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.