Spotted on the poshest shopping street in Madrid, calle Serrano…

What? No ball-gag?

What? No ball-gag?

The best bit was the very elegant mother next to me, saying to her five year-old, “What a scary teddy”! Oh, and how…

My friend Lisa and I got together today to go to a jumble sale in Malasaña, where I managed to refrain from buying anything more than 1,20 worth of antique buttons to play with. Then we took a turn around the neighborhood, enjoying the brisk, breezy, sunny day before getting a bite of lunch.

One of my favorite architectural artifacts in the neighborhood is an old pharmacy — still operating as such until it closed this summer — with tile advertisements covering the façade. There used to be shops like these all over Madrid, but there aren’t many left. Usually this one is covered in graffiti. I’ve never seen it clean before.


They offered a complete range of products.


Not to mention a range of their own patent medicines.

This one is good for pretty much anything that ails you...

This one is good for pretty much anything that ails you…

Though what these ailments have to do with trees, I don't know.

Though what these ailments have to do with trees, I don’t know.

Much mystery here -- what do these things seal up? And how do they make "that pain" disappear? (You know, "lady pain"...)

Much mystery here — what do these things seal up? And how do they make “that pain” disappear? (You know, “lady pain”…)

This image is the one that gets drawn on most often. I'm sure that doesn't surprise you.

This image is the one that gets drawn on most often. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you.

The poultry shop next door is now a bar… I love looking at all the different kinds of chickens.

Want an egg with your mojito?

Want an egg with your mojito?

First you jump off the cliff and you build wings on the way down.

-Ray Bradbury

Sometimes life offers us an opportunity that we’d never in a million years have seen coming — an amazing job, the perfect house, true love — and because we weren’t looking for it, we don’t quite know how to react.

Most people will want to have a bit of a think. After all, maybe the good thing isn’t as good as it looks. Maybe we’re running away from one thing and into something much worse. We want certainty, not risk. We want a cushioned landing pad, not a half-built parachute.

But if we wait too long, we miss out. We are left on the edge of that cliff, dreaming while looking down, fogged in by “what if.”

Or perhaps we’re lucky enough to jump before we’ve bound ourselves up in parsing all the possibilities. What we find when we hit the ground — gently, or with a bang — may bear no resemblance to what we thought we saw down there. But it’s nearly always worth it if we trust ourselves.

Me? I jump every time.

For some people, winter is the season that is the most difficult. For many who suffer from depression, spring is their nemesis. (Hence “April is the cruellest month”?)

For me, it’s fall. I’m almost always struck with nostalgia, and a desire to go somewhere — anywhere — other than where I am. Even living in a city I love as much as I do Madrid, I find that my feet are getting itchy.

Where would I go? Good question… being as close as I am to North Africa, a Bowlesian interlude is one possibility, assuming that it is still possible to live as they did way back when. Or perhaps to the Central Coast of California, where the summer gloom should have loosened its grip by now. Looking back at the photos I shot when I lived there, there is certainly plenty to recommend. All of these were taken around this time of year…

Little Sur river at Andrew Molera State Park.

Little Sur river at Andrew Molera State Park.

November sunset at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

November sunset at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Point Lobos whaling station

Point Lobos whaling station

Giant kelp at Lover's Point beach

Giant kelp at Lover’s Point beach

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas.

He was the first “adult” poet* whose work I fell in love with — though the relationship started when I was a kid. We would go to Aunt Sal´s house and flop belly-down on the floor to scribble-illustrate “A Child´s Christmas in Wales” as Uncle Perry read it aloud in his sonorous voice, doing all the characters. Miss Prothero was my favorite. ¨Would you like anything to read?”

Later, in high school, I found my way to his other work. My junior year English lit teacher asked if anyone had read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and I replied that I hadn´t, but had read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. She jumped down off her desk, crowing with delight, and came to plant a big kiss on my cheek. (This was in the Dark Ages, when teachers could do such things.)

*I had discovered e.e. cummings when I was quite young, but only the safe stuff. The really good, raunchy stuff didn´t come over my transom until I was at university.

And this is his poem that I loved most, and will love always.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

I enjoyed Roger Cohen’s opinion piece about life in France in the NYT today. Here’s my comment on it:

Mr. Cohen, I know exactly what you mean. I lived in Spain for six years when I was in my 20s, way back when. In 1991, I decided to return to the U.S., finally fed up with some of the less-delightful aspects of Spanish life — the noise, the disorder, the inefficiency.

Fast forward 20 years to 2011. After two decades of professional success, serious consumption, and something verging on workaholism, I decided to move back to Madrid. A number of visits over the years I was living in the States showed me that there was more to love about Spain than I had remembered — the focus on family and friends (and the fact that the line between them is often blurred), the ease of connection with the people around you (bus driver, pharmacist, fishmonger, whoever), and the fact that people work to live rather than the other way around are chief among them.

I gave up a lot as a result of my return. I don’t own a car anymore, and I earn about one-third of what I used to. I travel less and stay closer to home. But I am happier than I have been in years, and I finally have the perspective to revel in the little joys of my day-to-day life.

Efficiency and productivity are to be valued, up to a point. When they cause us to lose sight of our common humanity, however, it’s time to re-evaluate them, and perhaps to make a change.


In the time I’ve been away from the blog, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about writing a memoir of my two bouts of expat life, and using this forum as a proving ground. (I’ve also been working and sewing and entertaining and going to PT for my blasted shoulder that makes me feel 1,000 years old on a regular basis — but we’ll talk about those things another time.)

So the question is, should I write it? Would you read it?

Where does the time go?! I hadn’t intended to leave the blog unattended for so long, but, well, I blame this little beauty:


It’s an Alfa, a Spanish brand, though a “model twin” for the Janome 2160. And here’s the first FO I’ve made with the new machine, for a certain beloved 101 year-old. (Liberty fabric brought by Sister #2 when she popped down from London over Easter.) Always stylish, my Gram!

Gram Bday Blouse

I may manage another post next week, between work and vacation wardrobe sewing, and then I’m off to San Sebastian for a week. I need to unmelt and unwind! But I’ll fill you in on my adventures when I get back.

Hope you’re all having a good summer…

And I mean that wholeheartedly. As much as I’d have like Spain’s contestant, Ruth Lorenzo, to win Eurovision 2014, I am over the moon with delight at the triumph of Conchita Wurst (Austria). A great talent, and a voice for acceptance and love that I hope rings out for a long time.

The retreat with Thay and the monastics was a deeply moving, exhausting, rich, aggravating, transforming experience. You know, like life. We sat, walked, ate, sang, listened, slept, talked, and laughed — all as mindfully as possible.

This chant reached deep into my heart. I hope it brings you joy and inspiration.

Namo Avalokiteshvara

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness… We know that just by listening deeply, we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.

Hello! I hope you’re all well.

Just a quick note to let you know that I won’t be posting this week because I will be on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ll be back to share next Tuesday.

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