a wandering woman writes

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

May your Tuesday be appropriately fat

Happy Fat Tuesday!

I've been jamming with Dixieland this morning, in honor of Mardi Gras, and I thought of all of you. On the sheer chance that one of you wants to experience the pure joy of dueling trombones and wailing clarinets, with a good funeral dirge thrown in for good measure, here's something completely different at W-W: a CD recommendation. It's an older disc, Wynton Marsalis' tribute to Jelly Roll Morton - Wynton Marsalis, Standard Time 6, Mr. Jelly Lord.

I dare you to try and keep your feet still.

Me, it's my last full time day at work, and I have to give a mini course in copywriting and marketing ROI. Jelly Lord is presently seeing me through Powerpoint hell.

Make today fat! Happy Carnaval!

Monday, February 27, 2006

He's not giving up

Well, tomorrow I face my friend the bank teller again.

Last visit, he greeted me warmly, after my long month away in the States. He started counting my bills....then stopped......flipped my check over, sighed, and shook his head:

-OK, aah, there is it. Your signature.

He looks at me over his half moon glasses.

-You can sign wherever you want, you know.

-Oh, really? I answer, feigning surprise..
-In my country we sign it right up top there, like I did.

His eyes haven't moved.

-Wherever you want. You can sign it right down the middle, he adds, finally moving his eyes back to the 2 centimeter signature I've crammed up at the top of the check.

-In Spain you have the whole check to write on.

He finishes with a dramatic hand gesture, flipping his wrist to to show me just how "whole" the whole check is. The check does suddenly look much larger.

He catches my eyes again and holds me there. Pleading.

-Wherever you want, Erin.


I wonder if I am straining his eyes or something. Do you think? Do they give classes in how to invent your own 4 inch fully flourished never to be forgotten Spanish signature? A signature worthy of the entire back of a check?


Sunday, February 26, 2006

I could get used to this

What a difference a few hours make!

I read this week that, according to an MSN survey conducted in the UK, Holland, Germany and Spain, the Spanish are the "most communicative" Europeans. Yes, I know, after witnessing a roomful of my Spanish coworkers talk simultaneouly, EN VOZ ALTA, while gesturing wildly, stamping feet and nodding heads.... all of this for at least half an hour after the company announced they were moving our office to the other side (gasp!) of Salamanca, I too reacted to the MSN report with a bored - "And this is news?"

Still, your average Spaniard apparently sends 115 personal communications a day -mostly face to face, cell calls and SMS messages. Those strong silent northern Europeans? A measly 87.

But wait! I seem to have stumbled onto a secret benefit of all this Spanish communication, what with my blizzardesque birthday and all. You see, my Spanish friends communicate. A lot. What they don't do is spend time alone.

So after a swell pre-birthday celebration with Nomadita on Friday, and the resoundingly unanimous clamor to cancel's last night's official birthday outing to avoid the snow, it started.

The communication.

Me? I'm half hermit. I was settling in to watch Amelie, fluffing the comforter and cracking open the Christmas-basket cava.

When various communicative types began to wonder - was I was alone on my birthday? As they began to realize that they were home, alone or not, pretty darn early on a Saturday night.

First call. 5 minutes after we agree to cancel.

-But what will you do? Should we just go to some bar near your house? I'll come in autobus.

-No, no, I insist, eying the couch and comforter, hand on the DVD start button.
-We'll go tomorrow.

I hang up, lift my start button finger, take two steps toward that ever so enticing comforter...

-¡Feliz cumple! ¡Qué pena! But what will you do? Tienes a alguien? Do you have somebody?

-Yes, actually, Amelie and a bottle of cava.

If I can just get to the couch...

I disconnect. I have just reached the comforter-covered promised land, when......

Luis and I will be there in 15 minutes.

Which leads to me, dear readers, to a necessary aside about life in Spain.

You must ALWAYS be prepared for visitors. It is assumed that you are always dressed, with the house more or less in order, and with something, something you can feed them.

But you see, I am not Spanish. And I am engaged in a fierce battle with dead flourescent lightbulbs in two of the rooms in the my apartment. A losing battle. As in there was no light in those two rooms last night. Not to mention that I had spent the entire day trying to put together an enormous bookcase in the middle of my entrance hall. Unsuccessfully. And I'd done laundry. On a snowy day. (Seriously, anything, anything, for a clothes dryer.)

Picture neat little piles of sorted nuts and screws beneath lovely dripping clothes- curtains hanging from... well, everywhere.

In the end, I convinced Luis and novia to meet me at the neighborhood bar. Where they showered me with claras, gifts and a couple of tasty tostadas.

What a country.

One snowman, a midnight snowball siege alongside the Museo de Automoción, and an early morning photo walk later, I'm liking storms in Salamanca.

And it's not over! Not the storm, and therefore, not my cumple! After a brief clearing with just a peek of blue sky, it's snowing again. Hard. I've just received my first communicative "cancel" for tonight's rescheduled cumple, from a friend who would have to drive. We'll celebrate one night during the week, she tells me.

Apparently, by inviting people to celebrate a birthday, one sets in motion some infinitely postponable but never fully cancellable moral obligation that I find quite pleasing.

This could work out well....It might take me to week to toast this snowy cumple with every one of them.

What a country.



A grape trellis in El Huerto de Calixto y Melibea, a garden tucked into the wall surrounding Salamanca's old city, this morning.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Snowy Salamanca

My salon window, a few hours ago...

Happy Birthday to me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And look! It's snowing in Salamanca!!!

My birthday marcha has been postponed til tomorrow, I'm afraid. Salmantinos aren't Chicagoans, when it comes to heading out into a good snowstorm, I suppose, but then again we do all walk everywhere we go. And they are so much easier to reschedule with. 4 or 5 identical SMS messages: "Mañana?" and we were set.

It's been snowing for 3 or 4 hours how, and yee ha!, it's sticking well, at least down here by the river. It's snowed most of the February 25ths I can remember, including one particularly notable one 43 years ago, so they tell me. I, for one, am ecstatic that my birthday snow tradition has followed me to Spain.

Even if my pincho invitees are less than thrilled. And very chilly.

Pinchos tomorrow, then, first stop, the degustación of morcilla, should you find yourself in beautiful snowy Salamanca. Ooh, then that new Plaza Mayor bar with the noodle, calamari and toasted onion thing in the parfait glass. Hmmm, and Galatea for a tostada, and, well, the mussels at the new place on Conde de Crespo Rascón......

Happy 43 to me!


Friday, February 17, 2006

Reasons 56 through 58

I know, I know, the picture is all sky, but you've got to understand me and Andalucian skies. This was Christmas week, in the Sierra Norte of Sevilla.

And now the continuing saga of one American and her myriad reasons for living in Spain. I've lost all sense of the numbers, by the way, so I´ll just pick up where I like.....

Reason 56
They call me Blonde.

True, at work I am affectionately (we hope) and frequently referred to as "la rubia". And outside of work, more than one Spaniard instructed to look out for a short brunette (morena) has approached me with a twisted brow, confirmed that I was indeed the person they were looking out for, and then pulled me aside to explain to me that I am, in fact, not morena.

- By the way, you're blonde. Eres rubia.

No one in the good old US of A is ever going to call me blonde. Or guapatona, for that matter. Particularly my boss.

Reason 57

Until they export morcilla in large and cheap quantities, I'm not budging. Americans, it's a sausage, but don't ask....It's also heaven with a cold beer and a piece of crusty bread.

Reason 58

If I go, I'm taking the storks with me. Speaking of which, time to run to work and see how their nests are coming along. They are everywhere, by the dozens. Already. Doesn't it seem early?


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

To the little girl on C/San Pablo last Sunday

I call it "Three seconds of eternity"

I don’t know what her parents have planned for her. What school they’ll struggle to send her to, what career they’ll point her toward. I don’t know what her own goals will be, how she’ll plan out her career, whether she’ll marry well and gift her mother with grandchildren. I don’t know how they’ll all plan for old age, whether she’ll be ready to take care of her parents and later herself. Or if they plan to bring her a brother or sister to play and grow old with.

I only know her as she is right now, this moment. Face pressed against the window glass, two hands plastered to the pane above her. A lost sprite wandered in from the forest, jubilant at the sight of people. Singing. HOLA! HOLA! HOLA! Loud as she can, louder with every motherly tug on her sleeve. Blue eyes dancing, dark silken curls bouncing around her head. HOLA! HOLA! HOLA!

I only know her ecstasy.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Pardon me while I compose myself

So, yesterday I had a long luxurious read of the Sunday El País. So long and so luxurious that I finally dove into the growing pile of articles I'd snipped from previous editions......hoping I'd find the time to read and absorb them, someday.

I'd saved a book review titled Musicalidad de la Persona. A review of a book by a Spanish philosopher I hadn't heard of. His metaphor intrigued me.

In essence, he says, every one of us is a musical composition.

Hmmm. I like that. So today I got to thinking. If I were a musical composition, ...what would I be? If I arrive at the Pearly Gates only to meet a chance for a second go-round, this time as a piece of music, which style of music would I choose to be?

Easy. Me?

I'd dip right into the Tango line.

Yep. I'd be a tango. Think about it.

As a tango, it would be my job to surprise people. And whip them into an emotional frenzy. And sometimes, but only sometimes, shatter their hearts. I could change meters whenever I wanted. And keys, and rhythms. I could stop

when I felt like it, then pick up again.

I'd be heartbreakingly sad, then suddenly defiant. Alluring, then aloof. Downright kitschy some days. That would be fun.

Strange percussion instruments would be more than welcome to join the party, and there'd be lots of banging of things and kicking of legs offbeat. I'd generally BE offbeat, I think, as a tango, which reading this entry has likely convinced you would be a good fit for me.

Best of all, as a tango, I'd be long, melodic phrases, heartbreakingly beautiful, but always with a lot going on behind the scenes. Rumbling piano in the lower register, a subtle driving beat, that sort of thing. I know I'd be deceivingly complex and harmonically interesting. I'd be a tango! Discord? Dissonance? Come on in.

People could dress if they wanted. And lock eyes.

C'mon. Slow slow slow quick quick slow. Doesn't that just sound like me? Caught any sense of straightforward rhythm in this blog?

Nope, tango. Comfortable on a street corner, in a smokey bar. In a concert hall, I suppose, if we could please avoid big budget Riverdance-style Tango extravaganzas. Very comfortable alone at a piano. Maybe just one tapping foot? Or a ring on a wine glass?

Of course, as a Tango, I'd be all about love.
(Ok, ok, give me a break, it's Valentine's.)

I like this idea.

So how about you? If you were a musical composition what would you be?

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Just liked the look of it

Entrance to the town bullring, Constantina, Sierra del Norte (Sevilla.)

Just another store front on the main square.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

All about a tin whistle, and good advice

It was the lack of a piano. I decided to pick up the Irish tin whistle that followed me home from Dublin all for the lack of a piano.

A tin whistle tries to teach me to live softly.

I attack
Lips pursed
Arms taut
Eyes focused
Ambition engaged.
A reel walks across the page.

She fights
back, a sleek black
tunnel of iced
metal a shot-up
tube a hole ridden backpocket


piercing shriek
of an orphaned tea
kettle the doubletoned hiss
of a referee’s
STOP, something’s wrong

I sigh, discouraged.

Whistle coos.

Down here
Under your breath
It’s a whisper
of acceptance
an end of day sigh
a puff
a baritone cloud
a soft ceili breeze

sings her bass string purr -


Forget everything you’ve learned

And just stop trying.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Blank Page

Turns out I'm deathly afraid of a blank page.

Weird, really, considering I'm well known for them.

I always knew that one of the most powerful parts of my moving-on and moving-somewhere-else rush - and I promise you it is always a rush - was the lure of a blank page. A new start. A place where nobody had seen me doing anything less than perfect. Yet.

I like to think that I stretch for different reasons now. I like to think I've sent my father the "Yeh, you told me so" I've long owed him for his last, wise words as the first of many moving vans pulled up to move me 2000 miles away:

-Wherever you go, there you are. You know that, right?

But I went, and I went again, and in no time I'd won a name as the queen of new pages.

Then a few weeks ago I tried to play a game.

Cool game, really. Poetry Slam, Laura calls it. You tell somebody what word you want out of a magazine - blindly naming the page, paragraph, line, etc. til you lead them to your surprise word, then you track down their chosen word. Back and forth til everybody gets a word, then you all start writing. Anything. With your word. It's a blast, really. People are funny and creative and this game lets them be. I like the addition of Beat Poet clicking after each read, personally, but any way you play it, it makes for a cool evening. And an even cooler collection of stunning 5 or 10 minute creations. Silly, some. And poignant.

So why could I absolutely, positively not write anything on my shiny new Poetry Slam legal pad? The blogger box coaxes something out of me every time I show up, for God's sake, and I am one of those annoying coworkers who just keeps running back at you all day with one more idea for whatever we're working on. I email people at midnight with stuff. Honest.

But Poetry Slam? With people in the room? People who are done, ready, and waiting for me to finish so we can all read our creations? Nothing. Frozen solid.

Then came the realization that I was coming back here to Spain, alone, about to leave the job that brought me here so nicely and neatly and legally. About to leave behind all the tempting "but, wait, if you come back here" offers I met in the States, and the stubborn last minute tries by the old and new owners of the company I work for here in Spain. About to leave what little security I have.

I visited a web I never visit the day I landed in Madrid and read this:

-Your life is up to you. Life provides the canvas; you do the painting.

And it hit me. I've never really just wholeheartedly all-out DIVED into a blank canvas. I always started with a sketch provided by work. Or something. Or someone. My move to Spain was magic. I said I wanted to move, and a job hit me on the head on its way down from a bright blue sky.

So I came to Salamanca, with that visa, for that job. Nice little template, eh? Not quite a blank page.

So, Nomadita, because I think this is me still trying to explain to both of us why I am so sure I am headed good places with this new page, this time, this time the canvas is blank. Nobody else's idea, like my corporate moves. Nothing all set up and ready for my signature, like this job in Salamanca. This time I am starting with a blank page.

And all of sudden I don't care who else is in the room.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Starting from Scratch

Es que no sé dónde empezar.

I say that a lot, don't I? Even here in the blog. I don't know where to start.

I have a lot I'd love to write about my trip back to the States, because I can't possibly tell you what a brutally accurate mirror a trip back home is. Ouch. And I have lots I'd love to write about my landing back in Spain, and, well, my now long ago stay in Cazalla de la Sierra at Christmas - because you all just never know when you might need a night or a week in a restored monastery with wonderful art and fabulous food, and a singing Mexican sculptor who'd be happy to teach you to throw a pot, or share a bowl of cocido.

But tonight let me try to dive back in here with a turbo answer to the (very nice) emails landing in the wandering-woman account asking me what's up.

Yes, I am staying in Spain!

My trip back to the States was a work trip, a project for a friend and client who I worked with when she launched her now very successful business in 2002, before I headed back to Chicago, and then here to Salamanca. I snuck in two absolutely spectacular, no really, no doubt about it, absolutely spectacular visits in Chicago where I caught up, finally really caught up, with three of my favorite humans and my favorite intersection, Wacker and Michigan. But the trip was work. Work that worked out well: I'm back with ongoing consulting work for the company in California, and a small retainer that covers my Salamanca rent and basic expenses.

Whew. So, on to the hard part. When I booked my trip to California, I agreed to work one final month - February - before leaving my company here in Salamanca. I've survived all the counteroffers and midnight legs-quivering doubts - and dodged them all successfully, if not gracefully.

So, much to the shock and utter disdain of my fellow Salamantinos, who assure me nobody in Spain would ever quit a job AND turn down a supposedly fatter counteroffer in Madrid, I am leaping into midair to see what I might find there. Personally, I expect a few white storks carrying brilliant business ideas, but we'll see.

The strange part is that while I can tell you how I plan to start - with the California work, marketing and PR freelance work for the company I am leaving, and whatever other freelance work turns up from the seeds I'm planting, long term I haven't got a clue where I'm headed, professionally. What I do have is a notebook full of good ideas, a houseful of people dying to help me, work with me or cheer me on and an unresolvable problem. The problem? I'm out of patience. I want to work when I want, I want to live to the values I claim, I want to put purpose back into what I do with my time, and I want to make space for my many, shall we say, less profitable? passions. The piano's tired of being ignored. Never mind the dusty new camera. A writing course has left me spouting poetry, and while I join you in your scepticism about my writing financing anybody's retirement, I just need to keep at it. I just need to. Blame beautiful Salamanca. Finally, I travelled here to live -well, partly because I love to travel. And I intend to.

The shocking part, of course, is that I write a killer business plan. For other people. For me, I'm just going to start walking and see what happens.

See, it's another one of those little voices, like the one that told me I wanted to move to Spain. I have long said I want to see what would happen if I just tried to build the life I see in my head (ok, it's a foggy scene, admittedly, but it's there!) and just do something I love to do, and do it my way.

So here's to small city Spain's work to live lifestyle, and my beloved Salamanca's sweet cost of living.....and the growing Spanish economy. All those lovely little Spanish firms wanting to promote themselves in English....May they all combine to get me started walking.

And here's to little voices.