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Monday, October 16, 2017

The Dead Angels by Rafael Alberti

As I mentioned in the previous post, I joined a writers group shortly after my arrival in Spain. The first meeting made me feel incredibly welcome. During the second meeting, we analyzed some of the poetic works of surrealist Rafael Alberti.

I love surrealism, but I'm not sure I could ever write it well. So I'll do the next best thing and translate one of the poems. When you think about the images, they become less surreal. They point to whatever reality you're living at the time you read them.

The Dead Angels

Look, look for them:
in the sleeplessness of forgotten pipework,
in the courses of rivers interrupted by the silence of garbage.
Not far from the puddles unable to hold a cloud,
some lost eyes,
a broken piece of jewelry,
or a star that's been stepped on.
Because I've seen them:
in the momentary debris that appears in the mist.
Because I've touched them
in the exile of a deceased brick,
come to nothing from a tower or a cart.
Never farther than the chimneys that fall to pieces
nor those tenacious leaves that get stuck to the bottom of a shoe.

In all this.
Even more in those vagabond wood chips that get consumed without fire,
in those sunken silences suffered by dilapidated furniture,
not far from the names and signs that grow cold on the walls.

Look, look for them:
under the drop of wax that buries the sense of a book
or the signature in the corners of a letter,
which it comes stirring up dust.
Near a lost bottle cap,
a shoe sole gone missing in the snow,
a shaving razor abandoned at the edge of a precipice.

Alberti wrote this poem during a crisis of faith. Everything they'd taught him about God, angels, heaven, hell... he just didn't buy it anymore. This is an unpleasant thing to have happen to you, but if you make it through, it can lead to more and better art in the future.

Here Alberti sees dead angels (lost innocence, our better natures, or faith) in things rotten, dead, or forgotten. He sees a world full of useless, cynical items, and not a single chance at redemption.

It's a pretty good description of someone going through deep, comsuming grief. None of it is pleasant. Without unpleasantness, would we appreciate the good around us?

It's been therapeutic to translate these images and I hope it's been therapeutic to read and think about them. Thanks for reading! With this out of the way, there's plenty of room for fun stuff in the weeks to come.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Buying Fruit in Spain

A selfie with the Romanesque Bridge in Zamora 
Everyone in the auxiliares de conversación program has had their first week of teaching now. In some online groups, there have been rumblings of homesickness and culture shock. It's a perfectly normal reaction to coming to a place where the language, culture, values, and even the time schedule are different.

With the cathedral 
To me, things are different in a good way. What's the opposite of culture shock? Culture cushion, perhaps? Definition: the feeling upon entering a country that everything at last makes sense, causing an intense sense of relief, like lying down on a cushion of the perfect softness; occurs only in people who suffer from nationality dysphoria.

As I mentioned in a previous post, when I was in the country of my birth, I always had a sense that something wasn't quite rightthat I should be somewhere else. I'm in Spain now, and that tragic feeling lifted some time after I landed, perhaps while I was on the train, looking out the window at a castle I'd visited twelve years earlier.

At the Duero with the cathedral atop the rocky outcrop 
For me, it's natural that I should skip over culture shock. Spain has been the site of my longing for 30 years, I've studied Spanish almost that long, and I've been to Spain ten times beforeten of the best times of my life. I met my personal hero in Spain and he was more present and kind than I imagined he could be. I've won a few people over to loving Spain, including my sweet Stanley, who I'm told was stubbornly against trying new things when I wasn't around.

At my new favorite place,
San Pedro de la Nave 
When I arrived this, the eleventh time I've been to Spain, I immediately got a great apartment, had fun, got complimented on my Spanish, and met some fascinating people. I was walking down the street one day, and a lady started talking to me, as you do. After a few minutes of chatting, she asked if I was a writer, because of course that's what you ask people on the street. It turns out, she's the presidenta of a writers group here and she invited me to join them! They've published tons of books, won prizes, and give readings throughout Castilla y León. I went to a meeting last week, and I've never felt more at home in my life. I told them I was going to try writing stories in Spanish. Quite the goal.

Thrilled at the Center for the Interpretation of Medieval Cities 
So now you know why I look a little crazy in these selfies. Sometimes, happiness looks like a psychotic break with reality. But the photos are evidence: I'm really here!

At the castle. Who doesn't
love a good castle? 
What does the title of this post have to do with anything? The one time I felt like a foreigner in the past three weeks was when I attempted to buy fruit at a large supermarket the way I'm used to in America. No! In Spain, you do not let the cashier weigh and price your fresh fruit! What were you thinking? You have to weigh it and get a price printed out at the scale. You must be a foreign idiot, rejected by your country for being so dumb. (No one said this, just my active imagination.) I abandoned those tangerines in a hurry, ready to never eat fresh fruit again.

With the tapestries at the cathedral. I remembered to take off my
glasses for this one. 
The next time I was at the store, I was less overwhelmed by all the exciting Spanish food for sale, and focused enough to see where I had to weigh my apples and grapes. It makes perfect sense.