Everyone is talking about la crisis. Last night Congress failed to pass the bailout plan. The markets are about to open here and no doubt, with this news and the collapse of Asian markets going on right now, there's going to be a big plunge here too. The more I read about what's taking place financially, the more I see the source of this collapse, surprise surprise, as unrestrained greed. (Again, sometimes what's obvious is true.) At the top of the economic pyramid everyone is after immediate gratification, fast profits, with no concern for the long term. No idiot really believed subprime mortgages were a fundamentally good investment. (Well, evidently, there are some idiots who did think so.) Why do you think they sold them so damn fast? Pass 'em on to the next sucker, who bought them with eyes lit up because the short term possibilities looked good. Let the next ninkumpoop deal with the mess. They talk about the long term, but it's b.s. The regulatory system has to be modified and strengthened in ways that delay gratification. The big payoff has to be put off, and off. You know, seventh generation. What we are seeing now is lots of hysteria. The fever. It's not all bad: you can't get better until the fever breaks. Sweat it out. Bring the doctors in. Go for long term health. But the patient doesn't always recover. Right now the blood is spilling mainly from the finance economy (soft, virtual, paper, whatever you want to call it), but very soon the distress in the real economy is going to become much more dramatic as lots more people lose their jobs. Good luck to all of us! (In the image, Lord Byron on his deathbed, by Joseph-Denis Odevaere, an early 19th century Flemish painter.)
Waldo went to the canine peluquería yesterday. He got a great shampoo, his ears cleaned, his nails cut. A new man, I mean, a new dog. And you can tell he notices it. He came home feeling proud and refreshed, no doubt. Money well spent. Now, the trick is, how do I relate this to our 700 billion dollar bailout? I don't know if I can do it. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Rather, you can't teach an old knucklehead much of anything. But Daniela is here and that has made for a great weekend. She got the last train out of Madrid Friday night and boy did she look tired when she pulled in. So lots of sleep. And Asun just got back to Madrid from her trip. So, the crisis is on, but so far we are still moving forward. The bailout: I think it's a bad idea. I'd put our resources into helping distressed homeowners refinance. Stretch out those payments, even if it means going to fifty year mortages. And why aren't we talking about the REAL problem: military spending. How about we cut military spending by thirty or forty percent. That might help just a little. Ya think? Let's make amends, put Dick Cheney in jail. (A new campaign slogan: Make thrones for Virgins, not bombs. I'm negotiating the rights with the Obama campaign.)
There are four big cruise ships in the port this morning and it looks like they've got a little traffic jam going on, but they're working it out. It's an amusing sight because they seem to move in slow motion. The sun is coming up these days right by the tower of the cement factory. Strange contrast. In two or three weeks it will be coming up over the water. Zapatero was in NY yesterday and he said Spain has the world's most solid financial system. I had no idea. Also in NY: in Brooklyn a cop murdered a mentally deranged man with a taser gun. The poor man had lost his marbles and was on a roof above a store, completely naked. Big deal. The guy wasn't responding to the cops' orders to get down. How the hell can he get down from there, especially when it's quite obvious he's gone psycho? All of a sudden one of the cops, one supposes because the guy started swinging some kind of a stick, tasers the poor soul and he falls to the street on his head. And he's dead. That's murder. The video is on the web. Here in Spain more awful cases of domestic violence making the news. Horrible. This week Asun is in Croatia, but we can't communicate too much, so news will have to wait. Asun in Croatia, Daniela in Madrid, Alma and Cristina in Ithaca... Waldo and I are a little decentered. Last year Daniela got to school by walking down Walnut St. Or, more frequently, she would just step out the door and her friend from down the street would come by in a big SUV driven by her mom. Now she walks five minutes to the subway, then switches to a bus that takes her to ballet. After ballet a commuter train takes her to school. After school gets out at 9 pm, it's the subway back to the little apartment. That's a big change for anyone!
It's raining in Malaga! What a wonderful sight. Unfor- tunately, as I write this it's already letting up. We need days and days of rain, not a thirty minute shower. Well, it's nice anyway. There's lots of debate these days about memoria histórica, about doing arqueological digs at common graves from the civil war. This week the attention is focused on the decision to dig up the site outside Granada where Federico Garcia Lorca is buried, along with three others. Last weekend Aurora Luque (for) and Pedro Aparicio (against) had interesting opinion pieces on the topic in Sur. Pedro was writing mainly in opposition to the fetishization of old bones; Aurora was focused on the idea of death with dignity and the importance of closure. If there are mass graves and it's not known who is there, then I'm in favor of excavating. Then, families should decide what to do with the remains. In the case of Lorca, there doesn't seem to be any question as to who is buried there. In that case, the family should decide. For reasons that are completely mysterious to me (maybe there is simply no reason), I woke up this morning thinking about reincarnation, a notion which has always struck me as silly. Perhaps more interesting than the idea of a future reincarnation is the belief that your life is itself a reincarnation. I guess people imagining past lives has been fairly popular recently. Amusing. Now, if your present life is the fulfillment of a former life's wish to be you in the future, that's kind of intriguing. Hmmm, what kind of animate being could have wished this...? Right now Mark Kotsay and Jed Lowrie need some good wood reincarnation or something. The Sox just lost a real frustrating one to the Indians.
Antequera is a very interesting small city about 30 miles north of Malaga. I was there yesterday with my students and we had a nice visit. There is plenty of great art to enjoy in Antequera, but the highlight no doubt is the Roman Ephebe in the local museum. It's an amazing bronze statue that was miracu- lously found in 1955, intact, buried in a field outside the city. The statue has been dated from the 1st century, making it close to 2000 years old. It's a stunningly beautiful work. And we can go much, much further back in time, as Antequera also hosts three of the most impressive megalithic dolmens in Europe. We visited two, the Menga and Viera dolmens (the former seen above). There is a new visitor's center dedicated to these strange structures and the truth is the visit was much more interesting after seeing a brief video that gave us some context. We still don't know too much about these dolmens, but they clearly had religious, and likely funerary, uses. It boggles the mind how they got these huge stones into place. The Viera dolmen is perfectly aligned with the summer solstice; that is, on the soltstice the setting sun penetrates the opening of the dolmen, illuminating it all the way to its most interior point, some thirty yards into the mound that was built up over it stone structure. As impressive as these visits are, the highlight of the day for me was seeing the just restored church of the Carmen. Wow! Andalusian barroque at its best. The restoration work has resulted in a spectacular, take-your-breath away interior that no doubt should scandalize any God-fearing Protestant worth his salt. Where's Jesus? The main altar is a stunning XVIII century temple of carved wood dedicated to the Virgin of Carmen, leaving absolutely no doubt as to who rules supreme here. Yes, Jesus is here, but he's just a baby, still totally dependent on his mama. The church is a XVII century edifice, the most recent monument we visited. So everything seems just unfathomably old to my students and for many it's understandably hard to put what they see into meaningful context. But they are learning a lot very quickly. The visit to the Carmelite convent museum was also interesting. And the day ended with pleasant little hike in the Torcal nature preserve, which is characterized by its very odd rock formations.
It got almost no attention in US media, but earlier this week McCain revealed a part of himself that is quite discon- certing. It took place during an interview, in English, with a radio station in Miami that broadcasts mainly in Spanish. There were apparently several questions about relations with Latin American countries, then the host, changing topics, asked McCain what the world could expect regarding US relations with Spain in a McCain administration. McCain said he would continue the same policy as Bush. Surprising. Ever since the Spanish government withdrew from the Iraq war (remember, Spain was a founding partner of the 'coalition of the willing') in 2004, Bush's policy towards Spain has been one of infantile silent treatment. Four plus years! No meetings with Zapatero, no responses to repeated requests for appointments in Washington, etc. Context: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was elected president in 2004 having run on a campaign promise to end Spain's involvement in Iraq, but not Afganistan, where thousands of Spanish troops continue to serve in difficult areas. Opinion polls have consistently found that over 90% of Spaniards were, have been, and continue to be opposed to having any combat troops in Iraq. So the government's position was/is hardly surprising. So neither was it surprising when in April of this year McCain asserted in an interview with El País that were he elected president he looked forward to returning to normal, friendly relations with Spain, a major US ally. And so it was that McCain's interviewer this week was clearly perplexed by the candidate's apparent policy change and his refusal to affirm that he would meet with Zapatero were he elected. The interviewer insisted, rephrasing the question three times. It seemed that McCain was unclear about who he was being asked about and kept his answers in a Latin American context, saying that he would work with friendly countries who support the US, and praising the Mexican government. Gently, the interviewer, again: I'm talking about the President of Spain. Ahh, of course... No, none of that: McCain INSISTED on his talking points, saying he would meet with the presidents of friendly countries. OK, so let's get this straight- Spain is a NATO ally and a member of the European Union, has had diplomatic relations with the United States for over 200 years... And when the next president of the US takes office next January, Zapatero will be holding the revolving presidency of the EU, the world's largest economy. But John McCain is not a man to go out on a limb. Hmmm, Spain, European Union... are they our friends? But here's the kicker: McCain's foreign policy advisor, Randy Sheunemann, confirmed that his man's responses were intentional -- he knows who Zapatero is and is not going to commit to an invitation to meet! We're talking about the incoming President of the European Union. Truly extraordinary. And all of this because these brutes will do just anything, and I mean anything, except ever, ever admit to even a moment of confusion, doubt, or, God help us, ignorance. Their arrogance seems to know no bounds. They make pathetic attempts to hide it in great reverence towards God Almighty, God of America. It doesn't seem that McCain was always that way, but he can smell the power and he'll do anything lest it escape him. He's a tired old man. But not to worry, Sarah Palin did get a passport last year.
I've been noticing lots of really dumb t-shirts lately. Or maybe I should say, dumb people wearing t-shirts whose messages they may well not understand. Last night I passed a guy wearing one that read "Keep Drinking Until You Want Me". Funny? (Well, on second thought, it was kind of funny - the guy was none too attractive, so someone was going to have to drink a LOT to reach that point. And then it would be too late.) The other day I saw this one on a young woman: "I Would Love To See This Shirt at the Foot of your Bed". Wow, that would be a nightmare. Almost always in English: "I'm too sexy" (And, "I'm too sexy for my body", whatever that means), "I'm famous", "Smart, Sexy, and Hot", "Fuck Off", "Fuck You", "Why are you staring at me?", "Yes, they are real". And on and on. Maybe these weren't big sellers in English-speaking countries and they ended up in Spain. Many years ago you used to see lots of sports related t-shirts here that had either misspellings or an excess of optimism: "Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champions". Ouch! Then there were the ones that seem to be pure invention, one supposes with the thought, what the hell, no one's going to understand anyway. I can think of no other explanation for shirts such as "New York Cardinals" or "Minnesota Giants". Oh well, it's more free entertainment as you walk the streets of the city. How are our investments doing today?
Spain has a very rich tradition of alms' seeking (pedir limosna). Let's be blunt: begging. The traditional Spanish beggar plants him or herself at the door of a church and seeks the charity of people entering or leaving the temple. Some are vocal and others advertise their horrible plight with cardboard signs (I'm out of work, have four children who are hungry, and so on). Spain is now a wealthy nation firmly established in the Euro zone, so you might think that this practice would have disappeared. Not at all. The traditional Spanish beggars, of whom indeed there are surely far fewer than in generations past, have been joined in recent years by immigrants from the East, many of whom are Rumanian. The practitioners of this profession are quite varied, but seem mainly to fall into one of a few standard categories: the low-bottom alcoholic male, the mentally ill, the female who is clearly part of an organized group, the physically handicapped... But I'm not an anthropologist and and not really interested in trying to sort this out. In our neighborhood there is usually someone at the door of the local supermarket (not too much business at the churches these days), often a man of indeterminate age who is confined to a wheelchair. He spends his time with two younger men and the three of them pass their days drinking. Drink, drink, drink. They are homeless, unemployable, and likely mentally ill. Do I make a donation? I'm supposed to help, but I tend to believe that if I give them money I'm just contributing to an ongoing problem. (For the most part I don't give them anything, but a couple of times I have.) Where are the social services? I suspect these men have refused offers of help, that they prefer the street to an institutional setting, where they wouldn't be allowed to drink. But that's just speculation, the truth is I don't know. A couple of times I've tried to engage them in conversation but we never get anywhere. I tell them that, correctly or incorrectly, I do not want to make financial contributions to the maintenance of their addiction. The conversations have not prospered, so now I just look the other way. I don't feel good about that. An alcoholic who is not ready to put the bottle down should not be denied help. (Of course, many would argue that you can't help an alcoholic who doesn't want to be helped; true, in terms of treating the addiction, but sometimes there are even more basic needs that have to be addressed first.) Maybe we should have inpatient clinics where these guys (it's almost always men) can do some supervised drinking (that'll get them in the doors!) as a means of at least getting them off the street. The saddest and most tragic thing is to witness the complete loss of personal dignity in some of these men, manifested exteriorly in a total abandonment of even the most minimal personal hygiene. What are we without our dignity?
A great weekend in Madrid, a funny city. It's not especially beautiful, doesn't have a bay, coastline, or grand river, no big mountains looming over it's shoulder, and hosts the ugliest cathedral in Europe. Madrileños are not the warmest bunch and they lack gracia. I don't feel any passion towards the city, nor do I follow much its local politics. Nonetheless, it's a city I find tremendously attractive. We always have fun in Madrid and always leave wanting to return soon. On Saturday the capital was celebrating another noche en blanco, a night of thousands of events scheduled from dusk to dawn. The idea seems to be to see how many millions of people you can get to stay up all night. We didn't do very well, heading home around 1:30. But we had fun - saw a small fireworks show in the Plaza de España, visited the wonderful collection of Goyas at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes, wandered around, listened to music at the Casa del Libro, etc. And of course, some rests along the way. We stopped by La mi venta, a well-known bar next to the Senate building and it was nice to see Daniela chow down a big squid sandwich, a bocadillo de calamares, a real Madrid standard. And of course, we had to have some chocolate y churros, so we satisfied that little urge at Valor, just off the Gran Vía near Callao. Yesterday we had a nice, very long walk all the way from the hotel up on Bravo Murillo down to the center and over to El Retiro, Madrid's big central park. Then we got some lunch at a new restaurant in the Plaza de Neptuno, Estado Puro, another of these tapas de autor places, this one with Paco Roncero as star chef. The tapas (patatas bravas, buñuelos de bacalao, bombas de carne) were very good, but the arroz negro was out of this world, probably the best rice in squid ink I've ever had. The squid were left sitting on top of the rice and had been sprinkled lightly with pesto. I was skeptical, as it looked rather pretentious and perhaps slightly offensive - the squid looked quite exposed in its bald whiteness, the green of the pesto doing little to hide its nudity, and the black, black rice, looking rich like newly struck oil, seemed to be mocking the light insubstantiality of the squid. Stupid me, still judging books by their covers. Oh, it was truly outstanding. Everything was perfect, the rice with just the slightest hint of crunchiness (my downfall when I do rice!), and the pesto had penetrated the oil exquisitely. Daniela and Asun loved it too and had we known it was going to be so good I think we would have had just that. It was tremendously gratifying to see Daniela doing so well. She assured me again that she loves Madrid and really wants to stay. School finally starts this week, we think. Precise information is a commodity in low supply.It was too bad Alma and Cristina couldn't be there with us. I kept thinking of them as the three of us had such fun wandering around the city. On the other hand, I fear that moment when you think that things can't possibly get any better. If things truly can't get any better, where do you go from there? That could be a tricky one. After some coffee and rest at the apartment, it was time to head back to Malaga. The train is pretty amazing. It leaves the station with Swiss precision and usually pulls in a couple or few minutes before the scheduled time. If it's more than fifteen minutes late, a rare occurrence, they refund 50% of the fare, and if it's more than 30 minutes late, very rare indeed, the refund is 100%. A thought on the train, while reading Galdos' fictionalized account of the events of 1808 and the war with Napolean: altruist - an atheist who does the right thing. (In the photo, the Puerta de Alcalá from behind.)
The seasons are not markedly different in Malaga, or so it seems for someone from less temperate climes. But there are certainly seasons, and as strange as it may seem to think 'autumn is in the air' when the sun is still bright and the temperature gets up into the upper eighties in the afternoon, it is no doubt the case. It's just that the signs are not the same. The afternoon light is softer now and the evenings are much cooler. Some of the fruits on the store shelves are not the familiar ones. The chirimoya are here, a sure sign of fall. (I have no idea what chirimoya is in English, it's a fruit I've seen nowhere other than this coast. OK, I just looked it up-the Collins online dictionary translates it as cherimoya in US English. Big help. Maybe they've got them in California.) Anyway, they are very good, and I like the other translation, which I suppose is British and which I find very descriptive: custard apple. I love mixing in the juice of an orange with it; makes a wonderful dessert. A different kind of sign that summer is about over: the beach is a lot less crowded now. This morning I decided that I need to make an effort to start a morning swim routine. This is probably the best time of year here for the beach- it's not too hot but the water won't get really cold for another couple of months.
On Monday I took my students to Granada, whose main attraction is without a doubt the Alhambra, the spectacular Moorish palace-city overlooking the "modern" city. Millions of tourists visit the Alhambra every year and its popularity has created a rather amazing cash machine for the Andalusian government. There is certainly funding available now for the site's upkeep and for ongoing restoration work and new archeological digs. It was funny to recall my first visit to Granada in 1979 when I could wander the grounds of the Alhambra with very little company. That's completely impossible these days, when you are constantly surrounded by large groups. Every time I go to the Alhambra I learn something new, and on this visit, with an excellent guide, I learned something about the extent of the destruction that took place during Napoleon's invasion in the early 19th century. In addition to the Alhambra, we also visited the cathedral and the royal chapel, where Ferdinand and Isabelle are buried along with their daughter Juana, her brother who died as a young child, and Juana's ill-fated husband, Philip El hermoso. We also took a walk through the Albaicín neighborhood and had free time to wander around downtown. The past couple of days have been extremely busy, mainly just trying to keep abreast of lots of little tasks that need to be accomplished.
Yesterday I was in Ronda with my students. Ronda is celebrating its fiestas these days and yesterday was the "corrida goyesca", the celebrated bullfight where the matadors dress up in early 19th century garb (based on Goya's drawings, thus the term goyesca) and go do their thing in the oldest bullring in Spain for a crowd of tourists mixed in with the who's who of Southern Spain along with a splattering of famous actors, singers, second rate nobility, etc. Manolo offered me a ticket, but I have seen my last bullfight, having decided that the arguments in its defense are spurious and unconvincing. (Not all traditions are worth preserving, evidently; any argument that invokes cultural essentialisms is automatically suspect; it is simply not true that the toro bravo would go extinct if it weren´t for bullfighting-haven´t these people ever heard of nature preserves?) Unfortunately for the enthusiasts and the ticket scalpers, yesterday´s event was not what they were hoping for, as Cayetano Rivera Ordoñoz had been stomped by a bull two days earlier in Palencia, pulling him off of the cartel and thus spoiling the debut of the traje de luces Armani designed especially for Cayetano, his favorite male model. (Armani in the bullring-new heights, lows?, in decadence...) In any case, it was a chilly day in Ronda, but the students, as always, were quite impressed with the town´s beauty and its peculiar setting atop the gorge that splits the city in two. Manolo´s Amigos del Rocío group joined us, along with Pilar Ila and a few others, and they all added plenty of good cheer to the excursion. A big group of us had lunch together, and I and several others had migas a la rondeña (a little bit like turkey stuffing, but topped with a slice of Spanish ham and a fried egg) and then ox tail. A rather wintery menu, but justified by the cold wind. We got back to Málaga a little late and Waldo was anxious for a walk when I came in the door. Arcas had given him his midday walk, but I had hoped to be back by 9:30 and it was almost 11:30 when I walked in. So we had a nice long stroll and I stopped by Antonio and Pilar´s on the way back and got to say hello to Diego Guzmán, the theatre director who has helped us out with internships. Last week I started reading a novel by Javier Cercas, a novelist who has received good reviews from the critics, but whose work was unknown to me. So I was pleased this morning to find his article in El País´ Sunday magazine, in which he reflects some on our contemporary obsession with youth. At one point he describes himself as old. He´s 46. I don´t know how serious he was being, but in any event, it made me think for a moment about how I feel about age on the cusp of 50. I feel young. I write that feeling a little squeamish, because it sounds like I´m a character in an advertisement for some product marketed by one of the big pharmaceutical companies. And more squeamishly still: this no doubt has to do with some "life style" changes I´ve made in recent years. Life style, ugghhh! I really do hope to get through life without having a style, so I need to energetically repudiate that statement. Regardless, some things are true, and it´s no doubt true that what we do, how we live, etc. impacts how we feel. Brilliant! Sorry, but sometimes the obvious stuff is important. Who knows, maybe it's even simpler than I pretend. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just physiological. Or maybe I feel young because I have been very successful at staying in a state of complete denial regarding my mortality, the clock ticking down, the definitive finality of my impending unbeing. Just like a little child in a tantrum: no, no, no, I don´t care about reason, about evidence, about universal truth. And besides, a slightly older child might argue: so what? There is nothing to be done. Maybe I´ve accepted the truth. I really don´t know. Guess it depends on how I´m feeling.
It's an especially busy time these days and I've got so much going on it can get me feeling a tad anxious. In about an hour I leave for Madrid to see Asun and Daniela and tonight we go see the innaugural performance of Angel Corrella's ballet company at the Royal Theatre. They are performing La Bayadere, the ballet in which Daniela had her first big solo role. It seems like that was ages ago, but actually it's only been 15 months. There's a lot I want to write about, but it's not going to happen today. As Daniela was fond of saying as a little tot,¨"gotta go, gotta go, gotta go...". Well, the past couple of days the Red Sox sure have been in a wonderful position, what with the Yankees playing the Rays. Oh no, the Yanks win... we're closer to first place. The Yanks lose, well that's always a good thing. Pardon the expression, but it was a win-win situation. Speaking of which, a couple of weeks ago in San Sebastian I took Asun and Daniela to... the Cement Museum! Wow! That was a lot of fun. Maybe I already mentioned that. Doesn't matter, today it's hot and muggy and Waldo needs a walk before I head out. Another late dinner with friends last night and more stories of strange human behavior. And the other day a guy went absolutely bonkers and drove down Calle Larios, a big pedestrian street, at high speed trying to take out anyone he could. Several were injured, two critically. I was downtown around the time it happened, but a few blocks away. (In the photo, the highspeed train that whizzes me to Madrid in two hours and twenty-five minutes.)