Strange Stories

A couple of nights ago Asun and I went to a friend's house to have dinner. There were eight of us and we had a delightful time. It was a beautiful, warm night, perfect for being out on a nice terrace. The dinner, which was quite extraordinary, moved along at a nice, slow pace and lots of fun stories were told. Some of these stories were centered on the strange behaviour of others. Not gossipy stories, but rather elaborate dramas that would have struck me as simply apocryphal had they not been related by people I know and trust. Can humans really be that strange? Apparently, yes. No doubt our obsessions sometimes lead us to do things we later regret, but for the vast majority of us, these little aberrations still fall within a range of behaviours that most of us can identify with to one degree or another. Then there is the uniquely bizarre. So not by a long shot have I seen it all. I guess nothing should surprise me, but in fact I do keep getting surprised. (Being a slow learner has its advantages- I love surprises!) In any case, the stories went on and on, and we didn't get home until 3:30 in the morning. Yesterday was a pretty quiet day, just some work and doing stuff around the apartment. Now Asun and Daniela have to get ready to go back to Madrid, which I feel rather sad about, but it would be cruel not to let Daniela at least explore this opportunity to study ballet with another renowned master. I trust sardines are a good thing for aspiring ballerinas to include in their diet-on Sunday Daniela ate twenty, literally! A feast on the beach, thank you Manolo. And then the bullfight, a different kind of ballet.


City With a Hangover

Yesterday was Malaga's post-Feria day one. A hangover day for thousands of people and for the city in general. Lots of stores and businesses were still closed. Downtown looked o.k., but the clean up was still incomplete, and is still incomplete today. It has always struck me as madness for Malaga to celebrate its annual festival in August, the hottest month of the year. Daniela, Asun and I went out to the fairgrounds (la Real, el cortijo de Torrijos...) on Friday night. We got there around 11, which is considered early, and stayed til a little after 1 am. We had fun just walking around for a while. Daniela and I went on a ride called the Grasshopper, just a little thing that goes around in circles and bounces you up and down at the same time. It looked very mild, but it was still a bit much for me. Not my kind of fun. It amazes me that all these people can go on these crazy things that turn you upside down at very high speeds, make sudden vertical drops, etc. and not end up vomiting and/or passing out. We also took in a little flamenco and got to listen to Carmen Linares for a bit, but the conditions were ridiculous. I don't have time today to really describe what the Feria is like, but it merits some attention, as it combines so many diverse and surprising elements. Not all of them good. (In the photo, Carmen Linares, a wonderful flamenco artist.)


A magnificent cathedral

Last Wednes- day Asun, Daniela, and I, along with Waldo, spent the day driving from San Sebastian back down to Malaga. A short way into the trip Asun decided she wanted Daniela to see the cathedral in Burgos, so we stopped there. I had visited the Burgos cathedral a couple of times in the past, so I wasn't too excited about this, but it was a great surprise to see the incredible restoration work that has been going on in recent years. I had remembered this cathedral as a rather dark and dreary edifice with some impressive stained glass. And that has always been my primary image for gothic art in general. In this case, as in many others, the dark stone was simply a result of dirt and pollution. The exterior of the cathedral has been almost completely cleaned, revealing a very light colored stone that greatly enhanced the building's vertical qualities. It was like visiting a place I had never been to before. Much of the interior, especially the many chapels along the lateral naves, have also been impressively restored. As is the case with all the grand cathedrals of Europe, this one is also a work that evolved over several centuries. Building began in the early 13th century, working over the remains of an earlier, Romanesque cathedral. The last major additions were made in the 18th century. Perhaps most impressive of all is the main facade, constructed in the 15th century. We all enjoyed it greatly and were somewhat disappointed it was necessary to be brief so we could get on with the return home. (Waldo seemed to have a somewhat different reaction, and demonstrated strong anticlerical sentiments with behaviour that was blatantly blasphemous. I really love this dog.) After Burgos we ate sandwiches in the car to save time, and after learning of the horrific plane crash in Madrid, listened to radio reports of the unfolding tragedy. Late in the afternoon we stopped at a farm in the province of Ciudad Real, and bought a huge Manchego cheese and a big melon. We got to Malaga around 11 pm.


Philip V and Isabel de Farnesio

Last weekend, when we went to Madrid to visit Daniela, we took a little day trip up to San Ildefonso, just outside Segovia. That's where La Granja is, the palace built by Philip V, the first Bourbon king in Spain. The history of the Palace fascinated me, and even though I had visited it last year with my students, I'm afraid I retained little the first time around. Philip married Maria Luisa of Savoy in 1701, when he was just 17 and his wife 13! He became a widower at a young age, when his Maria Luisa died at age 27. Poor Philip, who was French and sent to Spain without knowing a word of Spanish, suffered extended periods when he was completely incapacitated and unable, apparently, to even get himself out of bed. He likely suffered from bipolar disorder. The Malaga connection: it was thanks to Giulio Alberoni, a young priest in the service of the Duque of Parma, that Philip ended up in an arranged marriage to Isabel de Farnesio (Elizabeth of Farnese). Alberoni came to the Spanish court with the young bride and ended up being named  cardinal of Malaga. In spite of Alberoni's cruel remark that led to her being despectively nicknamed "la parmesana", Isabel was a very capable woman who spoke several languages, was an astute art collector, and ruled admirably and loyally during her husband's long periods of illness. (Alberoni described her as a rather ugly, insignificant girl who stuffed herself with butter and parmesan cheese, and knew nothing not related to sewing and knitting.) In 1724 Philip abdicated the throne in favor of his son, but Louis died shortly thereafter of smallpox and Philip had to retake the throne, even though he was rapidly becoming completely incapacitated. After Philip's death in 1746, Isabel was distanced from the court and went to live in La Granja, but things went better for her for a short time when her son Charles became king in 1759. Unfortunately, there were big problems with her daughter-in-law, Maria Amalia, wife of Charles III. In any case, we had a lot of fun visiting the Palace and trying to get information about the future ballet school to be started here by Angel Corella. After a big lunch we visited the palace at Río Frío, a strange place built by Isabel de Farnesio, who died before it was completed.



It's a nice Sunday in San Sebastián and I'm sitting in Daniel's living room with the laptop in my lap and Daniela at my side. She wants me to write about her today. OK-Daniela is a lovely knucklehead. We are watching the Olympics-tennis. Waldo is lying at our feet. Daniel and Isita are also here. Daniela ate 17 donuts this morning and Waldo ate a $400 ham! Asun got into a huge fistfight with the neighbor and the police are trying to question her, but Waldo is now vomiting the ham all over the cop's shiny red trousers. Back to Daniela–she is explaining something to abuelo, but it's too complicated for me to follow. Daniela went shopping yesterday morning; last night she got soaked after the fireworks when a big downpour hit us while we were still on the beach. It was great fun.


Semana Grande

Here we are in San Sebastián, having a great time with Daniel and family. Yesterday we celebrated Asun´s feast day with an incredible meal at Saltxipi, a restaurant about ten miles from San Sebastián. The Arnedo's have been coming here to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions for over thirty years. We had creamy clam soup, cod tortilla, more crab, incredible Jabugo ham, fish, and lots more. It was all we could do to get ourselves downtown by 9 pm. We met up with Ana and saw the fireworks from her apartment, with a front row view. The show was done by the Marti firm from Valencia and had the classic Valencian characteristic: big, big, huge noise! It was quite chilly. Today it's nicer. It's a pleasure to disconnect from work for a few days. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my good luck.


On the Road (Again!)

It seems like we have been in the car a lot recently. And now Asun and I are about to hit the road again and cross the entire peninsula up to San Sebastián. We take Waldo with us and pick up Daniela in Madrid on the way. Should be fun. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Assumption, so everyone think Vertical! I have competing visions of this adventure. Do you remember the Jetsons? One vision is of Mary as a Jetsons-like character ascending with a jet-pack on her back. She zooms right up. The other is much more pastoral–a Victorian Mary languidly ascending in a hot-air balloon, waving to the admiring crowd below, a la Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Take your pick. I wish we could just jet our way to San Sebastián, but with Waldo the car is really our only option. We considered leaving Waldo behind, but decided against that. He has been a great sport in this move and is maturing into a truly noble being.



On Monday my hard drive crashed. What a calamity! Nothing like this had ever happened to me. Fortunately I have a lot of stuff backed up on a pendrive, but certainly not everything, and I know I've lost lots of recent work. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now. Asun and I go to Madrid today to visit Daniela. She seems to be having a grand time in Madrid, in spite of the heat.




Strange guy, Manny. (No one in Malaga knows about Manny, the Red Sox, or baseball.) Sin Manuel, so far, so good. What would have happened had Manny had Carlton Fisk as a teammate? Maybe Pudge could have straightened him out. (Above, the portrait of Fisk by Susan Miller that Peter donated to the National Portrait Gallery in memory of Duane. Thanks, Peter! That's a truly wonderful gift.) Or maybe Manny would have stayed happy had Spaceman Bill Lee been around. That guy strikes me as a false nutcase–he's not really crazy, just likes to act that way. But I've never met Lee, so I can't really say. And early this morning on the computer I saw Manny hit a single, then go first to third on a single to right-man, nothing wrong with those knees, no way. He was going all out. So what's the deal? It appears that Manny was definitely tanking it, and if that's the case, well, he should have been docked some pay before being shipped out. Unconscionable. Apropos nothing: when are they going to stop playing "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch? It's time to put that to rest, and long overdue is a clamp on all the obnoxious noise they blare you with at games. That's when I stopped going to Senators games at City Island. It was so wonderful when it was just baseball. It's too bad. (Noise pollution is a big problem in Malaga.)


A Tragic Day for Victims of ETA

Early this morning the man shown in this photo was released from prison after 21 years. Geeze, that's a long time to be jailed. Maybe. How about if you have killed 25 people? Is that long enough? Most people would think not. Ignacio Juana de Chaos (the irony of his last name is rather cruel), a leading ETA terrorist is back on the streets. How it is that even having been sentenced to thousands of years (literally) in prison he gets out after 21 is a story involving the quirks of Spanish legislation that I only vaguely understand and thus could not fully explain. I know it has to do with sentences being served concurrently, having a 30 year maximum regardless of the sentence, and getting lots and lots of years taken off for doing university course work while in prison. (This legislation was modified in 2003. One wonders why it took them so darn long.) Rehabilitated? Are you kidding–he continued to threaten all kinds of people from prison and from what I've read appears to be a truly violent psychopath. From 1985 to 1986 de Chaos was involved in a series of terrorist attacks that ranks him as one of the most blood-stained murderers in Spanish history. And now he's a free man. And to rub salt into the wound, this man intends to live in San Sebastian in the same apartment building as the widow of one of his victims. What would happen if I ran into him on the street? I don't know, but I don't think I could keep quiet, just pretend that it's ok. It's not o.k., it's a great perversion of justice. Unbelievable. Below the list of people killed by Juana Chaos and his associates. You might notice there is one non-Hispanic name in the list: Eugene Kent Brown. He was an executive for Johnson & Johnson working in Madrid at the time of his death. He was out jogging early one morning and was in the wrong place at the wrong time-running by when a car bomb went off. 
Vicente Romero
Juan García Jiménez
Esteban del Amo
Fausto Escrigas Estrada
Eugene Kent Brown
Juan Carlos González
Vicente Javier Domínguez
Juan José Catón Vázquez
Juan Mateos Pulido
Alberto Alonso Gómez
Ricardo Saenz de Ynestrillas
Carlos Vesteiro Pérez
Francisco Casillas Martín
Jesús María Freixes
Santiago Iglesias Rodino
Carmelo B. Alamo
Miguel A. Cornejo Ros
José Calvo Gutiérrez
Andrés José Fernández Pertierra
Antonio Lancharro Reyes
José Joaquín García Ruiz
Jesús Gimeno Gimeno
Juan Ignacio Calvo Guerrero
Javier Esteban
Angel de la Higuera López