This is what a week’s worth of notebook entries, 1200-1500... like. Start notebook from January 26

This is what a week’s worth of notebook entries, 1200-1500 words, will look
like. Start notebook from January 26th and use Tuesdays to date each week.
Skip spring break weeks. Your last week will be dated April 26th.
Please note that these are not the longer weekly papers (like the paper on
beggars) that are due each Thursday.
Smoking kills: back around 1964, the US Surgeon General determined
what everyone already knew, that smoking was dangerous to one’s health. The
law, in 1965, required this message on the side of every pack: "Caution:
Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health.” Then in 1967, the
wording was changed: "Warning: Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Health
and May Cause Death from Cancer and Other Diseases." Two years later, the
warning became "Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That
Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health." I got to thinking about these
tepid warnings today when I saw an empty pack of smokes on a low sill, next to
a pile of tarps and some paint buckets. The warning on the pack was, Fumar
mata. Smoking kills. No reference to a surgeon general or anyone else who
might have an opinion on the matter, just the bald truth, smoking kills. The
corporate presence here isn’t what it is in the States.
Walking in the vecindario
Lonny has a FitBit, which is something shaped like a watch that you
wear on your wrist. It tells you how many steps you take in a day and how
much you slept. Hers told her last night that she needed to take another five
thousand steps before the day was over so we headed out before dinner to get
her quota.
We headed toward the sea because it sounds romantic and because
there is a long uphill stretch along a path that parallels the water. It was almost
dark and the moon was up and nearly full in the blueblack sky. Across the inlet
lights shone all along the piers, bright globes of different sizes, and on the
hillside lights glowed like decorations on a Christmas tree, rising from the pier
in clusters between black space, lining stretches of the uneven ridge. There was
one large ship anchored a ways out in the bay. It was a pretty night without a
hint of the rain that has fallen steadily or in showers for most of the last ten
The “path” is broad and paved, with one side for cyclists and joggers and
the other for pedestrians. There are grass margins on both sides of the path. It
was evening and the air was cool but quite a few people were out strolling or
sitting on benches that face the water or using the exercise machines bolted to
the pavers. A few joggers passed us but most people moved leisurely along the
incline. Dogs shot past everyone. Lonny called them Spanish dogs. “They don’t
stop to smell anyone. They don’t even look at us.” Most of these were small
breeds, Chihuahua sized but we saw a Border Collie and an Australian
shepherd, Hispanically indifferent to us. The Border Collie was with a young
man who held a looped leash in his hand. The animal would race out toward
the cliffs then back him man and throw itself at his hand, as if it wanted to
destroy the leash before the man could reconnect it. Other rabbit-sized dogs
frisked on the lawn while their owners stood by chatting with each other. I
noticed evidence on the pavers that some dogs didn’t make it to the grass
before doing their business. I have never seen anyone here clean up after their
pet. They leave it to the rain, I suppose, because there are a lot of dogs but the
sidewalks generally are clean.
When her FitBit permitted it, we turned around for home taking a
different route so that we could keep the water in view as long as possible
before turning toward town. We were talking and not really keeping track of
where we were, just heading down narrow streets and looking into shop
windows and dodging children who ran free all around us. At some point, I
noticed that we weren’t where I expected to be, which must sound vague but
which captures my state of mind. Then Lonny spotted a Pizza restaurant that
we’d seen earlier in the week and we had our bearings and I was surprised to
be blocks from my calculations, as if we’d been blown off course. The town
suddenly seemed smaller to me, as if we could walk for an hour and reach
every quarter of interest.
We stopped in to a little shop to buy bay leaves. I didn’t know the
Spanish word for this herb so we simply peered at jars and bags of spices
hoping to get lucky. We didn’t. The very nice young man at the counter offered
his help. He was all confidence, trying a bit of English out and encouraging us to
tell him what we needed until I said I didn’t know the Spanish word, no sé la
palabra en Español pero in Inglés es Bay leaves. Like others before him, he
wilted under the pressure but he was game so he asked me to write out what I
was saying and then he googled that and arrived, at last, at hoja de laurel. He’d
done it. He clapped his hands together and we all stared at his computer and
then he said, “no tenemos.” It hardly dimmed his excitement and we were
feeling pretty good as well because we knew what a Bay leaf is called in Spain.
Then he told us that Laurel trees were common in the area and we could just
take a few leaves from them. At home, we consulted the tyrant on Lonny’s wrist.
It told us we had gone well past our mark and we felt complete.
Alarming variety of terms for bathrooms:
The Spanish have a lot of words for bathroom and businesses seem to
pick one that isn’t being used elsewhere in the neighborhood. Asking for the
baño will usually get a simple answer. But you might say retrete, or servicio as
well. At the Itrxx?? the entrance to the toilets was nicknamed aseos. I hadn’t
seen that one before. I thought it might mean office or storeroom but urged on
by nature I investigated and discovered three doors in the little alcove beneath
the mystery word. Door number one, to the left, bore an image that suggested a
baby so that would be for parents with toddlers. On the middle door a stenciled
stick figure with a triangle on its torso clearly indicated women. The door to
the right had to be what I wanted—its icon was a tuning fork with a head,
clearly a male—but the way was blocked by a tiny woman who looked at me
and said, mujeres. This was an elderly woman, dressed very nicely in a pants
suit and colorful scarf, her hair a pleasant orange hue, her face powdered
lightly. I didn’t argue with her but I did turn and stare at the skirted figure on
the middle door. ¿Mujeres tambien? She smiled but remained in the way. A
moment later a woman about her age came out of the mensroom. Ah, one
woman had stood guard while the other trespassed, probably because the
women’s room had been occupied at the critical moment. This woman smiled
and said pasale, so I went There were two big urinals bolted to the wall.
Pills in Spain—plop,plop, fizz fizz
Speaking of which, in Spain vitamins and cold medicines often come in
thick pills like Alka-Seltzer of old. They take a couple minutes to fully dissolve
and they are best gulped down. I keep water back and I down that too and then
to subdue the aftertaste I breathe as lightly as if the dog had just farted. There
is a plus side to this. The whole process is, well, a process, and it makes for a
mindfulness that everyone says is good for a body.
Music for free, sort of.
Over the weekend I was down in Casco Viejo for the Sunday fair. The
vendors drew a crowd and the crowd drew another kind of soliciting—
musicians. They didn’t ask for a thing. They played clarinet or accordion or
guitar or flute or something called a Kora, hardly acknowledging the coins
dropped at their feet. Some of the musicians had little amplifiers near them and
they played along to music coming from these. I was pretty sure one guy,
playing clarinet, was faking it because his fingers didn’t move nearly as much
as the music seemed to demand. When he saw me looking at his hands he got
busy with his fingers. I moved on as if content and circled back behind him and
saw his fingers motionless over the stops again. He wasn’t exactly begging and
no one had bought a ticket to listen so no harm done. On one corner a young
black man squatted behind a stringed instrument I’d never seen before. Its base
was round, larger than a basketball and cut in half and strings reached up a few
feet to the top of the instrument’s neck. The man plucked at the strings that
sounded like something between a guitar and a harp. He told me it was a kora.
It was beautiful and when I dropped some coins into the instrument’s case I
could see he was having a good day.
Casco Viejo--man and dog: