A couple of days ago, I took Daniel to the post office. A rather taxing little errand (I had to park the car!) after which Daniel invited me to recuperate with a quick visit to the bar next door. He wanted me to try a little tapa (pintxo, here in the Basque Country) they do: a slice of bread topped with a quail's egg, caviar and just a dab of mayonnaise. Excellent. Daniel then suggested we compensate the relative saltiness of that treat with something else. Oysters. Hit the spot.
So much for the experiment: the photo of the Nigerian minister has not produced any results, nor has the inclusion of famous airheads. We move on. Yesterday, Feast of St. John, we visited Tolosa, where the locals celebrate their patron saint's day by marching around town parodying nineteenth century militias and generally acting silly. Noah Aldrich, there on a brief informal exchange, participated as a member of the "Peña Unión". It was a fun experience, something a little different and no doubt interesting for Cristina's friends. After the girls left I stayed and joined Pili and her family for a big holiday meal, which culminated with some wonderful roasted duck. And an extremely tempting invitation: Pili's brother Juan Carlos invited me to come back next year and march with his company as a rifleman (escopetero). He's the captain. Would I ever like to do that! If we could just get armies around the world committed to having fun, we could solve a whole hell of a lot of problems. March, dance, sing silly songs, fire a round of blanks into the air. Basques are really into marching around the streets of their towns in uniform. Andalusians are more into pilgrimages to the homes of goddesses, often on mountain tops, to drink, sing, and, dance. Everyone have fun!
The last blog entry was rather grim, so today we need the lighter side of things. Yesterday Daniel was showing me some interesting coins from his days as an enthusiastic numatist. Collecting of any kind has always been foreign to me and it's a mind set I just don't have. But sud-denly I realized that's not true, I am in fact a very novice collector of sorts. I collect coun- tries! The few of you who look at this blog will have noticed that a couple of weeks ago a visitor counter with map started appearing in the upper right corner. I saw that on another blog and it turned out to be so easy to add even I could figure it out. Initially I was very surprised to see the little dots start popping up. Then it started to make sense: Google! I'm sure most of the "visits" to this blog are not actual readers, but instead just the result of google searches. The odd tourist in Macedonia who is interested in Malaga. Macedonia! That one got my attention, as did Iceland. How's that for distinction? Yes, you may have a fancy car, but does anyone in Iceland read your blog? (Yes, yes, it's only ONE visit, but it still counts...) I think that one and Slovakia turned on the collecting switch in my twisted little brain. I need countries! Kind of like the game RISK: conquer the world! North America and Europe seem fairly easy, and there's been minimal contact from the East. But Africa? How do we reach Africa? And that's where the photo and the title of this entry come in. Do you think Henry Odein Ajumogobia, the Nigerian Minister of State for Energy googles himself? Well, we'll check back in a couple of days to see if we get any bites from Africa. Is this cheating? Who knows, maybe these word combinations can catch a visitor or two and help fill in my map:
Lindsay Lohan Drunk in Ghana!
Britney goes crazy in Egypt!
Paris Passes Out in Uganda!
Lindsay Held by Aliens!
Tragically, what's left of ETA, the Basque terrorist group, won't give up the madness of murder. On Friday morning they assassinated a Basque police officer, Eduardo Puelles, with a small bomb that went off when Puelles started his car. And this murder was especially cruel: Puelles was literally burned to death, trapped inside a vehicle turned into a gaseous bonfire. So these violent fanatics, reactionaries of the worst sort, add to their macabre legacy: another widow, more orphaned children. A family destroyed. Nothing good comes of these senseless murders, but the little world of ETA does keep shrinking, and the Basque country continues to take steps to deal with past sins of omission. Huge demonstrations in support of the victims are now the norm. To the shame of many, in the not so distant past the typical reaction to ETAs violence was a morally repugnant excess of silence. Yesterday tens of thousands took to the streets of Bilbao: "ETA NO!" And now that the Nationalists are out of power, the Orwellian discourse of circumlocution and evasion is gone. Fresh air. Last night I was in the "parte vieja" of San Sebastian with Cristina and several of her friends. This historic neighborhood is the traditional stronghold of the radicals in San Sebastian, but it seems even some of them are rethinking things. Those who are willing to publicly show sympathy for ETA are very few indeed these days. At least, that's the impression I got last night. It's subtle, but I think the signs are definitely there. Maybe some day we'll all be able to enjoy the beauty and culture of this extraordinary little country with less guilt. There is no doubt that San Sebastian embodies one of the most schizophrenic realities imaginable. Here we are in a uniquely beautiful city, full of very attractive, prosperous citizens who enjoy the good life, including arguably the world's greatest cuisine. Where bar hopping is a high art form and 'downtown' wraps itself around one of the most marvelous bays in the world. And where the slow drip of "ethnic" cleansing by assassination and intimidation has been a shameful scourge for way too long, and moral relativism of the most indignant kind has too often ruled the day. But things are getting better. Much, much better.
San Sebastian. Woke up this morning to a grey sky, very much like a typical day in Carlisle, and immediately I am reminded of how lucky we are to live in Malaga. The first challenge this morning has been coffee. Lack of! One coffee maker broke back in December and the one I tried this morning was also broken. Finally, the bar right below turned out to be a satisfactory alternative. Well, not entirely: I prefer a "clean, well-lighted place" with lots of company, the noise of the expresso machine steaming milk, the shouts of the barman calling out orders to the kitchen, the morning conversations of others... in short, I like to feel surrounded, reminded that life can be dynamic. For this cup of coffee my company was one very depressed looking woman talking to the bartender about her, yes, depression, and a very obnoxious slot machine spitting out a loud and annoying jingle. Oh well, the coffee wasn't bad and the day can only get better. (Later- the day has gotten better. I just back from an errand to purchase a new coffee maker. Works well! Am feeling much better. And thinking, not all addictions were created equal. So far I have not come across any serious consequences to my caffeine addiction. I seem to be managing it just fine. Cristina gets in from London this afternoon. Wonderful!
It's so much more pleasant to be at work on a Monday morning than it is on a Sunday evening. When I find myself working on a Sunday it's usually because I've messed up the week before and haven't been efficient and productive. Years, decades of inefficient work. At least, that's how I feel about it sometimes on Sundays. I guess it's all relative and there's no point in beating myself up over it, but, oh, sometimes the feelings of regret are quite strong. So many unfinished projects! So much underachievement! On the other hand, it may be helpful to watch out for ego-driven thinking. The past is gone. Amazing how that keeps happening! And taking ten minutes to jot down this little distraction? I need to be finishing an essay, and then there's lots of other work to do...
Regardless, overall the weekend was quite pleasant. Daniela was here, perhaps for the last time in Málaga. She'll get a few days in San Sebastian, then three more weeks of ballet before heading back to Carlisle. A very strange Corpus Christi procession yesterday. Just as the big custodia (the thing that holds the host for display; don't know what it's called in English) was being wheeled out of the cathedral (bogus–wheeled, not carried!), the band strikes up... the national anthem! Then there was the transvestite fan with the video camera right in the middle of the procession, the little boys with their outlandish Swiss guard uniforms, the pious women, the kids making their first communion, the crazy guy who has received a visit from JC himself trying to hand out to priests and seminarians the memo Jesus dictated to him about the "intermediate coming" (yes, I have the text)... all in all, unbeatable free entertainment for a Sunday stroll.
Daniela arrived Wednesday night and yesterday we took her to Córdoba, as she hadn't been there since she was a little girl. Córdoba, birthplace of the stoic philospher Seneca, the physician, Torah scholar and philospher Maimonides, and many, many great poets, including friend Pablo García Baena! But yesterday we focused our time on the famous Mosque-Cathedral, where we had a great visit. It is one of the world's truly extraordinary structures. It was built in the VIII century, then expanded in the IX and X centuries. Then the Christian temple was plopped down in the middle in the XVI century, but not finished until the latter part of the XVIII century. That's a millennium project! There's so much to see, including the spectacular Mihrab. (Asun and Daniela in front of the mihrab in the top photo; a mihrab is a niche in the wall of a mosque that points the faithful towards Mecca), but perhaps above all it's the size and the endless arches that most impress. Córdoba was a world center of wealth and power in the ninth and tenth centuries; today it's a pleasant provincial city, living mainly from tourism, services, and the wealth produced in the surrounding country side by olive oil. After lunch we visited the fortress-palace (Alcázar) created by Alfonso XI in the XIII century. It's not nearly as impressive as the Alcázar in Seville, for example, but it has much to recommend it, including its wonderful gardens, along with an extraordinary collection of Roman mosaics and sculptures. The mosaics were discovered right in Córdoba in 1958 and are the most impressive I have ever seen. They also have a marvelous III century Roman sarcophagus, discovered in another relatively recent excavation (see photo, above), of beautifully sculpted marble. Family size! The door in the center represents the entrance to Hades. On the right we see the family patriarch, who must have been an important local jurist, indicated by the scroll he holds, and in profile a sage is perhaps indicating to him the True Path. On the left is an image of the patriarch's wife. The sides of the sarcophagus have elegant reliefs of Pegassus. We ended our visit with a wonderful treat: the Arab baths! Fantastic hydrotherapy in a most pleasant setting. Massage included. Mens sana in corpore sano! In addition be being really quite relaxing, the occasion afforded an opportunity to discuss briefly with Daniela, while lounging in the warm water pool, the meaning of "civil", "civilized", etc. Civilization! (Workers, unemployed, retired, children, etc. of the world unite! You have much to lose, but get your societies organized to provide all its citizens with very high quality footwear and good hytrotherapy, and we'll all break free of some really stinking chains!)
Reading José Angel Cilleruelo's blog El Visir de Abisinia is always a pleasure and it never fails to offer the reader fresh surprises. There are often little jewels. In a recent entry José Angel, who lives in Barcelona, makes a very interesting observation about the nature of tourism. Here's a spontaneous translation:
I sit in Holy Family Square and watch the tourists go by. Just as they happily contemplate the city of monuments and its beauties, I admire the passion of the traveling couple, the friendship of the groups of friends, the family spirit of the families. Neither they nor I participate in an illusion. The naivety that surrounds tourism is an important path to happiness: belief that the world is well made* somewhere else. What they do not know about us –what I do not know about them– makes it possible to perceive only that which is pleasing. Which also exists.
*The world is well made: "El mundo está bien hecho." A famous line, often poorly interpreted, from a poem by Jorge Guillén, a famous XX century Spanish poet.
In any case, a tourist makes for a rich metaphor. When we get back to Carlisle, I want to be like a tourist, to see anew. And I'll need to do this translation anew. After all, José Angel has been cultivating for over a couple of years now this particular textual form, which is defined by the text having exactly one hundred words. Form and content. Oh, a slow start to the week: I haven't got either just right yet. (A little later: I still don't have it right, but I did get my translation into a one hundred word block. So, back to the Modernists: Make it new! (In the photo, a couple of happy tourists in Nerja.)
Yesterday we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon out in the country, back at Rosalind and Chris's place up behind Frigiliana. It was yingyangy weather –hot when the sun came out, chilly when the clouds passed over. Rosalind made another very nice paella. We brought some boquerones (anchovies) that I had prepared on Friday: cured in vinegar and lemon juice for twelve hours, then drained and covered in olive oil with some salt, garlic, and parsley. (See top photo.) Very good! What a wonderful spot: quiet, spectacular views, an unbeatable climate. Enviable. Photos are better for this.
I woke up this morning thinking about D-Day, of which we celebrate today the 65th anniversary. Actually, I thought about my father before going to bed last night, imagining the hour (around 2 am) may have been about the time he'd have been getting into a plane, preparing to be silently dropped onto the Continent. What must be going through your head when you know that in a very short time death is a very real possibility? Might you be feeling like a number in a lottery, like the Spanish Christmas lottery in which there are lots and lots of "winning" numbers? I don't know, but I suspect that to counter those potentially fearful thoughts a great effort would have been made to stay sharply focused on the details of the task at hand. Just a few minutes ago I finished reading Pedro Aparicio's weekly column in Diario Sur. He uses today's article to make a call for participation in tomorrow's European Parliament elections and at the beginning of the reflection he writes that at the conclusion of the war, "Half of Europe, including the Iberian peninsula, prolonged its drama under dictatorship. But the other half rose up thanks to freedom. Its big democratic political parties –left and right– explored their mutual identities and decided to share the values they did not want to give up: liberties, democracy, human rights, Europe, respect for borders. All the democrats got on 'the same shore', undertaking a dialogue that led to the Treaty of Rome." I don't really like to imagine my father pointing a gun at someone, but if ever violence was justified, surely the liberation of Europe from Nazi terror in the summer of 1944 was an example. So I'm grateful to friend Pedro for reminding me: "the other half rose up thanks to freedom..." And C.D. had a hand in that. The other night, at the presentation of his new book (a big volume that brings together five novels), Ballesteros talked about his past, about the fight for democracy in Spain. Links in a chain...
June 1st had been designated as a day of protest in favor of freedom in Cuba. Most Cubans have very limited and censored access to internet. "Real" access is available in the tourist hotels at prices that are prohibitive to almost the entire population. So this post is my minimal contribution to this campaign: read the Cuban bloggers, if you go to Cuba, buy internet access cards and distribute them. And know that Guantánamo is not the only place in Cuba where torture is practiced. Varela Project coordinator Tony Díaz Sánchez continues to be imprisioned, along with many other prisoners of conscience, and indepedent reports inform that he is currently being held in infrahuman conditions, in total isolation, for his unwillingness to "cooperate". The Castro brothers long ago lost their ability to keep the Cuban population deceived with their massive propaganda machine. That game is over. All that's left is the obedience that comes from fear. And the ability to impose fear, too, seems to be waning.
I don't think the communist regime can survive the deaths of the Castro Brothers. Let's hope that the change will put ordinary Cubans in charge of their sovereignty. They don't need "tutors", neither from Washington, Madrid nor Miami. And certainly not from Caracas.
Julián Rojas is a photographer for El País, the most influential Spanish language newspaper in the world. Above are three of his recent photos, treating very different, almost antithetical subjects, all of which, nonetheless, share a concern with economics and people in situations of extreme duress. First we see a portrait of two undocumented immigrants (los sin papeles) awaiting deportation in a detention center in Algeciras. These desperate workers have become expendable in the current financial disaster. In the middle photo we see the most famous bullfighter of the day, José Tomás, just escaping a fatal and thoroughly nightmarish goring on Easter Sunday (!) here in Málaga. (Asun was there.) Look closely and note where the bull's right horn is! Yycchs!, that was a close call! Tomas' willingness to take these risks, along with his extraordinary artistry, have brought him tremendous wealth and fame. The last photo shows a line of women crossing from Ceuta, one of Spain's two cities on the coast of Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar, back into Morocco. They go into general merchandise warehouses and load up with a variety of consumer products that they carry into Morocco, thus avoiding heavy customs tariffs for the sellers. They make good money, by Moroccan standards, but it's dangerous work. Apart from the great physical toll (they carry up to sixty pounds), sometimes the border crossing suffers "stampedes", probably provoked, to distract the police so some of them can avoid inspection. Last week two women were killed in a stampede. Julián's photo is rich with irony by virtue of capturing majestically the very straight line the women form. Are they soldiers? Tourists? Obedient like mules? The scene's tragic context offers a minor but poignant glimpse of our globalized world.
Yes, Julián is a tremendous photographer, but more importantly for me, he's also a good friend, and a more generous soul is hard to imagine. Last night we shared a great dinner over at Murphy's with Asun, Antonio and Maria del Mar. Julián regaled me with two bottles of extraordinary olive oil from his town, Jaén. I just had a little with breakfast. Ohhh!!! Thank you, Julián!
This morning newspapers all over the world will have headlines about the tragic Air France accident somewhere over the atlantic ocean. These accidents are extremely rare and that's a major reason news media consider them attention worthy. We were talking about this last night, about how the loss of life on highways is exponentially greater and constitutes a much bigger safety problem, but because it is sadly so routine, the constant "trickle" of car crash deaths has little repercussion in the press. Air travel has become routine for tens (hundreds?) of millions of people around the world. It's a defining characteristic of our age and we take for granted its ultrahigh degree of safety. I worry much more about our girls crossing the street than I do about them getting on a plane. And they do get on planes. And trains, buses, and hop into cars... This morning Alma is in New York, Cristina is in London, and Daniela is in Madrid. Subway, Underground, Metro... they'll get around. (Mom and Dad are the catetos: we'll just walk today-Malaga's metro is under construction but is still a couple of years away.) This geographical dispersal is sometimes a little disconcerting, but I guess it's for good reasons. It's our little decentralization phenomenon. I trust we will all coincide at some point later this summer. We have to be centered on some level. The home as physical gravitation point has been greatly weakened in our age, especially in US society. So we need alternative centers. The telephone, email, video chats, etc., all become very important. As does the imagination. (In the photo, dawn from Alma's bedroom on East 25th Street.)