Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Hola!

I'm back from Spain.

Man, what a trip.

I've been gone for, hmm, 9 days, but it feels like a month.

Lemme give you the Reader's Digest version.

Got to the airport ... the travel agent never phoned in my info to the airlines, so I had to re-do my entire itenary (which entailed flying five times, mind you) right there at the check-in desk. Phew! Luckily a little guilt ran a long way, and I was able to re-book my trip.

The flight to Madrid had the meanest stewardess I have ever met. She seemed to either be recuperating from a stroke or having slept on one side of her face for way too long but decided to take it out on us, her helpless victims.

After being delayed on the runway for two hours while a storm blew over, I made the mistake of asking for a ginger ale, you'd have thought I'd asked for her left kidney.

But I survived, landed in Madrid at 9 a.m. their time, got to my hotel and was not allowed to check in for two hours so I walked around the block for two hours feeling a strong need to brush my teeth (and have a ginger ale).

Finally I checked in, slept for a few hours, showered and was ready to take on Spain.

Madrid was ancient, gorgeous and just swept me away to another time immediately. Other than the fact that it was exceedingly difficult to find anything to eat that did not contain pork, shellfish or wheat, I had a wonderful journey.

I walked for miles using a little map and a lot of "¿Donde esta ...?"

Oddly, though, every time I met up with a proper, well dressed Madridian woman over the age of 40, she'd gave me the look of death. It seemed like everything about my shorts, tank-top, curly hair and tattoo offended them deeply. If they'd known I was gay, I'm sure pandemonium would have ensued. Their husbands, on the other hand, had far different reactions. These linen suited gentlemen with hankerchiefs peeking out of pockets looked at me as if I were a wild animal that they wanted to tame or mount or something.

It was just freaky.

I'd come to Spain expecting to find all the things my Cuban Spaniard lover is about, and instead started to find all the things she rebels against, well, in Madrid, anyway.

Granted I was staying near the opera, Madrid's version of truly uptown society, but man these folks were snobbbbbbyyyy.

I could not get myself to eat the way they did, four-course lunches and dinners after 10 p.m. So instead I gorged myself in the hotel's buffet breakfast, walked all over Madrid in the tardes (afternoon) and then sampled tapas and sangria from every outdoor caf that looked inviting in the early evening. I had meatballs and Sangria at the Plaza Mayor which was this huge many century old plaza surrounded by gorgeous buildings, outdoor cafés and lots of beggars.

I had the classic, potato and egg omelette with, yes, more sangria near the opera.

I had lots and lots of ensaladas mixtas (to remain regular as they say) ...

I visited the Prado museum to see the Spanish Renaissance paintings, darling, and, well, after two full days in Madrid, I was starting to feel like a snob, too.

Thankfully my next stop was Ibiza.

Going from Madrid to Ibiza is a bit like going from Connecticut to San Francisco. I mean I went from the uptown ascot crowd to the wild, sex- sand jet set junky sect.

My plane to Ibiza was loaded with gay men and older women who'd had way too much plastic surgery.

Thankfully in Ibiza my boy toy pal Tommy and his entourage were waiting to occupy my nights. I spent my days floating in el mar (the Mediterranean) for those like moi who have never been in this ocean before ... it's a lot more salty, so don't shave your legs less than 24 hours before a swim. OUCH!! ...

Tommy showed me the old town ... and took me into a magnificent 400-year-old fort that is now filled with tiny cafés, gay men's bars, lots of horny very young straight folks and little shops. It seemed impossible climbing the narrow stone steps farther up into the fort that anyone lived there but the place was riddled with little holes that turned into people's apartments.

It felt a lot more like Greece than a Spanish island, and I just loved it.

But I must say although there were enough gay men to fill a decent size city, there wasn't a lesbian in sight ... unless you count those rather large German women. I mean, who knows?

The boys, by the way, are little, and no, I don't mean that way. Well, I didn't check, but most of them looked as though they'd be 120 pounds soaking wet. Hell, I had more muscle than most of them did.

Tommy (who has a swimmer's body, rather buff but not overkill) explained that one of the reasons he likes Spain so much is because all the boy-boys love muscle but hate working out so its easy to be a superstar.

Well lemme tell you honeys, I put on my sexy silk top, avec rather noticeable cleavage and felt like chopped liver next to Madame Tommy. I thought our waiter was gonna pour beef sauce on my lap just to get a little closer to Tom.

Seemed like the only folks in Ibiza who were interested in moi were old drunks from London. Sigh. Story of my life. The more they drink, they more they love me.

Anyway I was anointed fag hag extraordinaire and taken into the boy bars with Tommy and company ... quite an experience to be looking out over 400-year-old stone steps and walls, the distant twinkly lights of the old town and meanwhile watch a parade of drag queens on stilts promenade by.

After four days of sun, fun and grilled sole with the head on, (had to cover it with a napkin it kept staring at me) it was off to Barcelona.

I expected to like Barcelona the most and did.

This city seemed to capture the best of Madrid and mix it with Paris and the edge of Manhattan. It was a big city that never felt overwhelming with something for everyone.

I walked the Ravel, a kilometer or so of street acts, peddlers, cafés and flamenco dancers and then cut into the wondrous old gothic quarter which wound me round and round tiny old streets too small for a car or even a large tourist, where laundry clinging from iron balconies perpetually dripped on my head.

At 10 at night, I dressed up and went out to the adventure called dinner. One night was a Spanish Renaissance place that fed me half a lamb pulled out of some wooden fire. One night a Basque meal of salt cod and tomatoes. I had more tapas and sangria and way more cheese than anyone should ever eat, and still expect to wear tight jeans.

I visited the beaches created when an industrial area was turned into housing for the '92 Olympics. I counted five beaches and hundreds of restaurants on a port nearby. It was so amazing to go from the center of the city to the beach in a 6-euro cab ride. Then to walk from a beach filled with families and children to an entire nude beach in a matter of minutes. ... And yes ... as it turns out ... they really were that small. ... Sheesh don't these guys take vitamins over here?!

I took a tour to visit all the modernist buildings of the mad-man architect Gaudí, who seems to have done to buildings what Dali did to canvas. My favorite was the gothic church with what looked like baskets of fruit perched on top.

Barcelona was either filled with lesbians or filled with rather aggressive women wearing back-packs who seemed to love to make eye contact and not look away no matter what. I don't know if they were cruising me or doing some sort of rite of passage thing that I was not privy to, but what do you expect from a city that loves bullfights?

That's gross by the way. Shit, 15,000 people gathering around to watch some jerk torture a bull. Someone needs to send PETA out there PRONTO!

I walked so much in Barcelona that the bottoms of my feet are covered in blisters, but I just never seemed to tire of the way the streets would wrap around and around and into something new and yet all made sense. I loved the modernist buildings next to the two- or three-century-old ones. I loved the gothic sections, remnants of the 14th century (although they weren't very nice to Jews around then, were they? Hmm.) ...

Actually when I went in search of the Jewish quarter I couldn't even find it. This was the section in the old city left after what was a large thriving community of Jews were either murdered or exiled. Nice.

What do you expect from a country that refuses to make anything without ham?

Anyway, that was many centuries ago, so I moved on. Forgive and forget sorta thing. ... Went to the Picasso museum to view his blue period, which I loved because it's dark, moody and, well, blue -- all the things that appeal to the New York aesthetic.

On my last night in Barcelona I visited the port for a huge plate of really frightening fried tiny fish with huge mouths filled with teeth. I just could not eat them for fear of them biting back. But the wine was wonderful and the olives glorious and all seemed just fine with the world.

And now I'm back.

And my muchacha is presently cooking me a Latin break-lunch that includes eggs and plantains, and I am rolling in the welcome that comes from having left her and run away to the country of her ancestry for nine days.

Was she worried? ... Hmmm. I don't know, but the attention is sweet and fruity like sangria.

Sangria by the way was fabulous in Madrid but disgusting in Ibiza. They put something in it that makes it taste like wine-flavored Alka Seltzer. In Barcelona, they add bubbles, too.

That's called fizzing up a good flat thing, amigos. ... Just leave the damn sangria alone.

Anyway, I'm back in my nice gray, brown and beige home ... enjoying a fabulous lack of red. There are no fish with heads on them here ... that I'm aware of, anyway ... and the evil stroke stewardess is a distant memory.

Next time I start with Barcelona and work my way into the tiny towns in the south, and I have go to learn how to say, "Stop staring at me or I'll stab you in the throat" in Spanish.

Adios!!

P.S. - All kidding aside ... Spain was mucho fantastico.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

My mother was a Depression baby.

I don't remember a single day in my entire childhood that I ever felt we weren't living on a budget.

"For a rainy day ..."

or

"You never know ..."

... were phrases offered to me instead of "Let's go to Mexico!"

My family did travel a lot, but our method for doing so was a camper wedged on top of my dad's old Ford pick-up. There was no AC in the back, (the camper part), no television, no music, nothing but the endless, stream of billboards whizzing by.

It wasn't so bad in the early '70s when the billboards were plentiful and entertaining, but by the late '70s, highway beautification had stepped in, and all we had to look forward to was another 60 miles of trees before the next rest stop.

I became a champion day-dreamer.

To this day, I have a fear of driving long distances without a co-pilot because I may go into "the zone" the second I hit a nice long stretch of open road.

I asked my folks a lot when growing up, if we could travel in higher style, to better places, or if I could just stay the fuck home and sun-bathe in the yard while they high-tailed up the highway, but Mom was relentless. She wanted us to see the country, and she wanted to do it all within some magical budget that she revealed to no one, but that was always there hovering over us like a green cloud.

Mom spoke fluent French and had a love of all things French. She had a pen-pal for 50 years in France whom she hadn't seen since college. We'd been to Montreal (cause you can drive there) countless times, but she'd never been to France or anywhere else off the North American continent.


I remember the time when, after all the kids were out of the house and life was quiet, my mother surveyed her retirement accounts, my dad's pension plan, the savings, the real estate investments and what was left for the kids and decided it was ok to let loose.

"Now I'm gonna have some fun," she told us. She had a stroke that year and died 5 years later.

"I will not postpone my life!" was the message I kept with me after she died.

But I forgot.

I got busy.

I spent years obsessing about my future, trying to create some kind of a nest egg for myself, trying to do something to make myself feel safe in this world.

I traveled a lot but rarely out of the tri-state area.

Then September 11th happened.

After months of feeling as though I could not leave New York City for any reason, because to do so would mean walking out on a loved one in trouble, I slowly started putting the pieces back together. But the puzzle had changed. I wasn't who I'd been anymore. I was someone new. Most of us were.

I looked at the new me with bewilderment. I'm still looking.

"I will not postpone my life" morphed into "Today I will live life."

I went to London and spent a week walking around in the rain, discovering the city by foot.

I took chances.

I let my guard down for the right people.

I jumped instead of tiptoeing.

All this is leading up to my crazy spontaneous trip to Spain.

I've never been to Spain. I don't speak Spanish. I hate to fly. I am frightened of going to new places. I am frightened of different countries. I am frightened.

I'm practical. I book trips well in advance. I get the best prices.

Not this time. It's a last-minute trip. Well, at least for me. I got a good price but not a great one, and I'm flying 4 times in one week. I fly into Madrid and after a few days go to Ibiza, spend some time there and then to Barcelona for 4 days.

It's not very me, but it is who I want to be.

More daring, more fun, more willing to embrace newness and change.

I head my mother's message and my new September 11th mantra, and they play off each other.

"I will not postpone my life. Today I will live life."

They have bonded into some kind of melody that plays in my head often. The lyrics change but essentially mean the same thing. It's usually sung to me by a raspy voiced rock-tress like Janis Joplin or Melissa Etheridge.

Today. I will live. Today I will fly. Today I will not be afraid and if I am I will take my fear and ride it into this excellent un-written chapter of my life. My life is today.
Buenos tardes, noches, dias ... take yer pick. I'll eat some fantastico comida for you-all.

Adios! This pequito senora is off to Madrid!

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Had something of an odd experience the other day.

I was walking to the gym (wanted to work off one too many orders of fish and chips from my recent Long Island trip).

A friend of a friend stopped me on the street to say hello. We got to talking, and she said she'd seen me in the 'hood before but did not say hi.

When I asked why, she said ... I had been simply unapproachable.

I assumed she was referring to the emotional battle armor I tend to strap on whenever I walk anywhere, a remnant of too many years in bad neighborhoods, but she wasn't.

"You were covered head to toe in soot and the look on your face ... your face ... well ... you were just glazed over," she said, but I still didn't understand until she added, "It was a few days after September 11th."

She'd obviously caught me on the end of one my long walks home from ground zero. I remember those walks. I would leave the site, filthy and exhausted and could never bear the thought of a taxi or the subway so I would walk home from ground zero to the East Village. I always cut through Chinatown, then went up the Bowery, over Houston and into the village. It was a long walk, but I never felt my feet touch the ground. It always seemed like I was riding on a conveyor belt. I think I must have daydreamed most of the way, I was always surprised when I reached Avenue A.

I guess what felt so odd about this simple exchange with this woman I barely know is that this walk, which seemed to me to be something out of a past life experience, had been witnessed by someone. She had watched me stream right past her on my conveyor belt and instinctively knew what I did not at the time understand, that I was not really there. I was buried somewhere underneath my numbness. I was standing still and the world was taking me for a ride.

I thought about the way my fingers and toes, arms, legs, cheeks, eyelids, scalp feel today, when I walk about the city. I can feel these things. When my feet touch the ground I can feel the impact. I wiggle my toes when they fall asleep and they wake up. The sun on my cheeks burns a little in a nice way. The breeze pulls my hair and I tilt my head back to let it pull some more. I like having my hair pulled. I'm in my body now. I'm back.

But.

How long was I gone?

Where did I go?

Did I bring anything back with me that I wasn't supposed to?

Did I leave something behind?

Were you gone, too?

Did you ride on conveyor belts in the fall of 2001?

Have you come home yet?

Have you?

Friday, July 05, 2002

Did anyone in Manhattan try to mail a letter yesterday?

Yesterday being July 4th.

Well I did.

Yep I was determined to pay some bills that had been collecting dust in my Things to Be Ignored box, so I wrote a few checks, shoved 'em in envelopes and off I went.

At my corner mailbox, I pulled the handle, but the dad-burned door wouldn't open. Didn't faze me. I mean, this is the East Village. Anything could have happened. Might have been someone too wasted to tell the difference between the garbage can and the mailbox who crammed too much stuff in there, or the thing just might have been broken.

So I plodded on, undeterred.

Found another box on Avenue A, but it wouldn't open either. That's when it hit me. Duhhh. The mailboxes were locked shut.

I know it's odd to say, but none of the terror warnings for the Fourth of July had sunk in. This did. The %$#@&* mailboxes were locked!!

Not only did the reality of the fact that this city was worried about someone dropping bombs into our mailboxes hit me, I was also struck with the terrible notion that I would now have to finish all my day's errands while carrying a huge wad of letters.

Oh, how I suffer.

As the day progressed, I noticed other things, about a hundred cops on the corner of 14th and 1st getting ready to patrol the FDR, a whole lotta very nervous people walking even faster then usual, a ton of police barricades piled up to be delivered eastward.

Naturally all of this made me feel profoundly patriotic.

How dare I consider doing not much of anything on this day when I should be celebrating freedom and the fact that my building has a killer roof-deck.

So I threw a spontaneous potluck rooftop soiree.

Tommy and Ed came over with beer and wine. I bought a shit-load of Chinese chicken wings, some hummus, chips, cheese crackers ... the usual Rossi vittles. Carol and Sandy came over with Thai food. Kathleen brought up a tart (the kind you eat not the kind you date).

Turned out my neighbor Mike was having a get together with some of his rocker (DUDE!) pals on the roof, too, so it was a real party.

Now here's the deal with my roof. Even though it's practically on Avenue C, we get a lousy view of the fireworks, 'cause one of the projects is so huge it blocks out the central view. So basically what we see is the fireworks that shoot up high enough to be over the building or what comes cascading down the sides. It kinda sucks, but when given the choice of cramming in between thousands of rowdy people on the FDR amid high terror alerts, or watching the tops and sides of the fireworks from a comfy roof deck with tons of wine and munchies, everyone thought this was the way to go.

First thing Kathleen said to me when I met up with her on the deck: "Did you see the Batmobile?"

Turns out a fighter jet was patrolling, not to mention a whole lotta helicopters.

Next door to us is Christopher's tenement building. It's a story higher and a bit to the east, so they have a perfect view of the works. Earlier, Christopher had promised to invite us all up to his roof. I was expecting to get a call to go over there any second. Instead some cops were peering down at us from his roof.

"Did you see the snipers?" one of Mike's Dude! pals asked.

Is that what they are?

Then Kathleen's cell phone rings. It's Christopher. An elderly woman who lives in his building was just found dead on his roof. Yeah the roof that was only about 15 feet away from us. The cops were there for her, not as snipers.

The woman, who as a rule could generally be found buying beer at the corner bodega had gone up on the roof in this sweltering hundred degree day to drink. She'd passed out at some point and lain there in the intense heat all day long. How long she'd been dead, I don't know, but Christopher said she was barely recognizable.

The night took on a bit of an eerie tone after that. None of us knew her except as one of the many characters in the neighborhood, but knowing that a corpse was lying just beyond the wall 15 feet away is a bit of strange element to mix into a party.

I guess it was good thing that she died on July 4th. Who knows how long it would have taken for them to find her if not. This night was the most social night of the year for her building. Christopher told me the whole building goes up there on July 4th. It's tradition.

They were there last night, but they were quiet.

I wondered how it felt to them to climb up there, ready to celebrate and instead find a dead neighbor.

When the fireworks started, I forgot all about the corpse, and the mailboxes and the cops and the batplane and delighted in the tops and sides of a gorgeous fireworks display. We all cheered and hooted and hugged and kissed and joked.

Kathleen passed the tart around, and I kept screaming, "Stop calling me that!" every time she offered, "Tart?"

Carol regaled us all with her non-PC rants about the proper revenge for 9/11. Let's just say it left the Sears building as the tallest in the world. Tommy flexed his newly developed biceps (swimming with resistance paddles or some such thing). Ed and Kathleen bonded over celebrity bathroom decor. Sandy explained exactly what "Mushy" means in her country. It was a fun group.

This, then, was the night, the first Fourth of July after September 11th, with good friends and lots of laughter amid the strangeness of it all.

I let my eyes stroke the perfect view of the red, white and blue Empire State building and then turned toward the hole in the sky that was the World Trade Center.

"The sky seems so empty over there," Carol said.

"Not to me," I thought to myself, because I see them still standing there. They flicker in and out like candlelight, but they're there.

They are always there.