It seems to go out faster than it comes in. And last week I just noticed a new hyperlink when I go to the blogger page: "monetize". Another invitation to invite advertisers into this blog. I imagine I might earn a few cents per month were I to activate it. No thanks. Imagine the thousands and thousands of blogs set up with the explicit purpose of trying to generate some income. No doubt words like "hot" and "sex" will generate more traffic. Maybe, the things the way they are these days, the key words are "jobs", "free" or "help wanted". Well, here in Malaga we are stumbling along. Yesterday another sign of changing times: as I was leaving the Cursos building around 7:30 pm, an older man shuffled up to me to ask for some money for a cup of coffee. And he didn't look like the typical homeless person, but rather someone who had some kind of tenuous support system that maybe had run out on him. A very sad sight. Right now the future here is looking fairly grim. The savings and loan Caja Castilla La Mancha was just taken over by the central bank. They reported a profit of 30 million euros for 2008 but it turns out they've got a black hole of 3 billion. Oops! Our next distraction: Holy Week processions. Downtown is being taken over by temporary seating and other related paraphenalia. Lots of attention on the weather forecasts. (In the photo, with Asun and Daniela on the roof of La Pedrera, a Gaudi designed building in Barcelona.)
Valencia in Fallas! Can it get any better? We eat wonderfully, wander the streets, set off lots of firecrackers and a handful of some pretty big rockets, Daniela and Asun go to the bullfights, we see lots of fallas, enjoy the processions, don't sleep too much. A city on fire! This is a fiesta. Our journey started over a week ago, back on Tuesday the 17th. A full day on the rails. It was actually rather pleasant to experience again a "slow" train that had long stops at some of the stations. The train itself was comfortable enough and had a nice cafeteria, it just took its time about things. We got to Valencia around 5 pm and after getting checked in at the hotel, we made the 25 minute walk over to the Fallas Museum. This was a good introduction for the students and gave them a little more context for what they would be experiencing over the next three nights. Asun and I had a late dinner, which was very nice, but it sapped us of the energy needed to stay up for the fireworks. (The sea bass I was served was exquisite.) It was almost midnight when we left the restaurant, but the fireworks weren't until 1:30. Yes, 1:30 am. How many cities in the world start their fireworks displays at that hour? And the children stay up, too. Young families with little kids (firecrackers in hand!) and babies in strollers fill the streets at these crazy hours. Wednesday morning we took the students to see the huge "flower Virgin", a reproduction of the city's patroness, Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados, outside the Basilica where the original image is. 500,000 flowers! Then we visited the gothic cathedral next door, where one can see the incorrupt arm of St. Vincent, a third century martyr (yuukk!), and, yes, the chalice used by Jesus at the last supper! (The Holy Grail?) Well, that's what they claim, but apparently not too many people actually believe it. I mean, you'd think it would be a huge deal, but it's really not. The church is an old, old institution, so it's not surprising that it has lots of dubious history on display. For the most part, harmless superstitions. After a visit to the wonderful central market, it was time to get ready for the day's Mascletá, as always at 2 pm. Asun and I took our spots at around 1:15, so we were quite close, third row. It was a good one, launched by Pirotecnica Valencia. Postmodern. The rhythms were playful and innovative, not your typical maslcetá, but the thunderous finale did not disappoint. Very satisfying. But the next day was going to be Ricardo Caballer, the Maestro. And did Caballer ever come through! Asun went to the morning bullfight with Manolo, so I took Daniela, who had arrived Wednesday night, to the big show. Front row. The wait was fine and went by fairly quickly, a good chance for Daniela to fill me in on school, ballet, etc. In the security zone between us and the "cage" from where the mascletá would be launched, a perimeter that varies in width from about ten to thirty yards wide, I estimated there were about 200 or 250 firefighters, red cross workers, EMTs, Civil Defense volunteers, cops, etc. A couple of big fire trucks and a dozen ambulances. This does contribute to the sense that something BIG is about to happen. At around 1:50 the crowd is starting to get a little worked up. 100,000? 200,000? Who knows. Then, ka-boom! The ten minute warning. A few minutes go by: KA-BOOM! The five minute warning: the firefighters and others put on their helmets and ear protecters. We're just a few yards away, but we're going to let our ears get blasted! A few people in the crowd around us have had to be taken to the ambulances. Heat exhaustion? Daniela is just a little nervous and I joke to her that last year only six people died. I ask the woman next to us for confirmation, she gets the joke right away and says, no, it was sixteen. Finally, what we've all been waiting for. From the balcony of City Hall, the mayor hands the microphone to the Fallera Mayor. It's a corny little ritual, but it sends a chill running up my spine every time. Always in Valencian: "Senyor Pirotecnic! Pot començar la mascletá!" ("Mr. Pyrotechnic, you may commence with the Mascletá!") A roar from the crowd. And the madness is underway. For the first thirty seconds or so we are still within the realm of the earthly, but then things get... different. The blasts get more intense, the drum beat faster, louder. What the hell is going on? More, more more... The rhythms keep changing, varieties of cadences, back and forth between the crack, crack, crack of the big firecrackers and the heavy Booms of the mortar fire. At about three minutes you think maybe this is it, it's reached a peak. But no, we're just getting started. The true thunder hasn't arrived yet, but it's almost here. Celestial music. Transcendent. Transportive. And total, utter, madness. Four and a half minutes in: this city has lost its collective marbles and it's absolutely marvelous. An explosion of adrenaline. Pólvora! Dynamite! The world is coming undone. The ground is shaking. Louder, louder... Daniela can't believe it, but she loves it. We all love it. Overwhelming. The nice man who let Daniela slide into the front row, who's never been here before, can't believe it. Has it ever been this intense? Caballer has gone crazy. Screaming, lots of joyous screaming. I spy tears of joy around me. Five and a half minutes: the thunder is here, totally deafening, the Plaza completely filled with smoke, momentarily darkening the sky. And then one last jaw-dropping, bone-rattling series of blasts. Chaos, apocalypse, the END. Unbelievable. The railing breaks open, we all run over to the fence of the Cage to applaud the smoke, to cheer Caballer. Lots of people with stupid smiles, euphoric giggling. The anthem: "Valencia in Fallas!" And we all agree we'll be back next year! Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXAnNAvaMpA
Still working backwards: Saturday was a full, fun day. We started with a visit to the Picasso Museum, whose main interest for me is the 1950s series of paintings dedicated to Velazquez's Las Meninas. I never tire of admiring Picasso's obsessive homage to the master. (One of the Fallas in Valencia this year played with the idea of a Time Machine and included among its many 'sketches' Velazquez jumping forward to the XX century to strangle Picasso for his 'heretical' interpretations of his work.) From the museum it was a stroll through the "barrio gótico" and a failed visit to the cathedral- something going on with a bishop, so it was closed to tourists. Then we walked over to La Rambla and up to La Boqueria, the famous central market. Tourist madness! It's just incredible what a tourist magnet Barcelona has become ever since the 92 olympics; that's old news, but this year seemed worse than ever. I thought we were in some kind of huge economic crisis? After the market we sent the students off to explore on their own and Asun, Daniela and I took a taxi up to Parc Güel, the Gaudi designed park. More tourist madness! Then a quick stop at the hotel before starting our stroll in search of lunch. We lucked out again: La Botiga, a simple, contemporary kind of place with excellent food. I had black rice with a dab of ali oli that was wonderful, but I admit not as incredible as the one we were lucky enough to have late last summer at Estado Puro in Madrid (see "Madrid", 9/15/08). Daniela's cod was fantastic, and Asun's monkfish was apparently exquisite. After lunch we continued our walk down La Rambla towards our destination, El Liceu, the famous Barcelona opera house where we were going to see Nederlands Dance Theatre. The Liceu suffered a devastating fire back in 1994 and had to be completely rebuilt. Well, they did a fantastic job, that's for sure. It's quite reminiscent of the Teatro Real in Madrid, but a little bigger and with all kinds of contemporary comforts. It has a good sized orchestra section with layers of vertical u-shaped rings going straight up to the ceiling. I would guess it seats about 1500, maybe 2000. The dance was interesting. We enjoyed the first half of the program ("Silent Screen") very much, but the second piece ("Tar and Feathers") was hard to figure. It was inspired by a very late poem by Samuel Beckett, "What is the Word?" Dance? The whole experience to me seemed rather pretentious and ultimately unconvincing. Charlotte Kasner, in a review from a performance last year, called it "a real downer". My evaluation was pretty much the same as hers: "much slapping of flesh against flesh and frantic flapping of arms and hands to no particular avail. It all became far too much when dancers ran on in a parody of ballet tutus that rattled like dried bones. Too long, too empty and too, too self-indulgent... The music was murdered Mozart."And what's with the title? Absolutely nothing to suggest it, neither in the Becket poem nor in the dance. Nonetheless, we had a grand time and it was a satisfying experience. Back to Friday, very briefly: we visited Gaudi's Sagrada Familia and Casa Milá, a modernist apartment building that is actually quite interesting. And another spectacular lunch at a place whose name now escapes me. The perfect cod! And we finished Friday in fine fashion: Mozart's Requiem performed by the Prague National Chamber Orchestra and Choir at Santa Maria del Mar, a huge, beautiful gothic church with seating for a good two thousand people. That was Mozart. Sublime. (In the photo, Daniela and me at the Liceu.)
Six days on the road. It was a wonderful trip, but it's good to be home. I'd like to comment on so much of what's happened, but I think I'll just start from the end and little by little work back as time allows. Yesterday in Barcelona we began the morning with a visit to the Miró museum with the students. Miró's work really doesn't say much to me. I guess more than the work itself I feel curious about how he became the famed figure he did. After that visit, Daniela, Asun and I walked over to the Art Museum of Catalonia in the Palau Nacional. I had never been inside before and was quite surprised by the size of the collection. It's huge! We limited our visit to some of the Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque art. Two works impressed me especially: a XII century polychrome wooden Christ on the cross and an Immaculate Conception by Zurbaran. The anonymous Christ figure is quite curious because the artist has him dressed in a colorful tunic that is rather oriental looking. Jesus on the cross, but triumphant, and no sign of suffering save the touch of sadness on his frowning face. And more than suffering, the artist seems to have captured a look of disappointment: look at what these dopey humans are up to! It's a very different story here. The sculpture's geometric harmony is also quite impressive. And the Zurbaran painting is wonderful. Even though it's an icon I've seen treated a million times, there's so often something interesting, something different. As usual, Zurbaran uses really young models, and I think in this case he's using the same model he used for the Sleeping Virgin painting I saw in Malaga (see "Sweet Dreams", 10/21/08). The colors are fantastic. The girl looks happy, worry free. Unfortunately, no image available. This museum also has a wonderful collection of late 15th century Hispano-Flemish painting, a really curious style in which faces, in particular, are depicted with extraordinary realism. After spending close to an hour wandering through what seemed like endless galleries, we decided an early lunch was in order, as Daniela had to get the 3:30 train back to Madrid. The Palau Nacional is a huge edifice constructed for a World's Fair in 1929. It was beautifully restored for the 1992 olympics. Well, our luck was good as we found a very nice restaurant right in the museum, and with a beautiful view of the city below us. The food was excellent, but a complete review merits a separate entry, as our time in Barcelona was marked by a trio of truly outstanding lunches. It was sad to say goodbye to Daniela, but we'll see her here in Malaga in a couple of weeks.
It just occurred to me that it's been almost twelve months since I started "a year in Malaga". Is it about to end? Maybe, or if I decide I want to continue, I guess I could just change the name of the blog. Or not, doesn't really matter. The first entry was March 24th, 2008, so I've still got just over a week to think about it. In any case, today is Sunday and it looks like it's going to be another nice day. It was a very busy week. Adrienne Su was here, of course, then we had a real brief visit from Moos, a physical therapist, native of Holland and resident of Sweden. Apparently he works a lot with dancers and had come to Madrid to work with a couple of Daniela's ballet classmates from Sweden. He ended up working with Daniela, too. That's how Asun met him. We had a nice visit and it was interesting to get his perspective on Daniela's progress. (To say that he's impressed is putting it mildly.) As soon as Moos arrived on the AVE we took him out to Pedregalejo and had a nice lunch at El Cabra. We ordered their famous paella. Some concha fina (local clams on the half shell) and sardines while we waited. Sumptuous. So this weekend is a little breather, then Tuesday early we leave for Valencia: Fallas! Yesterday we had lunch at La Barra with the Antonios and company. It was wonderfully relaxing and during the lunch, sitting outside, right on the street, I was talking to Isabel about how sorely this would be missed next year. To join your friends at 2:15 for lunch with no worries about jumping up to run back to work after half an hour: that's civilized. We got up from coffee in the Plaza de la Merced at 6:30. On the other hand, we have yet to do our taxes and time is fast running out. Asun is not happy about this. (In the photo, Maria del Mar, Antonio, and Isabel the night of my birthday.)
Last night we brought the Leer la voz americana series to an end. The final session was dedicated to Sylvia Plath. Xoan Abeleira and Isabel Pérez Montalbán were the speakers and both were very good. And in friendly disagreement on a couple of points, which was nice to see. There was probably less discussion of translation than in previous sessions, as both Isabel and Xoan focused more on the myth of Plath and how that has affected how we read her. Lauren Wachtel and Marlena Meikrantz both read very nicely, as did Yana Roy, a University of Malaga student. After the event we walked over to Bar Emilio (which I think I had been misidentifying as Bar Emily) for the reading by Adrienne Su. I hadn't been in this bar in years. Emilio himself, ever the gracious host, greeted us at the door and made us feel right at home. There was an excellent turnout and Adrienne read for close to fifty minutes, which I think was about right. I read most of my translations, but recruited José Antonio Mesa Toré to read a couple. And two of Marcos Rodríguez's translation students read their versions of three of Adrienne's new poems. All in all a fun event and I think interesting for Adrienne to be able to meet some new poets.
I guess all of us have our little eccentricities. And a few of us have something else. Walking Waldo this morning I came across a curious sight, and not for the first time. A young man was standing on the sidewalk in very animated discussion with... the air in front of him. This was the third of fourth time I've seen this guy. It's very sad, he seems to be deeply schizophrenic. One hopes he's not a danger to himself or others. He certainly seems harmless, but troubled. Yesterday I came across a "happy" mentally ill man, but this young guy seems to have some inner awareness of his illness. That's purely speculative on my part, but it's the sense I get when I see him. (The image above is from a recent study on adolescent schizophrenics. Researches have found that their brains are literally wasting away. They found significant tissue loss over a five year period. Someday they'll find a cure. Then I came across The Walker. We see him a lot, the guy who's life seems to be thoroughly dedicated to walking all over Malaga at a quick pace. I suspect he suffers from some kind of compulsive obsessive disorder. You can see it in his face-don't talk to me, don't distract me, I'm on a mission. I see him at least a couple of times a week, usually on the Paseo Marítimo, but a few times I've seem him in completely different areas of the city. He's very thin.
Sunday morning, 9:30 am. They're getting ready for a running race in support of breast cancer research and they've got the start and finish set up right beneath the apartment. The noise is incredible. Why do Spaniards insist on accompanying these kinds of events with sound systems appropriate for stadium concerts? I'm all in favor of supporting cancer research, of course, but couldn't they skip the screeching music and obnoxious mc's? It's really too bad, because this huge crowd of women pumped up to run is a wonderful sight. What a shame that the organizers are ruining the morning for a whole neighborhood and to no purpose except that of perpetuating a national ill: the idea that if it makes a lot of noise it must be important. Unbelievable. Ok, so now the women have gone off running, few people are left, but the jerk with the microphone won't let up. I'm getting out of here–there's no fighting it. Well, at least it's a beautiful day. This is more like it. Hopefully winter is really gone now. On Friday I took Adrienne Su, her daughters and her mother to Granada. It rained and was rather chilly up at the Alhambra. They are in Seville today and will be back in Malaga tonight.
Last night it was Wallace Stevens' turn in the Leer la voz americana series. Paco Ruiz Noguera and colleague Jorge Sagastume were the presenters and both were fantastic. We had another good turnout and, again, the students read very nicely. Afterwards some of us went to La Reserva, new to me, and had a nice time talking over tapas. Stevens is the poet I've read least among those we've included in the series, but that will change. The more I read the grander his work becomes to me. At first reading he can seem difficult or somewhat hermetic, but to me his voice reveals a wonderful passion for life and a subtle sense of humor. His ability to communicate the idea that imagination is a force of almost sublime intelligence is striking. And how wonderfully he allows the reader vivid access to his imagination. Take, for example, "Man Carrying Thing", a poem, like so many by Stevens, that ends up being about itself. The visual image serves to illustrate a poetic truth, which in turn is exemplified in the poem as a whole. He could just as well have titled this poem "Almost successfully":
Man Carrying Thing
The poem must resist the intelligence
Almost successfully. Illustration:
A brune figure in winter evening resists
Identity. The thing he carries resists
The most necessitous sense. Accept them, then,
As secondary (parts not quite perceived
Of the obvious whole, uncertain particles
Of the certain solid, the primary free from doubt,
Things floating like the first hundred flakes of snow
Out of a storm we must endure all night,
Out of a storm of secondary things),
A horror of thoughts that suddenly are real.
We must endure our thoughts all night, until
The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.
The use of "necessitous" is a stroke of genious. And what a sense of humor: ok, dawn brings us the "bright obvious", but he astutely declines to identify the "thing". The thing is nothing? It's still secondary, as is the man. No more resistance–intelligence... returns?
On Sunday there were elections in Galicia and the Basque country. In Galicia the conservatives regained control of a region they are used to dominating. In Euskadi the Basque Nationalist Party may find itself out of power for the first time since the creation of the autonomous region back in the late seventies. They were the most voted party again, but didn't win enough seats to form a government. The non-nationalist parties could form a majority. (These were the first elections in which the political wing of ETA was prohibited from participating, for some making the election a fraud, and for others, myself included, making them more democratically legitimate. Should you allow the participation of organizations whose strength is partially predicated on fear, intimidation, and outright violence?) What would be unthinkable anywhere else in Spain, a coalition between socialists and conservatives, may come to pass in the Basque Country, where the left/right paradigm is trumped by the nationalist/non-nationalist divide.