“Young hearts, run free…and wear sunscreen” or “Graduation Day” (Week 4, Days 27 & 28)

“Young hearts, run free…and wear sunscreen” or “Graduation Day” (Week 4, Days 27 & 28)

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.

The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t…”

From Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”

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Ah, the taste of bittersweet is starting to make its presence known. This post is not originating from the safe comfort of Manoli’s house. I am now in Barcelona, celebrating the end of my term at the Pontificia (or “Ponti”). I wish I could say I was having a blast here this weekend, but that feeling of “denouement” is coloring everything a darker shade. If the awe-inspiring work of Gaudi can’t breakthrough, the sun blazing over the Barceloneta isn’t going have much of a shot, either. Sure I spent the better part of the day touring this beautiful city, reading “Pedro Parámo” while eating my paella and later turning a rather interesting shade of red thank to forgetting my hat. So, I better focus on happier topics to raise the animo of it all, beginning with:

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Yes, I did earn my first ever diploma!

I have to say I was starting to take issue when people would say, “Hope you’re having fun in Salamanca.” Like this was a freaking vacation. No, it wasn’t. Sure, from the outside it looks like all I was doing was eating tapas, meeting hot men, strolling villages and stepping over rivers of piss in Madrid. Don’t get me wrong, all that shiz did happen almost every day. And I’m very glad it did.

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But, in between all that, I was going over grammar rules. (¡Ahora entiendo, Professora Boyero. Sí se usa “cuyo” en la vida real!) Reading complex texts from the Hispano masters of literatura. Understanding the concepts of realismo mágico in literature, as well as el pluscuamperfecto, frases condicionales y el puto perífrasis. To be honest, I equated my grammar class with learning math again. I abhor structure, finding a greater control with the abstract offered by deconstructing texts. But, as I have learned, without structure there can be no foundation on which to build any kind of art.

I stand humbly corrected.

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Suffice it to say, I did study hard and the results were rewarded with one of the highest grades in my group. After careful consideration from my professors, my initial marks were upgraded to the C1 level, one of the more advanced groupings, thus scoring a 9/9 out of 10/10 in both exams. Considered Sobresaliente, it equates to an “A.” Granted, issues were recorded with my grammar test, particularly in conjugating verbs. But the professors’ reasons were to encourage me to stay on this road, to strive higher and engage with more complex aspects of the language. Dr. Maria José Boyero had great words of encouragement for me and my writing. And you know, I’d like to make good on her faith.

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Of course, as some of the pics posted elsewhere have attested, I did go out after finals with the “Kids.” Like most of the adults, I did judge them a bit too hard for turning this summer in Salamanca into a roving spring break party out of bounds. Some registered disappointment at their marks, but they knew couldn’t have it both ways.

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As we went from bar to karaoke to the infamous Camelot, their enthusiasm was absolutely irresistible. They had respect for my wanting “to do my own thing” and my agenda to do more than just learn and refine my Spanish. They knew I came here to live out a change in life. What they don’t know is that they, too, played a part in why allowing for change is such an important part of being a human being.

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Granted, I don’t want to return to those halcyon days of reckless youth. My mojo died around 3:30 am. More, that awkward mix of confidence and uncertainty in your 20s is like mixing beer and buttermilk to me now. I like being sure of myself and understanding the reality of consequence. But, they made me feel part of their group. If not quite Regina George, I was def Veronica Sawyer that night.

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I will never forget the statuesque beauty and Queen Bee allure of Kolby, who knew EVERYBODY on the Salamanca circuit. (Seriously, the looks of envy that I received just by dancing with her at Camelot. That girl has power!) Or how about hearing Mariah’s incredibly soulful voice resonating with emotion and purity down the empty stone streets near the Plaza Mayor? The girl has pipes designed to move people to feel their most buried emotions like heartache to bursting with joy caused by new love in a single phrase.

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How can I not smile at Audrey’s gamine innocence, which was wonderful to behold? It proved a counterbalance to Blair and Alejandra’s “I’m gonna get you before you get me” swagger. Those broads have no shame in their game and they shouldn’t. Being bold and beautiful comes naturally to them and I hope they never lose their desire to lead – and not follow.

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And, I can’t forget the intense honesty and sweetness of Lena, who opened her heart to me about her complex childhood in Russia and her very American dream of being someone with a purpose in this world.

No, this was a night to remember because we all connected on our own terms. I kept seeing myself as being the “old guy,” which these ladies (and the charming bohemian Jimmy Cedillo) would promptly shut down. I wasn’t their chaperone that night. I was one more student celebrating the end of a summer to remember.

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Some of them will continue their European adventure through August. Everyone else, like me, is going home as planned. I am curious to see what becomes of these “young ‘uns.” Maybe they will all live lives a little less ordinary as a result of being at the Ponti. I hope so.

As for Graduation Day? Waking up in a noxious haze of beer farts was not what I envisioned! (I’m sorry, Manoli!) I opened a window, in both the figurative and literal way. I did survive the night out in strong enough shape to witness the fruits of my labor just a few hours later. I wasn’t alone in carrying a liter of water on Friday AM. The ever-watchful Palmira was quick to point out my secret shame. But it also prompted one of the most personal conversations of the entire session. We talked, openly, about our place in a world that values the young. About how this generation of self-entitled adults have lost the ability to respect the maturity and “word” of an older generation.

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We had only begun to let our weaves down when my classmates started to file in for the last conversation we would have as a group. As usual, it didn’t disappoint because Palmira shrewdly kept the topic alive. Going from “Young Turk” to “Establishment” was as easy as slipping on a banana peel. But you won’t know that until it happens to you. I wish I could say the insights culled were hits to the solar plexus.

They weren’t.

If anything, it was a variation of a theme we all know at every age: Balance is everything. Extremes are bad for everyone. No one has all the answers. No one is “that” much prepared for the curve balls life will throw at you. The usual generation gap blah blah. However, I did walk away with one vital thing. Both factions could use a little patience when it comes to the other. Young lion or Mufasa before the stampede, we have plenty to learn from each other. This jungle needs a little balance restored and the answers could very well be found in just relinquishing a little piece of…well…pride. (It’s way beyond 1am in Barcelona. But if I wait any longer to tell this tale…)

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It was time to return to the Aula Magna, the place at the Ponti where all of this began. I have at thing for full circle moments. I really do. I often marvel at the symmetry of life. Beginnings always lead to endings, we know. It is what happens in between that makes it all so damn tasty when the objectives are clear. Even still, it was a surprise that Profesora Culton’s greeted me with her revelation just before we went into the room of the school’s decision to reward me with a higher level of completion.

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The irony is not lost on me, finding this need to find some sense of purpose in the one thing I couldn’t get far away enough from as a kid: speaking Spanish. Yes, going from George to Jorge raised a few eyebrows when it happened. Ahora no tengo el coño para ruidos on my refining my español to ease my mid-life crisis. Who cares how it happened, right?

Que se jodan. It worked, majo.

Now, I have to go buy some sunscreen. Barcelona awaits…

Sunday, July 26 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Barcelona, Spain.

Pure imagination renewed and “feeling 22” (Week 4, Day 27)

Pure imagination renewed and “feeling 22”  (Week 4, Day 27)

If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world, there’s nothing to it

There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination
Living there
You’ll be free
If you truly wish to be…

— Pure Imagination (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley) 

from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

Finals happened today at the Pontificia. Tomorrow, we receive our grades. Should I score better than a 5-6, I shall receive my first ever college diploma.

Yes, you read that right. My first ever college diploma.

Kubrick Highway

Funny, while I should be concerned about my final score and grade, I feel it is secondary in all of this. I had a specific agenda here, and it wasn’t specifically an academic one. I knew I would learn something. How could I not? The passionate and inspiring lectures from Maria José and Palmira validate why attending college as an adult can be such a gratifying and enlightening experience. It’s even stronger when you are focusing on literature, sparking a creative drive that seems limitless. You project so much of your own experience into texts and prose that expands the scope of the life you’ve lived…and are living.

I will never forget these women, just as I won’t forget Manoli, whose directness and candor also played a major reason why I feel so much like my former self again.

Books and words were my first friends and have remained my most treasured confidantes. They never judged me. In fact, they gave me power to stave off so much that made me feel left of center for much of my adolescence. For too long I spun a message to myself that was cynical, judgmental and positively destructive. I used words to attack myself, allowing myself to build a veritable fortress of woe and self-pity. What is emerging as a result of this experience in Salamanca feels like someone…well…different. That’s what I wanted to happen in Salamanca, a total recharge of self, a reboot, if you will.

True, as dramatic as that reads, I can only amend such hyperbole to say the effects of Salamanca are subtle, but strong. Which is why I have such mixed feelings about going home. Already my MediaJor life is ramping up to its usual state. Interviews are being scheduled for the month of August. A film campaign I am involved with at a studio is now in full swing. I’ll be covering junkets again for Desde Hollywood. I’m ignoring the start of Comic-Con, but it is hard not to want to understand the Malaysian Airlines tragedy in the Ukraine and the shameful Gaza Strip/Israel conflict. And slowly, my time spent looking at entertainment news sites (hello, the “50 Shades of Grey” trailer) is increasing and so on…

These realities are clashing horribly with the buzz of being challenged by a culture and literary art in a language that doesn’t come natural to me. I have gained such confidence in being a Hispanohablante. I am pouring over texts recommended to me by Maria José, texts that used to intimidate me. Now the works of Garcia Márquez, Cortázar and Rulfo present challenges that I can’t wait to embrace. Their use of language is as visual as any film that’s ever delighted me, a medium that is as much as my religion as literature.  I “see” what I’m reading and the effect is positively addictive. But, I don´t need to be in Spain for that need to continue to burn.

Jorge Crosses Plaza Mayor Finals

I cried as I walked through the Plaza Mayor after my final exams today. The emotion was surprising and telling, mercifully hidden behind my sunglasses. I had been listening to Jane Monheit sing “Pure Imagination” and I just felt it. Truth is, I like who I have become here and I worry that returning to LA will mean slipping back into old habits because that´s what my hometown does to me if I let it. It´s like I´ve been in a rehab for the soul in Salamanca. I´ve had 30 days of purging the anger and detoxifying from all that made me sick of myself and the life I was living. I don´t want to suffer the Lohan Syndrome, falling back on old excuses as to why I can´t seem to help myself, staying weak and feeling irrelevant.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit that, and staring at it now makes me want to delete it without hesitation. But I won’t, because it is a thought that is very much at the front of mind right now. I know going home doesn’t have to mean backtracking on all that was accomplished here. I just have to create Spain in South Pasadena, living out acts of pure imagination and truth. Period. But for now, I don’t want to ponder such fears any further.

Tonight is what it means to be young for the school part of this summer in Spain is coming to a close.

Tonight is about celebrating the end of one unforgettable journey and looking forward to what’s ahead.

Tonight, I want to feel like I’m 22.

“We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time

It’s miserable and magical.

Oh, yeah
Tonight’s the night when we forget about the deadlines
It’s time
Uh oh!
I don’t know about you
But I’m feeling 22”

— “22” by Taylor Swift

Virgen

Thursday, July 24 @ Manoli’s House in Salamanca, Spain.

“The art of letting go…” or “Te dejo Madrid” (Week 4, Days 24 through 26)

“The art of letting go…” or “Te dejo Madrid” (Week 4, Days 24 through 26)

“I can slay a dragon Any old week- Easy. What’s hard is simple. What’s natural comes hard. Maybe you could show me How to let go, Lower my guard, Learn to be free. Maybe if you whistle, Whistle for me.” — “Anyone Can Whistle,” lyric by Stephen Sondheim

Things are starting to wind down in Spain. Soon, the entire nation will be shutting down for their August vacations. Our professors are offering their reviews. We are preparing for our final exams, which are tomorrow! Soon, we will be departing our temporary homes and heading to our respective comfort zones we prefer to understand in our own languages. And I find myself in a strange limbo.

Because I always have a hard time letting go.

No matter where you run to in this world, your unsettled self will follow. That which remains buried will reveal itself. All that you have left behind without reconciliation haunts your house until you find the strength and knowledge to cast said spirits out. My ghosts roam this inner planet with a pair of blue eyes so intense, they radiate whether I’m aware of it or not. I think I fear letting go of this section of my past means losing a big part of my identity. Who am I if I am not able to piss and moan about “the one who got away?” If I put this chapter to rest, what am I left with in this world? I may have found my answer.

Today in literature class, we are studying the works of Mexican author Juan Rulfo. And, as I wind down this academic adventure in Salamanca, I find myself presented with a mirror reflecting back something that I have taken for granted of late. My job is predicated on asking the kind of questions that can reveal something about the people I am charged to interview. Sitting in class today, our final lecture, I was asking myself questions that are challenging my own sense of purpose.

The famously tortured Rulfo, an orphan haunted by a tragic past, did not turn out an expansive canon of work. His life is encompassed by a single novel (Pedro Páramo) and a group of short stories. The volume presented by Dr. Maria José Boyero was slim, only 300 pages to be exact. It literally fit in her pocket. But contained in those pages was a collection of writing designed to provoke and challenge readers. Sound played a key role in his writing. As my professor continued to explain the themes and symbols of this author´s work, I distinctly heard my heart beat faster. More, I saw the questions presented by his writing enveloping the small, stuffy classroom I´ve called my second home for nearly four weeks.

In Pedro Páramo and most of his works, his carefully rendered narratives feature characters trapped in a living purgatory. Between the black and white of our existence, there is the sky and fire. In these circles, they navigate in tandem, journeys intertwined, often representing polar opposites (purity/sin). For Rulfo, life is about questioning the basic realities of our human existence: What is death? What is love? What is fault? What is eternity? And so on… His works do not offer any answers at all. Rather, what we must know is that a specific death, like a singular love, awaits us all. In the end, these questions take a corporeal form and we will answer them with the experiences we live.

If we view ourselves as half-moons, our lives are built around the other halves (family, lovers, partners) that will make us complete. But these halves are destined to leave us, and for the characters created by Rulfo, they are destined to live again because life is nothing but a series of memories. These memories, strung together by force of will, are an attempt to resuscitate that which has been lost. For their journeys are an eternal search for answers without end.

The idea of destiny is such an expansive one, we can only offer it a passing glance because it scares us so much. Better to not even contemplate the end, rather, we focus on the seemingly mystical aspects of destiny. Like meeting certain people at certain times. Or, extolling the power of certain events occurring at certain times. I will never diminish the power of what appears like happenstance, but life really is more than a series of random events strung together. Like Rulfo’s characters, it is about the memories we set out to create for ourselves, good and bad. But, I don´t fear the end, not if life continues to offer the adventures I have had of late.

In a series of letters to his great love, Clara, Rulfo wrote of her being “Una estrella junto a la luna.” That’s what Spain has been to me, that star coupled next to a moon. His worlds are not often romantic ones, even though the characters’ cruelty is compounded by their desire to love and be loved.  Many of his protagonists are condemned to experience unrequited love, which can lead to a different form of death: madness. That’s what these last four years have felt like for me, a madness I’ve inflicted upon myself because of a love I cast away. It’s stupid and selfish to imprison oneself with the memory of a past realized. We cannot be cavalier with our feelings, our lives. We cannot voluntarily place ourselves in a purgatory of our own making. That is not living, that is death: madness.

It is fitting that Rulfo’s work, in keeping with his own questioning of faith, functions as a confessional. He doesn’t judge or absolve his characters. That is our role as a reader, to project our own morality, our own sensibilities into the complex lives we encounter on the page. In many ways, that’s what I hope to have achieved with the words from the authors and professors that have brought me such inspiration these last weeks at the Pontificia. I am projecting much of what I’ve felt for so long into their work, finding solace, comfort and a wonderful burst of clarity despite the darker recesses where these narratives inhabit.

This journey is not over in the physical sense. I leave for Barcelona on Friday, one last hug from Spain before making my way home. But in the emotional sense, I think I’ve reached the end of a complicated road, one that I’ve made incredibly complicated by obsessing over so much that is no longer in my control. It is time to vanquish that purgatory and aim for the blue, not the fire. It is time to trust my half-moon is circling other halves that bring me great joy. This is one more memory, a pearl strung with countless others, all representing a life worth living.

As the great Stephen Sondheim encapsulates so brilliantly in the longing brought to life in “Anyone Can Whistle,” what is hard truly is simple. And what comes natural to us, can truly be difficult. But sooner or later, we will find the means to establish our true place in the world, to learn to let go and be free.

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Just like learning how to whistle.

¨Ahí te dejo Madrid Tus rutinas de piel y tus ganas de huir…” — Shakira

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Leave it to me to try and squeeze in one more trip to Madrid before this Salamancan Summer comes to a close. No, I didn’t go back to see Samuel, although that’s causing me plenty of tsuris at the moment. He’s one half circle I’d love to have rotate around me one more time, but it doesn’t look like it may even be possible. Damn you, Rulfo! Hahaha.

No, I went back to reconnect with the past, which took the form of the lovely Montse Gil. A former co-worker of mine from the days at 20th Century Fox International, Montse and I were thrilled to find ourselves in each other’s midst again more than 15 years later. And we literally picked up where we left off.
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Such friendships are a miracle, particularly in the film industry, but Montse and I made the most of our reunion in Madrid with real brio and affection. She met me at Charmartín and took me straight to Chueca. Mind you, I had my reservations about going back to this district after Orgullo turned it into a urine-soaked variation of “The Purge” (but without the body count.) Yet, the insanity was on hiatus and Cheuca was pulsating in a manner that was so inviting, it’s making it harder for me to want to leave this country.

We walked through the neighborhood, talking and laughing, catching up on our lives, everything. If Bogie had “Casablanca,” then Montse and I will have:

“I’m Fruit” — a local fruit stand.

“San Wich” — a Chilean sandwich store

“Péinate, tú” — a local salon I preferred to call “Péinate, ya!”

Talk about paying attention to the signs!

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Of course, we gorged ourselves with the best tapas I´ve had since arriving here in Spain. The spicy goodness of tortilla con callos alone is reason enough to stay in Spain. That kick of fire, so intense it makes you sweat, made the Mexican part of me dance el jarabe tapatío. More, it was just hanging with Montse that made it all incredibly vivid. So much so, I missed my train back to Salamanca. I didn´t make it back in time for this morning´s grammar class. Boo! Hiss! Haha. But, as I´ve discovered of late, anywhere I hang my hat is home. Especially when you get to spend time with a good friend.

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Wednesday, July 23. Started on the Renfe train back from Madrid to Salamanca. Finished and posted from Manoli´s house in Salamanca.

“This is 47…” or “La importancia de ser chunga” (Madrid — Week 4, Day 23)

“This is 47…” or “La importancia de ser chunga” (Madrid — Week 4, Day 23)

Oh, but I just thought you might want something fine
Made of silver or of golden
Either from the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona

Oh, if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’

Boots of Spanish Leather by Bob Dylan

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Today is my 47th year of life and it is fitting that I am writing today’s entry on several trains back to Salamanca. This journey, like all journeys in the literal and figurative sense, is made up of stations, connections and transfers. Each stop brings you closer to you ultimate destination, a specific goal.

I am thinking about the many stops I’ve made to reach 47. The places, the people, the realized and unrealized destinations. I would love to see a map of it all. Then again, I remind myself I am that map. Every story, happy, sad, painful and hopeful is contained within.

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At this moment, I just pulled away from one such station, one such story: Samuel. I woke up next to him this 47th birthday feeling a sense of peace and unbridled optimism. I wasn’t afraid of what I would feel today. It may be the last time I see him because this Spanish adventure is almost done.

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Next stop, Week 4…

Today marks the start of week 4. Three more days of lecture. One day of exams. One day to revel in the accomplishment of being a student at the Pontificia. It will be the end of that line before making my way back home the following Monday.

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I write about not being afraid because the hard part has already occurred. I wasn’t closed off to the prospects of this surprise journey. My friend Mark worried that in the weeks leading up to Spain, my building expectations would end in disappointment. He was right to feel that concern. Given my penchant for overthinking things, it was a very real possibility. In the end, as this blog has testified, Spain has been nothing but inspiring.

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I discovered the way to walk these streets with my head up. I walk with purpose and, most importantly, with the confidence of knowing who I am. Hell, I even smile at strangers, not caring if they think I’m mental. And more of often than not, these salty, direct Spaniards smile back! Hahaha. Whatever fears I had, I know now what strengths I have in reserve to make this kind of journey work. I am not afraid of altering my narrative, at least in this context. It can happen and it will happen again.

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I did have one moment this weekend when I saw a piece of my past, which stirred some of the unresolved feelings I still harbor. I was compelled to hit “Like,” even though I didn’t like how I felt at that moment. Fucking Facebook. Raining on my parade and shit. Then I heard Samuel cooking in the kitchen, making me a Mexican style birthday almuerzo and I found my resolve again. That was the day’s best gift, finally understanding what it means to live in the present.

The pleasure seekers

Back in the 1960s, Fox remade one of its famed “three gals” movies, “Three Coins in the Fountain” as “The Pleasure Seekers,” trading Rome for Madrid. Here, Ann-Margret samples it all, modeling, dancing, going gypsy, “just about everything!” Yeah, she sang that fall down funny title song and no other cue fits at this point.

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Sam and I laughed a lot this weekend. Saturday was spent walking all over Madrid. Not the official tourist trek, but Madrid our way. We walked for hours. (Note to self: alpargatas are for the park and beach, not 5 hour urban hikes!)

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I kept flubbing words, using Mexican and awkwardly translated Jorgeismos that would bring Samuel to tears. But he loved the Castilian tacos or palabrotas I would use oh-so right.  Every step we took together was as absurd as the last, but it brought us closer. We didn’t talk about what was going to happen next. “Next” was just space dust, time yet to be realized. It had no bearing on Present “Us.” Neither of us wanted to spoil the now with any talk of Future “Us.” We were “friends with benefits” or as Samuel said, “Amigos con derecho a roce.”

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No, were having too much fun taking photos with the bottle of water that cost three euros. Or taking photos and talking shit about the Spanish royal family as we stood outside the Palacio Real. Or trying to find the souvenir plate featuring King Felipe and Queen Leti. (So Mom, thank him as he found the only plate with the official photo of them as a couple.)

Or enjoying the “Mitos of Pop” art exhibit where the only painting tucked away with the expected Warhols and Lichtensteins that we agreed was true art was La salita, Equipo Croníca’s complex parody of the sacred painting of Diego Velasquez’s Las meninas.

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He was with me when I found a copy of Julio Cortázar’s masterpiece of literary innovation, La rayuela. It was Samuel who took my theme of the water bottle further by taking a picture of it in front of excoriated Madrid mayoress Ana Botella’s office. (Get it, bottle = botella?)

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We enjoyed tortilla, gazpacho, coffee, churros and porras. How about the world’s biggest Big Macs? And don’t get me started on the jamon y queso flavored Lays potato chips! We made Madrid our bitch in the end, thanking God the heat took a holiday. (Even if my too close shave resulted en una cara hecho a un Cristo.)

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De puercas a putas

We went back to his apartment in Meco, sated and sore, but continued to laugh hysterically all the same. He made a cena of morcillas and we watched “Aliens” in Castilian. (I love how he meticulously he places a table cloth for each meal.). I fell apart when “Reepley” screamed “Quitaté de ahí puerca!” instead of “Get away from her, you bitch!”

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We followed that up by counting how many times was Julia Roberts referred to as a “puta” in the dubbed version of “Pretty Woman?”

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It seem pigs and whores are huge in this country and do not offend. Thus is Franco’s legacy?

As we hung out and enjoyed the late night, it seemed my whole world was held by a modular sofa. Life was happening. No one was forcing their hand or even raising expectations. We were just two men living in the moment.

Samuel.

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He offered and I accepted his care and intimacy without wanting anything else from me. And I returned it in kind, not because I felt starved for something that I haven’t been able to nurture is so long. I miss being someone’s partner, yes. Very much, in fact. And for a moment, I thought that I was just using Samuel as a proxy to stave off a sense of loneliness that has stayed at this fair too fucking long. I know some snarky cunts out there are thinking: “Bitch, you got got horny. Don’t confuse getting laid with some moment of truth.” But he kissed me with purpose. He wanted to make sure I felt welcome in his home, not just his bed. He held me in a way that made me feel safe and secure. Even mouthy little Dali contributed to my being back in Meco, sitting next to me as if we’d been friends forever.

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Nos hicimos sofa all day Sunday, my birthday. I pushed aside the inevitable and enjoyed the food, la telebasura, la siesta and all else in between. Then, we gathered up my stuff (including a new suitcase. Don’t ask.) and drove back to the Alacalá Renfe station. As to what happens to us next, as to what station is next, I just know it will involve me going from Chamartín to Salamanca today.

I am not afraid.

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My birth day ends in three more hours. By the rules of magical realism, we are born, we die and are reborn. I love that symmetry. It means our existence never ends. As I write these lines, and read all the wonderful birthday notes from all over, I am awed over the gift of this experience.

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My dear friend Alan sent me a heartfelt note, hoping I am celebrating “a great life.” I am, Alan. But I am wonderfully aware that a celebration of life does not happen alone. We are all the singular achievement of two lives brought together by fate. And fate will be our closest companion for the duration of our lives, so you have to be able to travel well.

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Fate is extraordinarily fickle, changing your itinerary without a moment’s notice. At times, you will take issue with where it chooses to lead you, even feel absolute rage. But we do get to choose some stops, the unscheduled ones that offer such beauty, you learn why they never appear on a map in the first place.

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It is so true that it isn’t the destination that defines us, rather the journey itself. Spain has already revealed more than expected. (Some of which has surprised more than a few of you as documented in this blog. Cue “Don’t Tell Mama” from Cabaret!)

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I don’t mind the reaction. I’m just as surprised as some of you. But this journey is not quite over yet. As long as there is road ahead to trek, I will keep respecting my road dog named Fate to keep leading me to all destinations unknown.

And, I am not afraid.

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Sunday, July 20. Started on the Alacalá de Henares train to the Chamartín station in Madrid and completed on the way back to Salamanca. Posted from Manoli’s house.

Él es Samuel, El es…y Yo Soy Jorge (Spain Sampler — Week 2, Days 15 – 16)

Él es Samuel, El es…y Yo Soy Jorge (Spain Sampler — Week 2, Days 15 – 16)

 

Shirley Valentine: That’s right, Millandra, I’m going to Greece for the sex! Sex for breakfast! Sex for dinner! Sex for tea! And sex for supper!
Van Driver: Sounds like a fantastic diet, love!
Shirley Valentine: It is, have you never heard of it? It’s called the “F” plan! — From Willy Russell’s “Shirley Valentine”

I’m not going to lie. I was hoping I’d get the chance to have a torrid love affair to remember while in Salamanca. To be honest, given the way my life usually works, I was certain the caballero would be some introverted Psych major from a university in Wisconsin and not a handsome, bearded Spaniard infused with Old World machismo.

Guess what? El universo got it right at long last.

It’s funny how these things work. Who knew when the MIT geniuses (or whoever) invented GPS, it was really just another means of having our dicks point us in the right direction? That’s essentially what the gay social apps are for, why be precious about it? I’m a single man abroad without any attachments. Why shouldn’t I indulge in a bit of tomcatting?

Sancho

Telmo caught my eye for very specific reasons, right? So, whether I’d met him in LA or not, the ensuing ritual is the same no whether where you go or whatever language is spoken. A barrage of obligatory IM’s cross the line between curiosity and innuendo before devolving into the bartering of sexual activities that seal the deal. It’s a nervy roll of the dice because no matter how much you reveal upfront, the risk of disappointment or rejections runs just as high if nothing is said at all.

In the case of Telmo, a one night stand was all we were meant to be. I look at it as a tapa, a pre-cursor to the cena still to come. (Really, must all food metaphors turn everything into THAT scene from “Tom Jones?”)

Then I met Samuel, and now I don’t what to think. No literary devices come to mind. I can only think of him as something…well…poetic.

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“Lo único que me duele de morir, es que no sea de amor.” –Gabriel García Márquez, El amor en los tiempos del cólera

It is interesting the parallel I would find in Palmira’s conversation class a few days after my weekend with Samuel. After nearly three weeks, no one is holding back their opinions, which has made for some pretty charged classes of late. We talked about dating in the digital age and the group revealed incredibly strong opinions about the social sites. Trust, honesty and reality seem to be in short supply for most of the young women who comprise the majority of the class. When I asked these students whether they considered themselves romantics or realists, they were divided. Some did not even hesitate in calling themselves realists. But several acknowledged they were probably both. I tend to agree with them now. Given my experiences of late in dating, I see the reason why Don Henley wrote in The Heart of the Matter, “How can love survive in such a graceless age?”

I keep firing up my Moto to take a peek of the images we snapped during our tour of Alcalá de Henares, located 40 minutes by train outside of Madrid.  I think about how I stepped out of the Renfe station and saw him pull up in a white car. (I know, right? White car, white horse!) I think about how we walked up to each other, and he reached out to hug me and then kissed me oh-so gently on the lips, saying “Hola, Jorge. Que gusto.”

Sam 2

I look at those meaty forearms of his and I instantly want to get in them. He’s a real man, no affectations and harbors no delusions about how the world works. Samuel has made his own way in the world. Forgive this Donna Reed-era statement, but he has a good job in Madrid and lives in the town of Meco in a comfortable and ridiculously clean apartment he shares only with an extremely vocal cat named Dali. (That cat was the ultimate cock blocker, by the way.) He is definitely someone you’d say was comfortable in their own skin, which is something I’ve always had a lot of trouble saying with conviction.

All of this heavy breathing is perfectly shot and framed in my head by Roger Deakins or Emmanuel Lubezki. It depends on the light of day. Yet, I don’t think of any of this as being “love.” I know what it is to truly fall in love. It has only happened once, the concussion of which continues to reverberate through my very core. Given the difficulty I’ve had in seeing anyone else in such a manner, I don´t know how eager I am to experience that sort of emotional upheaval again.

However, what is happening with Samuel is something surprisingly easier to comprehend, despite the hyperbole I can’t help but spin. Perhaps the pre-Spain me would have obsessed un mogollón about what all THIS MEANS. While I do not shy away from calling it positively romantic,  I am also being positively realistic about its significance.

I feel like a living, breathing man again.

The shock of a new person sharing an intimate space with you is on par with being stabbed in the heart with syringe. You will feel so much at once: fear, awkwardness, excitement, clarity and compassion. It feels so good to know I can make that happen again. It’s absolutely thrilling, this rush that fires up every cell, every synapse. I haven´t felt this energized in so long. It´s like what I´m experiencing with my re-learning Spanish. My mind has so much it wants to express, I can’t articulate it at the same speed. Something gets caught in the transition even though my thinking is very much in Spanish. What a wonderful problem to have, but if anything, it validates why slowing down is not such a bad thing.

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The weekend I spent with Samuel in Alcalá de Henares and Meco was a variation of what I’m living and breathing at the Pontificia: that is Inspiring.

It is no coincidence that all of this would happen in the hometown of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote. Samuel took it upon himself to put together a tour. Like Salamanca, Alcalá is a university town. Here, history has found a way to keep up with the encroaching modernity that continues to honor the past. Here, the most acclaimed Hispanic writers of our time are honored with the Cervantes Prize. Here, this town was built brick by brick because its earliest designer, Francisco Jiménez de Cisnero, knew it would outlast the stone facades of the time.

It’s an prescient detail, the idea of building something brick by brick. It is also how we build an identity, value by value, lesson by lesson, truth by truth. A biological component exists, absolutely. Yet, as I’ve discovered through my recent proclivities, I am actually enjoying this moment to understand and not judge my sexual identity.

I never saw “gay” as a choice. It was just a fact. Once I was able to accept who I was a human being, the rest fell into place, if in fits and starts. It has been a complicated process, one littered with so many drafts and experiments gone wrong, it has been easy to hide behind a false sense of self.

The Windmills of my mind
The Windmills of my mind

Control has been my nemesis through it all, indulging all of my appetites to overcompensate the fact I just didn’t know who I was in this world. Eventually, I got so frustrated by it all, it was apparent that I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. Nor could I say I even loved myself. If I did, I wouldn’t have let a malaise of self-loathing and discontent to obfuscate any optimism or hope.

I was aware of my issues. I realized who I wanted to be in this world. And like my current problem in refining my fluency in Spanish, that disconnect was preventing me from reaching this point of contentment.  Scratch that — I was preventing myself from being happy.

For being such a short word, “happy” encompasses so much. So why is it so damn hard a state of being to achieve? Why do many of us choose self-flagellation over embracing the many blessings we should count? Why do we torture ourselves with low self-image, a negative body consciousness and other punishments? Why is perception given such a premium in a world that quite frankly doesn’t give a shit about you or how you feel?

Multi-billion dollar industries benefit from our misery. I refuse to give one dollar more to these complexes that market how they have the secret to living an “authentic life.” Guess what? I’m living one right now. What I am doing, what I am seeing, and most of all, what I am feeling is fucking authentic.

Roman glory.
Roman glory.

I know the world is not always a beautiful place. In light of recent events, both personal and global, I am humbled by the reminders of how that single thread of our existence can be cut without warning or mercy. Yet, it is in understanding and accepting beauty in all things that will allow us to exalt in the privilege and responsibility of being alive.

Something has shifted within me thanks to this experience in Spain. In fact, I can see now how all roads led to Salamanca. I’m not sure where this particular path will lead, but something tells me that I will be making that journey with a smile.

Because it’s beautiful…

town

PS — And yes, for the record, I am going back to Madrid this weekend with Samuel.

Friday, July 18 (Week 3, Day 21), started at Samuel’s house in Meco and finished at Manoli’s house in Salamanca, Spain.

All you need is…not kill. (Week 3, Day 20 continued)

All you need is…not kill. (Week 3, Day 20 continued)

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
― Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezLove in the Time of Cholera

A day of infamy brews in Eastern Europe. The Gaza conflict has launched a ripple effect of anger and violence around the world. The Ku Klux Klan is handing out bags of candy to recruit new members in South Carolina.

For nearly three weeks, it has been the summer of my Salamancan content, a veritable bubble of ignorant bliss. It’s not that I’ve been avoiding the world stage of news, political and pop cultural. It’s more like keeping a lazy eye on most information sites. Then today, the possible shooting of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over the Ukraine.

No matter the context, the scope of lives being lost, whether at our hand or by nature, has to make you take pause. We tend to find that ignorance can indeed be a virtue, protecting ourselves in our tastefully appointed bubbles to avoid the reality we have a world in critical condition.

In reading the quote from Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez above, I think about what would men be like if they could hold life as women do.That if they understood the power and responsibility that comes with giving birth, perhaps their violent inclinations would be tempered. Perhaps if we all could experience such a gift, we would not be so reckless with the lives we do lead.

I know that reminders of life and death happen on the daily, that the fragility of our existence is always real and present. We will continue to experience loss because that is our lot. We live, we die and we are reborn with every lesson we are given as to our mortality. It must strengthen our resolve to protect and nurture life, not just blindly fight to protect what we think is our birthright. Ideologies are not reasons to live. They are manipulations designed to exploit and promote a culture of fear and hate. The only way to vanquish the unseen forces that threaten us is to live a life worth remembering and celebrating.

We must be lives worth living over and over again.

Gracias Gabo

Thursday, July 17 @ Manoli’s House in Salamanca, Spain. 

 

Stolen Moments in Salamanca: A MediaJor Gallery (Week 3, Day 20)

Stolen Moments in Salamanca: A MediaJor Gallery (Week 3, Day 20)

A mid week excursion allows for a few stolen moments. Witness how Old World history meets New World perspectives in this gallery of photos featuring the students of West LA College, East LA College and Cal Poly Pomona — shot by the MediaJor on location in Salamanca.

https://plus.google.com/108932479068461650563/stories/6564f89c-ef2c-3585-a55e-23486a80c88a1474479f3e4/1?authkey=CLX-sNnom4uVgwE