Greetings from Salamanca

July 21, 2006

If this blog´s been feeling a bit lonesome it might be because I inadvertently turned on comment moderation... today I found several pages of comments waiting for me—sort of like being at camp and discovering a batch of misplaced letters. Anyway it was fun to read all the comments even if I accidentally managed to delete most of them (damn Spanish keyboards).
. . .
We have a car. We are driving! When you've been trapped in a single house for a week this is liberation! I´ve driven around Spain several times but never in this direction... the countryside here is familiar in a roundabout way as I've seen it in scores of medieval paintings (in college I wrote many papers on bestiaries and illuminated manuscripts). So while I was driving I kept having moments somewhere between memory and deja-vu. Coming upon the walled city of Avila I recognized it from a 14th century illuminated manuscript. Looks virtually unchanged. Even the trees which seem fantastical in the illustrations are just the olive and almond trees they have in this area... I had a similar experience in the Dutch countryside a few years ago. Those clouds you always see in the Dutch masters, they are just the clouds they have in Holland.
. . .
Speaking of invisible threads, here´s one that came via email from someone I haven't spoken to in 20 odd years... "Actually you and I had the same Spanish class when I was a Sophomore. Was our teacher's name Mrs Torres? Anyway I remember getting some Apple computer stuff from you, and I remember you let me borrow a disk (floppy disk no less) which you entitled "Late Night with Raul Gutierrez" - I really don't even remember what was on it now, but it was (ancient) Apple IIe stuff.¨
. . .
Photos for Becky and Paul:

Random aside: I am typing this in a hotel bathroom, my family is asleep... it's about 1 in the morning. A minute ago I had to get something from the other room and my wife started. "Have you made the guacamole?" she asked both eyes open, but completely asleep. "What?" I answered. "Don't worry, you don't understand anything about guacamole," she replied.

Through the shut door I hear her chuckling to herself in her sleep.

Churros y Chocolate

July 20, 2006

When I was a kid my mother told me invisible threads connect us all together... She whispered this in my ear one night while trying to explain some life lesson, "Can you feel them?" she asked. And indeed in that moment I felt them tugging here and pulling there, hundreds of them, tied to all parts of my body. The lesson I forgot, but the image remained. For years, late at night I would wake up and imagine the threads connecting me to Ed 'Too Tall' Jones, the girl down the street with the trampoline in her backyard, my grandparents, and even Jimmy Carter. Sometimes I would kick my arms and legs and imagine the tugs being felt around the corner and on the other side of the world. Tonight we went to dinner with a friend here in Madrid who I met via this blog. In adult life it's easy to forget all those threads, but it's nice to know they are still there and that sometimes we can follow them all the way across the ocean to the person on the other side.


July 20, 2006

Jenn and I did our part for world jump day.

While our son played the part of the nink in the sink.

Notes from Madrid

July 18, 2006

We've been in Madrid a week now and a week is about how long it takes before Jenn and I start seeking out comfort food (see previous post). For us that means Mexican or Korean. You would think Mexican food in Madrid would be a no-brainer, but Mexican friends who have tried scores of restaurants report nothing but heartbreak (Part of the problem is that most Spaniards don't have a taste for corn—"Corn is chicken feed," sniffed a Catalan friend—and part of the problem is that spicy food is almost unknown here.) So given this knowledge we decided to seek out a Korean restaurant on the assumption it would be run by Koreans and cater to Korean tourists... We ended up at Han Gang Restaurante Coreana at Calle Atocha, 94 and when we entered at 8:00 (super early by Madrid standards), the place was packed with a Korean bus tour, a good sign. The menu in translation was less promising, (chicken in catsup?), although Jenn said the Korean was correctly rendered. The other issue was the veal which was substituted for both beef and pork throughout the menu. Veal bulgogi? We weren't so brave. Veal mandoo was edible though. Jenn enjoyed her bibimbop and the panchan was normal (although skimpy). The kimchee was decent. I barbecued some chicken at the table which was fine, but not exactly Korean. Nothing was spicy. All in all not terribly authentic, but not the horror it might have been.

Afterwards we shared beers in a pleasant bustling square with my brother Ed and an English friend of his named Briony. Both had lived in Kyoto for several years and both had moved from there to Madrid (my brother now lives in Prague). Both also are died-in-the-wool ex-pats. Jenn and I (both failed ex-pats) had lots of questions primarily about the desire to keep moving versus the desire to nest. Two comments that stuck with me: "It's much more difficult as an ex-pat to go home a resume a 'normal' routine than it is to head off to a new city" and "The thing about being an ex-pat is if you feel depressed or stressed you tend to blame it on the city, it's never about you."

Ed enlightened us as to Czech drinking etiquette. "You don't talk. You drink and you contemplate your unhappiness. When you finish a beer, another is served immediately and you drink again. The Czech always see Americans laughing and talking and think there must be something wrong with them. 'They must be simple,' they think, 'How can they laugh with so much unhappiness in the world.'

Also in Prague never order a salad, especially if you are a man. Men eat meat."


What else? We saw a Moroccan guy with a large knife in his hand running down an alley being chased by a guy with a big stick. That was exciting.

I would complain about the heat but I just checked in and noted the weather in Brooklyn where it is both hotter and infinitely more humid, so I'll keep my mouth shut. Also soon we'll escape to Galicia where it is somewhat cooler. This will be good for me, a hater of heat and for Jenn who is pregnant with our #2 (almost 3 months now). See how I buried the lead?

That's it from here. Goodnight.

Spanish Cuisine

July 17, 2006

Sentences not likely to be heard in New York:

"I have just the thing for your son. Brain. It’s in the refrigerator and I can fry it with a bit of butter. It’s from a baby goat slaughtered just a few days ago. Little boys just love it."

"Don't be ridiculous, of course ducks have tongues. The tongue is the tastiest part of the bird. Pigeons also have tasty tongues... so hard to find these days."

"You have a choice between the pig's feet which have been boiled and then fried, or the dried cod."

"My favorite thing in the whole world, my very favorite thing: rooster comb. And here's the tragedy, the portions are always so small."

Dinner Guests

July 15, 2006

Last night I was startled out of a deep sleep and led by the hand down the stairs to a loud room crowded with well dressed dinner guests. "A wedding perhaps," I said to myself and surveyed the crowd for familiar faces. Everyone was turned away from me engrossed in conversation. No-one looked familiar so I pressed on. Above the din, someone called my name and I turned to find a table of people I hadn’t seen in years.

There was Lee in his natty plaid jacket from Ireland, Tia Elva eating a big plate of cabrito, and even Marie who vanished when I was 16, "Hey" she said, "long time."

Everyone immediately and simultaneously started in with questions about the baby and Jenn and my life while I was still standing there. "Get him a chair," someone shouted. I tried to fill them in, but my mouth was cottony and I was having a hard time keeping focused so instead I listened because although there were questions, everyone also had so much to say. As I went around the table kissing and hugging everyone, each person would draw me close and whisper a little nothing. The table was so crowded that by the time I made it around, before I could settle in or even taste the wine I was pulled away again.... out of the loud room, and up the stairs. Soon I found myself back in bed in the cold blue light of early morning. Jenn and the baby were cuddled together sleeping silently on the far side big bed and I, stuck in the middle registers between dream and consciousness, found myself immobile, still between worlds trying in vain to remember all that had been said.

In the morning I told Jenn the dream. "Koreans say never to follow the dead," she shuddered... "Never go with them. I’m not kidding." But the Mexican view is quite the opposite. My grandmother told me one she had danced with her dead brother. "I was like a star of the cinema," she would say. Even in the middle of the dream knew she would never dance like that again. "But never trust them," she warned, "the dead only tell you what you want to hear, because they know life is short and want you to be happy in it. Maybe their lies are so sweet because in their own lives they were whispered enough of them."


July 14, 2006

We have been in the cocoon of family and haven't spent much time with Madridleños yet, but from the people we have encountered the topics of the moment seem to be:

1. Zidane's headbutt - The popular sentiment so far seems to be squarely with Zidane. As one man put it today, "If you talk too much about my mother, I go crazy."

2. Crime - Everyone we've met has a firsthand story about petty crime. "Totally out of control" was the phrase used most often. I have been warned not to bring "la machina" (my camera) into Madrid proper. "You will be robbed for sure. 100%," I've been told. People have a hard time believing New York is safe even at 3am. My statement "I carry my camera everywhere. Openly. On the subway. At night," is met with disbelief, almost as if my fellow New Yorkers are rubes for not robbing me.

3. Tabloid figures, especially Spanish royalty and demi-royalty - Note it is not cool to question the Prince´s wisdom in naming his daughter Leonor. Note when someone talks about the Spanishness of the Queen, you should not blurt out, ¨but she´s Greek.¨ Also it is considered nothing short of absurd that you have never heard of Letizia Ortiz. To brief yourself on these very important matters please visit the Spanish Royal Family´s very own website.

Aside: Is there anything more sublime than Clifford Brown´s trumpet on Dinah Washington´s version of Summertime while sitting out in the dark watching fireflies in the trees and lightning flash in the sky over the Spanish hills?


July 12, 2006

It is unusually dry in Madrid. Pull yourself from the pool and within what seems like an instant even your hair will lose all trace moisture. The weather, as it is everywhere, is out of whack. They call it African air, normal in Gibralter, but strange here. There has been unusual heat, and clouds, and wind, but today at least was nice, but oh so dry.

We are in a neighborhood where everyone has high hedges cut into geometric shapes and the trees look as if they were designed by Dr. Suess... lots of grass and sky around the houses. In the back a spectacular fruit and vegetable garden full of tomatoes and strawberries and lettuce. Our city kid son quickly shook off the plane flight and gleefully set off exploring the place... he declines to wear clothes and toddles around happily and shamelessly collecting rocks, observing ants, eating strawberries, and just being a curious little puppy of a kid.

Nothing rotten to report. Happy times. Happy times.

In front of Key Foods

July 10, 2006

Some stories have no beginning and no end, just a middle. Or maybe just a beginning... or just an end. I can't decide.

On the corner of Clinton and Atlantic today at sunset a beautiful girl in her twenties was crying her eyes out inside a beaten up Chevy Nova. Her face, more rural and southern than one generally runs into in Brooklyn, was wet and puffy, a marked contrast to the two flowers she had placed in her hair and the vintage party dress she was wearing. She waited in the passenger's seat―the driver's seat being empty save for a crushed box of Marlboro cigarettes. The girl did not notice the 19 month old boy sitting on his dad's shoulders pointing her out. She did not notice the dad pick up his camera and then decide to put it down without shooting. She did not notice the Yemeni women who passed close by adjusting their headscarfs to look into the car and she did not notice the wind which picked up her brown hair and scattered it around her face sticking it to her cheeks. She did not even notice when the little boy, now down from his perch, walked within a few feet of the car's open window to offer a stick for solace nor the tears welling up in his eyes when she did not look down or accept his offering.

List & Lessons

July 9, 2006

Chinese Triads
14K Moo
United Bamboo
Three Mountains Association
Fong-Fong Boys
Celestial Way

Finnish Metal Bands
69 Eyes
Ablaze In Hatred
The Lust I Seek

English Covens
Ladies of the Heath
Children Of Hekate
Soul Guard
The Mighty Ones
Seidr Practical Group

Chicago Gangs
Almighty Harrison Gents
Conservative Vice Lords
Insane Unknowns
12th Street Players
Latin Kings

Camp Long Horn Water Polo Teams (1980's)
Neptune's Army
The Dudes
Barracuda Wave
Fugi Onyomammagi

Things learned while making these lists:

1. The proper way to kill a fellow triad member is to slash the disgraced member a hundred times (four hundred is better) and then to bury the person while he is still alive.

2. In order to be in a Finnish metal band, you must have "really good hair and for good hair you must shampoo regularly with mild shampoo or you get split ends. It is easy to forget this when you are on the road."

3. When choosing a coven "Sex should never be expected in return for training, nor should it be part of your initiation."

4. 40-45% of all homicides in major American cities are gang related.

5. In 1982 I still had my hair in wings parted straight and hard down the middle.

Stephanie Sinclair

July 9, 2006

One of the best photojournalists out there, Stephanie Sinclair, has photo essay on Afghani child brides in this week's New York Times magazine. The writing accompanying the article is a bit annoying, but the pictures are, as always, extraordinary.

Her personal website was recently updated to include a number of new stories.

WFMU Playlist

July 8, 2006

This morning @ 9AM Eastern Time I hosted WFMU listener hour on 91.1 in New York/New Jersey and on the web. Enclosed are a few show notes in the form of links, if you only click one of them, make it the one for sSgt Barry Sadler written by his son.

The show: Streaming MP3, Real Audio


The Third Man Theme - Chet Atkins

Boeing Boeing 707 - Roger Miller

She Taught Me How To Yodel - Frank Ifield

Wo ist zu Hause, Mama - Johnny Cash

Put on Your Pretty Skirt - Singing Nun

Mal Hombre - Lydia Mendoza


My Rifle, My Pony & Me - Ricky Nelson & Dean Martin intro John Wayne

Hold That Critter Down - Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys

Cattle Call - Eddy Arnold

Cattle Call snippet - Elvis Presley

Radar Blues - Coleman Wilson

Dadyr-Todur - Huun-Huur-Tu

A Little Love, A Little Kiss - Karl Denver


The Ballad Of The Green Berets - sSgt Barry Sadler

The Monkey Song - Robin & Crystal Bernard
LP: Jerry Falwell - Feudin' Fussin' And Frettin' (Thomas Road Baptist Church) 1972

Dwarf Invasion - Reggie and the Full Effect Promotional Copy & Greatest Hits

What Is Humidity? - Tom Glazer - Weather Songs

A Beautiful Girl - John Rydgren


It Ain't Me Babe - Sebastian Cabot, actor

Bad Habits - Monks

Guyana Punch - The Judys

Bad Man - Greg Oblivian & The Tip Tops

I'd Like To See The Bad Guys Win - Margo Guryan

Man can't get no satisfaction - The Mighty Clouds Of Joy

Corrido de Monterrey - Los Alegres de Teran


July 7, 2006

A couple of days ago in Florida I was wandering around... driving semi-aimlesslessly exploring parts unknown when I came across an interesting little neighborhood outside of Palmetto. Beckoned by brightly colored houses, chickens in the yards, and plastic statues of the Virgin Mary, I parked my rental car, met some old men playing checkers, and started hanging out and taking a few pictures. The men introduced themselves as Little Louis, Speedy, and Tubbs. They talked hurricanes, jail, and women. Tubbs told me to find his friend Wanita up the road. "She loves having her picture taken," he said, so I headed down the road.

Half a block away a young guy with an extraordinary face appeared out of nowhere. A deep scar ran from forehead to chin and when he opened his mouth it glinted in the sun. His teeth were gold, all his teeth were gold, and it gave him a striking somewhat mechanical look. I desperately wanted to photograph him but something told me not to raise the camera without chatting first. Rarely do you run into such a face, so I smiled and asked him about paintings on a pair of what looked like airplane hangers (apparently an old strawberry cannery. I got no smile in return.

"What's your business?" he growled.

"I'm just taking some pictures. Thought that building looked interesting... and Tubbs over there told me Wanita might want her picture taken," I smiled.

"Why would anyone want a picture of that busted bitch?"

Taken aback, I answered carefully, "Because I like to tell people's stories, and it sounds like she has a story to tell."

"There are stories everywhere and you have no call to visit" he said, spitting close to my feet. "I say you're getting into other's people's business. You have no need to picture me."

At this point I was choosing my words with extreme delicacy and speaking softly, "I haven't taken your picture. I was just over there with Little Louis and Speedy and I didn't point my camera at them until after I asked to take their picture. I showed them respect, and I'm showing you respect. I'm not pointing my camera at you."

"I don't like having my picture taken."

"No problem, I'm not taking it."

"Ok then," he said looking at me.

Tubbs called out, "He's not the law fool, look at his scrappy shoes. You ever seen the law in shit shoes like that?"

And with that the guy gave me a big golden smile and I started walking away thanking god for my chucks. Little Louis came running after me. "It's time to leave now boy. Booger thinks you're police and he's running. He's a shooter if you know what I mean."

That was all he needed to say. I'm not one to look for trouble. But Booger if you're out there, I'd still like to take your picture and hear your story and I think you're wrong about Wanita I hear she's got dance moves that make an old man young.

Open Letter

July 6, 2006

Dear Becky and Michael, godparents of our son,

I keep turning over the story you told tonight at dinner in my mind.

This much I understand:

1. You're at a Montauk restaurant with a group of people including Rebecca Romijn.

2. Becky is seated next to Ms. Romijn who is being kind of bitchy and actively not making conversation.

3. There's another girl there also being bitchy who claims to be from Detroit but obviously isn't from Detroit which is annoying to people from Michigan like yourself who know that 90% of the people who say they are from Detroit really aren't.

4. A fish arrives complete with head and tail and the faux Detroit girl offers to de-bone it, because she is an expert de-boner, but then declines when she discovers it's Becky's fish.

5. Ms. Romijn is not wearing underwear.

This part I fail to understand no matter how hard I try to wrap my mind around it:

6. Both of you are part of a human pyramid, 4 layers high, with the aforementioned people.

7. You are on the bottom of the pyramid.

8. You explain you were bullied into this.

Post Positive Adjectives

July 5, 2006

My friend JP plays an addictive little game coming up with phrases with post positive adjectives, adjectives that come after the noun, princess royal for example. As many of the phrases are of French origin, there is speculation the first of these were Normanisms that became an acceptable English form. Indeed many these phrases are legalisms which would make sense as many legal concepts became codified into English law shortly after the Norman conquest (The Normans added a hefty dose of bureaucracy and centralization to Anglo-Saxon legal affairs).

An interesting side panel on both the plural form and the proper hyphenation of court martial can be found in the middle of this page.

Some examples of phrases with post positive adjectives:

ambassador plenipotentiary
bar sinister
fiddlers three
judge advocate general
time past
mother superior
rhyme royal
chaise longue
moment supreme
battle royal...

Do any more come to mind?

July 4th remembered

July 5, 2006

While other holidays blur together, my July 4ths are differentiated with strange clarity... I can count them back to about the age of 15 and tell you exactly where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing. Here are a few:

July 4, 1984, Marble Falls, Texas - Went bowling and walked out with a pair of red and blue bowling shoes, ditching my chucks. Had a bottle rocket war with friends near Inks Lake.

July 4, 1986, Boston - I was with a group of college friends one of those long nights when you end up at strange people's parties. I remember after the fireworks and very late in the evening I sat on the banks of Charles with a girl I liked. She was from Los Angeles and could quote Dickens, The Pickwick Papers to be precise. We could hear voices carrying from the other bank of the river.

July 4, 1988, Princeton - Wrote a letter to a friend in Kenya, illustrated it with zebras, and watched fireworks from the roof of Blair Hall. It was a perfect summer night and after a few beers we all fell asleep up there.

July 4, 1989, Philadelphia - I didn't know at the time, but my college girlfriend was breaking up with me. We fought about many things that day including a very long fight over a pound cake. Looking back at it now I wonder how 22 year olds could have made each other so miserable.

July 4, 1991, East Hampton - At some country club on the invite of a date. We watched little girls in white dresses and little boys in ties and jackets run around the beach with sparklers. The fireworks illuminated the sailboats on the still water. Went skinny dipping later.

July 4th, 1992, Pakistan - Looked at the stars (so many stars up at 14,000 feet) and thought of home.

July 4th 1993 Mongolia - Shot hundreds of tracer rounds into the sky at an ex-Soviet military base with a couple of ex-pat Texans. Had a grand time.

July 4, 1994 - Beverly Hills. Alone, tired. Strange. Watched the fireworks over the city lights in the far distance from my roof.

July 4th 1997 - San Francisco. The fireworks illuminated the low hanging fog in weird and beautiful patterns.

July 4th 2001 - Langmusi. Rounded up several other Americans and managed to improvise a bbq complete with yak burgers and apple pie. In lieu of fireworks we created a huge bonfire on the mountainside with our Tibetan friends. Everyone drank too much baiju.

July 4th, 2004 - Santa Barbara. We know we're leaving California by now and take a final drive up Route 1. We watch fireworks on the beach in a big happy crowd. Jenn is pregnant and the baby kicks when the fireworks boom.

July 4th, 2006 - Brooklyn. We walk down the street following the crowds under the BQE. The scene has a off-kilter Mad Max quality about it. Hasidic Jews, tough Brooklyn gangstas, Yemeni Arabs, scores of average New Yorkers, and a random celebrity or two all crowded behind fences and concertina wire to watch the fireworks over Manhattan. After we return home, Jenn IMs me from downstairs, "What just happened tonight?"

Images from a wider world

July 2, 2006

Sigh still I don't have the underlying problems fixed on this blog yet, so I've been spending my nightly blog time working on getting the issues fixed as opposed to writing... In the meantime here are a few photographers portfolios pointed to me by friends...all well worth the clicks...

Michael Christopher Brown - Make sure to check out portfolio titled "The Great Experiment." (via Travis.)

Paul D'Amato - via Daniella.

Hamid Sardar - Heartstoppingly great images. (via Youngna.)

Winging it to Brooklyn

June 29, 2006

I'm back at home and can finally start to tackle my server issues which have made posting very difficult. I've posted minimal text because each post must be entered by hand and paragraphs of text are a mess... I'll try to sort through the dross and get everything back to normal tomorrow. I have a backlog to put up.

Day to forget

June 27, 2006

I drove all day to make it to the airport on time only to be bumped from my flight and stuck by the airline in a moldy hotel room where a friendly cockroaches skitter across the floor with a loud click click clicking sound the minute I shut out the lights. I should have camped out at the terminal. Oh the room also reeks of smoke ("Smokers welcome!" reads the sign outside) and of course the windows are plastered shut. When I arrived there was a long red hair in the sink.


June 25, 2006

Even a year and a half into fatherhood, it is sometimes easy to forget you are a dad. You will be driving through a mangrove swamp somewhere in Florida at night and just be a guy driving with the windows down keeping the radio spinning through stations on scan waiting for just the right music come up and enjoying the long periods of static... That invisible tether that connects you to wife and child is slack and you are momentarily unaware of it. Mosquitoes buzz around outside and are being killed on the windshield at an alarming rate but you figure at 85mph what are the odds of one making it into the car. And then one does and lands on your arm, puncturing your flesh discretely but leaving an immediate welt so itchy and painful you feel compelled, to roll up the windows, pull over and punish the beast for it’s transgression. The splatter of blood left on inside of the passenger’s side window, while impressive, leaves you less satisfied than you might think, so you roll on. But as your arm itches you remember you wife’s email about your son being attacked by mosquitoes, and the monster itchy welts they left all over his body and suddenly the tether goes taught and all you want in the world is to be back with your family, battling mosquitoes and doing the things that dad’s do.


June 20, 2006

A word for the sense of nostalgia you have for a period of time you haven't experienced.

A word for the feeling that washes over you when you see something so embarrassing you feel embarrassed yourself.

A word for not recognizing yourself in the mirror.

A word for a person who always chooses bad fonts.

A word for the collective oohs and ahhs of a crowd watching fireworks.

A word for the limbo you enter when you are in a good dream and wake up halfway, but push yourself back, because you don't want the dream to end.

A word for the spaces between words when we talk.

A word for goodbyes for someone you know you will never see again.

A word for the dusty emptiness left by suicides and the murdered.

A word for a memory so powerful it smothers the other memories around it.

A word for time, when time goes all out of whack and moves either too slowly or with agonizing speed.

A word for the moment when you know everything that follows will be different.

A word for the lightest touch, when that touch means everything.

A word for the rush of warmth you feel when you hold the person you love the most.

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