Thursday, November 7, 2013
My morning started very badly.
You all know the sort of day - the sort where everything goes wrong right from the very beginning. My alarm didn't go off, so I overslept and rolled out of bed on the wrong side. The water in the shower wouldn't go hot and the yogurt in the fridge was past its date and tasted like stomach-aches later at lunchtime. There were no clean shirts, my trousers needed a button sewn, and when I threw on a skirt instead and pulled my stockings up, a fingernail popped and ripped a ladder all the way from toe to thigh.
In short, it was a perfect petty morning storm, with irritation running up and down my spine like needles raining down on a tin roof. It felt so ground-in I reckoned I might fill those needles up with ink and run that funk right into my skin like a tattoo.
And then I missed my bus. Of course I couldn't get a taxi - taxis with passengers inside seemed to pause and gloat as they flew past, and when - at last - a free taxi stopped, it overshot, slamming to halt ten yards farther down the street. I chased it down and stepped inside - and I was drowned, crushed beneath a wave of sound. The driver spoke. I couldn't hear.
"Turn Your Music Down!" I yelled.
Accordions and violins rose and swelled. My funk was flattened, crushed, beneath music like a fifty-foot monster swell off of an Alaskan surfing shore.
"TURN YOUR MUSIC DOWN!"
He nodded and the music shrank in size to something more manageable - a howling north-sea gale perhaps, and we shot out into the street, crossed three lanes of traffic without a single honk, and settled down to cruising comfortably in the inside lane.
The driver twisted in his seat and smiled at me. I hated him at once.
"Good Mooooorning Senorita!"
And he rolled his rrrrr's. With enthusiasm. I hated him worse than ever.
"Where, Sennnorrrrita?" He said, rolling worse.
I told him. He nodded, and turned the music back up.
"You mind?" He shouted back at me.
Strangely enough, I found that I didn't. It was tango music: thumping upright piano and accordion, with lots of sturm and drang. It suited me and my funk right down to the ground.
"The music's the best parrrrrt of the job!" He shouted, clashing the gears horribly and braking sideways into a lane full of big orange buses.
"Herrrrre in the taxi I can sing all day long. Tango, cumbia, jazz, bossa-nova, opppperrrrrra-"
He rolled his rrrr's again, but the accordion was thumping and I found I didn't mind. He twisted in his seat to look at me again, and we shot across a rather large cross-street on the red.
"May I sing for you?"
"Sure." I said weakly, holding tightly to the door handle. "It's your taxi. Feel free."
Flashing me a splendid smile, he turned back to the steering wheel, nudged the volume dial up to maximum, straightened his back, and sang.
He sang Dejame Asi by Alfredo de Angelis, and he sang it in a loud, clear tenor voice, all the way through to the end. My bad mood melted away like snow beneath a summer sun, and I clapped and shouted out loud in pleasure.
"Bravo!" I cried, when he had finished. "Wonderful! Magnificent! Would you do another one?"
"You mean it?"
So he did. He sang El Choclo - by de Angelis again, and then he sang another one, and another -
He sang me all the way across town.
At the end of the ride, I tipped him the entire value of the fare. As he nosed back out into the traffic to drive away, I reached out and tapped on his window.
"Thank you." I said. "Thank you."
And I reached back into my purse and gave him all the money I had in it. If I miss my bus again this evening, I will be walking home. That's all right - there's a big moon scheduled, and a clear sky, and I'll do it singing, imagining piano and accordion going at it hammer and tongs, all the way.
That's how my Friday has gone so far. How's yours?
Saturday, November 2, 2013
I began sewing this dress a couple of years ago for an Alice of Wonderland party, but I never finished. I was going as the titular Alice - a rather bashy, brutal sort of Alice, with a contract out on the head (complete with frozen glass eyes and a zipper to make a purse) of the Cheshire Cat. On the morning of the party, before the final seams were sewn, Zoe, the party's hostess called in floods of tears. She'd found her beloved cat Horse lying in the back garden, dead from a snake-bite.
We were all shattered. My costume stayed unfinished. There are some things that nice people just don't do.
Three years later, Alice of Wonderland, Cheshire Cat Hunter, received her last stitch. And she was a most appropriately Halloween-y sort of costume. Absolutely loaded with horror and dread, and in the light of morning, what fifteen assorted people cannot understand is how European Civilization survived half a millennium of hoopskirts.
I couldn't pass a decorative cobweb without trying to take it away with me on my pink petticoat - and whatever it had been attached to, which was usually a chair, which meant that whoever was sitting on the chair came too. I nearly took down the buffet when I swooped gingerly in for a pineapple kebab - the host had cleverly swopped out the tablecloth for more cobwebs, and when Mr Tabubil called out "HOY!" the pork platter and a bowl of punch were strung out on a lead line, teetering on the brink.
I was booted from the living room the second time I passed the coffee table - my swinging skirts set glasses of punch flying. That second pass had taken out the refills of the ruins of the first, and as I fled, disgraced, the conversation turned from how the hostess had given herself a bye into the semi-finals of the Pictionary tournament and onto candles, and farthingales, and pocket-hoops, and how on earth the Victorians had managed to survive the bustle. Those inventive Victorians had had kerosene lamps, and gas burners at the ends of clumsy rubber hoses. Swinging hoops are bad enough, but a bustle you can't see coming OR going.
I imagined that they'd thank heaven for small mercies and call me back, but I was banished to the corner of the dining room and set tabulating votes for the costume contest, and the seal on my funk was set when I found that people had been writing in the margins of their ballots - I'd narrowly missed out on the prize for "most genuinely frightening costume" because the other guests were worried that someone would have to present that prize in PERSON.
And the evening's true ignominy? The final seal and funk?
Reader - it was MY party.
(this story might or might not bear actual resemblance to actual historical events. I'm certainly not telling.)
Thursday, October 31, 2013
We have descended into the dark underbelly of the kitchen construction industry, and are only just beginning the long claw out. Posting shall remain sporadic. Eat some horseradish and sirachi sauce off of a skull, and pretend you're down here with us.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Posting is sporadic at the moment. For my laxity, I apologize, but renovations, once begun, seem to keep on happening, and one day you wake up to find that your electrician has interpreted “I want THIS light and THIS other light both on the same circuit and BOTH controlled by this switch right HERE” as instructions to pull the wiring for the second light out of the ceiling and paint and plaster the ceiling up behind him.
My day today was awesome. It went sort of like this:
"Hi Julio, my redoubtable electrician friend! Where is everyone?"
"Hello Señora Tabubilgirl! The floor people came, but then they went away again. They seemed worried about something. They said they were going to call you. Enrique the plumber is off sick. The kitchen installation people haven't come at all. But that's okay. Neither did the ceramicist, and we can't do the kitchen installation till the tiles get those last little bits put in, so that's a good thing. But don't you worry, Señora Tabubilgirl! Right now I'm just finishing up the kitchen outlets, but after that, I will do all the tiles myself! And O Look - here are the floor people now!"
The floor people were worried. About a couple of things. The first of which they wanted to show me right away. And THAT ended up in a phone call to our general contractor, which went like this:
"Rodrigo! Where are you!"
"In the car! Going places! Buying paint for the painters!"
"There's just a LITTLE problem with the bedroom floors and I'd like to see you here as soon as possible!"
Rodrigo is a good contractor. He knows a client in a tail-spin when he hears one. He was on-site in less than ten minutes flat.
"Hel-LO, Rodrigo! How are you this fine morning! Remember how we went to rather a lot of trouble to level the floors and take out the hollows and downward leaning slopes?"
"Right. So WHY exactly, after all that leveling is there now a great big upward hump in the middle of the master bedroom floor?"
"Ah, oh, right. That's just where the old slab meets the new slab. The floor guys expect a little variation. Anything up to half a centimeter. Where are the floor guys, anyway?"
"Rodrigo, this ruddy great hump is a LOT more than half a centimeter! See?"
"Oooooh. Oh. Yeah. My word, that IS a big hump. Five centimeters? My WORD. Well, it's not that WIDE... I reckon we can knock that out, no worries."
And Julio was duly hauled out of the kitchen and handed a hammer and a chisel.
Rodrigo looked at me. "Where ARE those floor people, Tabubilgirl?"
"Oh, they went away again. That was the second thing. They've lost the floor."
We went into the kitchen for a tour of inspection. And a spit-take. Rodrigo bellowed.
Julio appeared, chisel in hand.
"Would you care to explain" Rodrigo said, blinking rapidly, "what the heck is going on with those two electrical outlets next to the sink?"
"Well, Señora Tabubilgirl wanted two of them. I just finished screwing the cases on so that the installers can come in, just like you asked me to."
"But why aren't they LEVEL?"
"But they ARE level!" Julio was stung. "You've both made such a fuss about level - I even used the bubble level to make sure that they are PERFECTLY level with the floor!"
"They’re not level."
"They ARE level! I measured them myself!
Rodrigo gathered himself visibly. And let it all out with a rush. "They're side by side" he hollered. "Two centimeters apart, and one of them is three-quarters of a bloody centimeter higher than the other one!"
Julio looked at him and looked at him and there was absolutely no compromise in his eyes. I could see Rodrigo looking back, and deciding that there were some battles that were just not worth the winning. Fixing this would involve taking off a lot of tile, and a lot of grout – and considering how lucky we were to have those outlets in the first place* I was inclined to agree with Rodrigo. Under the circumstances, however, I wasn't entirely sure that I was comfortable with Julio finishing up the tile work before the kitchen installers came.
"Oh, THAT'S not a problem." Rodrigo looked happier that there was something to be happier about. "I've just heard from the ceramicist and he's promised to come in today to finish it all off."
Rodrigo’s phone rang. "Speak of the devil - Where are you? Downstairs? Fan-TASTIC." He hung up and looked at me. "Good thing those kitchen installers haven't come in yet. Where are those boys? Aren’t they supposed to be here by now? Speaking of where things are – or aren’t - what on earth is going on with the floor?"
I sighed. "According to the floor people, the floors were delivered here on Friday. They even have a signature on the delivery slip. Only WE didn't get them, and there's no record with the building manager downstairs, so now they're off trying to figure out where the floors actually went."
Rodrigo’s rather rapt contemplation was interrupted by the arrival of the ceramicist.
"Don't mind me." The man said. "I'm just here to get my stuff. I've got my boys waiting downstairs in the truck. We're off to another job."
Rodrigo inhaled alarmingly, and I fled back toward the bedroom and Julio and his chiseling. When I came out again, the ceramicist was looking tightly unhappy, and lowering a tile into a puddle of cement with a rather... teenage look on his face.
He did not, however, stick around. The most we got out of him was the rest of the tiles cut to size.
"I will stick them in MYSELF" Rodrigo said, sniffing in a faintly teenager-ish fashion himself. "The tiles can be wiped clean easy enough, and the grout tidied up after the cabinets go in - IF we can get the cabinets installed…”
"I'm calling the kitchen people now." I assured him, and Rodrigo went off to greet the painters, who were arriving in a cheerful mob, and Gods bless them, settling down to do some actual PAINTING.
I called our contact at the kitchen store.
"Oh, hello" She said vaguely.
"We were expecting the installers this morning..."
"Oh. Right. You mean they're not there?"
"Huh. So do you want them tomorrow then?"
All in all, not a bad day, really! If not one that I care to repeat, thank you very much, any time soon at ALL.
*First we showed him the detail design specs and he agreed that they were good. Then I took a sharpie marker and drew little boxes on the wall where each outlet would go, and he thought that that was a sensible precaution. Then I wrote “enchufe” (outlet) with my sharpie right next to each of the boxes – and he went and plastered the wall smooth over the top of all of it and started off the ceramicist running tiles right THERE. While he went and rewired the switch for the ceiling lights to run the dishwasher.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
The problem with the tiles is, the ceramicists doing the tiles just won't...come.
When they ARE here, they do fantastic work, but in the last week they came once to lay 6 floor tiles, and went away again. The came back once more, for a half-day, in which they tiled half of the darned kitchen, but they've refused to come back ever since.
It's a protest, you see.
They refuse to come, then the general contractor calls them up and gives them an ear-bashing, and they are just SO hurt that they have to protest the mistreatment - by not coming.
This is sort of awesome, really. Only our general contractor is starting to look sort of strained and undernourished....
Today was all about colors. My mother-in-law and I went off to the paint store to pick out a few nice warm whites for the walls and ceilings and doors. I had harbored naïve imaginings of a helpful assistant who would study the floor samples we’d brought with us and then spend a pleasant half-hour walking us through pleasing color combinations. What we GOT was a double arm load of swatch books and the suggestion that we go outside into the parking lot where the light was more natural, because the fluorescents inside the store weren't doing the swatches any favors.
I like white. I like walls that are pale and bright and throw back all the light you throw at them. I just hadn’t realized how MANY whites there are. In a house-painter’s imagination, ‘white’ seems to cover everything from a mangy sort of orange-grey all the way to salmon pink and olive. And the truer whites tend toward the harsh blue-based glare of a porcelain lavatory bowl. We spent an hour and a half crouched on the tarmac in a corner of the parking lot, paging through what felt like half a thousand spiral-bound swatch sheets, looking for something warm-ish and bright-ish, and more-or less genuinely white-ish, with neither too much butter-cream or duck-egg, and when we’d found a few that looked, on paper, like they might suit, something a shade or two darker, to tone, and paint the doors and skirting boards.
Without a native guide, there were more choices than a sensible person could assimilate in a month of painted Sundays. The suggested color gradients on the swatch sheets didn’t help – they went right from porcelain-pan to deep-brown biscuit-colored in one hop.
We came away with a car-trunk full of sample bottles of whites and almost-whites and delicate shades of cream, and we shall paint them all over the living room wall and see if there is any infinitesimal difference between any of them.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
After all the wishing and planning and designing and ordering and purchasing was complete, the contractor and his maestros (workmen) moved in and things started happening rather precipitously. In the past three weeks, we have had:
1) The demolition of pretty much the whole apartment down to the concrete structural walls. Floors, ceilings, doors, lintels, non structural walls - you name it, we dug it out.
2) Lots and LOTS of jackhammers. Tiles don't give up easily.
3) One very seasick apprentice who'd been manning a jackhammer in a small concrete space for two and a half days straight.
4) Electricians. Everywhere.
5) Ditto plumbers.
6) The original in-floor heating layer was poured funny, and there’s a 7 cm slope differential in the living room floor that needs fixing. Uh oh.
7) Concrete dust, everywhere.
8) Does anyone else smell that SMELL?
9) An unexpected trip to the ER with probable ripped tendons all over my foot, and a VERY unexpected diagnosis of plantar fascitis.
12) More Plumbers
13) That smell can't possibly be real, right?
14) It's coming from the bedroom end of the flat? Oh God, now we have to take up the bedroom floors, too. You mean ALL of THEM?!?!
15) Rush shopping for new bedroom floors - on crutches. And there's an eight centimeter differential that needs fixing in the master bedroom as well? How jolly.
16) More concrete dust. Everywhere else.
17) Ceramicists laying tiles.
18) A seriously unhappy resident who calls the police because the ceramicists decided to use the spare key to come in on the weekend and make Very Loud Bashing Noises waaaaay outside of allowable-noise-hours, and going in person to yell at the ceramicists apparently didn't work.
19) Damage control. Much abasing. With chocolates.
20) Food poisoning. All Saturday night and all Sunday. Did you know you can move REALLY FAST on crutches?
21) Ceramicists who, sulking about being bawled out by their general contractor, turn off their phones and refuse to come in to work on Monday. Tuesday they aren’t feeling QUITE up to par, so they don’t come in that day either. Burp.
Today the electrician is wiring up the bedrooms, and the ceramicists are back on the job, moving steadily through the kitchen and down the hallway. They do lovely work, but the noise really is incredible. I think the neighbor showed considerable restraint. If I'D heard them doing that above my head at 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon, I'd have skipped the local cops and called in a S.W.A.T. team. With helicopters.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
(the telephone rings.)
"Tabubilgirl! Quick! What's activated charcoal?"
"Isn't that the stuff they put in Britta filters? Alba? Is that you?"
"You're right! I have those! I can take one apart!"
"No time to talk! I'll call you when it's all over, all right?"
Nope, not all right. Not even vaguely. A question like that needs proper answers. After waiting very patiently for three whole minutes, I called Alba back, on account of how I really REALLY wanted to know why she was taking a britta filter apart to get at the charcoal.
The answer was pretty good, actually.
In between sounds of cracking plastic, Alba explained that she'd cooked pasta for lunch and after eating her way through most of a bowl of it, she'd scraped the leftovers out of the saucepan into a tupperware container and noticed that the lower levels of pasta in the saucepan were evidencing a phenomenon possibly unique in pasta circles -
The pasta company had put a free gift - a magnet advertising an upcoming animated film release - into the bag along with the pasta. She hadn't noticed it when she was pouring the pasta into the saucepan, and it appeared that the painted plastic layer of the magnet had melted and boiled off. The pasta in the lower reaches of the pot were sort of technicolor swirly, with long, dragging plastic tails, and she was freaking out.
Alba is good at that.
"On the internet I saw that if you eat like a tablespoon of activated charcoal, you can help cleanse your system. I've already made myself throw up the pasta I ate but what if all the horrible toxic paint - and god knows what it has in it - has been absorbed into my body already?! I need to filter it out. From the inside. That should work, right?"
I wasn't so sure. If the pasta hadn't actually burned going down her throat, it was pretty much inert - sort of like accidentally swallowing a bit of cling-wrap or a scrap of plastic bag. And even if it wasn't purely neutral, that sort of poisoning generally requires cumulative and repeated exposure to do real damage-
"I'm not arguing" Alba said, but she was still making herself a nice cup of activated charcoal tea. With maple syrup to help it go down.
"You DO realize that the way activated charcoal works is that it makes you throw up? You've already done that. It doesn't actually filter your system from the inside."
"But not EVERYONE throws up. I read on the internet that it's like 60% of people. Tops. And I'm not really the throwing up sort. It took a LOT of effort last time when I got all that pasta up. I mean - WOW, tickling the back of your throat sure is effective, but BOY does it take work. And even if I do throw up again, well, that's good right? It means that it's working. I mean - I mean…. uuuuuuurp. I gotta GO!"
She hung up. And five minutes later I got a text saying that activated charcoal really DOES work that fast.
The things you learn on a Wednesday afternoon. In other news, our regular mid-week girls night didn't happen yesterday on account of the hostess suffering a bout of self-induced stomach flu.