Today I've been reading a couple of essays by philosopher María Zambrano, who was from Malaga. She uses the metaphor of a clearing in a forest-this is what we must search for. Now there's a metaphor I can appreciate. The forest is uncertain, mutable. We need to come out into a clearing now and then. Another metaphor she uses in one of her essays is quite interesting, and perhaps unsurprising for someone who grew up in Malaga. She is talking about history. Here's a spontaneous translation: "If time, which conditions human life, were to flow without projecting its own shadow back on itself, if it were not curved, as it seems that all is on this earth, history would be a transparent mirror, like those calm bends in rivers that reflect earth and sky, and some cities, where such a privilege can be enjoyed" Certainly no rivers in Malaga! And so we must suffer an existence in time. And a little further on: "And so, more than onto an embracing and sustaining earth, man seems to have been deposited into waters from which he can barely emerge, like a nascent sun, even though he thinks he has a complete face, his face." But Zambrano is actually a fairly optimistic thinker. And a beautiful writer. More on her soon...
A post datum: this past weekend I noticed something rather curious regarding this blog. I've observed that the blog seems to get about 10-12 hits a day. 8, 12, 16, are typical numbers. I think one day there were twenty something hits. So I was quite surprised to see on Friday or Saturday, 87. What happened? I was curious so I looked again the following day: 54. I imagined maybe someone somewhere had created a link. But now it's back to the typical numbers: 10, 12... Quite odd.


Nothing good

A couple of weeks ago we read a horrible story about the young woman in NY who reported she had been gang raped. A horrific nightmare. Some young men were quickly arrested and vilified. This took place at Hofstra University. But it turns out the young woman, only 18, had fabricated the story. A sad, sordid mess. I didn't want to write about this, it's too yukky, too pathetic. The whole scenario was just so awful. But I write about it because I just read that the young woman is not going to be prosecuted for knowingly, and extremely cruelly, signing a false written statement regarding what happened. (She has been ordered to get counseling and to perform 250 hours of community service.) What is the DA thinking?
Maybe there's a cautionary tale here. It turns out one of the guys involved filmed some of what happened, in a dormitory bathroom, with his cellphone. Who knows how much drugs and/or booze played a role. In any case, after this encounter the girl headed back to her dorm room, where she found her boyfriend waiting for her. He was worried, as the girl hadn't been answering her cellphone. He was suspicious regarding the condition his girlfriend was in. What's been going on? She got worried. Tell your boyfriend you'd just had a sex romp with a bunch of guys in the bathroom? Not good. Oh, I was raped. No big deal. Yes, big deal. So the guys get arrested. They are dead meat. Life is over. Go rot in jail. Except for the little detail that it wasn't a rape, as the girl ended up confessing.
Consenting adults? As far as the legal system is concerned, yes. Just kids having fun, right? Hardly. One little problem is that emotions are involved. Like the small detail that the boyfriend might be a little upset about the girl's idea of a good time. She knows it, so to avoid that scenario she makes up the story about the gang rape. Now, how degraded can we get? No, you can't do that. There are consequences to reckless behavior. The guys spent two days in jail and they will never, never escape this story. Their behavior, too, was reprehensible. Innocent of rape, but that's about it. They knew they were taking advantage of a disturbed young woman. Or should have. That's their idea of a good time? Yes, all involved need lots of counseling. I pray they get it. But the girl should spend a little time in jail. Lying is a big, big deal.
Well, on second thought, apparently lying isn't such a big deal. George Bush lied and nothing happened to him. Oh, as a result of his lies we simply invaded a country, killed thousands and thousands of innocent civilians and thousands of our own soldiers. But that's their problem. Vaya mierda de tío.


So you want a hamburger...

Last night we went to see the film "Food, Inc." Strong. Some of the images from inside the slaughterhouses made me feel sick to my stomach. The food industry really has become diabolical. They've managed to get a whole society to happily poison itself. I exaggerate? Maybe not much. Just look at ourselves. We are in the midst of an unprecedented epidemic of obesity and its attendant problems. Breweries let the public in for tours. Cool! Some chocolate factories do the same. Neat-o! Meat processing? Not a chance. You might become a vegetarian. Hooray for Daniela, she's leading our family in the right direction. Oh, the poor children who have diets consisting mainly of chicken Mcnuggets, potato chips, hot dogs, Coca-Cola... Eat your spinach! And hope it's not contaminated with E Coli! High fructose corn syrup. Yummy. What is it not in?
As a kid Daniela often expressed a desire to go live on a farm. (This was after the stage she went through when she insisted that she wanted to be a seal when she grew up.) Maybe she was on to something. Brother Peter: get some black Iberian pigs on that land of yours! Get rid of the motorcycles and I'll help you salt and hang the legs in that big garage.
Could you live without going to a big supermarket? In Malaga it's easily done. Not so easy here.


Stranger than Strange

It was another beautiful weekend in Central PA, and so on Saturday morning Asun and I decided to go take a hike with Waldo and get some apples at Irvin Orchards. We were really enjoying the drive along the ridge road in Micheaux State Forest when all of a sudden we come around a bend and there's a uniformed guy telling us to stop. And not just a uniformed guy, but someone dressed up in WW II garb standing next to an old motorcycle with a sidecar. What the heck is going on? He explained that there was a WW II reenactment going on, "Escape from Normandy", and that we'd have to turn around. Can we watch?, I asked. No, no spectators, it's just for us. Wild. It turns out a bunch of guys had "rented" a part of the forest for their game (drama?) and they just do it for the heck of it. They had a small tank, a couple of jeeps, a cannon, bazooka... I had never come across such a crazy thing. So we turned around, took the long route to our trail head and could hear the gunfire (blanks, we had been reassured) during the first part of our hike. No doubt these guys were out there having a good time and engaging their interest in military history. Nonetheless, it strikes me there is something rather perverse about this kind of activity. The invasion of Normandy resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals and viewed in its entirety, tens of millions of people lost their lives as a result of the conflict. Can you imagine a reenactment of 9/11? Yes, much time has passed, many decades. I don't know, maybe I'm too serious?
In any case, this odd sight reminded me of another very strange experience we had many years ago in Spain, driving back to Malaga along the coast. We were right by the beach on a small road, somewhere in the province of Cadiz, and there were some military exercises going on, with boats a few hundred yards out firing shells right over us. We were driving through a military firing range and no one had turned us back! No kidding. It was rather terrifying.)
After our hike, which was wonderful, we headed back to the ridge road. This time, further down, we could get by, but we did come across some of the "actors", including a few dressed as Nazis. We stopped to say hello, and one guy, perhaps seeing that we were eying his outfit rather nervously, quickly explained that when he does civil war reenactments he's on the Union side. "Sometimes you're a good guy, and sometimes you're a bad guy," he said. I guess that's true.
Well, we did make it to Irvin Orchards and brought home a large quantity of wonderful apples. Yesterday I made an apple pie, but something about is not just right. It's good, but falls well short of the ideal. I guess with some iconic dishes one can't help being somewhat of a perfectionist. One problem was the apples simply didn't soften up enough during baking. I don't know if that has to do with the variety of apple used or not.



This morning at breakfast we were going over schedules and plans for the next couple of days and Daniela's plans, unsurprisingly, include activities with other ballerinas. This led to Asun and I briefly reminiscing about some of the many young dancers who have come and gone over the past several years. Some were very talented girls who, for one reason or another, stopped dancing. And that got me thinking about how improbable the course of our lives are, regardless of the direction they take. Is a life ever really predictable? Our time here can unfold in so many different ways, or so it seems. Yes, no doubt one can quickly slide into fruitless ponderations on fate, will, etc. How do we end up where we end up? Yesterday a former professional dancer who I recently met asked me if Daniela was going to be a professional ballerina. How should I know? How can she know? First, other interests, other passions, may emerge. Current passions can fade. And even if the goal remains, our most hoped for results very often do not materialize. And as Daniela pointed out recently, status and success at CPYB is not, as the investment people warn us, "a guarantee of future performance." Or something like that. This is certainly true. On the other hand, yesterday I received the Winter Season brochure from NY City Ballet and glancing at the page that lists the company members I found myself checking off some of the names, "CPYB, CPYB, CPYB, CPYB..." There are several. More interestingly, and an endearing example of how, sometimes, an improbable path can play out in a hoped for way, was the story I read about ballerina Tina LeBlanc, a CPYB alumna, on the occasion of her farewell gala at San Francisco Ballet. What a career! And what a ballerina: she visited CPYB a few years ago and Daniela got to perform before her on the same program. So I got to see her dance for five or ten minutes, but that was enough: sometimes beauty is such that it can just about make you faint if you have not already been overcome by tears. There's a word for that... Anyway, she is no doubt one of the world's great ballerinas, and a real inspiration for Daniela. And a beautiful story. Read the article from the LA Times. (In the photo, a final curtain call from Tina LeBlanc.)


With a little help... from the ump?

It's getting harder to keep up with the blog. At the same time, the routine is good. But it's not all routine. This weekend we had a wonderful hike up at King's Gap, and it was extremely gratifying to see Waldo can still do it. He seems to love the woods almost as much as I do. Wonderful weather. Alma got more scholarship money this week and Daniela got a big scholarship from CPYB. So, Cristina, deary, I'm waiting... and as I wait I'm watching the Sox lose to the Angels. Looks like a chilly night in Boston. Poor Joe Saunders! The Angels' pitcher is going through an inning from hell. He's given up three runs and there's only one out. And only one ball has been hard hit. The Sox are getting a five or six out inning. Who said life was fair?
Thursday morning: Yes, talking about unfair. First the Angels toture their own pitcher with shoddy defense. Then the umpires torture the Angels with two non-calls that help the Sox pull out a most improbable 9-8 win. Crazy. It's supposed to be three strikes and you're out, but Nick Green got five. And, consequently, walked, forcing in the tying run. And why hasn't anyone commented on why Angel's left fielder Juan Rivera didn't make a better effort to try to grab Alex Gonzalez's soft fly ball to left. Run faster, man. Get a jump. Bad defense. Well, this is crazy, spending time on baseball when there's so much work to be done. And back to an earlier comment: Cristina, you don't need to get any more scholarships, you are la bomba, AND, after all, you did walk clear across England. I look foward to the day when I can donate real money to scholarship funds at Dickinson, Cornell, and CPYB. (In the photo, this summer in Bidania, Pili's place up high in the Basque country; another great day there. Daniel, Daniela, Cristina and Noah.)


Tilting at Windmills?

It's been a very busy week, but I guess they all are. There won't be any let up until I get through Semana Poética at the end of October. At the moment my mind is on the relationship between poetry and painting. We'll be considering this in my literature course soon, mainly in the context of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. So we'll talk about some poems by Rafael Alberti dedicated to Velázquez, Goya, and Picasso, and we'll talk about Guernica and some of what has been written about that iconic work. If I can help my students become more aware of some of the multitude of dialogues a work invites them to participate in, between artists, between artists and other works of art, between the work and what readers/viewers have already experienced in other works of art, etc., then I will feel I've been successful. Of course, I can only be aware of their awareness if they are able to articulate something about the dialogues they are hearing. I hope I can help them in that regard.
I guess I was thinking about something similar this morning when I was considering what I have observed regarding the development of ballerinas. In the process I've learned a little, very little, but a little, about ballet as an art form. Good dialogues require that the participants speak the same language, and preferably with a high degree of proficiency. The language of ballet is a demanding one and is acquired only after many years of extremely rigorous training. It was in that context that I read a policy statement in the CPYB student handbook titled "CPYB's Rising Stars Philosophy." The text outlines quite succinctly, no doubt mainly for parents, the school's philosophy regarding student progress and how that progress may relate to performance opportunities. Ability, hard work, dedication, and perseverance are essential prerequisites. But they are no guarantee that they will result in the hoped for performance opportunities! In our touchy-feely, don't tread on my self-esteem society, this is a bold statement. And a refreshingly honest one! The artistic director has many, many considerations to make, and, let's not forget, decisions regarding individual casting are made in the context of what is best for the work. In short, it's not about individuals. Learning to deal with disappointment is a hard lesson. I was reminded of this when Asun related to me how she witnessed a sad moment: a young student in bitter tears after learning she had not been promoted to the next level. Oouch! But if that little girl can recover, and understand that the dialogue she wants to be a part of simply demands more training, then she'll have acquired an invaluable lesson. She may conclude the effort is not worth it--that's fine, and is in no way a defeat. The defeat comes when you stop dreaming. (But, as Antonio Machado so beautifully shows us, over and over: dream awake!) There are an awful lot of big dreams in the heads of those young dancers. Every day they see the photos of the ones who made it adorning the walls. The stars! The big names. Inspiring. And maybe intimidating. It can be a harsh place sometimes, no doubt, just as Víctor Ullate's school in Madrid can be an unforgiving environment. And so the faculty at CPYB make, I believe, quite commendable efforts to be honest: no false promises, the dream is not going to work out for everyone. But the effort expended, the invaluable discipline acquired, may just help more than one kid realize bigger, more important dreams.
Maybe we're all just tilting at windmills. And let's remember: Don Quixote's victory came late in life, very late, when he put his feet on the ground and realized it was fine, indeed a blessing, just to be Alonso Quijano.
(Above, a photo I took this past spring; a couple of windmills in La Mancha that were likely around in Cervantes' day.)


Atahualpa Severino

The Senators played their last game of the year on City Island Thursday, a beautiful, moonlit evening. There was a big crowd, but fortunately, over half of them left by the end of the sixth inning. I'm not against crowds, but I guess "intolerant" would not be an inaccurate description of my attitude regarding groups who display blaring ignorance regarding the behavior that is expected of them so as not to impinge on my enjoyment. Hah! It seemed that crowd had it all backwards from the start. As it was the last game of the year, and the last game in the stadium's current incarnation, there were some pregame ceremonies, words from the mayor (STILL Stephen Reed, after all these years, BUT, he has been perhaps the greatest mayor in the history of Harrisburg), etc. So for the national anthem a Knights of Columbus 4th degree honor guard decked out in their silly garb with the big chapeaus marched out to the field. Very serious. They brought along the Vatican flag, crucifix included. Everyone gets all pious. Ok, ok, patience... then the game starts and no one pays attention. It's as if six thousand people had just paid five or ten bucks a head for the privilege of paying more money for greasy funnel cakes, awful hot dogs, and frozen pizza while they enthusiastically obey the commands of a big screen telling them to make noise on cue. Well, why the hell don't they go to an amusement park instead and let me enjoy the ball game! The game, now that's sacred. You want proof that not everyone is on the same page as me? Imagine this: towards the end of the game I was standing behind the box seats along the third baseline. A guy come up and stands next to me. We chat a little, nice evening, nice catch, etc. Then he turns to me and says, "Have you tried Jesus?" I choked on my coffee. He had this beatific smile, as if really expecting I was going to fall down to my knees and give eternal thanks for having been finally saved. Doing my best to suppress laughter, I explained that I really wanted to focus on the game. Then I left. But the game: as Manolo says about the bull fights, there's always something interesting to see, regardless of how mundane or otherwise disappointing the proceedings. And Thursday night no doubt I found interest in watching Atahaulpa Severino. This guy looked very good. He's only 5'9'', but he brings some serious heat. I think you'll be seeing him in a major league uniform before the end of the 2010 season. He's clearly on an upward trajectory, unlike the larger part of this group of Senators. It was a long game and I was sorry to see it end. And, by the way, it ended with the Senator's scoring a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to break a 3-3 tie.


To Go or not to Go

Every year around this time I receive an invitation to a reception for the "International Fellows" who are spending a year at the Army War College here in town. They tend to be mid-level officers who have promising careers ahead of them. This year they come from forty-nine different countries. Asun and I have gone sometimes in the past, mainly to meet the Spanish speaking officers. There's always someone from Spain, and usually from a few other Spanish speaking countries. But I'm wondering, should I go? After all, some of these individuals represent institutions with very dubious human rights records. And this not to mention our own role in trampling on human rights in recent years. I haven't thought it through, but I probably will go. I tend to be practical about these things: by not going my "protest" is strictly an issue of conscience. There is no consequence beyond that which it may have for my own mental health. If I do go at least there may be the opportunity to express concern. For example, if there's a Mexican officer this year, I could ask him how it can be that not a single uniformed person in Mexico has been found guilty by a military tribunal of committing any of the alleged cases of abuse against civilians (including rape, torture, and murder) committed by the Mexican military in recent years. (See the recent Human Rights Watch report: http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/mexico0409web_0.pdf) This is not to underestimate the importance of conscience! Recently my bedtime reading has been the Socratic dialogues, including "Meno", which includes fascinating reflections of the nature of virtue, and "Phaedo", which could be read today as a primer on "doing the right thing", whatever the cost. To Socrates, the cost was death, but to the greater glory of his insistence on maintaining his defense of certain principles. So, if I go schmooze with some military types am I compromising my principles? Back to Mexico: how ironic that the Mexican government, which appears not have control of its own military, should have awarded with such high distinction Roberto Martínez, the great human rights advocate. Martínez died this year. That's him, in the photo, before the wall of shame.