Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Espagne Surprises, Weekend in Malaga, Strange days, Strange connections.


Hola Malaga!!! Hello birds in the sky — in Almuñécar, Spain.
Hombre desnudo contemplado a su companera, 1922

Boyfriend and girlfriend at Cafe Flore.

James, cerveza, and topas. 

Ham and dickpics in espagne!

Espagne Surprises, Weekend in Malaga, Strange days, Strange connections. 


I don’t really know how I ended up in Malaga.  James was going to take care of his apartment. 

In between things in January, I booked a cheap ticket. And I was off, new variant, new journeys, ever backward and forward. 

Travel is not simple in the age of COVID. The week our mask regulations ended in New York, a new variant came for a visit.  Scary article in papers, random friends and colleagues started testing positive again. Back from Los Angeles, Caroline tested positive, followed by the Bear.  The isolation followed.  They quarantined. Exposed, I quarantined. And tested and tested and tested, negative, negative, negative. 

Taught a few classes and found my way.

Somehow it all worked, the passenger locator form, the final antigen test, hours before the flight.

The A train careened out to Queens, underground, above, past the graffiti, out to Howard Beach, and the airport, to the air tram, through security, grabbing a bite at a sushi bar in the terminal before take off. 

A 10 PM departure left room for a nap for a few hours, before arriving in Zurich, where I found myself in a haze.

Zurich is crazy clean, even its airport. 

Two hour layover on the way.

Check my email.

My old advisor sent an essay about the COVID years. 

It's fantastic to see you move into philosophy, I write to Irwin, debating the nature of friendship. But that may also be myself. 

Funny how living with death, disease, democracy in crisis, a new cold war, and a global pandemic will do that to you.

I am thinking about the week behind, the weekend unfolding, trying to work through what happened.  

The flight team from United Arab Emirates strolls by in their tight fitting beige uniforms, with head scarfs and cool red hats, looking like a million bucks. 

Julian Barnes is keeping my company. 

The Sense of an Ending considers the question:

“How often do we tell our own life story?”

There’s my life, the activism, the art, the music, the friends, the ever shifting, ebbing scenes and movements. 

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation,” says Barnes. 

The bildungsroman reminds me, lulling me with each page, each chapter about friends and what remains.

What remains of my life in NYC after two years of pandemic, another variant, more overdevelopment, the Gowanus Rezone, the fake resiliency, music at Barbes, and more loose ends than answers. 

Last time, I was in Spain, the whole family was hiking together on the Camino. We spent two summers on the trail, following the steps of those over the last thousand years, one step forward on our own Quixotic journey. 

You see a lot when you are walking. 

“In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world,” said Federico Garcia Lorca.

I felt them hiking past burial grounds for the civil war dead. I talked with other hikers about the Civil War. Parents remember the end of Franco, the lost uncle, the brother tortured for a weekend, the grandfather detailed, the brother disappeared during that clash of ideologies.

Traveling in Sarajevo last summer, more people wanted to talk about their recent conflict, more than in Spain. 

You still feel it here, in the history of the Moors, Crusades, and civil war that drew the eyes of the world.   

Sitting here, I am thinking about expanding my Sarajevo research into a larger inquiry on civil conflict, doing interviews in countries around the world, including Ireland and Bosnia, Spain and Catalon, perhaps in Israel, Mexico and Sweden and Belgium, and the USA. 

What is it about humans?

We seem to need to clash, usually over small pieces of land.

But sometimes we look out for each other.

And sometimes we move backward.

That's what it feels like reading about the war in the Ukraine. 

Looking at the Texas trans law and abortion ban, the war on sex, on queer bodies, queer thoughts is in motion in the USA. 

Reading through the Washington Post, its hard not to see the Florida-dont-say-gay-bill, as a way to move us backward, back to retrograde narratves, of teachers as pedophiles, the ghost of Anita Bryant. With the 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court who look to religious freedom to be bigots.  Doing so, they turn back abortion rights.  Why wouldn’t trans rights or gay marriage be next?  I recall Lawrence in 2003, but could see us go back to Bowers vs Hardwick, or turning over Loving vs Virginia. Who knows how retrograde they will go with a 6-3 majority in the court? The centrists are gone. No Kennedy to swing votes, no RBG to hold the line. 

Friends are grieving for Paul Farmer. 

Scrolling through social media, I skim ACT UP Greg Gonzalez’s article about COVID 19 and Farmer. His article on Paul Farmer recalls excess death and our obligations to walk with each other, to look out, to build solidarity in the face of structural violence, war, conflict, calling for a new social order. 

Gonzalez writes:

“Paul borrowed the term “structural violence” from the Swedish sociologist Johan Galtung to define these determinants in an altogether different manner, as “social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way. The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people (typically, not those responsible for perpetuating such inequalities).

Of course, the concept of structural violence harks back to Engels’s description of “social murder,” in which the “argument was that the conditions created by privileged classes inevitably led to premature and ‘unnatural’ death among the poorest classes,”...”

We all aided and abetted Trump’s rise. 

Putin’s ascent. 

Now the world is paying for it. 

The cold wars and civil wars remind us. 

The history we encounter in Spain reveals an unending cavalcade of battles between East and West, imperialism, and the very colonialism we are trying to unpack, to decolonize. 

Yet, there is so much to take in. 

My mind trails off to Andalusia sunsets, Casa del  Sol, songs, smells of flowers, opera singers belting it out, hikers singing along the trail, tapas and beer, chilled rose wine and langoustines, paella with squid inc, luxurious tapas and cerveza, Almovedar movies, Penélope  C. and Antonio B. hashing out it, Picasso chatting with Matisse, Brassai snapping photos of brothels, colors splashed along the walls, Cubist revolutionaries, graffiti everywhere, Quixotic journeys, lowbrow, highbrow, living well, masterful football, Hemingway’s dreams and drinks, for whom the bell tolls, stumbling among Phonecian ruins, Roman theaters, summer seas, jamon hanging in bar windows, human history dating back to 7BC in a Malaga I discover bit by bit, for a weekend to think, a weekend away from my life, or maybe pointing toward something of my new life. I’m not quite sure. And it all starts happening. More and more, I envy my ex pat comrades, wanting to be one. But we take ourselves everywhere we go.

Walking off the airplane, I hear James. 

Hi Ben. 

Hi James. 

He was here when we were in Barcelona after our first trip here. 

Each year another adventure, on and on and on.

Out we wander, grabbing a ride and drink and a sunset.  On and on and on, we chat about the Ditchdigger and Robbie and Steve, and Irene and Ukraine, and currency values fluctuating, ebbing and flowing, friendship stories extending from our days in San Francisco thirty years ago, through Chicago visits when I was a social work student wanting to be a sociologist like Mitch Dunier, hanging out at Valious, walking through NYC, hanging in Paris for mom’s birthday, before James ran back home to Minneapolis and out to Brussels, where he landed two decades ago. Our British vacations commenced.  The trips with the Ditchdigger came and went.  And Brussels adventures continue. 

On and on we chat, watching the sunset, eating cheese, sipping on vino tinto as afternoon turns to evening, and the sun descends into the horizon. And I stumble into sleep, dreams of La Malagueta’s breeze and surf, the view from the Alcazaba, out into the sea, nothingness, rest, finally rest. 

Saturday is all we have. 

So we make the most of it. 

Meditation, coffee, plans, coffee, water, coffee, tapas, cerveza, the morning spins into an early lunch, a slow luxury. 

And on we stroll through the windy, narrow  streets of the old quarter, past the Gothic cathedral, through restaurant lined, curvy streets, people drinking sangria, under umbrellas, eating those langoustines, life stopping for a second, new friends, immigrants from Columbia, Venezuela, dialects in the air, people from around the world are here, connected in this most bountiful of languages. 

Covid tests and coffee and a stroll through the Arab inspired streets - always reminding of past times, civilizations. 

The Picasso Museum is in down the street from Phenecian ruins.

Flamenco music fills the air. 

An elder woman starts to sing. 

Past an old church, a spectacular 16th century palazzo houses 200 of the the master’s works, dancing between old worlds, shapes of time, constructing, reshaping, blues and reds, moods and moments, friendships and models, and horrors of wars and peace, colors screaming from the canvas, mediterranean smells, sea, striped shirts, blues, and pink, etchings, myths, and influences, trips to the Prado and the Naples Archaeology museum and Paris, and a history of art, seeming to channel itself through his work. 

I’m taken by Desnudo Hombre Contemplating His Sleeping Partner, the black and white photographs of cafe society by Brassai of Sartre and Simone, and Paris, the mysterious paths Picasso took to play with rays of light, blending Spanish traditions into a new art. Andre Breton adored Picasso, dubbing him as the moral force of the Surrealist movement. 

Over a second snack, James and I chat about the art and the 14th century castle and churches we’ve visited, the Santiago Apostle Parish Malaga, with its Islamic influences mixing into something unique and a hike along the Guadazia River and the Path of Kings, if we have time. And contemplate relaxing at the Al Andalus Banus Arabes Malaga. Maybe the old Arab baths is something for you and the Ditchdigger, says James, regretfully declining. Do we really need to go to another church? If I don’t go, god will know; Mom will frown down on me.  I can’t skip it. 

Plus it's only 15 minutes away. 

I order anchovies and liver and squid. 

Not to James’ liking. 

He’s munching croquettes with cheese. 

After we finish our beer and la cuenta, we are off, strolling together, separated, lost, reunited, and off to the church closed, another loopy bar, more jamon hanging, and then dinner. 

Tuna tartare with avocado at the Marina, with Paella and vino and chit chat about the future of it all, how he become an expat, and on and on and on, as the sun sets and sleep grasps us. 

And flights and clouds, from Malaga to Barcelona, and endless forms, and bocadillo’s that are not schisse here, and friendship research, and blogging, and dreaming of past lives, new lives, and chapters, expat possibilities, on my way back home.

Covid tests and passenger locator forms completed, I wait and fly, watching the sun descend crossing the Atlantic, reading and writing on my way back to JFK, back home. 

Adiós gorgeous mountains and skies and beaches. Hello clouds.

Adiós gorgeous España. Hasta pronto.

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