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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.

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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

Slidmark

I am casting

memory’s net wide to reveal it, but I once saw

a slip

and a near tumble to the sidewalk

like a cartoonish banana victim. No banana

nor cartoon involved. Open this brochure, awaiting you in a destination most exotic – join me in awe, horror, and, most of all, wonder:

smooth-soled dress shoes,

the timing of limestone + coincidence + humidity,

mathematical inevitability raised to the power of everyday assholery,

and the leftovers of some mutt heaving,

those bulging eyes not shaming the negligent.

Physics and biology. It could have been any of us, looking at our phones.

Sidewalking

Some months of commutes I’ve spent, on foot and off, in the tangled company of cheap earbuds, a charged phone and a decent enough podcast. This is sonic equivalent of an arm’s length away from all else that is shared in the street. I don’t really understand how to behave myself in so much public except to wash my hands when I come back inside. There are just so many faces and bodies with sounds and goings on about their lives.

Hitting the lottery is a little bumping up against and all the disorientation falls away. Her meaty fist against his exposed knuckle is a sober introduction and an adios half-uttered. Probability picks the times and days to pull together the ones knowable; the ones with whom our eyebrows lock and level back and forth, the ones that play chicken with strollers, the ones that crosswalk after we do likewise, during which we are signing each others’ risky business permission slips and we are hushing each others’ Mesolithic brain stems that stop us mid-lurch upon spotting the red, traffic-lit flashes of the hunt.

Even at that empty hour I imagine myself deemed an obvious outsider by some ghostly populace; they can pick out the way I gauge person-to-personal space, and my measurements of auric bubbles on the street. I hope they can root for me when I go up against the ones who I can’t ever figure out how to pass from behind. We share the sidewalk walk walk it out of maybe a meter wide.

Count your blessings if they are certifiably off to one side; even when you’re met with the package deal of a quivering Yorkie, three shopping bags, a lit cigarette and a flip-phone gluing their shoulder to ear.

But the middle-ish walkers, god forbid there’s a small child there too, are tough cookies. Go around a car if you have to. Don’t exhaust your daily ration of mental math just to deduce the next move of some body in the middle-ish. A viable remedy is jumping off into the calle-kalea or onto the front step of an apartment building. Forget that you’re from the burbs of west of the Missisip, because this be a game of awholenotherly dif’urnt ratio n’ execution, girl.

Don’t even ask me how to execute a little vamos vamos Petey c’mon venga vamos around the block on a weekday at 1pm with this toddling bulldog, a tote of empty Tupperwares, and a too long leash.

Yesterday, in a gesture most kind, a lady with her elderly mother hanging from her right arm warned me of the freshly dead rat perfectly centered in the crosswalk – you know, because the dog would go for it. I can say that you really gotta start by pulling one of those things out and throwing it over your shoulder; put your ear to the street.

Larreagaburu

wpid-20130519_171534.jpgTook Peteychenko Pedrovich up the hill to the park, the Larreagaburu (’miraflores’ in Spanish, ‘to watch flowers’), and finally felt as if I’d dropped all pretense and shut up clamoring over earthly things.

But for real this time, a new edition of the self-assessment Scripture with the consistency of the illusionist’s flashpaper. This time, rather than avoiding them, I could stomp eggshells with due diligence: for real this time, I still care about not caring and maintain a preoccupation with unoccupation; these are surely hazards – beware of repetitive motions, safety first. Drying the throat, sharp altitudes dole out a sense of fortune. The suddenness of a little drop of gratitude’s aftertaste on my tongue’s bitter region, the tender nasal membrane welcoming white ash.

Wind in our little faces, the smoke of burning wood and wet brush clinging to the ridge that drops into the Nervión River where the channel takes a sharp turn in the barrio of La Peña. Communion with the crosswinds is a controlled burn with no ordained supervision.

When one lives like a ant on a hill, rugged individualism takes a gasping pull inward, lungs-ward, and gets that smartass of yours submerged again in the tides of the common good. The social contract you must make here includes the brushfire’s municipal smoke in your drying laundry and scraping the dogshit off your boot and all over the northern stairwell of Building #2.

But we come back up for air, the anonymous mass and I, and we take turns being considerate. Damned be the riptides. Join us in this effort to cede to others and to the urge to fight tooth and nail not to. Maybe your role here is to commandeer 3 square meters of public park, to cut and terrace on the steep southern slope. I’d bet you and this guy too don’t even consider yourselves gardeners, just a couple of citizen stomaches with no balcony for a tomato plant.

Descending on the other side of Larreagaburu now, Pete and I stare at a lady sitting on a picnic table, her hands busy near her face. False, Pete stares and I struggle with oppositional social norms taught by my upbringing and my adopted home regarding the behavior of fixed gazes. Maybe she’s plucking her eyebrows on the picnic tabletop in a down coat and tan boots. Maybe she’s fashioning a means to combust herself full of brown hash and hiding it from her husband. Maybe she’s just picking herself apart and we’d agree that this is a damn good place to do it. We both might be looking over things from above and making little what really isn’t big to begin with.

Hello Propriety, it’s nice to meet you. Please excuse me, I have a hard time with common first names that correspond to so many faces. I’ll repeat your name during our first exchanges. I’ll try to recognize this version of you by the contours of your face. I’ll calculate my next moves with that data and apply the ratio of people per square kilometer. The resulting density leads me to conclude that the situation requires a degree of give and take, give a shit and take one, or not.

This is how I tell you how I feel about living in this pushed together richness, mounded up with all these strangers cold with opinions and warm with suggestions. These are the words I use to describe the pile of unmet neighbors numberless like me. This is how I explain it to myself.

You’re an ant on a hill.

You could carry up to 50 times your own heft, but you won’t need nearly that much brawn to arrive at the fertile lawn.

Make that art you gotta make and carry that weight of purpose with your own legs; creation gets its own momentum with the stretch out, the crack of joints, and the pull of lactic acid from the muscles.

Just give the shit that you were given to give. Take the chance in spite of the shivering and the rigor mortis of beginning something; the colony’s gonna do it’s thing either way, anyway.

Step out from under the shelter, you do you. That art ain’t gonna make itself. Get up the hill. Somebody is bound to come across you making it up as you go along. Your sisters will carry your corpse back home.