Recipe for the Homesick: The Vegan Galician

This is 'patxaran' and that is something else entirely.

This is ‘patxaran‘ and that is something else entirely.

Ingredients:

1 part orujo de café

2 or 3 parts soy milk*

Several ice cubes

 

Preparation:

As you pour the ingredients into a glass chilled by nostalgia, meditate upon the fact that the ‘firewater’ known as orujo, Northern Iberia’s (namely Galicia‘s) version of moonshine, is distilled from the residues of grapes that have already been pressed for wine. Take a gentle whiff of the thrift and dying art of the homebrew hustle.

Forget the vodka, which is often confused with water. Your beverage will produce this naturally as the ice melts at the same rapid rate as our diplomatic relations with Russia.

Feel the homesickness condensate. Watch the drops form and fall, staining your faux Persian rug from Ikea.

Shrug. Imbibe. Abide.

*Note: Do not use the milk that introduces itself en español; instead, the kind that comes from the teat of the soybean.

Elx River, painting in progress, August 2014

Elx River, painting in progress, August 2014

Being Brave Abroad: 24 Hour Funeral Home

A ‘false friend’ is a word that you think you can get away with. You think it’s a ‘cognate,’ and many exist, tying English to the Romance languages. Easy-peasy, Spanish can appear: gol shoots straight, goal, and revocar stays put, to revoke. Embarazada however, has reddened a few cheeks, being very much the word for ‘pregnant’. Not a cognate, it’s a false friend. A backstabber. Be careful. Papel is paper and papelería is a paper store – office and school supplies, actually, to de-mystify a store solely devoted to paper – a laboratorio equals laboratory. So far, so good.

A tanatorio is not a tanning destination. Management stocks sprays and beds of another sort. A tanatorio is a funeral home. Tanatorio Nuestra Sen’ora de Bego’na holds a constant vigil, although Bilbao is hardly a city that never sleeps. It’s open for each and every 24 hours of each and every day. I went, and this is what I saw.

Naves fill the half-scuffed poligono (your ‘true friend,’ polygon, swell gal) industrial subdivision of Bolueta. Naves are ‘ships’ in the most common usage, but these are warehouses used primarily for shipping and distribution. So not far off, and one brain’s memory and language centers thank the other brains in history for tricks like these. Following such clues, we find that the false friend isn’t so false afterall. The word tanatorio honors Thanatos, the personification of Death; he was often referred to in Greek mythology, but rarely appeared in person. Many sources considered Thanatos exclusive to “peaceful death” and for this reason, ‘good death’ falls under the term ‘euthanasia’. The son of Nyx, Night, and Erebos, Darkness, Hesiod writes of Thanatos and his brother Hypnos, Sleep:

“[Hypnos] roams peacefully over the earth and the sea’s broad back and is kindly to men; but the other has a heart of iron, and his spirit is a pitiless as bronze.”

At the rounded end of the block, not 100 meters from a locale named ‘Club Fever’, there’s a ship that travels heaven-bound and seatbelted aboard is the ghost some body just gave up. This nave shoots up and away from terra firma, leaving behind all the asphalt and painted aluminum, all the fading cellophane wrappers and soggy shoeboxes from Saturday’s gitano flea market mercadillo, all the racist graffiti (INMIGRANTES NO with a gun scope’s bullseye) and the anti-Fascists’ edits in red paint (basta ya Nazis, enough already). Thanatos’ dock is flanked on one side by the leaking green tangles of shrubbery always accompanying the Nervión River. On the other, the railroad slips by and an evangelical church stretches out in the shell of an old grocery store, windows boarded up, shutting out the world.

Fake flowers

Our charges for the evening in question, Aunts Ana and Claudina*, had come by a crawling train from Barcelona. Their arrival culminated the piecemeal sequence of events, rhythmic phone calls and copy/paste whatsapp messages, ticket purchases and suitcase zippings, that go into motion after every death in a diaspora family. They’d come for their sister Carolina*, and we went for them.

We all caught a cab no earlier than 11:15pm – late train, livestock on the tracks – and we sped along in the hush of oncoming spring rain. My in-laws-in-theory discussed the final weeks of Carolina’s illness and my boyfriend provided the old fashioned kind of status updates on all the 2nd cousins and some opinions twice removed. We arrived, paid and pulled suitcases across a dry parking lot and into the place I had so long wondered about.

I remember now that the place smelled of nothing. No cleaners and no perfumes, no air-conditioning and no potting soil, no roses and no moist styrofoam and no car exhaust and no stale breath. That lack must have spread out in high ceilings of the atrium. Distance meant something faded from animate life, recollections dispersed so they wouldn’t waft or bounce off one another and thus avoid memory’s strongest trigger, the nose. I remember now that the place reminded me of that hospital in Bangkok that too dripped with expense. A doctor studied my double eye infection there, walls awash with uplighting on green granite and a tiled floor of thick beige stone that spread before you in those dim after-hours. In those very same hours, squinting in the honest glare of an ivory floor and darkened windows made into mirrors, we entered to study the departed.

There’s so much white happening. It’s involved. Concentrated in doses of floor wax and glass cleaner, woven into the softness of lace and folded into the coarse tissues that I’ve heard pronounced “glee-NEss” and packed dutifully into purses for use in abused bars and temp toilets during 10 days of jaiak. The gift shop greets you upon entrance and exit, should anyone be lacking the proper utensils: navy ceramic urns, red and white wreathes like the chew toys of Kentucky derby winners and suburban McMansion yuletide decor, a shadow box rosary, silver and gold crosses on thin chains. Sharp in cleanliness, not distracting, hard lines interpreted as respectful in EuroChicSpeak. Maybe, I still can’t tell almost 2 years in.

The receptionist sat, only his scalp visible behind the front desk, consumed in what could have been work. He spoke in the equanimous tones of a hotelier. He stowed the luggage of our two 60-somethings, thrice consoling the frank and constant chatter of Claudina that her purse (a splitting, wrinkled paper shopping bag, one of those with stiff, twisted horseshoe handles) would remain both untouched and in reach of his peripheral vision at all times. She’s a strange one, I’ve been told. She doesn’t spend money, doesn’t go near the bars, I’ve been told. I posit that 30% of the real estate in this country is occupied by bars and cafes the size of walk-in closets. This is an economy completely underwritten by 6 oz beers for a euro and squat, milky espressos for one and a half. She doesn’t dare. Not even for decaf.

Ana, with her tender demeanor and four word sentences, peeped her doubt as Aunt Claudina wondered aloud in the elevator vestibule. Repeating and rewording the questions three and then four times, her nerves engaged with squat pots of palms and ferns and her disorientation focused on the chalky quartzite garden, a dry pond of toddler fist-sized stones.

“You think those are fake plants there?” = You think I can handle the wait for the elevator?

“I can’t believe those are real.” = I fear touching something that is still alive.

“How do you think they keep them looking so nice?” = What am I about to see? What am I about to feel?

Four pairs of sensible shoes squeaked as we crossed the weekly-waxed 2nd floor. Jewel cases at eye level outside each room bore a photo and noted all the first and last names’ of the deceased; four words deep like Juan José Ordoño Ferran and Mari Cristina Extebarrieta Nuñez. Portals stayed shut to the observation quarters, at once ominous for the outsider and reassuringly private for in the insider.

Portal, Flight -  Urduña, Bizkaia

Portal, Flight – Urduña, Bizkaia

We enter. Couches with thin cream cushions line the room. It’s false leather, easy to clean, but I’m still flabbergasted on a regular basis as to what maintenance expenses people are willing to risk for such class. Spread about are four full boxes of tissues, slightly better than what we got in elementary school for free and must’ve been made of recycled newspapers and telephone books. The good stuff really should’ve been saved for the elderly, too many of them under-presumptive of what they’ve earned. They view. I sit, yielding to the family members I’ve only met a half hour earlier.

It isn’t 20 seconds before I’m waved over by the nephew who has carried his grief with peace, my partner. Está bien, he says with an honest and gentle smile. I don’t expect what I see next.

It’s a portrait of a lady. I’m in an art museum. We are present for the photograph that is both taking place and already mounted and framed. In lieu of flowers, please respect the sandpaper taped to the floor. Do not lean in too far towards the piece. Donations in her honor can be made to any institution that cultivates the arts and the education of women. As a girl, if Carolina was caught reading instead of cleaning, her father would warn her that she’d end up unmarriageable.

It’s a diorama. I’m in a natural history museum. The wall comes up to the waist and then the transparent but crystalline divider between reality continues upward. The stark scene displays what’s left to fuss over when death arrives: light, shadow and salvation. A cold metal bar to lean upon as you study the bygone’s new natural habitat.

It’s a penalty box. The air-conditioning blasts. Easter lilies stand in for a hockey stick. Lace trim laid over her like padding for impacts. The dimensions allow for a wingspan’s width of a person; that’s usually their height. And the length when the body lays down.

We press our pointed fingers to the glass, still producing oil and locomotion, towards a crucifix stood up on a post like a coat hangar. Back-lighting, up-lighting bends, plays with the eye, obscuring the bargain buy giveaways of her casket and the immutability of stilled skin and hardened wrinkles.

Claudina shares her jagged suggestions where the hands should have been posed to hide the steroid-swollen belly and how the lace ought to have been bunched up at Carolina’s collarbones to save her from having to witness suffering’s leftovers, baggy chins. Slipping out of the box in my head – the one where I keep disdain and bilingual cliches to showoff my fluency (or hide my mimicry and voyeurism) – I do not speak, I only think: damn lady, it ain’t your funeral.

I’ve sat like I’m going to be courteous. I’ve observed with utmost precaution. And I’ve nothing to expect except my own compliance with the family’s wishes. Aunt Claudina erupts, “We need to get the hell out of here, I’m done. We’re done.” 4 minutes have elapsed since we entered the room. I swear.

This means 'ghost'.

…means ‘ghost’.

And without any suggestion – no, by declaration – we crawled out of the amazement bouncing off the not-quite-but-nearly-lime green walls. A basket of hard candy sat next to the guest book on the way out. We did not sign our names. The door shut firmly behind 4 souls, we were not to be Claudina’s loose ends.

Every button got pushed (nervousness) and every floor opened to us (further comment on the decor) on the elevator ride down. We collected the bags and headed out into a warm sirimiri where the next taxi waited, where the daytime crowds of old folks usually gather to smoke and catch up. For them, these kinds of reunions are more common than bingo night. Not as often as card games, though; those are much easier to come by.

Carolina would be cremated within 10 hours. And I would be on a plane…under the heavens, above the Atlantic.

 

 

* Some names have been changed to protect the living.

A good corn isn’t hard to find

We bought us this day our daily bread, like most days.
And then on the other days we just buy a loaf of slices,
brand named Bimbo, for some others days to come.

A good corn isn’t hard to find.
Nor is cornbread.
It is a plant of dark green, those leaves,
fabled to be an
ancient grass writ large in the New World
doubling the size of the known world
carried here and eaten
with zest and confidence
that the Basques waited
before applying such consideration
and enthusiasm
to the potato*[fnote].               the things
we believe and wait to
fear even as we eat blood sausages
filled with rice or cardoon
soaking in it’s swamp of
those things humble
tried and true, the pig
manageable under
the recognizable, an awareness (if you must know, awareness+comfort = tradition)
of a particular beast
and the products we
can assume from it.

Corn Spaghetti

A good corn is not
hard to find, unless you are looking for it in
the sweetener in your soda or
cereal
unless you like it GMO’d
because this is the
EuroUnion of regulatory emancipation from worry
and that ≠ what you’d
consider a mercantile straitjacket or a welfare fare-thee-well state
unless you really need
that squeak only found in cornstarch to
complete a DNA sequence or
to iron a shirt or to
placate a toddler with said dust, water and food dye goop
or to
take an exception to
the rule and find it
in the pasta section, made into
spaghetti or paying
4 dollars americanos
for a ‘medium’ sized bag
of ‘mexican’
tortilla chips

(here ‘tortillas’ being the stuff of eggs
in the form of cakes, often holding potatoes together
and what you might call
by a most detestable term, ‘frittata’
– still, you can’t argue with
common usage)

turkeytorti

There’s only one size bag.
So goes history
and corn abundant in
a flat fried bread here,
a ‘tortilla’ sure, locally known as ‘talo’
and paired often with
a thinner
chorizo known as chistorratxorizo, txistorra
Corn, welcome to not Kansas.
Spelling, welcome to not Spanish.


In his stellar and highly-recommended book, The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky offers the follow observation: “An indication of the Basque regard for corn is the fact that rather than adopt a Castilian word, they gave the grain it’s own name in Euskera, arto.”

Arto, the Basque noun for ‘corn’, sounds just like harto, the Spanish adjective for ‘sick of/tired of something’.

A vestige, perhaps, of the high regard afforded to corn in the Basqueland, I often hear the same response when I compliment the particularly rich taste, color or texture of a meat, poultry, or egg: “Because the animal ate corn! And not just any old shit, it was fed corn!”

Corn is for me, now, a thing few and far between. I don’t have much of a chance to get sick of it. It does not take on 13 dozen different forms, somehow finding its way into everything from ice cream to balloons (factoid: cornstarch used to keep the inside from sticking to itself). And unless the thing sitting in front of you is actually cornbread, cornflakes, popcorn, corn on the cob, or canned corn, you’re probably not eating corn.

Kurlansky writes that, “even aftermost Europeans had given in and were eating potatoes, though still feeding corn only to pigs, the Basques were doing just the reverse. Basque do [read: did (in the past)] not seem to like any tubers. They feed turnips to pigs and seldom eat beets. In 1783, a Bayonne chemist wrote to Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the French nutritionist who finally persuaded his country to eat potatoes, informing him that the Basques eat corn, not potatoes, and ‘no province produces healthier, more vigorous people.'”

Here, the corn-fed boys, and in my corner of the world, go to baseball camp and football practice. And those walking on 4 legs, to slaughter. Times change. Potato, potatoe. I can’t help but intuit that reversed trend with potatoes in the Basque country today. With no qualms whatsoever, they’re stuck on nearly every plate I’ve ordered out. However, I would say there still is a general look of mystification in the eyes of people learning that we grow and eat tubers like turnips and radish (and glares of disgust and abject terror when I extol the virtues of peanut butter).

Nowadays, little suspicion of the potato remains, especially considering the proliferation of the tortilla de patata. A dish so prized that many Basques considered it both a staple and a treat… and unsurprisingly (or not?) it fails to escape language and identity politics – elsewhere on the continent, this same egg-potato ‘cake’ is usually known as tortilla española.

In the past, “Europeans believed that the physical appearance of food indicated hidden properties…Walnuts enhanced intelligence because they resembled the brain. The potato, it was reasoned, caused leprosy,” notes Kurlansky.

The yolks of the eggs we buy from the little old countryfolk are an impenetrably deep mustard orange color, almost an ocher. You’re damn right those chickens eat corn. And those potatoes, from the southern Basque province of Alava-you bet-the best in Spain. The tortillas made from these two ingredients, can awaken the dead and overwhelm (in a good way) the living.

Quote

Words form the …

“Words form the thread on which we sting our experiences.” – Aldous Huxley

I’m headed home – STLMOUSA – to experience other things in another place for the merry month of May.

Contemplative composting of these strings of words with surely continue, but alas, posting may not until I return to the Basque Country.  We shall see.

Perhaps between Imo’s pizza, toasted ravioli, and the best baseball + brothers + microbrews on Earth, I’ll reblog elsewhere… check out Biscay Dossier on Tumblr for some lighter fare.

Beti zurekin

Siempre contigo

With y’allways

I will miss ye.

I will miss ye.

Of Moms and Men

A morning not unusual, many months ago, began with the same sort of dialogue…
Phone rings. Son picks up mom on the line, and in unison they yell:
QUE? SER? WHAT?
There’s some back and forth between amatxu (Basque: ‘little mommy’) bug-a-boo pesada baby momma, then the first born replies:
WE WILL COME FOR THE GREEN BEANS LATER! PLEASE! ALRIGHT MOM! OH MY GOD, THIS NOOSE YOU WAVE IN MY FACE. AT ALL HOURS OF THE MORNING! WE HAVE THINGS TO DO AND FRIDGE FOOD TO EAT! OK LOVE, ALRIGHT, TALK TO YOU SOON SWEETHEART.

And so, for the sake of everyone involved, I went over there later that day. I went over for the green beans which turned out to actually mean, also not unusual, the beans plus 4 pounds of steaks and chicken wings, 4 apples, a handful of chocolates and box of breakfast cookies. About 5 blocks away.

I imagine that I was once ready to say something back to the man asking for change at the grocery sliding doors. I had ignored his asking and in a second he switched tunes, took silence as a cue to call me something like ‘honey’ or ‘good-looking’. As it was nothing remarkably creative, I can’t remember it.

I passed the grocery in front of amatxu’s house again last week, and saw him there again. I prepared to tell him this, but never had to in the end:

¿Así te parece la manera más apta para conseguir monedas?
Venga, niño. ¿Que diría tu madre?
Oye, aquí, eso no se hace,
y punto.
Cuidado porque la próxima
igual no se pasa de ti tan fácil y sin incidente.
¿basta, no crees?

Does that seem like the best way to get a few coins?
C’mon, child. What would your mother say?
Listen, here, that shit just ain’t done,
period.
Careful because the next lady
to come by might not let you off so easily and without incident.
Enough, don’t you think?

– – – – – – – –

All her coffee is filled with chicory already, and all the walls tinged a pink smell. Her freezer full of what might be needed. It’s enough to upset her, it’s enough to turn and tell her, “it’s impossible” and then “it’s all I can do” and “thank you” with stone-set eyes before turning away. One of a hundred rude heartbreaks they could claim I’ve taken out on the elderly. After a December morning marathon of shouldering in line for lamb chops and shuffling the talking points to kvetch positive for once. It’s never enough though, so I go ahead with a dozen ways of misanthropy that only I can feel; they are little city ladies with armor taking licks and thick skin under that. When they bruise, everything did it. But we don’t remember which exactly, considering it’s all a matter of politics, es asunto de política.

More transgressions against another’s mother’s love than there are sycamores,
more than the orange fanning and splaying sidewalk tiles,
more than the baby cockroaches in the silverware drawer that don’t phase her one bit,
more than the virtues she extols about her newest culinary discovery: broccoli,
more than the men that sit in black and suck their teeth as the last sun before winter falls.

The ladies are going to finish their sentence, you oughta know, and were they menfolk in stead of matriarchs, they’d spit to punctuate; Be it on weathered concrete or marble showroom floor. I could read these folk for ages, summarize them with typos, and sell off the stories like paper printed with news and wetted by rain.

a man - my man - The Man

a man – my man – The Man

– – – – – – – –

Medio morado = half purple = half drunk
and that would be a generous guess
	and yes, that's
		nice that you grew up with a 
siesta for the hot hours
and yes i'm here I 
	appreciate
		you
	trying to tell me 
		teach me
		about 
	7pm cool-
	ness
but you have to get along
	now,	take that
copper-like peanut butter
and just as sticky fingered wire & 
			coil
	in a plastic fertilizer bag
		to the
		"STORE" 
I can handle lawlessness that
keeps me from getting 
	examined
with eyes & questions
	that are not at all 
disguised as lessons

your partner in crime has good
sense to call you
off of me
		since he knows that
		my male escort in this 
plenty medieval civil setup
		is a pretty aggressive little
scamp.		
isn't it just precious that
I always wear men's boots with a tank top
to make sure things remain crystal clear?

a construction site
now shadowing our plot
from the other side of the tracks,
 from the north or	west a bit,
	or more of both.
i am supposed to be grateful for these homegrown hardhats
because
@ least i won't have to shy away from too much of that wordiness
because 
that sort of thing
 that the whooperwill makes
the only feeling of tweeting i get is through beaks
	thank you very much 
	for this peace
	that i shouldn't have to bow
	my head in November for anyway. 

I smile but only 
to myself and for myself 

and I'm 
gotten good, all fit and sure with 
no hood up 	except my mental burka
	and my readied comebacks
in that temperate 19:00 voice
veiling me visible.
thX aLot - miLa EskER

thX aLot – miLa EskER

– – – – – – – –

Half-pint hero, pale by the bus stop, imagining himself as upstanding while thinking nothing of his own predatory eyes, thinking biology says, “go for it,” thinking instead this is a good distance, thinking silence is the better introduction, thinking the complication of introducing her to mom, by story first, over beans and sausage. His amatxu’s pork tenderloin adobado, served up to the imagination, deflects the loins urging a man to make a mom out of somone. Looking away, he realizes he owes the matriarch a baguette. She tried to raise a good guy. She still tries to get a grandchild out of him.

She likes today’s hurried batch, soft on the inside with a barely tanned crust. She likes a sourdough treat on the weekends. Guilt and duty forget the peripheral field of vision. The damsel of his racketeering and the old bird in the house robe: depending on the quantity and/or quality of blessed or damned be your era plus geography plus chaos, the bellicose torpedoes of attention and intention are coming for you.

Hath I the Force like Darth, emanating from mine hands, those eyes would avert of their own volition. Because ladies needn’t notoriety or claims of authorship when we even out the world, warped as it is. A simple peace is all we ever wish to milk from our brethren, a peace as simple as not having to change seats on the bus.

We do our best to imagine our phones in transit ritual – that social psych-out of seek and find, pulling them out in silent and uncomfortable moments – not as proof of any modern crisis of alienation, but rather as a leading source of emotional security for women in public.

Headphones, earbuds, little speakers on strings, all together now and in position. On mute. The plug unplugged in a pocket or tucked under a bra strap. Eureka upon the protection, a modern sigil, new and improved.

Our daily bread in details could soften up the menfolk. Let’s hear it for the kinfolk, pull em up on speed dial. We are readied, yes. With apps launched and batteries charged and operating systems updated and homescreens tidy, yes. Lose yourself in technophilia, welcome those transitional moments awkward and unsteady in between purposes and acts. Another preliminary measure we unwillingly bear to avoid being made moms by men.

 

Gallery

Introducing a new segment… Being Brave Abroad

Springing forward sucks. Daylight savings sucks. This is known.

Unless it falls within the realm of His Majesty King Johnny Chaz I. Everybody’s favorite vestige of Spanish Fascism is the selective (un)recognition of longitude lines. As it isn’t a slab of poured concrete, this time zone shared with Berlin doesn’t comply with La Ley de Memoria Histórica (post-Franco law condemning the regime and it’s remaining artifacts); then again, plenty of facha granite stands to this day. What a great and noble land of incongruence in judicial interpretation. By golly, it feels like home.

What do you expect, you know, when Greenwich (that Mean-est of Times) isn’t even pronounced “green” + “which”.

It’s closer to a “grin + itch”.

Contemplating Edward Gorey’s drawing, “Being Brave Abroad,” an itch and a grin prompted a split-minute decision (i tried talking myself out of it, like usual) and got me out the door. An extra hour of daylight.

Bilbao is hiding up here too.

Bilbao is hiding up here too.

Destination: Peñascal (Spanish for ‘rocky crag’ while the Basque name Iturrigori means ‘red spring’)

Method: Getting on the number seventy-something and taking it to the very end.

My bus driver has got to be a nice guy. Yeah, he’s got the look: chases chonis (affectionate name for Jersey Shore-esque ladies, but in Euskadi we spell that txoni, aight?), lifts weights and tans in a box, probably maybe all accomplished on the same city block. But he’s definitely got the look of being a nice guy.

Start: Mina del Morro, the Santutxu brink that could fall into the river, if it weren’t for the deep roots of the eucalyptus grove (any unbroken stand of trees in an urban setting is AKA feral cat piss depository, and I can’t get it out of my tennis shoes).

End: Peñascal.

Two ends of the tract, save the best for last, good hoods of a working class.

Three generations of women at the park sit facing the monkey bars and my attention goes to my ankles exposed and I’m fine.
Because, girl power.

PenascalParque

In the thin valley sliced by centuries of rain, the Peñascal sidewalk presses against a high wall, where the terracing starts staking claim up the hill. A break in the solid concrete there’s a black chihuahua doglet.

I couldn’t tell if he was puppy. Passed him, backed up (and in that simple decision and follow-through, interestingly enough, made me feel less like an outsider and more like a documenter, someone with the right and reason to be in that neighborhood… my bravery in confronting this mighty tiny thing suggests that if I start with the dogs and their jean jackets and bejeweled raincoats, surely I can end up taking shots of bipeds), and readied my camera to peek.

His screech-howl confirmed he was not a baby dog.

NotPuppy

No ma’am. This cartoonishly steep staircase is mine. Go. Now.

No ma’am. This cartoonishly steep staircase is mine. Go. Now.

In this neighborhood I expected to find gitanos and the usual marginalized state of affairs. I think to myself about how I do so enjoy the stuck-on buildings of sharp gradients, as if they were slums and slums being the first word that came to mind and my privilege won’t stop reminding me that it’s very much alive and well. The real problem with that thought is that I am not seeing what I’m in; instead, I’m imagining an elsewhere, a cloudy fold-out spread from National Geographic, vaguely São Paulo. I’ve never seen either of these places before and prejudice is boring.

Worn out debate interrupted by a valid contribution…

Statement: We are Bilbao too.  Source: these mailboxes.

Statement: We are Bilbao too.
Source: these mailboxes.

At the foot of the way to Pagasarri.

less gunk on the ground than my own damn street which is in the left hemisphere subdivision of my brain. being brave abroad turns out just fine. white girl in broad daylight, white saint of broad brush strokes.

less gunk on the ground
than my own damn street
which is in the left hemisphere
subdivision of my brain.
being brave abroad turns out just fine.
white girl in broad daylight,
white saint in broad brush strokes.

Waiting for the bus again at the Plaza de Errekaldi there’s a man, middle-aged and blond, with rectangular and rounded-edge light orange lenses. On the ground facing up, his longboard’s belly graphic is impeccable and recently bought, a milky turquoise and electric lavender galaxy. My best guess is that guy walked out of a cave where his flux capacitor-powered DeLorean had just landed.

Then, in the span of 3/100th of a second, I decide to move away from this dude, out from under the bus stop shelter.
I do not need to consciously recognize that this is what I’ve learned to do. As a woman.
I do not apologize to him silently. As a feminist.
I do not explain my actions to myself. As a pragmatist.
I do not wonder about seeming impolite. As a realist.
Fuck the possibility of becoming unsettled.

The low-lying center of Bilbao is on the middle of the route. In an Ensanche still with Sunday emptiness, Louis Vuitton shop windows crystallize two bags on the crooks of two arms of two ladies standing in knee high grass 50 meters in front of a giraffe. Photoshopping that has nothing to do with image manipulation.

A beige-because-it’s-not-yet-pastel-season wearing double date of coiffed retirees say agreeable and conclusive things to each other on the corner in front of the Immigration office. This is the uncluttered neighborhood.

PlazaErrekaldi

Way back now,
sitting out the afternoon,
viaduct undercarriage
a flat brightness
accomplishments and
spots of thick paint
dissolved political parties,
one offering, “una vía nueva de la izquierda
a new way left.
I left around 17:20 and
found a new way around 18:45.

Oh Happy Day

Happy Happiness Day!
Happy Spring Equinox!

The UN calls happiness a “fundamental human goal.”
(Good stuff here: http://www.dayofhappiness.net/)

T’was surely a poet who’s declaration of independence demanded not just life and liberty, but also “…the pursuit of happiness.” And plenty more who plucked out songs that end the pursuit and deliver the goods (which are no goods at all, just goodness).

Here’s a little something to celebrate from the good folk of Pamplona in Navarra, wearing the red and white of San Fermin. I’m beyond happy today because my family is coming to visit in July; we’ll get to see people wearing these colors and running these streets in the pursuit of tradition, a precious and precarious happiness it is.

Story from: Diario de Navarra

11-M, the 11th of March of 2004: 10 years after

First, the names* of those who are no longer sharing this life with their families and friends, nor with their co-workers and neighbors, nor with their fellow passengers and pedestrians:

ABAD QUIJADA EVA BELEN
ABRIL ALEGRE OSCAR
ACERO USHIÑA LILIANA GUILLERMINA
AGUADO ROJANO FLORENCIO
ALONSO RODRIGUEZ JUAN ALBERTO
ALVAREZ GONZALEZ MARIA JOSEFA
ANDRIANOV ANDRIYAN ASENOV
APARICIO SOMOLINOS MARIA NURIA
ARENAS BARROSO ALBERTO
ASTOCONDOR MASGO NEIL HEBE
AVILA JIMENEZ ANA ISABEL
BADAJOZ CANO MIGUEL ANGEL
BALLESTEROS IBARRA SUSANA
BARAHONA IMEDIO FRANCISCO JAVIER
BARAJAS DIAZ GONZALO
BEDOYA GLORIA INES
BEN SALAH IMDDAOUAN SANAE
BENITO SAMANIEGO RODOLFO
BODEA ANCA VALERIA
BOGDAN LIVIA
BRASERO MURGA FLORENCIO
BRAVO SEGOVIA TRINIDAD
BRYK ALINA MARIA
BUDAI STEFAN
BUDI TIBOR
CABREJAS BURILLO MARIA PILAR
CABRERO PEREZ RODRIGO
CALVO GARCIA MILAGROS
CANO CAMPOS SONIA
CANO MARTINEZ ALICIA
CARRILLERO BAEZA JOSE MARIA
CARRION FRANCO ALVARO
CASAS TORRESANO FRANCISCO JAVIER
CASTILLO MUÑOZ CIPRIANO
CASTILLO SEVILLANO INMACULADA
CENTENERA MONTALVO SARA
CISNEROS VILLACIS OSWALDO MANUEL
CIUDAD REAL DIAZ MARIA EUGENIA
CONTRERAS ORTIZ JACQUELINE
CONTRERAS SANCHEZ MARIA SOLEDAD
CRIADO PLEITER MARÍA PAZ
DE BENITO CABOBLANCO ESTEBAN MARTIN
DE LAS HERAS CORREA SERGIO
DE LUNA OCAÑA MIGUEL
DE MIGUEL JIMENEZ ALVARO
DEL AMO AGUADO JUAN CARLOS
DEL RIO MENENDEZ MARTA
DEL RIO MENENDEZ NURIA
DIAC NICOLETA
DIAZ HERNANDEZ BEATRIZ
DIMA GEORGETA GABRIELA
DIMITROVA PAUNOVA TINKA
DIMITROVA VASILEVA KALINA
DJOCO SAM
DOS SANTOS SILVA SERGIO
DURAN SANTIAGO MARIA DOLORES
ELAMRATI OSAMA
ENCINAS SORIANO SARA
FERNANDEZ DAVILA CARLOS MARINO
FERNANDEZ DEL AMO MARIA
FERRER REYMADO REX
FIGUEROA BRAVO HECTOR MANUEL
FRUTOS ROSIQUE JULIA
FUENTES FERNANDEZ Mª DOLORES
GALLARDO OLMO JOSE
GALLEGO TRIGUERO JOSE RAUL
GAMIZ TORRES MARIA PILAR
GARCIA ALFAGEME ABEL
GARCIA ARNAIZ JUAN LUIS
GARCIA FERNANDEZ BEATRIZ
GARCIA GARCIA-MOÑINO MARIA DE LAS NIEVES
GARCIA GONZALEZ ENRIQUE
GARCIA MARTINEZ CRISTINA AURELIA
GARCIA PRESA CARLOS ALBERTO
GARCIA SANCHEZ JOSE
GARCIA SANCHEZ JOSE MARIA
GARROTE PLAZA JAVIER
GENEVA PETRICA
GIL PEREZ (Y FETO) ANA ISABEL
GOMEZ GUDIÑA OSCAR
GONZALEZ GAGO FELIX
GONZALEZ GARCIA ANGELICA
GONZALEZ GRANDE TERESA
GONZALEZ ROQUE ELIAS
GRACIA GARCIA JUAN MIGUEL
GUERRERO CABRERA JAVIER
GUTIERREZ GARCIA BERTA MARIA
HERMIDA MARTIN PEDRO
IGLESIAS LOPEZ ALEJANDRA
ITAIBEN MOHAMED
IZQUIERDO ASANZA PABLO
JARO NARRILLOS Mª TERESA
KLADKOVOY OLEKSANDR
LAFORGA BAJON LAURA ISABEL
LEON MOYANO MARIA VICTORIA
LOMINCHAR ALONSO MARIA DEL CARMEN
LOPEZ DIAZ MIRIAM
LOPEZ PARDO Mª DEL CARMEN
LOPEZ RAMOS Mª CRISTINA
LOPEZ-MENCHERO MORAGA JOSE MARIA
MACÍAS RODRÍGUEZ MARÍA JESÚS
MANCEBO ZAFORAS FCO JAVIER
MANZANO PEREZ ANGEL
MARIN CHIVA VICENTE
MARÍN MORA ANTONIO
MARTÍN BAEZA BEGOÑA
MARTIN FERNANDEZ ANA
MARTIN PACHECO LUIS ANDRES
MARTIN REJAS MARIA PILAR
MARTINAS ALOIS
MARTINEZ RODRIGUEZ CARMEN MONICA
MELGUIZO MARTINEZ MIRIAN
MENGIBAR JIMENEZ JAVIER
MICHELL RODRIGUEZ MICHAEL
MODOL STEFAN
MOPOCITA MOPOCITA SEGUNDO VICTOR
MORA DONOSO ENCARNACION
MORA VALERO Mª TERESA
MORAL GARCIA JULIA
MORENO ARAGONES FRANCISCO
MORENO ISARCH JOSE RAMON
MORENO SANTIAGO EUGENIO
MORIS CRESPO JUAN PABLO
MUÑOZ LARA JUAN
NARVAEZ DE LA ROSA FRANCISCO JOSE
NEGRU MARIANA
NOGALES GUERRERO ISMAEL
NOVELLON MARTINEZ INES
ORGAZ ORGAZ MIGUEL ANGEL
PARDILLOS CHECA ANGEL
PARRONDO ANTON SONIA
PASTOR PEREZ JUAN FRANCISCO
PAZ MANJON DANIEL
PEDRAZA PINO JOSEFA
PEDRAZA RIVERO MIRIAN
PELLICARI LOPEZOSA ROBERTO
PEREZ MATEO Mª PILAR
PINEL ALONSO FELIPE
PLASENCIA HERNANDEZ MARTHA SCARLETT
PLES ELENA
POLO REMARTINEZ MARIA LUISA
POPA IONUT
POPESCU EMILIAN
PRIETO HUMANES MIGUEL ANGEL
QUESADA BUENO FRANCISCO ANTONIO
RAMIREZ BEDOYA JOHN JAIRO
RAMOS LOZANO LAURA
REYES MATEOS MIGUEL
RODRIGUEZ CASANOVA JORGE
RODRIGUEZ CASTELL LUIS
RODRIGUEZ DE LA TORRE Mª SOLEDAD
RODRIGUEZ RODRIGUEZ ANGEL LUIS
RODRIGUEZ SANCHEZ FRANCISCO JAVIER
ROGADO ESCRIBANO AMBROSIO
ROMERO SANCHEZ CRISTINA
RZACA PATRICIA
RZACA WIESLAW
SABALETE SANCHEZ ANTONIO
SANCHEZ LOPEZ SERGIO
SANCHEZ MAMAJON MARÍA ISABEL
SANCHEZ QUISPE JUAN ANTONIO
SANCHEZ-DEHESA FRANCES BALBINA
SANTAMARIA GARCIA DAVID
SANZ MORALES JUAN CARLOS
SANZ PEREZ EDUARDO
SENENT PALLAROLA GUILLERMO
SERRANO LASTRA MIGUEL ANTONIO
SERRANO LOPEZ RAFAEL
SFEATLU PAULA MIHAELA
SIERRA SERON FEDERICO MIGUEL
SIMON GONZALEZ DOMNINO
SOLER INIESTA MARIA SUSANA
SOTO ARRANZ CARLOS
STAYKOVA MARIA IVANOVA
SUBERVIELLE MARION CINTIA
SUCIU ANLEXANDRU HORACIU
SZPILA DANUTA TERESA
TENESACA BETANCOURT JOSE LUIS
TORIBIO PASCUAL IRIS
TORRES MENDOZA NEIL FERNANDO
TORTOSA GARCIA CARLOS
TUDANCA HERNANDEZ MARIA TERESA
UTRILLA ESCRIBANO JESUS
VALDERRAMA LOPEZ JOSE MIGEL
VALDES RUIZ SAUL
VEGA MINGO MERCEDES
VILELA FERNANDEZ DAVID
ZAMORA GUTIERREZ JUAN RAMON
ZOKHNYUK YAROSLAV
ZSIGOVSZKI CSABA

[List source: El Mundo]
*Note: Names are listed in the following order, 1st Last Name – 2nd Last Name – First Name

photo credit: arquitextonica via photopin cc

Atocha Station Monument (the subterranean perspective of the glass cylinder) inscribed with messages left by mourners in the days after the attacks – photo credit: arquitextonica via photopin cc

This is not an opportunity to take advantage of towards some end. Having said that, it is a moment set apart and deserving of reflection.

On March 11, 2004 beginning at 7:37AM, multiple explosions on 4 commuter trains arriving and in route to Madrid’s Atocha Central Station killed 192 people from 14 countries and wounded nearly 2,000 more.

Today is, in light of it’s significance, the deadline for me to broach the broad motif of political violence. Despite my absorptions of and reflections on the societies (Spain, Basque Country and USA) in which I interact, there remains in me a deep temptation to leave analysis and interpretation for later, to procrastinate and push off this endlessly complicated and sociolinguistically-loaded topic, for another day down the road, for some impossible moment in which I conclude that I am completely, thoroughly and objectively informed.

Such an omission, however, would do no justice to the victims of a history of violence that has spanned over 100 years; insecurity of conscience offers no hand to the people caught in cycles of action and reaction; perfectionist inaction fails to reveal the diverse persuasions and identities entwined in conflict. To exclude any additional narratives to the Big Story of History is an easy and often unnoticeable form of injustice.

Without being able to quote my source, the definition of the word that I find most clear is that terrorism is the use of the tactics of war in a civil setting, against civilian targets. I would add one thing: terrorists act with symbolic purpose against a symbolic target, in attempts to communicate a message.

The World Trade Center buildings and those occupying them stood and fell to acts of terrorism, symbols of sociocultural values manifest in physical targets. The terrorists of 11-M saw a symbolic target in the peoples’ trust of public transportation, specifically in a rail system whose great expansion began in the first years of Franco’s dictatorship. That fruit of fascism, reclaimed as a tool of democracy and plurality, contributed to the multicultural makeup of contemporary Iberia. Striking the center of these values (not to mention similar patterns in the London attacks a year later) was, I suspect, an attempt to halt social progress by obscuring it beneath bloodshed. Public transport acts as an equalizer of individuals and its existence implies freedom of movement, a basic right of any free people. The preservation of liberty requires the active use of the rights and responsibilities it imparts. I am not alone in witnessing these societies fulfill said responsibilities by rejecting the use of violence. I am not alone in witnessing these societies exercise said rights by expressing the narratives that allow for peace.

I do not take the use of the term terrorism lightly. The word and it’s variants have been overused, underused, politicized and disguised. From here on out, at some points I will find it necessary to invoke it and at others I will refuse to do so. It’s a puzzle that adds new pieces on a nearly daily basis and thus requires careful consideration that will inevitably evolve as well.

What does not change is the finality of trauma in body and mind. And I am reminded in concluding that despite my best intentions and all the words I can muster, I also owe some silence to the voices that never caught the train back home.

photo credit: frado76 via photopin cc

photo credit: frado76 via photopin cc

On the Table

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Loneliness is harder to come by, and aloneness even more so. Lack of aloneness does imply a lessening loneliness, even though the Buddha-quoters and the life coaches of the Northwestern hemisphere would tell you otherwise. You simply must interact. That is, you must look at every multitudinous, flat-lining city mouth with the same stoic judgment discernment and measured appreciation that you’d give the every-once-in-a-while smile of the low-density burb-hood. Because in each case, that’s all you’re gonna get. The eyes may not smile, because that’s something momma didn’t teach the little one. She may have, instead, given lessons in omission. You, alone, simply must know when not to interact.

The southerners ask me of the northerners, “are they all so cold?” and I admit to turning away from that question from elder’s end of the New Year’s eve dinner table – an answer I couldn’t formulate, having concentrated all awe on soaking up Valencian townie accent and rhythm – turning to listen instead to the children of my era’s discourse on the current interpersonal drama, the crimes and conclusions. Tertulia, the debate of evidence and considerations, also counts as sobremesa, ‘above the table, on the table’ conversation lingering after completing the task of eat. I spy with my Midwest-eye, two concepts we might practice, at most, during a couple holidays a year. I spy with my Anglo-eye, two words we don’t have in English for sitting around and shooting the shit.

Sitting, staying put for long enough to talk, even if the TV is still on. Eating slowly and deliberately enough to have some and then some more, before all those plates are taken away and replaced with half a dozen more. That’s the reason for the season, if you count it all up, we’re all even; just delivering it in different tempos to the blood barrier, tripe into tripe, dissolving into little more than our capacity to keep speaking up about aching, cathartic truths. Pain manifesting as gas manifesting as shoving questions down into the belly of the server warehouse, the hard drive of all the things we’ve come to know instantly, streaming.

like a winery, but with all the hard apple cider you can manage

like a winery, but with all the hard apple cider you can manage

Lonely can still find me in the peninsula that never leaves well enough alone. Don’t misunderstand me, I love the frank-speak and brutal exactitude. I adore how the folks here invest time in percentages astounding in the bar and out on the sidewalk blocking passersby as they burn Lucky Strikes and and hurry nowhere, not even to the bottom of the glass. I relish witnessing the Tao of priority these people ride and their mindful presence regarding the dire implications of everyday crap: of the constant threats of water damage and thieves that enter sliding doors after scaling buildings by balconies; of the ugliness of a good cook and of the outrageousness of prescriptions costing more than $5 a month.

Maybe 3 year old on the bus tells you about her dog-cousin, Lana (Spanish for ‘wool’) the boxer that’s reached menarche, saying le ha bajada de la regla, ‘her bleeding cycle has descended.’ The little lady knows more about a woman’s blood than many North American 13 year olds. Her accompanying auntie, a neighbor of ours, called a policeman a chulo (close enough to ‘pompous, tough guy’ in this sense) while walking against a red light, which the officers took unkindly enough to park and follow her into the Spanish equivalent of a Gap flagship store.

These novelties observed and cherished could just be, might just be compelling in contrast to lingering vestiges of good ol’ protestant work ethic. These saturated images stand out against the distorted backdrop of my don’t-complain-get-on-lil-doggies puritanism.

Things here are clear enough though, and unlike that hinting and subtlety that evaporates from the grasp of the visitor to the US of A, nearly all is knowable in Iberia. Because sooner or later, someone will be “rude” or “direct” or “relaxed” enough to paint a decently vivid picture of what the reality really is. For real. Our 1st amendment ain’t got nothin’ on these people’s birthright. Don’t ask me though, about regional differences, for I is not quite yet done documenting.

spillage photo credit: nep via photopin cc