a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Abroad among people i: The Waiters

Spoiler alert:  there are few photographs this time, for reasons which will become obvious, so if you are one of those readers who look at pictures for relief from my wordiness, I apologize.  

 I'm staying this week at my sister's while she recovers from a hospital visit.  It will, as such visits do, take time, though she seems to be doing well, on schedule expected.  In the waiting room the day of her procedure, I was reminded that a) I had still not resumed my travel post from Scotland and Wales, and the few days in London before I left for Spain...two months ago, now; and b) people everywhere are an entertainment in themselves, aren't they?  I'll begin with b) and when I return home, I promise I'll get on to the more picturesque travel posts.  (That is not a misplaced modifier, by the way.)

In between making notes of Mary Ellen's progress that day, I began to take note also of those waiting around me for their patients.  It kept me from biting my nails, though not literally...I had in hand the two things that keep me good company anywhere, a book and a pen and notebook.

I called them "the waiters", who brought in their families due for medical intervention, and waited in the well-appointed special waiting room for day-surgery "guests".  The hospital, to do them credit, had renovated their spaces a few years ago, since the last time I brought someone in for care.  At the time, the lobby was all askew with scaffolding, loose floor tiles, workers in hardhats and bright yellow vests, and entrants had to walk a fine line of dust around it.  The other day, it was quite a different scene...wide open space in the lobby, a lady behind the welcome/sign-in desk who, even at 6:12 in the morning seemed awake to our needs, and another behind the registration desk upstairs whose morning coffee had just the right energy boost for authenticating and directing patients to their rightful places.  She introduced us to the shiny waiting room spaces which would later be my home for the day.  Right now, I would accompany my patient to her slot in the long, curtained hall, where both of us would wait, visited every few minutes by the personages to whom we would be entrusting her care.

There we waited,too, as the parade of visiting attendants...nurses aide, prep nurse, surgeon, anaesthesiologist, surgical nurses, each with sheaves of paper to read and sign and record, and advice on what would happen, or probably happen...probability is a constant herein.  But then it was time for me to repair to the waiting room and its waiters...the ones you are waiting for me to get to...the ones who come in and out, sitting and rising, sifting through useless magazines, grazing the refreshment corner, talking sporadically, desultorily, or intently among themselves or, solitary, trying to sleep between checking their phones. 

And its tenders there, too:  a punctilious volunteer in a royal blue jacket, who answered phone calls and took our information and helped inform progress, and the hostess of the room, the Patient Advocate (herein after called PA), who ran between recovery rooms, patients, and waiters, charting progress, over and over thanking us for our patience (there, dear readers, is a medical first)and offering coupons for the cafeteria when hours turned into half-days and longer.

When I enter the lair, the PA, a friendly, sympathetic, quietly efficient woman whose clipboard seems attached permanently to her hand, reads me the drill about waiting times and their highly variable nature, and promises that I will hear as soon as possible not only my sister's fate, but my own.  She walks room to corridor to room, checking on patients and waiters alike with concern...though, as she repeats frequently to one or another, she's not a nurse and can't begin to talk about medical progress; she can only keep track of where one is and how one's feeling.  She does have a penchant for feelings.

By noon, I'm the second longest waiter in the as-yet sparsely populated room, the first being an elderly fellow, whose patient seems to be slower to recover.  He is a patient person himself, nodding pleasantly at any news he receives, and napping between.  There are two recovery rooms, the first unavailable to waiters except for mere minutes visiting with patients; the other suitable for staying with family.  I am hoping to move to either one, soon.  I've already asked for a progress report on my sister (still in surgery), so though I am tempted to ask for another, I don't, reminding myself that the surgeon will come out to inform me when he is finished.  But then I ask anyway, and the PA goes off to find out that surgery is ending...they are stitching up; she's apparently called in a favor to the head surgical nurse to find that out.

By now the waiting room is more full of waiters, interesting to watch.  It isn't, by the way, a place where people talk across to one another, except, as I mentioned, in their own private groups.  Besides the elderly fellow, his thin, wiry frame slipped down in the chair, napping, a couple...a mother and her son...await the son's father's recovery.  She is a short, sturdily formed woman...I'm guessing here, probably in her late sixties or early seventies.  She is rather disinclined to any converse except with her mobile phone...she doesn't talk on it, just trolls...and her son, a chap with a wide open face and a  smile always on the ready, portly and inclined to chattiness even without hope of response, jumps up and down offering coffee, guiding her to the rest room, seeing that she is in a comfortable chair.  Told finally that they have hours yet before surgery, he suggests they go for lunch...and after a long blank look around, she, wordless, rises in compliance.  We don't see them again for a long time.

Another woman, who has come in mid-morning and sat herself by herself in the far corner behind the receptionist's desk, asks nothing about her patient, a father or husband whose complications have caused concern that somehow leaks out through the Authorized Access Only door between us and the sacrosanct corridor that leads, maze-like, to the surgery and recovery rooms.  Attractive, neatly dressed as if for work, her suit neat, her curly hair shaped as neatly, her brown coat held tightly around her, she looks as if she belongs somewhere else.  She studies her mobile as if looking into a crystal ball, interrupted only by the PA's inquiry, Are you all right?  She nods, yes, and says aloud her thanks.  Except for a few words exchanged with a nurse later on, who tells her that her patient will spend the night, that's all we hear from her.

My eyes, shifting right, find a newcomer across the room from me.  He has changed seats twice, hoping, I at first supposed, for a better view of the television on the wall over my shoulder. I am wrong...he barely gives it a glance.  (In fact, I can think of only one person in the room that morning that bothers to keep track of the Property Brothers, busy magically transforming houses into homes their new owners adore in 30 minutes, with no delay or interference from inept construction workers or over-zealous inspectors...amazing.  Still, no one watches these miracles...perhaps in this room reality owns no one is in the mood to believe it.)

This young man, hardly half twenty, is a picture himself.  He wears the fanciest of brand-new hunter's garb, untainted by even the slush from the leftover snow outside.  Down to his shiny green half-boots, up to his still stiff wide-brimmed cap, detailed with a logo I can't quite read, but probably haven't heard of anyway, popular as it no doubt is in certain circles, he sits, then hits the juice-muffin-fruit bar with stores for the long haul.  His zebra-ed loose sweat pants droop stylishly around his knees as he lumbers.  It's clear he has dressed his best for his wife's surgery.  No hunter would actually wear such an outfit, it being impractical on all sorts of levels, but here he is, believing himself the image in the sporting emporium's window.  Here he has sat and paced, his juice unopened, until the PA, her sixth sense of nervousness among her guests sending him, with coupon, to the cafeteria for a good lunch.  He wants, however, to go home to wait, and insists several times that I'm only a block--4  minutes!--away.  She takes his phone number and promises to call with updates, and he leaves, coming back only to pick up his left-behind juice bottle.  When he returns, rushing phone in hand, out rolls a wheelchair to join him, in which we see, swathed in headscarf, neck scarf, and flannel shirt, his wife who, apparently, has endured the set of a dysfunctional leg in a strong cast.  Even when she talks, huskily, she seems more like a man than a woman, but woman she is, cracking wit at him as relief floods his face.

But that is hours later.  Meanwhile, Hah!  smirks the white-haired, white-bearded mountain man also seated across from me.  His wife is here for vascular surgery (we who listen to such things know this because we've just heard him discuss this with the surgeon, radiography in hand, about what will be done and what changes, ahem, need to happen after she goes home...though technically this is the day-surgery department, she will clearly be spending the night, at least one).  He so far is the only one who crosses speaking lines to make comments about the weather, the news, the long hours he worked the day before, etc., and now his own experience with the cafeteria.  I just came from there, he tells the room, including the patiently smiling PA, and they charged me 45 cents for each slice of bacon...do you believe it?  Several of us shake our heads sympathetically, including the PA.  She's good like that.  Despite his 18-hour work shift and early rising, he can't manage a nap, as the older fellow across the room is still doing on and off, so he reads his phone, has a coffee, shifts back and forth smiling ruefully at the room, reads his phone some more, then gives up and just sits.  Everyone else is settling down into their own worlds, too.

I settle into the book I brought, Joseph's birthday gift to me, a copy of Washington Irving's 1832 Tales of the Alhambra, a romanticized reminiscence of his diplomatic sojourn in that then much declined fortress.  This edition had been re-issued by a Spanish publisher a few years later, making sure to insert footnotes "correcting" (though only here and there) Irving's impressions, especially when Spanish versions of history were at risk of being overshadowed by his more worldly facts.  Between every few chapters are old watercolor illustrations, done by Spanish 19th century artists, of the courts and corners, people and intercourse of the Alhambra then.  Though Joseph found a true bargain somewhere, it's a treasure neither of us suspected.  Its plastic sleeve is cracked with age around the edges, but its text and cover has been well protected...in fact, hardly read, for the pages are still stiffly clean and bound.  As I did not get to Granada on my Spanish journey, it gives me impetus to try again some day, for certainly, 200 years after Irving's memoir, something of whatever romance colors his impressions must be waiting for me around some shadowy corner there.

I am deep within the ghostly chamber Irving sought for his own, when a door opening draws me out.  Without my noticing it, a thin, rangy young man with thick eyebrows and an academically careless demeanor, has come in to wait, folding himself into a chair under the window. His long legs extend almost as far as the next set of chairs.  His jacket, a worn number one might (wrongly) assume was an old hand-me-down, wrinkles as he slips further down in his chair.  He sleeps.  There is no telling who his patient is, and the PA, after finding him there, asks him his name and phone number in case he is called by the surgeon, gives her helpful talk, then leaves him alone to his closure.  Somewhere in the time I go for my late lunch, he disappears.  Like Irving's chamber experience, he seems a ghost briefly met.

In his place is a family...five people in all...an older woman, three younger ones, sisters or cousins, and a man who smiles continuously but does not contribute a single word to their spirited conversation, which is sometimes serious, sometimes ruminative, sometimes cheerful banter...and though it is all in a language I cannot understand, I can appreciate the shifts in topic, for clearly they are sharing the talk of all families...I wonder how this will go?; now what about auntie? and always, remember when?  When it comes time to visit the recovering patient for a few minutes, it is the older woman, whose English is the sparsest of all, who goes out the Authorized Access Only door and who will listen to what the doctor and nurses have to say.

Just before sundown, the last of the waiters appears.  She is a hefty young woman, truculent and grave, shrugging off all connection with the space in which she is forced to be.  The PA, ever vigilant, comes to greet her, but she has a hard time extracting a name and phone number from her, and the girl's answer to her question about relationship is even harder coming...husband, she barely breathes.  Attempting to assure her that she means no intrusion, but wants to be sure that the surgeon and nurses find her when her patient is freed from his procedure, the PA finds only more truculence.  Her husband, it comes out as the PA talks to her, has been admitted at the last minute, from some danger, and waiting a long time until they can fit him in is in her future.  She turns away from everyone, and the television attracts her attention only briefly.

She, the family of five, and the woman in the brown coat are still there when I leave, finally, to see my own patient in her recovery cubicle.  She has been up, walking, having a drink and dismissing the highly inappropriate late lunch of a white-bread turkey sandwich. (When,when will hospital nutritionists revise their inexplicably canned regimens for patients?  It reminded me of Joseph's birth, 45 years ago, after which I was served a late lunch of salmon loaf, the color alone making me wonder about what the kitchen thought after-birth could stomach.  Apparently not much has changed in those dietary dungeons.)  On one of her checking-on-patients run, the PA shook her head and brought her a banana from the waiting room stash, with the caveat, Of course, I'll have to ask the nurse first if it's all right.  It turns out the nurse, fully on board, has been running around trying to right the wrong, too.   It is way past her leaving time, but the PA is still working.  From there, Mary Ellen and I wait again, as the slow process of discharge begins.  And then, at last, the waiting ends.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

♯🎜🎝Seville isn't that much to shout about...but when she's about...

No, sorry, unlike the shady dame in the song, traffic didn't stand still...it whirled around me, pedestrian, carriage and car, as I traversed narrow lanes and crossed cobbled plazas, looking down to avoid stepping in trouble.

This seems a poor way to begin telling you what was really a very fascinating look at the Moorish architecture of southern Spain and Andalusia...blue and white tiles lining the pavement and walls of the parks and alleyways, huge buildings from far into the past which began as one form of testimony and became the next invaders' choice for palace or cathedral or high seat, the Guadalvivr, the river which runs through the city, bridges linking, as they do in most great cities of the world, the memorial side of the city with the working side.  And, in case it turns you on...as it did lines of tourists waiting outside the ring, though I wasn't one of them...its bullfighting history.

Before I left for Seville, a woman told me, "Oh, Sevilla!  I would live there if I could."  And reading about the place made me look forward even more to the visit.  I booked an apartment in an old building just off one of the most historic sections of town, off a street full of the establishments we visit Europe for; unfortunately, I can't recommend it (the apartment, not the street), as it was dark, cheerless, and ill-conceived, but as I spent most of the day and evening out anyway, I had only to sleep and store my things there.  It is, by the way, my first disappointment staying in an AirBnB.

It couldn't have been more convenient, being just off the Calle Santa Maria La Blanca, in the heart of Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter.  It was a charmer, and more intriguing than at first apparent.  Arriving mid-day from the few days I gave myself in London between the Scotland/Wales journey and Spain, I rolled my suitcase to the corner cafe, little more than a counter and a few small tables, outside and in, which was briskly serving passersby, tourists and local workers alike.  A staff of cheerful young people from diverse Spanish, eastern European, Australian and African parts served good Spanish coffee, tea, fresh fruit, smoothies, and yogurt, or bagel and thin slivers of smoked salmon over fresh lime, or vegetarian sandwiches made to order.  I made it my first stop many mornings before I began my walking day. So did residents on their way to work at one or another of the shops, offices, tourist sites and museums in the area, taking away morning or noon fare in quick, efficient order, while those on holiday...and the streets were crowded with them...like me sat for a while to enjoy it.

There was a panaderia across the street that began its baking early, a pharmacy where natural remedies took precedence for colds and the pharmacist, a young serious woman who took her time with each customer, asking good questions and deliberating the best cure.  Beyond that was a tiny sliver of a shop which sold scarves, so pretty and so ready for the cooling weather, a shoe shop, and as many restaurants as could fit in one block.

I looked forward to the promised delicacies of Spanish and Moroccan cuisine, and was never disappointed.

My favorite place for lunch, found a few days into my stay, became an Italian restaurant, La Galliana Blanca, whose food and service were impeccable and as welcoming as neighborhood place can be, white tablecloths and perfectly plated dishes notwithstanding.

You would think for a beginning like that, that Seville would become a place I would enjoy.  And you know I did enjoy things about it, but somehow I couldn't find its heart, no matter how hard I tried.  The parks were nice enough to walk in, the architecture interesting enough, the history--full of strange twists and turns of fate and endless invasions, as that part of the world seems to have suffered through--curious enough.  

Writing every day, though, I found myself striving to catch up with what Seville was really about, and frustrated at never getting there.  Here is what I wrote on the first day:

...In the ancient quarter where I will stay are...the grand eldest buildings nearby to explore, pretty and Spanish, like Cuba, but even narrower cobbled streets...it will be fun to explore them.  There is a drum-and-horn band playing a few blocks away and small children are playing in the park around the corner.  The sun is a treat I put my jacket away for, after the chill of Britain.  A white dove flies past and lands by the ancient center tiles of a once-fountain, signaling something to me.  Seville has not gotten to me yet, but it will.


A few days more and my entry begins:
I don't know.  Seville has many intriguing sights.  Each day I walk from part to part admiring the gardens, the courtyards in the Museo des Belles Artes, the beautiful tiled (Azulejos) benches, staircases, walls...

... the University's quiet elegant courtyard interior, the intricately elaborate facades of buildings and monuments meant to inspire... ?  

Still, strangely, the city lays no claim on me, nor I it.  I lunch on baccala salad with pine nuts and hazelnuts and drink some wine on the sidewalk along the wide Calle San Fernando beside the entrance to the park, watching from my corner seat the wanderers in the city.  

I take a river cruise up and down the Guadalvivr, watching the town from the glistening waterside.  I have already seen most of its part from land, except for a strange set of exhibits left over from a world fair, now a sort of amusement park.  What relaxes and interests me is being on the water itself, on a beautiful day, its distance making Seville's sidewalk life shine.


When I return, my next entry reports:
I sit in the grand park watching people go back and forth...families, couples, friends, tourists, groups...this is the end of the high tourist season and everyone is rushing to catch it before it goes. The weather has turned a bit cloudy; it's promised to rain a little.  But I find quiet places in the parks...on this day, others seem to be reflective, too, walking quietly among the trees, being pruned as we watch...

...the crowds seem clustered around the palace instead.

There are so many other spaces in the park, all interesting in themselves.  I'm happy just relaxing in it.

By four I am tired...I have been out since a bit past 8 this morning.  On the way to the apartment, I stop at a tourist information center and sign up for a tour to the Pueblos Blancos, a supposedly "ecological" company runs it.  It is doable and affordable, only six or seven people at a time, and it may, I think, start me off in other directions and new interests.  Perhaps Seville is just a place to go somewhere from.

The tour of the Pueblos Blancos was, in fact, what I had come to Andalusia to see.  The villages rise from fields where, as in Southern France, vineyards, olive groves, small caches of farm huts where families and their workers become their own miniscule town, and you can see the white houses clustered together from each curve in the road as it winds higher.  It is difficult to park anywhere, so our guide leaves us off at the edges of each town, and then meets us in the middle for our walking tours.  It's raining, foggy, and though he apologizes for the lack of view, it seems to me to be a perfect vision of the mysterious in Andalusia.

The streets are really cobbled hills, sometimes with steps going up between the windows and doors of houses built into the rock, sometimes just cobbled slides and angles.  I have my cane, so going up the very steep climb to the Moorish towers isn't difficult.  Coming down, however, is another story.  I don't fall, but the pressure on the slippery slopes gets to me.  I won't know until the next day, back in Seville, how much it does.

Town by town, my camera records the beauty and fascination of the pueblos.  We manage a few stops to eat, shop, and go off at our own pace, which I like.  Once, however, the tour has to wait for me to return, when I am too long inside the strange wooden chapel, where a wary parishioner takes her turn minding the table at the entry...I smile at her as I make my donation, but she looks at me as if I am a ghost.  I'm not offended...it is the Andalusian way.  It's dark when we finally return to the city.

The next morning, after a lazy start, I feel better and set out for whatever adventure the day brings, stopping almost to the medieval plaza for breakfast in a cafe idolizing the Hemingway era...the black and white photographs on every wall bring out that '30s image, even though many are much younger.


 On the way out, I suddenly feel my knee give way.  It's the one that has been replaced some years ago, and so I stop a minute, trying to gauge what's going on.  But I straighten up and then continue until in a few minutes, it collapses again.  Okay, I think.  I've so far walked everywhere I am going, getting lost, turning unexpected corners, so it is about time I gave my legs a rest.  I head, slower this time and more careful of the cobbles and ruts toward the river, where the on-and-off buses begin.  It is another perspective of the town for me, but since I now know where everything is from plazas to bull ring to museum to parks to river and across, I don't bother to get earplugs, as the other tourists do...I already know what I am seeing.  I just look.

 And sure enough, I see things I really didn't notice before, including the gorgeously gilded church we practically hurl past, the Basilica de la Macarena.

I go around in the tour bus twice, in fact, and when I get off, finally, near the tower at the edge of the university park, I realize that my knee is more than just tired.  My plan to take the ferry to Tangiers will have to wait for another trip; I can't trust my walking any more.  So I make plans to go home through Lisbon and London, over two days, which in fact will turn out to be even more wearing on me.

Starting back to the apartment, I get lost in the gloaming once more, and find myself walking past a narrow house on one of the smallest, narrowest streets in the city: a museum to Jewish life in Southern Spain.  They are still open, so I walk in through the quiet rooms, taking note of the remnants of an old civilization that helped to found Seville once, then fell under its betrayal.  Yet the exhibits are colorful and full of the North African influences that marked the Jewish culture in its history there...

The two young women at the entry, smartly dressed and historically charged, give me a map that lists other places in the city where remnants of the community, a millennium old, exist.  It's getting dark, so I take it with me, thinking that perhaps I will pass one of them on the way to the apartment.  And I do, in a most surprising place:  the corner on which I have been staying, barely three doors down.

Just on the other side of the street, Santa Maria la Blanca, where I have been enjoying my morning coffee, is a church of the same name, whose bells have rung every twenty minutes, it seems to me, day and night, since I arrived.  (I like bells, but these ringings seemed excessive...)  I haven't paid much attention to it as I have walked by; it seemed to have little architectural merit compared to the rest of the sites, and the women who go in and out the doors are dour and suspicious.  It turns out that it houses, however, one of those religious transformations that take place, like the palaces and government buildings, whenever one society is pushed out and another moves in.  It's one of the old synagogues, built in the 13th century, which, in the late 14th century was one site in the city where its congregants and residents of the quarter were slaughtered when they did not conform to the new Catholic regime.  The church, reformatted, is nearly invisible along the tourist- and shop-lined block.
I have ended my visit in the very spot I started out.

In the morning, I walk to the cab station, cane and baggage at the ready for the first flight back home.  I'm sorry to miss Morocco...especially now, but there is next year...