Archive for the ‘The Toast Writer´s Space’ Category

Damien Jurado´s “Rachel and Cali” live in the KEXP studio. Recorded 5/25/10

                                   Rachel, would it be alright, if i stayed here in the car?

                                   There´s too many people out there i don´t know.

                                   It´s not that i´m too shy or cannot be polite

                                   I just don´t feel confident in crowds.

These are the first verses of Damien Jurado´s song “Rachel and Cali”. The lyrics record a conversation that takes place between Cali and Rachel. Cali, the lyrics tell us, doesn´t feel confident in crowds and wants to stay in the car while Rachel is getting ready to do who knows what, the shopping, perhaps, at the nearest shopping mall after having parked the car in the parking lot while Cali ducks inside it fraught with terror as to what may happen if he or she steps out of it. We don ´t even know if Cali is she or he and the whole conversation goes along this uncertain pattern. There seems to be a love relation between them and it also seems that Cali shows him or herself withdrawn and that Rachel ends up reproaching him or her for his or her attitude. It could well be otherwise and i am misunderstanding everything. But there´s also a chance that the key-point may lie somewhere else. Yes why not? May be the real issue lies in the way the music is able to work through and transform the puzzle that the lyrics contain, so that Durado´s not only voice but whole attitude and moreover the attitude and playing of the rest of the band members, their gestures, their clothes, their movements, make the confusion that reigns in the text so appealing, enhance it in such a seductive and deep manner that one, me at least, ends up bewitched by it and regrets not having been in Seattle watching them performing it live.

I´ve been haunted by this live performance for more than three years now and i´ve  watched and listened to it in the KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle broadcast innumerable times. The icing on the cake, the climax of this extended haunting experience, so to speak, happened not that long ago. In a filmed video that i came across in youtube Damien Jurado appears playing the song “Rachel and Cali” in a classroom and talking about it to some young students at Lawrence School in Kansas. While he recalls the background of his musical piece Jurado remarks that he always remembers the places where he writes his songs and that he was in the Basque Country, in the city of Bilbao he specifies, when he wrote “Rachel and Cali”. “Well”, i reflected upon hearing the singer´s words , “ it´s a small world indeed”, given that Bilbao is my hometown or rather, the town where i was born, or better, the place where my first living memories are grounded. In fact, i was  stunned by such a revelation and thereupon something inside me urged me to engage myself with the video that i enclose in this post. “I can´t let this coincidence pass me by”, i remember saying to myself after having listened to Jurado´s conversation with the youngsters from Lawrence.

So here am I, for the nth time watching the footage in which Damien Jurado strikes up the first “Rachel and Cali” acoustic guitar cords. In these first images Jurado is shown in profile. Wearing a fur lined jacket, a black sweater and black over-the-head earmuffs, his figure, with two frowning, hardly opened and concentrated  eyes staring earnestly beyond the microphone that stands in front of him, strikes me as rough, in sharp contrast to the soft rhythm that comes from his guitar. At the same time something deep in me prompts me to feel a close attachment to those frowning eyes of his, to the earnestness they reveal. I´m half-consciously aware that I expect nothing but truth from them and that this truth expectation is not going to be disappointed, though not immediately fulfilled. The match between my expectation and Jurado´s voice is not something that ensues instantly nor at one go. This match shows itself rather unstable and at the point of breaking. The lingering and somewhat high- pitched tone of his vocal cords- a kind of muffled shout in places -that sometimes seems to be on the verge of cracking bestows upon it an agonizing tinge that responds to an undefined uneasiness to which i need to adapt myself before i surrender to it. But this adaptation doesn´t take long. In addition, the swaying melody makes things easier and i´m definitely seized by it when, on the one hand, Jurado´s voice singing Rachel´s first answer to Cali

“Cali you can do what you’d like, I’ll probably be here awhile”

is joined by the sound of the bass and encompassed by its low-pitched undertone and when, simultaneously, the drummer shaking a maraca is brought into focus by  the camera.

I´d like to linger a while on the impressions that these two new figures stir in me. In order of appearance, firstly, the bass player. His face remains off camera. The view is constrained to his upper limbs playing the bass and to his upper body covered in an orange and brown checkered shirt. His contribution to the band´s overall effect is limited to the low-pitched sound he produces. There´s nothing more to add, lest the cameraman´s purposes aimed at using the common shirt pattern of bassist and drummer as a guiding thread meant to grant to the next presence he focuses his camera on a sort of flowing coherence.

Secondly the drummer, wearing also the mentioned checkered shirt but this time in faded purple. Again the earnest expression on his face, such as the one I previously appreciated in Jurado´s, conveying that impression of earnestness and abandon to the truthful task the band seems committed to. Also again the over-the-head earmuffs as well as a hardly opened pair of eyes set in his face while he performs the task he has made his own. However, contrary to Jurado´s, the drummer´s eyes are not frowning. His figure transmits instead a vague nonchalance. Besides, his readhead lavish beard, his livid white complexion, his woolen cap, his rythmic shaking of the maraca with his right arm, each of these features and gestures provide a sense of mysterious and languid elegance that puts a spell on the spectator, or at least,on me.

As if I were driven in the air by the compelling sounds of guitar, bass and maraca i reach the verse in which Rachel´s answer to Cali ends momentarily in:

“I’ll leave you the car keys in case you want to leave.”

A pause follows next during which Jurado´s voice stops singing and, as if arriving from far away, the single notes of an electric guitar join the maracas, the bass, and the sound of Jurado´s acoustic instrument, in charge of putting everything in motion at the beginning. The electric guitar player enters the scene making a light spiral movement with his body, the movement waves up slowly from his waist, up along his back and shoulders and ends up in a stretching of the neck and a swaying of the head to the rhythm of the single, sort of remote, notes he is playing. He wears a poncho with a wide blue stripe pattern that is followed by a beige one and a brown- black fretwork crowns his poncho outfit at the top. Blue tassels are hanging from its bottom. Like the eyes of the rest of the band´s  members, his are barely opened. He conveys the same earnestly meaningfulness as his colleagues. One would say that his absent eyes dwell in his fingers keenly plucking the guitar cords. His eyes are, as it were, his fingers. His skin is also of a livid white colour, his hair light brown and his face shows an old-fashioned moustache curled at the ends, his lower jaw being faintly covered in a blond shadow beard.

Jurado´s voice resumes its singing and  footages of his figure overlap randomly others showing the electric guitar player as we listen to these words from Rachel.

“You´re welcome to stay at my house, my parents will both be out.

There´s a blanket in the closet, if you decide to sleep over”

The singer dwells on the last word of these verses, on “over”, in a decidely grave tone. In doing so he appears with his mouth half opened, his eyes in an everlasting frowning, two short locks of hair rigidly, as if fixed with hair gel, falling in his forehead. The image of a boxer having finished his training session in the gym and revisiting with professional detachment or out of sheer habit the blows he has received takes a clearer shape in my mind than when i saw him playing his guitar at the outset of the song.

Rachel´s last words are followed by Cali´s reply:

“Rachel, I am sorry to call, I can´t sleep at all

The closet´s unfamiliar, your parents soon to be home”

Two more band members make their appearance while Cali speaks these words through Damien Jurado´s voice. They both hold one maraca in their respective right hands and are placed in a kind of symmetric position with their backs turned towards each other. Thanks partly to this symmetric display of their two right forearms shaking at the same time I come to realize the important role that the percussion instrument plays in the hypnotic unfolding of the song. One of the maraca players, in particular, the one in the foreground, a guy wearing a grey t-shirt and long brown hair with no trace of beard nor of any hair whatsoever in his limpid, dark complexion face, helps to enhance this hypnotic hallmark of the song. Shaking meticulously – his eyes intently shut- his maraca, his introspection is highlighted in such a way that one can´t help but wonder what this introspection is all about and if it is not really its content what the band members are passing each other on  and what makes them sort of sleepwalk at the same pace and live out thus the same ongoing dream. By way of contrast, the guy standing symmetrically opposite him gives us less hints as to what his feelings may be. He is perhaps the most trifling figure in the whole set of musicians before the camera, but still his shaking rhythmically the maraca reinforces the wake along which the song unveils its pathos.

Because if we accept the definition of pathos asa quality, as of an experience or a work of art, that arouses feelings of pity, sympathy, tenderness, or sorrow, ” it turns out that  true pathos runs through the entire song . Not crocodile tears but true pathos. In a muted way, in a way, if you like, that comes to light in flashes, but that can be tracked down to the moment when Jurado sustains his vocal cords in a muted shout such as he does, as mentioned before, in the “over” of “sleep over” in the song´s third verse or, more openly perhaps, when the singer puts in  Rachel´s mouth the following words in the song´s fifth verse:

“Cali there´s a way you´ll be calm, my closet door has a lock.

I´ll keep my window open so you can get in”

At the beginning of these lines, when striking up Cali´s name, the right corner of Jurado´s mouth stretches out in a faint grimace and the frowning of his eyes deepens in what could be described as a moaning sign. On the verge of breaking, the singer´s high- pitched vocal cords take on for an instant a sort of agonizing slant trying to express Rachel´s reproach for Cali´s reluctance. This is the story the lyrics can possibly be telling us. However, one can´t avoid asking oneself where the hell Jurado´s muted groan really comes from. The singer casts over the innocent, neutral, yet to some rare degree disturbing conversation between Rachel and Cali, a stern and sad pathos. Nothing relevant is apparently there at stake, where everything might as well be at stake. The text keeps its neutral, ordinary tone while the singer blows into it all the needed verve. Crying out “Cali”´s name, Jurado makes place for a stern sadness and leaves the listener wondering if this sadness wasn´t there from the start, feeding the introspection which the members of the band go through .

After these two lines and before Jurado strikes up the two final verses of the song  an instrumental lapse follows during which a new sound and a new musician show up. It´s the keyboard player´s turn. A guy wearing a blue-t-shirt with the name of Leon Russell printed on it and from whose short sleeves two white skinned arms come out with tattoos on them, appears softly pressing the keys of an electric piano with his hands. Bespectacled, dark-haired and giving an impression of a certain frailty one is tempted to take him for a swot that has gotten mistakenly into the wrong place but that is nevertheless keen on profiting of the new intellectual challenge that the band offers him and that goes and scatters his toy like single piano notes in a matter-of-fact way over the recording studio. The impression of frailty he conveys is not new, anyway. The drummer, the electric guitarist, the mesmerized dark-skinned maraca player, every and each one of them, to a certain extent, strike as being on the brink of fainting and letting themselves be carried adrift by the musical slumber that envelopes them. Nonetheless, together with the bass player´s- also a pale young guy wearing a baseball visor cap whose face is finally brought to focus after the two last verses – the keyborder´s eyes are fully opened as if he- in spite of the impression of frailty- and his colleague on the bass were the only members of the band still capable of resisting and abiding by what could be called a “cold performance”

In the meantime Rachel, through the regained contention of Jurado´s voice, continues her reproach to Cali for her alleged awkwardness and want of commitment.

“Sometimes I wish you knew, how I keep living for you

A friend is only a lover you´re not committed to”

The lyrics´ bottom-line may wind up finally to this: falling in love with a reluctant teenager is not always easy to deal with; a common issue, I suppose, in the love experiences that every average teenager-or adult, for that matter- may gather along his life.

Should one be disappointed by this? Not for one moment. Cali´s awkwardness has been able to trigger off the band´s abandon to the path of a musical pathos. The alternation of contention and momentary pathos releases makes out the song´s undertone, provides its latent tension, seizes the members of the band and, it goes without saying, captivates me, the listener, almost from the beginning. Is there anything more one could ask from a song?

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Arnie Mesnikoff on Bucky Cantor (Philip Roth´s “Nemesis”) // Arnie Mesnikoff sobre Bucky Cantor (“Némesis” de Philip Roth)

Le cogí  la mano sana- una mano cuyos músculos aún funcionaban bien pero que ya no era ni fuerte ni robusta, una mano cuya firmeza podía ahora recordar la de la pulpa de una baya- y le dije: “Fue la polio la que causó el daño. Tú no fuiste el causante de nada. Tuviste tampoco que ver con el contagio como Horace. Tú también fuiste una víctima, igual que lo fuimos todos”

“No, Arnie, no fue así. Me acuerdo de una noche en la que Bill Blomback estuvo contándoles a los niños sobre los indios, cómo éstos creían que algunas de las enfermedades que sufrían se debían  a que un ser maléfico les disparaba flechas con un arco invisible”

“Para ahí” protesté. “No sigas con eso, Bucky, por favor. Son historias de campamentos, historias  de niños. Seguro que también aparece un curandero encargado de espantar los malos espíritus. Tú no eres ese ser maléfico de los indios y tampoco, ¡Joder!, ninguna flecha, tú no fuiste ningún mensajero de enfermedad ni de muerte. Si fuiste causante de algo- si tanto te empeñas en serlo- lo fuiste sin ninguna culpa”

Entonces, como si me sintiera capaz de hacerle cambiar con sólo la fuerza de mi deseo, como si después de todas nuestras conversaciones mientras comíamos pudiera lograr que se viera a sí mismo como algo más que sus defectos y que se deshiciera  de toda su vergüenza, como si estuviese a mi alcance el hacer revivir un ápice de la fortaleza de aquel joven responsable de nuestra zona de juegos que, sin ayuda de nadie, mantuvo a raya a aquellos diez matones italianos que pretendían amenazarnos con propagar la polio entre los judíos- le dije con vehemencia,

“No la tomes contigo. Ya hay en el mundo bastante crueldad. No empeores las cosas martirizándote”

Pero no hay nadie más perdido que un niño bueno echado a perder. Había pasado demasiado tiempo a solas con su sentido de las cosas y renunciado a lo que más desesperadamente quería como para  que yo pudiera hacerle desterrar el significado que atribuía al acontecimiento que marcó su vida o alterar lo que le ataba a él. Bucky no era un hombre brillante- no se hubiera dedicado, de lo contrario, a dar clases de deportes a niños- y nunca tuvo el menor sentido de la despreocupación. Era una persona mayormente sin humor, con capacidad suficiente para expresarse pero sin la más leve sombra de ingenio, alguien que jamás en su vida había hablado en tono satírico o con ironía, alguien que sólo muy raramente hacía comentarios graciosos o en broma, alguien, por el contrario, poseído por un acuciante sentido del deber pero con una escasa fuerza mental. Y pagó un precio muy alto por ello al atribuir a la historia que vivió el más definitivo de los significados, un significado que, intensificándose al correr del tiempo, agrandaría el daño que tuvo que padecer. Para Bucky el desastre que se cebó tanto en la zona de juegos de Chancellor como en el campamento de Indian Hill  no fue un capricho malévolo de la naturaleza sino un crimen cometido por él y que tenía que resarcir quedándose sin nada y arruinando su vida. La culpa, en alguien como Bucky, puede parecer algo absurdo, pero, en realidad, es algo inevitable. Un hombre así está condenado. Nada de lo que haga está a la altura de su ideal, no sabe dónde termina su responsabilidad. Asumiendo un estricto ideal de bondad natural que no le permite resignarse al sufrimiento de los demás, nunca reconoce sin sentirse culpable sus propios límites. Para un hombre así el mayor triunfo consiste en evitar que su amada se case con un tullido (Nota: él, Bucky mismo) y su heroísmo, en desistir de su deseo más profundo renunciando a ella.

Aunque, quizá, si no hubiera huido del reto que se le planteó en la zona de juegos, si no hubiera abandonado a los niños de Chancellor apenas unos días antes de que el ayuntamiento cerrara la zona y los mandara a todos a casa- y quizá, también, si a su amigo más íntimo no lo hubieran matado en la guerra- a lo mejor no se hubiera culpabilizado tan rápidamente del desastre y no se hubiera convertido en uno de esos seres destrozados por el tiempo que les tocó vivir. Quizá, si se hubiese quedado y hubiera vivido hasta el final la prueba a la que la comunidad de los judíos de Weequahic fue sometida por la polio y si,  más allá de lo que a él pudiera haberle pasado, se hubiese mantenido ahí resueltamente al frente…

O quizá hubiera llegado a verlo todo de la misma manera  sin que hubiese importado en qué sitio se hubiese quedado, y quizá, hasta dónde alcanzo a saber, hasta donde la ciencia epidemiológica alcanza a saber, estuviese en lo correcto. Quizá Bucky no se equivocaba. Quizá no se dejaba engañar por la autodesconfianza. Quizá no exageraba en lo que decía y su conclusión no fuera la equivocada. Quizá fue él la flecha invisible.

I took hold of his good hand then- a hand whose muscles worked well enough but that was no longer substantial and strong, a hand with no more firmness to it than a piece of soft fruit- and I said, “Polio did them the harm. You weren´t a perpetrator. You had as little to do with spreading it as Horace did. You were just as much a victim as any of us was.”

“Not so, Arnie. I remember one night Bill Blomback telling the kids about the Indians, telling them how the Indians believed that it was an evil being, shooting them with an invisible arrow, that caused certain of their diseases”

“Don´t,” I protested. “Don´t go any further with that, please. It´s a campfire story, Bucky, a story for kids. There´s probably a medicine man in it who drives off evil spirits. You´re not the Indians´evil being. You were not the arrow, either, damn it-you were not the bringer of crippling and death. If you ever were a perpetrator-if you won´t give ground about that- I repeat: you were a totally blameless one.”

Then, vehemently- as though I could bring about change in him merely by a tremendous desire to do so: as though, after all our hours of talking over lunch, I could now get him to see himself as something more than his deficiencies and begin to liquidate his shame; as though it were within my power to revive a remnant of the unassailable young playground director who, unaided by anyone, had warded off the ten Italian roughnecks intending to frighten us with the threat of spreading polio among the jews-I said, “Don´t be against yourself. There´s  enough cruelty in the world as it is. Don´t make things worse by scapegoating yourself.”

But there´s nobody less salvageable than a ruined good boy. He´d been alone far too long with his sense of things – and without all he´d wanted so desperately to have- for me to dislodge his interpretation of his life´s terrible event or to shift his relation with it. Bucky wasn´t a brilliant man- he wouldn´t have had to be one to teach phys ed to kids- nor was he ever in the least carefree. He was largely a humourless person, articulate enough but with barely a trace of wit, who never in his life had spoken satirically or with irony , who rarely cracked a joke or spoke in jest- someone instead haunted by an exacerbated  sense of duty but endowed with little force of mind, and for that he had paid a high price in assigning the gravest meaning to his story, one that, intensifying over time, perniciously magnified his misfortune. The havoc that had been wrought both on the Chancellor playground and at Indian Hill seemed to him not a malicious absurdity of nature but a great crime of his own, costing him all he´d once possessed and wrecking his life. The guilt in someone like Bucky may seem absurd but, in fact, is unavoidable. Such a person is condemned. Nothing he does matches the ideal in him. He never knows where his responsibility ends. He never trusts his limits, because, saddled with a stern natural goodness that will not permit him to resign himself to the suffering of others, he will never guiltlessly acknowledge that he has any limits. Such a person´s greatest triumph is in sparing his beloved from having a crippled husband, and his heroism consists of denying his deepest desire by relinquishing her.

Though maybe if he hadn´t fled the challenge of the playground, maybe if he hadn´t abandoned the Chancellor kids only days before the city shut down the playground and sent them all home- and maybe, too, if his closest buddy hadn´t been killed in the war- he would not have been so quick to blame himself for the cataclysm and might not have become one of those people taken to pieces by his times. Maybe if he had stayed on and outlasted polio´s communal testing of the Weequahic Jews, and,regardless of whatever might have happened to him, had manfully seen the epidemic through to the end…

Or maybe he would have come to see it his way no matter where he he´d been, and for all i know-for all the science of epidemiology knows-maybe rightly so. Maybe Bucky wasn´t mistaken. Maybe he wasn´t deluded by self-mistrust. Maybe his assertions weren´t exaggerated and he hadn´t drawn the wrong conclusión. Maybe he was the invisible arrow”

Monty Python´s Spam

diciembre 18, 2013 Deja un comentario

I got to know yesterday at the Roll that the term “spam” comes from  a 1970 Monty Python’s  skit.

Given that my previous post  revolves around this term,  inserting this video of the sketch may be a way of round it off.

“Go watch the fish drinking in the river”

diciembre 17, 2013 Deja un comentario

They loved Christmas. Like lovable children in love with love they were last seen   whispering sweet lullabies to each others earlobes while they linked their arms to drink a toast to the new year. They had met one summer in the first  summer Christmas resort that “Leisure Reloaded Ltd.”, the renowned family-friendly hotel chain,  had opened in the middle of the Nevada desert. Both of them belonged to the age and social group that the hotel company was targeting. His name was Klaus, proud of his bavarian German blood , and hers Carole, from South Carolina, also known as The Palmetto State. He was a morose bachelor that kept on reproaching himself having gone astray in his search for love and she a spinster  still willing to give love a chance under the palmetto shades or a coconut tree, for that matter. They were in their late-fifties and half a century , give or take an hour, was the time span they secretly believed they could count upon to meet each other one day and finally fall in love.

But God´s invisible hand by the means of “Leisure Reloaded Ltd” family-friendly hotel chain had arranged otherwise and showed itself willing to make that waiting time much shorter. According to the marketing files of the company  Carole and Klaus were raised within wealthy, healthy and wise family environments in which the pattern of success was woven according to the catholic motto: show your neighbours you´re happy so that they can be happy too. An important milestone in this life pattern were the Christmas celebrations, with their hammering home of an ubiquituous and allmighty love that prevented anyone from raising a complaining voice,unless he wanted to bring upon him the unanimous wrath of  all the blessed souls smiling around him. The company´s files attested particularly to this matching feature of their personalities. Beyond any national difference, there remained the stubborn  fact  of their exemplary abiding by what was expected from them , that is: smile, keep on smiling, don´t spare your nice white teeth from displaying your lovely smile  to all the smiling people around you , go give yourself a treat and allow your jaws and cheeks to stretch to the utmost in an everlasting smile and if , by chance, the time comes when your jaw muscles begin to give in or your cheekbones sinews to fall apart in the face of such an unbearably protracted smile , don´t worry, for a reasonable flat-rate “Leasure Reloaded Ltd” family-friendly hotel chain will provide you with the best plastic surgeons available round-the clock in its luxurious summer Christmas resorts.

In spring , the flowering season, their laptops had  blossomed with spam emails sent from the marketing department of “Leisure Reloaded Ltd” family-friendly hotel chain. At the beginning neither of them had paid any attention to those spams because they never bothered to check their junk email folders. Fussing with spams was far from being a priority in their always busy lives. Their pride wouldn´t allow them in any case to stoop so low. Spam… Only the fact of the spelling of this word bearing such a ressemblance to “sperm” was enough to  make it  too sticky a thing for them. Still, as summer approached and the prospect of not having anyone to spend their summer holidays with, began to cast a dark shadow over their strong believe in  love having  to smile upon them, no matter how, no matter when, whatever the cost, they ended up opening their junk email boxes, not without previously assessing  that their mouse clicking into the junk box was not witnessed by anybody.

In doing so they both recalled their last summer´s dissapointments. Both of them had taken a cruise. Carole to the caribbean sea, Klaus to the mediterranean.  Carole had shortly before decided to join a catholic tourist league following the advice of a close friend, that had extolled the  charisma of its tourist guides and the spiritual lessons they delivered from the bridge of the cruise ship to the lost yet affluent flock that out of loneliness had surrendered  their emotional fates to them. As it happened Carol´s way of surrendering her emotional fate , her passionate way of joining the morning gospel activities on deck stretching her arms toward the preaching tourist guide in a sort of religious fit and the shaking up and down of the chunk of meat forcibly fitted into the blue- velvet breeches that she wore while she bounced on deck to the tune of those morning gospel songs, winded up misleading the tourist guide´s leadership, who couldn´t avoid  getting carried away by sin and grab Carole´s ass  thinking  that she would surrender it to him with one of those gleeful smiles of hers. But Carole´s outright decent reaction took the form of a resounding smack on his face after which she left the boat with a swaggering gait heading toward the port authorities of Puerto Vallarta, the caribbean haven in which the ship cruise was temporarily docked, and where she intented to report the ominous harassment she had been victim of. After phoning some of her Palmetto State cronies from the port´s head office she got  indemnified in cash by the  travel agency and the shipping line diligently paid her the travel back home on another cruise ship which at her sole request was christened anew as “Love Boat” and to which she was able to transfer overnight in the same harbour.

In regard to Klaus, what else can we say but that feeling sick because he wasn´t used to travelling by sea , his only attempt to shake off the cobweb that was spinning in his increasing bachelor hopelessness  was to enter the ship´s cockpit and slipping his arms around the waist of an attractive female officer  to start talking  her about the concept of anguish and fear in Heidegger´s philosophical work, after which she started  to feel sick herself , if not directly willing to jump off the boat and be carried adrift  in the wake of the  boat´s bloodthirsty propellers.

In view of all these mishaps, Carole in Charleston, South Carolina and Klaus, in Regensburg, Bavaria- decided almost simultaneously to try and take another  glimpse at the “Leisure Reloaded Ltd.” spam campaign in the junk boxes of their laptops and thereupon and almost also simultaneously, darted out of the junk folders at a click of their mouses and proceeded in haste to close the laptop lids with the aid of their hands and arms and elbows and what not  and having assigned their chests the task of covering closely from behind the whole exit manoeuvre, they ordered finally their eyes to look anguishly around their rooms lest someone had seen them clicking into the junk box in desperate search for those redeeming spams. A word “Spam”, by the way, over which they kept on musing because of the unsettling similarity its spelling bore to “sperm”. But, however it may be, being both regrettably alone at their respectives homes, who could  be there  watching them? God, perhaps? The absurdity of this made them smile out of relieve and the stronger their awareness was of God not being snooping around their rooms the sooner their smiles  turned  into a mischevious grin full of guilt, if such a thing is possible, which indeed it is.And with this queer grin in their faces they summoned  the peace of mind necessary  to open  their laptops again and  begin feasting on what the spam ads had to offer them.

The “Leisure Reloaded Ltd.”spam brochures were, admittedly, smartly edited and  included colourful pics of the brand new premises that the company had built  in the middle of the Nevada desert. The Nevada facilities consisted of  a sort of gigantic shopping mall with the shape of an enormous ship cruise- a “shipping mall” the company´s bright brand manager jokingly liked to call it in the quarterly board meetings they held- a metal structure in the shape of a cruise ship stranded in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by huge palm trees ,whose shades were, no doubt, far much larger than those of Carole´s modest South Carolina´s  palmettos and, as to Klaus, alone the palm trees sunny luxuriance was enough to meet his craving for heat after the frozen winter he had had to endure in Germany. But, of course, not only nature´s profiglacy played a role in their decision making. No. There were also their spiritual needs to cater for and that´s where the marketing people of “Leisure Reloaded Ltd.”  had put the icing on the cake.

The hotel company´s by-laws defined its mission in the following terms: “to develop a welfare community within our new premises, a community formed by a set of  catholic affluent people in their fifties whose succesful professional careers have, no matter the reason, luckily decoupled from their crippled emotional fates  and that, no matter the unreason, feel that their unmatched longings for love and happiness could only be fulfilled during the Christmas celebrations” Should “Leisure Reloaded Ltd.”  make, incidentally, some money accomplishing this charitable purpose, the company´s by-laws took, in passing, the opportunity to  disclaim any responsability whatsoever concerning what further uses it would make of any extra dough that winded up in its pockets.

As a matter of fact Carole and Klaus were two respectable catholic urban individuals in their fifties that met by far the marketing mix requisites that the company was looking for. Because Carole and Klaus still nourished their Christmas dreams and were fond of carols and St. Claus and Rudolph the red nose reindeer and, broadly speaking, of everything that could prompt one´s  tender smile and one´s bountiful  heart in front of a colourful window display full of confetti and party blowers.  Carole was unquestionably more musical whenever it came to express the fondness she felt  for Christmas but  Klaus,  Klaus philosophical airs and white beard simply melted down in front of such things as  a living crib or the parade of the holy kings or the Glühwein-a bleach- tasting warm wine drunk at german Christmas markets,or, for that matter, the version of “auld lang syne” being sung in chorus after the New Year Eve´s countdown by the passengers and crew of a luxury liner in 1972´s  film “The Poseidon Adventure”  just, by the way, in the very moment a huge wave crushes against the hull of the liner and puts an abrupt end to  toasts ,smiles and  high-and- low-pitched human voices.

“Leisure Reloaded Ltd” offered them all that and set it furthermore in a unique exotic location at very, very fair prices  and, to round everything off, the offer arrived in a time  when against the chilling shadow that death began to cast upon them pinpointing unmercifully the crucial failures of their lives, they couldn´t think of any better safe-haven to flee  to  than the spam box of their steaming laptops blossoming luxuriantly in spring.

Thus in the great reception hall of that mall spawned, as it were,  by all  that  spring feverishly spam of their laptops Klaus and Carol came to meet each other the Christmas of that summer.Their eyes met for the first time as they turned smilingly their heads , sticking out of the holes of a  cardboard cutout photo set with the figures of the holy Joseph and the virgin Mary. It was the first part of the opening ceremony that the marketing people  of “Leisure Reloaded Ltd” had come up with. After  the photo shooting a carol contest was scheduled named after, and here again the marketing team had put the icing on the cake, the Spanish worldwide renowned Christmas carol “Go watch the fish drinking in the river”. Anyone able to contrive a carol that matched , however little,  the creative genius contained in such a chorus would be granted a slot machine with christmas motifs as well as the right to be the first one to strike up “Auld Lang Syne” after the New Year´s Eve countdown. The competition proved to be tough but ultimately  who if not Klaus could have won the carol contest for Carole´s sake? And who if not Carol could have kissed Klaus in that very instant for the first time? And who if not all of that set of catholic affluent people could have smiled at the new borned couple in the exhilarated way they did?

Out of a spam, whose spelling so close a similarity bore to “sperm”, a new love story had come into  the world .Whether it was bound to last  or not, it would depend on the New Year eve´s countdown and the time it took after it for the first cracks to appear in the metallic hull of the ship shaped facilities  that “Leasure Reloaded Ltd” family-friendly hotel chain had, in less time than the clinking of two toasting glasses , erected in the middle of the Nevada desert.

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Charlie´s blunders

That Friday at noon he stopped working before closing time. He shut down his laptop, let out a heavy sigh and got ready to let himself be carried away by anything worth getting oneself  carried away. That was it. End of the hardships after that morning he had had to endure. Not quite, though.

He locked the door of his office turning the key twice as he usually did for the weekends. He then made his way to the bus station. The bus was meant to take him to the border. Having before taken other buses of the same line, he relied on their punctuality.

The bus arrived customarily late, according to one passenger, who seemed to know what he was talking about. When the bus finally appeared he asked the driver if he thought they would make it in time showing him eagerly  the train ticket scheduled to take him from the border to the inland of the neighbouring country . The bus driver shrugged his shoulders. This made him somewhat anxious. He got a bit puzzled onto the bus, seated in his seat, opened a book and thought about taking a nap and letting himself be carried away by anything worth getting oneself  carried away. Not quite, though.

The bus started its engine. Joined the motorway. Confident on the broken line and the  two lanes  the bus driver could count on he decided to relax and close his eyes. He made himself ready to take that nap. He was on the brink of sleep when he noticed a brusque movement of the vehicle. His dizzy forehead stroke repeteadly against the  window. He opened his eyes and saw the bus taking an unexpected exit road to a small town that was still too close to his point of departure. The same passenger by whom he was previously informed told him this time that the route included several stops before its final destination at the border. His anxiousness mounted but, strangely enough, it was subdued by the fact that outside it was now pouring with rain. All that rain, all those black clouds pouring their rain into that small industrial town they had just arrived in, a narrow working-class town whose town´s square was soaking with water and that was located in a kind of ravine crammed with high concrete buildings and encompassed by even higher green mountains that towered over them, all this kind of oppressing and at the same time deeply familiar atmosphere, calmed him down, so that he started to let himself be carried away by the feelings that that landscape stirred up in him, as if he were losing himself already in a remote border without even crossing the factual one he was heading for. The image of a mole burrowing blindly his way into the moistened soil flashed for an instant accross his mind and then disappeared. Was he unconscioulsy blundering into somewhere he might afterwards regret having to get out from?

The bus resumed its way. Joined again the motorway. Stopped once more in one of those small industrial towns, which in places were randomly crossed by something you could hardly called a river but that was polluted enough to be detected by your nostrils. The wings of his nose were used to that peculiar smell. They had breathed it in  since his childhood , there was a powerful reminiscence attaching his senses to this unique salty blend of moisture and industrial waste. Its spicy saltiness came in fact from the sea, which could already be anticipated behind the soaking green mountains. Just the direction which the bus was heading for after having left anew the motorway.

And there she was, there she emerged, all along a winding stretch of road that bordered the coastline: the grey ,surging, foamy sea, scattered with surfers lying in wait of the next wave series on top of their surfboards, building in their neoprene black suits tiny black points in the middle of a grey immensity. For a second the pitch-black  of their suits reminded him of the tar balls that got annoyingly stuck to the soles of his feet when he was a kid , when summer holidays were a kind of  boundless eternity spent in the surface of an endless beach. He could even smell them, those tar balls, the blend of tar and salt and moistened sand, and the amazing debris, all that wreckage that arrived ashore in September, when the summer was almost over and the high tides began to be particularly powerful and dangerous. What a pleasure to rummage along the length of the beach amid that incredible heap of wasteful things that had landed in the seashore some of them cruelly torn  from who knew what distant and  disrupted homes : maimed barbie dolls with  tar dyed manes; uncombed mops in desperate search for their castaway handles; bleach canisters with tar birthmarks; branches , trunks, lumber of all sorts from which pitch was barely distinguishable from tar and that were once probably  in charge of warming up a cosy fireplace  , low profile closures with flexible pouring spouts for stackable containers also nicely enveloped in tar… If there was anything he and his friends ever yearned for in their plundering of that horn of plenty it was not the detached and lean hand of a Barbie doll with pitch- black painted nails or a tar-dyed mane but rather a real human female hand stretching out from that disjointed set of odds and ends and pulling after her the naked body of one of “Charlie´s Angels”, the tv series their incipient sexuality was then ferociously hooked on.

He felt his forehead striking again against the bus window. He opened his eyes.His forehead was sweating, He felt distressed, still under the far-reaching vision of that naked female body stretching its hand out of the dump and  arising immediately thereafter in one piece, the vision that had roused him from his sleep. It took him at least two minutes to realize that the bus was manoeuvring its way into the bus station at the border. He gathered his belongings and dizzily got off  the bus. He asked the driver where the train station was. The driver showed him this time matter-of-factly the way. He crossed the border and headed under the rain for the railway station. It was already dark, pitch-dark. The departure of his train was scheduled within half an hour but the engine had already arrived. He bought a white chocolate bar from a vending machine and got onto the train. While munching the white chocolate bar and getting settled for the new railway stretch of his journey, he felt as if each swallow of that white stuff helped him to get rid of the pitch dark turmoil in which  the female hand stretching out from the wreckage had plunged him. Swallow after swallow he gradually came to grips with reality and tried to pick up the goal of his journey, whatever this was. Not quite, though.

Four stops after the train´s departure, he was confortably ensonced in his aisle seat. He had taken out a book as well as a pencil and a pencil sharpener and was absorbed in underlining the paragraphs that stroke his attention the most. Four hours of journey lied ahead of him. Four hours during which he didn´t intend anything else but to underline what was worth to be underlined while he was cosily seated in that  train compartment whose wheels were  gathering speed on top of the unbroken lines that made up the railway tracks.

In the fifth stop a couple entered his compartment: a man in his late fifty´s  and a woman of thirty something. They didn´t get intimidated by the fact of his having placed the luggage and  stretched his legs across the seats that the couple was now silently urging him to free. After some discussion the woman ended up seating in the seat opposite his and the man in the one to her right. The man was a heavyset, garrulous, plain man. He wore a gold wrist watch, a checkered shirt  unbuttoned  half-way down his hairless chest, a necklace loosely hanging from it, and his smarmed hair was parted in a straight line, looking as if it had been stuck with glue to form a track that ploughed relentlessly through his entire skull.No sooner were they both seated than the man took his cellular out and started to speak in a loud voice. The woman made him a sign of regret and at her sign he left the compartment,  bound for who knows where, for the toilet, may be.

He couldn´t but be thankful to the woman for having made his husband leave the compartment by that sign of regret. He even discovered  himself willing  to decipher that sign as a kind of treat meant to allow him to resume at full ease his reading and underlining, as if, for the woman´s  part, that sign revealed  a hidden desire to tend him, to caress him with – even if he hadn´t yet seen them- her lean, slender hands. Were it not for the absurdity of the thought he would have agreeably rejoiced in it specially after having let his eyes thoroughly examine the type of female that was seated in front of them.

She was a tall and lean woman , dressed in a silky shirt unbuttoned half-way down her shapely breasts in whose center two prickly nipples seemed too eager to dart out towards his vulnerable heart, so close he felt them graze his nose while she placed her bag in the luggage rack on top of his head. She wore a pair of close- fitting jeans that enhanced the curvy silhouette of her buttocks, fully tight while she stretched up on her tiptoes to reach the rack.  A pitch-dark  mane fell elegantly on her shoulders and the elongated lines of her slender hands continued unbroken in ten nimble fingers crowned by pitch-black painted nails. She was smiling at him. Whether angel or barbie doll, he was  bewitched by her. He gawk at her while she rummaged in her handbag, out of which she took a book and a pencil.The book was Plato´s Republic. Just the book he was himself in that moment absorbed in underlining! He happened to notice the bluntness of her pencil´s point. He obligingly offered himself to sharpen it arguing that underlining was in itself an art to which blunt pencil points were openly detrimental. She laughed at his remark and subsequently took the chance to  introduce herself to him. Her name was Sabrina, Sabrina Duncan. Duncan was his husband´s name, she told him. She married in love with him and their honeymoon was unforgettable, fucking like rabbits in awesome places all over the world as they had, she went on with a wholeheartedness that took him by surprise causing his stomach to twist into a sudden knot. Nevertheless, she continued pointing with her forefinger to the copy of her book, in reading Plato´s Republic  she had come to realize what in an unspoken way she had forbode from the first day of their relationship: the fact that her husband was one of those individuals who Plato, using Dr. Asclepios as a mouthpiece for his opinions, like to refer to as “organisms that attached themselves permanently to infirmity…” that is “ the type of individual incapable of living just the life period that he has been assigned and that were  useless both for themselves and for the community”. She had tried for many years to cope with this state of things for the sake of her stepparents, who were wonderful people, yet she couldn´t go on like that any longer because she had always considered herself, quoting again Plato, a “guardian of the city” or  in plain words, for him to fully understand her, a kind of “Charlie´s  Angel” with no other goal but to see to the health of the community. Her husband, no use trying any longer to ignore it, had become unfortunately an ill person, an individual permanently fixed to his disease, which he had in fact come to love more than her. To put it in a nutshell, she concluded, she could no longer cope with such an obnoxious being, a tar blob one should weed out as soon as possible.

The quotation of Dr. Asclepios and the sole mention of those four words “Guardian of the city”  made the spell she had put on him the more compelling. He was indeed familiar with them thanks to his recent Plato readings just as he was with the expression “Charlie´s Angel” since his teenage hooked -on – tv years. So many and meaningful coincidences overwhelmed him. What doubt could there be as to them being kindred spirits. Hadn´t the time come for him to help that brotherly female hand out from the pitch- dark destiny she had out of love blundered into?

Right after her sharing with him these confidences he found himself nodding to her preposterous proposal.Given the thickness of her pencil mine she was convinced that if he sharpened it to the utmost it could pretty much end up functioning as a center punch. She therefore suggested him to go ahead with the sharpening, cross the aisle of the train´s compartment once the pencil´s point was threatening enough, reach the toilet that was located just behind the glass sliding door at the rear, make his way inside the john where her husband would surely be seated muddling through his prostate troubles and taking advantage of his defenseless position stab him the yugular vein with the sharpened pencil.Once the job was  done they would flee the train and start looking for awesome places to live out their childish dream of fucking like rabbits all over the world.

Hooked on the words of that angel of Charlie, Charlie did as he was told. He sharpened his pencil carefully to the utmost, stood obediently upon his feet, walked along the compartment´s  aisle blind as a mole , spittle gathering at the corners of his mouth, forced his way into the toilet where the husband was in effect muddling through his prostate troubles with his trousers off, pushed back his elbow for the stationery stab to gain momentum and….

“For heaven´s sake no, no, no…Don’t do it, you crazy fool! shrieked Charlie waking and sitting up in full distress in their double bed, dripping in sweat.

“What´s wrong, darling!” exclaimed anxiously his wife, who was awaken by his pulling violently the bed sheets as he sat up panic-stricken

“Oh, thanks God, you´re there, honey…Nothing, nothing really to worry about… Just a bad dream. I dreamt I was heading for the border, I took a bus, then a train and then somehow…  somehow… I blundered into a trap…” he told her while he was soothed by the caresses of her lean, slender hands, by the tip of those fingers crowned by pitch-black painted nails slipping softly down his back.

“Calm down, Charlie, forget about blunders and traps and all that crap. Come to my arms , angel, and let yourself be carried away by my kisses while we listen together to our wedding´s soundtrack in the record player.”

That widow, whom she had married two years ago, still knew how to handle the pitch- dark blunders of his sleepless nights. That´s why he  loved her so.

Categorías:English, The Toast Writer´s Space Etiquetas: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Miguel de Unamuno´s “Borrow and the Spanish xenophobia” // “Borrow y la xenofobia Española” por Miguel de Unamuno

noviembre 19, 2013 Deja un comentario

Step by step I carry on reading Unamuno´s complete works, which I happened to come across some years ago in the bookshelves of my parent´s living room . Just as in a way Philip Roth has become a sort of a father- figure  for me, a father, by the way, that doesn´t care much about my life and contents himself with showing me the likely nature of certain important, not to say, crucial matters, Unamuno has turned into a sort of grumbling grandfather , one with whose style and rebukes i come to terms with or not depending on the day.  The other day, for instance, I found this article he wrote the sixth of April of 1917 when he was 53 years old. He delivers in it his opinion of the work and person of an astounding English writer, George Borrow,  so far fully unknown to me. This gives him also the chance to linger on his favourite topic, a topic he was profoundly engaged in till the day of his death, a few months after the Spanish civil war started: Spain and its people.

Borrow´s interest was also aroused by this topic but in the case of Borrow, speaking and writing over 50 languages as he did, that interest took him far beyond, dealing with many European and non-European people, in particular with the Gipsies. English, Spanish, Russian gipsies, where they came from and what dialect of the Gipsy language they spoke was the least important to him. He was apparently always available to make a translation in whichever possible direction no matter the place of the world he found himself in.

As to Spain both authors seem to have been more interested in what the low classes could offer them to nourish their spiritual search rather than by anything coming from the high and middle classes.

I wonder what kind of reflections would stir up in them a world almost totally peopled by a global middle class assorted in many different nations, as ours, from a certain perspective, has come to be.

Anyhow, following you´ll find my attempt at translating in English  Unamuno´s article ” Borrow y la xenofobia española”

Borrow and the Spanish xenophobia

George Borrow came to Spain in 1835 to hawk about Bibles- those Bibles that some snob people like to refer to as “protestant Bibles” . As a result of his travels through the peninsula a unique book came out that was published for the first time in 1842 and whose title read “The Bible in Spain or the Journey, Adventures, and Imprisonment of an Englishman in an Attempt to Circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula”. Albeit written in English this book is the last Spanish picaresque book because of the resemblance it bears to our picaresque novels regarding its inspiration, atmosphere and form.It was not the only thing that Borrow took out from the Spain of the end of the first third of the nineteenth century. He translated “The Gospel According to Saint Luke” in “Caló”, the language of Spanish gypsies and he wrote a work, partly phantastical, about the Spanish gypsies with whom he maintained closed and frequent relations.

The book was and still is very popular among the old fashioned English people from the inland. And it deserves it. They´ve taken from Borrow most of the ideas they have about a romantic Spain. And it is unquestionable that Borrow was able to see and feel our home country in its born-and-bred authenticity. I managed to collect some very interesting news about one of the book´s characters, the priest of Pitiegua, which come to round up the inner portrait of that singular man, whose full name, according to what I could find out, was don Antonio Aguilar, to whom Borrow, rightly, paid the tribute of his somewhat stingy admiration.

Together with  Mendizábal, Alcalá Galiano, Istúriz, the duke of Rivas and other public men Borrow´s book portrays along its pages mule drivers, gipsies, peddlers, canons… even Balseiro, the sidekick of the famous thieve Candelas. Altogether Borrow was anyhow, more interested in ordinary people, in the people one could come across in  crossroads, inns, small squares than in the high and middle classes, than in educated Spaniards. And more than in our literature to which he didn´t seem to pay much attention, he was interested in our language. Of our literature he says that she is “ scarcely worthy of the language”, and may be he ´s right and the Spanish language deserves a much better, more firm, more energetic and more  meaty literature.

Borrow liked very much Madrid. Not because of the city but because of its people, strictly Spanish as the city was in 1835. Back then there were hardly any foreigners , some  taylors, glove makers and French hairdressers. Nothing like the German colonies in St. Petersburg nor the English factories in Lisbon, “ no multitudes of insolent Yankees lounging through the streets, as at the Havannah, with an air which seems to say, the land is our own whenever we choose to take it.”

And after having greeted  in a picturesque English full of Spanish words – this should make the book more charming to the English- to water sellers in Asturias, to carriage drivers in Valencia, to beggars in La Mancha, to butlers and clerks in Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa- as to these last his view is the same as Cervante´s-, to bullfighters in Andalucía, to pastry cooks in Galicia and to grocers in Cataluña as well as to the people in Castille, Extremadura and Aragon, and to the genuine sons of the capital, the twenty thousand “manolos” whose terrible stabs  played havoc with Murat´s army the second of May 1808, Borrow adds:

“ And what about the high classes, all these ladies and gentlemen? Shall I not mention them? To tell the truth I can hardly say much of them. I didn´t meet many and what I saw of those I met didn´t move my imagination to praise them. I´m not one of those people who wherever they go they put down the high clases in order to extol the populace at their expense. There are many capitals in which the aristocracy, the gentlemen and ladies, the sons and daughters of the nobility are the most notable and interesting part of the population. That is the case of Viena and , more specifically, of London. Who can compete with the height, with the dignified bearing, with the strength and  courage that dwell in  the arms and heart of an English aristocrat? Who is capable of riding a horse in a more noble way? Who mounts more firmly? And who is more gentle than his wife, his sister or his daughter? But as to the Spanish aristocracy, all these gentlemen and ladies, the fewer words one says regarding these matters, the better. However, I admit that I don´t know much about them. They may well be admired by other people. I´d rather leave to their pen any panegyric. Lesage has portrayed them as they were some two centuries ago. His portrayal is all but charming and it doesn´t seem to me as they would have made any improvement from the times of the sketches of the inmortal French. I prefer to talk about the low classes, not only of Madrid but of all Spain.”

And this statement of Borrow reminds me of what one of my English friends- deeply acquainted with the Spanish people- told me once: that a Spanish countryman outclasses an English one just as an English nobleman outclasses a Spanish one.

But again Borrow:

“Whether “manolo”, peasant or “muletero” I find the low class Spaniard much more interesting. Rather than vulgar he´s  an extraordinary individual. It´s true he hasn´t  the kindness and generosity of the russian “mujik”, who wouldn´t hesitate giving out his last rouble to a broke foreigner, nor that placid courage which takes the russian peasant on a Zar´s order to  fearless yield to a sure death on the front line. The low class Spaniard shows more harshness and less selfnessness but his spirit harbours a self-sufficient independence that you can´t avoid admiring. Needless to say, he´s ignorant. However, there´s a remarkable thing you always find among the low and poorly educated Spanish classes: their feelings are much more generous than that of the high classes. It´s long been fashionable to talk of the self-righteousness of the Spanish people and their vile envy of foreigners. This is true to a certain extent and you can see it above all in the high classes. If the talent and valuable things that come from abroad haven´t been duly appreciated in Spain, it´s certainly not the fault of the great mass of the Spanish people. In the peak of his great victories Wellington´s honour was slandered by some Spaniards but not by the old soldiers from Aragon and Asturias that helped him defeat the French in Salamanca and the Pyrenees. I´ve heard the skills of an English horseman being debased but it was by the idiot heir of Medinaceli and not by a picador of Madrid´s bullring”

Borrow is right and if things were so in the Spain of 1835, they are much the same in the Spain of 1917. The xenophobia, that is:  the aversion to foreigners or better than aversion, the mistrust towards them, the Spanish xenophobia , is a feeling, a vile feeling indeed, typical of the middle and high Spanish classes. The low Spanish classes, that is, the non-educated ones- the not badly educated ones, I mean- are always more willing to appreciate the merit of foreigners whenever they get in contact with them. The Spanish xenophobia , the anglophobia in particular, is an artificial and contrived product just in the same way the Portuguese hispanophobia was, according to Oliveira Martins. It´s  the result of a bad education and of a systematic forgery of the past and present history acting upon two national Spanish feelings which we should be taught to avoid, these are: mistrust and touchiness.

It´s common among our badly educated classes to blame foreigners,  French and English in particular, for our own faults and misfortunes. By badly educated classes I mean those  ruined by a biased education. A deep spiritual laziness is thus bred into us, a fatalistic sloth, the laziness entailed by our fatalism. For most of our national disasters we put the blame on others, on strangers. We make up and blame them for  disdainful comments that were never made or we show ourselves eager to pick up on any comment that a ne´er do well makes, blowing it out of proportion and distorting it while we overlook other people´s sound and sober judgements , judgements we may even attribute to dubious interests hidden behind their praises. If someone speaks badly of us, or we think he does, despite lack of evidence, he´s just speaking out his true feelings. If we are praised or someone speaks well of us then he´s just trying to deceive us. Because, you see, no one is more touchy than a born-and-bred educated Spaniard

Having read his work some fool has said that the same Borrow, who so well came to know the Spanish people and so fair and so fond was of us, draw but a caricature of Spain , to which I reply that Borrow´s work can match our picaresque novels, the best of them in fact, and that it´s time we start recognizing that there´s much more truth to the picturesque Spain that circulates out there, even to the Spain that one identifies with fans flapping all around, than what our touchy mistrust reluctantly admits. Sure, there´s another Spain but this Spain also exists. As well as does a picaresque one. And a Spain where the cavemen still rule.

Far more could be said about the xenophobia of our badly educated and badly taught, and, thus, touchy and mistrustful and conceited middle class. The more conceited, the more she abhors conceit and acclaims a self-righteous pattern of unaffected feelings.

George Borrow, picture, image, illustration

Borrow y la xenofobia Española

Jorge Borrow vino a España a repartir Biblias-de esas que mucha gente presumida culta llama protestantes-en 1835. Fruto de sus correrías por nuestra península fue aquel libro singular, publicado por primera vez en 1842 y que se titula: “La Biblia en España; o los viajes, aventuras y prisión de un inglés en un empeño de hacer circular las Escrituras en la Península.” Que es, aunque escrito en inglés, el último libro picaresco español, el de inspiración y hechura y aire más parecido a los de nuestras novelas picarescas. Ni fue lo único que Borrow sacó de la España de acabado el primer tercio del siglo XIX. Tradujo el Evangelio de San Lucas al caló gitano de España y escribió una obra, en parte fantástica, sobre los gitanos españoles, con los que tuvo frecuente e íntimo trato.

El libro de Borrow ha sido y sigue siendo entre el pueblo inglés del interior y chapado a la antigua popularísimo. Y merece serlo. Las más de las ideas que sobre la romántica España tienen les viene de Borrow. Y es innegable que éste supo ver y sentir nuestra patria en lo más castizo de ella. Sobre uno de los héroes de su libro, el cura de Pitiegua, he logrado adquirir noticias muy interesantes y que redondean la etopeya de aquel varón singular, don Antonio Aguilar por nombre, según he logrado averiguar , a quien no sin justicia rindió Borrow el tributo de su admiración algo avara.

Con Mendizábal, Alcalá Galiano, Istúriz, el duque de Rivas y otros hombres públicos pasan por el libro de Borrow retratos de arrieros, gitanos, trajinantes, canónigos, etc, y hasta el de Balseiro, el compañero del célebre ladrón Candelas. Mas en general interesábale a Borrow, má que nuestras clases medias y altas, más que los españoles instruidos, el pueblo bajo, el de las ventas y los caminos y las plazuelas; y más que nuestra literatura, a la que no parece que dedicó demasiada atención, le interesaba nuestra lengua. De nuestra literatura española dice que apenas es digna del lenguaje-scarcely worthy of the language- y acaso el juicio es muy exacto. La lengua española se merece otra literatura mejor, más densa, más enérgica y más jugosa. A Borrow le gustó mucho Madrid. Y no por la urbe, sino por su pueblo, estrictamente español en 1835. Apenas había extranjeros entonces; algunos sastres, guanteros y peluqueros franceses; nada de colonias alemanas como en San Petersburgo, ni factorías inglesas como en Lisboa, ni multitudes de “insolentes” yanquis barzoneando por las calles como en La Habana, con un aire que parece querer decir: “El país es nuestro donde quiera que nos plazca cogerlo” (Cita de Borrow). Y después de saludar en un pintoresco inglés atestado de palabras españolas- y esto debe añadir encanto al libro para los ingleses-a los aguadores de Asturias, caleseros de Valencia, pordioseros de la Mancha, mayordomos y secretarios de Vizcaya- en esto último coincide con Cervantes-,toreros de Andalucía, reposteros de Galicia y tenderos de Cataluña, y a los castellanos, extremeños y aragoneses, y a los genuinos hijos de la capital , a los veinte mil manolos cuyas terribles navajas hicieron tal estrago el 2 de mayo en las huestes de Murat, Borrow añade:

“Y a las clases altas, a los caballeros y señoras, ¿he de pasarlos en silencio? La verdad es que apenas tengo que decir de ellos; mezcléme muy poco en la sociedad, y lo que de ellos vi de ningún modo tiraba a ensalzarlos en mi imaginación. No soy uno de aquellos que adonde quieran que vayan acostumbran rebajar a las clases altas y ensalzar, a costa de ellas, al populacho. Hay muchas capitales en que la alta aristocracia, los grandes y las damas, los hijos e hijas de la nobleza forman la más notable y más intersante parte de la población. Tal es el caso de Viena y más especialmente en Londres. ¿Quién puede rivalizar con el aristócrata inglés en elevada estatura, en dignificado porte, en fuerza de mano y en valor de corazón? ¿Quién monta más noble a caballo? ¿Quién tiene más firme asiento? ¿Y quien es más amable que su mujer, su hermana o su hija? Pero con respecto a la aristocracia española, los caballeros y señoras, creo que cuanto menos se diga de ellos en los puntos a los que acabo de aludir, tanto mejor. Confieso, sin embargo, que sé poco acerca de ellos; tienen tal vez sus admiradores, y a las plumas de éstos dejo su panegírico. Lesage los ha descrito tales como eran hace uno dos siglos. Su descripción es todo menos cautivadora , y no me parece que hayan mejorado desde el periodo de los bosquejos del inmortal francés. Prefiero hablar de las clases bajas, no sólo de Madrid sino de toda España.”

Y esto de Borrow me recuerda lo que uno de mis amigos ingleses, profundo conocedor del pueblo español, me decía una vez, y es que un aldeano español está tan por encima de uno inglés como un noble inglés está por encima de un español.

Prosigue Borrow:

“El español de clase baja tiene mucho más interés para mí, sea manolo, labriego o muletero. No es un ser vulgar, es un hombre extraordinario. No tiene es verdad, la amabilidad y la generosidad del “murik” ruso, que dará su único rublo antes de que le falte al forastero, ni su plácido valor, que le hace insensible al miedo, y que a la orden de su zar le envía cantando a una muerte cierta. Hay más dureza  y menos abnegación en la disposición del español, pero posee un espíritu de soberbia independencia que es imposible dejar de admirar. Es ignorante, por supuesto: pero es cosa singular que he hallado invariablemente entre las clases bajas y levemente educadas mucha más liberalidad de sentimientos que entre las altas. Ha sido largo tiempo moda hablar de la santurronería de los españoles y de sus bajos celos de los extranjeros. Esto es verdad hasta cierto punto, pero se verifica principalmente con respecto a las clases altas. Si el valor o el talento extranjeros no han sido nuca debidamente apreciados en España , no es la culpa, ciertamente, de la gran masa de los españoles. He oído calumniar a Wellington en esta soberbia escena de sus triunfos, pero jamás por los viejos soldados de Aragón y de Asturias que le asistieron a vencer a los franceses en Salamanca y en los Pirineos. He oído criticar la manera de montar de un jinete inglés, pero fue al idiota heredero de Medinaceli y no a un picador de la plaza de toros de Madrid”

Esta observación y juicio de Borrow nos parece exacta. Y si así era en la España de 1835, así sigue siendo en la de 1917. La xenofobia, esto es: la aversión al extranjero o, más bien que aversión, el recelo hacia él, la  xenofobia española es sentimiento, y sentimiento muy bajo, de las clases media y alta. La clase baja española, es decir, la no educada, la no mal educada, está siempre más dispuesta a reconocer los méritos de los pueblos extranjeros cuando tiene ocasión de ponerse en contacto con estos pueblos. La xenofobia española, y muy en especial la anglofobia, es un producto artificial y artificioso, como Oliveira Martins decía que lo era la hispanofobia portuguesa. Es un producto de mala educación y de una sistemática falsificación de la historia pasada y de la presente obrando sobre dos sentimientos nacionales nuestros, de que se debía tender a corregirnos al educarnos, y son: la quisquillosidad y la recelosidad.

Lo de echar la culpa a los extranjeros, a franceses e ingleses sobre todo, de nuestras torpezas y nuestras desgracias, es cosa corriente entre nuestras clases mal educadas; quiero decir entre las estropeadas por una tendenciosa mala educación. Y así se nos cultiva la honda pereza espiritual, la holgazanería de nuestro fatalismo, de nuestra fatal haraganería. De los más de nuestros desastres nacionales echamos la culpa a los otros, a los de fuera. Fingimos en ellos desdenes que no existen o nos apresuramos a recoger los de cualquier pelagatos, exagerándolos o tergiversándolos no pocas veces, y pasamos por alto los juicios serenos y justos cuando no los atribuimos a un torcido interés en adularnos. Si hablan mal de nosotros o creemos que hablan mal de nosotros, aunque así no sea, es que demuestran sus verdaderos sentimientos, y si nos alaban o elogian en algo, es que buscan seducirnos. Porque no hay nada más vidrioso que un español con tradicional educación castiza.

De aquel mismo Borrow, que tan bien aprendió a conocer al pueblo español y tanto le quiso y tan justo fue con nosotros, he oído decir a algún mentecato que ha leído su obra que trazó una caricatura de España. Y yo le digo que su obra puede ponerse al lado de nuestras novelas picarescas y de las mejores. Y que es hora de que empecemos a reconocer que hay mucha más verdad de lo que a nuestra quisquillosa recelosidad le cuesta confesar en el fondo de la España pintoresca que corre por ahí fuera, y hasta en la llamada de abanico. Que haya otra España no cabe duda, pero también hay esa. Y hay la picaresca. Y hay la troglodítica.

Mas aún queda mucho por decir de la xenofobia de nuestra mal educada y mal instruida clase media, petulante, quisquillosa y recelosa. Y más petulante cuanto más abomina de la petulancia y exalta el hipócrita sentir a la pata la llana.

Romanized guy with the blues

Near the border with the Czech Republic, in the best and only hotel of a forlorn village in the upper Austria, called Aigen im Mühlkreis, in the middle of the hotel´s dining room where they sat eating their respectives breakfasts as  the sole guests of the hotel they were staying in, it someway happened that he came to hear a voice and that this voice was the one of the other hotel guest, a German guy at whose request he had previously introduced himsef as a Spaniard coming from Bilbao and that now assured him in dead earnest, while munching a toast with strawberry jam on it in the table opposite his, that the Basque people had remained unchanged since at least the Cro-Magnon Paleolithich period.

It was early in the morning and this news shocked him, partly because his bleary eyes hadn´t yet shaken off  the night´sleep and partly because being himself of Basque origin and being just about to crack the hard boiled egg  he was yawning at by means of some gentle touches of that precious outcome of civilisation named after the term of “spoon” , in hearing the German´s assessment he couldn´t help  but  start wondering whether the proper way to behave in such circumstances  would not rather be  to just  grab the egg in his hand and swallow it with shell and all after having uttered some noises that could resemble the ancestral Basque language he had never before in his life spoken.

But he was more than willing  to be friendly to anyone willing to be friendly to him in such a lonesome place and he dind´t want at any rate to dissapoint the views of that young german who , to make matters worse, assured him, equally in dead earnest, that he had thoroughly discussed the Basque  issue  with a Parisian woman novelist with whom he had shared not only appraisals of the Basque people and their mysterious prehistory but also a train compartment while travelling through central Europe where, as a matter of fact- he dared to conclude to himself out of the dead earnest of the German´s   statements-, he must have  tried to seduce her taking advantage of such an outlandish topic.

Thus, after a brief moment of hesitation and having remembered what little of prehistory had remained in his brain from his college years he decided to politely retort that he believed that some Roman garrisons were allocated along some winding paths that crossed the basque country by order of the roman emperor´s general staff and that may be God had seen fit to beget some of his own ancestors in a peaceful skirmish between a pretty Basque native and a Roman legionnaire , given the fact that he had always considered himself a kind of romanized basque not to mention the deep rooted fondness he still felt for the pizzas he got served in the terraces of Rome´s Trastevere neighbourhood each time he visited the “Eternal City”

In spite of this smart remark worth, incidentally, the scholarship he was denied at the  jesuit university of his basque hometown, the German guy kindly advised him to check on his alleged origins because not a single scientific proof was there on hand that could demonstrate  that he was the true basque, romanized or not, he had always pretended to be. Either he took a look at his family tree and luckily find his Cro-Magnon bias or else he should be prepared to say farewell to any pretention of Basque originality whatsoever.

He got the chance to evoque this unsettling encounter some years later when, living in Madrid, he happened to meet a sexy girl who seemingly was very proud of his origins too. They were talking in a bar about petty things such as her mother´s family tree-he, trying gradually to seduce her taking advantage of some incestuous branches in some light-hearted links of her lineage, she, gradually getting horny falling prey to his manly prowess amid the entangling and shameless leaves of such a humid forest – when unfortunately she began to make  allusions to, alas, his  Basque origins:

“Could you whisper  in my ears some nasty words in Basque?” she asked him invitingly.

 “Ouch…sorry, i don´t speak any Basque. I can´t remember much of what we were taught during one term in the English school i went to.”

“An English school?” she exclaimed uninvitingly

“So they used to call it, because you had to wear a cap that hardly covered the crown of your head, a uniform displaying the school´s coat of arms and you were fated to brave the harsh winter term with a pair of flannel short trousers in order, mainly, to cater the sports teacher´s lust for hairy legs. But it was fashionable then among certain Spanish middle class parents to boast of their English speaking children in front of their worse-off friends and, thus,  they were ready, no matter  the cost , to believe they were sending us to an original English boarding school like, say, Eton. In this sort of Spanish remake of Eton they tried to teach us Basque in English during one term , as a result of which  it didn´t take long before i lost the few notions of English i had till then, somehow or other, acquired.”…

But, sweetheart, let me tell you something, i´m really amazed …You know? You are the first girl to whom i talk about these moving matters… See? (he pointed to his crotch) it makes  my skin crawl, i think i´m itching for something”

“Wait there, not too fast, you rascal¡…., I´m stunned, i always thought every Basque spoke Basque since at least the Cro-Magnon Paleolithic period. But i suppose your special needs education makes a case for your illiteracy.

What about cooking? Every Basque is a good cook and loves eating, specially fish… So tell me , what dishes would you cook for me?… Mmm.. i have a craving for cod…”

 “ I really wish i could cook cod for you, honey, but i´m afraid that what i´m really skilled at is at tossing a salad if you´re craving for one”

 “A salad ¡” she grunted with a disappointed expression in her face.

 “Well, i also like pizzas. I don´t mean i cook them but i love the way they knead them in Roman pizzerias.I think i could afford enough dough for someone to knead it , shape it, leaven it  and blow it out of proportion if necessary. Anyhow i take pride in having a good palate and as to spirits, i´m pretty fond of mineral water. I´m a romanized Basque, you see? No alcohol was allowed in our legions while drilling”

 “I see…” she replied curtly.

Her curt reply made him realize that the frankness with which he had spoken out his origins had deprived him once and for all of the opportunity of mustering his drilling skills to a cod eater. He couldn´t but blame himself for the dubious roots of his sadly romanized stock,but was there anything he could do against it?

Albeit in a tacit way this question had, in fact, accompanied him since he was a kid. In one way or another his whole existence had revolved around it from the very beginning without himself even knowing it. His was the story of that unanswered question, of its central contradiction being deployed in a series of falls and rises, of endless comings and goings, of besetting expectations anchored in a wasted past. Between the self-evident shortcomings of Rome´s almighty civilisation and the ongoing ethnic whims that he saw in many people around him, there was apparently no happy medium. Regardless of whether Basque or Cro-Magnon, the lack of pure origin credentials condemned this romanized Basque to nothing but the blues.