some kinda crappy artwork ....... and yepper.... they will also put it in their mouth if they get half a chance. Yep, its really true…. even if a kid won't taste homemade mashed potatoes.... most will try a little poop if they get the chance. I have heard some really disgusting stories that you probably don't wanna hear. DISGUSTING to a child and DISGUSTING to an adult are two different things, for sure.

And now I am supposed to just put these cute little Spiderman briefs on him? OH, PUHLEEEEEASE! A single layer of fabric? There's no built-in septic systems in these things! It might be POTTY TIME ---- but I'm afraid that this just ain't gonna work! To be honest, now that it's POTTY TIME for Nicholas... .I'm amazed that so many adults are walking around without diapers. I mean.... the way it's going so far...... I just don't think its ever gonna happen for real. But he does sit on his plastic potty watching the potty-training video. But how in the hell do you ever get the idea across that he is supposed to go in that potty like the video hints and sings about? A little kid that sorta looks like a sweet little naked Bart Simpson appears and introduces all the body parts beginning with his head and ending by bending over to proudly show you his "poop hole" where his poop comes from. Well, thank you for sharing, Bart! I check the box to see if this thing is X-rated. But nope.... it just says 'potty training for little boys.' I watch Nicholas watching this kiddie smut.... this little Bart character wearing only a short tee shirt and he sure ain't shy! He jumps and dances around the TV screen. Nicholas doesn't seem to notice the naked part..... but of course..... my eyes are glued to the little penis. Sorry......But I've just never seen this kinda kiddie porn before. I just can't believe how the artists make it wiggle and jiggle when he jumps around talking about his penis. OOPSIE..... did anyone ever ever tell Nicholas that he even has a penis? I always go from the belly button straight down to the knees... Hey, if it's covered by a diaper..... there ain't no need to include it in the body-parts drill is my rule of thumb.

The potty training video sings about 'being a big kid now' and demonstrates how to sit on the potty.... singing little toe-tapping songs about putting the pee-pee and poo-poo in the potty. Catchy songs that continue 24/7 inside my head. Of course, Nicholas loves the music and singing on the video..... he always gets up to dance to the pee-pee song and is thrilled by all the naked (real) babies that are all singing from their potty chairs like some kinda Ann Geddes crap photo shoot that never made it to the Hallmark cards. The video only shows their naked little behinds --- probably so they can use this same clip for the little girls' potty training video too. They probably just lengthen Bart's hair and erase the penis, transgendering little Bart into a little Barbara.

Yep, IT'S POTTY TIME 'round here…. I know that it's probably gonna eventually happen…. but HOW does it ever happen? And WHEN does it ever happen? Can someone send me a poopy prayer ‘cause I'm just all diapered out!

rws 12:04 PM [+]

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Note to future Jedi: rethink the videocam concept.

In a relationship? Let the arguing begin.

Two slightly-off-the-mark American
cultural references seen recently in
the Spanish daily El País:
Polly Darton
Stark Trek

Yet another list of recent genuine searches
conducted through Google or other engines
which have brought people to this web page:
hound sniffing icon
middle aged big boob women
canine painting
roll those bloodshot eyes
incredible hulk cake pan
guys in converse sneakers
scary jester drawling

rws 3:29 PM [+]

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Maybe not completely different but different enough --

From the internet movie database

Former Monty Python star Eric Idle is due to direct and co-star in "Remains of the Piano," which he also wrote, Screen International reported today (Thursday). The British trade publication said that the spoof of costume drama "Remains of the Day," which starred Anthony Hopkins, will star Geoffrey Rush in the lead role of Hopkins, a British aristocrat. The cast list is provocative in itself: Orlando Bloom is playing a character named Daniel Day Lewis. Patrick Stewart will appear as Obie Ben Kingsley. Alfred Molina will play Mussolini. Anjelica Huston's character is Countess Von Kunst and Idle himself plays Frank the Mover.

rws 11:11 PM [+]

I mentioned in the last entry that today is the feast of San Isidro. There are activities happening all over the city -- music, dance, events including lots of folks in traditional garb.

This morning: got myself out early, intending to take another swing through an exhibit of Spanish paintings from the 19th and early 20th centuries, one I took a look at last Sunday which had a handful of canvases worth a second pass. At a foundation (a division of a major corporation, in this case a bank, that sponsors cultural events and traveling exhibits) about a ten minute walk from here. The kind of thing that's usually open from 10-2 on holidays.

A classically beautiful Madrid morning -- slanting sun and shadows, air soft, golden, with just a hint of mist. Two or three blocks down the street, I pass a doorway to an apartment building, I see a woman in her mid-20s, a kerchief over her hair. A kerchief of a kind of traditional design. On second glance, I see she's dressed in a traditional outfit, including a long skirt, all of the clothes suggesting the Spain of a century ago, redolent of the Mediterranean, of Andalucia. Behind her, in the shadow of the vestibule stands a mid-20s male, maybe her husband, also dressed in clothing from decades and decades ago. Neither meet my eyes, they're both looking up the street, as if waiting for a ride.

The exhibit was closed. (#&^%*!!!!!!) I decided to head over la Plaza Mayor and check out the Festival Folclórico de los Pueblos de España that was taking place there today. Went to the Metro, hopped a noisy, crowded train. Conversations going on all around, someone playing music down the car, guitar and accordion (couldn't see them 'cause of the crowd). At the first stop, two young couples squeezed in by me, one of the males sporting loads of big, multicolored tattoos on his arms. The two I could see clearly: (a) a big satanic face with the legend " DEVIL EMPIRE," (b) a cloud with a face, mouth pursed, blowing a strong wind that curled down below the image; the breeze spelling out the words ARE YOU READY?

Got off the train at la estación Opera (nearly empty of people). Made my way up the five (count 'em: five!) flights of stairs that lead to the street and made my way down la calle de Arenal for a couple of blocks. Lots of families out, lots of old folks walking along at a snail's pace, many with canes. Turned a corner to cut over to la Calle Mayor, caught a strong whiff (there's that word again!) of vomit (none visible, the pong maybe all that remained from a recent night's downtown decadence), which thankfully faded quickly. Most stores were closed, but many restaurants and taverns were open, plenty of people inside eating, drinking café or hoisting a caña.

The sun shone intensely in a mostly clear sky, hot enough that I and most other folks I could see kept to the shadows. At la Calle Mayor, I crossed the street and headed up one of the lanes that lead into the Plaza, thick with people, many dressed in traditional garb, mostly women, generally either very young or much older. Many wearing long skirts, fringed shawls, hair beneath a kerchief with a red flower -- a rose or a carnation -- up over their foreheads, stem tucked in under the kerchief.

A huge stage had been erected up against the plaza's north side, a group of kids in some region's traditional dress performed a dance number that included heavy rhythmic stomping and the chatter of castanets as music blared from the sound system. It's an enormous space, la Plaza Mayor, and a major portion of it was occupied by the crowd packed in front of the stage, extending out in all directions. Mostly Spaniards, a heavy percentage of them on in years, though I saw folks from all over the age spectrum. Well out across the plaza, the crowd thinned out and people moved about, tourists mixed in with the natives taking in the show. Back beyond that, in the shadow of the building, stood a thick band of still more spectators seeking relief from the sunlight/high temperatures, crammed in around the artists who produce caricatures, portraits and local images for the tourist trade.

The group that had been dancing when I arrived finished and filed off, replaced almost immediately by another group from out near Segovia or Salamanca, northwest of Madrid. Another musical number started up, a line of younger folk standing along the rear of the stage, a few older couples standing in front doing a complicated dance routine to music with a strong keltic flavor.

I could only take so much of this before needing refueling. My feet needed no urging, taking me back out into the streets almost before I realized what was happening, back down to la Calle de Arenal. Passed more older folks in traditional dress, the women in much more complicated get-ups than I'd seen in the plaza, the men wearing black pants, white shirts and vest (black to the rear, the front done in small, fine black and white checks). They walked along in pairs (by gender), making the sign of the cross, seemingly unconsciously, as they passed a church.

Passed a bar, peered inside as I went by. Looked okay, my feet once more needed no urging, turning immediately around and taking me into the place where I found a spot at the counter and ordered a pincho of tortilla de bonita and a caña. The caña arrived, accompanied by a small plate of excellent chicken paella, one of the best paellas I've eaten here. The tortilla arrived a moment later, a pretty fine plateful of food. Twice as expensive as the tortilla I'm served in the joints I usually go to, but we're still not talking much money here. I'll have to investigate this place another time. At one point, as I ate, one of the countermen brought out a dinner plate containing an octopus, big and pink, neatly arranged in a mound, the tentacles extending neatly down and around, suction cups facing out. The whole thing vivid, glistening. I stared, thinking, What, is someone gonna eat that or is it decoration or what? A moment later another appeared, the counterman placed it on the display case directly in front of me. I think the poor bugger had been alive very recently. It quivered briefly after he set it down, looking like a lurid plate of pink jello with suction cups.

Finished up, got out of there. Warm weather clouds have moved in, the sun drifting in and out, lazily. Kind of how I'm feeling -- lazy. Will be meeting a friend in a bit for conversation and some liquid refreshment.

One more holiday in a city that has a lot of them. At certain times of the year, they seem to arrive one after another, three and four day weekends flashing past in rapid succession.

Not a bad way to live.


rws 12:35 PM [+]

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Got myself up this morning, made the long stumble from one end of the piso to the other for the usual a.m. bathroom blahblahblah. All through the shower/shave routine, an odd odor hung in the air, faint enough that it didn't get my full attention, but odd enough that it hovered persistently around the edges, if you know what I mean. Not completely penetrating the a.m. fog, but not going away either. And not one of the usual spectrum of possible bathroom odors so that my little brain, not yet working on all cylinders, didn't really know what to make of it. And given that my cerebral command center needed to concentrate on safe razor management so that I didn't shed blood in a terminal way, it satisfied itself with the occasional blurry "What the...?" whenever I'd catch an especially strong whiff. (Now isn't that a strange word? "Whiff." What's with the two f's? And why the h? Why not just "wif"? It would be so much simpler for someone struggling with the overabundant mysteries of English spelling. Plus, the shorter spelling gives it a way younger, more hip-hop kinda feel, as in, "Whoa, get a wif a' dat!!" )

When I finally shuffled from the bathroom into the kitchen -- scrubbed, shaven, groomed, all that -- I found myself enveloped by a seriously intensified version of the odor, to the point where my eyes popped open, my nose wrinkled up. Impossible to ignore any longer. The next-door kitchen abuts mine -- I heard noise of someone working away, kitchen-fashion, I realized I was smelling meat. The thick, concentrated aroma of a big chunk of animal, well into the roasting process. I didn't know whether to start salivating/masticating reflexively or begin reverse peristalsis, the hour not being the kind I'm accustomed to for that brand of sensory overwhelment.

I don't remember ever being met with that degree of sensorama-like impact first thing in the morning here, apart from maybe Christmas or New Years, and those instances just didn't pack the punch of today's flesh fiesta. Tomorrow's another local holiday -- the feast of San Isidro, one of Madrid's patron saints. I figure that might have something to do with the meat thing. A dinner this evening maybe, or tomorrow. Or something.

So, yeah, another holiday. A lot of the city will be shut down. Meaning loads of partying tonight. (As if they need an excuse to party. Not that there's anything wrong with that.) The thought of which has me in a skipping-school frame of mind. If I knew someone with a car who might be temptable, I'd be on the horn trying to get them to bail out of work and drive me to some beautiful, less urban spot, take advantage of the run of spectacular May weather Madrid's been having. But I don't know anyone temptable in that way. (*Sob!*) So I'll write. And eat. And finish schoolwork for class tonight. And get out and enjoy the day. And maybe at some point finish up with The Man Who Wasn't There, which I rented yesterday, started watching late last night and couldn't pull myself away from until it was way later than I'd intended to go to bed.

(I heard lots of people complain about that film, the majority gripe being "too slow." I've got to say: Slow? I don't know -- it tells the story in its own way, and I'm finding it almost hypnotic. Visually beautiful, with great acting. Yeah, it's an eccentric story, but what do you want? We're talking about the Coen brothers, perpetrators of one of the weirdest -- and one of my favorite -- comedies ever, Raising Arizona. And in spite of what feels to me like a major, glaring flaw in the story line, which I won't specify in case you haven't seen the film, I found myself swept away in the bugger. Completely wrapped up in it. I will admit, though, that it's a pretty dark hummer of a story, and I could see that, in combination with the pacing, bothering someone.)

Another film seen recently: La Caja 507 (Box 507). Spanish, from last year. A tight, sharp thriller, with two extremely fine actors in the leading roles. It's not likely it'll make its way to the States, but if you spot it on VHS or DVD, rent it. Be aware, though, that the second half gets violent, with a substantial body count. If you'd rather just see a great thriller, with top-notch acting and a great story line that packs a bunch of unexpected twists, rent the Argentinian film Nine Queens. Don't let the language barrier put you off -- you can't lose with this one.

Enough with the reviews. Time for a bit of chow.


rws 12:33 PM [+]

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Well, I've been having one of those days in which I just can't seem to figure out what the hell to do with myself. Can't seem to concentrate on any one thing for any substantial span of time. I start doing something, something else occurs to me, all of a sudden I find myself veering off to take care of whatever the hell that something else might be. Along the way one or two other things might catch my eye, I wind up getting sidetracked. Not by anything important -- little diddly unimportant stuff. Distraction for the sake of distraction. If I'm lucky, I actually finish whatever it is before finding myself drifting away in another direction. Otherwise, it's off to start something else or standing staring at a book or newspaper or at the window.

Somewhere in the middle of all the pointless movement, I managed to sit myself down and focus long enough to get some homework done. Other than that, the day's major achievement has been playing far too many games of hearts with my computer. Embarrassing. (At least I'm giving the hearts program a serious ass-kicking from time to time.)

A short while ago, I couldn't stand it any more and got myself heading out the door for a breath of Madrid's warm weather version of fresh air. Found myself walking in the direction of a DVD rental joint I signed up with this last weekend. We're not talking Blockbuster Video here -- far too effete for that. Nothing but DVDs, with a wildly international selection, including The Sopranos' first two or three seasons -- no Buffy The Vampire Slayer, though (waaaaaahhhhhh!!). (The truth: if it weren't for being able to read detailed episode summaries at BuffyWorld, not being able to watch the last season of BtVS would be killing me. Hey, we all have our vices.)

Where was I? Oh, right -- the DVD joint. It's a small, austere place, usually with pretty good alternative or techno playing instead of a TV. Staffed by Spanish women, all seeming to be between 19 and 25 years old. All small, all unbelievably slim. All seeming a bit distant until you ask them something, at which point they become very nice. Kind, helpful, patient. Chatty, even. The kind of comportment that tends to get repeat business from me. And I'll tell you what, on a day like this, when I can't seem to focus too well, someone treating me with kindness has an effect.

Damn -- just happened again. A thought occurred to me that sent me off to do something in the bedroom for a couple of minutes. Which then led me off to the other end of the flat for a bit. Probably a good thing -- I think I may have been on the verge of a preach about kindness. (Not that this world of ours couldn't use some talk re: kindness.)

I've discovered that the DVD player in the new laptop I picked up a week and a half ago does a seriously great job. Hence the DVD rentals. This last Sunday evening I went to the DVD place, came home with Minority Report. Tossed it into the machine, sat in my comfy Ikea chair with the laptop in my, er, lap, headphones plugged in. A real good time. I'm going to do that again.

BTW, in yesterday's entry, I wondered about the back-to-school theme in the current get-out-the-vote ads happening here (in advance of the May 25 municipal elections). You may have noticed my friend Jaime posted a comment in response -- for those who don't read Spanish, he says that the polls are called 'colegios electorales.' Primary schools here are also called 'colegios,' and the polls, just as they are in the States, are often located in schools. Making the 'return to school to vote' metaphor an easy, logical one.

So there you have it. It's good to have smart friends. (Thanks, Jaime.)


Sign seen in a neighborhood café/cafetería, located across the street from my gym:





(A couple of the numbers had clearly fallen off the price for the orange juice and never been replaced.)

Another sign, hanging near the first one:



rws 12:43 PM [+]

Monday, May 12, 2003

Summer continues edging its way in here, yesterday, in fact, being the first day with the feel of the high season, of July and August. Temperatures well up into the 80's, the city feeling quiet, as if many folks had taken off for the weekend. A day with sunlight intense enough to get you seeking out the shady side of the street.

The gradual gentrification that's been happening around the barrio -- generally evidenced by the construction or rehabbing happening all over the place – has begun showing up around the plaza. One morning two or three weeks ago, I was parked on one of the concrete benches that run along the plaza's east side. Across from me some work was going on above a doorway, one guy on a ladder affixing some letters over the entranceway, another guy standing about ten feet off, eyeballing the work. The letters spelled out the address in big Roman block letters, CHUECA V. I thought nothing of it, didn't see anything indicating it might be more than a couple of workers taking care of a routine job.

That night, returning home from an evening out, I came up out of the Metro into the plaza to discover that the walkway along the plaza's west side had been cut off by a red carpet and whatever the hell you call those things that corral people out or in of big happenings, movie theaters, etc., leading into the doorway at CHUECA V. Clearly a chi-chi club of some sort having its opening night, lots of dolled up euro-clubbers slouching around inside, making the exclusive scene. The plaza's first intrusion of something approximating chic.

[Quick digression re: the big Roman block letters -- if they were the real Roman block letter thing, they should be CHVECA V instead of CHUECA V, wouldn't they? Or would that cause too many problems for shitfaced clubbers trying to figure out what the hell it spelled? Never mind.]

Across the plaza, a crew of workers has spent the last couple of weeks transforming another business, tearing the former space apart, throwing another one together, painting the exterior blue, all accompanied by the sound of hammers and power tools. Yesterday, stacks of brand-new blue tables and chairs appeared outside the place. Today, they've been set up in two rows -- this will now be the fifth establishment to be servings drinks, etc. out in the plaza.

I already know that everything is in a constant of change, surface appearances to the contrary. Sometimes it's more apparent, more in your face than others.

I spent most of yesterday out, trotting from one activity to another -- an art exhibit, the gym, a fast meal at a sidewalk café, a movie, meeting a couple of friends at another café -- so that the hours shot by. I'm heading back to the States in a bit more than a month, and since nailing down dates and flight arrangements the days have begun passing at a velocity that feels dangerously close to light speed. Kind of unnerving.

I'm expecting to be back here in the autumn, but even so, the fact that I'll be leaving for a while has me noticing things more sharply, paying more attention to the normal backdrop of visuals and sounds, at times with a pang of some potent emotions.

Milkweed fluff is still sailing through the air here, for some reason reminding me of past times in other places, particularly one spring in upstate New York, after returning from nearly three years in Seattle, bringing a wife and a cat back with me.

But you don't want to hear about that.

Municipal elections happen here soon, nationwide -- two weeks from yesterday. Within the last 2-3 days, a get-out-the-vote style ad campaign started up -- somehow, they've come up with a metaphor of going back to school for the central image, all the ads I've seen featuring the following two lines:

Vuelve al colegio --

Which translates to:

Return to school --

[the word "ilusiones" can mean either illusions/delusions or hopes -- is this an ink-blot test for the voting-age ad reader or what?]


rws 12:49 PM [+]

Sunday, May 11, 2003

The peaceable kingdom, part II: happy happy joy joy! (Really.)

rws 3:19 PM [+]

Saturday, May 10, 2003

My god, what a beautiful day. The kind of day that just about renders me speechless, where I seem to slip into a state that is essentially pure input. The kind of day that will lower elevated blood pressure, restore peace of mind.

It is one of those times in May when bits of milkweed fluff float about in the warm air, slipping in and out of sunlight and bands of shadow, slowly, as if savoring the shifts in direction that slight breezes and changes in air temperature bring, now and then barely moving, swirling lingeringly about in place, other times seeming to leap upward toward blue sky, sunshine.

I was out walking for a while, taking it all in. On returning home, I entered the living room to find a lone bit of milkweed fluff hanging suspended in the middle of the space, moving in a leisurely, meditative spiral, at times sliding gracefully into a shaft of light that slanted in from one of the windows, at other times withdrawing back into the darker portion of the room.

It almost feels to me as if a there were a fundamental silence beneath the surface of days like this, a benign stillness laying quietly beneath the coming and going of sounds from the world around.

Probably just my imagination.


And then there are those moments when I ask myself why I even bother writing the drivel I cough up here when someone like Mimi Smartypants is cranking out the genuine article.

If her latest two entries don't get your drink of choice squirting out of your nostrils from laughter, I suggest you bring up her entry of March 24 and take a gander at the transcript of her chatroom exchange with Hottmale 34. As she says, solid gold.


Last night's adventures in the Metro (heading to class):

-- As I entered the station a little after 7 o'clock -- plenty of people about, heading home from work or beginning their Friday evening -- two tough guy/hipsters pushed by, striding straight for the turnstiles. They both did the get-in-free-by-jumping-over-the-turnstiles maneuver, continued on toward the escalators. No security cops were around, no one stopped them. They reached the escalators, positioned themselves next to each other, then stopped, blocking the way for anyone wanting to pass. Traveling solo, I tend to walk up and down the escalators, something many people do here -- the protocol is for those who prefer to stand still to move to the right so everyone else can pass by. I hit the escalator behind those two guys, descended to the step behind the guy to the left, saying a clear, polite, "Perdón," so he knew I wanted to pass. He looked around, then ignored me, leaving me the options of (a) standing there, intentionally disregarded, or (b) pushing by. I chose to push by, calling out a cheery, "Asshole!" as I went. (Oh ho ho! Watch out -- RWS gets obnoxiously assertive!)

I'm afraid I do things like that every once in a long while, though with nowhere near the frequency or antisocial virtuosity of younger, less happy, more defiant days. Not very nice I will admit, likely doing little to promote civility/inner peace, though producing definite, if ephemeral, short-term gratification.

No response from the pair. Maybe not fluent in English profanity.

-- As I turned the corner at the bottom of the escalator, a short, very heavy 50-something woman trudged by, heading toward the up escalator. Pulling a small wheeled suitcase, audibly out of breath, looking weary and physically uncomfortable.

-- Beyond her, I passed a blind woman. (There is an ONCE center (ONCE -- a Spanish organization of and for the blind) somewhere in this neighborhood, so that sightless folk are a common sight hereabouts, often walking solo, sometimes in pairs or groups of three or four. Almost always using the long, white probe-sticks in place of a seeing-eye dog.) She clung to the right-hand wall, walking hesitantly, finding her way around the corner slowly, then proceeding down the long corridor ahead, the voices of people coming from a train echoing in the hallway around her.

-- The train I caught was crowded with Friday evening travelers, all kinds of people, of all ages, including a 40ish male with a white, metal cello case on wheels, nearly covered with stickers that all appeared to say one of three different things: (a) Fragile!, (b) Security, or (c) Security Clearance. No stickers denoting countries visited that I could see, none relating to music in any way.

It was a beautiful evening, flush with late-day sunlight, sidewalks filled with people out enjoying the warm air, the city center crowded and active well into the wee hours. "The wee hours" in this neighborhood means well into the morning, nearly to sunrise. It remains nicely surprising to me that I experience the constant stream of noise rising from the street-level below as something comfortable, even pleasurable. For the most part, that is, save the occasional burst of serious noise, like that of this last Thursday night when a resident of the neighborhood turned their stereo up to its highest setting, opened their windows and blasted the rest of us with music, starting around 12:15 a.m. Caught me in bed, reading, just about ready to turn off the light. Earplugs were quickly inserted into the appropriate orifices, three songs along the music abruptly stopped, leaving the usual, manageable Thursday night barrio soundtrack to lull me to sleep.

This morning brought another gently beautiful day, temperatures perfect, sky blue and cloudless, sunlight slowly filling the streets. I was out before ten to pick up groceries at the local centro comercial, after which I bought a paper and sat down with a cup of espresso for a look at the local version of what's going on in the world. Municipal elections happen May 25th, the campaign season is in high gear, accounting for a huge percentage of current news stories, along with numerous interconnected topics which all feed into the elections. Interesting, unpleasant, fascinating, boring, occasionally entertaining, often not much fun -- all of that in one untidy package. I skim through it, getting the general overview, usually not delving too deeply until I get to the arts sections, where there is right now a bunch of activity relating to the movie world (mostly the current crop of good-looking Spanish films in the wake of the recent Málaga film festival, and of course the publicity blitzkrieg going on for The Matrix Reloaded. (From yesterday's El País: If Matrix made history for pioneering the "bullet time" effect, Reloaded will earn its niche thanks to the Burly brawl sequence (in Spanish: megapelea), the most complicated fight on film to date, in which a lone Neo confronts 100 Agent Smiths, the first application of virtual reality in the real world. Of course, not all the agents were computer-generated -- along with actor Hugo Weaving were 12 fight specialists, whose heads were shaved so that Agent Smith's face could be added digitally, and 20 mannequins.")

On the way to café & paper, I stepped out of my building and turned the corner to find myself in the middle of a crowd of 20-25 people, sprawled out across the narrow street, apparently waiting for the Café Buenos Aires to open for business. All looking a bit bleary and rumpled, ranging from 20-somethings to 40-somethings, some still holding partially inhaled cups of beer or drinks of a heavier-duty variety. Most talking in far more animated fashion than I would be capable of after a night without sleep, standing contentedly in the morning sunlight. When I passed by a second time, post-café, about the half the group remained, most sitting on the curb or the café's steps, their Friday night still underway.

A glance out in the window in that direction a little more than an hour ago showed that same group still there, all sitting in front the café, soaking up the sunlight as they talked. I just looked outside a minute ago to find they'd finally disappeared. The streets of the barrio are busy with people carrying bags of groceries, couples walking hand in hand, the occasional car or scooter shooting past. A cell phone rang, its rendition of the Simpsons theme song rising faintly into the afternoon air, stopping when its owner answered the call.

And on the day goes.

rws 1:02 PM [+]

Friday, May 09, 2003

This last Monday evening, autumn passed back through Madrid -- rain, clouds, a genuine chill. The rain continued all the next day -- not your typical Madrid May weather -- and into the night, at which point the mercury took a plunge and winter made a brief return. Cold rain here, snow (aaaiiiiieeeeeee!!) north and west of city. Goddamn, talk about a shock. Things began to lighten up some yesterday, sun breaking through, temperature creeping back up to its more customary spring/early-summer range. The local winged wildlife (minus the pigeons) celebrated by bursting into song and flying madly around all through the daylight hours

And yesterday, for the first time all week, the big piece of machinery across the street didn't see much use. They seem to have dug most of the lot down to the depth they're looking for, finishing that part of the work up by inscribing a bunch of channels in a large portion of the plot's center. After which the three people there began doing various kinds of detail work around the lot.

Late afternoon, after hours of relative peace, I heard the rear-end/front-end loader start up again (it's impossible to miss that bugger when they get it going). Heard the beeping as they backed the thing up the narrow incline of earth left at the lot's east end, then heard it shift into forward gear and head off down one of the neighborhood streets, the sound of its motor growing fainter then finally disappearing altogether.

A glance out the window revealed no big machine. Just two of the three workers toiling inoffensively away around the space. They showed up this morning, the work they're doing has moved quietly along, the accent being on "quietly." Sans big machinery. (Pause for happy sigh.)

As I write this, it's also late afternoon. Late springtime weather has reasserted itself, the windows are open, mild air drifting in, clouds trading off with blue skies/sunlight. Somewhere around four o'clock, kids got out of school for the weekend, the neighborhood was suddenly inundated with the laughing/screaming of little girls running around. At times laughter predominated, at times screaming, including a scream from one healthy pair of lungs that seemed to go on longer than is physically possible for a small human body. (Did I, I ask myself, make that kind of noise when I was in that age bracket? Probably, I answer, though hopefully an octave or two lower.)

Earlier, me doing stuff around the piso, I heard the whistle of un afilador (a sharpener) [see entry of 27 August, 2001, something I hadn't heard for quite some time. Down the street here, initially, blowing his signal two or three times. He must have found some work -- I heard no more of his pipes for a while. The next time they sounded, I went and leaned out a window. Couldn't see him, couldn't make out where the sound came from as it seemed to bounce off the buildings, making it impossible to position. (The one thing this piso lacks is a balcón or terraza, one of the best features in my first Madrid squat. There are windows I can lean out of, though, and do, though I have to use a chair. Kind of the equivalent of sitting on a phone book to see out the windshield.) Finally, his pipes started up again, off to my right. A moment later he came into view on la Calle de Pelayo, pushing what looked like a brand new moped, shiny and yellow, his grinding wheels mounted on the back. He walked his mobile work area across the small intersection and out of view, the pipes blowing once more.

If his wheels are any indication, he may be doing all right with that line of work.

Still earlier, during the trip to the gym and back: the first pre-9-a.m. The first Metro train that pulled into the station was crammed with silent passengers, to the point where I couldn't see any available space in any of the doors I checked out. Everyone else on the platform managed to push and/or squeeze themselves in. And it's possible I could have managed it, with some effort and the willingness to endure an uncomfortable ride. But that wasn't how I was looking to start my day. I backed off and waited, people staring at me from inside the train. One young woman standing at the last door in that particular car watched me, maybe wondering why I just didn't put one shoulder down and create some space for myself. I smiled at her, she smiled in return, raised a hand and waved, the doors closed, the train pulled out. Within sixty seconds, another train arrived, this one only half full. Much better.

And in this one I saw a mother/father and son, maybe 11 years old. Standing together, appearing South American. The kid wore a New York Yankees cap and a New England Patriots jersey (55 -- McGinest). A little guy wearing the number of a very sizeable human being.

More tomorrow.

rws 12:31 PM [+]

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Shortly after I finished yesterday's entry, the buzzer in the kitchen started up. I grabbed the intercom phone thingy, heard the locksmith on the other end, buzzed him in. Then opened the apartment door -- the door with the lock that needed attention -- and waited.

This piso is located on what in the States would be the fifth floor. In an old building, no elevator. I'm used to the climb, but visitors who aren't sometimes need a little time to make the trip up. Sure enough, a minute or two later slow footsteps became audible, accompanied by breathing that seemed to get louder, more labored as the steps slowly approached. Finally, the footsteps arrived at the last flight, a moment later a figure came slowly into view. And when he pulled himself up onto this landing and shuffled in my direction, I saw I'd been sent a Ned Beatty lookalike to take care of my lock. About 5'-7", seriously hefty, scruffy short brown hair, work clothes, carrying a took kit, speaking a classic type of street Spanish, words running together, the terminating letters of many words dropped completely, so that I had to concentrate to get everything he came out with. A character, with a distinct personality, sounding and feeling with every passing minute more and more like the Spanish urban version of Ned Beatty doing a good ol' boy. Which made me so happy it's hard to describe.

I am absurdly easy to please. Give me a good people-watching opportunity, I am genuinely, absurdly delighted. Which is what happened yesterday. The lock became secondary. Talking with the locksmith became the main event.

He listens to my brief history of the problem, making comments, checking out the lock casing. I give him a key, he shuts the door, I hear him fiddling around out there, mumbling to himself, locking it, unlocking it, locking it, unlocking it. The door opens back up, he's babbling away. He lights up a cigarette, tells me the lock (and the parts for it) haven't been made for several years so that a repair job is out -- it'll have to be a replacement with a new, equivalent unit. I ask him how much that would be, he pulls out his mobile phone, calls the office. They answer, he asks for a price on a replacement for a GMG lock. They can't seem to hear him, so he repeats: GMG. Then again. Then again. Then again. Then again. He's looking up at the ceiling, an expression of resigned exasperation on his face, repeating "GMG" over and over. They finally get it, they ask him to hold, he says fine. Then they disconnect him -- he's going, "¡Hola! ¡Hola!", followed by brief mumbled swearing. He tells me they'll call him back in a minute, we stand for a moment in silence, him pulling at the cigarette. We get chatting about this and that, he asks if he can use the toilet, I say, "¡Claro! ¡Por supuesto!" He steps into the bog, pushes the door mostly closed, I walk into the kitchen to do something, the sound of loud tinkling coming from the bathroom, followed by the toilet flushing. He re-emerges, sighing in happy relief.

I ask him if he'd like something to drink, he declines saying that he'd just had a coffee, mentions that this is his last call for the day, that after this he'll head out for a beer ("una cervezita!") then go home and watch the game. [An important game of fútbol: Real Madrid v. Juventus (from Turin, Italy), one of the two semi-final match-ups in this year's edition of the Champion's League. Real Madrid took it, 2-1.]

His phone rings, he answers, gets the information, hangs up. Before going into the bathroom, he'd put his cigarette on one of the steps of the last flight of stairs that ascends to the building's three rooftop units, carefully so it wouldn't burn anything. He now picks it back up, flicking a teensy bit of ash off down the stairwell, gives me the news that the replacement job for the lock will be fairly expensive. I tell him I'll need to talk to the landlords about that before making any decision. He writes up a receipt for the visit -- less expensive than I'd been anticipating -- hands it off, chatting the whole time, counseling me on how to break the news to the landlords (he seems to be working on the assumption that my landlords, or maybe all landlords, are difficult, which is anything but the reality in my case), cigarette hanging from his lips, moving as he talks.

He hands me the receipt, still counseling me on how to present the situation, finally picks up his tool-kit. I thank him for his help, he instructs me on what to say next time I call the office to follow up on this job, I thank him again, he repeats the instructions, I thank him once more, he waves, we say good-bye, he heads off down the stairs, a bit of cigarette smoke drifting in his wake.

And there you have it. Fifteen minutes with the Spanish Ned Beatty.

I don't know how my description of this encounter came off, but Ned was no buffoon. I think he's good at his job, with a good eye for what he was dealing with. And seriously entertaining. Hard to beat a combo like that.

This world of ours: filled with great characters, most of them going around in the guise of normal folk.

rws 12:33 PM [+]

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

People have been traipsing in and out of here during the last hour with the frequency of a cheap ham radio. The main event: the male 50% of my landlords arrived to pick up a wad of cash and attempt to make the toilet happy. This may be challenging to write about because he knows this page's URL (in the course of the $$$ part of the visit, he mentioned that his wife had read the entry of six days ago; I didn't realize, I said with pleased surprise, she stopped by my little cyber-fiefdom now and then to do some reading; "That's what it's there for, isn't it?" he replied a bit pointedly (as if I'd somehow suggested the opposite) -- er, well, yes; he apparently read that entry himself and seemed particularly, er, taken with my characterization of him as stopping by for "an infusion of cash," as well as referring to him as "the LL"; could that have had anything to do with his tone of voice, do you think? will I be paying for my cheap-ass literary flourishes with further tones of voice in the future?) so I'll keep it brief. Suffice it to say that when it came to the handyman-wrestling-with-toilet part of the program, between the two of us we produced a near-continuous stream of comedy. And -- I swear I'm not making this up -- two of my contributions led to the fixing of the problem. The details aren't important -- let's just say they were brilliant, and that the toilet tank now remains filled post-flush instead of spritzing water eternally down into the bowl.

I noticed that all through toilet/$$$$ process the construction across the street mostly took a breather, giving the impression of a tranquil neighborhood with a civilized noise level. They must have spent the landlord's visit mounting the jack-hammer attachment on the rear-end/front-end loader, because minutes after LL fled, big-time construction racket cranked itself up to tooth-rattling levels. The interesting part is seeing how much of it I actually tune out as I get doing something. We're adaptable, resilient critters, we humans. Every now and then, though, the noise stops for a few moments, I remember how good silence can feel.

A short time after the toilet's miracle cure, a young woman showed up to take the reading from the piso's water meter -- short, wearing a two-or-three-sizes-too-large winter coat, bearing an alarming resemblance to Marty Feldman. In and out, like a wild-eyed blur. After her exit, I could hear her voice at every other door she stopped in front of, calling out "La luz!!" ("the light!!"), something about her tone suggesting she might be on the verge of a major emotional event. ("Luz," BTW, gets pronounced "looth" here, so what I actually heard was a repeated cry of "La looth!!")

Not long after that, a slim, quieter, more self-composed South American guy stopped by to read the gas meter. Again, in and out. All business.

The buzzer from the building's front door has been going off every few minutes since then as people with junk mail stop by wanting to get into the building to shove, er, junk into every piso's mailbox instead of using the junk-mail box mounted outside the door. This flat's buzzer is startlingly loud and diabolically grating, a combination that can do strange things to one's nervous system after repeated unexpected blasts.

Outside: gray skies, cool temperatures, a chilly, restless breeze blowing laundry about on apartment clotheslines. Yesterday evening, after days of summerlike weather, clouds moved in, bringing autumn-like weather along. Plummeting temperatures, gusts of wind. My landlord carried an umbrella when he showed up (though not when he was rooting around in the toilet), not the normal accouterment for this time of year. It's been a strange few months, weatherwise, with far more rain than usual. According to this morning's El País, the water reserves stand at over 91%, far and away the highest figure I've seen during my time here, so that my toilet has been no threat to the supply of H20 whenever it's gone on a tank-filling bender.

The day's finale will be a visit from a locksmith to take care of a long-standing problem with the piso's industrial-strength lock. I just received a call saying they were on the way.

On to the next source of material.

rws 12:30 PM [+]

Monday, May 05, 2003

It's amazing how much time I can waste -- er, that is 'spend joyfully' -- fooling with a computer. Hours and hours and hours. Sometimes with not a whole lot to show for it apart from a moment of confusion when I finally look around, noticing that the afternoon sun has long since skidded its way through the evening hours and bolted westward to greener pastures, leaving me in the dark.

I am generally not one who is what you might call technically inclined (witness this low-tech webpage, which I hope will go high-tech some day soon). Not that I don't have some aptitude for the higher-tech side of existence. I do. It just takes more concentration and help from outside sources than I need with some other areas of life. Often, when I see technical prose, my little brain seems to want to go right to sleep. Or to immediately focus on something friendlier, something with entertaining pictures and maybe music. If some patient person is willing to give me some time, field a lot of questions and repeat certain things more than once, I can pick my way through the technical minefield and learn. And perform pretty decently when the smoke clears, even reach the point of it becoming more or less second nature. I tend to learn more easily with visuals (pretty pictures!) than I do with text. Repetition in hands-on fashion works, too -- that kinesthetic thing. Then I have to keep doing it, at least once in a while, or I can forget, silly human that I am. Unless I've done whatever it is so many times that it's become tattooed on my neurons. Not a problem in that case.

So for me to stumble my way through getting a ‘puter set up, mess around with a lot of the elements one can mess around with, gradually figure out why some things aren't working the way they should and wind up at some point with bells and whistles ringing and hooting away -- this is not a small deal. At least to me. You may feel differently.

So that's occupied a lot of my waking hours these last 2-3 days. And while I was busy with that, the weekend slipped sneakily by, Monday morning showed up, and with it construction noise (after four wonderful days without). Not that it's been nightmarish -- it's just gives the day a different feel. Real different. One thing it means is I can't open the windows to enjoy the early summer air ‘cause that just makes the machinery noise that much louder and tends to result in in-house accumulations of breeze-borne construction dust to boot. (How's that for a deal?)

Right. So. Spanish classes re-commence tonight. Like a good student, I didn't even look vaguely in the direction of my notebooks, much less open one, during the course of the four-day weekend. Until about fifteen minutes ago. So this evening's session may be packed with thrills ‘n' excitement as I try to remember what the f*#@! we were doing last Wednesday. The sheet of homework exercises -- yet another drill on the imperative verb forms (and you should count your blessings that you don't have to mess with complicated verb forms when you tell someone to do something in English -- you just point your finger (or whatever you happen to use when you point imperiously) and say, "Do that!" – simple, direct and, depending on who you're ordering around, fun) -- is an exact duplicate of the homework our professor, Jesús, gave us last Monday night. Someone wasn't paying attention when he handed out the weekend torture at the end of Wednesday's class.

Right, I'll stop before I put us both to sleep. But before I go, I shall inflict the following on you:

Yet another list of recent genuine searches conducted through Google or other engines which have brought people to this web page:

mixed wrestling dreams


cheap leather coats

problems with robins striking car glass

bizarre tubing designs


clonation history & legacy

men vinyl pants

she faint fainted donating blood

images: surrealist dark alleys

nice dressed workers

fringed cowboy vests in seattle

chow mee fun

rws 12:12 PM [+]

Sunday, May 04, 2003

The little laptop on which I write this journal is four years old this month. It's traveled back and forth across the Atlantic, going thousands and thousands of miles; it's suffered through heavy use, many thousands of hours' worth. The keys are worn shiny from use, and in fact three of the keys have come off (d, g and, just last week, e) leaving me only the stubby little contact buttons underneath to type with. It's never been what I would call a trouble-free unit, has never given the satisfaction of other machines I've used, doesn't have a whole lot of memory compared with current 'puters. But it's endured. It's accompanied me on numerous cross-ocean flights, enabling me to write, to keep in touch with friends, to zip around the net. It's enabled me to connect with technical help, with online dictionaries, with search engines, with sources of all sorts of information. It's enabled me to carry on a large part of my life, for which I'm hugely grateful.

But it's weary. It's kept plugging along, but it's tired. When the 'e' key came off last week, that felt like a call for help, a plea to, well, if not actually be put out to pasture then for greatly reduced duties. So I've been wondering about a replacement. A friend who stayed here recently had a little laptop that looked okay, and about the time the third key popped off this keyboard, a local department store had a laptop on sale, the brand my friend had on sale. Lots of memory, lots of features, very reasonable price.

So yesterday morning, I made the trip out to the store. And it is a trip, a trek that requires one to take three different Metro lines. Thirty minutes or less in duration, but still. Got myself out there, found the store, waded through Saturday crowds, finally managed to get ahold of one of the genuinely scarce salespeople. (Is this a feature of current cost-cutting, having only two salespeople to handle the swarms of slavering humans looking to buy computers or 'puter gear? I was starting to wonder if I'd have to have hurl myself at the feet of one of the two guys, wrapping my arms around an ankle, refusing to let go until he paid attention to me so that he'd have to drag me around with him wherever he went until he broke down and helped me spend money.) Got the info. I needed, decided to go for the purchase. He wrote up a sales ticket, handed me off to the department's lone cashier. I gave the young woman my charge card, she slid it through the machine. Long, long, long pause. Nothing happening. Until finally a message refusing my card showed up on the machine's read-out. The cashier tried it again -- same deal.

This is a card that draws money from an existing account, an account which had more than enough funds for this purchase. The cashier could see from my face that the card should be working, she tried to put it through by hand, bypassing the verification machine. Same result -- nothing doing.

I returned home, computerless. Not overjoyed. I pick up the phone, call the 24-hour number on the card, back in the States. It's about 6:30 a.m. there, Saturday morning -- the guy who answers sounds, impressively, wide awake. He listens to my tale, tells me it's a security measure, that what the store needs to do is call the Visa office they deal with here in Spain, who will then call Visa in the States, who will then give the needed authorization.

As nicely as I can, I explain that it's not reasonable to ask a seriously overworked Spanish department store employee to take the time to do all that when there are hordes of other Saturday shoppers clamoring for attention. I explain that Visa's never had a problem with my card, that there's money in the account to cover the purchase, that I should be able to use the card when I need to without going through hell. He listens, asks me what I wanted to buy and the price. I tell him. He goes away for five or ten minutes. When he returns, he tells me he's arranged the authorization. God (or someone/something) bless this guy, you know? He could have stuck by the RULES that some bureaucratic nitwit came up with and made my life far more difficult.

I make the trip back to the store (lots more people in the Metro this time, the store even more packed), pick up the laptop, come back home, spend the rest of the day tinkering with it.

Sights and sounds from the trip:

-- In the Metro station at Nuevos Ministereos -- a big, modern station where one goes to catch the Metro line that extends out to the airport, stopping at my final destination along the way -- all four times I passed through, the sound system played "Moon River," the classic, syrupy, strings/chorus English-language version. Loud -- not eardrum-burstingly loud, but loud enough that the air in the station, in all its passageways and concourses, felt saturated with muzak. Why "Moon River"? Who the hell knows?

-- The trains on the line to the airport are slick, modern, high-tech affairs, each car containing several LCD television screens on which play news of current events, cultural events and sports, along with other odd bits of programming, usually with the narration reproduced in subtitles. On the return leg of the first round-trip, whatever Metro management had been playing had gotten stuck, so that for the duration of my ride all the TV screens in the train showed an image of Bill and Hillary Clinton at a public event, standing together, talking about something. The subtitles:

Los devaneos de Bill le produjeron más de un disgusto matrimonial.
(Bill's affairs produced in her more than a matrimonial upset.)

-- When I emerged from the Metro station here in Chueca Plaza, I noticed that for the first time this season, the tables/chairs that get strong midday sunlight were completely empty, the ones in the shadows on the other side of the plaza were completely packed. Springtime's giving way to summer.

And the days roll on.

rws 11:59 AM [+]

Friday, May 02, 2003

I'm trying to figure out why there is such a distinct feeling of having an extreme number of holidays here. 'Cause it sometimes feels like that, and I hear people from out of country marvel at how many days off the Spaniards seem to take, days in which large portions of the city shut down and folks bolt in hordes of fleeing vehicles for long weekends away, causing truly impressive traffic jams. I suspect it's actually not the case that the locals observe more holidays than, for instance, people back in the States, but there somehow is a sense of more.

Maybe it has to do with the long summer vacations, the way Madrid quiets down -- truly quiets down, transforming its basic character -- beginning in July, growing more tranquil until August's long sustained vacation period, life's rhythm remaining relaxed until the beginning of September. Similar to August in New York, when the outflow of people empties the streets to a remarkable degree through Labor Day, quieting the activity level.

Or maybe it has more to do with the Spaniards' manner of passing the holidays -- sleeping in, emerging slowly during the course of the afternoon until the early evening's streets are filled with people and remain so until the wee hours (the madrugada, as they refer to that time of the night that is both very late and very early) as people eat, drink, go to films, walk around, attend late concerts, hang out in plazas until one, two, three in the morning. Or go clubbing until, er, whenever. Four, five, six, seven a.m.

Yesterday morning, the first morning of this long weekend, I stepped outside around 10:30 to find the streets nicely tranquil. Not exactly empty the way they are Sunday mornings, but extremely quiet. Most commercial concerns were closed, but most news kiosks remained open, a couple of bakeries did business, a very small neighborhood grocery tiendas had their doors open. Though the streets were not completely absent of people, next to no traffic could be seen and parking spaces abounded, drastically different from the barrio's normal state.

I walked the two or three sedate blocks to la Cafetería Vivares, stepping in the door there to a contrast so sharp it felt a bit startling. The street: peaceful, few individuals about, little noise. Inside Vivares: bright lights, a counter lined with people drinking espresso, tables crowded with groups of younger folk, the sound of the television blending with that of loud conversations. Most of the customers looked to be in the last phase of a long night out, tossing down espresso or hot chocolate, appearing a little haggard in the wake of long hours of activity, but not low on energy. Animated, loud, voices raised in caffeine-boosted chat and laughter.

The entrance vestibule channels customers in so that they make a 90° turn and enter facing the bar, situated along the right-side of the space. Three people sat together at the counter by the doorway, including a bleached blonde transvestite, planted so that his/her appraising eyes were the first things to meet whomever happened in from the street. Combined with the rest of the input -- the burst of sound, the smells of café/baked goods being consumed -- it was a moment, causing an immediate adjustment as I moved from the outside environment to the inside one.

I write about mornings a lot here, maybe to excess, about things similar to those I've described here. Probably in part because much of the writing for this journal happens early to mid-afternoon, so that the mornings are fresh in my mind. But also because the mornings here seem so distinct to me -- different from the mornings I've been used to back in the States in ways that reflect certain aspects of the local life (and local characters) vividly. Folks in their 70s and beyond, walking quietly, slowly along, sometimes dressed in black, usually unaccompanied -- the women often rocking slightly side to side as they go, the men often with hands clasped behind their back. Individuals out walking leashed dogs, mostly little ones, who are happy to be out with their human and absorbed in their present moment, investigating the multitude of odors on sidewalk and walls, leaving their signature in different places unless their person pulls them along too quickly to do so. For some reason, I've seen a fair number of transvestites in recent mornings, mostly walking in two or threes. Most of them not very convincing, I'm afraid. Looking like chunky, thick-bodied, heavily made-up males. The bleached blonde I described earlier was an exception -- svelte, make-up artfully applied. Convincing, at first glance.

The mornings of these holiday weekends pass gently into the early afternoons, the number of people in the streets remaining low, though the plazas become collecting points as tables and chairs appear outside of cafes and bars. Down the street here in la Plaza de Chueca, there are two areas of tables/chairs that materialize after midday, each attended by waitpeople from nearby establishments, two for each collection of tables. The area in the plaza's northwest corner gets a strong, sustained dose of morning/early afternoon sunlight, attracting the most customers to start with. With the sun's drift into the western sky, the shadows from the buildings around the plaza gradually cover that first area -- the tables on the plaza's eastern side then become the focal point, the number of customers there increasing as the number at the other tables drops. The murmur of voices swells between midday and 2 p.m., reaching a point where it becomes a steady kind of ambient backdrop, sometimes coming and going with the breeze, the way surf at a beach sounds from a distance. Early evening brings an influx of people, the noise in the plaza growing until it reaches the level it will remain at until late, late, late.

Sometimes I wake up in the early hours, as I did this morning, around 5:30 -- in time to hear my upstairs neighbor's footsteps as she returned from a night out. Her steps ranged around her space, distinct but not obtrusive, until she hit the sack between 6:30 and 7. It's now 2:30 p.m. Her footsteps just re-commenced, abruptly, heading in what I think is the direction of her bathroom. Outside, I can hear the hum of voices from the plaza, a bit louder now than they were an hour ago. The sun is at its high point in the sky, the light outside has taken on the flat, full quality that the warm season's sunshine has here.

It's Friday, the second day of May. The city seems to have found its feet after a long night.

Time to drift in the direction of an unhurried meal. Then on to the evening.

rws 1:19 PM [+]


August 2001
September 2001
October 2001
November 2001
December 2001
January 2002
February 2002
March 2002
April 2002
May 2002
June 2002
July 2002
August 2002
September 2002
October 2002
November 2002
December 2002
January 2003
February 2003
March 2003
April 2003
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
August 2003
September 2003
October 2003
November 2003
December 2003
January 2004
February 2004
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
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November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
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July 2005
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October 2005
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December 2005
January 2006
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April 2006
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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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