Mokai Mouths

Mokai being the local chirringuito (seasonal beach bar/café) where I’ve hung out the past few summers.

This was from an exercise I did for a writing workshop.  Task = go to a cafe or restaurant you frequent and pay attention to people’s mouths.  Focus more on observation than story-telling.

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Blonde beardy boy, neither hipster beardy (is that’s what he’s trying for?) nor Spanish sexy beardy, sucks his fingers, one by one, then wipes his mouth with a reasonably useless scrap of a napkin that comes from the dineresque dispenser/menu holder. He continues to chew once his fingers are out of his mouth. Was he sucking his fingers with a mouth full of food?

His girlfriend is also a chewer. Her left cheek is fuller than her right, like a chipmunk favoring one side of its mouth. Maybe she’s just been to the dentist. Maybe she needs to go to one.

***

The older local people here tend to keep their mouths closed more than the younger tourists. They speak when they have something to say, enjoying their time and soaking in in the salty sea air, as opposed to succumbing to the urge/need to fill the breezy void with their desire to be heard. Sometimes it’s more pleasant to listen to the sea than to hear yourself speak. Maybe they’ve learned that with age. Or maybe they’ve just run out of things to talk about.

***

The black straw of his raised drink hovers a few inches below his mouth, like a mini microphone. He runs his tongue between his teeth and the insides of his cheek while he’s talking, trying to dislodge whatever’s left of his lunch before he slurps down that last slug of sangria. Setting his glass down, he scratches and tugs on one ear. His mouth simultaneously open and closes, a ventriloquist’s dummy whose controls are attached to his earlobe.

***

There’s a new waiter this year, not an unusual occurrence. He’s a bit more efficient than previous models and friendly, albeit a bit aloof.

He repeats my order back to me in English, even though I gave it in Spanish. He sounds Eastern European, and I remember him doing the same thing a couple weeks ago. Is my Spanish so shit that he needs to check his understanding? Does he just like to practice? Does he want me to know I don’t have to try to speak Spanish because he’s more comfortable with English?

He looks a bit rough around the edges (in a good way) and his rare smile reveals crowded, crooked and tobacco-stained teeth. He looks more like a carny than a chirringuito waiter (again, in a good way).

***

She licks her lower lip before bringing the cigarette to her mouth. Her face tightens as she inhales, like she’s sitting on a vacuum cleaner that’s pulling everything inwards. She floats her hand to the side, like Norma Desmond motioning to someone in the wings, trying keep the cigarette away from her and her friend (yes, yes, yes, darling, it’s a terrible habit but one must have a vice, mustn’t one?). Her face is now relaxed, lips full and mouth open. She gazes at the cigarette like it’s a camera attached to her selfie-stick arm. She makes an open-mouthed fish-lip face as the smoke wafts from her body in a lazy cloud.

Her friend waits for her to re-engage in their conversation, her own mouth alternately occupied by a skinny, hand-rolled cigarette and one of the two black straws sticking out of her fruity cocktail. Her mouth bobs between the rollie and the straw, then back to the rolli, never missing a beat. Like she’s doing alternating sets of two different exercises at the gym. Her lips are always slightly apart unless they’re engaged with smoke or drink.

***

Some guy joins another guy, who has been sitting with his mobile since I got here, at his table. They exchange hellos and consult each other about beverages, then order dos cañas, por favor (draft beer is always a safe bet, and they score points for being polite) from the carny camarero.

The newcomer is very chatty (perhaps nervously so) and clearly Spanish, what with the way the tip of his tongue darts in and out between his teeth while making that sound that lives somewhere between “s” and “c”. His tablemate, who has long since put down his phone, grins to one side, his lips semi-revealing what appears to be perfect, glistening smile. The grinner’s eyes never leave chatty boy’s mouth. He leans in ever so slightly.

If one were to fill in the thought bubble above his head, it’d read something like “I’m not really thirsty. Let’s get to part two of this Grindr date so you can put that tongue to better use.”

***

She’s the only person here wearing lipstick, a pinkish coral. She has mirrored, oversized tortoiseshell shades. Her highlighted hair is pulled back into a lazy ponytail. She drinks white wine and talks on her mobile … the old-fashioned way, holding it against one ear. She sets down the wine and slowly raises one patata brava at a time to her mouth, using an oversized toothpick as a skewer. She gently holds the cube of deep-fried starch between her front teeth while she pulls the stick out.

She has some more wine.

When she eats her hummus-covered pita, she puts it in her mouth then bites off a corner. She places the rest back on her plate before closing her mouth.

No food ever touches her lips.

I will have to try this at home

She never stops her cell phone conversation.

Her earrings are amazing.

***

Carny camarero delivers the beers to chatty boy and his still grinning friend.  They thank him (ever the polite ones) and ask for la cuenta (when he has the time). He walks over to the touchscreen that’s mounted on a pillar. His mouth moves as he taps in the commands needed to print the bill. Is he talking to himself? Reciting lines for an audition? Practicing his English or Spanish? Quietly telling off the table who recently left without leaving him a tip?

***

It’s almost 25° out, but the guy sitting next to me is wearing a knitted cap. Coldplay fans never die, they just grow ginger caterpillars under their nose. His moustache looks like it has wax in it.

Maybe his girlfriend wanted a mustache too, but since she couldn’t match his she has opted for a piercing between her left nostril and upper lip. There is a beauty mark under her right nostril in the same area. Never confuse symmetry with balance.

***

The French waiter from last year (somehow more kissable than last season) brings a picture of orange something (a quick carta consultation says it’s cava with mango and peach) to mannequin mouth and his buddies. They’re clearly here for the afternoon.

And things are getting serious: they are now drinking without straws.

What is that boy’s name? I asked him countless times last year and it never stuck. They usually don’t return for a second season, but that’s no excuse.

His chin fuzz is a lit little less wiry this year and a little more filled out, but still not enough to be called a proper goatee. His smile is a little more genuine than I remember. His teeth are whiter. His arms are more defined.  His haircut a soupçon more stylish.

He says hola to me as he sidles between the tables and I nod and say bon jour. Does he remember me or is he just being friendly?

He flashes that smile, his upper lip lined by a pencil-thin moustache … more because that’s all he can grow than because he wants to make an ironic statement.

Chirringuito waiters are rarely just being friendly.

Yes, totally more kissable this year.

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¿Como se dice, ‘Grand Slam’?

“Let’s go down to that healthy Italian place down the street that we liked. They serve breakfast.”

It was such a good idea.

We putzed around the flat for about a half an hour, as they didn’t open until 10am and we didn’t want to be the first to arrive.  We took the scenic route, along the river, which led me to teach Larry a little bit of Spanish. “¡Joder, hace frío!”  Then again, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend in London, so foul weather is pretty much guaranteed, despite yesterday’s sunny lulling into a false sense of security.

Fifteen minutes later, we’re coming up on the front doors to the restaurant. The windows beforehand didn’t give too promising a view. It was dark, there were chairs on tables, and it seemed to be more of a construction site than an eatery.  A handwritten sign on the door told us that the venue is closed to do maintenance issues.

“Maybe we can head over to Borough Market and see what we can find there,” he offered.

“And so the adventure begins”.

“Last time this happened, we ended up in Shoreditch,” he said.  That’s an adventure I didn’t particularly remember, and one I didn’t fancy repeating. All I wanted is some scrambled eggs and bacon, or maybe some French Toast, being it was torrijas weekend back in Spain.

And so we walked towards Tower Bridge, because despite having (unsuccessfully) done this before on previous trips, there was bound to be something along the way that wasn’t a chain with pre-fab fare or an overpriced coffee shop (not that those two things are mutually exclusive, especially in this part of Blighty).

Crossing Tower Bridge, it seemed this year’s Easter bonnets were trending towards the toque.  The top of the Shard was covered in clouds, and gray skies were the backdrop for innumerable self-portraits.  Used to be you dodged umbrellas in this city.  Now you had to dodge selfie-sticks.

We found ourselves on Shad Thames, as Borough Market was a goal too far.  As far as adventures go, we’re really not that adventurous. Already we’d decided we wouldn’t be walking back home. None of the restaurants there were serving yet, despite advertising their brunch menus.  No worms for these early birds.

Ah, The Blue Print Café (yes, it has an accent) was perched atop the shop of the Design Museum and through its glass walls we could see a couple of tables seated with breakfasters.

“That looks promising.”

We climbed the steps to the second floor and were greeted by the smartly-clad, broodingly-cute host with the neo-traditional Eastern European accent (once again I wondered, who is going to work in London restaurants if the Leavers win their Brexit vote?) who assured us, “Yes, vee have zee brunch menu.”

Apparently the Design Museum was geared towards minimalism, as the menu offered us Eggs Benedict, Eggs, Florentine or Eggs Royale.

“At least we’re not spoiled for choice, ” I said. Poached eggs, no matter how you fancy them up, are not my favorite food in the world, but was hungry and it wasn’t getting any warmer outside.

We asked if the regular menu was available. The waiter said he would have to check.  When I was a waiter, I pretty much had to know what was available and what wasn’t … but those were different times.

It turned out that it was brunch or bust, so we brunched.  Our eggs, mine Benedict and his Florentine, came garnished with the white of the plate.  There was no messing about with garnish or potatoes or any kind of side dish.  This was minimalism at its finest. It wasn’t bad, and it certainly wasn’t as pretentious as “the pork and periwinkle foam” that I was reading about in a self-congratularoy essay on menu offerings by a self-proclaimed “critic and food writer” in this week’s FT Weekend Magazine.

“Do you want anything else?” Larry asked me as the waiter cleared our plates away.

I was still hungry, but there was nothing on the menu worth ordering.  Well, in fact, there was nothing else on the menu.

“Do you think we could find a Denny’s?”

 

 

 

 

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Hace mucho tiempo, ¿no?

Soon it will be three years since I’ve been here and I’ve written, what … well, very little. On here, at least. So much for an account of my move to Spain.

Big changes on the horizon, and I feel like I want to start writing something again for the interwebs, but don’t know what. I think blogging is pretty much irrelevant these days, unless there’s a focus, a raison d’scribble.

But what would that be for me?

  • The travails (and mini-triumphs) of teaching English? Nope, a million of those.
  • Hey look! Another expat! Yawn.
  • Meandering musings of a museless malcontent? Alliterative but, uninspiring.  And I’m trying not to be negative. Too much of that out there already.
  • How much I hate like feeling I’m always starting over. Mr. Beckett, I am not.
  • The BBC list, as I called it yesterday … Bobby’s Bad Choices.

I dunno. Watch this space. Doubt anyone is anyway … so maybe if I put it out there some thing will happen.

There is one thing that sticks in my head ….

  • “Your life …” someone commented on my book of face today. I reckon it does look good on paper, but then again I’m not one to Facebook all my neuroses. More power to those who find their power that way, but not for me, muchas gracias.
  • “I envy your life,” one of my students said last week while we were talking about travels and adventures and whatnot. Then again, he’s 19 and I’m .. . not.

What they seek vs. what I know/think.  Hmmm.

Let’s see if something doesn’t happen. How about one decent post a week. About something. Let the theme come as it may.

Or not.

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Bisabuela

The following is a letter from my great-grandmother, Clarissa Camnitz, written to me in my junior year of high school for an unremembered project.  I reckon she was in her mid- to late-80s at the time.

Friday, February 2, 1979

San Clemente, California

Dear Bob;

You and a rainy cold day have given me an opportunity to reminisce a bit for my earlier days. You can screen my thoughts for that which will help you in your report.

My first year in school was in Cumminsville so where I was broken of using my left hand in writing. It was not permitted at that time. Was there one year when I went to Covington, KY to school where I lived with an Uncle and Aunt, then to Winton Place until I was in the 4th grade. Mother and my stepfather bought a home in Madisonville in 1906 at the corner of Roanoke, then Charles Street, Grancola, then George Street and the counry road named after the Settle Coal and Builders Supply Company family.

The school I attended there was one mile from our home which we walked in attending school which was and is at the corner of Prentice, Mathis and Ward streets fenced in but up to the B&B railroad tracks on the fourth side. The high schools across, the Ward Street side of it. The old grade school was replaced about 1909 with the present one. In the old one, the high school chemistry and physics laboratory, housed a “paddler” which was a seat with a paddle, operated by the teacher and a foot treadle operating the paddle. No sore and red hands for them! This was not placed in the new school. At the time the black population lived mainly on the hillside above the creek which paralleled Camargo Road between Madisonville and Madeira and on Red Bank Road between Erie and now Madison Road. They attended (students) our school without a thought of being integrated.

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Tres meses, una lista

Three months (tomorrow) and six posts.  Road to hell. Good intentions. Et cetera.

The original plan was to stay through the end of August.  That’s now been extended to (at least) the end of October. All depends on what work turns up in the next few weeks.  Everyone says I’ll have more than enough to make it financially viable to stay, but the same people have also all repeatedly said that nobody will do any hiring until mid- to late-September.

I’m going to try to post more during the next couple months and do a better job of documenting what is and has been going on.  But in the meantime, here’s a random list (in no particular order of importance) of things I’ve learned/noticed in the past 90-ish days.  Some I might expand upon here, others in the privacy of the offline world (or maybe in a story or six) …

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Los doscientos de los martes

A long time ago, on a blog far, far away, I started something called the Tuesday 200s.

After my Keith Haring meltdown in Paris last week, I decided I needed to get back into some kind of regular creativity swing, and so I registered a new domain. Because you know, like the ADD bookclub (you can’t only just be reading one thing at a time; rules are rules), we might as well start up with the ADD blogging as well. Also, I decided on a separate space for the creative work rather than blend it all into the old blog or into this one (because clearly I’ve been so prolific since my arrival in Barcelona).

I revisited some of the old stories tonight.  I don’t remember writing most of them and, to be honest, some took me by surprise. Sometimes a cringe, sometimes a chuckle and (not to toot my own horn … oh go on, Bob, toot away) a couple of genuine LOLs.  There were a few twists I didn’t see coming (which is strange, since to the best of my knowledge I did actually write them), and oh my … I did go to the dark place a few times, didn’t I?  So many little deaths in so many little tales. And the ones I did remember were pleasant little reminders that you can turn snippets of real life into little stories that actually didn’t happen.  I guess that’s what they call writing fiction, innit.

No idea where this next batch will go, but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?  A little structure, with some self-imposed deadlines to spur on the creative process. And at least I’ll feel like I’m starting and finishing something, be it good or bad, over however long I keep it up.

Anyway, here’s the new site in its early form.  Now I reckon I should write something new for it.  By Tuesday, at least.

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Dos tonos de gris

I went to the US Embassy the other day to renew my passport.  The one I only use to get back into ‘merica when needs be.  Because in Europe, using a US passport involves all kinds of scanning and cross-checks and mad-skillz keyboarding at the immigration counter.  Show the same officer a UK passport and it’s like handing a transfer to the bus driver; they just wave you right through.

I had filled out the necessary paperwork online and printed out the form.  Most of the fill-in-the-blanks were drop down menus, so it was fairly idiot proof, but I’m just the guy to put such failsafes to the test. The Spanish lady (who was lovely, btw) behind the glass window reviewed it, stapled my picture where it needed to be, looked at me, looked back at the form and then said, “Why did you put gray has your hair color?”

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La montaña ruso de mi mente.

2013-08-17 15.05.07

Those of you with a certain theatrical bent will know that Diana Goodman missed the mountains.

I could be her Sherpa guide these past few weeks, and today was an all-day pass, ride as much as you like (and then stay on a little longer) on The Beast of emotional roller coasters.

Today’s brilliantly curated Keith Haring exhibit pretty much did me in. Sometimes a piece of work will press a few buttons, maybe even strike a chord or two.  This was more like a symphony of memories, fears, dreams, hopes, triumphs, failures and insecurities.

Creativity. Art. AIDS. Racism. Sex. Injustice. Lost time. New York. Anger. Protest. Love. The dichotomy of making money while protesting capitalism. The 80s. Working with kids. Using your talents to help spread a message. Education. Compassion.

He died when he was 31, just a few years after being diagnosed.  He created so much work, and it was so much bigger (not just in size, but in scope as well) than I had ever imagined.  I don’t think I could create half as much if I lived another 31 years.

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¡Qué fácil!

Do you know what’s the easiest thing in the world to do, no mater what city/country/time zone you find yourself in?

Not write.

I can’t believe I’ve been here six weeks now and hardly written a word. Not just in here, but in the journal I said I’d scribble in (most) every day.

Oh well.  Best laid plans and all.  I’d love to blather on about my new Iberian life and how it’s filled with the same old neuroses, but I’ve got three lessons to prepare for tomorrow and need to bone up on my estilo indirecto, el imperfecto de subjuntivo, and then research some vocabulary so I can blag my way through tomorrow’s conversation class.

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¡Lanzate!

I got back in the water today … 1000m in this poolEstupendo.

There’s an even bigger pool inside, and the weight training room was great.  After than, popped by IH Bcn to confirm my next three weeks of Spanish classes, and then rested for an hour or so on the beach.  Off to a jazz club tonight.

bnc

The gym is offering an online membership special starting tomorrow.  Even without the discount, the monthly fees are cheaper than the YMCA in London. I’ll be joining for the summer.

 

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