Monday, December 29, 2014

Spain: prequel

   I get worried when I land in Spain. You arrive with the morning, light rakes across the fields picking out every crack and crinkle in the landscape and from 20,000 feet the place looks like the sun's been hitting it with a hammer for 1000 years. Hard land. Hot white light. Flat flat flat.
  The coastal range around Barcelona looks just like LA. It always makes me shiver.
  And then I get in among the Spaniards and it all goes away.
  You gotta love a people who wheel their children around at 11pm, feed them sweets and let them dance on a table at a restaurant and then talk about something else beside "How long it took to put Jimmy down!" last night.
  I mean "Put them down"? That's an American idiom? We debate laying our children in their beds with language built to describe killing a dog.
  Somehow I imagine the Spanish do not.
  Full disclosure I do not speak Spanish.
  I just like to walk among them. I like how they have a lust for strolling. They amble all day, irrepressibly, linked arm in arm in packs of youth or geriatric phalanx happy to be taking in the air. I guess when 70% of the time the air feels like a furnace you take to the evening with some pleasure.
   They like their pleasures. They treat them normally and not as some Protestant sin to be dipped a finger to. And I Love, that in the midst of a lecture on Moorish history, I mentioned I was "As christian as it gets " and was then met with incomprehension when I said I wasn't Catholic.
  These folks are tribes down here. Citizens of city states bound less by a nation than a name.
  And they eat like kings, or more accurately like happy peasants. In France I always felt the meal elevated the social stature of the room and that everyone in it was somehow a tad more royal or that we'd all been allowed to be "citizens", citizens, till dessert - but in Spain I feel the way I do when I eat on a functioning farm, or out in the country where some friend grows or makes half their own food. You feel like you're closer to the ground, together, munching away. The way sometimes you need to bend down and breathe in the grass or the leaves.
  The Spanish are handsome of course. Stunning at times like their sun, like the flat of a sword, but they don't dress up like the French or the Italians. In fact one of the things I like about Spain is how bad the fashion sense can be and how little they care. The men wear atrocious shoes. They have hairstyles you wouldn't wish on Crispin Glover. The old folks combine shades of grey and dull green Ukrainians would shy from, the tendencies toward clashing clay reds and oranges is astonishing, but somehow they pull it off. Kind of like Pittsburghers they don't seem to give a shit. Folks always ask about my hometown - Man is there nothing to do on a Sunday? And I always imagine how many Pghers would just shrug and say Yeah that's cause we're with our families.
  I imagine the Spanish are so internal - so geared toward the house and the family meal- shutters closed- that when they go out they go out with a vengeance. Two blocks from a spanish bar at 4 pm it sounds like your approaching an American bachelor party or a playoff game but take the corner and it's just another days sit down.
  Look I don't speak Spanish. I don't speak French a little better. I maybe don't speak Russian best of all -which doesn't get you very far once the novelty wears off- so traveling for me can become a combination of semaphore, primitive phrasing and a continually renewed respect for the European educational system
  I will say this. In English.
  Most people live the a fog of their own language. The cloud of their own bullshit.
  Americans more so than Id say any other culture since our bullshit backs up into the core of a country that hates introspection.
  So when I'm outside the states surrounded by people I can't understand what kicks in might be closer to an animal tracking of the truth.
  People at home relentlessly ask me "You're an actor, how do we know when you're acting?" IE how can we know you're telling the truth?
  And my considered response is "Because we know the difference." Usually followed by an unspoken  "Cunt" or "fuckhead".
  One of the benefits of traveling out into the untranslatable world is that you begin to fall back on your mammalian sense of presence. You start to watch what people do: how they lean, or raise their voice, or pause or sweat and touch each other rather than how they chose their words.
  The tools you bring to the table in a play or a dance come to the fore- how to read someone's intent, their belief and their passion thru the body and the tone, not the word. How power and desire literally move.
  Martha Graham had it right, look at the shape of the bodies in Renaissance sculpture and let them tell you the tale. IE torque don't lie. When people truly MEAN something you can see it move through them. You can feel it. In a Valezquez painting, in Freud's portraits, in Hopper or Homer or Goya look at the gesture, the line of the movement and you'll follow the story.
   People do this today as well, even with our bedraggled, folded mobile phon-ed ways of being. We still give it away when we mean it and when you can't catch more than a word or two -not even the gist- you start to read people according to their form- the thing you've been studying since you were 20. Bodies come to life, and it's almost uncanny, you start to see faces out of Carvaggio or Ribera or even a painting out of a Roman home done two millennia before you were eating dinner in a restaurant off the Calle des Catholicos in Granada one Xmas season in the mid teens of 2000.
  There they are- walking, talking, lusting, brushing past- in proof that eternity is our domestic friction not our wars or our economic will or our faith.
  Or ….climb up the Sacramonte in Granada and listen to four Flamenca pour it out, nothing I can say says it better.


Spain 1

 1)  I'm reading Thanksgiving recipes off the Web with my mom. There's a dish from each state listed in a charming little section of the NYtimes and I've been glancing at it for the last couple weeks. The first holiday practice I let myself begin.
   We don't have too many rituals in the house anymore. Kids gather other places, kids have kids of their own, those kids could have kids if they felt like it. Mom doesn't automatically make cookies, the sparse but inevitable trails of xmas lights and ornaments that found their ways to doorknobs or shelves or the dining room table live elsewhere now.

    Persimmon pie. From Indiana. I know what a persimmon is but I didn't know Indiana had them. I read the recipe again this time along with my mother and "Bowing down trees and gathering the sunset in their skins."  I don't remember having read that at all. Such a gorgeous sentence. Granting a little beauty to a state I otherwise sequester among my files on white supremacy and college basketball. I remember that Deena had entered her first pie contest as an 18 year old bride and over the ensuing four decades won many times and now serves as a judge. That stayed with me but not……"….gathering the sunset among them.." Why?

  I pulled a book off my shelves to read last week. "In Siberia" by and English guy who basically threw himself into the towns of deep Russia and waited for someone to take him in. 240 pages and in the final chapter I realized I knew it almost scene by scene. Id read it before. I read the entire book and didn't know it till the end. Should I be happy? Imagine reading Romeo and Juliet or Brideshead Revisited or Atonement all over again without a clue.
  Or should I be pissed my memory is such shit?

 2) And away went Thanksgiving and on came Christmas and now it's done and Im in Spain watching hordes of people walk past these things called Belen - nativity displays put up by every church, chapel and town hall- and I can't imagine what moves them to do so.
  Very odd arriving in a foreign country the day after xmas and beside the shopping not being able to discern what's a holiday decoration and what's not, is that an xmas song in Spanish or is it just some folk tune. The sun's shining, it's 55 degrees, there's not a lot of red and green- xmas got turned off with an international switch.
  And I felt like I'd been so ahead of the game, so prescient - stopping myself in early December and taking some xmas time to check out a display or two- trying to let it happen so I wouldn't be slammed by all the nostalgia I had to fit in later. Sitting casually in a bar or a cafe and watching other people do their holiday rounds- having a drink before 4 or eating a piece of cake to "indulge" now that my tastebuds are going thru menopause. Went to see the trees in the Carnegie. Went to the Nationality rooms at Pitt, opened my advent windows slowly, pulled out some decor in the apt and played some music. Had half my presents already lined up, had wrapping paper and stamps and even some stupid little return address stickers with Rudolph characters on them ready to roll, donned a red and white scarf that's from a soccer team in Bilbao but reads xmas in the states- I really felt like I was beating the wave to the shore.
  And then here I am washed up in Andalusia listening to a young Jewish girl tell me about the Sephardim of Granada and how she's one of 30 families - the only new or returned Jews in a city of quarter million.
  Ho ho ho.
  What of xmas 2014 will I remember? What of the walk I took today thru the hills and Venetian alleys of Granada? I watched the last of the sunset wash up onto the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The snow above the trees above the Alhambra above the house in front of me- 50 miles of perspective layered into a pink glow. And is there anyone looking back the other way? Some last climber, some skier peaking around the corner of a porch bar at the city two valleys away?
  What of that will I remember ...and things like it that happened today and took my breath away? At one point I stopped and said the same to myself - "How amazing is this thing before me, this day. Will I recall it?" and I thought and I think now, that it doesn't matter. I was there, I was that guy that day's "me" seeing it happen, feeling it, having it pass thru me and if I can replay it or if I cannot, it does not matter.
  What's the other end of that urge? That all that we experience "adds up"? That we should record that process in a ledger of memory, collate it and call it growth? Write a diary for more hours than we live and play?
  Maybe the best thing that happens to me when I travel is I get depressed. I get despondent. Im alone, I can't speak the language, I hate that I didn't work on it enough to do so, Im lost, Im hungry, Im nervous about being an illiterate american ordering food, Im searching and I don't know what the Hell for.
  And then it lifts. And for no reason whatsoever. I'm still hungry, I might still be lost but I know where I am, Im surrounded by the soft little miracle of normality elsewhere, I can't get enough of listening to people chatter in the glorious varieties of Spanish, I laugh at my own pidgin, and I find pretty much every couple of streets something I must have been looking for.
   And whats really weird is, when I go home sometimes….sometimes …the same thing happens…smack in the middle of the city I know as well as anyone alive, right among my many demons and habits and conditioned responses I find a clear space Ive never felt or seen before.
   And back to the contrary- I find myself up on a terrazzo staring out at a Moorish castle with no equal on earth in front of mountains so striking they make me laugh and somebody greets someone beside me and although they're doing so in a language where the word for "left" still makes me whisper it in wonder, I know they're just two guys saying hi like two dudes in the states would on any average day.
  And for that I'd cross an ocean.
  If travel doesn't change you then maybe re-examine what "change" means. To you.
  The traveler changes his skies but never his condition?
  What's it suppose to do? Only let you down? Re affirm returning?
  Hell the more I go the more I forget what I own or what Ive bought thats sitting back at home. If I get depressed out here it's simply in the face of what I can't run from. Pleased to meet me.
  Breathe in the mt air rushing down the Sierra Nevada into the heart of this little city and ramble on.