Hitz eta Pitz

So far, ‘hitz eta pitz’ is the best idiomatic phrase in the light sprinkling of Basque I’ve learned. To break it down, hitz = word, eta = and, & pitz = to split, to grate, to shake, to drive crazy… As I take it, it’s just word after word, giving someone the third degree, the never-ending saga, going to down to the funny farm and taking you down with me. Also, reverentially referred to as la chapa: word that means what it tastes like and that’s chapped lips.

This past Wednesday, December 3rd was the International Day of the Basque Language. Day(s) late and dollar short, at least the Euro is still as strong as it is.

Yikes. I’ve been out there. Last post was in… October… and between now and then you bet there’s been plenty. Wrote 50,164 words for no one but me (NaNoWriMo, my first time around) and spent lots of time planning (unusual for me and perhaps, damning) a trip to Poland and Ukraine that never got taken, and investing in canine ophthalmology treatments. And sprinkled heartily around all of that, been getting me some education in the Basque language. Just the thing that’ll legitimize and get me back on track with the whole theme of Basque-ing in Reflected Glory. Fingers crossed.

Euskaraz bizi gara. We live in Basque. I’ve been busy adding case endings to the ends of nouns and the end of my rope. Surprising myself with what I can bring to class each day still knowing… like I have a working memory that’s still working but for a frozen salary and surrendered benefits. Alas, my Lingual Empathy returns and I again I’m truly feeling sorry for my English students. I mean, word order? Prepositional phrases? As a purveyor of the language arts, I’ve eaten my share of humble pie these last 2 months and sorted out where my pedagogy has surely left somethings wanting.

Una lengua esta viva

Back to getting schooled by the difficulty of a blunt beginning … when the irakaslea, la teacher, asked me about how hard it was to learn all of the conjugations in Español*, I kind of just shrugged it off in my short-term presence of mind (and flushingbeetredpleasestoplookingatme everyoneinthisclassrooomrightnow). But it was difficult and it was endless. I mean, how could one still feel the pangs of incessant effort once it’s culminated and adjusted to the ease and fluid manipulations of daily life’s second nature? It was a slow-drip of Peninsular dreaming that kept me carrying on with it for so many years. But now, since it’s an after thought, I shrug, the beginner’s mind is both painful and disorienting and still full of unprejudiced luck and willing openness. Which is cool, no lie.

So, why do it? I admit, the hitz eta pitz is mainly because I wanna get squirrely and learn how to be a Basque witch. For fun. For mental health and taming the tiger of task-switching (the mortal peril of the mind formerly known as multi-tasking) of this ADHD. For humility. And learning how to sort the pressing matters from the one’s that just have to wait for later, exempt from the label of procrastinasty.

For example, the informal second-person plural of you all, or ‘vosotros’ in Español. Never learned it in the States. In North, Central or South America, “Ahh naaaw you wont need that”. EXCEPT EVERY SINGLE DAY. In Spain, the rain is making y’all complain. Frig, ended up just putting a timorous “-ais?” on the end of every verb. So when I’m told not to worry about learning the extremely rare form of “informal ‘you” (hi*, yes, hi = meaning ‘you’ but only use with your beau and/or your truest bffffff), I get shiver of foreshadowing… But it goes away real quick, since everything else about this language takes up all my all my time and conscious attention, as Out. Of. Control. as it is. I hope to elaborate this at a later date.

All images in this post are from the 'Badu Bada' exhibit at the Alhondiga in April of 2014

All images in this post are from the ‘Badu Bada’ exhibit at the Alhondiga in Bilbao, April 2014

Fun fact: no cuss/curse words in Basque. None. You can say every last thing in this language in just about every setting; whether your audience is most the starch-collared headmistress or the most linguistically-spongy toddler, no need to fear the gasps of scandal.

Argi-argi… as much as this is clear… as for this much is clear? How do we even say that? SEE? It’s HAPPENING. There’s only so much bandwidth and I’m losing my own religion, out one ear while as I turn the other cheek. Wait, wha? I also have to wonder if the Euskera/Euskara (potato, potAto) seems to be sticking because I’m learning it in Spanish… another thought-tuber to plant and dig again later.

Argi = light. Meaning, clearly. Meaning, of course. Meaning, obv, duh, right.

Call me romántica*, but this is the discovery that really satisfies, the possibility to communicate but a darling side effect. Even if it’s enough to give a high 5. Eman bostekoa, “crash them 5’s”. I shit you not, that is the literal translation. I’m straight nerding out on this one.

I need a nap with a twofold end, and especially after the more taxing classes: to swallow the thickness of mental fatigue and properly digest the contents of the lesson.

It’s totally worth it, all of it, just to hear the tune of saying something completely new in the oldest way one knows how. Even if it’s just to comment on the weather, or how to get to the bakery from the ballet school, a giggle crawls out from the click and cordiality, community spirit comes out of accepting limits instead of what lacks. Learning a language is hard, but the brain knows better than we do, and figures itself out eventually. Immersion doesn’t hurt to get the tongue rolling. And we can get lucky enough to find ourselves in a mood that appreciates fleeting but oh so fulfilling success. Like when you’re able to yell at your kid who’s wandering too close to the street and sound like you’re summoning a high-level Pokemon in Japanese. Or something.

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.

Composting

As of late, this Biscay Dossier has sat waiting with its ankle bouncing as the ball of the foot touches, no, grips the ground.

The necessity of new posts nearby, nearer than the back of my mind, but deferred. Geroratu. Left for later. Atrasado. Less often than I’d like. The ligaments in the back of the hand cede to the those below the knees, boots on the ground, pouring work into other things.

Compost. That’s the term. The process and the product called for in the composition of soil and word. Procrastination in it’s loveliest form.

There’s plenty of leftovers because I’m a bit desiccated at this point. Shriveling up and crumbling, with the wind I blow away from the hubbub and incessant Basque-ness. I get out to the huerta.

They call these little ladies margaritas.

They call these little ladies margaritas.

La huerta is a word we just don’t seem to have within our disposal in English. Neither a ‘garden’ nor a ‘farm’, and ‘vegetable patch’ just doesn’t ring quite true for me either. Vegetable patch evokes the successful cultivation of carrots (why so difficult?). Vegetable patch, for me at least, evokes plastic dolls that pop out of the heads of cabbage and later must be recalled because they devoured little girls’ blond hair in the 90s and they ought to have been recalled even earlier than that because the damn things came out right around the same time as the movies Chuckie and Gremlins and I never trusted anything that could just pop out of the earth and start talking.

Anyway, la huerta. Not something we have in the States, though ours is to some degree a community garden, because the plot – okay, now there’s a working term, ‘plot’, vegetable plot, or perhaps farm plot because we have rabbits and a nameless resident cat even though neither of those came about by our doing – yes, so the plot is privately owned, mutually or shared among a collection of old village men, or at least they are now old men, having given their permission to a younger old man who just so happens to have the blessing of the powers that be to look both ways for trains and then cross the tracks.

Ura ona, good water.

Ura ona, good water.

In early April I thought, the grass has gone to seed and I ought to have gotten over there to weed a week ago. I hear the voice of my mother saying this to herself, echoing in me too and still, even she didn’t get as particular with the marking of intervals and regard for the exactitude and judgment of tasks timely based upon when weeds would go to seed or any other budding thing.

Things deferred because it’s never really clear when anything ought to begin. They tell you in the books and on the back of seed packets, what to do in one month or another season, as if we all friggin live in the same climate. Then again, nothing really could be more exact than ambiguity. Tomorrow ought to bring rain, and rain could mean waiting again or rain could mean we’ll all be in the shambles of the floods and the coming again; it will have everything to do with Jesus and nothing to do with man-made climate change.

He’s made it back, just last week, reborn from death and decay that evaporated into the sky. The guy of steam and Sun, the Son of God, he says to get going already and bury those red beans and plant the damn cucumbers through holes in the black plastic.

Sharpening the scythe.

Sharpening the scythe.

We share the plot with Txigui, pronounced “chee-wee”: OMG, I know, the name though. Txigui de cojones, as I like to say, ‘got’dam Txigui’ (literally, ‘balls Txigui’: yes, those balls). Goombah, village doof, an idiot in actions; the guy’s in paro, unemployed like so many, and built a rabbit hutch to eat and sell. So, I relent a bit.

Idiocy earned from ample thoughtlessness, a title everybody’s earned at least once. For instance, our only shade tree worth resting under, a loquat (níspero in Spanish) pruned within an inch of it’s death in December, but for a purpose I just discovered last week.

Loquat leaves decay as slowly as pine needles. A pile of loquat branches will hide a construction site’s share of plastic wire casing. Oh yeah, at least 6 garbage bags worth of insulator sheaths, numberless redwhitegreenblueblackandyellow plastic bits all mixed in with the rabbit dung and leaching goodness gracious and who knows what other fun into the food for the soil.

Grilled vegetation

Grilled vegetation

I could care less about that plastic getting into us; I’m a smoker, a drinker and a fan of cellophane wrapped goods with more shelf-life preservatives than actual foodstuff. My concern is for the mitosis of few-celled, the tiniest well-beings who donate their lives’ every calorie and second to unlock the contributions of sun, water and seeds.

I’m also slightly worried we could be legally implicated in Txigui’s dumbassery when he gets caught. The plastic problem in my compost will likely get fixed elsewhere, where the long arm of the law can reach, and I decide that too is best dealt with waiting it out. Before and after the harvest of copper, there’s always plastic. I find shards of a CD from 1990-something and the thin film that seals something like a container of sliced cheese or turkey lunch meat.

Pavo frío. Cold turkey. Cold cuts. Cocidos pero no embutidos. Cooked but not cured, like the jamón of everybody’s dreams. Cured ham, hanging out, waiting for later.

Grapevine shanty

Grapevine shanty

Last week I thought, the heat is coming down from on high, but only for a week at a time. June will have to be full of days where the skin is sheltered from the lowered, beating sky, warmth pulsing through an atmosphere of highest sights not so distant, penetrating and unrelenting. The compost is wet and drying up at a fraction of the speed that I think I have. Compost instructs. In the center of the pile, hot for teacher.

And I felt like a full-fledged adult the other day, taking care of the tilling and cooking soil, this little swath of dirt and turf and it’s well-caught little place in the sun of foreverafternoonlandia, leveling beds of rectangles next to the stream that has slept 10 generations and the stepping stones that need a kick back into place every fourth visit or so.

Yesterday I thought, today is not a garden day. Yesterday could have been if the rain had good and dried up a bit more from the morning, but there wasn’t enough sun in the afternoon to do that barometric deed. No luck, no chance.

Until further noticing.
Delayed until it catches the eye.
Creation put off.

This June, I think now, will be full of the mad hurry that slows me wildly once I get there, once I step foot in the overgrown otherworld and survey the prospects of what really is possible between gulps and chews. That is, what i can reasonably expect to accomplish after and before the need to eat and before and after the bottles emptied of water apt for human sipping.

When weeding and wedding oneself to the wait-til-later works, it looks like leaving plenty a flower for the bugs and the birds to enjoy. I know well enough to merely tinker in the less crucial mechanisms of the Living Machine. Nearly to seed, I’m more than done fighting the weed.

blueschairfloresrio

Bilboren grisak, Bilbao en gris, Bilbao in grey

Translation: Bilbao in grey reminds us of the transience carried off by time’s vortex; reminds us of the immortal that has had it’s start but will never have an end; reminds us of the eternal that has not yet began and will never finish. -Azorin

Translation: Bilbao in grey reminds us of the transience carried off by time’s vortex; reminds us of the immortal that has had it’s start but will never have an end; reminds us of the eternal that has not yet began and will never finish. –Azorín

Now that it isn’t raining, I can write about the rain.

Supposedly Hemingway couldn’t write about Michigan until he made it to Paris.

I just went there, probably angered the gods and hexed myself by glancing all too soon towards that E.H., Ernesto the Besto, the one my gent calls Heuminghwey y su puta madre. I assume my chico doesn’t slant this way but I do wonder if certain grudges have been held (not to mention some basking in the reflected glory of said author’s residency here by many in the same camp) because Mr. H called a spade a spade and a Spain a Spain, to the likely chagrin of a few Basques, particularly those in Pamplona, Navarra (Iruñea, Nafarroa in Euskera) where Uncle Ernie got bulled.

Thoughts regarding precipitation: after a year in, every thought will regard precipitation and every thought will reflect the precipitation.

Water that falls from heaven and loving it. But even the most pluviphilous of them all too get tired of it, blowing in askance from the the sheer valley bend and over the low side towards the sea. Precip imminence eventually isn’t a good enough reason to change your beach plans.

When it doesn’t rain, it’s probably viento sur, the Southern Wind, and what it’ll make you feel is strange. Hospitals and law enforcement report an upsurge of incidents on par with the Full Moon phenomenon. Wind of the South picks up all the misery and coffee breaks and political sausagery (chorizo, slang for theft, to be exact) from the rest of the peninsula. But that’s Murphy’s law carried to the power of unfounded conspiracy, because the wind may come from everywhere and go nowhere. Kinda like scheisty politicians. Mostly, the ration of fresh air caravans in with the breeze that carries tuna and krill and blue whale spirits from the northwest.

Good morning to all the flying things and the shuffling things and the 1-gallon plastic shopping bag blown aloft in a perfect arch, gliding over the 10 story building flats.

Another puzzlement of mine, when the rain comes in sideways: how the heck is that laundry supposed to dry and how do these launderers not lose their marbles? Clue #3 to demonstrate that I’m obviously not from here is because I can’t figure out for the life of me how they know the wind comes from the single source when it barges through the grid of streets the right slight north and the left slight south. That kind of wind fills eyelids with fiberglass and long brunette hairs and you bow your head with palms pressing at the forehead and begin to pray for rain, please knock this devilry back down.

There’s one kind of rain that is, depending on your mental health quotient that day, the absolute best or worst of all. Sirimiri is an onomatopoeia, like many terms in Euskera, and it requires humor to stick it out without your sanity spilling out. Sirimiri is the primordial mist of a hundred billion drops, each one only a handful of molecules, coming down so very lightly and forming a near tissue paper-like sheet of water. Sirimiri, rain that does not drip but soaks right on through.

Muscles memorize where the puddlings tend to gather. In various levels of consciousness art thou learnt in the best of lessons: watch your back. I wonder if crime is reduced simply by downpours. Too much hassle José.

The convicts and I’ve decided to buy decent boots and shoes from here on out so the seeping doesn’t get into the core, past tolerance’s electrified fence. That’s how the water gets to your head, through wet socks. Wool is conduit enough but cotton is the quick stick intravenous way to ruin your gatdamned mood, and your maldito dia as well.

Investments in footwear must be compensated somewhere; crappy umbrellas have been lifted from the the kinfolk, yes. But don’t you dare feel guilty about it or do something silly like go and buy an umbrella. Your turn to ride the pay-it-forward merry-go-round will end with your paraguas, for-waters, on the other side of the closing train doors.

Pete limberly hops over them puddles when necessary – when? – always as it’s absolutely necessary. Little macho coursing with adolescence, sure, whatever, but Petey sure hates his little booty to touch the chill and damp when he’s gotta do his thing.

Puddles like windexed coffee table glass, clean and static suspending underneath mudprints of boots and paws, giving away no reflection of the open midnight sky.

Damp schnauzer in a red rain jacket and her human wants know and outright asks, “hey you, why you have your dog out at this time in the dark and humid chill?” They are out there too, you think, but they just have to say something. Let the cup overflow, liquids seeking the low points.