“Yo quiero ser una chica Almodóvar
como la Maura como Victoria Abril,
un poco lista, un poquitin boba…”
— Por Joaquin Sabina
I may be willing this into existence, but yes, “Siento como una chica Almodóvar” of late. Whenever I find myself chasing the dawn with these blogs, I feel like a version of Amanda Gris in “La flor de mi secreto.”
My narrative hasn’t exactly been rose colored, but the pages are not turning dark, either. While I could sit here trying to find other parallels to many of the Oscar winner’s films, none feel as present to me as “Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios” (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown).
Despite the screwball comedy chaos of Pepa Marcos’ outrageous 48 hours trying to reach her errant lover, a certain romance exists in these women all seeking some sort of closure. I have found connections with all of the leading ladies at some point during the last weeks. I’ve been Candela, enduring the betrayal of one terrorist lover, only to find surprising solace in the arms of someone else’s boyfriend. I’ve been Lucia, insanely holding on to the past, determined to avenge the heartbreak I’ve let it cause. I’ve been Marisa, the judgmental cow of a girlfriend who drinks the spiked gazpacho and misses out on the best parts of the story. But, most of all, I’ve been Pepa, the eternal romantic who becomes a transformed realist once she discovers the true point of her existence. Hell, even eating breakfast with the amazing Manoli, Krystal and Brianna, I feel like Loles Leon as la Secretaria. (“Ha desayunado muchas veces en mi vida!“)
But, the chaos that’s swirled around me has been strangely manageable. Career remains very much present, which sometimes doesn’t mix well with the academic endeavor at hand. Grammar class is on par with learning the quadratic equation. Literature has been a marvel, but heavy lifting is involved trying to deconstruct and analyze these inspiring works in another language. Then, I have the social life, a version of which has been missing at home, but now is building in intensity these last days. This is where all my Almodóvariana has been delightfully found.
“All gay men have track lightin’. And all gay men are named Mark, Rick, or Steve.” — Clairee Belcher in “Steel Magnolias”
Gay is gay no matter where you go
One of my favorite scenes in “Steel Magnolias” is when Clairee is talking about one of her gay relations. When she is asked how he “meets people,” the now classic answer is, “All gay men are named Mark, Rick or Steve.” (I haven’t seen much track lighting in Spain. In fact, given the high cost of utilities in this country, you’d be hard pressed to even have the lights on in a room!)
Given this is Spain, I’m going to amend that list of names to Javier, Fran, Jose y Paco because that’s who I´ve met of late. Thanks to these gents, I’ve had some of the most enlightening conversations in a long while. I worry what they´re going to do to my Spanish. Between the new phrases and constant correction by these well meaning ¨tios,¨ I feel like I´m never out of the classroom! Yet it is absolutely worth it. The bigger revelation has not been the well of confidence I seem to possess in avoiding English altogether with these men. Nope, it´s the discovery that the kind of gay man I have become doesn’t seem so out of place in Spain.
Now, I realize that isn´t a fair statement to make, considering I don´t make much of an effort to go out and ¨meet people¨ named Rick or Steve or otherwise in LA. I don´t know the origins of this confidence. Perhaps it´s a result of being around these young ´uns. Talk about following scripts I had nothing to do in writing. But mi querido Pedro could have had a hand in writing the scenes that have played out in Week 2.
Los chinchillas amantes
Chances are I won’t be forgetting Fran and Javier, the couple from Salamanca who owned two chinchillas. The final image was sealed when they were let loose into their apartment for some exercise just before I left their home late last Thursday. Yeah, they kept chewing at my Vans as I stood in the doorway. But before I did, we had quite the night in their living room, gabbing up a storm, flipping through pages of a Taschen book I’d kill to own. Of course, it was about Almodóvar. As I salivated over every oversized image, I was told the real reason why Almodóvar and Carmen Maura didn’t speak for several decades.
It seems when the famed Manchegan was nominated for his first Oscar for “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” instead of taking his cherished muse Maura, he chose a former pizza delivery boy he’d been dating for a short while to the ceremony. Yeah, it would be a long time before the two would “Volver” to each other. Do you blame her?
Who doesn’t love a bit of lust fueled betrayal proving men are alike, gay or straight, when it comes to ditching friendship to get laid? But, truth be told, it’s the details of the couple’s home and demeanor that engaged me further. We are all pop culture hoarders. It has to be in our DNA. Their book shelves were CRAMMED with a variety of books, collectibles and other detritus courtesy of compulsive shopping. (The best? A fake anthology of Amanda Gris stories, with blank pages and titles like “El beso negro” or “La arrogancia hecho mujer.”) Much of what they had in house was either the same of what I have in my home or would cram into my own stash quite well. Even better was the absolute ease with which we related to each other, revealing personal details of life and home, politics and history and, yes, popular culture.
If we had been hoarding information on our own lives for this encounter, letting it loose was a real pleasure to share. It ain’t easy being gay men of a certain age. Socializing tends to work better at home than in the clubs, where a tangible level desperation seems to take hold against the din. We know we’re not young, but we are also not ready to put to pasture, even if our days on the stud farm are waning.
The gathering of like-minded homos over dinner and wine translates quite well in Spain, something I don’t know why I haven’t nurtured as well in LA. I’m sure it has some reason to do with my being wrapped so tight. But that’s something to mull over with a bit more perspective once I get home. I was comforted by the sight of this solid union, enduring more than a decade and showing no signs of wear. As I bid them goodnight (or really, early morning), I walked away with the certainty there are no false connections in this world. All encounters play their role in our development in becoming not just fearless, but reminding us of what it means to be human.
The next morning at the Pontificia was a blur. Too many late nights blogging and studying finally caught up with me. More, I seem to be caught in the throes of a separatists’ rebellion between speaking in Spanish and thinking in English. It doesn’t help that grammar class again was on par with being explained with the complexity of the Manhattan Project. Either way, my brain exploded around 9:45 that morning. Besides, if the kids were heading to Lagos, Portugal for some beach blanket fado, I was planning to wash ashore again in Madrid. This time, my intent was to absorb a little more culture and witness a little less Orgullo. Instead, I would encounter a little — or a lot — of both thanks to the arrival of the man who looked a lot like Hernán Cortés.
Someone was about to be conquered…
“En Madrid, nunca es tarde.”
After a mind and ass numbing bus ride to Madrid, I stepped out into an anthill melting in the viscous heat of the day. By the time I got to Gran Via, I found myself needing a chamois cloth as i checked back into the Hotel Indigo. I knew straight away that I wanted to avoid the crowds and pretty much all else that afternoon. News of the passing of a friend’s wife that afternoon had put me in a pensive mood. It just made sense to slow down and take stock a bit. It was right to call and check in with my parents and Nan.
Hearing my Dad sound so positive, offering his own encouragement of this adventure, was exactly what I needed. It was the Dad I knew, not the one whose brain is being dismantled by Alzheimer’s. It was here I realized which side of my own mental rebellion had won: I spoke to him entirely in Spanish. We were connected in a way I haven’t experienced since I was a kid. He was focused, present and very much the paternal force of reason again. It happens fleetingly, and it happened that day which made for a welcome cause of comfort.
Funny, it was different when I spoke to Mom, who stuck to our usual English because that’s who we are to her. But even my formidable mother couldn’t stand up to the Spanish I hurled with increasing strength. “Dammit, mom” I thought. “I am working hard to refine what is your native tongue, lady!” (I blame the voice of Palmira, who keeps saying “Ese sonido terrible!” every time we lapse into the comfort of ingles en la clase de conversación.) I later hung up with the glow of victory, knowing I was able to stay the course against the dominant culture known as “Big Lil.”
I don’t know if the night would have been enough to prompt this entry’s theme had I not decided to honor my date with Paco y Jose.
“Andreita, coño, comete el pollo!”
“Merrier the more,
Triple fun that way,
Twister on the floor.
What do you say?”
— “3” as sung by Britney Spears
Those who choose to read between the lines of this post will figure out that my meeting both couples was meant to be a lust driven pas de trois. One “came” to fruition, the other? Well, the minute we all sat down at an outdoor cafe not too far from the Gran Via, it was painfully apparent after the first round of laughter what was going to happen next. We were having more fun just talking and relating to each other as friends and not tricks.
As sexy Paco and Jose were in the flesh, our chemistry was heightened by great wit and candor, too. We fell into verbal sync so easily that it seemed liked we’d known each other as intimate friends since forever. Again, they’d been a couple for 12 years, which says something in any gay community. It ain’t easy pulling in double harness. I won’t judge their desire to engage a third to make things spicy, but their ease revealed zero competition or malice. More, they were just a hell of a couple to hang out with on a hot Spanish night.
I’d been avoiding any star gossip since arriving in Spain, but once Paco and Jose got me going I sung like a canary out of a coal mine. What was equally entertaining was their matching my American brand of libel with their own Spanish version. And no “star” shines brighter here than the indomitable Belén Esteban.
If you had to translate “hot mess,” Belén Esteban would be the Spanish translation. As the former girlfriend of a bull fighter, this incredibly popular TV presenter has made quite a name for herself in the 15 years since breaking up with the man. Single mother, former addict, surgically enhanced; she’s the quintessential reality star Spaniards have championed into super stardom. Belén even has casserole pans for sale at the local Carrefour market! Her best catch phrases involve her teen daughter, Andrea. In addition to admitting she’d turn into Bin Laden to protect her, the apex arrived when they were on holiday in that hotbed of chav, Benidorm. One night, Belén was trying to get precious progeny to eat something. After an intense battle of wits, the frustrated mom screamed, “Andreita, coño, comete el pollo!” to the benefit of the camera. And, her status as an icon was solidified for life.
I kept asking, why is she so popular, but the answer was so ridiculously obvious. She’s a survivor, facing the most awful of adversities (most created by her own hand) and turned them into a positive. She’s a professional victim, connecting with the other members of our downtrodden time because that’s the easy route. I can’t decide if that is what makes her, or any other of her ilk, worth mentioning. But the survivor’s tale is one of our most consistent narratives in this media age. And in this age of reality, it is tragic to know such exports are becoming the norm elsewhere.
We went round and round on this tangent of celebrity, with both men saying I’d cease to exist if I couldn’t have this type of conversation. (Yeah, I’d mentioned I wanted a new narrative to spin as a MediaJor. That’s a topic for discussion in a later entry.) We had quite a time enjoying a sidebar discussion on the accented versions of American stars’ names that become unintelligible in each other’s language. (Tohm Ahnks = Tom Hanks, for starters). More, I just liked the feeling of having people “get” each other without much effort.
Granted, I wish our control freak natures lost control and got freaky. The matter was discussed but tabled in the end. Night, which takes a long ass time to fall in this part of the world, had finally arrived. It was time to return to our respective lives. Reality vanquished fantasy. But given the spectrum of emotion of the week, it seemed fitting that my second week in Spain would end not with enforcing the laws of desire. No, it ended with simple acts of kindness and laughter just when it was needed most.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m not homesick or embarrassed by any of the activities I’ve engaged in of late. If anything, my first call home in two weeks reinforced my determination not to be a tourist, but a real citizen of the world. It isn’t about just going to the eateries chosen by locals, or amassing a gallery of photos as proof of a visit. No, I want to live this country. I can not equate this visit as an excuse to collect memories or people for future visits, which so many of us living a grand life of illusion tend to do.
No, this was meant to be a transformative experience. As to what will emerge in the end, I don’t know. But the real turning point of my Salamancan summer was destined to happen in the town where a major Spanish literary figure was born and others honored. No camp or exquisitely composed design or twisted psychology need be scripted here. For once, my own life of chasing windmills felt suddenly and wonderfully grounded. I am beginning to like this skin I’m living in today. Why?
To be continued.
Tuesday, July 15 @ Manoli’s House in Salamanca