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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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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.