Monday, January 30, 2006

D. R. Journal - Day Five

Up at the crack of dawn to go to the capital to apply/complete forms for Rich. We drove an hour to the house of the yet another cousin. During the early morning preparation, cheese and crackers were breakfast. [Sidetrack: Dolores Claiborne, with Kathy Bates. In the movie she would say, “Cheese and crackers when you wanted to swear."

We were up at 5 a.m. for the drive to the capital. I knew Rich drove fast, but he has seemed to have gotten an extra dose of machismo as with a large portion of the men (some women as well) here in the D.R. Once at the agency, Junta Central Electoral Cedula, we waited and waited, and waited. While we sat in the initial reception area, Rosa applied her make-up as a man at first tried not to stare, but eventually had to comment as to the amount and time spent on applying her make-up. He was flirting with her, he made no qualms about that. He looked right through me and over to Rosa. There were a few minutes of conversation interspersed with Rich coming to and from the inner-office. The people don’t hesitate to stare at someone they find attractive, even when that someone is with a partner.

In the hallway, we continued to wait for the needed papers. I am told that things get done here when those in power want it to happen. Not unlike any other country. Small talk with the other people in the hallway. People passing by, complaining in unison. The short of the long, Rich could/should have had the necessary stamp on the first day he came here to the capital. NOT three days later and an overnight stay, instead dragging Rosa, Sacorro, and I along for the trip.

At different times I want to get on the next plane out of here because of the types/mentality of the people. Other times, like today at the beach when I felt uninhibited. I don’t think it had anything to do with the several beers I had consumed. As it happened, the music got into my soul, mind, and body. The next thing I knew, I was barefoot and dancing while all eyes were on me. It was great! Once I began, I couldn’t stop. Dancing such as this, when it comes, is like a trance. From the beach, we returned to the country club, where we are now at 5:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

D. R. Journal - Day Four

Sunday morning in the mountains of Jarabacoa. Last night after showering, I was exhausted to the point that I fell asleep while reading How To Make A Good Screenplay Great, for the second time. I believe we returned from the country club around 8pm. Soon thereafter, we had dinner, the chicken that I had seen hanging from a branch yesterday morning. It was definitely fresh. Beans and rice rounded out the meal, there was a salad, but I didn’t have room for anything else.

At one point, I remember Timo coming into the bedroom to check on me as I lay stretched out in the bed reading. I remember laughter and talking coming from the patio. I of course remember the music as I struggled to go to sleep. I remember Rich calling out to me, but I was too close to actually being asleep to move or respond. Today, he says he tried to wake me on three different occasions, of which I don’t remember.

Rich said the music was even louder than the last time. So much so that he had to stuff pieces of paper towels in his ears. He also said that the place, Leymel, was crowded, unlike the night before. I am glad I didn’t go and face those conditions.

The cabin we’re in belongs to an uncle, a manufacturer of pants in Santo Domingo. It is excellent! Being here makes me forget the conditions down below. It is a 2 ½ level, multi-room home. Tiled floors, wicker furniture, wood furniture, winding stoned staircases, natural wood windows and doors. Glass windows and doors. Fireplace. Two kitchens, one on each floor. Hammock upstairs (as I write from the main level). The house is inside a mountain that was hollowed out. This is living. The bathroom, dark browns, greens. Stenciled leaves along the walls. Scented candles. I love it.

This is a complete departure from Azua. One of the modern conveniences I have grown accustomed are highways which cut travel which cut travel time in half. In the Dominican Republic, I have yet to see a highway. We embarked upon our journey today and not reach out destination for what seems to have been a full three hours. Taking into consideration the two rest stops. We remained at the cabin for about an hour and a half venturing to the river at Jarabacoa. Nobel, Rich, and Timo rode a horse. There was a band playing merengue music atop a platform. Esmerlin, Helsin, Karen, Rich, Samuel, and I went into the river to watch the people playing in the water and listening to the music.

Later we went to the waterfall, Salto en Jimenoa, where there were bridges suspended from the sides of the mountains. We went inside of the very cold water with its slipper rocks. There were rocks suspended for safety in the event of someone losing their balance, or in the case of a few obnoxious people, being pushed or distracted.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

D. R. Journal - Day Three

This morning I was temporarily awakened by what I assume was the same rooster crowing at dawn. I went back to sleep after what was a long night barhopping and club-hopping only to end up at the first place we began, a place called Leymel. It rained last night which made all of the locals remain indoors, that was sight unto itself. Normally, the streets and porches are overflowing with the inhabitants of the different barrios. Each day that we are out and about, I am still in awe of the many classes of people. I am told that the police is on the take. Just yesterday, a policeman attempted to pull us over to find a reason to solicit money; we of course continued to drive.

Back to what was to be a night of carousing, which fizzled at best. We drove around to three places in total, stopping momentarily at a car wash-restaurant-bar with dancing. A number of the people drink, a lot! I can’t say that the people have drinking problems, i.e. are alcoholics, it is just a way of life.

The ones that drink do so before one o’clock in the afternoon. My biological donor is an alcoholic/drug abuser, seeing a drunk is old school for me. Personally, I like to drink red wine with cheese and dinner, but to drink just because you can escapes me.

In homes all over the world it is considered impolite to turn down an offer of food, drinking is an altogether different story. Furthermore not acceptting a second helping of food is considered in bad taste, for fear that you didn’t enjoy the first serving.

I’m feeling a bit put upon being asked to drink beer everyday, all day, thus far, as if I’ll change my mind. As I attempted to explain, I don’t want to drink just because it’s readily available and cheap. Call me rude, prude or a snob, but I don’t need or want to start a dependency upon alcohol.

So, where was I? Back to Leymel. The music was too damn loud!! My ears popped after going inside and my throbbing temples didn’t help matters as well. In New York or LA, clubs wouldn’t allow more men inside initially. The men would be kept outside to make it appear as if the place was hot, to stir up attention for those passing by. There were two or three attractive women inside, one in particular was gorgeous. I think of her being a model or Bond Girl. The music was the same the entire night we were there, with the exception of a few American songs at which I got onto to the floor a second time, the first being with Rosa. The second time I actually broke a sweat dancing to House and Reggae music.

More beer and dancing to the same blaring music in this club where the temperature was near freezing, the air-conditioner really worked. There is a culture here that I am not familiar, and I can’t say I would ever want to become comfortable. The host family I am staying with is a book unto themselves.

No one travels in a straight line here. Having plans or trying to set a time is all but impossible, at least with the host family. There are more detours than on a pirate’s map for a buried treasure. They know EVERYONE in and out of town!!! This causes tremendous delays when wanting to go somewhere at a specific time, but to say something seriously about it , or about the drunken bad driving of another would upset my hosts. So, in jest I say, “No Hay Lineas Directas Aqui”.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

D. R. Journal - Day Two

This morning I was awaken by the sounds of a rooster crowing at 6:00 a.m. I reached up to peer through the window leading onto the patio to see several chickens, roosters and chicks strutting about on the patio. Last night I saw the dog and cat lounging about in the cool breeze. This morning, after falling asleep a second or third time, I was awakened by the blaring sounds of merengue music. At some point, I remember smelling fried foods, hearing the sizzle of a pan.

Once again from the vantage point of the patio window, I looked out to see Richard and Rosa having breakfast. After brushing my teeth, I ventured out to the patio and a breakfast I would not have expected; fish soup and fried fish [bones and head included]. One must get accustomed to the flies and mosquitoes.

The majority of the houses here don’t have windowpanes as I we have in America. The reason being the temperature is so hot, and most likely this being a Third World country, they are not too keen on air-conditioners. The cost of living, I’m told is a mere twenty dollars a day, and that most people earn two-hundred dollars a month. I know I couldn’t live here, nor would I want to live here. The areas I have seen thus far range in people, as it pertains to a class structure, not uncommon in any other part of the world. There are areas or districts I’d call modern, but in those same areas there are shacks in clear sight, off to the side and in thick tree-lined areas. Jungle or wooded areas.

After breakfast, I showered in COLD water, and then we went on a wild goose chase in an attempt to get Richard’s passport renewed. The bottom line is that he has to go to the capital on Monday. There was this guy with a mini-binder that approached in hopes of securing a renewed passport. Walking up a street and around another corner, Rich had to get a new passport photo. Going to some building, a civil service agency of sorts, Rich was still unable to secure the necessary document because of his not having an original document listing his Dominican social security number.

Stopping off en route to the beach to meet yet another one of Rich’s soon-to-be brother-in-laws, five in total. This one owns two stores. While there, I had a chance to ride a scooter. I’ve never ridden a scooter before, so on the first attempt he showed me how to operate the scooter. The heat was beating down on my head; the only thing I could think about was crashing, being involved in some horrible accident and having to be transported to a third world hospital. Fortunately we were successful, there were no major accidents. I learned how to maneuver the scooter.

Back inside the colmado, the merengue music was in full force, flies buzzing about, and beer was steadily consumed by the locals while children were at play. People here tend to stare at someone new, just because they are not from their territory. I think it a bit rude to park yourself in a comfortable position and gawk at another person. The first two days thus far there has been an insistence for me to drink Presidente beer. I remember Rich saying back in the states that he couldn’t wait until he arrived, that he would drink with no apparent end in sight.

The race has begun! Various patrons enter and depart the dimly lit colmado. There is one particular child that has taken a shine to me, albeit to eventually ask for money. As we were about to leave, he asked for a recuerdo. A memory of my having been there, and his having met me. So, I gave him a computer-generated business card with my production company’s name and e-mail address. This didn’t sit too well with the young tyke, he insisted upon un recuerdo de ti while extending his hand. Rich informed me that if given money, he’d remember me for a long time to come. I gave him a total of one U.S. dollar; his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. He even had the nerve to check its authenticity. Earlier during our stop at Alberto’s store, Rosa had given us a scare when she disappeared without a trace on the scooter. It turned out that she had gone to visit a nearby uncle.

My first memory of the beach, Monte Rio, is one of filth. I’m trying to remember more about our first trip to the beach. But it escapes me. I remember having to go to the toilet and not having a place to go. I walked away from the water and through a maze of buildings high atop a mountain in search of a hidden area. I only peed, not comfortable and or not being able to pull my pants down outside. I had taken along sheets of a legal pad to serve as paper to clean myself. Anyway, walking down the mountain, I noticed that there was a pool atop a country club of sorts and then proceeded to walk to the front of the seemingly isolated locale. There was no activity in front, which leads me to believe that passersby were not welcomed. Returning to the area we had decided to sit, I found the others tanning, or at least trying. I think at some point we headed to LuPrisma country club where the Pujols are members.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

D. R. Journal - Day One

After anticipating my trip to the Dominican Republic for approximately three months, I am finally on Dominican soil.

Running around at the last minute to buy items; scuba suit, beach shoes, and assorted knick-knacks. I began at West 4th under heavy clouds. Window-shopping was never one of my strong suits; I could not locate anything that captivated me long enough to buy.

Walking uptown, as I stopped into Disc-o-Rama’s West 4th location, they are still out of Rendezvous by Cassandra Wilson. As I continued farther, I stopped into the Union Square location of Disc-o-Rama; they too were sold out of Rendezvous.

Walking into Paragon Sports with no great hopes or expectations, I tried to find nylon running jackets. They were all too expensive and or not the color I wanted. Back downstairs, I ventured over to the men’s swimsuits where I was approached by a rather jovial Latin female salesperson. She offered up wit, sass and a helpful hand. We picked out several suits, and when all was said and done, I opted for a green Speedo bikini.

Now, all I then needed was a scuba suit to complete the vacation wardrobe. Going upstairs to the underwater equipment I was confronted with the exorbitant prices and constricting design of the Body Glove line of scuba suits. Going round and round, I saw on the wall display pool shoes. I tried on two different styles and colors, and opted for a pair of blue Speedo beach shoes.

As I was trying on the shoes, several swim tops caught my eye. Heading to the dressing room, I tried on three O’Neil ultraviolet tops, with the help of the attractive Latin female salesperson. I purchased a blue and a green swim top.

Running home to begin packing, I then decided to wash the half-full Army bag of dirty clothes. Long before this time; 7:15 p.m., it had begun to rain. Rushing to the laundromat to place the clothes in the washing machine, and shortly thereafter to go to Petland to buy cat food and vitamins for Clancy and Maxie.
Back home, and finally beginning to pack, Rich called to tell me what time he’d picked me up. I spent the night at Rich’s house prior to the flight.

I didn’t really sleep at Rich’s. It’s always a strange to sleep in a different bed, not your own. Not knowing what to expect on the trip ahead of me, I listened to a variety of CD’s. Up until the last minute, and on into the next morning Rosa, Rich, and Samuel were packing.

The cab ride to the airport was a bumpy one, the driver was Dominican, the music was loud, and the conversation was loud and incoherent. The cab ride seems to have set the tone for different aspects of the trip.

Standing in line at Newark Int’l Airport, we were advised of the new rules regarding carry-on luggage. For luggage that doesn’t fall under the new bylines, there is a cost per pound over the allotted weight.

The trip to the Dominican Republic falls under Semana Santa, leading up to Good Friday and Easter. I take it a number of people are traveling to DR to celebrate with their families and friends.

The flight had a few moments of turbulence, crying and irritable toddlers, and harried flight attendants. We landed safely without incidence at Las Americas International Airport in the capital city of Santo Domingo.

Once inside the airport [small by US standards], I had to pay a ten dollar fee for a Tourist Pass. Thinking back to the flight, Samuel met an attractive caramel-skinned Dominicana, who fortunately had an empty seat next to her during the journey. He was in his glory, flirting left and right. I can only imagine what he may have promised her. Walking through the airport, towards the exit we were ushered by the customs checkpoint because the official knew the Pujols.
Outside of the airport, we waited briefly as the family members arrived to take us to the family home. I was immediately covered in the tremendous heat and humidity in Santo Domingo. The pick-up area was cluttered with people arriving, it was loud, busy, and it appeared that it would be easy to get lost in the confusion of this foreign land. We stood on the curb for what seemed to be a long time before we actually boarded the vehicles to depart.

Making our way to the parking lot, I knew everything would be different from that point forward. The Jeep overheated, which lead me to believe that it would be a while before we left. This wasn’t the case. Shortly thereafter we were en route, or so I thought. We drove no farther than a few kilometers before pulling over to the side of the road and they began drinking Presidente beer, acting as if they were in a college fraternity [ pouring beer over each other’s heads], and your basic Latino machismo.

Driving down the main road leading away from the airport, on the left there was the sea, on the right businesses and homes. We drove for hours in circles, one of the brother’s wives had to return a work-related document, locating the agency consumed the better half of the day. At intermittent points during this excursion, I fell asleep in the backseat of the Jeep, sweating profusely even though the air-conditioner was operating.

After running the necessary errands [why on the day of our arrival, who knows], we stopped to have something to eat, and they drank more beer. The food was good, the atmosphere festive, and the conversation loud. The meal was complete and we were once again on the road. Hours later, and I do mean hours later we finally reached our destination in Azua, a town approximately an hour and a half outside of the capital. What made it seem such an ordeal was the constant stopping to buy beer, to urinate on the side of the road, and the way in which Timo drove [like a racecar driver]?

Arriving at the Pujols residence is a bit cloudy now, after the fact as I look back on my trip to the Dominican Republic. I remember being introduced to the remaining family members, Soccoro and Arturo, Rosa’s parents. I remember going out onto the patio and looking about, surveying what would be my temporary residence for twelve days. I remember being told which room I would sleep. I may have even looked around the room in search of a mosquito net. I was just glad to be stationary, and able to go off on my own to settle down from my arrival with its many twists and turns.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

¿Tiene Miedo?

Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.
You should really check that noise in the kitchen.
It's your fault if you're not able to watch the sunrise.
Go ahead, do it.
No one's stopping you.
See if I care.
Time, as uncontrollable as the wind.
How does man contain it in a box?

Everyone will say, “I told you not to do that anymore!"
Three-thirty in the morning, the police draw the chalk outline where the intruder now lies.

You're not upset about the stain on the carpet, are you?
Aren't you relieved?
It could have just as easily been you lying there, motionless.

Go back to bed, and this time try to get some sleep.
You'll feel better after coffee in the morning.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Outdoor Café

Row seventeen, seat two.
French is the language of choice.

Restless abandon.
Leg, back, and arm extensions aren't the best in that position, but sleep in her lap all the same.
The bear in row fifteen, seat one, is calling out for a mate through ritualistic snoring.
The girl adjacent departed because she wasn't interested or the noise prevented her from sleeping.

Pit stop in a capital city.

Picking up and dropping off travel aficionados before breaking for the border.
The waitress wasn't pleased to meet anyone, her behavior not quite professional.
The selected officials search through the human cargo for contraband.

Restless energy waiting to be released on the other side.
Arriving with expectations of grandeur, only to amble aimlessly about the area.
The local inhabitants are of course different, primitive in their dress, inhibited in their actions.
The whisper-quiet ride and cleanliness of the subway system exceeds those back home.

Amused at the amusement park, shaken, rattled, and turn upside down and inside out.
Dos margaritas, sin sal, por favor.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

New Beginnings

Embracing the past as the uncertainty of the future is a heartbeat away.
What risks are involved in remaining in my comfort zones?
Do I want to let go of familiar people, customs, and thoughts?
Remaining in a fixed state, I will not encounter new ideas and people.

I am content in my current state of mind. I am happy while writing, reading, in-line skating, and dancing with the African drummers in Central Park.

The goal is to achieve a similar emotional high I experience while dancing to the beat of my ancestors in other areas of my life that might be lacking.

New beginnings are coming soon.
I hope I will be ready to receive the gifts that come my way.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Slamming Doors

There are several residents in my apartment building who work from home. The trouble is, they've not learned to close doors like evolved humans, but rather slam them like savages.

Coupled with the slamming doors annoyance, a few of the residents conduct their lives in the hallway. I'd prefer not to wear earplugs or blast the stereo or TV while at home, especially when I'm working. There are a few artists in the building, two of which attempt to play instruments which makes hair on the back of my neck stand. Little drummer boy and his wife rent a second apartment below mine, and it's just below my home office where he sets about banging, clanking, and making all sorts of tomfoolery that irritates me, the cats, and the tropical fish.

Living in an apartment building makes me homesick for a private house in a remote area. Each time a door slams, it feels like a nail in a coffin. Each time a door slams followed by shrieking voices, wooden clogs up and down the stairs, I burrow deeper inside myself for fear of yanking my door open and saying, "Would you adults please grow up. Some of us are trying to earn a living in here!"

They are either taking their frustations out on the door, or they have no home training. Either way, one day I expect someone's door to fall its hinges.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Homemade Ginger Tea

Sitting here drinking homemade ginger tea with peppermint candy and honey feels good. I have twenty pages of Spanish-to-English text to edit and revise for a website, essays to grade for my GED students, and at least ten pages of fiction to write for a weekly Friday midnight deadline with my writing buddy.

The smell of Vick's VapoRub in the air - refreshing and sickening at the same time. Not that I'm too proud to admit I've stuffy head and chest. I'd rather smell my grandma's coffee brewing in her old-fashioned percolator or her homemade biscuits.

I don't like self-effacing journal/blog entries. Why whine and moan for the world to read? Today is about sitting upright, large glass of ginger tea nearby, and showing up to the page to do the work I've been hired to do. Today isn't about feeling sorry for myself, curled up in bed, only to roll out later tonight in a panic to complete the above list.

No, there'll be no pity party for me today. I do what I love. I write, edit, and teach for a living. No more dealing with irate and overpaid executives and their underpaid administrative assistants in corporate America. No more bowing, scraping, and smiling like an indentured servant just because someone makes more money than I do or did whatever to climb a corporate totem pole. Oftentimes their rise is short-lived. There'll always be someone unhappy and willing to do whatever it takes for their fifteen minutes of fame.

Today is about sitting here in my tattered robe from a South Beach hotel, feeling decadent I suppose. Tropical fish are happy, this morning was change the water and filter day. If only corporate American jobs were like my community aquarium where all get along and don't devour one another. The tri-color shark bobs his head back and forth, perhaps thinking its swimming the length of the sea, minding it's business while the glass catfish hides and sleeps in the foliage. Each is respectful of the other. All other fish do their own thing, as I aim to do my own thing daily.

Today is about recuperation and healing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Madrid Journal - Day Five

I met yet another Euramus student, a friend of Melanie’s, a German guy named Marcus. I have been thinking of topics, people, and events to write about. The one that comes to mind is Hostal Mario, an amiable place for students who wish to live at or below costin Madrid while learning Spanish. The current residents are a German girl and a French girl, who are as different as night and day. Each girl has brought her own history, psychoses, and expectations of living in Madrid for the next year. Each one has her own traffic of friends, acquaintances, and friends-cum-lovers that visit from time to time.

There’s Maximillion from England, Karsen from Germany, Sinead from Ireland, and Yanni from Finland. Max is studying Mathematics back in England, Karsen is majoring in Law, Sinead is studying dance, Spanish and teaching English, Yanni, I believe is studying Economics. Melanie and Maja are studying Law.

There are a number of memories I have thus far, and I am sure that more will come to once I’m back in New York. The time I’ve been here thus far has had moments of passing like the sands through an hourglass, and other moments have seemed to have stood still.

I know I will miss the people I’ve met while here on holiday, all for different reasons. Milena, the lady of the house, who has the capacity to be firm and at the same time very caring. I will miss her patience, her maternal nature. Mario is the man of the house, the consummate jack-of-all-trades. Mario and I met via an ad I placed in a local newspaper, In Madrid, looking for an apartment swap here in Madrid. He spent a week with me in March of this year. Now, this is my turn to stay with him in Spain.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Madrid Journal - Day Four

Yesterday I finally got around to writing postcards to a few friends back in the states. The writing and updates would have been easier had I been able to call out from Mario’s, if the technology was advanced enough to handle Internet access, and there were more than one telephone company to force the prices to an affordable rate.

I didn’t realize how attached I have become to the Internet and e-mail in recent months. It’s all in the mind, of course, what I give precedence and importance. Not having access to the Internet [there are companies and a few cybercafés throughout Madrid that range in distance and prices] as I would have liked, forced me to write the postcards.

I met Rasedo, a bubbly, effervescent brunette yesterday. She’s a cutie [with a boyfriend], full of life and energy, and loves to dance. Rasé, Mario and I spent the better part of the afternoon drinking wine, eating olives, and eating Mario’s first potato tortilla.

Toward the end of afternoon, Maja [from Berlin] broke down and cried in the kitchen due to frustration in not understanding Spanish. I comforted her, tried to reassure her that her frustration is justified, but will pass in time. Mario, in his own way wanted to console her, but that’s not his style. Spanish women are women . . . Spanish men are men. The others in the kitchen wanted to understand, but I don’t feel they really could understand her plight of being a twenty-one year female from Germany, away from her mother, and not being able to communicate effectively. I think she’ll be okay after time passes. When I saw Melanie [from France] later, I asked that she look after Maja for the time being until she makes the transition. She seemed agreeable to the idea.

Early evening, Mario and I walked [as he’s famous for walking everywhere] to Montcloa station to meet Rasé and Francisco. We took a bus to Majadahonda for the weekend festival and carnival. Mario and Rasé took along items and trinkets to sell; which they were able to do without a permit for about three or so hours before uniformed personnel showed up and told them [us]to leave. Rasé and I intermittently went to dance in a tent Sabor Latino.

Just as we were packing up, another friend of Mario’s, Anna, appeared as if out of thin air. We walked around the festival grounds, talking amongst ourselves, only to end up in the Sabor Latino tent. Here, all eyes were on Rasé and I as we danced to Merengue and Salsa music.

It was great to travel outside of the confines of Madrid last night to see a different neighborhood, houses instead of apartments and buildings. On the return trip, the bus seemed to have taken forever to come. Back inside the city limits, the city was bustling with people and club denizens at three-thirty in the morning. People of all ages, colors, persuasions, and vices were out and about.

We returned home at the wee hour of the morning, at which point I made tea to relax me, prepare for bed and my journal entry. When I turned on the computer, I noticed that there was a TAP error. Now, before we left, I DO remember turning off the computer successfully, and shutting-down properly. My first explanation for this would be that someone [who’ll remain nameless] was in the room and playing with the computer, made a mistake and forcibly shut down the computer. Anyway, I’ve now added TWO passwords to the computer to prevent any such occurrence from happening again.

Today I met a friend of Melanie’s from England, Max, who’s living here in Madrid presumably to learn Spanish. We sat here and talked about my screenplay, my approach to writing, and growing up in the southern United States.

I called Mother this afternoon. She told me the other day that she had fallen, bruised her shoulder, and cut her forehead open because she was dizzy from the medication she’s taking in the aftermath of her breast cancer surgery.

I am set to meet José tonight in Puerto de Toledo for dinner and catching up since we last saw each other two years ago. Both of our lives have changed since then, of course.

José was a bit late picking me up for dinner. I thought perhaps that I had heard him incorrectly in regards to our meeting place. When he finally arrived, thirty minutes later, he had his wife in tow. She’s an immigration lawyer helping non-Spaniards attain their papers and legally remain in the country.

Per José, we drove to a special place that is unattainable by bus or train. We went to a mall, El Centro, just outside the city to an Italian restaurant. I really like his wife; she’s cute without being self-effacing, intelligent, without being overbearing. She’s seems genuinely interested in learning and helping others. They informed me that Salamanca would be more to my tastes and the finest Spanish to be learned within the continent of Spain itself.

After dinner, we took a mini-tour of downtown Madrid as José and his wife [who’s name escapes me right now] pointed out sites of interest. He knows sounds rather British now, yet he believes he sounds more Belgian from his travels and interactions with Belgians. The mini-tour ended, and he brought me home with the intent of seeing each other again before I leave Madrid.

When I returned home, no one was here except for Maja. I was bored and full of energy, and I assume she was as well, so went to Calmadon Tropical for a beer. No sooner had we arrived, the bar was closing. We couldn’t have expected anything more; it was Sunday and in Spain, a very Catholic country. We returned home and went to sleep.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Madrid Journal - Day Three

This entry may be a bit out of order, here goes. In the past two days, I have done a great deal of walking. I slept until one o’clock in the afternoon on Friday; got out of bed and performed my morning [afternoon] routine of vitamins, shower, and brunch.

I remember walking to one of the nearby discount phone centers. It took me a day to figure out how the payphones work; it is necessary to dial 9, 1, followed by the number for all calls. [It was one of the three women in the apartment that gave me this information.] I called José for the second time, still unable to reach him.

Friday during the day seems to a blur right now, as I try to think back on Sunday. I think one of my high points was locating a Citibank within the immediate area [for Madrid] on Calle de Alcala. When the time comes, which should be midweek; I’ll make my way to Citibank to recharge my wallet.

Friday evening Mario and I walked to a local bar, after his not being able to locate or contact one of his friends. From the bar, we strolled throughout various streets and establishments. Once we made it back to the neighborhood, we went to an enclave populated by Gypsies. That’s right, Gypsies! The Gypsies come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The younger females are quite beautiful, the males walk as if their bullfighters entering a stadium. Their hair is jet-black, mysterious eyes, smooth skin. They travel in pairs or in small groups, seemingly daring on-lookers to stare. I thought of Cher’s song, Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves.

It was interesting, to say the least to watch the Gypsies. The make their money from what I could see, and or told by Mario, selling antiques, furniture, or drugs.

Later, we returned home to change clothes en route to Calmadon Tropical, a local Dominican bar with a miniature dance floor. Milena and I danced, while Mario sat in a corner. The deejay played a few good songs, yet the people there didn’t feel inclined to dance. There were German tourists sitting off to the other corner, opposite Mario, swaying to music. They had no rhythm, but tried all the same. One of the females in the group was itching to dance, and was about to hop out of her seat when I motioned to her to dance. Dancing with her was similar to dancing with a sack of potatoes. We departed minutes later because the bar was empty.

Leaving Calmadon Tropical, we sought out an additional place to dance and have a beer. The places we peeked into were empty as well, except for Ombu. The initial draw for me was the air-conditioning, followed by the relaxed atmosphere. The clientele were yuppies, and or those that aspired to be yuppies.

Here, Milena and I took center stage, as the bar denizens looked on. The music was better, the overall effect as well. The bar was populated by a number of Peruvians, and assorted Latinos from the world over, some with rhythm, others with an idea of what rhythm was supposed to be. We danced for about two hours, by which point the bar had become crowded. From Ombu, we headed once again to Calmadon Tropical, which was completely empty. At that hour, the best decision was to return home to sleep.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Madrid Journal - Day Two

Today, I slept until one o’clock in the afternoon. Yesterday, after having dropped off my bags, Mario and I proceeded to walk for several hours throughout his immediate neighborhood. To my dismay, I discovered that I couldn’t make outgoing calls from Mario’s. This is understandable with the sort of living arrangements he’s grown accustomed. He is in the practice [habit] of renting bedrooms to students and such for extended periods. It makes perfect sense not to have a phone that makes outgoing calls, it’s easier to maintain a phone and not have disputes when it’s time to pay the phone bills.

This at first concerned me, as I had promised friends and associates back home that I would be in constant communication via the Internet and e-mail. This will not be the case. The Internet has not caught on here in Madrid. The places that offer Internet services are expensive, if not rudely so.

Mario and I walked to a few cybercafés to price them and to check their available services. There was one affordable place, but for the life of me, I can’t remember where it’s located. Mario and I were talking, as we zigged and zagged throughout the streets yesterday.

Afterwards, we strolled about the streets and winding paths to points of interest. There’s a group in town, The Harlem Gospel Singers, a group I wouldn’t have imagined to make a stop in Spain with its history of racism. All the same, I am told that the group is well received. Our next stop brought us to dinner in a pub on the fifth floor in a building with a patio that overlooks the opera house where the gospel group is making its home for the time being.

Walking through Plaza Mayor, we stopped to watch a troupe of fire-handling squatters that were a throwback to the 1980’s and punk music. Most had colored Mohawks of one sort or the other, ripped clothes, the men were wearing tights without the benefit of underwear, and the few women that were present were just as scantily clad. They had two dogs in tow that chased, and roughed up every other dog in sight as the troupe waited for the perfect moment to start their routine and ask for money. We soon grew tired of their routine and headed home. As we neared the front door, a friend of Mario’s called out to him in greeting. It was Paul, a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, who has lived in Madrid for the past six years. I also met his girlfriend, Maria Teresa, a dancer.

We stood in the Plaza and talked for the better part of thirty minutes before Paul and Maria made their way to a local bar. I enjoyed meeting them; both seem to be good people.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Madrid Journal

Dear Journal,

Last week a flight bound for Switzerland crashed as it tried to make an emergency landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As in the past, within a week or mere days of my being in route to a destination, an airplane would crash causing me to rethink my plans about flying, and more to the point awaken fears of flying.

16 September 1998, I flew here to Madrid on vacation to spend time with my new friend Mario, to reacquaint myself with the city, and seriously think about the possibility of my relocating to Madrid within the next two years.

Days leading up to the flight I had second thoughts about flying, which is understood. I had people question whether I was afraid of flying in the light of the Swiss Air crash. I was concerned, and afraid.

As I packed my suitcases, trying to decide whether bring my rollerblades, I kept pushing negatives thoughts to the back of mind as it related to the airplane crashing or not. It was best . . . it is best to put such fears and thoughts in the hands of God. It is beyond my control. It is beyond my control.

Upon making it to the airport in record time, after having to set the cab drive straight in regards to where I wanted to be dropped off and my appointed destination. I make it to the airport only to be told that there was a ‘weight restriction’. I was told that I would have to wait at least twenty to twenty-five minutes before receiving a seat assignment. This struck me odd, as I have never heard of such a thing. I have my reasons why I was asked to wait along with another gentlemen while people checked in long after I did and were given seat assignments.

I approached a flight attendant at the check-in counter and asked that he explain “wait/weight restriction”. I was told that this sort of thing happened all the time. A weight restriction takes place where there may be uneven load of cargo and not enough passengers to balance the airport. As strange as that may have sounded to me, I went along with it because the attendant assured me that I had a seat.

Boarding the flight, I had butterflies; I can’t recall whether I thought about turning around and heading back to Manhattan. The flight was late departing, which doesn’t surprise me. While in the lobby at Newark, there were the most obnoxious Americans with the thickest accent. The world is a free place, people are allowed to travel where their heart desires. I can’t say that I was embarrassed or shocked at their brazen loudness, they did nothing more than annoy me.

Back to the flight, I sat midway of the aircraft in a row of men only. I sat in the middle of the aisle, which I didn’t really care for. I would have much rather sat on either aisle allowing free reign to the restroom. The two men that sat on my left were also loud as they spoke of nonsensical matters. The man on my right read, watched the video monitor, and or slept for the duration of the flight.

At some point in the flight, we encountered a bit of turbulence. There was silence throughout the airplane as I am sure that many people thought of the Flight 111. My stomach sank to my toes. Traveling at night is a good thing to avoid or reduce jetlag, but when there’s turbulence, you perhaps feel as if you’re in the middle of a black hole.

Thankfully, the flight went off without a hitch [otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing my journal entry].

At Barajas International Airport, we made our way to Immigration to be processed. As I made my way beyond the official; I was stopped by a man with a badge who wanted to look menacing, but only succeeded in appearing as a stupid. He quickly flashed a badge as he asked my origins. I replied, “New York,” as he cleared my path, and I made my way to the luggage carousel to retrieve my luggage.

It took several minutes for my luggage to appear, and then I had to decide which of the two doors to walk through. The choice was simple as I didn’t have anything to declare, I proceeded to the main lobby where there were several people anxiously awaiting their family and friends. I located Mario within several seconds of my looking for him. He was leaning against a pillar, seemingly in a daze, or was just his relaxed state?

It was a great relief to finally see him after several months and e-mails. He assisted with my luggage, as we left the lobby and waited for a bus to take us to the city limits. Once inside the boundaries, we took a [Metro] subway to La Latina. Mario lives in Plaza de Cascorro, up on the fifth floor. The building is beautiful; wooden, polished stairs that wind and twist, and just a bit slippery. There are three apartments on each floor. Mario has a spacious four-bedroom apartment; each bedroom has its own patio that looks out onto the Plaza.

*Transcribed from the original recovered journal entry, 17 September 1998.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Rules of The Road *

In order to be an artist, I must:
  1. Show up at the page. Use the page to rest, to dream, to try.
  2. Fill the well by caring for my artist.
  3. Set small and gentle goals and meet them.
  4. Pray for guidance, courage, and humility.
  5. Remember that it is far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.
  6. Be alert, always, for the presence of the Great Creator leading and helping my artist.
  7. Choose companions who encourage me to do the work, not just talk about doing the work or why I am not doing the work.
  8. Remember the Great Creator loves creativity.
  9. Remember that it is my job to do the work, not judge the work.
  10. Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity. You take care of the quality.
* the Artist's Way - Julia Cameron

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year, New Possibilities

Last night's New Year's Eve party was successful by new standards. There were no strobe lights, go-go girls or boys, people squeezed into too-tight clothes, or fabulous people with a clipboard playing God at the entrance of a bar or club.

I'm mellowing out. Thumping bass, piercing treble beats, and leather-clad women dancing in suspended cages above a dancefloor no longer captivate me.

We spent a quiet evening in Washington Heights. I made the aforementioned gumbo (not too spicy), and hot spiced apple cider (just enough whiskey), and snacked on an assortment of finger foods.
* * *
I am looking forward to this year. I am feeling more confident about my writing and editing projects, improving with each passing day. I think back to my years working on helpdesks or teaching software, not the happiest time in my life. I had lots of money, but felt dead on the inside. I was reprimanded a few times for creative writing on the computer between helpdesk phone calls, or when a supervisor thought I'd be better off mingling with co-workers, and playing my designated role in the game of office politics. I didn't fit into a corporate culture. I was usually the oddball in the office, talking about rollerblading, or dancing, not mortages, marriage, and children.

There were times I thought about being normal, but the images and ideas soon disappeared. I realized that I didn't want to be burdened with pleasing someone else just to pay the rent or travel yearly to a theme park for a family vacation.

The life of an artist is anything but normal. Oftentimes we suffer because of our art or craft, and only other artists can understand the depths we travel. I tried envisioning myself in a safe and comfortable life, with a wife, kids, and picnics in the country, but then I'd wake in a cold sweat or have dreams of my flying high atop skyscrapers as a winged avenger. I can see that dream as I type these words. It's set in an urban city, New York or Chicago. It's at night, and a scene plays out with other winged creatures, some on flying scooters, vying for dominance

Paging Dr. Jung. Paging Dr. Freud.

Somedays, Dr. Phil or Oprah makes sense when I'm receptive. I'm no longer embarrassed to admit I watch either show. One thing I've learned from both shows is that it's up to me to live the type of life that I desire. No one will write, or edit for me when I'm sleepy or distracted, deadline reminders sounding on the Palm Pilot.

(A challenge with writing blogs: self-editing. How much is too much? Who will read what I've written and perhaps take it out of context? Another challenge is the rush of images and thoughts as I type. Which ones will reign supreme? And which of those will I disclose?)

At the end of each year, if not at the beginning of a new year, I take an inventory of friendships and relationships in my life. A few years ago, I started telling people how I really felt about how they had treated me when a brick wall came crashing down on my head. During those moments, whether on the phone, e-mail, or in person, I remember one of Dr. Phil's rules: We teach people how to treat us.

It is with that rule in mind that I look ahead to 2006. I will start my spiritual and emotional house cleaning this week, broom and dustpan on hand. I've been warned not to be harsh or too impetuous in deleting names from my Outlook Contacts Folder. The cautionary note was that I shouldn't burn my bridges, but rather find an alternate way across the water. I've tried that, and it hasn't worked. A lot of people have the attention span of a fruit fly, and others still are hardcore opportunists. And I need to stop thinking as if I'm still in a polite and gracious southern town where chivalry lives, and people say Thank you.

Why not sweep away those people I've not seen or heard from in a year or two? Why should I keep those freeloaders' names in sight who only call when they need a new résumé, cover letter, or other business correspondence? I shouldn't. And I won't.

"Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money." - Moli