Beach Ecstasy

Yesterday at the beach I had a brief moment, extremely pleasurable, which perhaps approximated a certain type of ecstasy, as described by E. M. Cioran in an essay I had read a couple of days earlier: "This class of ecstasy (extasis in the Spanish translation of the original French) gives us neither an explicit certainty nor a definitive knowledge; but the feeling of an essential participation is so intense that it goes beyond all the limits and categories of habitual knowledge. It's as if... a door had been opened and through it we see the very nucleus of existence and are able to apprehend it through the most simple and essential vision, in the most extraordinary metaphysical rapture." (I wrote a little about Cioran in an earlier entry but I can't find it right now...) Well, perhaps that's slightly overstated; nonetheless, the moment impressed me greatly and a shadow of it stayed with me. We had gone towards Nerja with Daniela to have some relaxing beach time, and we certainly found it: a lovely little strip of sand where there were only a small handful of other beach goers. After about an hour or so, having been in the water, read a little, and had a sandwich, I was just staring at the water as it reached its limit on the shore a few feet in front of me. Over and over. The sound and movement became hypnotic. The reflections of the bright midday light on the sand and stones carried me to an almost trance-like state. I thought for a moment of another recent reading, an essay on the "architectures of desire" in which the author recalls how hindus have over 330 million gods and goddesses. A god for almost everything. Why not? So I figured it would be o.k. to add one more to the pantheon: Irma, goddess of the little stone on a Mediterranean beach that reflects the sunlight with particular style. And then it happened: for just a moment, everything was... gone? Time, thought, self-awareness... I was so gone I was there. Nowhere? You know, part of the universe without the weight of it all, without the needs of the self. But of course, it can't possibly last. Time imposes its unforgiving law. Tic-toc, tic-toc... But you come back to yourself thinking, hey, wasn't that nice. Could we go again? The universe rolls on, or out. We're forever on an outbound train, no? Luckily for me, it's been a very pleasurable ride so far, so there's no lament. Now I can keep looking for the next "ecstasy". Encore, maestro! Later, back in Málaga, whoever prepared us the patatas al mojo picón at the bar Garum last night came pretty close to provoking a quick return to the "metaphysical rapture", which on occasion I hear echoes of in Waldo's baritone bark.


Go ahead...

A new battle. The no good gulls have failed to respect the terms of the ceasefire: two nights ago they woke me up before dawn with their obnoxius squawking. Enough is enough! Fortunately, I have some understanding friends, and yesterday Murphy and Mark presented me with this beautiful, superduper high-powered squirt gun. I started off easy, hoping to coax them into better behavior, but to no avail. Yesterday evening as I was coming in from a walk with Waldo, one of those stinking louts dive bombed us with a ferocity that was totally uncalled for. Poor Waldo! The good buddy is still recovering from Wednesday night, when Barcelona's victory over Manchester United sparked the typical celebration with honking and the setting off of fireworks. If there is one thing Waldo cannot abide it's a firecracker, and after Barça's big win he had to deal with a tremendous auditory assault on his big old ears and frayed nerves. But he has plodded on with dignity, the essence of which is marvelously captured in this watercolor so beautifully and generously done by Mark Steele. "Waldo Sleeping". Yes, and Waldo is going to be sleeping even more serenely soon, for if the gulls think all they are dealing with are benign streams of water, ha!, they're in for quite a surprise. Today we add pepper and other secret ingredients. Go ahead gulls, make my day!


Antequera, Again

Yesterday we took Danny and Mark Steele to Antequera and had a really fine visit. We started with the megaliths, then lunch at El Angelote, where I had truly one of the most outstanding steaks I've ever eaten. Had I known it was going to be so incredible I wouldn't have ordered it because post-consumption I had to deal with the guilt. But forgiveness is always but a step away: after lunch is was the ecclesiastical tour -- the church of Carmen, the Teressian convent, and the church of St. Sebastian. Finally, on the way home we stopped at El Torcal and had a beautiful hike. The church of Carmen is always amazing, but what most got my attention on this trip were the little porcelain baby Jesus's in the museum of the Teressian convent. They are mainly 17th and 18th century figures, with a few from the 19th century. It's quite strange how the artists depicted Jesus in so many different "poses" and how the nuns dressed him up in all kind of manner. (Just like Barbie and Ken - an outfit for every occasion!) One of my favorites was Priest Jesus, depicted consecrating the host. Hey, the little kid is about to eat himself! Crybaby Jesus was also interesting (a tad more understandable, no?), and Sleepyhead Jesus was one I could definitely identify with. And I saw an image I'd never seen before: the Virgin represented as a little baby! And another: a painting of "Our Lady of the Book"! Now there's a good vocation, assuming, of course, we mean books in general. All these strange representations got me thinking about the strong emphasis here in Southern Spain on the most human aspects of their religion. The Counterreformation was no doubt for the most part a thoroughly awful undertaking that created unspeakable suffering for people around the world, but if there's a sliver of light to be found, apart from its superlative artistic legacy, perhaps it is in the peculiar transformation of religion that took place, in my view, in Southern Spain: the biography of Jesus becomes an elaborate drama designed to generate empathy and identification, and the importance of belief in "the one God" seems to dissipate. Belief becomes belief in ourselves. Humanism ends up winning anyway.
Our hike through the Torcal was quite memorable. We spotted several mountain goats high up on the strange rocks, and also saw two foxes (plural of fox? One fox, two fox; one fox, two foxes?) one of which was quite large. In the phot0, a carefree kid on the edge of a cliff.


Cease fire!

So far I seem to be losing the war against the gulls. And I admit they had me a little unnerved, as for a few days they seemed to single me out for dive bombing attacks as I left the building. Oh well. Then I found out that they've got a nest with eggs two stories below us, so we negotiated a ceasefire. That's not fair play on their part, using the young and innocent as shields. In any case, minor distractions during a busy week. Plenty of visits, work, etc. Cristina left for England last night and the other day I sent her an interesting essay I had read in Harper's, a lament for the loss of civility in English life. The author, Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, may come across as somewhat of a sourpuss, but he makes some good points. He writes about a great loss of decorum in contemporary society. How right! As I read I found myself heartily agreeing: we must always act with the proper decorum. Then I remembered my most recent blog entries! Yes, I am a model of decorum! So, where are we? Public life in Malaga is curious. The general kindness of people here is hard to match; I find there are large doses of generosity, patience, and good will. Yet, there is also a great of deal of uncivil behavior, manifested most often as widespread disregard for the impact of individual acts on others. In short, selfish inconsideration (noise, litter, etc.)
Yesterday I drove Murphy and Mark Steele out to Frigiliana, where Rosalind prepared a wonderful paella. There were too many big, wonderful dinners this past week and we must put an end to it. Before the paella we had some splendid razor clams, in the photo.


Part Two!

And here's the conclusion of our first video production. Spontaneous and unedited! (But make sure you see part I first, in the previous entry.)


New Food Rage!

Today everything is ok. Asun and Daniela came in from Madrid friday night. And Murphy arrived too. Yesterday we had a nice lunch at Emilia's to welcome back Ana Salinas from Strassbourg. This morning I've been reading José Antonio Muñoz Rojas, the centenarian poet form Antequera who has been "rescued" for literary history in recent years. He's quite enjoyable to read. (Another activity this morning has been doing war with the seagulls, a few of whom have very strangely decided that our terrace is now their territory. This has never happened before and it's rather disconcerting. I've had two direct hits so far with pepper water!) Last night we went to see Victor Ullate's company do Coppelia at the Teatro Cervantes. It was a good performance, if rather uninspired. We were supposed to meet with Víctor before or after the show to talk about Daniela (and perhaps disabuse him of the illusion that she's staying next year), but he had some kind of health emergency and couldn't make it. Apparently he's ok. The theater was full, which is always nice to see. The lead role was danced by Alessandra Ball, a young American from Atlanta. She was very good. Finally, my first video, dedicated to a a fascinating topic: the latest Spanish food craze.
Apparently we have a very slow internet connection here, so this thing took quite a while to upload. Enjoy!


Don't Want to Forget...

These are just notes to help my memory: was in Madrid last Friday for APUNE meetings. (Boring.) Asun arrived Saturday midday. Daniela was tied up with ballet, so we didn't get to spend much time together, but we managed to go out Saturday evening and see a truly awful movie (Little Ashes, about the Garcia Lorca, Dali, and Luis Buñuel). Sunday Asun and I visited the Lázaro Galdeano Museum. What a wonderful surprise. A fantastic, eclectic collection. Last night we had a dinner at Biltmore with the students, along with this year's invited speakers: Juvenal, Teo León Gross, Soler, María del Mar, and Pedro Aparicio. Arcas also joined us, along with Pedro's wife María and Alicia. Asun is still in Madrid with Daniela. They arrive Friday night.
The students are done and tonight we have our copa de despedida.  They've been a wonderful group, and I will miss them, but I guess I'll see them back in Carlisle. (In the photo, Pili, Gustavo, María del Mar, Asun, Ana. A little relaxation at the end of Holy Week.)


The Dog Turned into a Lion

In a recent post I made reference to a hallucinatory experience I had many years ago. It's a simple story that took place in the spring of 1979, at a time when I experimented with LSD. (Girls: remember, you are NOT to emulate your father!) Well, on one ocassion, I think it must have been a Saturday, we decided to take some LSD around midday. Before long people started to wander off and I got the bright idea that a bike ride would be just the thing. So off I went, headed for the country roads not far from campus. The landscapes I thought I was so familiar with were looking both distorted and more beautiful than ever. I felt as if I were inside a constantly changing English landscape painting. I was enjoying myself tremendously, but I recall feeling a touch of sadness about the impossibility of sharing this enjoyment. Yes, I was having a grand time, but was also feeling intimations of loneliness. (In retrospect, I suspect many twenty year olds experience this; not necessarily loneliness itself, but an acute awareness of its threat.) At one point I found myself coming up a long but not steep hill at the top of which there was a small farmhouse. As I got to the top of the rise I could see there was a big dog on the front porch of the house. When I was just passed the house I noticed that the dog decided he was going to chase me a little. At first it seemed he wanted to have fun, but as his trot gathered speed I started to fear his attitude was perhaps a little too aggressive for fun. I pedaled harder. He was getting really close to me. A little further and I'd start to pick up speed on the downward slope. I looked back and, oh my, the dog had just turned into a big lion! For a couple or few seconds I felt really terrified, but I still had enough of the rational part of my brain functioning so that in very short time I was able to remind myself that, in fact, dogs do not turn into lions and that my brain was simply experiencing a particularly strong visual hallucination due to the effects of the LSD. And what a hallucination! What I mean by that is the utterly convincing, "photographic" quality of the hallucinatory image, which, for a short time also had a scary auditory component. Roar! Right at my heels. It's not that the dog 'looked kind of like a lion'. Not that at all! No, for a brief moment I was seeing a real lion, big mane, long tall... a lion in every detail. Scary! Fortunately, the lion quickly turned back into a dog which stayed within the bounds of its yard. As I coasted down the hill I tried to process what I had just experienced, but I imagine I didn't get much past "wow!"  I don't remember too much of the rest of the day except that the bike ride was followed by a gloriously wonderful walk in the woods (with no scary hallucinations!) during which I determined that big old trees were the true sages of the universe. Innocent nonsense for the most part. For days and weeks afterward I kept coming back to the experience and I think my curiosity about it even prodded me to pay closer attention in my symbolic logic class. Truth claims! And it also led to some extra time in the library and the beginnings of interest in neurology! (Above, "Dedham Vale", by John Constable.)


Up to the Hills

We took the students up to the Montes de Málaga yesterday for a paella and some relaxation in the mountains. It was a splendid day and everyone had a fine time. The paella turned out just right.  Very funny: when the first round of salad ran out Asun went to make some more. Very simple. Finishing up, she grabbed a little tupperware container and proceeded to dress the salad. Olive oil. NOT! She had grabbed the liquid soap that I had brought along for cleaning up. Mmmm. Soapy salad! Wonderful! As I said, the paella came out beautifully, but I'm sure this event will forever be remembered for the soap dressed salad! Now it's four days of exams and everyone's done. A good year. Asun and I seem agreed that it would not be a bad thing at all to win the lottery and settle down in Malaga. We could live with that just fine. This afternoon we present "Té con Biznagas", the little anthology of contemporary Malaga poets in English. Then right from the hotel it's off to Madrid for the APUNE meeting and to see Daniela. Asun follows on Saturday.


Book Fair

This week Malaga is celebrating its annual Feria del Libro. The stands are all set up on the Paseo del Parque and the week is full of book signings, presentations, conferences etc. Last night novelists Clara Sánchez and Rafael Chirbes joined Soler for a round table session on the generic topic of Novela y creación.  It was an interesting event, but not especially substantive. The discussion was moderated by Pablo Aranda. I'm trying to come up with some memorable comment, but I keep drawing blanks. (Reminder for me: afterwards we walked Isabel part way home then stopped by the Plaza de la Marina with Arcas to get something to eat at the Feria Intercultural they've got set up there. We chose the Puerto Rico stand, but actually the women there were Cuban. They were very nice and we had an interesting conversation with them as we ate some decidely mediocre food.) Speaking of books, right now I'm reading Javier Cercas' Anatomía de un instante, an in-depth look at the failed coup attempt of 1981, known here simply as "23-F", for the date: February 23rd.  It's an excellent book, truly fascinating. I haven't been keeping up with taking note of current reading. Oh well. (Red Sox just beat the Yanks in NY. That makes them 4-0 against the bombers so far this year.) In the photo, the Paseo del Parque with the stalls set up for the book fair.


A Gastronome's Paradise?

According to the 2009 rankings of that iconic Italian water, San Pellegrino, among the eight best restaurants in the world, four are in Spain. That's really rather extraordinary. They are El Bulli (#1), Mugaritz (#4), El Celler de Can Roca (#5), and Arzak (#8). Two in Catalonia and two in the Basque country. Filling out the top ten are two from the US, two from France, and one each from the UK and Denmark. Asun had a memorable lunch with Cristi and Daniel at Arzak back in December to celebrate Daniel's eightieth birthday. The star chefs who lead these culinary meccas have mentored dozens and dozens of other extraordinary chefs, creating a ripple effect that one does notice all over the country. We're not exactly suffering down South. Expectations are high. I've written earlier about Dani Garcia's place here in Malaga, and that's just one of many superb tapas bars available to us around the city. And the 12 euro menú del día at Bilmore, while not really high cuisine, is always excellent; a better meal would be difficult to get for three times the price in the US. Just within a quarter mile radius of this apartment we've got a dozen magnificent restaurants to choose from. And San Sebastian? For the past several years I've been having lots of fun listening to Daniel Arnedo describe the "errands" he must run downtown. Oh, the sacrifices. The basic narrative goes like this: "well, I had to go pick up some medications at the cooperative, and since I was right there, I thought I'd just stop by X (name of some fine bar) to rest for a minute. Well, the kind gentleman tending bar suggested I try some Y (fill in with some amazing culinary invention). Oh, holy Mother, it really hit the spot, and the wine that went with it was simply extraordinary..." And so it goes, day after day. His latest errand brought him back to the basics: just a glass of nice white wine and three fresh oysters. Not a bad midmorning snack for an eighty year old. (In the photo, Daniela in front of some nice looking raw octopus in the famous Boqueria market in Barcelona.)


Let's get working

May 1st. Workers' Day! So let's talk about work. This morning there is an interesting article in the Times by David Brooks, who I typically find rather pedantic. He writes about genius and the common notion, now supported by recent research, that talent really is, after all, mainly a question of hard work and practice. This is the third or fourth article I've read in the past several weeks on this new research. So, kiddies, no excuses. Get working. Brooks refers to a tennis academy in Russia where the students practice rallies without a ball. The idea is to get the student to slow down and focus exclusively on technique. Brooks points out that "in this way, performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough." Tell me about it! Excepting perhaps basketball, my motto growing up, more than "good enough", was more like "what the hell." (And, unfortunately, for me, the genetic hand I was dealt did not really help in terms of pursuing a future in basketball. See any 5' 7'' white guys in the NBA recently?) As a young woman Marcia Dale Weary clearly understood this reality intuitively. This is why I find seeing a few minutes of a class at CPYB so fascinating. Repeat, repeat... again, again. Stop. Correct. Again... Of course genes play a role, but perhaps we've been giving them way too much credit. There are four principal dancers in New York City Ballet, considered by many the top ballet company in the world, who did their formative training in Carlisle at CPYB. It ain't the water. (You will also find CPYB alums in the principal ranks of many of the world's top ballet companies.) There is a photo, reproduced above, CPYB uses often in their brochures and programs of Marcia Dale Weary down on hands and knees helping a small child get her foot into exactly the right position. It's a charming photo and gets right at the heart of this question: no detail is too small. (And, we might add, the poignant symbolic lesson: no true master is too proud to humble him/herself if it's necessary for the development of the student.) Technical perfection is a prerequisite for those who want to aim high. You can't cut corners. Etc., etc. If ballet were a question of inherent talent, you'd expect the top companies to be populated with kids coming out of little academies from all over the world. But it doesn't work like that. They come mainly from the handful of places where the work and dedication is most intensive. But it's a wonderful thing we have all these little dance schools (and art schools, saturday morning soccer leagues, piano lessons, etc.): life would be pretty darn miserable if we could only experience the new through the filter of intensive training.
Yesterday Soler visited the literature class taught by Antonio Hierro. He came to talk about his work with Banderas on the film adapatation of his novel El camino de los ingleses. It was an excellent session and Soler, as always, made some observations that reminded me of his own experiences and his determination, from a young age, to be a novelist. And not just a novelist, but one of the very best. Work, work, work... and it's paying off. National Critics Prize, Nadal Prize, general critical praise, etc. In the larger photo, CPYB alum Ashley Bouder, critically acclaimed principal at New York City Ballet. So, from top photo to bottom photo we're talking well over 10,000 hours of exhausting training. Literally. I'm guessing Daniela is somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000. Seems pretty crazy, but who's to question another's dreams? And if the dream takes another direction, or simply doesn't work out? That's fine. After all, excuse the cliché, it's about the journey.