"It is as if you walked down a road forever gazing into a mirror, walking toward yourself and blind to the world. Have faith."
-The Hummingbird's Daughter Luis Alberto Urrea
I’ve lived enough life now to know that not all dreams are realized - and maybe it’s just as well. From around age 15, I dreamed that someday I might have a BOS (butt of significance) and become a Fly Girl. My efforts on the sweaty floors of NYC Haitian dance classes notwithstanding, neither part of that particular vision has quite come to fruition. Fate, god, the universe, destiny, fractals, karmic inheritance. . . and genetics - always get the last word.
|A Boss Babe in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona|
Having just spent two beautiful weeks of quasi-solitude in Spain, I’ve been thinking that if I was to return to this planet, it could be interesting to come back as a torera: a female bullfighter. Being a flamenco dancer/singer would also be a desirable option - and maybe safer.
But really, I don’t have any desire to outsmart, subdue or kill a wilder animal - two or four-legged - for sport or any other reason. I do like wearing cool costumes, and I think that bullfighting is interesting - both the literal and metaphorical traditions. I am interested pulling back the curtain, so to speak, on falsehood and delusional thinking - also known as bullshit.
In the Spanish tradition, if there is no danger, it is not considered bullfighting. What does it say about a culture that condones this destructive, bloody and arguably depraved communal ritual? What determines which risky activities and risk-takers we celebrate and glorify, and which we punish, silence, imprison and otherwise subjugate?
|"There is no entertainment more passionate than reality."|
|The Castle of Montjuic in Barcelona|
These questions call to mind the recent controversial Nike campaign — which features Colin Kapernick, an athlete and citizen who challenged the values of his country and the NFL by refusing to stand for the national anthem. The message of the campaign, attributed to Kapernick, is “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Advertising is of course famous for offering trite, overly simplistic and grammatically incorrect ‘tag lines’ for complex situations - and at the risk of stating the obvious, I will note that an advertiser’s drivers are not so much principles-oriented as they are market-oriented. If Nike didn’t think its most important (i.e., its youngest) customers would sympathize with the message, they wouldn’t have created the ad. Kapernick’s motivations might have been more pure. I'll ask him next time we talk.
In any case, such apparent boldness can feel like fly-by mist from a nearby restaurant in a sun-seared plaza in Madrid. Even if it’s short-lived and superficial, it provides a little refreshment. In a world fueled by fear and the mandate to conform and contort oneself in order to be a good little soldier - whatever that means in the particular context in which you find yourself, - such gestures can feel life-affirming.
What could be more affirming than to feel one's purpose on this earth - even if it means 'sacrificing everything'? Most of us are trying - misguidedly - to connect with some kind of reason for being here other than to be ground up by one deranged system or another. When we feel connected to our purpose - whatever that is - then sacrifice feels less like a loss and more like the only truthful way to live.
One of my companions while on this journey was a gorgeous novel about a young curandera, a female healer who was willing to sacrifice everything for her belief in love - not romantic love, but universal love. It bolstered my feelings about devoted, passionate and self-possessed people who insist on inhabiting their ‘bigness,’ whatever the price. As long as our culture’s organizing principles are anti-social media, capitalism, religious evangelism and patriarchy, these are the types of risk-takers who - if they are glorified at all - will be punished in equal measure. The musty and dusty animating forces of the world persist as decidedly as the tides. . . but somehow, so does love.
Democracy, freedom and liberation are lovely ideas. In many ways, I have to say that the Spanish are far more progressive than we are. Perhaps in response to 35 years of dictatorship, the Spanish seem to have adopted a kind of cynical realism - about religion, about politics, marriage, and relationships. I just re-read the most-read New York Times article of 2016 - the same year that particularly vile monster weaseled his way into the White House - by Alain de Botton on ‘why you will marry the wrong person.’ He articulates very clearly and succinctly - and with a clear nod to attachment theory - the reasons why our ideas about love and relationships are profoundly flawed. The tragedy is that these false narratives about ‘how things are’ are reinforced in every facet of society - which sets the stage for a chronic narrative of failure.
|Cairns in Formentera|
Renouncing a more traditional travel guide for 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go influenced how and where to live these days. One destination inspired by the book was the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (convent of the real barefooted). Unlike most convents open to the public, it is currently inhabited by 18 nuns whose activities are alternately cleaning and tending to the building, and praying -- all while completely cloistered from the bustling commercial location in the center of Madrid that they inhabit. Talk about sacrificing everything for believing in something. . . Incidentally, I also stayed in a neighborhood in Madrid called 'Lavapies,' which means 'wash feet.' Interesting these references to the feet, which carry us where we need to be.
|Big old rubber tree in Cadiz, Spain|
|Cadiz, the longest continuously inhabited city in Europe|
I like to become a regular somewhere - my spot in Madrid was a restaurant/bar named for an impossible love story between a rebellious romantic poet, Jose de Espronceda, and Teresa Mancha - who was his muse and left her husband to be with him. The relationship did not turn out exactly as they'd planned (clearly they hadn't read the article about how we are destined to marry the wrong person), but Jose got some good poems out of it.
In Cadiz, I stayed in an eccentric but ultimately charming hotel room decorated with clocks and wrist watches, as if to remind me to live in the present, to relinquish my battle with la realidad in exchange for the sweet bliss of what-is.