Posts Tagged ‘Bits & Pieces’

The Manzanares

June 16, 2010

This is a revised piece

There is a river that runs through Madrid. It’s called the Manzanares, and he’s right. It is ugly.

“It’s not the Seine, y’know.”

“I know, I know. But I’m curious. There’s got to be something to see. Can we go anyway?”

“No, there’s nothing to see. It’s ugly and you have to take the Renfe Cercanias.”

But I don’t mind taking the Renfe if it gets me out of Vallecas.

So, I go alone and he’s right. It is ugly. Maybe he told me to get off at Principe Pio. Maybe it was Puerta Del Angel. I can’t remember now. But I wind my way through orangy brick tenements, with green, mangled awnings before I see the river and make my way to the Puente de Segovia. It’s nothing to see. And I cross, pretending it’s the Pont Neuf or the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. I practice pronouncing the line in my head that some day I will speak if I ever go back: Je suis a la recherche d’ une personne du nom de… And I remember the nights I stood at the Pont St. Michel at three in the morning, soul kissing the American after dancing all night at Le Balad’jo. It hurts to do this. But the Manzanares is ugly, and I am useless and apoplectic when it comes to finding beauty when it isn’t there. I’m not creative enough. The water is black. The air is cold. And there are huge concrete cinder blocks left like debris on the sides of the bank.

I head back down the understated arc of the overpass. It’s late in the afternoon and I don’t want the Spaniard to worry. But I’m lost—I miss the turn at Calle Caramuel and keep heading down Antonio Zamora instead—looking for the entrance to the Metro, wandering down a street where a Gitana sings an unknown song of sorrow, tremulous and pulsating, from a terraza draped in laundry three flights up.

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Bits and Pieces: Roads

March 23, 2010

Sun. Bones. Hair swirling east behind us. Peels of laughter from the shadowy caverns of our happy insides. We drove west on impulse. We wanted to see the desert, as if it were a marker of how far we’d come, not only in our travels, but our lives. When we were younger it was all about the city. Paris. Madrid. New York. San Francisco. But this was the last stretch of living and we both agreed it was more about natural landscapes than sprawling conurbations. You were mountains and oceans. I was deserts and forests. In that sense, it was my preference that won out. It was my journey.

We had two credit cards, yours and mine, a Blackberry and our driver’s licenses. One suitcase. And an iPod that still played Death Cab and reminded us of those first urgent months of love when nothing separated us but the functionality of our street clothes when we had to wear them. We started off on 81, then, switched to 40 around Nashville. At that point we took back roads because I wanted to have fun. I wanted a purpose; I wanted to get lost and pretend we were running from the law, or in the witness protection program. America was a game board of diversion from Philly to Knoxville to Nashville to Memphis and westward.

And then there was Advada’s Diner near Little Rock. How we ended up there I still don’t recall, but it had the best coffee and toast we’d tasted since Harrisburg. You and I agreed. Even the eggs were amazing. And yet, it was the Last Supper- it was the last time food tasted palatable and luscious. It was the last time I was able to hold anything down, the last moment the sky looked so big and blue, and the last of the games. And it was the last moment I could laugh at your jokes and love even your ugliest parts, and look into your eyes with an unalterable naivete, because in Little Rock, or rather, leaving Little Rock, shortly after breakfast you told me about Susan, and the visibility of the road soon grew dim.

Bits & Pieces: the courthouse

August 30, 2009


I move my hand across the form. It snaps me out of it. Like a scream of victory from a losing team. The exit to the Funhouse or the Hall of Mirrors. My hand clenches the pen. I enjoy the feel of it. The way the black ink slides, unbroken across the page. I sign my name. My name. I sign my name.

Bits & Pieces: Karen

August 30, 2009

My friend is an artist. She’s visiting from England. She’s staying with us for the next four days. She’s never been to Madrid. Once, a long time ago, when her parents were still together, her mum and dad took her to Torrevieja on summer holiday. All the Brits holiday in Spain. They come down in July and August and no matter where you go on the coast you only hear English. You never hear Spanish, and when you try to speak it, you’re cut off and the shop keepers answer you in English. It’s frustrating because I’m not a tourist. But Madrid. She’s never been to Madrid. So I promise to take her everywhere.

I’m so happy that I cry when I see her at Barajas Airport. I see her beautiful brown skin in a sea of white and when she’s there, right in front of me, I hug her and don’t let go. It’s been ten years.

I’ve fixed up her room; the room overlooking the red roofs and green awnings of the gypsies that live behind us. The ones that have the chickens in cages on their terraces. My mother-in-law gave us R’s old twin bed. I found a desk for cheap at the flea market. And I bought posters of the famous bullfighters and a set of old red curtains there too. She will be able to see the sun come up from this room, and I can’t say that I won’t be a little jealous.

In Paris, we shared a one-room chamber-de bonne in Les Halles. It had a double bed, a shower, a toilet and a formica-top table with two chairs.  Maybe even an electric double-burner for cooking. I can’t remember. She never slept at her step father’s place out past the Bois de Boulogne because he’d make her watch the baby all the time, and she felt so far away from all the fun. Instead, she’d let herself into the courtyard of my apartment and yell up to my window to be let in. 26 Rue Rimbuteau. She wanted to be in the center, with me.  She was nineteen. I was twenty-one. We partied all night, missed the trains, walked back home at three, four, five o’clock in the morning and then slept all day. Sometimes we woke up with our legs wrapped around each other, and then laughed about it over a coffee down at the Saint Placid where we’d go for breakfast if money came in.

“For fuck’s sake, the closest thing to me getting laid is sleeping with you, every night.”

“Oh Karen. You really do live a rah-ther pathetic life…” I always tried to copy her London accent. She appreciated the effort.

We’d do shots of espresso, smoke long brown cigarettes, flirt with rich Americans doing semesters abroad and “get pissed” every night at the Violon Dingue. We never went back to the Alliance Francaise, where we met, taking classes. We remained together. Each other’s foreign education. From there on out, we lived a rah-ther cliché, expatriate life, and came of age where only a lucky few, privileged girls do.

Bits & Pieces: Castellon

August 29, 2009

Siesta_by_dogmadic

The train takes five hours from Madrid to Castellon. I hate Madrid. I am glad to be rid of it. I feel free. I course through olive trees and rocky, sepia colored cliffs. Then orange trees. Then lush green palms and eucalyptus, stopping once in Valencia and then on to Castellon. Everything we own is packed into four suitcases that a stranger helps me unload and roll toward a taxi. I am alive with excitement and hope. I will have my baby in Castellon. I will live by the sea. I. Me. We will live by the sea. Just to say that and really mean it sounds safe and pure and old. As if nothing could touch us here.  Protected by the flat line of crumbled walls and moats around the city. And the watchful eyes of the Virgin of Lledó.

We will actually have money now too. I have calculated it a hundred times. 80,000 pesetas for the rent, 40,000 for food, 50,000 for utilities, 10,000 for spending. We can go out to eat now.  I can get my hair done. We don’t have to wait Marie Carmen to bring us leftovers. Old furniture. Broken furniture. Just so that we can sit at a table with four chairs.

I tip the driver a few pesetas and I meet R at the Hotel Castellon, a few blocks from the station. He’s already arrived  en coche with Gisela, his co-worker. They are having beers in the lobby. Together, they will man the Unix systems of BP, British Petroleum’s corporate office in all of the Costa Azahar. I bring the luggage in, piece by piece to the desk and sit beside my husband on one of the sofas. The waiter asks if I’d like to try a horchata de chufas. I say, “por favor,”  and stretch out my legs.

I can smell the sea but I cannot see it.

Bits & Pieces: the Lover

August 13, 2009

The Lovers

I have lost myself in visions of New Orleans, voodoo and Cafe du Monde. I imagine a lover waiting for me at the station, ready to pick me up and meet me for the first time. He will take me to the Bienville Hotel on Decatur street and we will make love for twenty-four hours. We will lie in a big bed with soft blankets and soft pillows. He will be soft and gentle; he will smell good; and there will be no rape scene. Nobody will climb up on top of me, against my will and force himself on me. I will not have bruises after the act. Neither the neighbors nor the children will hear my screams. No one will wonder if the police should be called. The room will look like a garden of marigolds, sunflowers, begonias and verbenas; the sun will stream through the window and warm our bodies, generously, kindly. No one will try to convince me of anything or try to purge their guilt. No one will say, “you like it like this.” They won’t have to. Because inside me, I will know.

Bits & Pieces: the Manzanares

April 29, 2009

Manzanares

There is a river that runs through Madrid. It’s called the Manzanares River, and he’s right. It is ugly.

“It’s not like the Seine, Tracy.”

“I know, I know. But I’m just curious. There’s got to be something to see. Can we go anyway?”

“No, there’s nothing to see. It’s ugly and you have to take the Renfe Cercanias.”

So, I go alone and he’s right. It is ugly. Maybe he told me to get off at Principe Pio. Maybe it was Alto de Extremadura. I can’t remember now. But I walk quite a ways through low-income, orangy brick tenements, with green awnings before I see the river and cross it. It’s nothing to see. And I cross it pretending it’s the Pont Neuf or the Pont Alexandre III. I speak French to myself, “bien sur,” “absolument,” “oh la la,” and remember the nights Karen and I crossed at the Pont St. Michel on our way back home at three in the morning from Le Violon Dingue. It hurts to do this. But the Manzanares is ugly, and I am trying to be happy anyway. The water is murky. The air is cold. And there are huge concrete cinder blocks left like trash on the sides of the black water.

I head back down the subtle arc of the overpass. It’s late in the afternoon and  I don’t want to be alone after dark. But I end up lost, looking for the entrance to the Metro, wandering down streets where old widows still wear black and sing sad old Castilian songs of lost love and broken hearts.

Bits & Pieces: the day after

April 29, 2009

The_rear_view_mirror_by_theofficesupplies

It’s the day after. I’m married. I’m taking my husband back to the airport so that he can catch his flight back to Spain.  But my car breaks down on the side of the road in Cherry Hill. It just dies at 276,000 miles. I think it’s symbolic. The official end of my old life so that I may begin the new. I break down across the street from a hotel where a Rapid Rover is parked by the valet. I race over to the driver and asked if he will take “my husband” to the Philadelphia International Airport. He says, sure, so I pay him because R has no money. I kiss R goodbye. I cry. He zips off down Route 70 in a van. I won’t see him until Christmas Eve.

I am alone.

I go inside the hotel and call triple A for a tow, from the hotel payphone. I wait by the side of the road for two hours, counting on my fingers the days until I will see him again, catching the sparkle of gold around my finger at nine, then nineteen, then twenty-nine.

Bits and pieces: the wedding day

March 20, 2009

bride

I don’t have a diamond. No bridal veil. My father doesn’t walk me down the aisle. There is no aisle. He’s not even invited. I am married on the side of the White Horse Pike by a judge I found in the Yellow Pages three days ago. My mother is crying. She says to R, “you don’t have to do this you know. You can wait.”  No one is giving us gifts. I have spaghetti and meatballs for dinner at Tony’s Restaurant, after. I rent a room at a motel, which has a sauna. Our room is called the Bridal Suite, and it has pine paneling and a brown shag carpet. My new husband is talking to his friend A___ on the phone. It’s been almost two hours. I am lying in bed next to him, waiting, in my white bra, white panties, white stockings and white garter belt. I am waiting for crazy sex and deep love and a feeling of forever. I keep calling myself Mrs. M___ over and over and over. And in the morning, I write it down: I am Mrs. Tracy M____.