Friday, February 07, 2014

J a n u a r y · 2 0 1 4 ·

A recap of the month’s events

AOG, Madrid

Last year I read an article, probably written by an American author, which talked about the benefits of keeping a “blessings journal”.

This tied in with something I saw on Pinterest: a blessings jar.

The person who posted the image on that site was also American.

Is their nationality important? In a way, yes.
How could it not be?

For some strange reason, Americans these days (and for a long time now) seem to be intent on improving their lives (in a way other nationalities do not, or do but differently), and they seem to think that these little tips help them to do so.

I am not well-versed on anyone’s life other than my own, so I don’t know if these ideas actually help, hinder, or have no impact on the quality of life.

Nevertheless, the “blessings journal” idea has stuck around in my head since it seems like an unusual enough thing to do… and diametrically opposed to my usual penchant for a “Calamities & Damnations Journal.”

Although I am not about to list the month’s blessings, the idea has inspired me to write this post, which is just a recap of those things which have happened in my life this month and which I think worthy of a highlight.

Looking back, it was a busier month than I originally thought.

That can only be a good thing.

1- The Choir
About three months ago a friend of mine invited me to go along with him to choir practice. He and his brother have been going there for about five years, and they are always looking for male voices, he says. 

He convinced me to come along, no need to audition, and just join.

I had been in a choir in High School, and I have always loved singing, so, out of the blue came this opportunity.
I went along with him and met his buddies.

Because we are in Spain, and I am American, they quickly asked me to help them with their English. The choir, you see, is a Gospel choir, and most of what they sing is in English.

So for about an hour or so, until the director arrived, I helped them out with their pronunciation.

Then they practiced, and I stood by in a corner, listening. My friend told the Director who I was afterwards, and he said in a very polite, yet stern manner, that they had just had auditions, and that I could try out in January.

So that was that.

My friend told me that this was very unexpected, but nevertheless would love it if I came again and helped out the choir with their English. Which I did, over the next couple of months.

And in December the choir had a concert, and I was there, in the audience, listening. Afterwards some of them came up to me, like children who’ve done something they are proud of, and asked about their performance.

Was it good?” “Did we sing well?” “Was the English ok?
So, slowly, I had become a sort of choir consultant.

Then, early in January, so early in fact I was still abroad, I got an email inviting me to audition.

Yes, panic mode.

I had not prepared anything and they were asking for a recording before giving me any further details.

As soon as I got back to Madrid I contacted my friend and, together, on the very last day of the deadline, we sent off three short songs sung acapella.

One day later I was told to go the very next day, Sunday, and audition. Which I did.

That very afternoon the choir met for their first rehearsal of the year. And I was there, still as their ‘English’ consultant.

The director, having heard me a few hours earlier, was very friendly, and even said, I think in an attempt to come across as empathic, that I should have sent the recording earlier.

So, one week later, I was told I was in the choir. So now, I sing in a gospel choir. In Madrid.

I had my first choir rehearsal last Sunday. I knew bits of the songs, none of the choreography, and I got to talk to other members in a more inclusive manner.

You see, now I was officially one of them.

That felt good.

2- Breaking Bad
Perhaps a strange thing to highlight, but I have to admit that I was the last person on Earth to have missed every single season of this ‘cultural phenomenon’ and to show very little interest in it.

White & Pinkerton

Some work colleagues convinced me to give it a try; so I did.

Taking advantage of the fact that my cable provider permits me to download entire seasons of a few, select, shows, I did, and thus far I’ve watched the entire first season and I’ve started on season 2.

No, I’m not impressed. It is ok, but the only character I actually like is Walter Junior, or Flynn, as he is being called in season 2.
Skyler gets on my nerves.

As do the sister and brother-in-law characters.

We’ll see…

3- Online Mags
Ok, I love magazines, and I love online magazines. Why? The photographs look so much better!

So this month I’ve added a couple of them to my tab list: Vice and I-D.

4- Grooveshark
I am a music freak, and a fan of Spotify.

But I can only use it on some devices, so, like a fool, I began to use the free online service, not knowing that eventually your 20 hours are up.

And you have to pay up for more.

So I re-discovered Grooveshark.

Basically the same, but with no hour limit; the interface is pretty cool.

I say re discover because I came across it a few months ago but forgot about it pretty quickly.

I’ve also been listening to music sets on soundcloud. Less cool, less interface rad, but interesting sounds just the same.

As always, don’t judge a song by its album cover…though, of course, we all do.

5- Trips to the UK
Ok, last year I went to the UK only twice. May, and December. My family are still there, but I was not able to go more.

This year, however, I will be there twice before June, which is a step up from last year.

This is a highlight because I’ll be going for different reasons, at different times, and it is all sorted in early January.

So, something to look forward to.

6- Writing Vs. Life
Ok, this is not exactly a highlight, quite the opposite. 

I have not been able to write much of my Sci-Fi novel this month. 

I met up with a friend a couple of weeks ago and managed all of 6 words. 

Not good.

Nonetheless, the highlight here is that I have managed to think about it and about how it should develop. 

In other words, although I’m not writing it, I am plotting it out somehow, which is a positive thing.

7- Democrats Abroad
Like a good little American, I’m in touch with an American expat association. In this case, Democrats Abroad in Spain. 

I was semi active with them a couple of years back, but kind of stop attending the various parties and events because they either clashed with something, I was out of town, or I was plain tired.

Well, a couple of months ago, DA organized a very interesting meeting at one of the member’s home where a journalist who had just been reporting from Syria (as a freelancer) was giving a talk on the situation there.

The other thing that I am is interested in all things foreign-affairs related.

So meeting Anna Therese Day was a very enlightening experience. She regaled us with the horrible tales human conflict manages to create, with her problems getting American editors to value the work of freelancers in the area, with the fact that, at the age of only 25, she is already better versed on the situation there than Anderson Cooper, and that she trains the new arrivals there. And more things.

She has a great perspective in life, and I only wish her all the best in her professional endeavors.

If you want to see what she is up to, you can follow her on twitter: @AnnaOfArabia

But it doesn’t end there. I volunteered to be the photographer at one of their voter registration and fundraising events, which was fun since, as the guy with the camera standing by the photocall, you get to meet a lot of people there. That was also a highlight since I think that, maybe, just maybe, I made a friend. Maybe even two.

8- Instagram junkie
Ok, this is to do more with the fact that I now have an iPhone, courtesy of my partner, and I can do what I’ve been wanting to do for years: walk around the city with a small camera and take snapshots of anything, and everything, I see.

My partner says I’ve gone camera crazy.

And he is right.

9- Books junkie
One can never have enough hats, gloves and shoes, said Patsy Stone once. Nor books, say I.

After my Christmas visit to my sister’s I am having a small percentage of my book collection mailed over to Spain. A very small percentage.

I have also began to rearrange some of my bookshelves at home. Rediscovering titles I had forgotten about, and giving it a more ordered appearance.

I have also been expanding my library this January. Here’s the link to my Shelfari, where I’ve been uploading titles lately, in no particular order other than the new ones get added rather quickly, and the older ones in a much slower fashion.

Yes, Shelfari, not Goodreads, where I also have an account.

This is a bit like Beta Vs VHS.

Who’ll win?

Nobody knows but of the two I rather interact with Shelfari. I think it looks better.

10- Interior Decor
I have a sofa from Ikea, the one with the changeable covers that everyone has. But I need a new one.

Ikea sofa

So a couple of months ago I discovered a Facebook page where people sell their things. Mostly expats living in Madrid.

And this lady put a photograph of an Ikea sofa she was giving away. I was, of course, very interested, and so was everyone else.

She was a bit odd to deal with since it seemed like she was playing all interested parties against each other.

By this I mean that she would only contact you after someone else had dropped out of the race. Which made arrangements near nigh impossible to make.

But I persevered. I was interested. And she was very very keen on somebody taking the couch of off her hands. Very keen indeed.

But she began to flounder.

She began to insist I came to see/take the sofa in question. 

So I asked for another view of the sofa, since the one she had put up on facebook was a screenshot from Ikea’s website.

She did, but it was on its side, and I could not really make it out very well. Was it the same sofa?

Once again she was contacted by someone who could take it off her hands, so she changed her tune with me and put me back at the end of the line.

Fine, I thought, the sofa in question did not appear to be the one I was after. But the whole thing backfired on her, again.
The person who had come to take the sofa had to return it. It was too big for her flat!

So she was all sweetness and apologies again when she contacted me. So, I asked her once again about the sofa model. 

Was it the one from Ikea that she originally posted on Facebook?

No, it was not. She insisted that I came and took it, but, hello? Wrong sofa = No deal.

Plus I don’t like people like her.

And then there was the whole Zara Home incident.

Inside a Zara Home store.

I like cushions. In fact, I love them.

I like them on the bed, on the sofa, anywhere.

So, early in the month, I thought I would walk past Zara Home. 

They were having the usual January sales and I came across a sequin cushion which, I thought, was €5,99.

When I took it to the till, it had gone up to €19,99, which was its full price. 

Like and idiot, when I was walking around the shop the price tag fell out somewhere. 

So, of course, I had to go back to the cushions table and find another one. Which I did.

And when I did I thought, great!, a matching pair.

No such luck. 

That one didn’t have a price tag either. So the girl at the till called the on-duty manager, who looked at me (like they always do in Europe) as if I was trying to put one on them, and told me I had to pay full price for the cushions.

So, even though your entire store is on sale, you want me to pay full price for these?

Oh ok, then half price.

Even though you have marked these down to €5,99."

But they don’t have a sticker.

But that is not my problem, I am your customer and you can’t expect me to …

And that is where I stopped talking. It was useless.

Once again Europe’s approach to customer service won out, and I walked out, minus two cushions.

But since I am on an interior decor bender, it seems, I have started to pick up fruit boxes (it is strawberry season in Spain!) and taking them home. 

I have been using them to hold books, mostly, and I’ve had to fight off my cleaning lady who throws them away whenever she comes round.

You see, once home I wash them and leave them to dry by the kitchen window. The cleaning lady sees them and assumes they are trash, so out they go.

11- Shoes 2014
I’m quite lucky that I live in one of the world’s shoe powerhouses. 

Spain has some great shoe designs and this season I have found myself in need of new shoes.

Thus far, taking advantage of the January sales, I’ve bought a pair of dark brown suede brogues, and a pair of Caterpillar boots, which I began wearing back in the early 1990s and have been wearing ever since.

However, not all is buy buy buy

As they say, recycle or die, so I’ve also mended the soles on another pair of dress shoes which I bought in London about three years ago. Unlike the UK, or Texas, living in Spain means you actually have seasons.


So you have Winter shoes, and Summer shoes. So whereas a pair of shoes in London would last months, or a year, here they last about the same amount of time, but spread out over a couple of years.

Now that I live in Madrid, I have discovered the short life-span of thin-soled shoes, which tend to last but one season and hardly ever make it to next year’s Summer season.

12- Probiotics
Over the Christmas season I had an abscess in my mouth. Since I was traveling so much, I found it impossible to go to the doctor, unless I went to the ER, which would have taken out a chunk of time out of my daily routine. I was at first in the UK, and I could not get any antibiotics for love or toffee! I needed a prescription. 

So I endured with this thing in my mouth as best as I could.

When we got back to Spain, I was still not in Madrid, and I tried to buy antibiotics. No luck.

Thankfully my partner’s sister was friends with a pharmacist who, and only because I was family, gave her a box of antibiotics for me.

I was so grateful!

The other thing this lovely pharmacist did was recommend I took pro-biotics, to overcome the effect antibiotics have on your plumbing. This was news to me, but I got some and, true enough, for the first time ever I didn’t have the usual digestive tract side effects. But I did have some new ones.

Especially the first day I started taking them.

It seems that they have a very efficient laxative effect. I was very effectively “laxed”.

13- A death in the political family
Death is something which is with us at all times. I still don’t know how to deal with it and my heart goes out whenever I hear somebody loses a loved one.

This January, my partner lost an uncle.

He went home for the funeral and stayed there for the weekend.

14- Thespian Days
I love going to the theater. I love a good play. And I really appreciate good acting.

This month, on the weekend my partner I were meant to go to the theater together he had to go to home for a funeral (see above). 

So I had three tickets (the friend who was coming with us had to cancel too) to play with.

I invited two friends who don’t much like each other — which is ironic since I met one through the other– and we went to see a play by Argentinian playwright Claudio Tolcachir: Emilia.

Emilia, Madrid cast.

The writing was amazing, and the acting was very good too. He has very quickly turned into one of my favorite playwrights these past few years.

The cast (above) were all well-known Spanish actors, and the audience was, for some strange reason, mostly retired citizens, which all three of us thought was unusual.

15- Elliot Murphy
A few years ago, my partner and I were lucky enough to go to Paris in March, and go to Elliot Murphy’s birthday concert at New Morning. And we did this a couple of years in a row.

This year we talked about it, but, given that the year is gearing up to be very travel heavy, we decided to skip Paris.

Oh well, no Elliot Murphy this year… or so I thought.

Turns out he has been coming to Madrid for the past 10 years and the weekend my partner did come, he and the friend who cancelled, and myself, all went to the Madrid concert. And it was great.

Especially the rendition of ‘Rock Ballad’. 


And when we went out, I came across a small fruit box (this time blueberries) which is now at home, waiting for some books to be put inside it (see above).

16- Game of Thrones
There are some programs which you faithfully and ardently watch, some that you watch whenever they are on, never making all that much of an effort to catch them, and some that just pass you by. That you just don’t really want to engage with.

Such was the case with Breaking Bad (see above).

Everyone was watching it, and I was in some other alternative universe, bypassing all the hoopla.

This had also happened when Twin Peaks was on.

That entire fad passed me by and I think that, thus far, I’ve only watched about half an episode. That is not to say I didn’t like the theme tune, I loved it and Julee Cruise.

But that’s about as far as my involvement with that series goes (that and the fact that I bought the first season on DVD about three years ago-though it remains unseen).

So when Game of Thrones came out, I was a bit blah about it. What little I saw of it on TV just didn’t appeal to me.

I ended up taping the entire first season (just in case I eventually liked it), and, a few months after it ended, started to watch the first episode.

I watched the first 15 minutes and switched off. I even thought of deleting the whole thing.

But people kept saying how good it was, how I had to watch it, how I would love it. So weeks later, maybe months, I watched the whole first episode.

No. I was not hooked. But I decided to watch the second episode. I think I began to like it only about half way through it.

Then I taped the second season, which is incomplete since I started watching the first season fully halfway through it. Then the third.

So, finally, I have been able to start watching the second season. I still don’t think I am hooked, and the show is getting a bit too Hollywood for my liking, but I am glad I’m watching it.

17- Aretha Franklin
So when my partner was last in Madrid we had this idea that we would go to Ikea and look at furniture.

Maybe buy an armchair. Maybe a new sofa (see above). Maybe a new mattress. So we left home and ran some quick errands throughout the city.

It was a sunny day, like most Winter days tend to be in Madrid, and for some reason, the temperatures were almost high. So we decided to have a coffee before heading off to Ikea and spending the rest of the day there. Not that we wanted to do that, we didn’t, but it is what ends up happening every time we go.

So there we were, having a coffee, and then I said to him “Should we skip Ikea? I mean, who wants to be indoors on a day like today?

He laughed because he was thinking the same thing, and we decided to bail on the Swedish smorgasbord, stopping, instead, on a nearby record shop.

Yes, records. How retro! Right?

But no, I was not after records for their sake, I just wanted to see what they had, and eventually I would move on to the CD section like I always do.

So there we were, just perusing, when I came across something I hadn’t seen since I left the US: Aretha Franklin’s album from 1986: Aretha.

My first album of hers ever.

I was hooked. I wanted it. I had never wanted an album cover so much before. Something about it (Warhol, hello?) made me want to buy it.

I thought it would be interesting to put it on the wall. Album covers is such a lost art I think.

Yes, of course, CDs still keep it alive, but it is not the same thing. You can’t appreciate a great cover on a CD.

So I put it aside and continued looking. I found a couple of Grace Jones albums and thought I’d take all three.

My partner offered to buy them, in fact, but I declined. We were having such a nice day out that I thought I could do without them.

I didn’t want to carry things, I just wanted to enjoy myself.

So I left all three there… (to be continued).

18- Parlez-vous Français?

The other thing that happened this month is that I had a couple of friends visit Madrid. Both French.

One lives in Sitges, the other in France. But they were both here, along with two of their friends.

They all got a place together not too far from me and they had me round for dinner one evening; it was a great opportunity to practice my French.

And how good is my French?

Well, good enough to half argue, half coherently, on the following subjects:

Masculinity (or why do you think that being camp is not an inherent part of masculinity?); Time (or I think time is man-made and there is no such thing as time); God (or just because the Bible says things happened and certain people lived does not actually mean that things did happen or that those people actually existed).

I tried to put my points across on these major subjects (but there were others– such as Mylène Farmer, for or against?) as best as I could with varying degrees of success.

On the masculinity front, it was 5 against one (not me). On the God thing, it was, again, five against one (again, not me) and on the time thing, it was three against two, and one undecided.

No, you never know how bad your French is until you realize you can’t explain why you think time does not exist and you have to switch to English to get your point across... to a group of people whose first language is not English…
My bad.

19- Home blackout!

And just the other day I came home to a dark apartment. What a surprise that was!

I wasn’t sure what the problem could be since the lights in the landing were on and I came up on the elevator.

So I called the light company only to be told that since there was not a problem in the building, I was on my own.

Call your insurance company. The meter is not out resposibility”.

So I finally used a candle a dear friend of mine from Mexico gave me when I first moved to Spain years ago and which had remained unused.

Yes, gifts eventually come into their own. Somehow.

I also had some unused tea lights somewhere and, I don’t know how since I don’t smoke, I found a lighter in one of the kitchen drawers.

So I called my partner, who gave me the number for the insurance company, and called. They would be round in about three hours or less.

The electrician called and said he’d be round in an hour and a half more or less. In the meantime I was in the dark.

It was interesting being at home with the lights out. At first, before I lit the candles, I was just enjoying, albeit briefly, the semi-darkness of the rooms. I live on a fourth floor studio flat, and the street lights managed somehow to light up the space. I could have sat there for a while, but I would have fallen asleep very quickly, and I would have gotten cold very quickly too.

My iPhone was almost out of juice, and the candles were starting to make me wheezy. I am asthmatic, so I can’t be around too many candles. Especially not paraffin candles.

So, I took my Mac, put a coat on, and left the apartment.

I went to Café Figueroa, my new writing destination, and stayed there for about 40 minutes. I didn’t want the electrician to have to wait and leave.

So I went back and sat in the dark for a while.

Eventually the electrician came round.

He buzzed and I let him in. I expected him to come straight up, but he went, as I foud out later, right for the meter room.
He called me.

Hello, I’m going back to my van. They’ve taken your fuses.

That I was not expecting.

Within 10 minutes the lights came back.

He came up and I signed a paper.

One of your neighbors must have taken it.

Did they take anyone else’s?

I don’t know, I just checked yours.

No time for chit chat. He was in a hurry.

20- Epiphany

My last hightlight of the month is really one of the first ones.

My partner and I organized a dinner party for Epiphany, just like we did last year.

At last year’s event, we asked our guests to bring along those gifts they had received throughout the year which were just gathering dust at home and they had no clue what to do with them.

At that event, and following the rules, one of our friends left home with 4 identical leather wallets.

All in all it had been a great party.

So this year we thought we would do the same.

I have to say that, as far as I’m concerned, I did’t do too badly.

My favorite gift this year? A rainbow-colored plastic slinky.

And onwards to 2014!


1 comment:

xochimiqui1 said...

OMG...I have got to call you and catch up!