Friday, July 22, 2016

Midnight in Barcelona




Buffalo is becoming unrecognizable!  Bicycle rentals like in Barcelona!  Here's a story I wrote on the theme.  It was published in "Ride", a collection of bicycle shorts.


MIDNIGHT IN BARCELONA


It was getting close to midnight as I got to the bicycle station located just down the hill from my house, and, as usual there wasn’t a single space left to leave my rental bike. The Catalan bicing, the city bicycle share system, had become so successful that the bike stations were always filled.  In theory, bicing was a great plan. You paid for a yearly membership, took a bike out of a station and then returned it to any station in the city. But the reality was different.


            As usual, my options were the same.  Wait until someone came to pick up a bike was the first but that was not going to happen since the riders were probably safely tucked in their flats on a Monday night.  The next option was to try the next closest bike station which was about a fifteen minute ride away.  Parking the bike so far away and walking home negated the convenience that the bicing plan was supposed to provide.


I was cursing under my breath as I started out.  In the Gracia neighborhood, the streets were narrow and dark with names like Revolution and Legalitat which always gave me a moment of pleasure thinking of the ideals of the 19th century working class community that this area once was.  I was shocked out of my reverie by a deafening horn as a car swerved around the corner, just nicking my bike. I fell over with the bike on top of me.  The driver of the Seat stuck his head out the window and screamed a string of curse words ending with, “Watch where you’re going.”


“You watch it.”  I was furious.  “You could have killed me.”  It had happened so quickly the danger was starting to sink in.  I tested my arms, one at a time, and then my legs.  The guy, middle aged with a portly belly, got out of the car and helped me stand up.


“Sorry.”  He acknowledged.  “Good thing it’s one of these rental bikes.  They look like they could stop a truck.”  He laughed a nervous laugh and I joined in, a tad hysterical, from the sheer relief of being alive.  “Can I take you anywhere?”He asked.


I shook my head, and examined my knee where the jeans had torn and I had a scrape, just like when I was a kid.


“They’ll be fashionable now.”  He pointed at my jeans.


He was annoying me so despite the pain, I got on the bike and kept going though I was shaken.  Expat life was starting to wear on me, what with the long nights out, and pointless conversations that led nowhere.  I should have been in bed, not looking for a place to park my bike.


            I pedaled up another steep hill and arrived breathless at Travasera de Dalt.  Just as I slid off my bike to examine the possibilities of empty bike slots, another rider came up and spotted the one empty slot left in the long row of bikes just as I did.  As if we were in a slow motion movie we both tried to shove our bikes into it at the same time with the result of the wheels of both bikes getting tangled.  “It’s mine.  Don’t you dare.”  I tried on my fiercest expression.


            “No way.”  That immediately pegged him as an American.  With a Catalan or a Spaniard, I might have had a chance, chivalry wasn’t totally dead in Europe; after all, they still loved their mothers. 


            In the moment that he was distracted, I untangled the bike wheel and pushed my bike into the slot.  It gave a satisfying click as the computer registered the bike.  “See. Got it.”


            He laughed, “Yes, you did. You’re tougher than I thought.”


            “Hey, I almost got killed on my way here. This is my last ride on this damn bicing.  I just want to go home and crawl into bed.”


            “I’ll keep looking. There’s one more station I can try.  Hard to believe you can’t find a place to park your bike on a Monday night.  It’s worse than driving a car.  You, know I’m sorry. I’m not usually like that.”  He looked attractive in the light of the street lamp.  “Barcelona is making me aggressive.”


            “Where are you from?”


            “Chicago.”


            “That has to be worse.  Big people fighting over everything.”


            “They may not be big here but have you ever tried to get in line in the market with those senoras here?  They’ll run their carts over your feet.”


            “You have to ask, “Qui es el ultim?  Who’s the last person in line? There’s a logic to it.  If you don’t ask, you don’t exist.”


            “Maybe for you.  It’s still early.  Can I buy you a beer?”


            I was still a bit shaken, and I’d have company for the walk home so I said okay.  My knee ached and I peered down at it to see if it was bruised.  “My name is Stephanie.”


            “The steamroller.  I’m Jed.”


            “Are you studying or teaching?”


            “Neither.  I’m working in an architectural firm.”


            “No kidding.”


            “It’s an internship.  Means you work like a dog and earn no money.”


            “Good deal.  I’m studying Spanish but I chose the wrong place.  Spanish is almost taboo in Catalonia.”


            “I’m still fighting any language.  But I can order a beer.”  I walked first into what was a neighborhood bar transformed into a modern space with long lists of international beers where the owners were Belgian.  I grabbed a seat at the bar while Jed dragged his bike indoors. 


            Ca va Steph?  The bartender asked.  He pointed to Jed, “Tu novio?”


            “No, we were fighting for a bike space.”


            “Don’t bother with that.  Just buy your own.”


            “I don’t want to buy a bike.  You know how many are stolen.  After tonight, I’m not even sure I want to ride one on this city.”


            “These are some really heavy bikes.”  Jed pushed it into the corner.


            “Tell me, one fell on me. They’re supposed to survive tons of people using them.  I can’t imagine any American city with city bikes available everywhere.”


            “This city has some heavy duty hills.”


            “The worse part is having to ride home uphill.  You get the hard part at the end of your day.”


            By the second beer I was starting to feel my body relax and the pain in my knee subside.  Jed  was starting to be scintillating company which was too good to be true.  It was nice to hear the nasally sound of his voice though in the charm department he had nothing on the Catalans.  He did walk me home and pulled out his cell phone.  I gave him my number.  “Call me.”  I said as I started up the four flights of stairs.  The elevator had a tendency to stall and I couldn’t handle one more machine tonight. 


           





Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Time Machine and Poem


     Much to my surprise I discovered I have a time machine in my living room. It only goes backwards, not forward.   It is a TV with no cable connection, just the regular broadcast channels of which there are dozens.  Most of them show old series, movies, and sitcoms.  They must cost nothing or there wouldn’t be such a glut of them.  Surprisingly they have brought me pleasure.

    When I was living in Europe watching TV was a taboo.  I remember calling a friend and saying, I hear a TV in the background. “Oh no,” he replied, “I only watch documentaries”. In the States I resisted having a TV for years since I could no longer use Spanish or Catalan soaps as an excuse for learning language.  Finally I got a TV as a birthday present, but in my larger flat in Buffalo, I kept it hidden in an unused bedroom.  After all, whatever I wanted to see, I could view on my computer.

   Now in my smaller space in Atlanta it has prominence though I still viewed it with a touch of disdain.  Then after sifting through the endless religious stations and Latin dramas, I found France 24 which gives me a chance to see news from places like Africa or Latvia which the US newscasters typically ignore.  And then I found the channel with old game shows that go back to “Tell the Truth” or “What’s my Line” and stop around 1975.  My Spanish friend on seeing it said, “those people all must be dead by now”.  And it’s true.  I looked up Bert Convey, a popular host, and found the sad news that he died just three months after his second marriage.  Patty Duke, who was a regular on many of the game shows, recently passed. 

Why have I become interested in these shows and people?  They represent a time that was far less restricted than the world we live in with its fundamentalist values and anti-women rhetoric.  There is a progressive consciousness and innocence that we’ve lost along the way.  An added plus is that I started watching Star Trek. I never could stay up late enough to see it when I was a kid.  Those old episodes reflect on parallel universes and worm holes- subjects that are not out of place today. 

 

 

After I am Dead                                     a poem after Christina Rossetti

 

 

After I am dead my dearest”

fill my grave with companionate figures,

ceramic men and women

toiling the soil,

and standing guard,

the tasks of life

I no longer share.

 

Close my eyelids

with a kiss,

my lips too cold,

Purify the corpse

with fire,

Collect remains

In a bright ceramic vase

painted with birds and bears.

Lay it deep in the earth

with my terra cotta

statue friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The "Outsider" and a poem, "Immigration"

      Outsider, Stranger, Foreigner..  A stranger comes to town- this is a standard plot line for films and stories alike.  In my own writing, I often have a character who is standing outside, looking into the brightly lit windows of a house, simply observing but never part of what appears to be a warm, happy place. 
      What makes one an outsider?  I have a friend who despite growing up in and inhabiting a middle class milieu confessed she's felt like a refugee her entire life. How did that happen? 
     For many years my own feelings of being an outsider carried a touch of resentment. Another friend commented that I didn't look any different from him and therefore, couldn't be different.  My response was  I grew up speaking a different language, eating different food, and never quite understanding all the rules of the world outside my home.   But yes, I look like I do fit in. 
      These days I listen to the drawl around me and realize, just as if I were in a foreign country, I am an outsider here in the South.  I don't have the same history, the same connection to the red earth or the sad past.  Surprisingly enough, I don't have that sensation when I'm the minority on all the buses and trains I take.  I have the sense all of us are in the same day to day struggle. Perhaps I  have a privilege of race, but not of sex or social class.
     Is that still important in America?  Judging from the election campaign, race, sex, and social class are bigger than ever and most likely, will determine the outcome. 


Here's one of my poems on the theme. 




                             Immigration


 


I come to Bilbao in self-exile,


no romance circa Paris 1930.


I am at my  best


in new cities.


Smokestacks, black suits,


men on every corner staring


across the river


the city demands


to span time, give meaning.


 


The faces of unsettled conflicts


here in the modern dream


of a homeland.


The farm floats in the distance,


the place in all our pasts


competes with the cave,


from which we emerged,


to the weak sunlight


of a winter.


 


I return


with the accent


of a stranger


Circle completed,


You came here,


I go there


But not so close


I can´t breathe.


I choose a strong tongue


that shakes,


where the stranger


who arrived through centuries,


mixed and forgotten,


peers through blue eyes


in the marketplace.


 


 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Where is home?

       I'm at it again.  Tackling one of my favorite subjects- the idea of home, the archetype of home, and more precisely, why I don't have one. 
      This time, I'm approaching the topic from a saturnian perspective.  Am I finally getting worn out by living in spaces that I describe as grad student apartments?.  They're not quite as bad as student ghetto housing but one step above.  That means no noisy parties or chaos, but walls thin enough that I can hear my next door neighbor snoring.  Not surprisingly, these places never represent home.  My role in them is caretaker- I'm the one who calls when the electricity goes off or in my last dilemma, when squirrels had nested in the cable box and eaten the wire to my modem. 
     No, these places don't constitute a home.  Home is still the white farmhouse in Varysburg, New York that I visit in my dreams like an exile.  Around me, friends have long been established in homes or just recently have bought a condo.  Is that ever going to happen to me?   Iara Lee, the filmmaker said she couldn't find a place to start a garden.  A garden and a cat?  Are they in my future? 


From my last visit to Barcelona- a poem I'm working on.


Natural Inclinations


Pill bugs roll into balls
at the flick of a finger,
vineyards follow the semi-circle
of the crescent moon.


The Via Romana crosses
continents searching for
wine, garum, and oil.


The space between
sea and sky
falls into one
glass gray mass.


Clouds soften
every fall.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A poem since what is there to say?

We always need a disclaimer for life- I'm not anti-immigrant (I am the result of my parents' escaping WWll and meeting in America).  I'm not anti-Moslem. I've been working for years with Moslems.  So here is my Isis poem.




Soft,
not teddy bears, baby blankets,
Targets, move in scope's eye,
Heart pounds,
hide under table,
across your lover.
Shrouded wives,
widows stoned,
Christians burned.
The not you, the other,
Shot.

Monday, October 19, 2015

These Days

     I'm sitting by the small manmade lake in the next town over.  Shadows of leaves reflect on the water and an egret lifts one leg, steps carefully in the water.  What's wrong with this scene?
     The jarring blast of a leaf blower reverberates across the neighborhood.  This is the most American of all devices.  It's loud, it burns fuel, and it doesn't really solve the leaf problem.  It just blows the leaves off the property onto the street to be dealt with by someone else. 
     What happened to rakes?  I remember combing  grass and piling leaves high enough to jump into.  They were never as soft as you could imagine but there was a warm earthy fragrance I can still catch in the ancient part of my brain.  My apologies to my friends in the north who have had their first dusting of snow.  I'm still in fall here in this most alien of lands- the deep south. 


Here's my poem- the title has no connection to the song:


     These Days          


These days I reject
that summer could end,
that frost covers window panes,
that you could die.


I head to school each day
fill minds with words
take a train
back and forth
while bigger battles are fought.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The New World of Work






Recently my first novel was published and that has been a wonderful event!  I’ve been on an intense learning curve ever since.

The writer’s world no longer resembles what one imagined- the writer sitting at the computer and churning out page after page of prose.  That may be the most pleasurable part.  Then what  happens is editing.  Of course, every writer knows editing and rewriting are essential parts of the process.  Now to add to that, there is copywriting and proofreading.  Years ago when I lived in New York I was a proofreader and though it wasn’t the most exciting job, it was necessary.  These days the writer must submit a ready perfect text. Apparently, proofreading is a profession like so many others that has fallen by the wayside.

There are too many to count.  Do you remember when travel agents found the best deals for you and you didn’t spend hours on every internet site comparing flight prices and trying to figure out the best day to book a trip?  When you didn’t have to check out your own groceries?  When someone pumped gas and cleaned windshields? 

After my novel came out, there was something new that has entered my life.  Marketing.  I almost need an MBA to figure out how to keep my novel from totally disappearing.  Even large publishing houses can leave a big part of that up to the writer.  At a book fair I was next to a writer whose publisher paid for only half of his book tour.  Will that leave only the independently wealthy or the extremely lucky able to write?  I don’t have large expectations for my novel.  I only hope that readers may enjoy it and perhaps find something in it that has some relevance to their lives. 

 

Here’s a link to a flash fiction piece that just came out: