December 31st. Malaga. Very tired after driving a thousand kilometers yesterday. It's been an adventure filled year and I feel extremely grateful to have had it so generously full of love and support from family and friends. We'll eat grapes tonight and make toasts, and then I'm going to bed. The girls can party on my behalf.
Yesterday I took the girls and Jake, Alma's boyfriend, to Bilbao. The focus of the visit, of course, was Frank Geahry's famous building that houses a Guggenheim museum. Always impressive. Additionally, there was a very interesting temporary exhibit of works from Viena's Kunsthistoriches Museum. Quite ecclectic, organized around the vague theme "All the Histories of Art". The exhibit included two portraits by Velazquez, one of which was of the Infanta Margarita, who I had mistakenly thought ended up in a convent in Madrid. No! I got my princesses confused. But her fate wasn't much better: she was married off to her uncle, the empreror Leopold, in 1666, gave birth to four children and died at the tender age of 22. Anyway, the portrait is wonderful, but it's very sad to think that it was painted for the express purpose of allowing the court in Viena to see what they were getting in this arranged marriage. Poor girl! There was also a big retrospective of works by Cy Twombley, but that was of no interest to me. After the Guggenheim we took some refreshment at a little bar, then had lunch at the Café Iruña, a Bilbao landmark. Good, but not great. After lunch we walked along the river and had coffee in the parte vieja. A beautiful day.
Random notes from Donosti: It's been a food feast since we got here on Sunday night. Yesterday we had some incredible stuffed squid in their ink for our midafternoon meal, than last night it was stuffed crab. And all kinds of other delicacies. A few minutes ago I put half a lamb in the oven. And Merry Christmas. It's a cold, cloudy day, but we are all together and it's grand fun. Waldo knocked over the little Christmas tree. In Madrid I flew a paper airplane onto an old lady's coffee saucer. An almost perfect flight: I missed landing the plane in her cup of hot chocolate by just a few inches. Why do my daughters get emabarrassed? Sometimes they just have no sense of humor. That was Sunday morning at San Ginés, the most famous chocolatería in the world. On the drive up to San Sebastián Daniela, Asun and I stopped in Lerma and had a nice coffee break in the Parador, which is located in the famous palace that for centuries was the property of the Duke of Lerma. Alma and Cristina took the train. On Tuesday we all went to the market and then had some pintxos in Gorriti, a classic next-to-the-market bar that is one of my traditional favorites. Time to check on the lamb. Merry Christmas!
We're in San Sebastián for Christmas. It's wonderful to finally all be together. Cristina is eating lots of ham! Actually we all are (thanks, Cristi!). It was an adventure getting here, but today is a beautiful day and Asun won 100 euros in the lottery. Time to eat. More another day.
No doubt one of the lasting images of the Bush years will be one of the last: the shoe assault. Within just a few hours of the incident it had become an internet sensation. I'm sure it's generated thousands of jokes already. Yesterday a guy on the radio here was joking that it was one of Bush's better moments, that he showed great agility in dodging the shoe missiles, and poise in his response. Think again. First responses are revealing, and immediately following the incident Bush compared the journalists' assault to having someone scream an insult at you or give you the finger. (He actually said it was like having someone wave at you but "not with all five fingers extended.") Throwing shoes at someone is a physical assault. There is a qualitative difference of the highest order between verbal abuse and a physical assault, and understanding that difference determines a great deal regarding one's ability to make ethically sound decisions when it comes to the use of violence. The journalist in Iraq clearly meant to harm Bush and the video shows that had he not ducked, he may well have been hit in the head. Bush clearly implied that in a free society, such as Iraq (!!!), assaulting someone with flying objects is ok, you just deal with it. Bush family values. Bush Jr. doesn't distinguish between verbal and physical abuse. And how the world has suffered that basic mental laziness. In short, Bush left us the impression that, hey, if he were offended he might just throw shoes too. Gosh darn it, he might just start invading sovereign countries. Some legacy. And then I see Cheney on the news last night, still defending torturing prisoners in Guantanamo. He's a real sicko. I really do hope he ends up in jail.
Bamba! That's the name of my slippers. This is very traditional at home footwear here and I really like them. And my feet love them. I'll bring a couple of new pair back to Carlisle with me., providing my feet stay loyal. These beauties are so soft and warm, I worry my feet are just going to detach themselves from my legs some night and run off with the Bamba. And sometimes I can feel my paws accelerating their pace as we approach home, in eager anticipation of Bamba's warm embrace. This morning I was thinking about what a wonderful, simple pleasure these slippers are. In addition to wearing them in the house, I put them on for the short last walk of the evening with Waldo. Now I'm considering just forgetting social norms altogether and using them as general footwear. Asun may have something to say about that. How many bad things happen because people feel generally shitty? Well, taking good care of them paws is an important first step.
Yesterday I added a few links to the right, one of them to the blog by Yoani Sánchez, the celebrated blogger from Cuba who has been threatened by Fidel and his thugs. It is highly recommended and you don't need to know Spanish. Yoani is a global phenomenon: her blog is translated not just to English, but also to Portuguese, Bulgarian, Dutch, German, Finnish, Polish, French, Italian, Lithuanian, and Japanese! (But I'm not sure about the Bulgarian–that link seems to have gone dead.) She is a brave young woman. I especially recommend it to my friends who still think Fidel is "not so bad" and that the revolution overall is really pretty good because Cubans enjoy wonderful education and health care. I guess I'd recommend it to Michael Moore and Oliver Stone, too. (Stone's documentary on Fidel is a work of hagiography I didn't think was possible today. Amazing.) For those of you who read Spanish, I suggest José Angel Cilleruelo's blog. Excellent! It's a cold, dark day in Malaga. Good for spending too much time on the computer. And for a movie on TV: over lunch I watched Pay it Forward with Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey, and Angie Dickinson in a wonderful cameo. A pretty sappy Hollywood production, but a well done one, and it's rather hard not to enjoy the story. Who can resist good deed doing? Well, the poor little kid gets killed in the end, an unfortunate choice by the author and/or director. I don't know, the film is based on a novel I'm unfamiliar with. (In the photo, Yoani Sánchez, a Reyes Lázaro look-alike. Hey Reyes, check it out!)
The end of another semester. There are still some tasks left to be finished up, but the students are done with their work and several of them will be leaving Malaga early Sunday morning. So for them, yes, it is the end. We had our "good bye" get together last night at Tormes, a nice little event to which the host families and professors are invited. Seventy-five people, give or take a few. Towards the end of the evening Erik Strand mentioned to me that he had seen this blog. He suggested I write about them, the students. (OK, Erik, here's a blog entry for you. Let me know what you think. And Erik's blog can be visited at http://apfelturnovers.blogspot.com. Muy postmoderno, Eric.) Logically, I wouldn't mention students by name without their consent, so for the most part my comments would be generic. (Erik, you, for now, are the exception-you mentioned this blog, you're a friend of Alma's, your dad's a colleague, etc.) In any case, yes, the students are a very significant and positive part of my life here. I have contact with the majority of them on a daily basis and overall you get to know them much better than you do during a regular semester back on campus. On the one hand, you can't really generalize fairly about a large, heterogeneous group; on the other, as I said, I'd be very reluctant to write about individual students here. So that doesn't leave me with much to say. But a little yes: as always, I learn a lot from my students and this semester has been no exception. I'm always working with kids the same age, so there is a lot that doesn't change over time, but in some ways today's students are different than those of just ten years ago. One example is the relationship they have with computer screens. Whenever I walk into our little office, where there are three desktop computers, it seems the students working there will have multiple windows open simultaneously. Facebook is very popular. Lots of photos! Instant messaging, music, a Word document... lots going on at once and constant back and forth. I'm sure this trend has been evolving for several years, but I suspect it's accelerating and it is certainly having an impact on education. Today's Dickinson students are, overall, quite capable academically and are motivated to do challenging work. Most of them speak and write well. And I don't lose sight of the fact that for all of us, students and faculty, being at Dickinson is a comparative luxury. It's also true that sustaining focus over time is a bigger challenge for many of them than it was when I started teaching. Yes, it is a stereotype: the attention span of students today is not what it used to be... unfair in some ways, because reality is complex, but there is some truth to this change. I find myself wondering if there are effective ways to counter the trend. I think it matters because, ultimately, one of the most attractive benefits of education, at least as I see it, is intelligent self-reflection. And I fear that some students are being distracted away from the habit of self-reflection, an activity that requires sustained attention over time. Our information age promotes ephemerality and speed. Who knows, it will be interesting to see to what extent this combination impacted our current economic mess. (I suggest we go back and reread Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium.) But the students here have one advantage that is much more powerful than anything I can do in the classroom. They have moved out of their habitual environment, they have traveled extensively and seen that the world is bigger, more dynamic, more diverse, and more complex than they had realized. It's one thing to be told this, and quite another to live it. And of course there's a lot we could say about the wonderful impact of learning another language and living in another culture, which is what this program is all about. Another day. (In the photo, the Christmas lights on Calle Larios.)
Last night I read an article in The Atlantic by Andrew Sullivan about blogging. Apparently he's got a much read blog (The Daily Dish) and he describes a world I know nothing about and an activity that has nothing to do with "A Year in Malaga". And I've heard of The Drudge Report, but it's not a part of my routine. For Sullivan blogging is frantic and frenetic. It's all about speed and tons of hyperlinks and getting lots and lots of readers. More information overload. I prefer taking a walk along the beach with Waldo. Dear old Waldo continues to be a great companion. In fact, it's time for his walk now. Another beautiful morning, but pretty cold. A busy day coming up... But finally, and most importantly ¡FELIZ CUMPLEANOS, DANIEL! ¡Eres el mejor! Today Daniel Arnedo turns 80. Wish I could be there with him, but we'll celebrate again very soon.
My principle difficulty with our age is just that: too much, too fast. Too much information coming at us from too many sources. Perhaps it's not really like that, but it is certainly the sensation I have sometimes. Email, in spite of facilitating so much needed communication, often seems like a burden, a sisyphean task that knows no end. Passwords and pins. How to keep track? Bills, bills, bills. Cell phone, voice mail. Do this, be here, don't forget... Of course it's no wonder people are stressed. I was thinking about this last night while I was watching the film El disputado voto del señor Cayo, based on the novel by Miguel Delibes. The film sets a democratic future against a vanishing rural present, a little corner of simple independence in an urban world. Sr. Cayo has almost nothing, but he doesn't consider himself poor. Víctor, the candidate who wants Cayo's vote, yearns for a life of communion with nature and he envies Cayo's simple ways and ancestral knowledge of the secrets of the land. Delibes wrote the novel in 1978 and could not have imagined how the pace of urban life, already hectic back then, would quickly accelerate in ways barely imaginable. Rural life in Spain, and I imagine in many, many places around the world, certainly in Europe, has been radically transformed. Almost no one lives 'off the land' anymore. Isolation is gone and the nature of rural poverty is quite different. I don't know if life in the country would really simplify things or even if I could tolerate it for long, but I think I could. On a day like today, radical simplification and life away from the city seems like a good idea. I just read in The Atlantic that maybe we're all made of many selves with competing desires. Nothing new there, but still, more complication. Of course, the "me" that's telling the procrastinating me to get to work interrupted the reading of the article so I don't know how it ends, if in the end I'm me or we. We (meaning all of us) need repose and tranquility from the excessive pace. Such as the most pleasant meal we enjoyed on Sunday with Daniela's friend Elisa Herrero and her parents, Mamen and Pedro, in the photo above. Elisa was a classmate of Daniela's in preescolar at El Colegio Limonar and they have reconnected this year. We watched some old videos from ten years ago and it was great fun. Elisa and Daniela were inseparable. And the amazing thing is that Elisa is a very serious ballet student also. They started their dance careers together, literally, taking cues from one another on the stage at Tivoli World as four year olds. Very funny. And strange!
As I wrote in my last post, I still actually buy a printed newspaper sometimes, and yesterday was one of those days. I was downtown, having just made a few visits to internship sites and felt in need of a coffee break. It had been a very busy morning and I hadn't had any breakfast beyond the initial early am coffee. So I got El País and went into a little bar for breakfast. Like the bar of the title of the famous Hemingway story: a clean well-lighted place. But when I sat down it was late morning, not late at night. And no coñac for me. (How many years has it been?) There's a man around my age at the bar having a beer. He looks depressed, worried. It's quiet. The young man who serves me is pleasant enough. A woman is going back and forth bringing trays of tapas out to the counter, getting ready for the midday rush. Unlike in the US, you don't have to be a drinker to enjoy bars here. I still love them. Then again, a bar in Spain often has little relation to those dark places you go to for drinks in the US. When I put down the booze I wasn't much of a bar frequenter in the US, but they immediately became of zero interest to me. Anyway, I was brought some fresh squeezed orange juice, toast and olive oil, and another cup of coffee. Wonderful! And I got to read the amazing story of Víctor Hugo Rodríguez. Víctor is a soldier, finishing up a tour of duty in Irak for the US Army. But he's not an American citizen. Víctor is Bolivian. Here's a short version of his story: in 1997, at age 19 and in desperate poverty in La Paz, Víctor decided he had to make a change. So he left for the US with $20 in his pocket and a dream in his head. He crossed Peru and Ecuador by helping truck drivers load and unload in exchange for rides. He told border guards in Colombia he was going to be a university student. He made it to Cali and hoped to get a bus from there to Panama. No buses from Cali. Only five dollars left. So he walked through the jungle with a Colombian and a Brazilian he had just met. Seven days of walking, no trail after four. They made it to a river. Shots fired. The other two disappeared. He received assistance from indigenous people on the Colombia/Panama border. Eventually he made it across Central America and into Mexico. Got across the border and into Texas on his second try. Five months. From Texas he made it to New York and got work in construction. In 2000 he married a fellow Bolivian and now he and his wife have two daughters. In 2006 he joined the army. When he gets out of the army he wants to go to university and become a journalist. He is due back in the US in February, and shortly thereafter he will become a US citizen. I wish him great luck. For the full story go to http://www.elpais.com. You can find the story in the archive: December 5th, International, the article titled "De La Paz a la guerra en Irak". And some people complain. This young man has many lives worth of adventures already. He had a dream and he went after it. How much easier it would have been to give up. I'd love to meet Víctor and his family someday. I'd like to thank him, to hear more of his story, and to learn how his dreams are progressing. When I finished reading about Víctor it was time to get back to work. Too bad, I could have happily spent an hour or two in that simple little bar. Dreams today in Malaga look promising: Daniela is here, the sunrise was spectacular, and the coffee is ready. It's a holiday: Constitution Day and this year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1978 carta magna. (In the photo above, Calle Granada, which continues to the left, just before it ends in the Plaza de la Constitución.)
On Tuesday we received very sad news at the Cursos: the death of a beloved colleague. I didn't know Emilio well at all, as he never taught for us, but he was a familiar face from years ago who always had a quick smile and a warm greeting. His death, premature after a brief fight with cancer, is especially difficult, as he leaves behind his family, wife and three young children. As an old friend just reminded me via email: life is too short. It's been a terribly difficult year for everyone at the Cursos, as another young colleague also passed away in October. I don't know if not existing was really ever an option, and as I showered a few minutes ago I concluded that I really can't know the answers to any of the big questions. That's o.k, for now. Regardless, I do have the firm sensation that I do exist in reality and that I really like existing and wish it could go on and on and on. So, I feel grateful. I'm not sure how best to go forward, but try to do so with all the help I can get. Yesterday I glanced at some ballet photos in a big program brochure for the New York City Ballet that came in the mail for Daniela. The photos are spectacular and I thought, now there's a good way to move forward: express these emotions in a beautifully choreographed dance. Dance, and the arts in general, help me. Now, do they help me put it off or is there, through art, some real reconciliation with our fate? I have the feeling it's both. Tragically, yesterday the danse macabre surprised Ignacio Uría on his way into a bar to have a game of cards with friends. ETA. The cowardly, perverse bastards sink ever deeper into the sick criminality of terror by murder. Yesterday it was Uría, a businessman who's company is working on the high speed train into the Basque Country, a project ETA is trying to undermine through terrorist blackmail. He didn't get much of a dance: gunned down with two bullets to the head on a sidewalk in Loyola, just yards from where Asun and I were married. ETA must be defeated definitively, but it won't happen until the Nationalists of PNV and EA recognize the perversity of their calls for negotiation. Can you really negotiate with a gun to your head? Are Basques opposed to the nationalist project in a position to express their ideas freely? Only if they are willing to risk their lives. Literally, that's not a figure of speech. In Loyola and other places around Euskadi we see what the risks entail. In Azpeitia, the municipality which includes Loyola, the town council refused to condemn the assassination. It's barbaric and shameful. And it must change. Above, La danza de la vida y la muerte by "Bigmom".
Some habits are very hard to break. (Tell me about it!) Reading newspapers, for example. I started reading the papers as a little kid. (New York Times sports section in the morning with breakfast, then the New York Post sports section in the evening–got to memorize batting averages (summer; 1968: Horace Clarke, .230; Yaz, .301; I followed both the Yankees and Red Sox–and you wonder why I'm not well?) and read about all the marvelous performances of the college and NBA stars (winter). It didn't take long for the Post's outrageous headlines to tempt me into other parts of the paper. I have vivid memories of dad getting home from work and leaving the afternoon edition of the Post and the Wall Street Journal on the front hall table. This of course, was decades before the internet, so an afternoon paper was not just another paper: it had the important advantage of including West coast sports results. (Yes, there was a time not long ago when you had to consciously wait for the news.) When we moved to Weston the routine changed to the Boston Globe and even, for a time, the Boston Herald. The surprise appearance of the Herald at the breakfast table produced some minor father-son friction (and maybe even a touch of spousal irritation?): how could dad do this? What was he thinking? But it did have the advantage of introducing me to the wild, xenophobic, hypernationalistic rants of Patrick Buchanan. He was even too much for CD. When I went to California for the first time I became familiar with the San Francisco Chronicle. When I got to Madrid in 1979 the first thing I did was buy El País, even though it took me hours to plod through the op-ed pieces, dictionary at my side. I've been excessive: a little free time somewhere? Maybe there's a Christian Science Reading room nearby. Yes, it's over the top, but that was a good paper. Does it still exist? (I fear those Christian Scientists are in danger of just disappearing. Their church in Carlisle is now the home of one of Daniela's classmates; Asun and I even played with the idea of buying that building. The family that did buy it did a wonderful job of converting it into a lovely home.) Now happily adapted to our information age, the morning coffee can easily accomodate a quick perusal of several papers: Times, Globe, El País, Diario Sur, Washington Post, etc. I still buy the paper paper, but not on a daily basis. Anyway, recently I've been thinking this dear habit needs some serious reform. Too much time and too much depressing news. I often hear how the news, the state of the world, can lead us to feelings of helplessness, of just giving up completely and withdrawing into narcissism. And this, I believe, we must combat at all costs. Willful ignorance is not a good thing. And something can be done, however minor it may seem. It's not insignificant. (In the photo, a downtown scene.)
What is a blog anyway? An online diary? That seems almost like an oxymoron. Nothing is more private than a diary and few things more (potentially) public than a blog. If I recall correctly (no certainty there), I started this blog after talking with friend José Angel Cilleruelo and then starting to read his "El visir de Abisinia" blog. (José Angel, by the way, was just awarded the Premio Málaga de Novela). I figured I'd put up some occasional thoughts and news about life here for family and friends. And that's been more or less the idea. I've never been able to keep a diary, partially due to lack of discipline but mainly because the idea of writing exclusively "for myself" has always struck me as rather absurd. There has to be an audience. At least a potential audience. Whether or not anyone actually reads these entries is close to irrelevant, but knowing that someone could read this is essential. Also, that others might read my verbal meanderings helps keep my writing a little less lazy, as writing strictly for myself (not something I could do for long, as I just mentioned), would allow me abbreviations, ellipses, and other shorthands that, apart from contributing to unintelligibility, would eventually undermine one of the central purposes of the activity–the creation of memory. Diaries do that, yes, but I've discovered that I'm mainly interested in shared memories. And the ability to so easily create a visual component in these blogs is an important benefit. Somewhat like an instant scrapbook. And there is a very curious, additional advantage to blogs: the occasional comment from someone I don't know. There have only been a handful of these, but it suggests a new form of communication that is quite interesting. As far as I'm concerned when it comes to communicating, more is always better. Communis. Common. Shared. If I can share a little bit of me there's less of me for me, and that's a good thing. (And for every anonymous comment, maybe there is another handful of readers out there I'm unaware of...) In any case, the blog plods on. That is wonderfully cacophonic: plodding blogging. And cross-linguistically onomatopoeic? Es cacafónico! Speaking of cacas, last night we had our monthly book group meeting. That didn't come out right–the book group is by no means a caca, to the contrary, it's a wonderful group of friends and the get togethers are great fun. But last night we were discussing Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, and one of the enduring images from that novel is poor Alfred and his dementia-induced hallucinations featuring the talking, threatening turd. (Franzen's turd is an obvious nod to South Park's Mr. Hankey.) And so it goes on a dark, Monday morning in Malaga.
In the photo above, the Mumbai skyline. Terror! More education, more modernity, more communication. And no concessions to the extremists. The civilized world does not need to, no, must not concede anything to the hate mongers. Revenge, of course, only perpetuates the violence. More Bombay, more New York, more London, more Madrid.