Just a couple of kids...

Great to be in Carlisle! Home. A long trip for such a short visit, but worth every second, of course. I think I'll have to write about Cinderella in a separate entry–Daniela was magnificent, amazing. Yesterday there were lots of kids in the audience and it got me thinking... (It's an annoying habit, but I can't help myself.) How we experience time no doubt changes over time itself. Yes, yes, that's obvious so, OK, maybe 'thinking' is overstating it... But anyway, on Friday I got up very early to go the airport. (I had taken the train up to Madrid Thursday evening because I woudn't have had time to make it from Malaga on Friday.) There was no coffee available in the hotel at 5:30 am, but the concierge very kindly pointed me across the street to an early opening bar. Next door to the hotel a discoteque was just beginnng to pour out its clients. I noticed a young couple, late teens I would guess, standing at the curb, just ga-ga over one another, arms around the other's neck as they delighted themselves with gentle carresses, oblivious to the world around them. I walk into the bar and it's like entering a time warp–Madrid in the early eighties! Nothing had changed in this tiny corner. The barman is a little surly, but the solo largo is excellent. So being there for a few minutes was fun and it got me remembering beautiful times when I lived at Calle Espíritu Santo 14. A magical address. More magic: fifteen minutes later, on my way back to the hotel to get my bag, I notice that our young couple hasn't budged an inch. They were still completely ga-ga. Just a couple of kids. Youth! As they say, such a shame it's wasted on the young. Early Friday morning on the Metro–an odd combination of early commuters and late revelers. The young partyers are mostly quiet, tired from a long night of drinking and dancing. They get me thinking some more about my days living in Madrid and some of my own early morning Metro rides. As the train moves towards the airport my thoughts continue backwards and as we pull into the Campo de las Naciones stop I'm recollecting some of my fondest childhood memories. The train comes to a stop and I look out the window across the car from where I'm standing and out onto the platform. Believe me, I coudn't make this stuff up if I tried: the wall of the platform was painted with murals and staring me in the face is this quote: "La verdadera patria de los hombres es la infancia." (Man's true home is his childhood.") Subway station as mind reader! That was a new one for me. I've seeen many versions of this quote attributed to many different people, but I couldn't see who they were citing here. (For a brief second I thought about a very different special time, the one defined by "Bilmore, ¡Patria única!", but that's another story for another day.) In any case, I felt a real chill run down my spine as the train started to pull out of the station. Then the airport routine brought me back to a more mundane present. The weekend is a whirl of activity and it's wonderful to see everyone. In no time it's Sunday and we're at the Whitaker Center. (The Saturday shows were great too!) Everyone seems to love the ballet and Daniela as Cinderella is magical. I don't want it to end, and before the third act starts I look around at all the kids and think how for some of them this day no doubt does seem endless. Surely more than one little girl in the audience is dreaming of the day some handsome prince will fit the glass slipper on, and more than one little boy is dreaming of finding the owner of the slipper he desperately clutches as if in it went his very life, as no doubt it does. And some litte girl will dare turn to a little boy and ask him if he'll be her prince. Any adult who might capture the exchange will laugh and think it's cute. How sweet! It's a fleeting moment and it's gone. But for the little boy or the little girl, or maybe both, it will last as a special memory. With time they'll mostly forget the details of the event itself, which are of no particular importance, it's that it happened, that's what matters, and he or she, or both, won't forget a certain magic. Good stories do that. The truly hard part is that you want the magic back, and you might want to recapture a past that is fatally gone. I suspect some people are deeply frustrated by time's stubborn insistence on moving inexhorably forward (an understatement, perhaps?). It's no good, and to insist too much on that kind of idle fancy must be terribly unhealthy. I'm not too sure about much of anything, but I think I've learned something in recent years about allowing the present to have its due and about living in the now, where it is best to remain well rooted. And if we are sensitive to the possibiities of the present, sometimes we get unexpected and wonderful gifts. You never know what form they might take–a visual cue caught in a landscape, seeing someone who looks like somone we know..., an aroma, a long forgotten object unexpectedly found... Who knows? These things just happen. As my friend Jesús Aguado said about a week ago regarding a different kind of coincidence I had related to him: "de coincidencia nada, Mark, es pura magia. Pura magia." I'll take that kind of magic any day.


Remembering Pat

Tuesday brought very, very sad news. Our dear neighbor Pat Miller passed away unexpectedly. Pat lived right next door to us and it was always a delight to chat with her whenever she stepped out from her kitchen. Pat always had wonderful things to say about our garden, even when it was a complete mess–she always saw the positive. And she always had a ready supply of whatever it was we were missing at the last minute: baking soda, an onion, garlic, sugar... whatever it was, Pat shared it with good cheer. Pat was really the bright light of our neighborhood. She loved having her grandchildren visit and they clearly loved being with a grandmother they adored to no end. I'll never forget the time we had a bonfire in our yard during a big party and the flames, well, they got going good and were reaching a height and intensity that was well beyond what we had scripted. Pat was eyeing them quite suspiciously as it looked like her house might catch on fire! She had every reason to think that I was indeed not funny at all and that we were, in fact, very bad and irresponsible neighbors. But she was a great sport about it and acted as if it were great fun, even though I think the poor woman was feeling, quite rightfully, rather terrified. Our condolences go out to the whole Miller family.


Bad nap

Uggh. Not long ago I got up from a nap that didn't work out. Now I just feel tired and lethargic. And just a little down. (Maybe Waldo, in the photo, was feeling this way when I took his picture back in December. I miss Waldo.) It's a beautiful day in Malaga and I had a productive morning, so I don't know. My brain is just in slow motion right now.


On the highway

Yesterday I was in Granada to evaluate another study abroad program for APUNE (Asociación de Programas de Universidades Norteamericanas en España) and on the drive there I had a very strange experience. I was nearing the top of the climb where the Pedrizas is, when out of the blue I had the most vivid sensation of having my seven year old self take hold of my mind, and so all of a sudden I'm thinking, wow! this what it's like to drive a car. Cool! Someday I'm really going to do this... no wait, I AM driving a car! How bizarre is that? When I got to the Abades service area I stopped for a breakfast break and snapped myself back into a more time appropriate reality. (Actually, not an easy task, because whenever I stop at this service area, and it's the main one between Malaga and Granada, I feel like I'm a character in The Jetsons! [There was a photo, but the link went bad--it's a space age looking place.]) The evaluation, by the way, went well. Unfortunately, it was cold and rainy in Granada and I spent the entire day with wet feet. Oh, did it feel good to get back to sunny, warm Malaga and change into some dry socks! Made me think of Neruda's famous Ode to his socks, which ends like this (as translated by Margaret Sayers Peden):
Twice beautiful
is beauty
and what is good is doubly
when it is a case of two
woolen socks
in wintertime.


"Coño, si todavía estoy aquí"

Damn, I'm still here!* That's what Carlos Cristos says to himself with great joy when he wakes up in the morning. It's in the documentary "Las alas de la vida", which I saw on tv Friday night. The film covers three years in the life of Carlos, a family doctor in Mallorca who is diagnosed with a very rare nervous system disorder that is progressive and fatal. In Spanish the disease is known as "atrofia sistémica múltiple" (AST). They say there are only 800 cases worldwide. The film is really wonderful. Carlos quickly wins over the viewer with his sense of humor and infectious enthusiasm, in spite of living in a rapidly deteriorating body. The disease does not affect his intellect. After the film I got to thinking about routines, the ordinary day to day stuff that we take for granted. Yes, it's a tired cliché, we shouldn't take anything for granted. But true nonetheless. So I guess I'm tremendously lucky because I do get really excited about the most trivial stuff. Last night, for example, I walked downtown to have some coffee with friends. And walking down the Paseo del Parque I thought, wow!, this is great, just walkin' down the street! Step, step, step. Nothin' to it. Then, when I got home, more fun. Earlier yesterday I had signed up for major league baseball's online subscription–the service that allows you to watch all the games on your computer. I put a game on (Cleveland at Toronto), but I wasn't really paying attention and started doing something else in my office. Then I heard the announcer say "and there's a soft grounder to the right side". Can you get any more routine than that? Splendid! How many times in my life have I heard that exact description? Hundreds, at least. Or any other routine expression you hear over and over again in a single game: "strike three", "ball", "a routine fly to center", etc. Great! I can't hear them enough. Because without all that ordinary narration what's really unusual wouldn't make sense. We need the context. If some guy can just report "and that's another walk by...", well, there must be at least a minimum of normalcy, of a sense that the world isn't about to end right now, because if it were I don't think we'd be listening to a ball game. That ball is going, going... Not yet! Coño, si todavía estoy aquí. Gracias, Carlos.
* Anyone who speaks Spanish knows that coño literally means "cunt". It would be ridiculous, of course, to translate that exclamation literally. The ubiquitous presence of coño in the daily speech of most Spaniards is worthy of its own entry.


Saturday morning

Yesterday I put up a brief entry on Jesús Aguado. That's Jesús on the right, and to his right is José Angel Cilleruelo. This picture was taken in Barcelona on March 15th.  (We're in the patio of the Palacio de los Virreyes, where the famous archive of the Kingdom of Aragon is housed.)  José Angel is a poet and novelist who I met some years ago through our mutual friendship with Rafael Pérez Estrada. His most recent novel, Doménica, is excellent; he also has a wonderful blog. That day in Barcelona we had a fantastic lunch at a traditional Catalonian restaurant in the old Gothic quarter, but of course I can't remember the name right now. José Angel gave us a great tour of those streets around the cathedral.  After lunch we met Jesús' daughter Ada (2), a real cute little girl. Back in Málaga: another rainy morning. Beautiful: we're desperate for the water.  We need a week or two of steady downpours, but that would be asking for a miracle. Right now the water is a nice, dark blue.   Just a few people outside with umbrellas. Quiet. I was thinking of going downtown to the market, but I don't think that's going to happen.


Jesús Aguado

It was great to be able to spend a little time with Jesús yesterday.  He's a wonderful poet and one of the kindest persons you will ever meet.  Here's a short text from his book Heridas, published by Renacimiento in 2004.  It's part of a series titled "Mendigo":

La fiebre pone
su manita en mi frente 

y me receta globos y cometas.

Fever puts
her hand on my forehead
and gives me a prescription for balloons and kites.


Poetry and Tapas

Carlos Edmundo de Ory was in town last week and I was quite fortunate to be able to meet him.  This image here to the left (not very good quality--it's a photo taken from the print version of El Mundo, whose Andalusia version isn't online) was taken at the start of a wonderful lunch hosted by Julio Neira.  I had translated two of Edmundo de Ory's poems for an anthology that Jesús Aguado put together on poems about India and which has just been published.  (Jesús is in Málaga this week organizing a series of talks on bridges between East and West.  We got together for coffee this morning.)  In any case, Carlos is very friendly and fun to talk to, as is his wife, Laura.  De Ory was exiled from Spain in the 1950s and has lived in France ever since.  He has published dozens of volumes of poetry and is best known as the founder of the postista movement.  Carlos Edmundo gave a lively reading at the Centro Cultural de la Generación del 27 while he was here.  Cristóbal Montilla, the tall guy in the photo standing to my right, moderated the event at the Centro Cultural.  (The others in the photo, from left to right, are Rafael Ballesteros, Julio Neira, José Ignacio Díaz Pardo, and Paco Ruiz Noguera.)  After the reading I took two of my students to El Orellana for some tapas.  El Orellana certainly deserves its own entry, as it is one of the classic traditional tapas bars in Malaga, perhaps outdone only by Lo Güeno.   There are lots of great places to tapear in Malaga, but rather few old school places like El Orellana are left.  And  I'll write more about Carlos another day. Here's my translation of the poem "Titiksha", which has absolutely nothing to do with tapas, but which could serve me well if I'm ever feeling an urge for, say, some little squid in their ink, and I'm nowhere near a good bar where they might serve them:

In India there are yogis who practice
Titiksha.  Do you know what titiksha is?
It is the virtue of holy patience,
suffering all ills without complaining.

And there in the Himalayan snow
those unclothed men sit,
or they sleep at the edge of the Ganges
exposed to the midday sun.



Malaga Esperpento, S.A.

Malaga has a beautiful downtown boulevard called the Paseo del Parque.  It's lined with tall palm trees and there are rather majestic gardens between it and the port.  A great place for a walk, as its name suggests.  Today was such a day, or so I had hoped.  I walked over to the Paseo around noon with the idea of seeing a Panda de Verdiales.  The Pandas de Verdiales play the traditional music of the hills and mountains behind Malaga.  It's a music with ancient roots and one of the provinces many "pandas" can usually be found in the Parque on Sundays at midday. What was my surprise then, to see the Paseo cut off to traffic so that the Boulevard could be turned into a drag racing strip for Ferraris and large cylinder motorcycles.  The roar of the engines was as deafening as it was obnoxious.  The Paseo del Parque on a Sunday morning turned into a speedway!  And yet, there was indeed a Panda de Veridales in their usual spot, trying gamely, but fruitlessly, to overcome the deafening noise.  Well, if you got right up close, so close that the fiddler's bow could practically poke you in the eye, you could hear something.  I tried sitting on the beautiful bench that curves around the statue of the festero, but it wreaked of stale piss.  Then a teenager dressed all in black, but with bright pink socks, hopped up on the bench next to me, but not before expelling a huge wad of spit right at my feet.  Ole!  Just your average Sunday walk in the park.  (The term esperpento, by the way, was coined by the great Spanish dramatist Ramón del Valle-Inclán.  He used the term to identify some of his dramas and to refer to the reality of Spain as a deformed, grotesque distortion of life; he also likened the esperpento to the reflection you would see in one of those circus mirrors that grossly distorts images.)


A New Government

Yesterday Zapatero named his new cabinet for the upcoming legislature.  Carme Chacón, a 37 year old woman from Barcelona, will be the new Minister of Defense.  She has had a brilliant career in law and politics and served as Minister of Housing in the last legislature. She is expecting a baby this summer.  That's right, the country with the world's eighth largest economy just named a 37 year old woman to head the Ministry of Defense.  And we got Donald Rumsfeld. Why isn't he in jail, anyway?  If lots more countries had young mothers as their Ministers of Defense, I suspect we'd have a much better chance of putting wars behind us.  The new government will have nine female ministers and eight male ministers.  


Role Reversals

Spaniards en masa toting their new found wealth up and down Fifth Avenue. Lots of that in the press lately, including a nice column by Aurora Luque in yesterday's Sur.  Aurora is a great poet from Malaga who is in New York this week for a couple of readings. (She will be going to Dickinson in October for our Semana Poética!) A couple of weeks ago she told me she was actually excited about visiting Buffalo. Ok, Aurora, tell me about it when you get back.   Anyway, I'm getting a little tired of hearing Spaniards talk about how cheap NY is. Who could have imagined that? New York City started an advertising campaign here last Fall encouraging Spaniards to imagine how easy it is to just jet off to the Big Apple for a weekend of shopping and fun. And apparently Spaniards have responded–they are flying to NY in record numbers and outspending everyone.  I've noticed this on my recent flights to the US. For years there have typically been more Americans on the plane than Spaniards, but that is certainly no longer the case.  And poor Italy: the news back in December that Spain has passed Italy in terms of per capita income cemented a notion that Spain was on the up and Italy headed down that had been brewing for years. Il sorpasso! So Spaniards go to New York to throw around Euros and Italians come to Spain to feel the energy, maybe not zapped, but zapateroized. There was an inteview in yesterday's El País with Italian philosopher Paolo Flores D'Arcais in which he talked about just that, about young, educated Italians fleeing to Spain to seek opportunities. Just last night I came across a group of young Italians on Calle Granada. They clearly felt right at home here–loud! They seemed to be tourists, but no doubt they were taking mental notes and making comparisons. They might be back.  But tough times are ahead and it will be very interesting to see how Spain responds.  


Coffee and Orange juice

I enjoy the first hours of the day very much. Coffee before anything else.  Two cups.  A look at the press online (El País, New York Times, Sur, Boston Globe...)  Then I'm ready for some fresh squeezed orange juice.  I love to make orange juice every morning.  Two or three oranges and half a lemon.  I usually have a piece of bread and some really fine extra virgin olive oil with the juice.  And an actimel, that's that liquid yogurt with live bacteria; I don't know what it's called in English, but it's good. Then maybe a little more juice with a couple of tablespoons of bee pollen.  That's not the best tasting thing in the world, but it's ok and I've read that bee pollen is loaded with all kinds of amino acids and vitamins.  One of Arabic's great gifts to the Spanish language is the word azahar, flower in Arabic.  In Spanish it refers specifically to the white flowers of citric trees.  The Spanish word for chance, azar, comes from the same Arabic word, most likely from the association between luck and certain flowers.  Federico García Lorca includes azahar in his rich repertoire of enigmatic imagery:  "Llevo azahar, lleva olivas,/Andalucía, a tus mares."


Dangerous chapuzas

Yesterday Malaga held its annual half marathon and the weather cooperated–another beautiful day.  I forgot about the event and got in the car around noon to go deliver a bowl of freshly made guacamole to friends Antonio Soler and Maria del Mar Peregrín.  There was no way out of the Malagueta and I was quickly blocked in –absolutely no where to go.  (That's the chapuza–in this casea half-assed job  of preparing a traffic plan.) We were just sitting there for over twenty minutes.  If someone in the neighborhood had needed an ambulance, forget it, they could have died.  The Paseo Maritimo Ciudad de Melilla is a true security problem, a single lane of traffic, surrounded by parked cars on both sides.  It's a tragedy waiting to happen.  Reasonable preparations would have involved emptying the Malagueta of parked cars beginning Saturday night.  And of course, it didn't occur to anyone to warn residents that they would be trapped in their neighorhood.  In any case, what normally would have been a ten minute drive, if that, turned into an hour long odyssey.   I got back just in time to finish making lunch for Juvenal and Alicia.  Bacalao al horno, with a light almond crust and olive paste.  Turned out really nicely.


Changing Times

Today's newspaper has a story about a woman who was expelled from a catholic lay sisterhood in the small town of Abenojar (the main square in the above photo) because she is a lesbian. The diocesis of Ciudad Real considers her behavior "scandalous". This part of the story is not too surprising. But in another sign that things have changed extraordinarily, the woman expelled from the cofradía, whose name is María and who last year married her partner, told journalists that she has received lots of support in this village of 2,000 people in rural Spain and that no one has said anything against her. Unimaginable not so long ago. The church is free to have the rules it likes, of course, but it may want to reconsider its terminology: a legally married woman who strongly identifies herself as a Christian wants to participate in a local organization with the support of her neighbors. Where's the scandal?


Not a bad view

Sunrise on January 18th, 2008.  This is the view from the terrace. As the days get longer, the sun rises more to the west and for a few weeks now it has no longer been coming up over the water. This winter we had many spectacular sunrises.  This was just one.

Another gilipollez

It's not all paradise in our  Ciudad del Paraíso.  Malaga has a veritable army of people expert in uncivil behavior.  Journalist Alfonso Vazquez writes about some of them, the chusmones, in his fun book Teoría del majarón malagueño.  Yesterday I witnessed a not untypical example.  I was taking an early evening walk in the neighborhood.  The weather was perfect and there were lots of people out enjoying the day.  I had come down from Paseo de Reding to the Paseo Marítimo and was walking along the rather narrow sidewalk on the interior side, heading towards a crosswalk so I could get over to the Paseo. Traffic was very heavy in both directions.  Four young women were just ahead of me walking towards the same crosswalk. Impatient with the traffic, a motorcyclist came right up onto the sidewalk, instantly turning it into his own private lane and practically killing us in the process.   This so he could advance less than a hundred yards.  Asinine to say the least. Here, a particular case of asininity is una gilipollez, from gilipollas, a jerk or an asshole. Oh well, maybe he'll fall in love and change his ways.  Miracles do happen.


Home Improvement

New windows!  They are supposed to be sound proof, but they fall a little short.  Nonetheless, it's a tremendous improvement over what we had.  New persianas too, which were desperately needed.  The workers were quite diligent and got the job done quickly and, seemingly, well.  No complaints in terms of the work.  The one problem is that they didn't bring anything to deal with the dust.  When Antonio got here he asked me if I had plastic sheets.  They really should have brought tarps and a good vacuum cleaner.  Oh well.  A beautiful day in Malaga.  


Pedro Aparicio

On Monday evening Pedro Aparicio presented a collection of essays in a nice event held in the spectacular Salón de los espejos at City Hall.  There were about 150 people in attendance.  Aparicio was mayor of Malaga from 1979 to 1995, a time of incredible growth and change for Spain.  The currrent mayor, Francisco de la Torre, presided the event, along with Juvenal Soto, the director of the Cuatro estaciones collection, as part of which this volume is published.  Manuel Alcántara presented the book.  In a time of such political tension in Spain, it was wonderful to see a former mayor from the PSOE being so warmly introduced by the current mayor, who represents the opposition PP.  In most cities in Spain right now such a scenario is simply unimaginable.  Both Aparicio and De la Torre are highly educated, intelligent, and gracious individuals.  Aparicio is a delight to read and a wonderful, engaging conversationalist.  In a small gathering afterwards at the Maestranza hotel, Pedro asked me my opinion regarding the different translations of Shakespeare into Spanish.  I told him it hadn't occurred to me to read Shakespeare in Spanish, and so I really couldn't offer an opinion.  He acted astonished, called over some of the others, and said, "hey, get this, our American professor friend says he can't offer an opinion.  Can you imagine any Spanish professor not offering an opinion..."  And so there were some brief and funny impressions of pompous professors.  Fortunately, few Spanish university professors today respond to that stereotype, but there is no doubt that many Spaniards hold the professoriate in low esteem.  (I do know at least one professor, who shall remain nameless here, who responds quite well to the stereotype -- he will gladly go on for hours on any topic whatsoever.)  Finally: Alcántara observed in his introductory remarks that Pedro Aparicio, in his modesty, may have harbored some doubts about having much of anything to say in these essays, but that there could be no doubt regarding the importance of having things to say to himself (decir vs. decirse).  I'll borrow that: regardless of its possible interest to others, what I write here is of at least some importance to me, and for no other reason than that the simple act of writing helps me order my thoughts and to establish in my mind, if not the reality of clear thinking, at least a passable simulation of it.



On the way back from my morning exercise the other day I made my usual stop at the kiosco to get the paper. As I waited in line I was admiring the chaotic mix of magazines, books, dvds, and other products jammed up against the glass.  Presiding it all, above the opening from where Dolores distributes the goods, is El Cautivo, the iconic Christ figure of Malaga, depicted on ceramic tiles.  One sees El Cautivo everywhere in Malaga – in homes, stores, bars, taxis... I even have the image in my kitchen, overseeing the 2008 wall calendar provided by Antonio, the neighborhood butcher.  El Cautivo resides in the Church of St. Paul, in the Trinidad neighborhood and if you stop by that church at just about any hour you will see a constant coming and going of the faithful.  They stop by to pray, to ask a favor, to receive consolation, to give thanks, or even just to admire.  El Cautivo always has visitors.  And the Cautivo that presides the newsstand is surrounded by... porn.  The Seductress this, the Stud that, Carmen Does Seville, etc.... it's all there.  The Cautivo doesn't even blink.  Nor do the customers.