Transitional moment?

Yesterday Asun, Daniela and I drove up to Little Compton from Carlisle. We stopped in Manhattan and had lunch with Alma and Jake. Very heavy traffic on 95. Peter and Widgie prepared us a wonderful dinner. Peter grilled swordfish and chicken and there was salad, fresh peas, and corn on the cob. And rasberry crunch for dessert! All wonderful! During the dinner conversation our little "Western Leone" adventure came up and Peter said I had to write about it, as it was like a transition experience for our return to the US. True! On the way back from Almeria we took the interior route, as opposed to going along the coast. Soler, Maria del Mar and Murphy were in one car; Daniela, Asun and I in another.  In the middle of the Almeria desert we stopped at a classic tourist trap: "Western Leone". This is an area where many spaghetti westerns were filmed in the sixties and seventies. You can visit some of the sets, but I doubt the place we visited, right off the highway, was an actual set. Maybe. It seemed more like a mini-theme park built specifically for tourists. Just like in the movies: bank, saloon, general store, sheriff's office... even a stand for public hangings right in the square! Well, the theme park had clearly gone out of business and now four locals were trying to make a go of it. Well, it was four guys and a woman (girlfriend?) who sold the tickets at the entrance. We were accompanied by about a dozen other tourists, all of us looking pretty stupid being outdoors in the 100+ degree heat. We were just in time for the 'big show'. The four guys running the place did a standard scene on horseback: the bad guy comes and robs the bank, the sheriff and his trusty but none too bright assistant put on the chase, and it all ends with a classic shoot out. The good guys, of course, win. Audience participation encouraged! How many times can you be threatened with a gun in twenty-five minutes! It was all very silly, but these guys had a good sense of humor and everyone seemed to laugh off the fact that we'd just been had. Well, that's what the old west was all about, no? But all for a good cause: keeping five people gainfully employed. We had signed up for lunch before the show, so after pictures with the 'stars' we trudged over to the restaurant. The actors got mainly out of character and morfed into restaurateurs. The ticket taker doubled as the cook, the sheriff became our waiter, etc. The food was pretty bad, but what else could be expected? After lunch we drove off, but not quite into the sunset. It was still scorching hot. That night, good food in Pedregalejo, where Julián and Fernando joined us. Good byes. Bittersweet.


Back in Carlisle

We made it back to Carlisle, Waldo survived the marathon, and on Sunday we had a very, very brief family reunion. (Alma took the train down from NY and spent a few hours with us before having to head right back.) The first time we'd all been together since Christmas. Splendid!
When switching countries after an extended time it's impossible to avoid being comparative. I can't help it and I think I've written about this before. On this occasion, one of the little details that really struck was an observation I made at our local Comfort Suites, where we stayed Sunday night. The rooms at this hotel are quite large and very nicely appointed. By European standards you'd think you were in at least a four star hotel. The spaciousness and nice furniture were what you'd find in a five star hotel. So what's with the giant coke machine in the hallway? Then, at breakfast the next morning we have to serve ourselves with plastic plates, plastic utensils and paper cups for the coffee. I found the contrast rather startling. And what did we actually eat? Several carbohydrate options, including do-it-yourself waffles, that you could top with a variety of flavored corn syrup products. That's another very American characteristic: the idea that having "options" is absolutely requisite in every phase of life. But until you become used to this little cultural tic, it's terribly annoying. I better not get started... 
It rained last night here, what a wonderful sight! The lush vegetation is overwhelming. Also overwhelming is the sea of boxes that has occupied our house. Very slowly we are making progress. And trying to paint the living room at the same time. Help!


The End

Trying to tie up loose ends so we can leave Malaga with things in order. Tomorrow FedEx comes to pick up many boxes and a giant paella dish. It's going to be hectic but today is the Feast of the Virgen del Carmen, matron saint of seafaring folk, so we'll try to be festive. Then Saturday morning an early departure for a long day of travel. Murphy left first thing this morning. We had a nice dinner last night at Maricuchi. We got back to Malaga yesterday afternoon from Almeria, where Daniela gave a wonderful, albeit brief, performance in the I Almeria International Dance Festival and Competition. Her solo variation from Paris in Flames was enthusiastically applauded by a large audience that filled the concert hall. A wonderful choice by Daniela for a July 14th performance! It was an interesting event because there were several kinds of dancing: ballet, Spanish dance, contemporary and flamenco. Daniela, too young to compete, was one of four guest artists on the program. Her friend from Victor Ullate's school, Helena Balla, who's 18, got second place in the ballet competition. In order of performance, Daniela followed the first place winner in Spanish dance. Wow! That young woman gave a crowd pleasing show full of sensuality, foot stomping, and great elegance. It lasted close to ten minutes and the audience really ate it up. Olé! Hmm, how was our fourteen year old going to deal with this? The change in pace would be brutal. Here comes a delicate, two minute ballet solo. I knew she wouldn't crack, but I was a little concerned about audience receptiveness. How silly of me. Daniela, her white leotard and delicate white tutu decorated with the colors of the French flag, danced beautifully and won the crowd over in an instant. Fanstastic. Anyone wondering what a fourteen year old was doing sharing the guest artist bill with seasoned professionals had their doubts erased. Daniela's poise never ceases to impress me. This is something she must have picked up from her sisters. And it was wonderful that her aunt Cristi, abuelo Daniel, cousin June, and friends from Malaga were all there to enjoy the show. Including the friends of Maria del Mar's mother, we had an enthusiastic 'Daniela contingent' of close to twenty. It was a nice way to end the year. Victor is very sorry to see her go. Well, it's off to do errands and finish closing up boxes. This is it for "A Year in Malaga". One could write a book on what these past two years have been like. Quite an adventure. And a fun last several weeks with our trip to San Sebastian, seeing Cristina, the visit from the Ohlstens... Overall, wonderful doesn't do it justice. I'm still trying to figure out how you write about what you think is real and important, about family and friendships and how time passes. Oh well. Right now, for example, I'm simply too tired and just a little stressed about this move. That's the deal today, and as Daniela knows, today is the deal. And Cristina knows you get what you get, and Alma knows you've got to stay calm. Asun simply knows. Waldo clearly thinks he knows it all. Does he know he's about to be cruelly pulled from paradise? The blog will keep going from the other side of the Atlantic, maybe with a new title. 


More on Astronomy

Yesterday's news about the Planck spacecraft led me to a little further reading and I came across the following statement from a 2003 article that reported on a then new estimate of the number of stars in the universe: "The result [of the calculations] is said to be more stars than there are grains of sand on all of Earth's beaches". Imagine that! That's what I call unfathomable. Do an experiment. Take one handful of sand from the beach. Just one puny handful. Try to count the grains. You'll get tired of it before long. Imagine a whole beach. Miles of beaches. Thousands of miles of beaches... Feeling kind of small? And every grain of sand, every star, separated by billions and billions upon billions of miles. I'm feeling dizzy. Maybe it's all just a joke. God is playing an incredible joke on us, right? When he senses that we're closing in on the answer he'll say, ok, enough already, I was just kidding... That's the optimist's, the dreamer's view. More likely, we are so small and insignificant, not even God remembers us. In fact, the very idea of God is just a strange evolutionary coping mechanism. Back to the rabbit: yes, the universe is so big that it's quite reasonable to imagine seemingly absurd realties. So big... that it's perfectly normal to imagine another world on which a being just like me is writing these very words at this very moment. Maybe the only difference is he's a rabbit. And I'm a human (so they say) and like to eat well. Last night Danny, Asun and I had the world's greatest eggplant at the Fogón Argentino, right here in the neighborhood. Then we followed that up with the boletus edulis croquettes at the Dehesa Extremeña.  Wow! I believe you could search entire galaxies before coming across something so delicious! And the Belgian chocolate ice cream from Trastevere to wash it all down was not bad either. 


And the Rabbit Jumped Over the Moon?

I was just reading about the ESA's Planck spacecraft, now identified as the coldest object in the universe! Planck is helping scientists with research on Cosmic Microwave Background. Detecting incredibly small variations in temperature is apparently quite important in this endeavor and the instruments are so amazing, someone came up with the following analogy to help us comprehend the magnitude of this particular poetry: it is "comparable to measuring from earth the heat of a rabbit on the moon." Wow! A rabbit on the moon? And if there were TWO rabbits? That might be too much heat for such a sensitive instrument. But it's a lovely image and I'm afraid it might interest me more than the cosmic microwave background itself. I have learned that the universe is so, so unfathomably large that somewhere there is, indeed, a rabbit on a moon. No doubt.

The Heat is On

It's hot! The past couple of days we've had "terral", the very hot, dry weather that sometimes blows in during July and August. Many people believe the "terral" is really hot air blowing across the Mediterranean from the Sahara desert, but that's a myth. In fact, it's simply when the wind blows hot air from the interior down to the coast. Sunday night it was quite something. And it's not just the weather that's unstable: everyone is coming and going as we try to get organized to leave Spain. We've been having a grand time with the Ohlstens, Jay and Karen, and daughter Olivia, but they are visiting Madrid right now and will be back Thursday. Daniela is finishing up in Madrid, Alma is in Geneva, and Cristina, I think, is in Carlisle; last I heard she was preparing to jump out of an airplane, one trusts with a well functioning parachute. Last night Julián's brother, sister-in-law, and niece were visiting. We had fun meeting them and enjoying some great food at Lo Güeno. In the photo some habitas con jamón.


My name is Holden and I'm an alcoholic...

Might we find this in a novel? "Hi, my name is Holden and I'm an alcoholic."  Or, "No, no, what I mean is my name is Holden and I no longer belong to my creator, some guy who calls himself 'J. D. Salinger'. This phony thinks he can control me, but I escaped long ago. It's really too bad so many crumby people take themselves so seriously. What's with this guy, anyway? Hey, Mr. Yahoo, in case you hadn't noticed, I suffer from multiple personality disorder. But I take Prozac and I've been getting personal coaching. I'm also a born-again Christian. Maybe. Also in doubt is my sexual orientation. Or not. Didn't you ever read Cervantes, you Bozo? Don Quixote got his revenge on his impersonator within the pages of his creator's epic novel, not some stinking courtroom. So now I've got a stepfather, or maybe an uncle, a Swedish guy who calls himself J. D. California. Ha! That's pretty good. How many novels has the dumb judge in New York read? Deborah, what are you thinking? Copyright on a character? A style? Another madwoman. So depressing. Phoebe was looking forward to reading about the fake me, but now she's going to have to wait." But not really: the book has already been published in Britain. And if Salinger wanted revenge he sure blew it. Plus he must be pretty stupid. Ripped off? To be so honored! There's not a chance in the world "60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye" won't eventually be published in the US. And now it's just about guaranteed to be a  bestseller. Banned in the US. That's almost as good a "Banned in Boston"! 


X Amount of Time

Back in Málaga. On Sunday I drove to Madrid with Daniela and Noah, got Daniela settled in the Residencia, where she'll be for the next two weeks, and took Noah to the airport Monday morning for his flight back to the US. Asun will rejoin me this weekend.
    Walking with Waldo yesterday morning I found myself thinking that our brains are programmed to work narratively. I don't think we can avoid it. Is this the price of consciousness? Or its reward? Maybe it's the nature of time itself. As a friend said last night, the awful thing about time is that it passes. Of course. Maybe that's one of the functions of sleep: it gives us the illusion of time stopping. A breather. I pray a lot for a good ending. But, as they say, watch out what you pray for: how am I going to react if I go to the doctor, he listens to my heart and concludes, "you've got thirty days."?  As Robin would say, "Holy Time Bomb, Batman!"  This is our grand challenge, no? Dying with grace, not being overcome by fear. Better work on those things we want to be a part of the narrative. We have X amount of time. I try to stay aware of that, but not paralyzed by it: spend it well. Last night, for example, Danny, Julián, Antonio, María del Mar and I started "planning" our 2010 transcontinental tour USA. This will certainly be grand fun. July, 2010. In the photo, an espeto of sardines. Is it wrong to interrupt their narrative? (Cristina, what do you think?)