Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back (& Forth)

I drove home through the darkness last night, feeling heavy. Unsure if I wanted to curse or cry, I had this epiphany that Industry would take everything - all time and effort, energy and passion - and return a certificate (perhaps printed in color) in return. And my 'live to work' philosophy which felt rather bright and shiny in Spain suddenly appeared dull and tired.

"You will stop," I told my brain, aware that my neurons were drooping, synapses beginning to slosh through misery. "So you didn't get a certificate - you didn't have a particularly good year. And you've received certificates before - it's a pretty fleeting pleasure. What lingers more is basking in the Spanish sunshine. Taking photos of interesting architecture and lingering over spa treatments. You make more money than you need. You work with brilliant people and go fabulous places and learn fascinating things. So stop it."

And I mostly did.

I came home to a house my mom cleaned and to a new gate my dad built (called the escape-proof entry point to the barrier of awesomeness) and greeted the sweetest of puppies. I gently touched the petals of a daisy they'd bought me and felt grateful that I'd skipped a morning of meetings to explain photos and buy breakfast for them. I gave hugs and kisses before saying good-bye and opening the door to my professional life at home once again.

Overview and awards dinners. Networking and catching up, gritting my teeth through unpleasant conversations and giggling when someone offered a sarcastic comment. I had caught up on email during a ridiculously long layover in PHL, sitting on the floor near an outlet for long enough to make a muscle in my back twinge painfully at random intervals.

Still feeling sad despite stern warnings, I swallowed an extra half-dose of anti-depressant and plodded upstairs to fall into bed, happily arrange my multitude of pillows (a twin bed and two pillows has me grateful for my giant bed and mounds of pillows). And I woke this morning and went back to work. And it was good.

I make more money than I need. I work with brilliant people and go fabulous places and learn fascinating things. And though I wish I had more than a few days to settle before the next trip, I've still escaped the slide into a depressed state, at least for now.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


I met a bloggy friend last night, eagerly accepting her kind offer to stop over, and we wandered the Barri Gotic.

"In the summer," she said after checking again that I wasn't cold in my light shift in contrast to her heavier jacket, "there is a cafe open in the courtyard. We'll see if it's still there."

And it was, leaving me gazing around at the clusters of flowers and oranges ripening cheerfully on trees while we sipped strong coffee con leche and chatted about academic systems and upcoming post-docs and international moves. I could never, I decided as she spoke and gestured, be that brave or charmingly confident. We finished our drinks and set off again at a brisk pace - she pointed out buildings and gave background of history, both hers and Barcelona's.

"No," I replied as we stood at a stoplight. "I find myself feeling a bit badly about it, but I don't miss research or academia at all. My job stresses me out, but it's full or perks and money and opportunities to learn in various ways." Plus, I didn't say but did think, I was never going to contribute to the body of knowledge in any meaningful way. But this - taking in advice and sorting through information and organizing details and articulating priorities? This I can do.

Still, she was utterly charming and the dark chocolate ice cream she recommended was intensely good, yet the caffeine humming through my system was eventually inadequate to warm me in the cooling evening. So I hugged her and waved, scampering into my hotel while she moved toward the metro.

I slept this morning away, setting the clock I purchased on my first day in Barcelona forward one hour and sitting up to poke my hand out the window to feel the gentle rain before curling up and drowsing again. I awakened and was ready to go home - I've been away for many days and while it's been wonderful, I'm ready to sleep in my bed and kiss my Chienne and hug my parents hello. To refocus on work rather than ignoring all but the most urgent of messages and to get these lengthy flights as part of my past rather than immediate future.

Still, I walked and had lunch. Took pictures and basked in the sunshine that emerged between clouds. And returned to the hotel to nap. I increased the dose of my antidepressant this evening, realizing that my sleep schedule was a hint that my mind was withdrawing. Much as I want to be home, I'm less eager to return to the stress and arguments and incessant and irrelevant activity that is my professional life of late. So I responded to that cue and boosted medication, hoping it evened out my poor brain chemistry that just doesn't like changes.

I had some dinner and packed a bit more, folding dirty clothes and arranging the few purchases to make room for tomorrow's packing of oil and vases. I have a single pair of tights and one clean dress left - enough to carry me back to PHL and then on to home. I have hundreds of photos and a few personal directives that have occurred to me during my splendid Spanish explorations. Because I've not been particularly happy of late and I do think that the love of life I've experienced here should translate, at least in part, when I return to more familiar surroundings.

  • Drink water. Grab a bottle and a glass and enjoy the splash of liquid into the latter. I feel better having swallowed so very much mineral water here, rendered thirsty by the walking and warmth but watching my skin become more supple and my insides seem to slosh around a bit more happily.
  • Take time with food. Decide what you want - not what's most easily available - and focus on the eating of it. Oh, and acquire asparagus and mango. Lots and lots of mango.
  • Be more kind. Drop metaphorical coins in cups people hold - for interesting performances or sincere expressions of need. Offer compliments or sympathy or time to listen and share and support.
  • Buy flowers. Leave some at home and take some to work. It's a small, unnecessary thing, but I've adored my flowers in this hotel room. I smile at them and rub the tips of my fingers over the petals each day.
  • Walk for much longer. My muscles are stronger and feet no longer ache. So be outside and wander and enjoy - Chienne will be pleased to trot alongside.
  • Blog a bit more. Composing posts in my head as I walked, I found that I missed it. The finding of words and expression of emotions - it kept me present and thinking of my actions and reactions and how they might look when described.
Thanks for joining me here, folks. And adios until I'm back at home.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I've meant to write something meaningful about dating. About men and sex and maturing in my view of myself and my relationship-y capabilities.

"No," I replied to my colleague as he sped through the streets of Madrid to deposit me at my hotel. "I've dated but I'm not married. I guess," I paused for I'm never good at articulating it, "I like being in love but don't like being hurt. The idea of a partner is appealing but constant compromise really isn't. I want it to be fun and it's sometimes more frustrating. So, no. I'm not married."

The book I'm reading is about twins and I wished while showering that I could break off a part of myself and send her on an alternate path.

"Pseudo-Katie," I would instruct kindly, "throw yourself into the relationship with Doug. Then let's meet up in 3 months or so and let me know how that goes." Or - 3 months ago - "Don't scare Will away. Be chic and sophisticated and, for goodness sake, have sex with the ridiculously sexy man! And when it ends, we'll decide if it hurt more my way or yours." Or "You'll meet Jack for dinner and then get a room. Semi-safe, semi-anonymous sex is an adventure and we do hate being bored! Oh, and in advance, apologies is something goes awry and you perish."

But there's just me, signaled with a raised index finger when requesting a table or purchasing a ticket to enter some wondrous place. And I can't figure out if I mind. It's pleasant to be here alone - to go to bed early or sleep late, eat when I'm hungry and stare at whatever I like. When my leg cramped on Passeig de Gracia, I hobbled to a bench and rotated my ankle, reaching to rub my calf through my gray tights. And I thought - as I sometimes do in the morning while dressing - of Will and his affection for hosiery. And I wondered, just for a moment, how it would feel to rest my forehead on his shoulder while he soothed the sore muscle and we set off again, our goal to chat over architecture and admire the terrace at La Pedrera. Afterward, I thought as the pain eased in my leg, we'd drink wine and nibble snacks, exchanging increasingly suggestive comments until indulging in said mood once we returned the privacy of our room.

I chatted with a woman in line for said tour and she mentioned her children were tired of the constant activity. I smiled and thought of Mom and her ambitious agendas and wondered how it would feel if Doug and his son went to explore nearby while I waited with his daughter and discussed how that doorway, with the wrought iron? Gaudi designed it to look like honeycomb. And how, after we walked through the building, we'd go get juice with mango in it.

And I panicked, feeling my breath catch and stomach turn as I looked at the curving structure beside me with the twists of metal and shimmering glass and none of it was right. It was interesting, but not right. And I closed my eyes, afraid and ashamed, thinking of the black glove that remained in the back of my Jeep after I'd taken Doug to the airport for his own vacation not long ago. It rested there, palm up in invitation, when I grabbed my bag before catching my flight from home. And I shook my head at it, locking it into the darkness of my vehicle parked in the deck, because I can't - or won't - accept said invitation.

Hours - and a brie sandwich, coffee, 3 bottles of water and much walking - later, I handed over two coins for a mango-coconut-strawberry juice and was no closer to answers as to why I can't - or won't - with Doug. It is, I decided painfully, as simple as my love for the juice. It's something in the way it smells and tastes and feels - the experience just triggers the happy neurochemicals and I feel good and want more.

And I don't know if it's Daddy issues or fear of commitment or something else that leaves me withdrawn from Doug. But I can't. Can't change it, can't throw myself into him and his family and this promise of something truly meaningful. So I sipped my juice and walked down narrow streets into El Raval. I finished my juice and paused to shake a pebble from my shoe. I smiled at babies in strollers and dogs on leashes and skirted more slowly moving pedestrians while others brushed past me.

There is a part of it - a part of me - that's sad.

But there's a part of it that's also affirming and hopeful and lovely. To explore someone - to know and appreciate him - and to decide to continue on together or apart. My guess is that Pseudo-Katie and I are headed in the same direction. That regardless of little decisions, we'd end up at the same spot with slightly different experiences on the way.

And with the knowledge of such constant things, I wrote postcards to my parents and nieces, stopping to buy Barcelona Futbol bears for the latter (and one for me - he's wearing little cleats and has a hole in his shorts for his tail!) on my walk back to the hotel. And when looking through the 100+ photos I'd taken today, I paused at a self-portrait and stared. Camera just below my chin, I'd captured the image of me looking into a mirror in the foyer of La Pedrera's apartment, chandelier sparkling over my shoulder and audiotour headphones over my ears. I looked, I decided, thoughtful and quietly happy. And somehow confident that I may - eventually - figure this out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Buildings & Books, Flowers & Food

Tis an odd and wonderful thing to spend days in the same place. To regain a sense of direction and comfort and pleasant routine. I rise and dress, dabbing my precious oil on my fingers to press into my shoulders and slip over my wrists, breathing in what I have decided will be my signature scent.

I enjoy the click of my shoes on the curving marble stairs as I descend, offering a greeting to the receptionist before departing my hotel and passing familiar shops and restaurants and beautiful buildings. Two blocks later, I become part of the crowd on La Rambla, noting which street performers are new this morning. (If you're early enough, you can watch as they smear on make-up and dress in their elaborate costumes.)

I arrive at La Boqueria and cross the street, breaking right before entering the narrow aisle between various stalls. I walk for a row or two, seeking a break in the mass of humanity, and slip inside to sigh over the juices and order something mixed with mango. The orange mango the first day was magical. The papaya orange yesterday, while good, wasn't as glorious. Today's kiwi mango was a return to everything juice should be. Hence, the mango has achieved avocado-like status in my affections.

I rejoin the crowds as I sip my juice, wandering toward the next metro stop (or the one after that if the sun feels perfect and I'm not finished being outside yet). I semi-expertly feed my ticket into the machine and wait for the doors to open or turnstyle to unlock before plucking my ticket out from the slot and tucking it back in my bag. I buy a water from the vending machine if I have time before the next train and then I ride to my current place of business. There, I learn until it is time to descend into the subway system again to return to the Ramblier environs.

(This photo, by the way, pretty much captures how I feel about the mango+other juice. Like sparkles of light glimmer around it while a heavenly choir of angels sing a perfect chord for its wonderful goodness. My mouth waters from the moment I see it snuggled in crushed ice and I reach eagerly for the plastic cup as the vendor pushes a straw through the lid. I perched it on the stairs to the subway just before finishing the last gulp and throwing the empty vessel in the trash with one last, longing glance. It's what gets me out of bed in the morning, people. God bless the juice and those who make it available to me.)

I decided to explore the Gothic Quarter before returning to my hotel and I took various photos of the narrow streets and tiny shops, grinning at the neon lights around the tattoo parlors and glancing at the shops with scarves and beads. I got a little lost, beginning to fret a little until I saw the cathedral and wandered around it admiringly. It's apparently still having some work done and I spent long moments in front of it looking at the sign and the map in my hands and the map by the sign. And the sign and the map by the sign and the map in my hands.

Deciding I was reasonably likely to go the wrong direction anyway, I glared at the map once more before turning and walking in what I hoped would bring me to the Plaza de Catalunya. (It would, actually.) Along the way, I found a bookshop and couldn't resist going in. Because books are happy so you should call your store Happy Books.

English books were on sale (2,95) so I selected two, holding them close to my chest as I wandered the rest of the shop before paying for my reading material and walking once again. I watched a crowd form around a group of young men who I think were going to dance, but the mass of people encircled them completely before I could see. Still, I smiled at the spectacle and began my internal debate over whether or not I was hungry.

I have a terrible habit of postponing meals until I'm nearly sick with hunger when I travel alone. Because I had books (and a journal, actually), I ordered myself to find a restaurant so I could watch people and read a novel and have a snack. A snack called pizza, actually, I decided and began to search out spots in earnest.

Disappointed with my failure, I approached my hotel and decided I could eat at the tapas place next door again. The asparagus with brie was yummy last night, but the chicken skewers were less than perfect as a source of protein. Yet I nearly bounced with glee upon seeing the menu for the section of tables adjacent to the tapas ones. I found a table (and then moved closer to the heater as I was becoming cold in my short sleeved dress) and ordered a pizza and soda while looking at my hotel about 15 feet away. And I grinned at my luck even as I poured the flavored oil atop the thin crust and cheese.

I finished with chocolate mouse and tart berries and cafe crema before beginning to shiver and asking for the check. Charmed by my book (A Spanish Lover, Joanna Trollope) and completely satisfied with my day, I climbed the marble steps to my floor, entered my straightened room and flopped on my bed to write a post.

Because as my eye would tell you via nary a single twitch in the last 4 days, Spain is good for the soul.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I did go for more juice this morning.

Then there was metro - learn, learn, learn - metro.

And then...I went to a ridiculously expensive spa and can report that you do, indeed, get what you pay for.

After days of small rooms and skipped meals and cramped metros rather than clean cabs, I decided I needed a treat. And after browsing spas online, I kept returning to the Barcelona Spring treatment at a hotel nearby. So, after a wince at the price, I booked it. And winced again at the price.

Still, I've never regretted splurges on spa treatments while traveling for work. There's something about pausing to be utterly self-indulgent (I usually hover around 85%). So I went to Floor -1 in a very posh hotel and settled into a low sofa, awaiting my welcome tea. (It was not as good as the juice. But I survived.)

I was taken to the changing room after a woman took my shoes (on a tray - my poor flats were outclassed) and gave me slippers. I left my skirt and sweater in my locker and decided to take a shower as I had time before my appointment began. Emerging from the giant stall, nice and clean, I giggled as I donned disposable underwear (my first ever thong, by the way) and tied my silky robe closed before going to the Relaxation Room. I had water and a piece of stone fruit I was unable to identify and crossed my ankles as I reclined on my lounge chair and watched the black chains that formed a sort of wall drift and shimmer in the candlelight.

My therapist, an adorable British girl, fetched me and took me to the lobby of my treatment room and settled me into a chair for my foot treatment. She explained things but I tried to be attentive, but the pressure on my sore soles was delightful and my toes wiggled affectionately.

I followed her behind the curtain and took off my robe, arranging myself in a prone position on the towel-covered massage table.

I am a cough drop, I decided as she began to scrub my skin with a salt mixture scented with lime and mint and containing menthol that made my skin tingly. I pictured someone unwrapping me from my crinkly protective paper and popping me in his mouth. I would release soothing vapors - soothe sore throat and clear nasal passages - and click gently against the inside of teeth.

I flipped over when asked, becoming all cough-droppy on the front as well and blinking my eyes open when she said we were finished with this part.

"OK," I agreed and grinned when the head of the table raised so that I could easily slip off the table and into the shower in the corner. She gave me instructions - push this button, turn this knob, be sure to get the scrub off your neck and feet. I squinted, mostly blind sans glasses, and nodded and sleepily entered the room where purple lights glimmered from the ceiling.

"Oh," I said, happily surprised when depressing the proper button caused it to rain. I looked up into the purple glow, realizing the entire ceiling was dripping warm water onto my skin. I closed my eyes to listen as I kept my face turned upward, delighting in the sensation before slicking my hands over my body to remove the scrub.

"I'm all silky," I told my therapist once I'd emerged, dried off, exchanged disposable panties for a dry pair and settled myself on the table once again. "I miss the shower already," I sighed and she patted my calf before promising this next part was 'the best bit.'

After taking a deep breath as instructed, I perked up and decided if I could smell a single scent for the rest of my life, this would be it. Delicate and sweet, a gentle waft of mint and eucalyptus and something else I couldn't place permeated my brain, leaving it bathed in peaceful contentment. She began to rub the oil on my skin, starting at my feet, and alternating hot stones with firm pressure from fingers and palms.

It felt endless - like there was infinite time to relax and stretch and let muscles lose their tension and have my tummy rubbed with the perfect oil as my breasts were covered with a soft cloth. I ended up under the fluffy towel, her hands in my hair as she pressed points in my scalp and gently smoothed the stands.

I am an olive, I decided as I bundled back in my robe and slippers and returned to the relaxation room and the shimmering black chains. I'm marinating in my oil, growing supple and rich and delicious. I debated whether I - as an olive - would have a pit or pimento while I nibbled on nuts and gulped my water. Finished, I shuffled back to the changing room and returned to that shower, sleepily standing under the spray and washing my hair and rinsing my body before wandering out to pay.

And I was too blissed out to wince over the price, even after I added a bottle of oil so I could smell like this again at home.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Barcelona, by Katie

I'm having a wonderful time. Want to try it? Here are some tips.

  1. Leave Madrid, remembering the delicious food and pretty streets and delightfully amusing colleagues, on an early-evening flight to Barcelona.
  2. Land, toss your heavy duffel over one shoulder and laptop bag on the other and wince at the protesting muscles. Debate over whether or not to check said duffel on trip home and decide it's better to be 10% more miserable walking through the airport than to add 20 minutes to your trip at the end.
  3. Discard other thoughts as moving past customs. Wear smug expression while walking immediately to the ramp that will exit at the taxi queue.
  4. Hand over giant duffel, settle in seat and give the hotel name and address - in broken Spanish - to friendly driver.
  5. After a lengthy ride through some sketchy neighborhoods, begin to question your decision not to stay at conference hotel. Begin to nibble on lip.
  6. "Esta alli," you offer helpfully, pointing across the street as your driver looks for numbers on La Rambla Catalunya. Sigh with happy relief upon seeing the gorgeous building and admiring the upscale touristy neighborhood. You'll be safe here.
  7. Check in, once again with the smug expression for the deliciously cheap price of your single room, ride elevator to your floor and wait patiently for the second door to open after the first barrier slid apart.
  8. Wait less patiently.
  9. Gesture at door to open! Try to remember magic word to open things.
  10. Poke at door with index finger as sign of disappointment and anger, blush and hang head when door swings open, waiting with far more grace for me to push it open.
  11. Arrive at door to room, briefly admire tall ceilings and open door. Step inside and realize you're already halfway to the wall in your 3x11 accommodations for the next week. Still, it's lovely - giant windows and pretty tiles in the shower at the end of the room.
  12. Hit head on TV by bed. Bump elbow on blow dryer hanging on bathroom wall. Decide to pretend to be a giant in the small space. Giggle while deciding where in the world to put your giant clothes and giant bags and giant toiletries.
  13. I decided to be a friendly giant. You should be whatever kind of giant makes you happiest. (You're welcome.)
  14. Shower, thinking rain showers aren't for giants who don't wish to get their hair wet tonight, but admire your fresh and clean smell from the lovely bath products.
  15. Unpack clothes. Take 2 steps to bathroom to unpack toiletries. Take 3 steps to bed to place items on headboard and relax into sleep.
  16. Toss and turn. Turn and toss.
  17. Remember to take any relevant medications.
  18. Toss and turn some more.
  19. Watch news. The news hurts. The great and terrible thing about international travel is that it makes global events more personal. For me, it shrinks the worlds so that while my understanding of their suffering is certainly not complete, it is incrementally larger than before.
  20. Finally sleep and dream about destruction. I do not recommend repeating the sleep portion of my trip.
  21. Awaken in the morning. Not know or care what time it is. Instead, read email and blogs. Browse through guidebook and say 'ahh...' when you finally realize where you're located with respect to your touristy map. Finally arise and dress to wander around.
  22. Admire exquisite weather. Admire fabric of your dress (or clothing if you choose not to do Spain in nothing but dresses). Admire the architecture.
  23. Continue with admiration, stopping to take photos, until you reach the market. Suddenly remember you're very hungry.
  24. Enter crowded market and shuffle through crowds, look longingly at the rows of transparent plastic cups, filled temptingly with bright colors of fresh juice.
  25. "Juice?" a boy offers and you nod wordlessly, looking at the selections of kiwi green and strawberry red, soft banana yellow and multiple shades of orange. Think it's like having a ridiculously sexy man in front of you and you want him. Almost too badly to know where to start. The boy offers orange-mango as you're stricken with indecision and fruit lust. Nod again and watch as he takes 2 coins from your fingers and hands you the juice with a happy striped straw poking temptingly from the top.
  26. Bring straw to lips. Suck. Pause. Swallow. Swoon. The juice is rich and pulpy, sweet and fresh. Become barely aware of your surroundings, pretty as they are, as you enter a deep bonding experience with the juice.
  27. The juice must not be lonely! Buy croissant and consume while standing out of the way and watching the people walk by. Be more protective of juice than bag containing today's portion of cash and 2 credit cards.
  28. Uh oh! Memory card full. Must return to hotel.
  29. Sigh longingly over flowers. Frown thoughtfully. I'm here for a week. I could have flowers. Find stall empty of customers and select sweet pink flowers pictured above. Grin happily at the woman as she wraps the stems in shiny foil and places them in your arm.
  30. Worry over where to find a vase.
  31. Serendipity! Enter a place called Habitat and peruse vases. Select 2 that are rather pretty and have at least a 10% chance of making it home unbroken.
  32. Return to hotel to arrange pretty flowers. Admire flowers. Love flowers. Consider singing songs to and writing blog posts about flowers.
  33. Transfer photos, check camera and realize you're late for your work thing.
  34. Successfully buy metro ticket. Find proper line. Sit (go with smug again) and ride toward your destination. Because you're awesome. And the flowers are waiting at home. And you can go get more juice tomorrow.
  35. Work for a bit. Learn interesting things for several hours.
  36. OK. Enough of that.
  37. Return to metro and back to your section of town. Begin wishing for pizza.
  38. As it is late for lunch (~16.30), snag a table by the window and quickly decide (from the English menu!) what I want.
  39. Read work stuff and make notes while waiting. Sip Coke Light with lemon and my mineral water while watching people walk by, sometimes pausing to watch the street performers. Smile and sip and work and bask.
  40. Devour pizza because A) it's delicious and B) you're very hungry.
  41. Return to hotel (and flowers!) with vague plans to go out again.
  42. Accidentally fall asleep after taking many pictures of flowers.
  43. Sleep remarkably well as dusk turns to night.
  44. Awaken to shower and change.
  45. Write blog post because this is too delightful not to remember.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spanish Supper

We arrived at the restaurant around 8:45PM. For dinner. When I would normally have a last bottle of water, take my anti-depressant and be relaxed in pajamas, finishing up work or giggling over a sitcom.

Instead, we entered a lovely restaurant that was all but empty. For it was fairly early for the evening meal. Still, we had animated conversation (that grew increasingly animated on my part, honestly, as I worked my way through more than my share of a nice bottle of Spanish white wine) over culture and differences and colleagues and growing up.

"They're very smart," he noted of the octopus. "I've snorkled and harpoon fished for a long time, and they're a very clean, intelligent animal."

"That does not," I told him, looking dubiously at the plate of medalions, purple skin still visible on some edges and white meat sprinkled with paprika, "make me want to eat them."

He apologized, looking abashed and I waved off his expression and bravely popped a piece in my mouth, trying to enjoy it though all I could think was 'smart, clean octopus; smart, clean octopus' I'd tried to suggest the asparagus, but ended up with calamari and octopi. That, having skipped lunch, I was hungry enough to eat.

"No cabezas," my dining companion ordered when my plate came. I tried to demur but my stomach turned at the sight of the poor shrimp and their tiny black eyes. So the waiter soon returned with headless shrimp and cod that I consumed with intoxicated, inelegant greed.

And I giggled over stories, both told and heard. I sipped the after-dinner drink that was super-strong after asking if we drank it all at once or slowly savored.

"We're not Mexican," he replied, frowning at me and I blinked at him in surprise. "They drink tequila all at once, don't they?" he asked and I nodded and began to laugh before sipping my tiny glass of something pink.

I am now drunk - barely able to remove my dress and tights and flop on my bed in my oversized t-shirt. I'm drinking water and taking Advil in hopes of avoiding a vicious hangover - I don't drink enough lately to tolerate 1/2 bottle of wine and tiny glass of something pink. Still, it was fun. And we don't start tomorrow until 10:30. So if I do need to vomit, at least I have time to do so!

Art & Agua, Flores y Fences

I headed east today, my goal to walk north on Paseo del Prado to Plaza de Colon and return south on Calle de Serrano (like the chile, I kept saying to myself). It was ridiculously perfect - a balance of sunshine and shade, crowds and space to move freely, architecture and gardens. I kept looking around, stunned at how wonderful I found the city when I expected it to be much like others I'd visited in Europe.

And perhaps it is similar, I decided as I passed the building that holds some of the greatest art in the world. I had, after all, planned this trip quite differently, arriving on a Saturday and taking the weekend to reacclimate and wander around before working on Monday. So far, the results are stunning. My headache yesterday was moderate. I'm sleeping very well. And I feel good - not sad or unsettled or queasy or sore. In short, I'm taking to Madrid like a duck in the Parque del Retiro to water.

I'm wildly boring on days like today, though utterly content to wander and look and idly think thoughts. But it's hard to find write interesting text when I spoke only to the man at the newstand for postcards and water and the woman in the park for another water. I walk and smile at people. I pause to capture images on my memory card and continue on to look at the decorative details outside old buildings or peer at art hanging on perfectly lit walls.

I did congratulate myself on a couple of travel tips. First, I had breakfast at the hotel (mostly because it was included with my room as an apology for yesterday's unpleasantness) and enjoyed the croissant and ham and cheese, slurping coffee to try to snap myself awake when I briefly considered returning to my room for a nice nap not 30 minutes after waking up.

I also carried my mini hipster from Vera Bradley and find it a perfect little travel bag. Credit cards and cash go inside. Lip gloss, coins and hotel key in the front zipper pocket. Map and water or camera go in the back pouch for easy access. The strap goes across my body and I tend to keep it slightly in front of me so it's protected from random thieves (which I've never seen but are always mentioned in my travel books). (Plus, my mom has this odd fear that someone is going to "get me" so I assure her that I'm very careful.)

I did, however, curse myself for attempting the giant Parque del Retiro. I predicted I'd get lost and decided the day was too lovely to mind such things. But after a couple of hours of wandering and watching, I wanted to leave and went isquierda when I should have went derecha and my sore, blistered feet ended up on the exact wrong side of the park, leaving me to whimper and retrace my steps to cross the lovely paths once again.

After extremely careful consultation of my map, I took a shortcut and returned to my hotel to once again strip, shower and download photos. I do have dinner plans with a colleague tonight - perhaps something more bloggable will happen then.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Mad At
It was non-trivial to get here. Despite my careful planning and packing and eager anticipation to take what is more a vacation than business trip, nothing seemed to go as planned during my arriving travel.

I had to leave before my parents arrived, outraging Chienne and making me sad.

US Airways had a broken plane, leading to a 3 hour delay that effectively ate my layover where I'd planned to grab a snack, change currency and generally settle.

After serious stress about that, I ended up demanding they rebook me on another airline and did make my flight (having time for cash and a bottle of water) before boarding.

The plane was uncomfortable. While the middle section was encouraged to spread out and utilize the empty seats for greater comfort, I was in one of the two edge seats, smooshed against a Spanish stranger who kept poking me in the side with his elbow.

We arrived in Madrid early (yay!) but parked at the airport for ~30 minutes before pulling up to our gate. My muscles screamed in protest, mainly because the seat belt sign was on for the entire flight. So I'd been squished in my window seat (that didn't have a window by the way - it was more a plastic-wall seat) for upwards of 7 hours.

Immigration was easy - I don't think I've ever been allowed into a country with less fuss, including my own.

The cab ride through dawn was likewise pleasant. So I was starting to feel pretty good about the city in general, catching my breath with the charm of the cobblestone streets as we neared my hotel.

But said hotel had given away my room. So I pitched a fit, eyes filling with tears and threatening "bad review online. Very bad!" Despite my bad behavior, she booked me in a sister hotel for the same rate I'd had there (which was admittedly cheap) and added free breakfasts. Then she sent me on my way with a map and directions to walk the several blocks to what I hoped would be my home for the next few days.

Madly Affectionate Toward
Even as I hefted my duffel bag on one shoulder and laptop bag on the other, I felt my mood shift as I walked through the soft light of the dreamy morning. More than happy to be charmed by the cool breeze and blossoms on trees and pretty balconies on lovely buildings, I slipped camera from bag and took a few photos as I followed the simple directions and nodded at the few people on the sidewalks with me.

I arrived at my hotel where she had a room ready and apologies prepared.

"No," I shook my head at her. "You've both been perfectly lovely and I'm just being grumpy. I'm sorry. And thank you for giving me a room - I need a shower and nap so I can be less evil."

I admired the recently renovated building and found my room, a quiet interior habitacione with 3 windows in the tiny space and a gorgeous glass-walled shower. I immediately stripped and took advantage of the latter, sending an email to my parents wrapped in a towel before falling into bed and peering at my map to devise a walking route for later on.

I slept for four hours, longer than I'd planned by far, but decided to embrace the relaxation of muscles and deep, dreamless rest that I was enjoying a great deal. I finally felt awake, brushed my teeth, dressed, straightened my hair and set off with my map and camera to wander Madrid.

And it was pretty much perfect. The weather is wonderful - warm but not hot, sunny but with plenty of shade. Spanish people and tourists were out in force, admiring the scenery, consuming food and drink and conversation. There was laughter and fun and even when I got lost (twice - I have no sense of direction at all), I still found pockets of people dining outside and pretty buildings and fountains and even the signs that name streets.

So I enjoyed the sound of my yellow flip flops on the sidewalks and the swish of my dress around my knees and eagerly gulped water ('please be still, please don't sparkle' I begged the bottle before twisting the cap) as I smiled at the children playing and the couples kissing and the various people basking in the sun. I took pictures and saw sights and considered stopping for a drink or meal or just to watch, but enjoyed the movement so I continued to wander until my feet grew sore.

Returning to the hotel, I washed my face and tossed my shoes in the corner and flopped on my comfortable bed. And wrote a blog post about how anger shifted rather easy to affection.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Steal

"Jeep?" I questioned, more confused than annoyed as I peered at the lights on the dash but failed to hear the pleasant rumble of my motor that indicated I was ready for mobility. "Hello?" I asked and turned the key again, pressing on the accelerator for good measure.

Nothing happened. So I frowned and thought for a moment, coming up with absolutely no magical knowledge on fixing what ailed my vehicle and turning the key twice more before calling the dealer.

"It's not even paid for," I told them pitifully. "And I come in to get oil changed! Approximately when the little sticker on my windshield says! So why won't it work?!"

"I don't know," offered the service guy and I glared out at the parking lot before asking him for a tow truck. I had to call myself, thanking the woman when she said it'd be an hour to hour and a half, ending the call and slumping in the driver's seat before trying the key again and glaring at my adorable car.

Then I called my dad.

"It sounds like your battery," he offered, not unsympathetically. "It doesn't seem like it'd be bad so soon though."

"Can't they check?" I seethed. "When I take it to the stupid dealer for stupid service? You don't deserve new oil," I told the Jeep, growing furious that I was trapped. "I stopped for cat kibble and dog treats and tights so I was ready for my trip and you and Mom had pet supplies during your visit. And this is what happens! I get trapped at Target!"

After putting it in neutral and trying (nothing) and rolling down my windows (that worked fine), I settled in to wait in the mild afternoon, watching people come and go with carts and bags full of items. They came and went. Parked and returned to pull away.

Dad called again. Asking if the tow truck had arrived and wondering how I was going to get to the dealer.

"What?" I asked, confused. "I'll go with the car. In the tow truck."

"I don't know if they'll take you with it," he warned and I exclaimed that I was not staying at Target any longer than absolutely necessary!

After 20 minutes, my phone rang again.

"Hi, Dad," I sighed and listened while he said he'd found something online.

"This lady also had a 2008 Compass," he reported. "She went to one store and the car started then went to the next and everything lit up but it wouldn't start. And they said it had to do with the anti-theft system and the wireless control module."

"The Jeep - My Jeep - thinks I'm trying to steal it?" I clarified. "That's why I'm trapped here? Anti-theft protection?"

"Probably," Dad replied cheerfully. "But you didn't do anything. And they should fix it for free according to the website."

After another 30 minutes, I called the tow company again, reporting it had been 85 minutes. I thanked her again when she said it should be soon and emerged from my car to wave at the driver about 10 minutes later.

After asking permission, I did climb in his giant truck, turning in my seat to watch him efficiently load the Jeep on the raised bed and chain it securely. He climbed in and we set off, chatting about the towing business and wait times before finally arriving at the dealer. I watched an ambulance speed by and confessed that the only other times I'd been towed had been after totaling my cars. Twice. So this was actually better.

I walked in the service entrance, still texting Adam and Sibling about my unplanned afternoon, and told the guy that my Jeep was being placed over yonder. He nodded and I glared warningly and told him my dad had seen something online about the anti-theft systems and went to sit in a reasonably comfortable chair inside. I had warned him that I would not wait longer than 2 hours and would then need to borrow transportation or be given a ride.

After watching the news (does your NBC station play news all afternoon too?) and reading a Newsweek cover to cover, I grew impatient again, relieved when the service guy appeared to indicate it was the wireless control module. I briefly considered throwing a fit, decided it wasn't his fault and nodded when he said they'd soon have the dash put back together.

I called Dad and made his day by informing him of his wonderful knowledge gleaned online. I shook the service manager's hand several minutes later and walked out to my now-functional Jeep. It immediately started and we set off for home, some 5 hours after I'd planned.

On the way, my phone rang and I answered, expecting to hear Dad's voice yet again. Instead, it was Citibank.

"Do you have your card?" they asked and I confirmed that I did.

"We need you to verify some purchases," the representative continued.

"You're protecting my card from me," I clarified and after a moment she agreed. "Interesting," I sighed. "My car is also protecting itself from me too."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Chalk on Sidewalks

Somewhere over...
I walked the dog this morning, having pulled on mismatched gloves and a university sweatshirt to wander through the mild morning. I glanced at the neighbor's driveway and was relieved when I felt my lips curve, appreciating that the was an arrow pointing to the end of the sidewalk rainbow chalked on the sidewalk. And there was a pot of gold being directed to its proper spot by said arrow.

It's beginning to thaw and I'm beginning to feel better under the increased dose of anti-depressant. I was running late this morning, but I made it to work. I attended meetings and completed tasks and did not argue or whine or otherwise flip out.

Well. Until I did flip out. To the point where Adam jogged across the floor to close my door and shush me from the yelling about idiots that I was doing into the phone.

"I'm sorry," I said later. "I know I'm supposed to control myself and I know I'm supposed to be steady and not emotional but I hate that guy."

So it was a busy day but I grinned when the guy in the office next door dropped off a saw. "So you have a weapon," he offered when I gave him a quizzical glance.

"May I use it on myself?" I asked and he paused, turning to close the door behind me and reached to hold my hand while giving me some affectionate advice. And another colleague passed me in the hall, squeezing my shoulder and grinning. "Deep breaths," he advised and winked before walking away.

Not Anatomically Optimized
I haven't been carrying my camera lately so I had to draw the creature that charms me around the block. He looks silly and lovingly drawn and I pause to make sure I don't step on him as we walk by that section of sidewalk.

"He," I told Chienne (who was ignoring me to sniff at residual snow banks), "is not anatomically optimized for mobility." And I grinned at the thought of how his loopy legs barely touched this body at the tiniest of points before reaching toward the ground on very round feet.

Still I appreciate the effort. And the immobile creature cheered me even as I hurried home to throw on clothes and speed to work, still arriving late to our group meeting.

Since my brain appears to be not optimized for mood regulation, I wanted to thank you for your comments and encouragement and assorted good wishes. It's very kind of you.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life, Death and Rx

There is something almost grotesque about it. As I stood behind the man in the motorized scooter and waited to relinquish my prescription to the man behind the counter, I shuddered with an incomprehension of our existence. What it all means under the bright lights, among the busy aisles, of the giant Walmart on a Saturday morning.

"I'm sad," I told Mom this morning, having forsaken my plans of a trip home and making a phone call instead. She listened and advised and I clenched my teeth because I just want it to stop - the comments and questions, arguments and tasks, from work and family and friends. I just need to rest, wrapped in a blanket of solitude so that I can be better again.

"Make sure you get your medicine," she said firmly, worry hovering at the edge of each word and I nodded, promising that I would. Unsure of when the pharmacy opened and conversely certain I was unable to endure a lengthy shopping trip, I walked the dog and cleaned my house, feeling distant from my actions even as I watered plants and vacuumed carpets and bagged trash. Unable to bring myself to even make a list, I put on jeans, zipped a sweatshirt over the moderately clean shirt I'd slept in and set off to obtain pills.

I smiled weakly at the man in line ahead of me as he struggled to move out of my way. He hadn't put the device in reverse and the scooter bravely tried to climb the counter when he urged it forward. He finally pushed the right button, grinning when the beeping signaled his backward motion and waved as he set off to shop.

"Hi," I replied to the man behind the counter, behind him various mixtures of compounds in white containers. I handed the crumpled paper that had resided in my console and various pockets because I'd not prioritized this trip to fill it. It's for anxiety - the written prescription - and I watched as he entered it in. "I also have refills," I noted, thinking of the lone capsule at the bottom of my bottle at home. "Fluoxetine." I waited while he frowned at the screen and nodded. "I need both," I confirmed. "40 and 20mg. 3 months of each."

He told me 20 minutes and I thanked him, unable to gather the energy to smile, and walked away. I stood for a moment, toes at the edge of the gray aisle beside the faux-hardwood that marked the pharmacy area, feeling terribly alone and confused and miserably sad. I sighed, absently directing my attention to those around me, wishing one of them could help me. Make me better. Exhausted and discouraged, I forced myself to retrace my steps toward the front door and instead of retreating to my car, I tugged a cart away from the lines in the foyer and began to shop.

I admired the pecan pies in the bakery before picking up bread. I stared at the wall while the trainee in the deli sliced honey ham, managing to smile when he confided I was his first customer at his new job. "Good luck," I offered sincerely and thanked him before setting off to find milk and eggs and the V8 Fusion juice I've grown to enjoy. I looked at books, plucking two from the shelves even as I wondered if I'd muster the attention to read them. I hefted bottled water under the cart, selected treats for the dog and a new scratching toy for the cat and returned to the pharmacy to once again take my place behind scooter man.

"We meet again," I offered when he turned to smile at me.

"Mine isn't ready yet," he replied, motioning me ahead of him so I joined the rather lengthy line as the young worker glanced at the amber containers before tucking them in the white bags, tops folded over and stapled before being placed in waiting hands. I stood beside the man, not wanting to cut in line when it was already rather lengthy. So I watched as the middle aged woman took her bag and pushed her cart to the left. As the elderly woman discussed her medications with the pharmacist who emerged from behind the high counter to help her. As the boy waited with his mother and stared at the toddler with his father behind them.

And then it was my turn. So I gave my name and waited while she pawed through the transparent plastic bags until she found mine. And I stared at the trio of containers, each containing something that might make me better - make life easier - and blinked when she stapled my bag and handed it to me. I placed it in the cart atop my groceries and glanced back when the pharmacist told me to call with any questions.

What's the point? I wanted to reply, for that's my current question. What are we doing here, peering in refrigerated cases and pulling boxes from shelves? And why is it so damnably painful sometimes?

Instead, I nodded and thanked him, grabbing a bottle of shampoo from the shelf as I moved toward the cashiers before taking my purchases outside, the thin white bags surrounding them whispering something incomprehensible in the wind of this moody, cloudy day.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Talk to me.

Lawyer: Have you even been deposed?
Katie: I have not. But I have watched multiple Law & Order reruns so I'm pretty certain to be awesome at it.
[Katie laughs.]
[Lawyer does not laugh.]
[Lawyer obviously has no sense of humor.]
[Katie clears throat, embarrassed.]


Spanish Colleague (SC): Do you like meat or fish?
Katie: Either is fine, thank you.
Katie: Oh, wait.
Katie: I don't like it when the creatures are served with their faces still on.
Katie: Last time I was in Barcelona, there were shrimp staring at me from the paella.
Katie: I did not like that.
SC: Is cod acceptable?
Katie: As long as I don't have to make eye contact with it.
Katie: Again, thanks for offering to take me to dinner in Madrid!


Adam: Yes, I've asked them. Patience, my student.
Katie: Patience is a waste of time. I have that on a t-shirt.
Adam: I believe you.
Katie: You should! Totally true.


Smallest One: Can I sit next to you in Heaven?
Aunt Katie: You can sit next to me anywhere, love.
Smallest One: Even in Heaven.
Aunt Katie: Sure, even in Heaven.
Smallest One: How long do we stay in Heaven?
Aunt Katie: I think once you get there, you're able to stay forever.
Smallest One: Can my cat come too?


This is one of the moments after you reveal something intimate and then don't really know what to say next.



Tuesday, March 01, 2011


If I were to admit that I reached age 32 without having sex, one might call me shockingly virginal.

If I confessed to having 3 men in some state of serious undress in my bed on the first, second and third dates, all within the span of about 2 weeks, one might call me a bit of a hussy.

I could argue with neither as both are true.

The most common question, of course, is why?

The first answer, for longtime readers, makes a sort of sense. I'm wildly introverted, trust few people and would rather acquaintances work for my attention so I'm able to grudgingly let them know me. And while I find sex and intimacy completely fascinating, it also seems important. A profound connection with someone you love, at least in some variation of the word. So while I don't judge those who indulge in sex of the less profound variety (and rather like hearing stories, actually), I've not been able to do it.

And, so, well, I've not done it.

Despite long-suffering crushes and some reasonably serious (in that they lasted a long time, not in that there was physical stuff) relationships, I've remained untouched.

As for the second part, I decided, apropos of aging, that it was time to gain some experience. Perhaps, I decided, it would make me less neurotic! Or outgoing or settled or sure of what I wanted in terms of romantic relationships. After all, I didn't ever decide not to have sex. It was more like I neglected to engage in it. So with a little focus, I set about accomplishing my goal.

It started in October (or maybe September - I don't tend to procrastinate when there's an important task to complete) and I'd soon identified a likely candidate and acquired some very nice lingerie. I began reading Cosmo again to brush up on my 'how to' knowledge and invited a complete stranger to spend the weekend at my house. (I reasoned that it was mostly like getting a massage. And instead of money for a backrub, we'd exchange orgasms and call it 2 days well spent.)

He came. Things happened (I'll tell you tomorrow - I have it written out). And he left about an hour after he arrived, neither of us having accomplished the stated objectives.

Then there was Will (and, simultaneously Doug). (Not in that there were 3 of us together, but in that I was dating both of them during the same weeks in time.) And while there were several desperately sexy encounters with Will, there was not intercourse. I can sum it up by saying I wanted but didn't feel I should.

It's the exact opposite with Doug. I feel I should - he's attentive and sweet and supportive and wonderful - but the desire isn't there. I love him - think he's adorable and funny - but I panic when I think of him inside me. I just can't. So now we're friends. Which means we still go to dinner and I give him rides to the airport at 4AM and he brings over dinner and wine but we don't kiss goodnight.

"What's up with the boys?" Sibling asked last night over dinner and I opened my mouth to answer and closed it before shrugging. Because I don't know.

She asked if I might be pregnant as I've been rather tired and moody of late and I smiled and shook my head, oddly flattered that she thinks I'm normal enough to have sex.

On the off-chance that writing this out helps me understand it better, I'm telling sexy stories. And, I suppose, opening myself for questions or suggestions. (Other than 'why?' because I'm not sure that I know.)