It really has been far too long since I've posted here, but I have the same old excuse: the book proposal I thought I'd have out of here in June has dragged on and on and, although I'm about to move on to another part of it, it won't be finished any time soon. This isn't the sort of thing that demands frequent appeals to the Muse and transfigurative blasts of inspiration, although there are times I wish it did. No, this involves dull, hard work, assembling pieces and putting them together just so, and then finding more pieces to assemble. Books cover the tiny work area I have here in The Slum, and other documents come and go. Odd Web pages lurk in tabs on my browser until I realize I don't need them any more and then click them away.
Personal life? Not so much, even considering how little I had before. I sit at the desk and e-mails come and go. Not long ago, a friend in Texas, a dozen years younger than myself, died while at the dentist's. Last week, a friend here tried to commit suicide. These things, I figure, are better left unshared in the details because there's nothing edifying in them, just sad. One pleasant thing was seeing E and J again after a summer that left us all prostrate and uninspired, and we celebrated our first car trip by duplicating part of it, going to the Tomato Festival in Clapiers, a suburb to the northwest of town. Eric the Tomatologue was there, as usual (he'd done an earlier one this summer in the square by St. Anne's church here in town), but he didn't have any tomatoes for sale, for some reason, just a bunch of peppers. No problem: I picked up a kilo and a half from a woman I recognized from the Tuesday market and made an astoundingly delicious gazpacho out of it, some of which still exists in the refrigerator. And there was a fresh-tomato pizza last night which could have been better if I'd used more acid fruits than I chose. Ah, well.
No, mostly, this is my day:
A window. It's across the courtyard my windows mostly look out on. But there are stories there, too.
As I noted in one of my very first posts here, there's a 19th century former hôtel particulier, or large private house, across from me. As I noted recently, there have been some changes. A couple has moved in on the ground floor, which has been unoccupied for ages and ages, and have been renovating the huge apartment there, as well as putting out a bunch of potted trees to sort of mark off their territory from the violin-makers' area. Upstairs, a couple with a daughter have taken over the former Alliance Francaise, and heavens knows where that's gone. There is, however, one window to the right of that large space, and that's what I look out on.
When I first moved here, there was almost nothing going on there. Then a rather melancholy-looking young woman moved in, and I'd see her from time to time, opening or shutting the shutters. After a while, she acquired a boyfriend, a wiry, Spanish-looking guy with an out-of-control explosion of curly hair that verged on being an Afro. He looked like a nice guy. Maybe he was: after a while of his being around, they vanished. The next regular visitor to the apartment was a guy who looked like a really unpleasant minor French bureaucrat, very pleased with himself. He brought women there, and, in a reversal of how these things usually go, the sex noises coming from the window were all his: "Ouiiiii, ouiiiii, ouiiiiiii, OUIIIIIIII!!" He sounded like the little piggy, going oui oui oui all the way home, actually. But that wasn't the worst thing about his sexual encounters: he liked to do it to music, a mix-tape of the Gypsy Kings and Queen which he played loudly. I felt sorry for his women, except that the fact that they were with him already signaled they had serious problems with taste.
Then, for the longest time, there was nobody. At one point, Mme Merde's young son was pitching a fit, which, in his case, usually also involves pitching some toys, and he threw a couple of metal cars out the window at amazing speed. One of them went through the upper right-hand window, which finally got patched up with what looks like paper. And then, this summer, there was somebody. First, two Algerian-looking women opened the shutters and the window to let some air in, and after a while I could see them cleaning the place. After that, several young women in their 20s appeared. And, the following Sunday, disappeared. Then the Algerians were back, and then more young women, speaking Spanish, and hanging their underwear in the open window, since they'd washed it in the sink. And then, on Sunday, they, too, disappeared and the Algerian ladies were back. Finally, I got it: either the melancholy young woman or the sex maniac had the lease on the place and was renting it out as a vacation apartment.
This was confirmed by the next batch in there, the oddest ones yet. I actually caught them moving in, six young gay men and one young woman, who turned out to be from the rental agency, because I didn't see them until the day they (finally) left. These guys seemed intent on disproving every stereotype that gay men get saddled with: that they have taste in clothing, that they have taste in music, that they're sensitive... But there was something else going on, I realized one evening when the one black guy (who had a goatee bleached white) was moving something across the floor. It was one of those stands they use in hospitals to hold sacs of fluid which are administered intravenously. I thought I was seeing things, but there's a no-smoking rule in the apartment, and one by one, the boys would appear, shirtless (you could hardly blame them: it was during our heat-wave and it was in the 90s), on the windowsill to indulge, and one day I noticed one had a brown elastic surgical bandage wrapped around him, which clearly showed the outline of a tube leading to his stomach. They'd sleep late, go to the beach (they, too, washed their stuff in the sink, and beach towels and bathing suits hung on the windowsill), then, about 10pm, go off to the bars, returning at about two or three in the morning, apparently deaf, because although their talking to each other was never quiet (and the room does echo), it was louder in the middle of the night. The heat made it much harder to get back to sleep after they finally settled down.
And then, on a Sunday, after an all-night party, they went, the Algerian ladies were back, and the next day a guy and a young woman who might have been his daughter and might not showed up, saw me typing, shot me looks of total disgust, turned the lamp on, and never showed up again. The lamp was on for three days and the Algerian ladies showed up again. Next up were a huge, disheveled woman and her daughter, a carbon copy 30 years younger than her, who talked to each other in a language I couldn't identify. And now there are two middle-aged French couples who stare at me from time to time. One of the guys actually smiled. And one of them went berserk last night when some drunks were making a hell of a racket somewhere and yelled at them to shut up. The courtyard is actually the negative space defined by a bunch of different buildings on four different streets, and although I, too, was awakened by these clods, I couldn't tell exactly where they were. And what is it about French guys that makes them sing -- or attempt to sing -- when they get plastered? There are two bars on my street (but The Slum has, as one of its few selling points, the fact that it doesn't face that street) which specialize in binge-drinking students, and every night a song -- sometimes "Happy Birthday," but just as often not -- gets bellowed into the night air at maximum volume. It's worse on Fridays and Saturdays, of course, and, if the presence of medical students trying to sell candy pills and the number of broken eggs on the ground yesterday is anything to go by, the centuries-old traditions of the start of the school year are upon us.
Of course, that also means that the winemakers are harvesting the grapes (tiny crop this year, which could mean good wine, but higher prices), the tomatoes are getting harvested, too, and soon the markets will have different stuff in them, just like always. Fall lasts a long time here, and it's always a nice time to wander around the countryside. But I don't mean to rush things: I'll happily enjoy a few more weeks of summer now that the heat's broken.
And I won't just be doing it here: Wednesday I head off to Barcelona for a couple of days to cover an art show for the Austin Post, and I'll also be blogging my art and food adventures in the city and seeing if Gaudí really does rub me the wrong way, as Robert Hughes' book Barcelona makes me think might happen. No matter: there are some frescoes I've been waiting to see since 1967 in a museum there, and some grocery shopping to do. And yes, I'll have my camera along. So the pace will pick up some, promise.
And then it'll be back to this:
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