The 300 Year Old Stereotype

Today we celebrate a product of the Spain of the Autonomies: "Día de Andalucía", designed to foment regional identity. There'll probably be lots of folklore on the streets. This morning Pedro Aparicio writes in Sur about the city's newest trick for trying to suck more money out of the cruise ship tourists: morning flamenco shows in the Teatro Cervantes. Olé! You'd think that in the XXI century we'd about had enough of playing to tired stereotypes. This is how Malaga is going to compete for the European Capital of Culture designation? Good luck! Pedro's indignation is understandable. After all, as mayor he was the driving force behind getting the Cervantes renovated, creating a truly professional orchestra to play there, bringing Opera to the city and generally speaking promoting a cultural life that until then had been famous for its absence. This is not about being anti-flamenco in any way or even having a snobbish attitude about culture. And ask anyone involved in the world of verdiales, that ancient music from the hills behind the city, who was most important in its revival and chances are they'll tell you it was don Pedro Aparicio. Yes, of course flamenco is relevant and there is in fact a vibrant and evolving flamenco scene that has a devoted audience. But the current managers of the Cervantes seem to have old models in mind. The "package" they hope to sell to tourists includes a reception with Malaga wine and a souvenir. You can imagine our tourists returning to the boat, a little tipsy and with Made in China plastic fan in hand. That's progress!
Well, at least Pedro's got a sense of humor. He adds a few of his own suggestions for tour packages, my favorite being "Our essence": a Holy Week procession down Larios street every morning, followed by an afternoon bull fight up at Gibralfaro, capped of with an August fair stand in the Historic Archive. (This last one is hard to understand, but if you know Málaga, it's very funny, trust me.)
And how appropriate that the papers this morning, Andalusia Day, report the arrest of yet another mayor on a series of corruption charges. More development shenanigans. The coast around here the past ten years has really been like the wild west. Zoning laws? A joke! Environmental restrictions? How much do you want?


A Beautiful Morning in the Neighborhood

Last night we had another wind storm. Strong gales coming in from the east, but no rain. It got the Mediterranean all riled up and our building into a state of hissing and squealing that was rather annoying. This morning the sun is shining warm and bright, the storm has passed, but the water's got a bad hangover. Usually on a bright sunny day like this the bay is as calm and flat as the glass of water sitting beside me. So this is a nice change. And it smells different. Typically the air here offers barely a hint of the fact that we are right on the beach, but today it has a real Atlantic aroma, just like, for example, approaching Little Compton from the west. And those aromas seemed to stir something in Waldo's brain: he was romping around on the beach as if he were a kid again, even dared to venture into three inches of water, which is quite unusual for him. (Well, I kind of tricked him into it, but still...) 
As I was walking along the beach with Waldo, feeling extremely fortunate indeed, I came up with another theory. Some time ago I saw an interview with the person responsible for managing the apple inventory for some big supermarket chain. And for whatever reason, I was struck by the passion he showed for his fruit. He explained that if you could manage to pick the apple at just the right moment and get it quickly and carefully into the warehouse, and if in the warehouse you could maintain the precise degree of humidity (minimal) and a constant temperature (38, 41 F?), you could keep that apple really fresh for a very long time. So maybe people are like that– we need precisely the right conditions. Several years ago I became a fan of the well known 'serenity prayer'. It's quite simple and encapsulates a basic wisdom. I try to say it to myself often and I think it helps me keep things in perspective. Now I believe I need something similar in terms of keeping my bearings. It's not exactly a prayer, but it would go something like this: I'm a human being, living on planet earth. The earth rotates once on its axis every twenty-four hours. Once a year it rotates around our sun. We are the third planet of eight (or nine, if you were counting a few years ago), forming a solar system for which we have yet to come up with a either a good name or a willing sponsor (Solar System Ra, sponsored by Bamba Footwear!?) We seem to be located more towards the fringe than the center of a spiral type galaxy of hundreds of billions (yes, hundreds of billions!) of stars. Our galaxy is zooming away from billions of other galaxies at an accelerating rate. (Getting dizzy? Lonely?) There is little evidence to suggest there is a center, or even a direction. But there does seem to be ample parking available for any future spacecraft we may come up with. And on and on... So, if I keep getting my bearings in this manner I believe I may help extend my shelf life. Others are more succinct and perhaps a tad more connected to our basic realities. I just read this after my walk. I'm quoting Roger Cohen quoting Ian McKewan quoting John Updike: "Nature dangles sex to us to keep us walking towards the cliff." That about sums it up, doesn't it? (Well, yes, there is more to it than that, but I'd say that's not a bad take on the basic pattern of life on earth.)
The Leer la voz americana session on Tuesday was dedicated to Emily Dickinson and it too went quite well. Another strong turnout. If I had a better functioning brain, I may have thought of her on my walk earlier this morning. One of her poems begins thusly:

I started Early – Took my dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –

The only mermaid I've seen this morning is the one adorning the Dickinson home page. The sea withdrew and today, sorry Emily, it didn't talk to me about death. (This blog entry sponsored by the spirit of Fred Rogers.)



After Asun and Daniela left for Madrid on Sunday, I returned to an apartment still dressed in the typical rags of "party aftermath". I didn't have the energy to really clean up but felt compelled to get started with some of the basics. At the least I wanted to get the bottles and glasses out of the dining room and back to the kitchen or to the recycling bin. Lots of half filled (never half empty) glasses, and several bottles of wine in various states of consumption. And a bottle of uncorked Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage that was still almost full. A little part of me thought, damn, that's a forty dollar bottle of champagne gone to waste. That's no good. (Well, maybe if I had served our friends the bubbly before 1 am they all would have had a second glass...) I had a brief flashback to a former reality, thinking, hey, throwing out this stuff is a sacrilege, it's got to be drunk up. But of course, I didn't touch it, and I smiled to myself as I paraded the bottle to its date with the drain of the kitchen sink. My decision, my choice. Celebrating 50 stone cold sober. Who coulda ever guessed it? Not me, not some time ago anyway, not, for example, at 40. For most people it's an insignificant detail. You drink a little, you drink a lot, or you don't drink at all. Doesn't matter. But for me, I decided it does matter. And some days it feels almost as if I've forgotten why it matters. In any case, I clinked bottle to faucet in a strange, solitary, and satisfying toast. Having already made toasts to family and friends, I could now make one more: to the inebriation of Málaga's sewers! It was actually a good laugh watching those bubbles disappear, gurgling all the way down. A simple postscript to a good party. And postscripts, coming on the heels of endings, are always beginnings. 


"Get Your Motor Runnin'..."

Daniela got the last train out of Madrid Friday night and it was great to have her here, even though it was a very brief visit. As promised, I rented a vespa type motorbike and Saturday morning we went out for a spin. Daniela got the hang of it pretty quickly, as you can see in the photo. She really had a great time and I must say I enjoyed it too. After a trip to the market and then a light meal followed by the obligatory siesta, Daniela and I headed out for round two of riding. Then it was off with friends for Daniela and back to the apartment for me to help Asun get ready for a bunch of friends coming over for dinner. The food was delicious and we had a grand time, but my attempt at a strawberry shortcake fell flat-literally. I made the fatal mistake of using the baking powder that had been sitting in the back of a kitchen drawer for lord knows how many years and it was completely dead. The shortcake didn't rise at all and what we ended up with what was baptized by the invited as migas with strawberries. (Migas is kind of like stuffing, described in an earlier entry back in September.) Very funny. Oh well, it was a splendid evening and my second half-century is off to a great start. (It's not exactly a Harley, but regardless, my imaginative powers are flexible and so of course I couldn't help having "Born to be wild" pop into my head at one point Friday night shortly after I got the bike, and I was reminded of going to a concert at Boston Garden back in 1975 or 76 and Steppenwolf was the opening act. That was around the same time I actually got to play a basketball game in the Garden. The reek of pot was probably still palpable. Do the sports arenas still fill up with marijuana smoke these days?) Finally, today is "23-F", anniversary of the failed coup attempt back in 1981. It could have all gone terribly wrong, but thankfully incompetence saved the day for democracy.


Taking Stock

I believe it was back in November when I shifted around my retirement portfolio. The stock market was way down and I figured things had to get better. So I changed some existing funds and dedicated new contributions almost exclusively to buying stocks. So far it hasn't worked out too well. I'm taking stocks and the market is taking my money. So maybe instead of stocks it's stock I need to take. Yet, maybe not: there's some resistance to falling into cliches. The other day I was talking to a friend and turning fifty came up, accompanied by the notion that it's a time when people feel anxiety about maybe not having accomplished goals, about having gotten off track, etc. And I wonder, did I ever set any goals, did I ever have a path? I'm skeptical. On the one hand, I'm pretty given to making it up as we go along. On the other, we are constantly revising and reinterpreting. It is true, nonetheless, that as the use of reason began to take root in my pea-sized brain, I absorbed into my identity the desire to learn something of the why of things. What's this all about, anyway? I knew I wanted to read lots of books and to have a sufficient enough variety of experiences to make some progress in this regard. Maybe that's a path. And I believe I share an almost universal desire to experience love. I suppose, in my fortunate case, to amplify, expand, relive, etc. the love received as a child within the family. The cliches are at the door... I don't know if I can hold them back; tomorrow is just another day... This is why we have poets: there are a handful of miraculous ones out there, those whose gift of language so moves us, so expresses  what we ourselves are unable to... that it's all ok. I can't say it, but others have already done the work for me. Well, not just poets, but painters, musicians, dancers... they work, I feel spoken for. There you go: I realized rather early in life that doing hard work was not how I wanted to spend my days. So far, splendid! (In the photo, a detail from "The Philospher", a painting attributed to Ribera, in the National Palace, in Sintra, Portugal.)



Everyone says Lisbon is a beautiful city. I guess I'd agree, but I don't buy into the contem- porary Romantic vision of Lisbon as a city that's managed to preserve some sort of stamp of authenticity because it's seen less urban renewal than other European capitals. Tourist nonsense. What struck me on this visit was how amazingly uncrowded a city it is. Maybe some of that impression was due to the fact that we were there on a weekend and the locals were staying off the streets. Still, Lisbon on a Saturday evening is nothing like Madrid, where you can barely move on some of the downtown streets. After visiting with the students the big monastery built during the reign of Manuel I in the early 16th century and the Bailem tower on Saturday afternoon; then Sintra on Sunday morning, Asun and I had a nice walk around the Alfama neighborhood, followed by a walk down to the Plaza del Comercio right as the sun was setting over the mouth of the Tagus. In the photo, the Bailem tower, built to defend the entrance to the city in the 16th century. 


Walt Whitman

Last night we had the first session of the Leer la voz americana (Reading the American Voice) series I'm organizing with the Centro Cultural del 27. We started with Whitman. (The other sessions will be dedicated to Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, and Sylvia Plath, then we'll end with a bilingual reading by my colleague Adrienne Su.) The idea is to have poets, critics, and translators lead conversations about the reception of these poets in Spain. We had a great start: Juan Jesús Zaro (translator) and María Eloy García (poet) were excellent, students Kennon Pearre and Anna Elliot recited two poems beautifully, and the turnout was quite gratifying. Juan gave a good review of the history of Whitman translations and a brief overview of the polemic between Spanish poet León Felipe and Jorge Luis Borges regarding Felipe's translation of "Song of Myself." María's account of Whitman's impact on her was stellar and at the same time entertaining. She's got energy!


Santiago de Compostela

Last night we got back from our trip to Santiago and Lisbon. It seems that all went well. Asun and I certainly enjoyed ourselves tremendously, and I believe the students did as well. The weather could not have been better. It was a long drive, but not nearly as bad as last year. Using two vans worked out quite well. We had our lunch break in Tordesillas, where Juana la Loca, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabelle, was locked away in a convent for thirty-four years. The convent is still there, but it had closed for lunch and we couldn't visit. In Santiago we made the usual visits and spent time just walking the city's enchanting Ruas. In the cathedral's museum I admired an image of the Virgin I don't recall having noticed on previous visits. How could I have missed it? Quite strange: imagine representing Mary as a pilgrim on her way to Santiago, as if she were out for a Sunday stroll! I was rather touched, as this image, which I've certainly never seen anywhere else, corresponds to a very high degree with a mental image I have of a possible assumption, described in an entry back in August (See the entry for 8/16/08). But in this case it's a horizontal journey. Asun and I really lucked out at lunch time. With dozens and dozens of restaurants to choose from, we just picked one somewhat randomly. Good choice! The octopus was perfect, the barnacles exquisite, and the turbot Asun had wonderful. The old town of course is in most ways always the same, but many of the stores, bars and restaurants have been refurbished in recent years and overall the place is a lot more prosperous looking compared to years past. In the photo, the baroque main facade of the cathedral, as seen from the Alameda park, looking through the filter of a just flowering tree. Notalgia madness: I had that view with Asun twenty-seven years ago; could never have imagined then we'd return all these years later, and much less in the circumstances that surround us!


On the Road

4:30 am. About to leave for Santiago de Compostela with the students. Will be a full day on the road. Lots of coffee! Photo: a reconstruction of the room where Columbus met with the monks at La Rábida, as he waited to get funding for his first voyage. The original was destroyed in the famous Lisbon earthquake of 1755.  After Santiago we head for Lisbon, hopefully without earthquakes.


Saviano's Pen

This morning El País publishes a translation of an essay by Roberto Saviano, the Italian journalist who lives under a death threat from the Neapolitan mafia because of his book Camorra (Gomorrah in English). But Saviano is not writing about the Camorra today; rather, he reflects on the case of Eluana Englaro and pays homage to her father, Beppino. (See recent entry, "Natural declines".) It's a wonderful article in which he reminds us that the father's determination to act within the bounds of the legal system sets a heroic example for Italian society, so accustomed to resolving things a la italiana. Berlusconi's last minute attempt to undo the Italian Supreme Court's ruling in the case, and the the Vatican hierarchy's shameful support for that crude tactic, will live in infamy. Saviano reminds his readers that Eluana's father, in his desire to fulfill his daughter's explicit and reiterated wishes regarding end of life issues, refused to take easier, more efficient actions to achieve his goal. How easy it would have been, for example, to pay off a skilled nurse. Or he could have taken his daughter to another country. And in spite of the horrible manipulation the fanatics made of Eluano's image, using photos of the attractive young woman before her accident to create the false impression that her father wanted to kill a beautiful, healthy woman, Beppino refused to compromise his daughter's dignity by publishing iamges of the crude reality: the inert body of a disfigured woman being artificially kept alive through a feeding tube in spite of seventeen years in a persistent vegetative state. It's interesting, because the essay's positive outlook, it's belief in the exemplary force of individual actions contrasts sharply with the pessimistic attitude expressed by Saviano in a recent interview, in which he rues the day he wrote Camorra. The book's success and the subsequent death threats have turned his life upside down and in the interview he seems to lament ever having gone down this path. But he makes an important point: that without readers his efforts would truly have been in vain, because that's what the Camorra cares about, that's what can really do them harm. So, as it seems with just about everything, it always comes back to education. The power of the word is for naught if there's not an educated audience ready to be moved to action.


Local tentacles?

This is the 150th post for my blog. It's evolving as a fairly useful way for me to save some snippets of what goes on in my life. Or perhaps it's a way of inventing a past that is very, very close to the present. As the little box beneath this rectangle in which I write says, "Save now". Well, yesterday was a good day because Asun returned from Madrid. It was a very quiet weekend. The stormy weather seems to have passed, hopefully to stay away for a while. ("Saved".)
The mini-polemic generated in Malaga by the Defense Minister's announcement last week that the Legion's presence in Holy Week would be greatly reduced is a local issue of some mystery to Spaniards not from Malaga, and of almost complete incomprehensibility for the larger part of humanity. Most briefly: for the past 80 years or so soldiers from Spain's foreign legion, "La Legión", based in Melilla, a Spanish city on the coast of Africa, have been participating in one of the processions on Holy Thursday. They carry their "Cristo de la Buena Muerte", which they bring with them from Melilla. For reasons that remain mysterious to me their presence in Málaga is a hugely popular spectacle. I remember feeling completely repulsed when I saw this ten years ago. In any case, Teodoro León Gross wrote about this yesterday in Sur, and he was absolutely right: the Defense Ministry has already been forced to retract. The procession will go on as always. No one wants to take on the powerful "cofradías", the Holy Week "lobbies" who wield out of proportion influence in various local affairs.
Today's photo has no relation to the above text, that I can imagine anyway. Some grilled squid I prepared a couple of weeks ago for Asun and me. Excellent! I wish I could figure out how to upload photos with higher resolution. 



Facebook is a curious phenomenon and it's interesting to see how incredibly fast it's evolving. I don't regret joining it because it's been an amazingly effective means of reconnecting with friends form college, high school, and even childhood. The other day I received the following message:

Alright, it's maybe 8th grade, you're pitching. I'm in left, pepper is thick in the air. So you go into your wind-up and I yell out "THIS GUYS MOTHER WEARS A JOCK STRAP!" You crack-up and balk, the umpire whips off his mask, halts the game and reams me out but good in front of everybody. As I'm standing there like a dope getting balled out, I look to the mound and you are howling. 
Ring any bells?

I suspect it was actually 6th or 7th grade when that happened, but in any case, what a funny recollection. And now I know why that major league career I was dreaming of never worked out. It was all Grier's fault! He was so good at not letting me forget how absurd it all is. We sure did have a lot of fun. And it's still a lot of fun. The path from a ball field in Bronxville to an apartment overlooking the beach in Malaga could be traced in many, many different ways, one of which might be to see the dots connecting the lines as absurd chance happenings that bleed outsized shares of incredibly good fortune.


Natural declines

Yesterday Cardenal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's Secretary of State, was in Spain to meet with Zapatero. He also gave a talk on human rights in which he defended the necessity of respecting an individual's dignity from conception to its "ocaso natural", its "natural decline". ("Ocaso" literally refers to the setting of the sun.) That's a principle I can certainly defend. What I don't understand is why the catholic church in Italy has gotten so incredibly worked up over the case of Eluana Englaro, the woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state for seventeen years. Is it natural to keep an individual alive in these conditions year after year with a feeding tube? What ethical purpose does that serve? The church is against euthanasia because you risk having humans "play God". That's a good argument. But it works both ways-keeping someone alive indefinitely when there is no rational hope for recovery is certainly not natural. And it's a perversion of the medical profession's obligation to preserve life. Is Elena Englaro living with dignity? Her father doesn't think so: he's been fighting for ten years for the right to get the tubes disconnected. Who do you trust, a loving father or a bunch of fanatics screaming "Elena, wake up, wake up"? Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about this morning.
Last night I got to see Jesús Aguado for the first time in many months. He was here to give a talk on the work of printer Francisco Cumpián. I also ran into Juan Temboury, who's phone # I'd been fruitlessly searching for. It was great to see them and Jesús's talk was good. (In the photo, the beach at Matalascañas.)


Quick Visit to Cordoba

Before our trip to La Candelaria last week I took part of a day to join Paco, Rafael, and Esteban for a quick visit to see Pablo in Córdoba and to see his nacimiento before he took it down. It's a real work of art! It was great to see Pablo doing so well and a real luxury to be able to hop on a train with some friends to go visit a friend! Just lots of good conversation then a very nice meal at Bereguer. We were back in Malaga at 5 pm. Since it was Wednesday it was kind of like an extended sesión Bilmore. The bad weather continues all over Spain. At about 3 am last night there was an extraordinary clap of thunder that really unsettled Waldo. 


La Candelaria

This past weekend we had an interesting trip to El Rocío, the site of the famous Spring romería. Our students joined Manolo and his big group for the Candelaria, a minor celebration. We had bad luck with the weather, to say the least: lots of rain, strong winds, cold... The hotel was "interesting", full of senior citizens participating in Inserso trips (in itself worthy of an entry!) In any case, the Flamero is a classic example of the kind of building being done in the 1960s and 70s: cheap and ugly! This hotel needs some serious restoration work. Many guests woke up Sunday morning to find lots of water in their room. Asun and I were lucky in that regard. On Saturday morning we visited the monastery at La Rábida, the place where Columbus waited for Isabelle and Ferdinand to finalize their conquest of Granada, after which Columbus was hoping for some attention from the Queen and, ultimately, support for his adventure. The key connection here was one of the monks who had been Isabelle's confessor. Chris didn't go there to pray. We had planned to visit the reproductions of Columbus's ships, but they were closed, so we had to content ourselves with a view from the distance. Lots of sitting around the hotel Saturday afternoon, then a visit to El Rocío that night. It was odd: we fill a bus and make the twenty minute trip from the hotel and in theory we do this because there is a religious service in the church. But no one is interested in that, so we've made the trip to go hang out in the one bar that's open and listen to Manolo's group sing songs. Oh well, at least there wasn't too much rain that night. And the bar had pretty good coffee. Sunday morning was another story. A deluge of water. More sitting around in a bar. The "presentation" of the children to the Virgin was a curious ceremony and it was certainly interesting from a sociological perspective. Parents held up their kids and thrust them at the image of Rocío, a true goddess. Some seemed almost overcome with emotion, tears streaming down their cheeks. A people's temple: it was loud! Rather striking to be inside a catholic church and see people talking on their cellphones, for example. There are signs everywhere saying no photos, and some pleading for silence and respect. Hopeless. In the photo above, a recent dawn as seen from our terrace.