a wandering woman writes

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Everyday poetry

This week's Poetry Thursday prompt was "everyday" - using an everyday phrase, something you say all the time, as fodder for a poem.

Well, I didn't do that. Because this day I am diligently finishing up work and packing up belongings for a weekend away, I thought I'd post a little prose painting - of something I DO do everyday - watch the storks that live in Salamanca's steeples. I wrote this last summer, watching the baby storks leap off the New Cathedral as they learned to fly.

Here's a tiny prose celebration of the poetry in every day experiences, then, like glancing up to find flight school in session:


Learning to Fly

I see her pace out to the end of his nose. An ugly, cold stone gargoyle's nose, dark now from the dampness of the afternoon's rain. Then two leaps, two short half-pirouetting leaps like a barefoot child on hot sand and whoooosh, she does it. She throws her head forward, wind rushing through the fluffy down lining her tiny white head as she swoops off the gargoyle, kicking her red legs back behind her. She spreads her shaky young wings. I watch her experiment. First legs to the left, then legs to the right, finally legs straight below, bringing her long slender body into an odd sitting position. More like a feathered hang-glider than a stork student pilot. She picks up speed and loses speed. She celebrates her Cathedral near misses, perhaps just the fact that they stay near misses, with long slow ascents that end in quick, sudden dives. Exhilarating. For both of us. I suspect she is hearing her heart pound through her veins just as I am hearing mine. Pigeons caw, her parents rattle their beaks a bit, school children come shouting through the plaza, but she is silent, focused. Working. By the end of my half-an-hour watch, while I sit cross-legged against the cold, damp walls of Plaza John XXIII, feeling some 17th-century mason's stonework dig into the small of my back, she is gliding like her parents. Like a sailboat, struggling under the engine power of her wings until she finds it - a rush of warm air - and follows it, wherever it wants to take her. She spreads her wings wide as she can. Then, stretching her legs out behind her like a cliff diver, she stills and lets the warm current carry her, the wind just a whisper in her face.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A headhunter, a blip and a whim

I opened Outlook this morning to find an e-mail from a headhunter in Florida. A headhunter who I genuinely respect, actually, which isn't a common occurrence for me and heavy hitter headhunters.

The poor woman had called every phone number she ever had for me, all to no avail, obviously, since I've moved to Spain since last we spoke, in 2003. In desperation she dug up a US-based e-mail address I still maintain, and sent out one last desperate plea: With the title "How are you?", she asked where she could call me "to catch up."

And I faced that blip I sometimes face, when I help a former colleague update his resume, or serve as a reference for someone who once worked for me...or make a business phone call in English and hear my slick "corporate voice" slide out.

It's a somebody pinch me blip. A wait am I really here now?...and dear lord, did I use to be there? blip. You know, there. In "the mode". Running 100 miles an hour, talking on my cell phone until the stewardess orders me to stop, then picking it up again the moment we land. Planning social engagements a month in advance with a quick "Hmm, How's the 25th for you? Around 3? I have a 5, but we'll be fine."

I'm even laughing aloud as I write this. I use to appear in annual reports, all dressed up in my newest Anne Klein suit and power scarf. I mean read this blog and tell me you even believe that. I'm not sure I believe it, til someone from that world calls me and pulls me back.

What makes me smile most every time I enter that Twilight Zone is the sheer incredulity I hear on the other end of the line. The headhunter's e-mail reponse today, for example: What brought you to Spain?

I have this image of her sitting at her desk, shaking her head, thinking, "Darn, I knew there was a commission in that chick. How good of an offer did she get that took her to Spain??"

As though anything else would be treason to the tribe.

How could I tell her what brought me was a whim, then a head-over-heels romance with a language, and finally a dream? Shall I tell her all of that, this woman who wants to tempt me with a Senior Sales Executive you'll-only-go-after-the- largest-of-the-largest-accounts "hunter" job? I don't mean to fault the corporate world; I have friends who thrive there, who do ethical business and manage to thrive as human beings, too.

It's just no place for me. (I'm laughing out loud again.) And it took me a lot of seemingly successful years to figure that out.

Shall I tell her I now have time to walk by the lavender growing along the old city wall on Calle San Pablo, sniff deeply and snap a photo for my blog?

Anyway, my perplexed headhunter, who by now is undoubtedly convinced I am CEO of something or other in Spain (well, I moved, didn't I?), quickly wished me well in my new life.

And asked if I knew anybody for the super sales gig.

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Salamanca in summer

The wild flowers along the river are dried now, and the grass is brown, and tired of the heat. But oh! the lavender. Lavender loves Salamanca summers. I only wish I could offer you a scratch and sniff screen!


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The 7 Wonders of Fore, Part 2

I knew we'd be heading back from Sligo toward Dublin at the end of our trip. I'd already decided to drive through Leitrim, the county my great great grandfather supposedly called home, just to get a look. That would put us in a straight line for Westmeath - and little Fore's seven wonders.

Fore is a tiny place. A mapping site quoted me a figure of 3000 for the population of the 7 kilometres surrounding the village, though I suspect that would include several neighboring villages. Fore's quiet main street boasts a coffee house and visitor's center, 2 bars (one appropriately named the Seven Wonders Lounge and Bar) and a few more scattered buildings.

The town lies in a lush green valley nestled between two ranges of hills: the Ben of Fore to the north east and the steeply rising Carrick Balor to the south west. The town (Fobhair Féichin) was named after St Fechin's Spring, which bubbles up beside the ancient church.

The Seven Wonders of Fore
The monastery in a bog
The mill without a race
The water that flows uphill
The three branched tree; the tree that won't burn
The water that won't boil
The anchorite in stone
The stone raised by prayer alone

The monastery is Fore Abbey, a lovely if eerie ruin laying out in a field off the main road through town. A Benedictine Priory, Fore's Abbey was built by the de Lacy's (Normans) before 1200, with additions in the 15th century, as it grew in size and importance. The site now boasts the most extensive Benedictine remains in Ireland. The Wonder? Why, that is has survived for centuries, built on a bog, answer the locals. It is peaceful and elegant, and well worth a wander.

The stone raised by prayer alone is across the road from the Abbey (and the handy map and guide sign posted for bus tours and wandering book chasers.) Legend has it the workmen building St Feíchin's church paused for lunch one day, worn out from several missed attempts to lift the large lintel stone over the door, only to return to find the stone perfectly placed, by the prayers of St. Feíchin himself (says the legend of the wonders.)

Fore's anchorite in stone is the imposing black tower on the hill above St. Feichin's church. While I enjoyed my cow-dodging trek to reach the door of the tower, I was disappointed to find the heavy wooden door locked tight. Rumor has it the barman at the Seven Wonders Lounge can easily be talked into producing a key, but I left that for next time. Before being converted into a mausoleum for a local wealthy family in the 17th century, the tower was a hermit's cell - the only one of its kind in Ireland. The monk entering this cell vowed never to come out alive, and so a series of anchorite hermits lived out their lives here, one by one, until death brought the tower a new tenant.

The tree that won't burn has been replaced, and the well of the water the won't boil looked pretty darn dry to me, but they are easily spotted just behind the map and guide post. The original tree consisted of only 3 branches, which some wise Catholic took to represent the Holy Trinity, a wonder duly confirmed when the wood of said tree stubbornly refused to burn. Locals and pilgrims took to forcing coins in to the tree's bark for good luck, killing it. Only a sad little copper-infested trunk survives, tucked under the branches of its replacement. The new tree is covered with cloth - socks and scarves and scraps of cloth - tied to its branches, again for luck, I'll assume? The water from the well below the tree wouldn't boil, so they say, although it did cure illness.

I left the mill without a race (stream), and the water flowing uphill for my next visit, just to be sure I arrive with a reasonable hunt ahead of me.

One last note, I am not in the habit of plugging the places I stay, but I like to think I'll never again fly in or out of Dublin Airport in summer without spending a few nights at Hounslow House. Mrs. Healy serves tea with rich, thick, homemade scones, and cooks up the best Irish breakfast of all of the B & B's I stayed in. Best of all, she slows down, pulls up a chair and asks you where you've been, where you're going and how you came to find her rambling Irish farmhouse. Her tables overflow with stacks of books about the area, and maps and brochures and magazine articles, alongside a signed copy of a book of poems by Fore's own poet, Michael Walsh, known as the bard of Fore. Mention the 7 Wonders and watch her face light up.

Mrs. Healy's home is a working farm, and you're sure to run into Mr. Healy and the farm hands taking lunch in the kitchen or cruising by in a tractor. The horses are just the other side of where you parked your car, behind that screen of trees, and the sheep, well, they graze just across the road from the house, out your bedroom window if you get the room I did. Best of all, Hounslow House is surrounded by monuments - crumbling ruins, Bronze Age burial sites, manor houses, castles and ancient celtic crosses.

So,that's my shameless plug and I'm sticking with it. I'll hope to run into you round Mrs. Healy's breakfast table sometime.

Just thinking -I also hope I got you wondering what miraculous wonders might be lurking in your own back yard. (Did I ever tell you about the time a group of villagers from my home town burned the British ship patrolling our bay, giving a few Bostoners an idea about some crates of tea? Oh, but now it's time to work. That'll be a post for another day.)


The 7 Wonders of Fore, Part 1

I read it in a book.

Dangerous words, those. At least if you ask the few and stalwart souls who now and again find themselves travelling with me.

I like to chase down things I read in books. Or on CD covers. Things I hear drop, casually, from the eager mouths of natives.

Maybe just to see if what I've read is real, maybe to suck in a bit of rare air, maybe to feel the familiarity of a place I've never been, I've developed a hard-to-cure book chasing habit. Of course, the reward is never in the being there - in this place I've picked out a photo or a poem or a life story. The reward's all in the trail on which I wend my way. And more often than not, the reward's the people I meet during the hunt.

The first Bed & Breakfast I booked for my recent trip to Ireland was Mrs. Healy's Hounslow House, where we would spend our last night in Ireland. Mrs. Healy's farmhouse was the only B&B listed in Fore, Castlepollard, Westmeath, and I was determined to chase down the 7 wonders of Fore.

The guilty book that sent me on this chase is a paperback I picked up in an airport shop on my way back from Dublin in November. In A Secret Map of Ireland, Rosita Boland, a staff writer for the Irish Times, wanders a country she thought she knew well - her own - and offers up a secret map. "Discovering new stories about old places", as she puts it, she chases down something new, or unexpected, or intriguing in each of Ireland's 32 counties.

From her introduction:
I wanted to write a book that attempted to show that you can be surprised by your own place.

Yes! Yes!

And later:
"Anyone could write a book like this one, and each one would be competely different because everyone would focus on different subjects, chart their own indiviual map."

Wouldn't it be fun if everyone did write that book? Their own secret map of the place they know best?

Anyway, I dug back into Boland's book before planning our trip, and knew I wanted to track down the Seven Wonders of Fore for myself.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

I shall arise and go, now

and post for you a photo of the Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Yes, that Innisfree, a long loved Yeats poem and the best evidence I've seen yet that my brother will, in fact, drive me anywhere. The road to this dock ends on the dock, and is not a whole heck of a lot wider.

Here's to good natured brothers and tiny European cars.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

San Juan and Radio Tango

Last night was Saint John's eve, a celebration of the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. (Scheduled conveniently close to the summer solstice by early Christians eager to recruit all those solstice loving pagans? Why yes, it was, now that you mention it.) Last year I visited bonfires along the river, where young revelers were tossing folded paper wishes into the flames. The local paper tells me I can thank Salamanca's vigilent firemen for the scarcity of fires this year.

I spent this Saint John's evening strolling from string quartet to tango ensemble to Japanese summer festival (where I did hang a wish on a tired looking bamboo tree) to traditional music to flamenco: Last night was Salamanca's second Noche Blanca , a free way to make the most out of one of the year's shortest nights. Expositions and galleries were open til the wee hours, cafe keepers rolled up their terrazas deep in the madrugada, and Salamanca's plazas and palaces hosted nonstop live performances from about 10 pm til 4 am. Add good company, a cool evening breeze, and appropriately timed pincho, beer and sidra (Asturian hard cider) stops, and you have a delightful Salamanca evening.

My highlight? Tango Zero, I think, whose website then led me to a great online radio find: La 2x4, Radio Tango from Buenos Aires.

If you are in a mood to transform wherever you are into a milonga in Buenos Aires for a naughty little while, I highly recommend it.

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Bienvenido Mr. Marshall

To what do you owe this Sunday posting marathon?

Well, to Movie Night and to the ok-so-what-if-I-did-watch-a-movie-at-midnight freedom my new lifestyle affords me.

Bienvenido Mr. Marshall is on TV2 at 12:45am.

(Quickly, before you all suggest I ever so cleverly record it, so I can enjoy it at a less work-impactful hour, let me remind you that wanderers who quit good paying jobs to wander to Spain with a couple of suitcases do not immediately invest in DVD players.)

Bienvenido Mr. Marshall is a classic Spanish comedy (1952) about a small Spanish village preparing for the visit of 2 American officials who they expect to arrive bearing Marshall Plan gifts. It is without a doubt the cultural reference that most frequently flies directly over my poor little foreign head. I've heard friends quote lines from it; I'm reasonably sure I've heard them break into song about it. I can't possibly guess how many times my bewildered stare has been met by a giggly, out of breath "What? Haven't you seen Bienvenido Mr. Marshall?"

Well, tonight, gods of autonomía (self employment) be praised, I shall.

A brief summary from the New York Times:

Bienvenido Mr. Marshall is a comedy predicated on the Marshall Plan, which provided American financial aid to deserving European communities. When two Marshall-Plan representatives announce plans to drive through a small Spanish town on the Iberian peninsula, the mayor, in cahoots with a publicity agent, intends to make as good an impression as possible. As a result, all signs of Western culture are hidden, and the town is transformed into a picture-postcard version of Old Iberia. As the townsfolk await the arrival of the Americans, each citizen conjures up visions (mostly inaccurate) of what life might be like in the good old USA. The satirical thrust was misinterpreted as "leftist" by some observers when the film opened at the Cannes Film Festival.

And the NYT review.

C'mon 1245. C'mon 1245....


Blazing griddles

I've discovered the ulitmate downside of Spain's summer heat.

While the local paper plastered the front page with a photo of the big bold red 44 (yes, as in 111 Fahrenheit) that passed, momentarily, across the digital time and temperature doo-dad on Salamanca's Gran Vía, I innocently wandered into one of my favorite bars for my favorite pincho.

Two sips into my beer, the girl behind the bar broke the news.

Seems morcilla keeps summer hours. It was too early to grill morcilla. Too hot.

I've since made it there late enough to get my fix of Zamora picante, but I'm still less than happy about this.

I'd be okay with some rain on the plains in Spain. Or a morcilla cold wave every 3rd day?


Friday, June 23, 2006

Dogs, Kids and Other People's Husbands

I've still got it.

A charm best appreciated by dogs, small children, and the beings I like to call Other People's Husbands.

When I was a kid, I used to say (and know, really) that I absolutely preferred canine companionship to the human flavor. I suspect I was addicted to unconditional love, and silence.

The most surprising thing about my adult life is not that I live in Spain, not that I never married, and not that I never had children. The truly shocking thing is that I've never had a dog (as an adult). The travel - for work when I lived in the States, and for travel's sake now - has always stopped me. An apartment rented from a landlady who doesn't accept pets is also an issue at the moment.

So where do I wind up? In dog withdrawal. I've found myself battling an acute bout of that debilitating illness now that my life has slowed. And I swear to you, the furry darlings are picking up on it. The Salmantino dogs who cross my path are extra careful to eye me, I tell you. And they grin as only dogs can. Many even dance across the plaza to greet me, despite the persistent whistles and calls of their owners.

I went to my first Salamanca yard party and soon found myelf hanging out at cocker spaniel and toddler level. Til the Husbands wandered over to check on the new business, that is. Were there single men at the party, you ask? Why, I don't know. I didn't talk to any. (Note to self: don't let your mother read this.)

I had a wonderful dose of canine affection in Ireland. Big, shaggy, slobbering farm dogs, outdoor dogs, thrilled to find a B&B client happy to sit in the field and talk to them. Or stand perfectly still on her one good foot and let them collapse, leaning all of their weight on mine, eyes closed in chin scratch ecstasy. Or in the case of my favorite Irish dog, just collapse, spontaneously and land on top of me.

Why dogs and kids and Other People's Husbands, you ask? I don't know. I feel no particular addiction to kids and happily married men. I suspect the 9 year old in me is mildly familar to children, and as for the husbands, well, I don't whine, I drink Guiness, I know my baseball and music, and have an uncanny ability to see both sides of the spats I inevitably hear about.

My mother wrote me an e-mail the other day to send me a message from a long lost friend. Seems the ex-husband of one of my closest friends, with whom I spent years double dating then tagging along as a more than welcome wheel number three, walked unexpectedly into the office where my mother works. He asked her to send a warm hello to his favorite "friend of a wife" - either of his wives, it seems.

Dogs, kids and Other People's Husbands.

Not a bad tribe, really.


Oh dear

During a conference call with a design firm in Florida yesterday, I was suddenly reminded of how isolated the US, even small US companies, can be. Where Spain is exactly, how one dials all those numbers, what time of day it might be in Spain....all raging mysteries in Florida yesterday.

Made me think of this, which I'd meant to post a while back:

When I faxed a wire request to a broker in the US during my money-moving, form-filing residency process, I was surprised to receive a live call from the brokerage just a few minutes later. The woman on the other end of the line told me she needed to ask me a few questions, this being an international transaction. I agreed and we started in. Once we had settled that the currency I wanted was euros, E-U-R-O, not euro-dollars, and that yes, in fact, it was the official currency of I don't know how many countries, including Spain, she got a little personal.

"I have to tell you I was thrilled to be able to call you myself", she told me.

"I couldn't help but notice that you and I were born in the same year, and you live in Spain and I've always wanted to visit Spain. And then I saw the address of your bank: on Calle Zamora. My last name is Zamora!"

"Well, that sounds like a good Spanish name", I countered.

"Really?" she asked me. "I've always been told our family came from Mexico."

I'd stop there, but I can't because when I heard her heartfelt confusion, I tried to help.

"Well the family might have moved to the US from Mexico, Anna, but the name came from Spain."

"Really? Do you think so? Because I've always heard we're Mexican."

I gave up and thanked her for the wire transfer.

Oh dear. Do we really not teach even Mexican Americans the history of that continent we're sitting on?


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Two travelers speak of home

I was lead back to a favorite essay recently, an open letter from one wanderer and traveler to another.

It's by Danusha Goska, who ......well, I'll let you discover her for yourself.

From "The Illusion of Protection: Two Travelers Speak of Home":

You mourn "always being on the outside, forever looking in." Are not your nation, your compatriots, and your home, then, those who are also? Outside isn't just an address; it isn't just the line you stood in to get your Canadian visa. It starts with the dictionary function, with definition. Too many grant acceptance only to others who are predictable representatives of a type, and can fit a prebored slot. People can become frightened, angry, and alien when they discover that I have an enthusiasm not part of the expected repertoire of a Polak from New Jersey. They suspect legerdemain, false advertising; they want to call the Chamber of Commerce.

The liberal who's pro-death penalty, the pro-choice Catholic, the African from Poland: all these definition transgressors risk home with their very identity. Find them. And find gay men, working class intellectuals, wheelchair athletes, women who are neither wives nor mothers, lone teen boys whose eyes light up when you say something true about the paperback peeking out of their pocket. Next, you must cherish them. Conventional etiquette will not referee here. You must heed your heart and honor invented holidays to build this home.

Wait, I can't stop there....a few more lines:

You ask: "Do we travel because we can't find a real home?"

I don't know. But I don't think travelers can ever again have a single home, except within themselves, if they allow travel to do what it can.

Oh, yes. And I'll leave you with this:

Travel draws out of us a person who couldn't exist in any other environment. When we leave, we say farewell with no guarantee we'll ever meet again.

You can read the entire essay, called "The Illusion of Protection: Two Travelers Speak of Home" here.
And find more of Danusha's writing on her web page.


Poetry Thursday: Words I love

Today's Poetry Thursday prompt was words we love, and words we hate, and while it sent me off in lots of fun directions - that many of my favorite words in Spanish are not words at all, but part of an elaborate second castellano of artful gestures and delicious facial expressions, for example (there's a lovely Salamanca poem in there, I just know it) -

in the end, I have come back to an old friend for Poetry Thursday this week. Here's to words!

Notes on the Art of Poetry
by Dylan Thomas

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.


Y el ganador es.....

Remember this post, about the search for the most beautiful word in the Spanish language?

Well, the votes are in, and the winner is no surprise, at least not to this adopted española. The fact that Spanish speakers, largely here in Spain, chose love, and liberty and peace, and life and hope....may seem a cliché, but it isn't. I live alongside people who wear their values on their sleeves.....and who think of words as much more than words. I have no better way to describe my reaction than to say, yep, I would have guessed they'd choose those words....and smile for living here.

The words that received the most votes, in order, were:

1. Amor (do I really need to translate that?)

2. Libertad Liberty

3. Paz Peace

4. Vida Life

5. Azahar Orange blossom

6. Esperanza Hope

7. Madre Mother

8. Mamá Just like it sounds. Mum, mom, take your pick.

9. Amistad Friendship

10. Libélula Firefly, one of my favorites

The top 26 words, and all the reasons voters gave for choosing them are posted (in Spanish, of course) at the Escuela de Escritores site. They are a little hard to find; scroll down a bit, keeping an eye to the left side of the home page.

They comment that many of the 100 most chosen words are words of Arab origin, such as alféizar (windowsill, despite my earlier mortifying error misidentifying it here, isn't it gorgeous?), azahar, albahaca (basil) and ajedrez (chess). When I look back at my own list of favorites I see I, too, chose lots of Arab influenced words - like almohada (pillow) and berenjena (eggplant), ojalá and now let's add albaricoque (my much-loved apricots).

Mmmm, gives me a hankering to hear Arabic spoken...

A smiling aside: I have just discovered that another of my favorite Spanish words -favorite because it amuses me - also has Arab roots. Fulano, or fulanito, as I usually hear it, means, more or less, "what's his name".


Wednesday, June 21, 2006


It's summer in Spain.

And I hereby announce that gazpacho is absolutely, without any doubt, the perfect food.

A salad in a glass, crusty bread and Spanish olive oil included. What could be better?

Does somebody really want to take me on about this?

I'm in ecstasy, and it's only gazpacho in summer heat.


Sailing, waiting, watching

As humans we live in the constant presumption of dominion. We believe that we own the world, that it belongs to us, that we have it under our firm control. But the sailor knows all too well the fallacy of this view. The sailor sits by his tiller waiting and watching. He knows he isn't sovereign of earth and sky any more than the fish in the sea or birds in the air. He responds to the subtle shiftings of the wind, the imperceptible ebbings of the tide. He changes course. He trims his sheets.

He sails.

Richard Bode, from First You Have to Row a Little Boat.

I cancelled a long booked ocean crossing (my first) to wander Ireland with my brother - a week or 10 or 12 days from the Azores to Faro. Maybe the Spanish have gotten to me; a week with a brother I seldom see, about to launch his own far-flung adventure halfway around the world from me, tempted me more than the act of marking "ocean passage" off my to-do list. And then there was the timing - the residency papeleo , the costs and the time away from my fledgling new projects. The tides had turned, it seemed...

Some days it doesn't feel easy, this living as a landlocked sailor. I miss the physicality of sailing, the full speed ahead quiet, the places I go when I'm on the water. As a writer I miss the illimitable metaphor of sailing, the adventure of every sail, the little something I inevitably bring home, learned.

So I was delighted to run across this favorite bit of Bode today, tucked in a old notebook...


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dear God, I live in Spain

I loved this, from Kevin Sites, the journalist who's spending a year visiting every country currently in armed conflict:

Like a slow-dissolve connecting the disparate sequences of a continuous story that spans too much geographic territory, I see the roads before me blend from one to the other — riding the river beds of eastern Afghanistan in a humvee, through the lowlands of northern Colombia packed in a local taxi, winding through the hillsides of Haiti in my fixer's beat up Datsun and now to this moment in Nepal.

There is a duality at work here that is hard for me to comprehend. I'm amazed by the these geographic disjunctions in my journey, the shock of sensory overload, the new smells, terrain, and lives that wash over me on these drives.

Simultaneously, I'm lulled by the comfort of it all, the fact that there is too much to understand. Instead of an observer, for this moment, I am a dog with my head out the window, the rush of air creating a comforting buzz that silences the need to know more — at least for now.


A funny thing happened on the way back from Ireland.

It somehow hit me, as I arrived in Madrid's Barajas Airport, that I was "home". But not really. Like when I arrive "home" to Chicago, but not really. Or Rhode Island, or Southern California. But not really. Speaking Spanish again felt warmly, wonderfully familiar.

I got this odd feeling I can't quite capture in words as I started the long journey back from Madrid's new air terminal (which I suspect is actually in Salamanca, judging by the length of the walk and tram ride to get there.) I had only taken a week's wander through Ireland. But Ireland changes so rapidly as you travel - rocky burren, rolling green hills, flat topped green mountains with rocky faces, long sandy strands with the tide far out, lake-filled valleys, pine forests, bogs. I always feel as if I've visited a dozen countries. Add that I stayed in people's homes, and that I was travelling with the American brother I hadn't spent time with in over a year....and my trip felt like that slow dissolve Kevin describes, like a wave of languages and cultures and weather and smells and faces.

Then I landed back in Spain, home but not home, a familiar language but not my first. I don't know if I can describe it well, but for the first time and maybe because I was excited to come back to my new self-propelled life here, I felt like a part of all of it. As though I didn't have a distinct "home", it was all home, all recognizable and just moving like a wave, a slow dissolve from one place to another.

I remember using that same image, a dog with her head out the window, to describe myself in the first draft of a poem a few months ago. It fits. I came back from Ireland on sensory overdrive, but with that same wind-in-both-ears feeling, like there was no need to know more. No need to sort out what sound was what or what it all meant, or, in my case, where the heck I am going. There were just people to meet, and places and smells and the call of my first cuckoo (outside of a clock) to let wash over me. And my head, out the window.

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Happy Father's Day

It's Father's Day in the US, isn't it? I lose my American-only holidays if no one e-mails a reminder.

But today is a Sunday, mid-June, and somehow I've reminded myself. It must be Father's Day.

That's my father, in the tux.
Yes, I was the lucky child whose musician father picked her up after school events in a tuxedo. A perfectly pressed, perfectly fitted black tux, tie loose and tux shirt open, usually, by the time he came round for me. I was invariably mortified.

My father was a pianist. When I told him I wanted to study piano with the septegenarian nun at my grade school, he refused, then convinced the best professional teacher in the state to take on a 5 year old with hands too small to reach 5 notes apart.

My father invented play-by-plays to symphonic music as he drove me to my Saturday piano lessons: Ah, the villagers are all dancing happily in the meadow, and look, (enter a chorus of clarinets) now the sheep have joined them. But wait (bassoon) who is that dark masked stranger waiting in the woods?
Do it yourself Peter and the Wolf, every Saturday drive.

My father pointed out the obvious like the old man I met in Cabezuela. He made both the worst and the best puns I've ever heard.

He and his musician cronies had an infinite collection of "if this one married that one" jokes:
If Ella Fitzgerald married Darth Vader she's be Ella Vader. And of course if she married, Allen Funt, she'd be Ella Funt.
You get the idea.

My father wrote me a clever, rhyming poem for every occasion in my life. Every birthday, every graduation, all the holidays I couldn't travel home to celebrate once I'd moved away to college. He gave me the most beautiful letter I've ever received, sealed tight in an envelope, and told me to read it on the solo plane ride to college. Then he talked the stewardess into letting my high school friends onto the plane for a last goodbye.

My father visited me everywhere I ever lived, West Lafayette, IN, State College, PA, and later Saint Louis, often under the pretense of having a gig nearby, even if the job was several hundred miles away.

He was most proud of having played at the Inaugural Ball for George H W Bush, the first George Bush. He invited me along as his date, and savored every minute of my liberal discomfort.

My father tried an office job once, before my brother and I were born. He worked in insurance and dreamed of getting a business degree on the GI bill, until the day the boss ordered him to choose between his respectable insurance job and playing piano in bars. He spent the rest of his life playing the piano.

He made toast by putting bread right on the burner and letting it blacken.

He could watch any episode of World at War a hundred times and then watch it again, til I begged, begged, to watch a movie.

He took me to every Father Daughter dance in high school, and broke every promise he ever made not to go wild on the dance floor.

He lamented he was too busy playing piano to practice. In his last few years, he left a friend running his music contracting business while he wandered the Caribbean playing cocktail piano on cruise ships, finally savoring his time to practice and to play what he wanted.

Never, that I remember, did my father call me by my given name.

My father was the most "human" being I've ever known. He was gloriously human.

Human in the fling that ended my parents' marriage and human in his need to own up to it, despite knowing what that would mean. Human as he showed up for the aftermath of his confession, including the daughter who for a long time couldn't forgive him.

Human in his lifelong need to act 9 years old, often, and in his boylike fascination with boats and ships and everything nautical.

Human as he pondered a thousand what if's in the journals he wrote during the last years of his life.

And he was human, gloriously human, as he died. When my father wouldn't, his doctor finally let my mother, brother and aunts know that the cancer had already won the war, a week after his diagnosis. He died a few hours before my flight landed, never having admitted he was seriously ill.

I aim only to be as gloriously human as my father.

He'd like where I am today. No doubt he'd book a gig in Madrid, and stop by.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Sligo skies

and a flat headed mountain.


Low Tide in Sligo

just alongside the Spanish Armada memorial to 1200 Spanish sailors lost in a storm just off this point on the coast, and a few hundred saved.
The west of Ireland has the most dramatic tides I've ever seen. A long, slow enormous tide suits the place and her history and her people, seems to me.


Inis Mor

As usual, I'll be quick with photos, and back later with words. I'm off to Spanish class with Bego this morning, without having written a thing in castellano. Worse, I'm suffering from Spanish r's badly in need of oiling, or some sort if repetitive maintenance, after a solid week in English.

I fell in love with Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran islands, and with the lilting rhythm of the Irish language.

Back on the mainland, I wandered into a wonderful used bookstore in Westport, County Mayo where I met and bought a slightly faded old hardcover - The Aran Reader, full of poems and tales of the Aran islands, including this:

The timeless waves, bright, sifting, broken glass,
Came dazzling around, into the rocks,
Came glinting, sifting from the Americas

To posess Aran. Or did Aran rush
to throw wide arms of rock around a tide
That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash?

Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.

Lovers on Aran, from Death of a Naturalist by
Seamus Heaney


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Looking, Walking, Being

Happy Poetry Thursday!

Today I've decided to post another poem by Denise Levertov. I love reading this poem aloud; I love reciting it to myself while I wander strange places; I love becoming, sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.


Looking, Walking, Being

"The World is not something to
look at, it is something to be in."
Mark Rudman

I look and look.
Looking's a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamor.
World and the past of it,
not only
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
a way of breathing.

breathing to sustain
walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

From Sands of the Well by Denise Levertov.
Copyright © 1996 by Denise Levertov


Monday, June 05, 2006

Poetry Thursday, early

I'm too early to catch the prompt for Poetry Thursday this week, so I'll just post a new find, Living by Denise Levertov, the perfect send off to a week's wander through Ireland:


The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.


This week's small pleasures of living in Spain

1) My taxes.
Yes, my taxes.
Americans, I ask you, is this nirvana?:

The Spanish ministry to which you pay your taxes does your taxes for you, sends you a draft, and offers you the option of simply verifying it, online.

OK, Spaniards, I know it might make sense to spend some time doing your taxes just the way you want, but with a financial life as utterly simple as mine in Spain, and money coming back, la renta 2005, for me, has been a pleasure.

2) Heavenly apricots

I don't care what residency form they throw at me, two of these tiny, sweet, exquisite apricots I've only found in Spain, and I'm over it.

3) The healthcare system

Well, no, in fact I didn't go to the doctor when I sprained my ankle. But I've sprained it before, and as a Spanish friend says, sometimes I can still be "American". Going to an emergency room in the States is a hassle you see, all those forms and a long wait amongst the coughing and infirm. But yesterday, Irish hillclimbing on my mind, I hobbled into the local clinic of my private insurance company to ask, well, why I was still hobbling. After a quick swipe of my insurance card and ten minutes in a lovely, quiet waiting room, a thoroughly unstressed doctor suggested I simply be patient. (And convey to my cruel mother, that, no, my advanced age was NOT the cause of my sudden inability to heal a sprain as quickly as I used to.)

A pleasure!

And yes, I suppose all of that and a tasty bite of morcilla do make up for the Inca trail to self employment.

Now where are did I put those apricots?


Robert Leon and Tribalcog

2 new, delicious finds for vicarious keyboard travelling:

Robert Leon
My personal favorite? His photos of Cuba.

Then wander through Tribalcog.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Graffiti, León

No, says the budding Empresario Individual, I don't buy the message, but I did like the street art.


Slán agus

I'm off to Ireland today for a week, a welcome escape from paperwork and legalities, but not so welcome an escape from Salamanca. While I've had my head buried in legalities and (fun!) new projects, summer's hit, full force. The tourists are here, both Spanish and foreign, and the ice cream vendors, and the balloons and street musicians. Salamanca's streets are packed with people, most of them my fellow Salmantinos simply readjusting to summer, when we spend life walking:paseando, stopping at a sidewalk cafe, paseando, checking out a store window, waving at a friend.....¿tomamos algo? ....paseando! I'm as eager to get back as I am to travel today!

Saturday the Arts Festival of Castilla-León turned Salamanca's Plaza de los Bandos into a graffiti gallery. A couple of shots of that, a post or two, and I'm off to Inish Mor. (If you could only see the grin as I say that....) Slán agus! ¡Hasta pronto!


Friday, June 02, 2006

Every Day I Have the Blues

I woke at 6 this morning, which yes, now that you mention it, is officially "the crack of dawn" in Spain. It's pre-dawn, in fact. I've crashed late and risen early all week, leaving til morning the finishing of the day's document for my residency. But this morning I woke to find an e-mail from John, and a fabulous musical breakfast:

Six versions and a great post on a classic, Going to Kansas City,at Tuwa's Shanty and the Roots Canal. A six version multigenerational jam, from Little Willie Littlefield to Little Richard to the Beatles, where everybody takes a chorus.

He's posted his favorite version, also mine, at the end of the post:
Joe Williams with Count Basie.

I saw Joe Williams perform a couple of times at the Regatta Bar in Boston years ago. If you don't know him and you're a fan of the blues or big band jazz or just enjoy rich, heaven sent voices ("dulcet tones", mother would say), go discover Joe Williams. The man lets out his first note and I melt; every ounce of tension just gets up and walks. And yes, he's won this morning's Kansas City contest here in Salamanca, too.

Here you can sample Williams and Basie: Scroll down to Smack Dab in the Middle, then, although the sample cuts out before the vocal, check out Every Day I Have the Blues which will be my form-filling soundtrack this morning. Last, have a quick listen to Jimmy's Blues.

Enjoy! I hope to be back here later today.
Meanwhile, thanks to John's inspiration, I am going to plug in a Joe Williams and Count Basie CD and go back to deciphering the Declaración Censal.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Poetry Thursday: a spoken poem

Poetry Thursday's prompt this week was "a poem read out loud". I find poetry much more powerful read aloud; I believe poetry is meant to be spoken. A truly elegant poem lets its shape on the page tell you something the words can't, (don't you think?), while gently handing you the sheet music - the line breaks, the rhythm, the musical counterpoint - that takes you through the poem just as the poet would have read it aloud. So much of poetry's power, for me, is its musicality, the way the words roll off my tongue, the sounds they make as they leave my mouth, the contortions the poet sends my tongue into.

My poem for this week has yet to find its elegance on the page, but it is a poem I love to say. I've posted it here once before, but I couldn't resist repeating it when the prompt started me reading aloud.

I picked up an Irish tin whistle one day last winter and set my overachieving musician self to playing it. Didn't work. But it did teach me just what I needed to learn that day. I tried my best to reproduce the (sometimes painful) aural event in words:

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

In, hard and fast

The 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.