a wandering woman writes

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Heaven in a plastic jar

UPDATE, 10 pm:

Today I introduced my officemate Sol to the wonders of peanut butter. Great big slabs of it.

And we have a convert.

I can now leave Spain (not that I plan to!) knowing I've done my part.

Life is good.

My lovely mother, who celebrated her 69th birthday the other day, spontaneously threw a jar of heaven into a package she was sending out to me. (I have to give my Everything-From-Scratch Mother credit for the rest of the package contents, as well: a can (gasp! a can!!) of cranberry sauce, Bell's seasoning and a couple of packs of StoveTop (gasp again!) stuffing. I'm hoping to treat a few Salmantinos to a small Thanksgiving feast. (A stovetop feast. In my ovenless house. But that's a post for another day.)

But, alas, I digress. The jarred heaven?

A big old fat blue-topped jar of Skippy. Skippy Creamy. I know I can buy peanut butter in Salamanca, Spaniards, my El Arbol has 3 whole jars (although I wonder how long they have been there) but it's just not the same. Peanut butter is one of my country's most basic experiences, and as with so many other truly important things in life, it's your first experience that marks you for life.

Peanut butter is like religion. Converting is a soul wrenching, life changing experience. And Everything From Scratch raised me on Skippy. Skippy Creamy. I've had Jiff friends, I've known my share of Peter Pan men, but we've had to learn to love each other despite our differences.

Stay tuned for another post after work today. I'm packing up the Skippy, a chabata and a knife, and introducing my Salmantina officemate to her first taste of heaven.

Now if I could only find good old fashioned American 2% fresh milk to wash this heavenly sandwich down...


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Saturday Stumbling

Ah, the joys of an hour spent stumbling.

This is just plain fun. Even scrolling up to leave is fun. Just go.

I try to be respectful, honest, but this is hysterical. It'll take 30 seconds. Just go.

I also stumbled upon a few fabulous photo sites, which is where I spent most of that enjoyable hour, touring. Here's sweet nostalgia for me, sweet home Chicago. You may want to check out the rest of North America, as well, not to mention another continent or two. (Sadly, he's yet to visit Spain, it seems...)

Beautiful photos of rural Durham Township, Pennsylvania here by a local woman who clearly loves the place. Any photographer who shoots closeups of dairy cows is okay with me.

You can follow life for 24 hours in Venice and a few other spots in Italy at their circular life. Very cool.

And which book claims to help you choose the next book you'll read by asking you what you are looking for - happy, sad, unpredictable, etc. I didn't take the time to test it much: my nightstand's overflowing as it is, but if somebody wants to give it a go, tell me how it turns out.


Friday, November 18, 2005

The music of midmorning

Oh, this is wonderful!

I am working at home this morning, and my musical neighbor Lennie is singing his heart out in the shower - directly on the other side of the wall. That wall - right there.

I am gleeful. I just feel a little voyeuristic.

I wonder if I should join in, to announce my presence and my approval?

Oh, I have to work at home more often.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reflective this morning

Fast post, as I think through a long list of friends and family dealing with something HARD at the moment. A marriage that's clearly ended, an older woman paralyzed by regret and who knows what else, a mother's stroke, heart surgery, the death of a young foreign student who was at my company's school here in Salamanca for a Spanish course, killed in a road trip car wreck with new "vacation" friends. HARD.

I just got this down to earth, "yeh, we had some terrorist bombings" note from a friend in Jordan who was out, with her children at home in Amman with a babysitter, when she heard about the attacks (a feeling I can't imagine). Her note made me feel better:
Last week was a tough and scary week with the bombings here. My husband and I were out on a "date night", having dinner at a really nice Italian resturant and had just finished our main course when we heard about the bombings. At first we weren't sure if it was true, but when the waiter asked us if we'd like anything else, he very visibly sighed a sign of relief at our "no thanks, just the check please." Then he answered, "good, there were just three bombs in Amman." We had to ask him to repeat what he said. It seemed like it took forever to get our bill and then to pay it as John immediately got on his phone and I paced waiting to sign the bill. We had missed 10 calls on our cell phones, and with circuit busy, we had a tough time getting through to our house and others. The one thing I remember as we walked to our car, waiting for the screaming ambulances to go by so we could cross the road was the smell in the air. I can't really describe it, but knew it was a different smell, sort of sulphurish, gun powder, burning.

The outrage here from the Jordanians has been incredible. Many people are extremely sad, many scared and not willing to go too far from home. But, life does go on. There is a bigger police and security presence everywhere. People are cautious and wary, but the drivers are still agressive, the shops open, the friendliness of the Jordanians still warm and infectious.

It means a lot to know people are out there who care, even some whom I've never met face to face. It is what makes the world still a wonderful place, full of love, peace and hope.

Her email sent November 17th's Erin, who seems to lean toward the philosophical, running to a favorite Rumi poem, so here it is. We'll return to Spain tomorrow.


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Mingling with Mingus

Ran into this for the first time yesterday. Rated a belly laugh and a great visual in my oh so visual head:

Good jazz is when the leader jumps on the piano, waves his arms, and yells.

Fine jazz is when a tenorman lifts his foot in the air.

Great jazz is when he heaves a piercing note for 32 bars and collapses on his hands and knees.

A pure genius of jazz is manifested when he and the rest of the orchestra run around the room while the rhythm section grimaces and dances around their instruments.

Charles Mingus


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Rear window, side wall

I feel like I have a roommate.

The perfect roommate. Because he doesn't even live here.

I am living one paper thin wall away from a musician who pours hours and heart and blood and sweat and technique and study into his horn, without worrying about bothering the neighbors. And I have this overwhelming urge to figure out which apartment is his and thank him. Or invite some friends over and launch into a chorus of OTRA! OTRA! at just the right moment.

But since I doubt that's what he's after and I don't want to change his creative space, which I doubt he knows he's sharing with me, I just move to his side of the house when he starts up, cup of tea and notebook in hand.

I almost hate to leave the house.

Anyway, I call him Lennie. For lengueta, which I think is the Spanish word for the reed of an instrument. (Note: I can't find the 2 little points that should go above the u in lengueta on my schizophrenic keyboard; sure you'll all forgive me.)

He plays reeds, my neighbor, and one of the things that fascinates and haunts me is that I can't always name his instrument. I've decided he must have more than one. I swear what he most often plays is a bass clarinet. I am sure it's always a woodwind, but when he switches back from jazz, which he seems to be studying by playing along with recorded keyboard backup, to classical symphonic music, which he clearly has studied extensively and diligently practices for concerts somewhere, I could swear an oboe comes out of the hall closet.

He's added an extra dimension to my enjoyment of the Rear Window nature of my apartment here in Salamanca. I have always loved Rear Window, and I've always loved living in Rear Window apartments, as I call them. Apartments where you are so close to the neighbors when you look out your window that you find yourself watching them -despite your initial James Stewart uneasiness - and soon you know all of them by name, the name you've invented for them.

If you've never seen Rear Window, GO! Now! and rent it. I've no doubt you can find it easily wherever you are (Hitchcock, 1954, James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Raymond Burr.) You'll meet the neighbors James Stewart names while looking out his New York window - Miss Lonelyhearts, who sets the table, dresses and answers a doorbell that doesn't ring all to enjoy a dinner date with an imaginary guest, since it beats admitting she's alone, and Ms. Torso, the gorgeous dancer who does every guy in the building a favor by stretching and practicing on her balcony, all day. There's the Composer who's desperately trying to write a hit song at his piano and the Newlyweds and...you get the idea.

You don't need to read fiction or watch TV when you live in a Rear Window apartment; you can follow all of life's ups, downs and rhythms by simply pulling up the shades and opening the window. I had a classic Rear Window apartment in graduate school and I loved every minute of it, I'll admit. Still, I never met any of my characters in person, that I remember.

In Spain, most buildings have a common, hollow center - a shared patio/clothes-hanging space that all the apartments look out on. My building has a pool in that central area, and because I have the only first floor terraza alongside that pool, which I fill to obsession with macetas full of flowers, I know I am a part of everybody else's Rear Window cast. All of my terraza conversations, morning waterings, garden work and laundry days are public. My own cast includes the Dog Woman with the buzzcut who wears winter clothes in summer and takes her German Shepherd out for a daily walk while his Shih-Tzu sized brother rides along in Dog Woman's backpack. And there's my little pal whose Mom always compliments my garden and who can't come within 2 feet of her balcony door without hollering ¡¡¡HOLA!"¡¡¡HOLA!!! down at my terraza.

Anyway, Lennie has added a whole new dimension to my lifelong Rear Window fantasy. I can't see him. In fact, I am not sure he is a him, since I know from the carrying of voices that a couple, a man and a woman, live in his apartment. Something intuitively tells me the musician is the chico. But I have no idea what he looks like. I can't even nail down what instrument he's playing. I have absolutely no visual image of him and his music. And I love that! Having listened to him create, secretly (not that I could avoid it), I feel like I know him, without seeing him.

It intrigues me that if he were a painter or a poet I wouldn't know I had this artist neighbor working away all day. I'd need my classic Rear Window visual peek at my neighbors to recognize him. But I am blessed with Spanish paper walls and so our side by side living spaces offer me a much appreciated, aural view of my neighbor, the gifted, hardworking Lennie.

If you happen to read wandering blogs in English, Lennie: Thank you.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The journey

Photo by my brother Hal, in 2001, back before I'd slowed down enough to do things like get up at 5 every day to watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon.

I said a while back I wanted to post another Mary Oliver poem; I so love how this woman writes. Those of you who knew me before this blog will see why this poem so resonates with me. I haven't been a quick traveler, but oh, I recognize this feeling:

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Go blogger

OK, I just worked for an hour on a post giving the answer to the quiz of a couple of days ago, photos and all. Then I hit publish and found Blogger had lost everything and published a lovely blank post.´

Meanwhile, I'm beat and still have miles to go before I sleep. And homework. In 2 languages.

So a little Dorothy Parker, since we've been talking languages and I am now feeling ever so slightly dark and sarcastic. Parkeresque, in other words.

I'll rebuild the post with the answer tomorrow morning before work.

"That woman speaks 18 languages and can't say 'no' in any of them."
Dorothy Parker

Monday, November 07, 2005

I be dancing


I dreamt in Spanish last night.


Actually I doubt it was the first time, I really do, but you have to understand that until recently I, whose buttoned-down picture appeared not only on my own corporate mahogany desk but deep, deep in Webster's - alongside the word repressed if I recall correctly, I hadn't remembered a single dream in years. I bolted when people started swapping vivid dream stories. "Oops, I think I hear my mother calling."

Then one night maybe a month ago, someone asked me what my dreams were like. So that night I reminded myself - well, and I asked, to be honest, ever so sweetly - excuse me, unconscious? ahem, since they are MY dreams, do you think maybe....just maybe?

My fall from blogging will soon make sense. I don't sleep so much anymore. Keep waking up and scribbling stuff QUICKLY before I lose it.

Be careful what you ask for.

Meanwhile, I have been very worried about my Spanish. I was missing it terribly for a while, craving castellano conversation. I've been thinking way too much in English lately, for a lot of reasons. I'm sure this is a whole post for another day, but my Spanish voice isn't my English voice. They are both me but they just don't express the same things. In either language I am always stopping, word hoarder that I am, to say, ok, so, I don't have a word in THIS language, but in the other, I'd tell you..... (Annoying habit, I know, I know. What do people who speak 5 language DO, exactly? How do they balance five images for everything they ever talk about, no two quite the same? Anybody know?))

Anyway, dreams. Last night I woke, started scribbling frantically and realized a full page and a half later that I was rambling away in Spanish, about a dream in Spanish.

Made my night. She's still in there.

And she speaks beautifully in dreams. Flows easy, rrrrrrs and jjjjjjs and oh, that perfect intonation. She sings like a native Castilian.


Friday, November 04, 2005

You know you are in Spain when...

5 Ways I knew I was in Spain during the past 2 weeks

As the temperature dropped to 50 degrees, at the lowest, my fellow salmantinos broke out the fur lined gloves, knitted scarves, teary-eyed "¡qué frío!"s and woolen winter coats.

Last week's business dinner went to 4 am.

I went to the doctor and found open-doored exam rooms, and not a drop of sweet privacy or my oh-so-comfortable American modesty, along with a perfectly on-time doctor, and at least a husband or boyfriend, if not a couple of happily singing toddlers, patiently waiting for every other patient in the sala de espera.

An alarming percentage of Spanish men may not cook, eat or do laundry without their mothers (sorry guys, it's an observation), but accompanying someone to a routine doctor's appointment is downright sweet.

I waited 3 full days for the gentleman to whom such tasks are entrusted to change a flourescent lightbulb at work. In the end, I think my American threat to balance myself on a chair (did I mention I'm short?), whip the old one out whole or in pieces, and march down to the ferretería myself for a replacement forced his hand.

I discovered there actually was a designated person entrusted with the changing of lightbulbs. It only takes one Spaniard to change a lightbulb, apparently, but it must be the DESIGNATED Spaniard. And it takes a long time.