Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year, everyone

My Intentions

Don't be afraid to be a beginner at something.

Keep learning about yourself.

Develop a consistent spiritual practice.

Be open to romantic love.

Speak your truth. To everyone. Most importantly, to yourself.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Scents of crumbs of days of lives

I’ve always enjoyed smelling people as they walk by, generally inside modes of transportation. Tight spaces, forced hallways. On trains, buses, planes. I inhale the waft of themselves they leave behind, the layers of their days. Their mornings, their showers, their indiscretions.

I generally like the smell of women more. When an intriguing woman walks by, I make my nostrils sive-like to distill her smell and form an opinion about her. Not so much men, women are the ones, licking at my nose, apple sweet.

There was a Scorpio man I was in love with who was not in love with me, which at those times of my life was the only kind of man I could love.

I could smell him before he came into a room or after he left it. I don’t mean his cologne; I mean him. His being, his incense. His life, what he showered with, what he shaved with, what he left on him from where he’d just been. I loved it. I loved feeling so in tune with him, using a sense we hardly ever use to recognize someone. It made me feel poetic at a time when I used my writing very little.

Once I was walking down the hallway to my office and I smelled him. It always made my heart gymnastic; I went in, blood cooling after the swell. He wasn’t there.

Then I said, out loud, “I could have sworn he was here...”

And out he popped from under a desk. Hiding. Found.

“Hi Amy!” he said. I was embarrassed. He was not supposed to know I knew his smell. That I could track him. It meant I studied him too much. It meant countless things he already knew, that I just wanted to stop proving.

People are like that. They say they want to be known, but they don’t really want to be known. They want to know, but they don't really want to know. Everyone wants a cliff, a stunning view, a palpability but a mist, too, a part that is untouchable. A foam, a snow globe.

Two years later I was on a plane with another man, another Scorpio I’d known for eight years. He had just woken up from a useless Plane Nap and he immediately leaned over and sniffed me. Really sniffed me, staccato-like but lung-deep, like he was breathing in something vital. Like he was trying to break a boundary because he knew I could not put walls on my scent, despite wherever else I put them.

What is this need to inhale someone? Isn’t being inside of one human body enough?

Monday, October 4, 2010

A pottery kind of life

There’s a smile that I only have in Colorado.

I see it in photos; somehow the smile has both widened and sucked in any fat on my face and I am left with slimness and truth. The wrinkles are thinner, lighter, but more dam-like, standing strong against the others to hold their own.

There is a brightness, a reflection of this state on myself and on the state, and all of it melding to multi-colored fluidity. We are blues and reds and greens and tans, smooth silky tans against a ragged mountain backdrop. The sharpness of the mountains makes an angled complement to the curvy, waviness of me and my yin energy. We are juxtaposed, we are missing puzzle pieces, found.

My jaw is both rounder and pointier, as if it were becoming more feminine and yet more focused at the same time. Focused on her path, her goals, yet exuding what she can along the way. Peppering it with love, spicing it with sensuality. Molding and being molded a la vez.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What does one do with the
half-borne glimpses
of another potential life?

Balloon-thread ends
that fray, unrealized

I will breathe it all whole,
supple it with intention
until I can no longer—

and let them fly away

and fly the
other way.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

through me through me through me
the light, the colors,
you, deep spine of myself
do do! do?
and yet i'm floating
not backwards or forwards
in a purgatory
i never think of staying
and now maybe, maybe,

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Spanish beer inspires me to write about other beer

My piece on international brews and bars, published in InMadrid, the city's English-language newspaper:

Have we got brews for you

Craving something other than Mahou or Cruzcampo? Amy Segreti tells you where you can find great beer from Germany, Belgium and elsewhere without leaving Madrid.

José Luis Ramírez doesn’t want you to have any distractions when you come to his bar. His beer haven, Oldenburg (C/Alburquerque, 13, Metro: Bilbao), appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s largest selection of cerveza in the smallest space–14.4 square meters to be exact.

No distractions means no television to watch the fútbol game, no Wifi for checking e-mail, no cigarette machines, no juice machines, nor anything else that characterizes old Spanish bars, even though Oldenburg was founded over two decades ago. And although you’ll find pinchos, salchichas (hot dogs) and a wonderful tortilla de patatas on Fridays and Saturdays, you won’t find anything else to drink besides beer and Coca-Cola, which Ramírez only started serving two years ago when his long-time clients began to have children.

“When you come, you must come only to drink beer,” says Ramírez firmly. And that is something he makes very easy.

Oldenburg offers more than 150 bottled beers from all over the world, as well as half a dozen on draft. And despite the great variety, there is a distinct lack of snobbiness about the bar, which is decorated in beer memorabilia and showcases a small model of Oldenburg, the city in Germany the bar is named after.

“There is no such thing as ‘bad beer’,” says Ramírez. “They are all different.”

While some of us may beg to differ, there are enough options in the thick menu to satisfy everyone. Toward the back of the menu you’ll find a glossary of terms defining each style of beer and lengthy descriptions of the areas in Belgium in which each beer is made.

And if you’ve seen Te Deum beer around Madrid, it’s because Ramírez helped to create it in Belgium in 2002, hecha al gusto español (made to suit the Spanish taste). Eight years later, it is still only manufactured and bottled by Du Bocq brewery in Belgium and shipped to Spain, the only country permitted to sell and distribute it.

“The Belgians say the only defect Te Deum has is that it doesn’t contain enough alcohol,” says Ramírez.

If you can’t decide what to order, you can always try the beer of the month; order two and you’ll receive a glass especially made for that beer. Ramírez started the program in 1998 because he found a lot of his clients always drank the same thing, year after year. “It’s easier to say, ‘Have you tried our beer of the month?’” says Ramírez. “If you start listing specific beers, they don’t pay you any attention.”

If you want to focus specifically on Belgian beer, just behind Plaza Mayor you’ll find Cafeeke (C/Cuchilleros, 3, Metro: Sol), where attentive waiters speak several languages and there are plenty of small flat screens to watch the games. Prices are a bit higher, which is to be expected because of its central location (you’ll pay 5.40€ for a Delirium Tremens, a bit less for others). However, it has a cozy upstairs salon and if you come with your pet to have a drink on the terrace, dog treats are provided free of charge.

Cafeeke carries 50 bottled Belgian beers and five on draft. Try the Mongozo coconut beer, which comes in a coconut shell (but ask for a spoon, as the rich mixture quickly separates).

If you’re looking for microbrewed beer made in Madrid, try both Naturbier (C/ Plaza de Santa Ana, 9, Metro: Sevilla) and Magister (C/Príncipe, 18, Metro: Sevilla). Naturbier claims to produce the only “natural” beer in Madrid; they don’t use any chemicals in the beer’s production, and you’ll get it straight from the cask in which it was produced. Right down the street is Magister, which is similar to Naturbier with the wonderful exception that you can choose which of the 10 free tapas you’d like to accompany your brew. The quality of the beer is adequate, and there are usually around three options.

Finally, a Spanish chain named La Fábrica: Museo de la Cerveza (C/Princesa, 5, Metro: Plaza de España, and C/Génova, 21, Metro: Alonso Martínez, among others), offering almost 20 different types of Spanish and world beer, deserves an honorable mention. It serves as a restaurant as well, so you can eat your meat and potatoes with your beer and admire interesting collectibles that showcase the evolution of the Spanish brewing industry since the 19th century.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Historic moments and croquetas

How good am I at choosing countries (capitals, no less) to live in?

Congratulations, men in red, and thank you; you have made my days unforgettable.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I live in the center of a firework

I have never been so happy to be shouting my head off, jumping with a pointy flag, blowing a vuvuzela and having beer and sweat splashed on me after not having eaten for three days and likely prolonging food-poisoning recovery.

And I run with them, and hoorah, and make mistakes, and get back up. And I'm not a part of them, but I am. I really am.

Goodnight, screaming, beautiful city, my pulsating home-for-now.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

You, and him, and you even harder

Sometimes when his tongue heats
my flesh
and I close my eyes,
I let the lightning bolts
flicker across the back
of my lids,
but they don't touch ground
they don't

I looked at my hair today on the Metro and thought, that is not my hair. I fingered the ends, almost-blonde, butterscotch tints on black matte. They came from another time, a warmer time —and then I stopped and thought of you, summer heat, oozing through the afternoon like caramel, letting go, rounding you, your cave, your shelter— my hair. Those shades, the opposite of shades, because there was nothing in the shadows there. It was bright, brilliant, and very far away.

Bosses who say, "you didn't get the soul out of this one," bosses who aren't you. The nicest thing you ever said to me was, "you give me input," in a way where you half-pointed to your head to indicate things going in there, from me, from what I gave you. You didn't need to say it. You made me want to lose all of my experiences and have only this one, this pearl-threaded disaster, sewn with the intimate, heart-flesh color of roses. You made it feel like my tongue and throat were one, pulsating together with my heart, and on downward the thick river, inky and muddy now with stunted edges.

I occasionally read words I wrote about you, but I can't see all of them. I see "trace" as "thrown." I see pain as poetry. I see my poetry and wonder how much I've poured out into it, how much is left, how much more juice will I get out of this non-romance, como si toda la vida fuera un gran cuento. I read things I wrote about you where I indicate that I am over you, that you are not on my mind. And I laugh at my silly younger self, tossle her hair, which is not my hair but butter-blonde tinted, soft and innocent, so fine and untangled that no secrets could tumble out of it.

I once wrote about the lover after you. "He's young and teachable." Teachable. What a word.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bread crumbs, bridges, the sometimes of things

A journalist friend who worked at El Mundo for 14 years asked me recently what I would be doing in Spain if I could choose. I didn't have an immediate answer. I had to dig around in the pockets of my desires and pull up linty wishes and mold them into recognizable shapes for him. Ah, yes — that dream, that place, that job. This is enough to tell me that my intentions aren't clear enough for the universe to hear them.

"Have you been writing lately?" my friend Sara asks, and already I am reaching for my glass of wine, trying to avoid the question.

"No," I say, and start thinking of an excuse — I've been to the United States again, I'm feeling out of sorts lately, I've moved in with a new family in Madrid and they take up all my time.

And sometimes it feels like they do. I can incorporate exercise by playing with the 2-year-old baby, Alvaro. I do plank pose and he drives toy trucks under the length of me. I am a bridge always in danger of collapsing, and this makes him giggle. However, when I try to write and he spies my Macbook (I mistakenly showed him the cool sounds the volume keys make), he starts manically poking at the keyboard. And I let him because it's cute, and with the way I feel lately perhaps using this method might yield a better piece of writing.

And so I don't give Sara an excuse, because she already knows that part of me.

"You told me to tell you that when you're not writing, it means you're not being honest with yourself," she says, and I curse smarter, month-ago Amy.

It's true. Writing is a meditation for me. I can feel my mind focusing, filtering, wading out to sea.

I live on the edges of myself too often here. It feels safer. Sometimes I feel alone and scared in this country, and paradoxically too vulnerable to go deeply with anyone. Because if I access that route, I leave bread crumbs, and people can follow me in there.

I constantly ask myself what all of this is worth. The Spanish language, of course, but what else? Do I need to know now? Why am I always trying to frame works of art that haven't taken their shape yet?

My friend Harvin saw a psychic recently, and when I came up in the conversation she told him that what I'm doing right now will help me in my career. I wanted to fly to D.C. and shake her and say, "What am I doing? Please God tell me what it is. I don't feel it, please help me feel it!"

And then I did go to D.C. last week. And I didn't shake her, or see her. I was too happy to be home.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ida y vuelta

I'm reading a book of personal essays in Spanish called "La Loca de la Casa" by Rosa Montero. She writes that she has become accustomed to organizing her memories according to lovers and the books that she's written. She says all humans do this, categorize their life using idiosyncratically-chosen landmarks.

Todos los humanos recurrimos a trucos semejantes: sé de personas que cuentan sus vidas por las casas en las que han residido, o por los hijos, o por los empleos, e incluso por los coches. Puede que sea obsesión que algunos muestran por cambiar de automóvil cada año no sea más que una estrategia desesperada para tener algo que recordar.

All of us have similar tricks: I know people who tell their lives by the houses they lived in, or by their children, or by their jobs, or even by their cars. It's possible that this obsession people have of changing their car every year is nothing more than a desperate strategy to have something to remember things by.

Basically, I've figured out mine is moving to different places. I remember my time in each state I've lived in—New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado—because of that state. I go first to the place. Then I recall events, loves, friends, jobs, storms, losses. It is easy to build chapters this way.

But although I left Spain for the U.S. on Feb. 4—coincidentally my intended date of permanent departure—I wasn't quite done with this chapter yet. So I came back.

I spent five days getting buried under the worst snowstorm in history with good friends in D.C., saw my mother in New Jersey, and flew back to Spain the night before all Continental flights out of my home state were canceled due to the severe weather.

Because for now, Madrid is home to me. I'm building a life here, although it has taken me three months to feel the roots of it.

I have girl friends from four other countries, and when we get together, we speak in five different languages (as my Italiana says, "Lo que quieras, aquí tenemos.") It makes me feel safe in an inexplicable way. Like with this many languages, we couldn't possibly get lost.

I teach English to a little boy named Jaime who amazes me daily with his intelligence, intuitiveness and generosity. He just turned eight, but his soul is much older. I looked at him today during our lesson, when he had started drawing a picture of a beach to explain a Spanish word to me, and I nearly burst into tears at the thought that I will lose him, and that he is exactly what I would want in a son. I stopped myself, said, "Jellyfish, madusa, thank you," and we moved on.

I take an hour-long Spanish class every day, then spend the rest of my afternoon studying what I've learned over café con leche largo de café. The other day in Pepe Botella, two of my extranjeras and I spent 5 minutes talking about one verb—just one Spanish word, enorgullecerse, to be/feel proud—and it didn't feel like a chore. It's because we want to dissect the language that much, to liquefy it and inject it into ourselves so it stays with us forever.

And so Feb. 9 I had one more plane ticket than I thought I would have. Because I could not imagine tearing myself from Madrid after only three months. How I ever thought I could has been another lesson in knowing myself better.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A curious Spanish day

Today, three months after I arrived in Madrid, I finally started Spanish classes at my appropriate level, of which I am quite proud (B2, according to the European standard for language proficiency). Afterwards I spent a languorous afternoon relaxing in the sun in Puerta del Sol, sipping café cortados with my Italian and German girl friends.

I ate lunch at one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants, during which a tiny Spanish baby waddled over to me carrying big metal salad servers he had stolen from his parent's table. Excited, I said, "Hola!" and started speaking to him in Spanish. As a response he placed the giant tonsils into his mouth and gurgled. Yes, little one, this is what I want to do instead of speaking Spanish sometimes, too

As I was walking to a café later, I passed a crazy homeless man shouting into the air. All major cities are blessed with this phenomenon, however I find that when the hollering is in Spanish it is a lot less alarming.

"¿Cuántas pipas hay?!" he screamed at a building.

I am not sure how many sunflower seeds there are, sir, but I hope you figure it out.

On my way home, I passed by another cute child. Except this one was being held in the air by his parents, allowing him to pee on a small tree on the side of the road. In my upper-middle class suburban neighborhood. His pants down, happily relieving himself on the tree like a puppy.

And so tonight, I am staying in, indulging in an episode of Desperate Housewives in English, and turning my brain happily, delightfully and completely off.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Wisps and wafts and circumstance

Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I "haunt."

"Nadja," Andre Breton

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Say "hello" and I will love you forever

On owning a language

I was standing on the Metro today reading To The Lighthouse. Its cover is unmistakably English, the title screaming to everyone my native tongue.

When I want to appear Spanish I don't read it. Instead I read ADN, a free city paper (primarily available in suburban neighborhoods, another plus for my disguise). I gasp or chuckle at some article or another, thereby demonstrating my ability to read and understand the Spanish language.

But today I felt more like absorbing words rather than walking among them, occasionally having to tap one on the shoulder and ask, excuse me, what do you mean in this particular context?

So I chose Ms. Woolf. I looked up to see what stop I was at, and that was when I saw it. Smeared vulnerably across the face of a man of about 40 years. The look. The "please say something, anything, in English!" look. Floating there so exposed, above his cheeks that were gently etched with wisp-thin lines, like a palm.

It's a look I know well, because I give it to others on days I feel most lonely, when I see someone reading in English, or pass by people speaking it. One time in Chueca I meandered around three people talking about their English teaching experiences like a silly satellite, waiting for a way to break into the conversation. But there didn't appear to be an opening, so I shuffled away.

This is one of the more difficult aspects of being here. I am at an intermediate (some days low, some days high) level of Spanish, and I often feel trapped inside of myself because of the language barrier. I'm trying every single day, talking to people, reading newspapers, books, study materials, watching Spanish telenovelas. I am listening, always. I am putting myself out there; I am trying hard enough.

But when I start to think deeply about language and communication, as I have been lately, I feel that I might not be able to know another language intimately. To the point where I can express, for example, that sometimes I feel like a paper bag billowing in the breeze of someone's departure, gulping up thick mouthfuls of the air he leaves behind, my lips caked with dried longing. I am not able to pour things out of myself in another language, and I don't know if I ever will be.

There are moments to the contrary, of course, where I'm able to see the beauty of not needing words. Zoe, a girl from London who I befriended in Spain, was in pain over the recent burial of her grandmother, and she wanted to explain it to her Spanish friend, Cristina. She wasn't able to be there for the burial in London, so her family emailed her photos. She showed a picture of the box of ashes to Cristina and said, simply, "Mi abuela."

And she said the simplicity of that was comforting, that she didn't have to explain everything surrounding the death of her grandmother. That she could just say those two words and it was enough. That, essentially, the limitation was freeing. Freeing her from saying unnecessary words and, perhaps, the trouble of not knowing where to start or end, and allowing her to express herself in just two.

I am so drawn to the Spanish language, and I intend to be fluent in it. But maybe fluency is different than knowing a language intimately, the way an artist uses language, as threads for weaving. You don't go digging for threads; they are already there, and it is the final artistic product that takes the effort. Maybe I will create art with Spanish words someday.

Or maybe I won't.

And that's the interesting thing about living in another country. You learn things about yourself you did not expect. For instance, I am in love with the language I already own. It's almost as if I feel I need to explore English more, because these words are my tools, because I am a writer and can be nothing else.

But as for the man on the Metro, I will admit — he and I didn't need words.

Images: #1, "Raining words," Flickr user pfv; #2, snow-day in Madrid, Amy Segreti

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The 427,000th definition of love

It's like when you scratch a new bug bite, and the old one mysteriously starts itching again, reborn anew. You're like that.

Still you lurk beneath my skin, hatching memories.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

In the static between hums a melody

"El mundo es un pañuelo," I say to him. It's a small world.

But what I end up saying is "pomelo" — the world is a grapefruit.

And he laughs, and I laugh, and between the padded walls of language everything is all right again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

An incomparable comfort

The holidays are hard on me. Always. I'm not sure if it's because I make them hard—like, say, choosing to be 5,000 miles away from close friends and family—but I always dread them.

I am going to admit to the world right now that I did nothing, absolutely nothing for New Year's Eve. If I have told you otherwise, I am a huge liar.

Let's put significant pressure on ourselves to have a fun New Year's Eve

The Spanish family I am living with was away in Zaragoza for almost two weeks. I've enjoyed having the house to myself, but my very sensitive line between demanding/loving alone time and becoming lonely/morose was getting a bit fuzzy.

I knew that the whole family would be returning today, and so I went out for a late dinner. I wasn't sure if I wanted to wait until tomorrow to see the kids, as sometimes they drive me a bit crazy.

I hadn't seen them in 13 days. I came home at midnight, and when I walked in, Ana saw me, looked at me curiously for three seconds... then, her face lit up. It just... glowed.

"Amyyyyyy!" she screamed, and ran over to wrap her arms around me. Jaime—the macho 7-year-old that he is becoming—even came over to tug my arm and smile at me.

They proceeded to show me their new toys, and I played a game of Star Wars chess with Jaime while Ana sang to us with her new, soon-to-drive-me-insane microphone and mini-stage set.

I'm not used to this. I didn't grow up with younger brothers/sisters/cousins/anything. I don't understand this kind of emotion.

But basking in the simple purity of their affection was something I'd wanted—needed—and didn't even realize.