A week had passed and Seely still hadn’t met Alana’s roommates, who worked in Barcelona as ESL teachers and only made the trip to Cadaques on odd weekends. Alana, in the meantime, was staying at her lover Aaron’s place, so Seely had the apartment to herself. She wiled away the daytime hours among the tourists on the main street of town, drinking Fanta and coffee in the Café Maritim, or walking the beachfront for miles. Evenings she settled on a cushion in the window seat by the fireplace and tried to write but found her mind continually straying from the task at hand—an autobiographical novel she hoped would justify her years of scratching away in journals. At the moment, though, her manuscript was nothing more than a motley collection of vignettes, as jumbled as the contents of a ragbag. She couldn’t seem to find a dramatic arc but kept scribbling around in endless circles.

     Why had she come to this place? There were a number of plausible answers she might have given—did give—to anyone who asked. But there was something more—a pull, like the moon tugging on the tide, that she only half-acknowledged to herself, something mysterious and urgent. It wasn’t the first she’d time felt it—a siren call just barely within the range of hearing, a summons so faint it would have been easy to dismiss as a slight ringing in the ears.

     One Friday at noon she went to the weekly farmer’s market in the town square and bought leathery celery and a dense, stunted cabbage as heavy as a cannonball. She wanted to make coleslaw, and potatoes and onions were the only vegetables to be found in the tiny local shops. When she mounted the spiral staircase to Alana’s apartment, as close and dank as a castle turret, she was surprised to hear voices coming from inside.

     Lounging around the dark antique dining table were Alana and several strangers. Beside her sat one of the strangest-looking men Seely had ever seen—a sort of androgynous gypsy, wiry, nut-brown, and gaunt. This must be Aaron, she thought, Alana’s enigmatic lover.

     As she was introduced around and joined in the bread-breaking and wine-swilling, she studied the man Alana had described to her when they met on the plane—a gentle ascetic, so taciturn Alana knew next to nothing about him though they’d been lovers for over a year. Winters, she’d told Seely, he lived with his brother in an apartment in town with no electricity, summers in a tiny stone hut in the hills where they tended a vineyard.

     He had fine, chiseled features: a broad, bony forehead tapering to a delicate chin, coarse black hair cut straight along the jaw, and a purple bow mouth, tightly compressed, so dainty it could have been a girl’s. He was dressed casually in a rumpled white shirt and black silk vest that hung open at the front, baggy corduroy pants, and the same jute sandals Alana wore. Although Alana had called him beautiful, Seely would have argued the point…right up to the moment he turned his eyes on her—eyes that mesmerized—large and luminously green.

     But stranger even than his appearance was his presence; there was something otherworldly about him…austere and remote. For a long time he maintained a taut, alert silence, but when he finally spoke, he blurted out sentences so compressed and precipitate they sounded like stammering—a speech impediment, Seely thought, only barely able to make out the gist of what he was saying.

     As the meal wore on, she continued to scrutinize the lovers, the one so convivial and self-possessed, the other so grave and constrained. Of all the men in the world, she wondered, why had Alana chosen him? But as she was puzzling—as Alana told a story, hands dancing, and Aaron shifted in his chair to watch her—Seely saw his face change, its severity dissolve, every line soften, and his eyes, like pools, ripple with emotion. It was the rawest, nakedest look of love she’d ever seen.

     That evening, feeling unaccountably forlorn, she wrote, “The wind howls up the streets of Cadaques. Days and nights it slams the doors and shutters left open inside this empty apartment, empty except for me, as though I lived among feuding ghosts. The apartment has red ceramic-tiled floors, green shutters, and white-washed walls… On the grate, instead of a fire, there’s a thatch of the dried yellow flowers that adorn all the houses and shops of Cadaques, the only flowers that grow on the arid hillsides. Cadaques is ancient, sparing of all things, like an ascetic, a sage.”



I felt absurd, dragging my suitcase-on-wheels by its strap, like a child with a wagon, into the main square of the town and setting it to rights every time it toppled over on the cobblestones. I couldn’t carry it because my shoulder already ached from the manuscript I was toting in the satchel under my arm. Besides, the suitcase was weighed down by a huge dictionary and thesaurus.

     I ducked into a doorway under a sign that read “Caja de Correos—post office—but found a cramped souvenir shop instead, with no sign of a proprietor. After hesitating a moment, I called out timidly in Spanish and was answered by the postmaster-shopkeeper-teller from the “bank” next door.

     “Can you tell me where to find the English brothers Aaron and Eben?” I asked.

     He bobbed his head half a dozen times as he approached and grabbed a postcard off a rack. “Under the double arches just around the corner,” he said, jabbing a finger at it. “Number four.”

     I followed his directions to a narrow lane—on either side the ancient Catalan apartments forming a single whitewashed façade running the length of the short block, punctuated by sets of green double doors with metal rings, and the upper levels festooned with purple bougainvillea that cascaded from tiny wrought-iron balconies. I knocked a long time at number four. When no one answered, I let myself in—the door was unlocked—and climbed three flight of stairs, calling out at each landing.

     I found Alana on the fourth floor, sweeping the brick floor of the bedroom—entirely naked. She greeted me casually, asking about my trip from Madrid. Her pastel brown skin was flawless from hairline to heel—not a mole, not a freckle, not a vein. She had small, firm breasts and finely honed knees, as smooth as polished wood, and her shoulder-length hair stood out from her head in gauzy waves. She looked so natural to me that from then on clothes would seem incongruous on her. Whether lounging in a doorway, which she did now for a moment, or reclining by the ocean, as I would see her later, she was unselfconsciously at ease with her own beauty. “Do you have a place to stay?” she asked solicitously.

     A few minutes later I was flopping my suitcase on one of the three iron beds in Alana’s neighboring apartment and discovering that the little purse I carried in my satchel had apparently been snatched on the bus from Figueras.


     “Alana…” I would write. “Crinkle-eyed when she smiles, and lithe, her hair and skin and eyes all shades of brown, like a doe’s. She is gentle and studiously kind, with a warmth that is democratic, impersonal… A tick-infested old dog, a beggar woman collapsed on a corner—she ministers to all impartially.”



     She sat wearily on her up-ended suitcase on the dusty shoulder of a two-lane highway, across from a rustic gas station and bar. A sailor with his left hand inside the breast of his blue shirt stood a short distance up the road, wagging his right thumb at the non-existent traffic. A truck finally came by, then stopped up the road, though it passed with such a blast of wind, it nearly rocked her off her suitcase—and when she glanced around, she saw the sailor chasing his hat into a field.

     There were two metal rungs to one side of the cab door, and she climbed these and grabbed the top of the door to hoist herself into the head-high seat. She hadn’t wanted to ride with a truck driver—had promised herself she wouldn’t accept a ride unless there was a woman in the car—but the afternoon was wearing on and she was beginning to feel desperate. It turned out there was a divider between the seats that separated them by almost a yard, which reassured her—somewhat.

     “You’re American?” he shouted in Spanish when they were underway, louder than necessary over the rumbling engine. She nodded. “My truck is American!” he grinned, as though that established a bond between them.  He went on to tell her he had two brothers in San Francisco, a lawyer and a butcher, and that he was a bachelor.

     He was a hefty man, with grizzled hair on his forearms and head, good-looking except for the large gap between his front teeth.

     The ride was slow and rough, and for a while she watched ruefully a couple of small cars whizzing around them and disappearing in the distance.

     “Cuando llegaremos a Barcelona?—When will we get to Barcelona?” she asked anxiously.

     “A las tres,” he answered.

     Three. Too late to cash a traveler’s check, and she had only a hundred pesetas in her purse. But she didn’t want to bother him with stopping to let her off so soon after he’d let her on, so she didn’t say anything.

     Over the miles they established a curious pattern of communication. They would drive along in silence for a long while, then he would bellow a question at her. She would answer two or three times—he never understood her first efforts—her voice getting shriller with discouragement at each repetition. After a while she pulled some wedges of foil-wrapped cheese out of her satchel, and he offered her warm wine—which she refused—from a plastic bottle he kept next to his seat.

     Eventually she explained her dilemma to him.

     “There’s a bank in the next town,” he reassured her.  “We can stop there.”


     When she had cashed her check and climbed back into the truck, he said, “Ahora puede andar mas tranquila—Now you can relax.”

     And she did. She rolled down the window, so the glass didn’t dim the vividness of the view, and watched the countryside unfolding before her, as picturesque as travel posters—ancient stone walls and squat stone huts along aimless muddy rivers, colorful patchworks of cultivated plots, wild fields streaked with red poppies, and an occasional crumbled castle on a hill.

     “I’ve never seen red poppies before,” she told him.  “In California, we only have gold ones.”

     “Would you like to pick some?” he asked unexpectedly.

     She stretched out her stiff legs, flexing her feet to acute angles.  “Yes!”

     She crossed the highway and followed an eddy of red flowers around the foot of a hillock. It must be past their season, she thought—most of them were black and curled around the edges, as though they’d been scorched by the sun. She picked only the freshest ones. The truck driver followed her and picked a few himself, which surprised her a little.

     “Here!” he said, extending his bouquet to her when she turned back. But as she reached to accept it, he grabbed her roughly.

     “Dejeme en paz!—Leave me in peace!” she cried, since she couldn’t remember the word for “let go.” He ducked his head and tried to kiss her breast, at the same time pinning her arms behind her back.

     “Dejeme en paz!” she screamed again, freeing one hand and hitting him wildly in the face.

    “Don’t strike me,” he hissed menacingly, trying to throw her off-balance.

     It’s come, then! she thought with a shock of fear and recognition—a transcendent knowing, as though this memory had always existed in her consciousness, as though she’d always shared it with women throughout the ages. Time slowed, and her thoughts became hyper-clear.

     Go for his eyes, she thought. Only she couldn’t. Yet. Amid the wrenching and blows, there was an instant when they both froze, she with her hand back to strike, he with his elbow up to ward it off—and their eyes locked.  They stared at each other in stark, bestial confrontation.  His eyes were opaque, depthless—like something on a taxidermist’s shelf.

     “I like American girls,” he whispered hoarsely. 

     She gave a scream and a violent twist…and suddenly she was free—running through the tall grass—around the hillock—down the dashed line of the highway, waving her mangled poppies like a flag—directly into the path of an oncoming truck.

     When it pulled to a screeching halt, she looked up into the face of the driver with supplication, wondering whether he would be her deliverer or someone else to be delivered from.

     “That man…that man!” she shrilled, with a violent gesture, as though pushing him away from her, though he stood now on the other side of the road.

     “I wasn’t going to do anything,” her attacker muttered through clenched teeth as he pulled her suitcase out of the back of his truck.

     On the passenger side of the second truck, she hoisted the suitcase over her head and shoved it halfway onto the high seat. But the next instant, she felt all the energy drain out of her. Her knees buckled and she dropped, limp though still conscious, to the ground. And when the suitcase started to slide out on top of her, the driver caught hold of it just in time.

     Reading the journal I kept throughout my trip, I see that this short story is accurate in all its particulars except for the moment my attacker paused and we locked eyes. In reality, there was no pause—I kept fighting till I broke free.



I’d gone back to Madrid, excited to see what changes democracy had wrought. What I found was a modern-day city with modern-day problems, as harried and impersonal as the place I’d come from, its small-town quaintness and intimacy vanished without a trace. I was astonished to see pornography plastered on newsstands on every other corner, to learn that the crime rate was soaring, to find that my fellow roomers at the residencia, where I stayed again, now kept to themselves—no longer ate meals together or went visiting from room to room. On the plane I’d met a young woman from the Bay Area—Alana—who told me about a fishing village north of Barcelona called Cadaques, where she’d lived with her enigmatic lover the year before…until she became ill and had to return to the states. Lonely and disillusioned after only a week in Madrid, that was where I headed. And to save a little money—I was traveling on a shoestring—I decided to hitchhike instead of taking the train.



I love colorful houses…and quirky houses…and dramatic houses, as well as Victorians, provided pains were taken painting the detailing. Recently, because the Marin “thoroughfare” has been under reconstruction, when the traffic is badly backed up on my way home from the pool, I’ve been swerving off into new neighborhoods I’ve never visited before. And what boggles my mind is that every edifice is different, even the most modest bungalows architecturally unique, except in the very rare instances that two adjacent ones mirror each other.

Yesterday I hid my camera in my trunk before my swim and on my way home took snapshots of a few buildings that caught my eye. Only a few, because it was sunny and, overall, there was too much contrast.

This is the first time in years I’ve photographed Berkeley residences—and the springboard was seeing, a couple of weeks ago, that the brush had been cleared away around a crumbling, derelict house only three blocks away from mine, making it clearly visible for the first time in decades. This is the house I’d always wanted to feature for my blog “Wasteland.” So I hurried out one morning between onslaughts of rain—I wanted an overcast sky as background—and as I stood in front of the moldering ruin, considering the best angle, it began to sprinkle. It turns out it’s actually inhabited, which I realized only the other day when I saw the postman putting something in the mailbox.

Now I feel inspired to start aiming my camera at more homes, though I suspect I may soon get so frustrated by all the intrusive elements—the ubiquitous trash bins, parked cars, telephone poles and wires, etc.—that I’ll decide it isn’t worth the effort after all.

OK, the brilliance of this particular paint job is a bit out of my comfort zone, but it screamed to be included.

I wish the stained glass window were visible in the photo above! This Episcopal church, in a rough part of town, has a black wire screen protecting the window. In the same neighborhood, I came across the house below.

I rather like this modernization of a witchy house, though a garden would have been nice.

I was so transfixed by the shingle work on the facade of this Victorian that I didn’t wonder until I saw the photo on my computer screen, But where are the windows? It must be awfully dark inside!

Cornell Ave. had a couple of big surprises.

So many variations on a theme!

What is that white thing in the garden plot? you may be wondering. It’s a paper cutout of two skeletal hands resting on the keys of an actual typewriter. Maybe the owner of the building is a ghost writer?

Confession: I spent a ridiculous amount of time doctoring this photo in Photoshop, including deleting the sheet-covered chair blocking the right side of the door and the dark stains all over the front steps and the potted cactus on the railing in front of the colorful hanging in the window. I also applied myself to articulating the design of this stained-glass hanging, which looked blurry and dull because it was partly in shadow. And I can’t even claim I did all this for sentimental reasons. While it’s true this Victorian is only a few doors down from the apartment house we lived in after my mom moved my brother and me to California, I don’t remember ever noticing it, though I would have passed it every school day for three years on my way to Berkeley High.

Another remodel I like.

For two months I drove past this house, hoping to take a photo of it without a car in the driveway. But no matter the day of the week or the time of day, the vehicle was always there. Don’t these people ever go anywhere? I wondered grumpily. Eventually I began suspect what I was only able to verify yesterday: they have two cars. But I had to have that window in my collection, so…

A few blocks down the street from the Victorian above is the house below.

I’ve been waiting for weeks for the painters to finish the job on the Victorian above!

I’ve also decided to post some of my previous photos of houses along my usual routes—so everything will be in one place, offering a glimpse of the variety of local the architecture, variety I didn’t see growing up in St. Anthony Park…

I had to include this house, renovated decades ago, because it’s so mysterious to me. I pass it three times a week on my way to the pool—and in all those years I’ve never seen a blind on any window opened or raised. On the rarer occasions I drive by at night, I’ve never detected any light within. Maybe the tenant is blind?

I took this photograph to showcase the disparity in wealth, even in a neighborhood like mine, where one homeowner has the wherewithal to renovate while his neighbor doesn’t.

I snapped this dilapidated building two streets away from mine for the same reason. For comparison, a half a block away from it is the Victorian below.

I’ve been wanting to take more pictures of dilapidated houses for my blogs about therapy, so I headed out early this morning when the sun would be shining—albeit through cloud—on east-facing facades.

Below are my most recent discoveries—in an area so far south of me I didn’t know I was still in Berkeley till I checked a map!