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.

Advertisements

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.

 

What I Don’t Yet Know and Still Want To Believe – Part 2


Part 2: But Seriously Y’all

What I don’t yet know and still want to believe…

That is, about the Basque Story. The Basque Conundrum. The Basque Conflict. The Basque Saga. The Basque History. The Basque Herstory. The Basque Problem. The Basque Solution. The Basque Enigma.


If Euskadi won it’s independence and became a sovereign nation, the people here would tear each other to pieces.

Without a common foe, its internal divisions would be exponentially amplified. No longer in the shadow of Spain or France, the once external demarcations of ‘us and them’ would implode and once symbiotic alliances would turn inward upon themselves. A mutual enemy,‘them,’ would have to be refashioned from those who were once some of ‘us’. Gone would be the diversity of values and stances, the very checks and balances that democracy depends upon.

There. I said it and I got it out of the way.
This is a fact that I don’t yet know but still want to believe.

In Part 1 of this series, my final meditation wondered about our divergent understandings of courtesy. In this context, I tend towards having mucha cara, ‘a lot of face’ and not letting on enough of what passes through the mind behind it.

I had to get that out of the way, The Mutual Enemy Problem, because it takes a conscious, concerted effort to emulate my new neighbors and just g’on ahead and let it tumble out. I also closed Part 1 alluding to my perspectives, this being the first of a few I’ll look at in this post (and in Part 3 to follow), regarding some serious subjects that could really piss people off.


 

If it weren't for all this deep red libation, high on quality and low on price… sharing the cup makes playing the devil’s advocate a bit easier, no lie. (Full disclosure: this is actually killer Chilean wine from some killer Chilean pals)

If it weren’t for all this deep red libation, high on quality and low on price… sharing the cup makes playing the devil’s advocate a bit easier, no lie. (Full disclosure: this is actually killer Chilean wine from some killer Chilean pals)


Correctness in Offending Political Senses of Humor

Before I go any further, I must clarify how I “Basque in the Reflected Glory” of all this tendency toward critique.

The title of this blog hit me one morning, after weeks of worrying about being too serious and being taken too seriously (or not seriously enough… merrily we go along, go along…. It hit me that if I was worrying about taking myself (and my writing) too seriously then the terrorists had already won.

This America!n’t happen, this America!na won’t let it. So, America!

“Basque-ing in the Reflected Glory” came out of observing the people, institutions and media of Euskadi, in daily self-reflection, raise clenched fists of success proclaiming:

successkidbasque

And man, I couldn’t blame them. I still can’t. Surrounded by all this glory, I could just sit back and soak in all the reflected light of Grade-A, Top-Shelf Awesomeness that I get to be a part of. And then, there’s the innumerable times when I’m belly laughing alone because the hyperbole and hype is just so absurd while simultaneously so warranted, and oh so recognizable…

Greatness superimposed on Greatness, like when all the Power Rangers’ battle vehicles would combine to form the ultimate fighter bot.

Greatness superimposed on Greatness, like when all the Power Rangers’ battle vehicles would combine to form the ultimate fighter bot.

That ditty by Queen is playing in my head, you’d know it even if I wrote the last word of the title in Euskera (remember that the “tx” combo is pronounced like “ch”): “We Are The Txapeldunak”. Consider these lines in particular…

And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few.
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through.

I don’t yet know how to best give this situation the alternative view it deserves. Going along giggling, but only over the matters most trite sure wouldn’t be fair nor sane. The atrocities of Basque story bounce back at the same light-speed as any reflection of glory. The visage of ache and anxiety, humiliation, distress, and betrayal can still look at itself in the mirror and practice the jokes it’ll tell later.

The stand-up comedian, has an interesting position in a particular culture’s spectrum of the arts. Generally speaking, a creator who works in fiction, has a buffer against committing scandals of offensiveness that the comic does not. Their jokes we usually see as a more unfiltered extension of the humorist. We can forgive the author of fiction if they’ve humorously conveyed something too brutal to say live on-stage because they’ve set it back into an imagined frame of an imagined mind.

I’m no comedian. However, I still want to believe that my writing here can be: sufficiently serious in the pursuit of comprehension to risk offending people; respectful enough to swear off radical political correctness; loose and limber enough risk a slap on the hand to get that slap on the knee. A few hits on the tongue-in-cheek target are worth the chance of a miss that, in bad taste, bites down hard.


To Know Thyself is to Know Thine Enemy

So, to revisit the opening poke-in-the-eye polemic, I know I’m not crazy to still want to believe that an EuskalHotMessería would likely be the immediate (but not necessarily permanent) result of independentzia for Euskalherria. I’ll go as far as saying that they’d have a harder time, at least in the first decade or beyond, between themselves than they do between them and their respective Nation-States. With a shallower pool of Us and Them to choose from, we become our own enemy. Euskadi is presently particularly united, but since before the Carlist Wars and up to contemporary voting trends, a Basque consensus is an oxymoron. I would expect to see a sharpening of the already exaggerated divisions between provinces within the Basque Autonomous Community, not to mention the inevitable emergence of rifts between those who cannot or refuse to dissolve their cultural ties to Spain and France.

What I don’t yet know in particular and what leads me to suggest that this would be the case is that:

  1. Don’t nobody know what the economic ramifications would be for the region while Spain and France are still very much feeling (even if not officially registering/calculating) the economic crisis
  2. Don’t nobody know if a newly sovereign Basque Country could independently manage and maintain the their public sector and infrastructure.
  3. Don’t nobody know how trade and relations with Spain and France would be managed and maintained or if Spain and France would impose unofficial sanctions against a new Basque Country (or vice versa). ~and the one I really scratch my head about… as I imagine many would if questioned on the matter~
  4. Don’t nobody know how a rupture would affect these teams’ membership in the Spanish football league. And that, my friends, is a diplomatic emergency if I’ve ever known one.

You think the US has a problem with dependence on foreign oil? You have no idea. You can’t produce this golden elixir in Euskadi. Or oranges. Or almonds. Or even much wheat. All that comes up from the 'EhSpain' (that being the average Spanish-native's English pronunciation of their country) photo credit: 96dpi via photopin cc

You think the US has a problem with dependence on foreign oil? You have no idea. You can’t produce this golden elixir in Euskadi. Or oranges. Or almonds. Or even much wheat. All that comes up from the ‘EhSpain’ (that being the average Spanish-native’s English pronunciation of their country)
photo credit: 96dpi via photopin cc

These are most certainly questions to revisit. For the observer and denizen alike, the rest of 2014 will pan out as an interesting year in matters of statecraft in Europe. In Spain, the Community of Cataluyna plans to present the Catalan public with a ballot referendum this coming November 9th, an electoral survey of sorts, that could determine how much voter support there is for an ever quickening march towards self-determination. I haven’t been following the UK case as closely but it too implies a larger trend; Scotland will vote on a nearly identical measure this coming September 18th.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the Basque Country, Cataluyna or Scotland should or should not break off to form their own independent countries. I don’t yet know that it is necessary to come to any conclusions right now. I still want to believe that in politics, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t – I don’t care if you’re trying to revive a coalition, respawn a movement or level-up your democracy on this continent, that one, or on the largest moon of Saturn.

My underdeveloped view on the matter is that I don’t yet know what to expect. I simply don’t hear enough about how said accomplishment would be handled once on the other side, once these ‘nations’ become ‘states’. I tend to see an immense amount of energy going towards making the shift happen, but I still want to believe that these cohorts have invested considerable planning for most foreseeable geo-political consequences.


By Scot! What these movements and their detractors (not to mention the undecided) symbolize is a new way of thought in governance and international relations. In store are shifts in organization,  macro- and micro- politics/diplomacy/economics… alas, a later post on these matters would be most prudent. photo credit: mikemac29 via photopin cc

By Scot! What these movements and their detractors (not to mention the undecided) symbolize is a new way of thought in governance and international relations. In store are shifts in organization, macro- and micro- politics/diplomacy/economics… alas, a later post on these matters would be most prudent.
photo credit: mikemac29 via photopin cc


 If You Can’t Keep It All Straight, Just Think Octopus

Put all that aside for now. I suggest stowing it in brain’s back pocket, a spot out-of-sight but still handy. Visualize doing so, as we’re about the expand the metaphor.

Imagine a political debate or conflict currently unfolding in your geographic or psychic vicinity. An issue being one that your personal stake in the outcome is moderate to minimal and yet the matter evokes in you both an intellectual interest and emotional ambiguity. As much as I’d like to, I can’t offer any examples because different strokes for different folks.

So you go to bed, laying there thinking about the issue you just imagined, running through a Rolodex of points and counterpoints, pros and cons of the issue. You doze off with these thoughts bouncing around as your noggin goes to work cleaning up synapses after a productive day.

Next morning, you wake up, and you’re an octopus.
You’re just fine out of water for some reason, but you’re definitely an octopus. Thing is, you wake up still only knowing how to move like a human and now you got all these extra appendages and a hundred new ways to stick to things and your brain stem fits the body of another creature and you go on with trying to live your life and think about extremist views without losing track of your extremities and continue to publish neat stuff that makes sense but you got ink spilling out all over the place and it seems really sensible then to change colors to match the seafloor and and then it’s like screw all y’alls, I’m hiding under this rock.


 

Shame on this apathetic octopussy. photo credit: Dani_vr via photopin cc

Shame on this apathetic octopussy.
photo credit: Dani_vr via photopin cc


 

Taking Things Seriously

Just as I don’t yet know how to handle all these tentacles, I can never decide, if I ought to make political statements or not. There’s a couple reasons for this.

Politics is an inherently uncomfortable discipline; some of the greatest thinkers stayed away from it altogether while others who barely think of much at all get wasted on apathy for good reason and none whatsoever.


 

Righteous fire, outrage and immediacy fading like a sticker that once said… something important… Azkuna Matata… it means don’t worry for the rest of your days…

Righteous fire, outrage and immediacy fading like a sticker that once said… something important… Azkuna Matata… it means don’t worry for the rest of your days…

And then, oh the vanity! A good chunk of us want to look good, look smart, look informed, look like we’re holding all the disparate pieces together. We want to look like we have all the answers while trying to look like we’re not even looking for them. We’re stirring the pot of shit and acting like it don’t stink. Vanity manages the reputations; she works filtering the scraggly, loose, hairy and unbecoming bits; she slaves away at curating the second self showcase on all that masses communique.

Political statements make me squirm, for I tire of these things so quickly when they fail to jump or slide or fly. And then suddenly they do jump and slide and fly, as you drink a cup of coffee in front of the building where a lawyer was arrested for dubious reasons less than 24 hours before; as your boyfriend’s aunt grieves her cousins and uncles behind bars for crimes of ‘politics’; as your Euskera teacher is fired because they were involved in the cause; as that degree they earned in prison got them in front of the class.

Politics for the outsider – the expat, the immigrant – is a slow mediation. For me, a closing in magnification leads to identification; that’s how we come to personal conclusions by reason and necessary emotional involvement; pant-staining residues of what a place makes of us.

I don’t yet know what I have the right to protest. I still want to believe that anybody who shows up to a march engages in a little bit of voyeurism. Frankly, I only agree with some of their discontentment and all of their mobilization. I go for the private bodies and public speech filling a common space, the private property stacked tall and elbows cramped. I still want to believe that my permission slip is being alive, and that agreeing with some but never all their demands is plenty.

Part of me wonders, not yet knowing: what opinions do I have a right to here, given that I’ve splashed into the depths of a day-to-day elsewhere and slithered away from the bubbling crockpot of scorching red-white-&-blue vitriol – it leaves the taste buds blistered with a suction grip. And still, the emotional distance and physical closeness of involving myself in these Iberian issues makes it much easier to portray with sound, symbol and presence my support for stances whose entirety and implications I don’t yet know.

I’m not a political scientist and I don’t profess to be. Nevertheless, I still want to believe that I must interact with a political world, one in which the borders drawn and imagine, could appear or disappear as early as next year.

In Part 3 to follow, I’ll BIRG and bitch a little more about the political as personal and the need to interact with these goings-on. Because I still want to believe that as a woman, I must address the discomfort + disorientation as well as delight that comes with navigating the quasi-matriarchy of Basque society.

To be confused… to be contained… to be continued…


(Source of the W. Blake quote – besides the obvious coiner Blake himself – is Paddy Woodworth’s ‘Acknowledgments’ in his book, The Basque Country: A Cultural History. Goooooooooood stuff. I’ll surely be quoting him often in the future.