“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?

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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.”

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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…

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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.

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F*ck You, Gwyneth and Mario or “How I ruined my diet in Spain” (Week 3, Day 19)

F*ck You, Gwyneth and Mario or “How I ruined my diet in Spain” (Week 3, Day 19)

Spain is known for its jamón, or dry cured ham, many say it’s the best in the world. My travel companions regularly indulged their porcine affection. Claudia eats jamón every morning at breakfast, Mario and Mark both slipped slices onto their pan con tomate. I got a lot of slack for not succumbing to the jamón temptation, but there are a TON of special, particular Spanish foods that I’m thrilled to fill my plate with. After all, the more jamón they eat, the more anchoas (cured anchovies), berberechos (a type of clam), and Manchego (the renowned cheese) for me.

– Gwyneth Paltrow on “Spain: On the Road Again.”

Sorry to board the “Odio a Gwyneth” bandwagon as we conclude the middle of week 3. (God, this feels like being 13 again, it’s all happening so fast.) I probably have severely crippled my intent to maintain a blog of self-reflection and profundity. Instead, I’ve “Gooped” all over it by bringing in the GP factor. Still, food and eating are two topics that follow me around (the waist) like a punished dog waiting for its next meal. And given the great effort I’ve put into losing weight this year, that this beautiful country has ruined my will to stay lean, mean and healthy, I had to say something.

When it comes to being a foodie, I defer the highly developed palates of my mom and younger brother Ernesto. They share recipes and ingredients like they’re part of some secret society, a gastronomic Opus Dei. I don’t speak their kitchen language. I can only understand “somewhat cooked,” “overcooked” and “annihilated to near extinction.” But I have totally moved on from “undercooked,” so there is progress.

I’ve always joked that “if it ain’t moving on the plate, I’ll probably eat it.” And I don’t fear food, especially in other cities or countries. Whether on the road, at a gas station, an airport, night market, cart or stranger’s home, I’ll give most anything a try. I’ve paid the price with the Chorro Syndrome (where everything melts down) to enjoyed the rush of a culinary delight so intense, it makes sex seem positively pedestrian. And next to Italian cuisine, nothing seduces you in such an insidious manner than the ease and availability of Spanish food.

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I will never, ever betray my main love, comida de casa mexicana. But, when faced with this list of epic delicias de  España:  Paella, Tortilla, Jamón Serrano y Ibérico, Carne, Pescado, Pan, Queso manchego, Más pan, Chorizo, y todavia más pan, Bocadillos, Pinchos, Porras, Churros, Cafe con leche, Chocolate Valor. Oh, and the “food on the go” sandwiches from El Corte Inglés? Let’s just say I went down faster than a chubby intern on a U.S. senator.

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This is very quotidian fare, not some gastronomic revolution from Paris, Copenhagen or New York City. No, this is what Spaniards will eat on the daily for almuerzo and la cena and they take great pride in their contribution to the world food menu. The minute I arrived here, I knew I was going to have problems because I’ve faced Spanish food before. And, like all overeaters, I knew I was gonna be chasing the queso manchego-covered dragon unless I took steps to enforce my hard earned sobriety.

I joined a gym on the second day. I haven’t gone. Whether it’s because of the jet lag or my inability to gain back any sort of regime, my Spanish carb stand off lasted exactly one week. And it wasn’t because of the street eating that I caved, either. I haven’t really done much of that.

Manoli is a wicked home cooking temptress. She may have to cater to three different eating restrictions of her charges, but she makes a point to take care of us. The lentil soup. The croquetas. The salad with vinegar and oil. The pastas. All of it is cooked by hand. None of it is pre-made or packaged. All of it has enough salt to bloat yourself into oblivion.

Salt. Why did it have to be salt?

I haven’t had much salt since I was told I was hypertensive and had to take medication. Even the lovely greens juice of pepino and ajo I purchase for 2 euros at Carrefour tastes salty. Well, I haven’t had to take said meds in a long while. By some sort of miracle, my right arm hasn’t gone numb like it did earlier this year in Mexico City. But I am deathly afraid of salt and what it can do to me. It can do plenty, so I have taken to drinking gallons of water to flush the sodium away. I could probably piss my way to South Pasadena at this rate. Yet, the real gateway drug has been the bread and that has been my undoing.

Oh, you carb loaded vixen. How I’ve missed you!

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Bread is the chosen companion of every meal here. It’s like the basic black of food. It goes with everything. Breakfast alone is an orgy of breadly delights, cookies, pan tostado; all part of a sugary, buttery and bready hell. Fruit is a fixture, but the harvests have been woeful of late. Even Manoli can’t understand why fresh fruit is such a problem. She’s had to throw away plenty because it goes from store to overripe in minutes.

Now that the heat is finally here, the meals are narcotizing us into longer and longer siestas. I’m eating at 2pm and 9pm and sleeping on a full stomach. Portion control is not the problem here. In fact, I don’t see many obese people walking the streets of Salamanca. And everyone walks since the city is so small. It’s like one big La Brea Avenue — everything is 20 minutes away. That has helped a little in staving off the pudge that is making its unwelcome appearance. Of course, it is easier to blame Gwyneth, Manoli and every street corner in Spain. I could blame the ridiculous time schedule of our meals, which has wreaked havoc on my own food regime. I validate this out of respect for Manoli, who is paid to feed us. And we eat gladly, mind you. But, ultimately, the fault lies not in our food, but how much we put in our mouths.

(Don’t even get me started in the grotesque indulgence of eating the Spanish version of “nachos” and “quesadillas” with my Italian chum Antonello at Chido, just off the Plaza Mayor. Oh the shame, the shame! But wouldn’t you know their quesadillas taste just like the ones from Mario’s Tacos in Pico Rivera?!)
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In short, put down the fork already! And do a crunch or two. It won’t kill you.

I’ll be home soon. Looking like what, I don’t know, but I’m going to keep giving Spanish food one hell of a putivuelta before I go.

More “In the Kitchen with Manoli” — Victoria Beckham Edition

This food-oriented Confession would not have happened if it were not for an anecdote featuring the great Posh Spice herself, Victoria Beckham.

Victoria Beckham insists she never uttered the now-infamous quote that ‘the Spanish smell of garlic’ — “I would never say anything so disrespectful, and which is completely untrue,” insists the wife of ex-Real Madrid player David Beckham.” — V. Beckham in Vanity Fair España

It seems la Vicky stepped into it with the Spaniards in the 00’s when the great David B. played for Real Madrid. Upon their departure, she allegedly commented that she didn’t care for Spain because it smelled of garlic. Said comment has since become legend, which she felt compelled to address earlier this year in Vanity Fair España. Manoli had very strong thoughts about the comment, stating, “Regresaté a Inglaterra payasa.” Even my favorite academic, Maria Jose Boyer, brought up the quote in lecture one day. So, I can vouch for Spain and for La Vicky. She didn’t say it, get over it. However, I’m glad the smell of garlic I’ve encountered has felt like a warm and friendly embrace from a country that is now starting to feel like home.

Oh and Gwyneth, eat the pig already. It won’t kill you, joder!

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Wednesday, July 16 @ Manoli’s house in Salamanca, Spain.

“Mi vida como chica Almodóvar” (Spain Sampler — Week 2, Day 14 )

“Mi vida como chica Almodóvar” (Spain Sampler — Week 2, Day 14 )

“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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Enter Samuel…

To be continued.

Tuesday, July 15 @ Manoli’s House in Salamanca

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“Don’t cry for me, Salamanca…” (Spain Sampler – Week 2, Day 13)

“Don’t cry for me, Salamanca…” (Spain Sampler – Week 2, Day 13)

“I had to let it happen, I had to change
Couldn’t stay all my life down at heel
Looking out of the window, staying out of the sun

So I chose freedom
Running around, trying everything new
But nothing impressed me at all
I never expected it to…” — From “Evita.”

It’s getting harder and harder to maintain some sort of blogging presence these last days. I could say I’ve been so busy with studying, sampling the wild college life and having these mad excursions to Madrid that I’m just too darn busy, friendly reader.

That’s not really the truth.

I’m just really tired.

Man, it’s been something trying to feel rested and restored! And while I have been busy with studying, sampling the not-so-wild college life and having these mad Madrid excursions, I am painfully aware it just hard keeping up with the ambition of this visit.

Or I’m just getting old?

No! It’s quite the contrary. I’m just getting young again, which is what I keep telling myself. So much is moving around in my brain, my discipline has fallen out of sync with the desire to create some sort of narrative to contain it all. It’s like time has been turned into a Garcia Marquez literary device. Nature, in this case, the heat, will bring you to your knees. It will eventually rob you of color, space and time. After such a temperate start (I mean, I was working them Zara foulards!), summer has finally invaded Salamanca. And I don’t know what’s happening anymore!

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Yet, something always triggers a sense of renewal: A profound thought while walking Avenida de Portugal, an absurd moment caught out on the street, a tender first kiss in front of a train station. All of your senses are heightened by an experience like this. The challenge is remaining aware and not be compelled to try to stop time to share it all before it loses its essence and spontaneity. If you’re too quick, it feels slight and out of context. If you wait too long, it feels inauthentic and overwritten. If you say nothing at all, it dies with you.

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In the greater scheme of things, I’ve dropped the narrative thread because of exactly what I am doing: Living. That’s no grand statement, chicos. I have fallen in love with the anonymity of walking through this city as much as having these moments of pure human connection, too. Making friends is as cathartic as having these bursts of self-realization as I continue to make a life for myself here.

I, too, was consumed with capturing those odd but perfectly filtered and framed moments of the day, the meals, the pets, the Selfies. Equally grand is judging the mad dash to post these snippets out into the iCloud as being so self-indulgent.

Kind of like keeping a diary-like blog?

Perhaps. And perhaps I want to keep the days and nights of Salamanca to myself just a little while longer before deciding what is worth sharing. I have cast a sly eye to what’s happening to you all this summer. Life is happening to all of us, so why not offer the slices that sustain us a little bit each time there is a moment worth recounting. A little tapas for the soul? Consider these next posts a Spanish sampler, if you will:

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What’s new, Salamanca?

Alright, stand back! Because we were treated to a little of Spanish star quality. Now, I’ve been to Buenos Aires, even stood underneath the famed balcony of the Casa Rosada immortalized in the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical “Evita.” While I am loathe to admit I have a “thing” for the Broadway Peron image, that’s not say I admire their actual place as fascist opportunists in world history. Still, what I am going to write next is just too cool to not share. Because, what happened as we closed our second week at the Pontificia made my Argentina moment seem like anything but a “rainbow high.”

For 35 years, students under the impassioned tutelage of Professor Don Culton of West LA College have made the summer trek to Salamanca without fail. The program, now run with his wife, la divina Professor Josefina Culton, is enjoying its 15th year being liaised with the Pontificia. This Old World institution is ground zero to a cultural foreign exchange of language,literature and ideas, one that reaches out to schools all over the planet.

To honor WLAC’s continued loyalty to this self-proclaimed city of the Spanish Language, the municipality of Salamanca greeted us all to a special gathering in their grand hall. Located under the legendary clock of the Plaza Mayor, we all trooped over to meet and greet with one of the city’s officials, Julio López Revuelta. Introductions, welcomes and a heartfelt ¨Gracias¨ followed — then we stepped out into the famed balcony to drink in the sun drenched plaza from the most spectacular vantage point. The hall and balcony is a privilege only bestowed upon royalty, political leaders and cultural figures (read: stars!) from around the world. And now, us, this rag tag bunch of ethnicities, ages, genders and perspectives. Not a bad way to start a Salamancan afternoon. Check out the official photo below:

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After snapping a tsunami of selfies and bragging right postings reserved for InstaLife, we made our way back to routine of the day. Well, some of us. It seems the Senior Ditch Day of heading to Lagos, Portugal on Friday was on par with hitting the override button of the moment.  Money had to be withdrawn and libations needed to be secured for their sure-to-be fantastic journey, which apparently it was based on early reports now that they are back.

They’re truly like something out of “Beach Party” movie, complete with their own versions of Frankie, Annette, Treasure and Bonehead, all underscored by a Donna Loren song. But with one crucial difference: innocence lost. The swagger, the boundless confidence. I can’t decide whether it is because they really think they’re worldly or they’re just following a handed down script of reckless youth they had nothing to do in writing. Either way, I still feel this paternal sense, hoping the stories that eventually will emerge from Lagos are the stuff of good, clean fun and not of Amanda Knox on trial.

As much as adults can fault them for not taking full academic advantage, and there is truth to that, the reality is they’re here. Something of this experience will stick, even if the merciless heat is determined to wash it all away as we sweat through these final weeks. Whether it’s a newfound appreciation for the language, a dance with a cute stranger or a night out that defies physical stamina, what’s happening in Salamanca is exactly what we all should be doing…

“Live life and post the images later.”
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Tuesday, July 15 @ Manoli’s house in Salamanca. 

 

Days 10 – 12: Un día más (Salamanca en blanco y negro)

Days 10 – 12: Un día más (Salamanca en blanco y negro)

“Estas listo para dejar la vida, si todas tus metas fueron alcanzadas y si supiste apreciar cada momento de tu vida. No, no la creo. Más bien creo que has vivido sin saber que tienes vida. No has comprendido el significado de la vida. Te la has pasado ignorándola, y sabes que desperdicio.”  — Lectura en la clase de Palmira, Pontificia

Amazing our ability to create routines no matter where we go in this world. Creatures of habit, the shock of the new will always give way to the comfort of the familiar. But now, the nervous of the anticipation of this trip has given way to a different type of anxiety.

What will I do when my session at the Pontificia ends?

I suspect it will be yet one of another small deaths whenever change occurs in life. If you ponder how literary styles must change out necessity, so must we. Perhaps not exactly change, but evolve.

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When I quit my job at a media company last August, the intent was to change the stagnant narrative that was my life. I did not envision having this experience in Salamanca at all. (Funny how some people assumed I was going to Santa Monica when I would mention the possibility of this trip.) Now I am here and my life has become a variation of a theme:

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Rise, shine, breakfast, walk, sit in class, break, converse in class, sit in class, walk, eat, write, do homework, eat, do more homework, sleep, repeat. That is my life in Salamanca.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is filling in the gaps. I’m not partial to siestas, so that is when I choose to write. The city slows down to rest its heart rate and mine starts to beat a little bit faster. Ergo, the inevitability of creating a routine. Many students pack their nights and weekends with revels and travels all over the place. But I’m actually quite fine being still. In fact, I only this week found the moment to engage in one of my essential joys: going to the movies.

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Seeing “Ocho Apellidos Vascos” (Spanish Affair) was heaven. A variation of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” this wildly popular Spanish comedy has touched a national nerve. It’s been a cultural sensation with its broad slice of humor based on the stereotypes to be found in the south of Spain (Sevilla, Andalusia) and in northern Basque territory. It seemed so fitting, two people trying so hard to conform to predisposed notions of self that they lose track of their own identities. It may have been for laughs, but its nuances were universal truths. (Even if the Spanish was at times divinely vulgar and incomprehensible.)

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This slight change of routine notwithstanding, I am in the midst of the second of four weeks in Spain. Order has restored itself and it has allowed for a sense of clarity. I know what my life was back in L.A. I see now who I’d become. Here’s the realization I didn’t anticipate: I’m not so sure I want to go back to that version of me.

I thought this blog was going to be about confessing my days and nights, a picaresque narrative told in my inimitable MediaJor way. But that’s not how this is turning out, at least not during the week. (Dare I repeat el tope of Orgullo 2014?) Like a confessional, I feel I can say (or write) without judgment. I do not want to be absolved of anything, nor do I feel these admittances require any penance. Before this last year of self-reflection and self-realization, I’d spent quite a bit of time manufacturing a persona that required a lot of attention and validation from everyone around me. Perhaps it was a symptom of wanting a “Hollywood Life.” But the message and messenger are distancing themselves a faster pace here.

“Cosmo Castorini: A man understands one day that his life is built on nothing, and that’s a bad, crazy day.

Rose: Your life is not built on nothing! Te amo.”

From “Moonstruck” by John Patrick Shanley

When I turned 40, I was consumed with the idea of wanting to do it all over again. I’d convinced myself that the struggle of reaching a dream was infinitely more rewarding than basking in the joy of its successful completion. That malaise permeated into so many aspects of my life. Each year took on a darker shade, man. What was I thinking, wanting to repeat a dream? Why couldn’t just come up with a new one?

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Living in the shark tank of the “Industry” means you know how NOT to become the victim of someone else’s ambition. Today, I told a young classmate during break, the adorable Kolby, “I want to let someone else take a turn in the tank. They can have my place. I don’t want to go back to that aspect of my life anymore.” Now, the question is what sort of life will I go back to nurture?

Oddly, I don’t even have an answer to that and it doesn’t even faze me. It’s like that age old question we ask college students, “What are your plans after school?” Right now, all I can say is “Piss off, I’ll tell you when I know, alright?” But I do know what I don’t want to at this stage and that’s wonderfully liberating on its own.

Like art, narrative styles change to allow for innovation in documenting our time. If we view our own lives as art, then we should engage in the power of invention. If we can’t find the words to express who we want to be, then we should just make them up, dammit. All the pressures we inflict on ourselves to subscribe to an outdated ideal of what is “proper” is such a waste. Why must we mark time? Why can’t we be a free-flowing entity, without page numbers or chapter headings? Why can’t we allow for realism to exist with a little magic, too?

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My favorite moments on the daily? My classes are never without surprise, as I’ve already stated in earlier entries. I don’t even the mind the homework, but it is fascinating to hear the pressures felt by the other students who just want to go home already. (They are being graded, I’m not. Makes a big difference since I’m genuinely doing this for my own pleasure. Pero hombre, the diversity in intent and focus warrants its own blog and soon! I hope not naming names is enough. Haha!)

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I look forward to having meals with Manoli and my housemates Krystal and Brianna, two young girls from Georgia U.S.A. who are beautiful old souls with honest hearts. We’ve become a family, this odd quartet of Spanish, Chicano and Black Americans. We share as much of our lives with each other in Spanish as we can, English if we must (despite Manoli’s stern protests otherwise) and laughter no matter the combination. You want connections? We are living them daily, around the table as it was before phones and other iRealities broke us all apart.

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Then I start my day, walking through the calm of the Plaza Mayor around 8:30am, just before I enter the Pontificia. The café staffs engage in their ritual, a pas de deux of returning tables and chairs to their normal spots. One by one, other human forms enter this tableaux. But the poetry comes from seeing the tiny ripples of water gathered in the cobble stones. Cause and effect. Forward motion. Life in color. Truth in black and white.

That’s what I see happening to my life in Salamanca.

Day 12, Wednesday, July 9 @ the Pontificia and Manoli’s house in Salamanca.
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Days 8/9 — From a castle in the sky to queens in the streets: Segovia to Madrid, pt. 2

Days 8/9 — From a castle in the sky to queens in the streets: Segovia to Madrid, pt. 2

“¿A quién le importa lo que yo haga?

¿A quién le importa lo que yo diga?

Yo soy así, así seguiré, nunca cambiaré.” – Thalía

 

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A weekend so big, it had to be told in two parts! Haha. No joke. I still haven’t really processed what Orgullo in Madrid was like or what it reflected back on my gay existence. All I know is that it touched upon much of what I embrace and shun within the gay culture, often within the same sentence.

I haven’t been to a Pride festival in LA in quite some time. Madrid’s version is an international event, like West Hollywood. But comparisons begin and end with the word “Pride.” Madrid’s “Orgullo” is a four-day extravaganza that makes WeHo look like a nuns’ tour. So extreme is this event, it carries the weight of the good, the bad and the ugly of the city.

My decision to attend Orgullo was a result of connecting with an online friend named Telmo, who hails from Guarda, Portugal, was coming to Madrid. He was going to meet up with own friends in the city to enjoy the full run of the events. We had exchanged quite a few IM conversations in the weeks leading up to My Salamancan Summer. It seemed like a win-win and it was. Granted, trying to find him near the Prado Museum was on par with escaping the fall of Saigon. Tens of thousands of people packed the Gran Via (Madrid’s main avenue) for a view of la manifestación (or parade) that defied description.

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It’s funny, the literal translation of “manifestación” is manifestation. After viewing this teeming mass of revelers, all in states of ecstasy that were either natural or chemical, it could be argued they embodied something abstract or theoretical. How else could you define their all feeling ORGULLO, in all caps? Families shared space with drag queens. Babies waved their rainbow flags as their parents joined in the chanting and dancing. It seemed all of Spain had waited for this day to come and they were all going to exhibit their support for the LGBT communities of the world. Or maybe they just were happy to have an excuse to party like it was their last day on Earth without any consequence. The colors, much like my own feelings about being part of this celebration, ran from bright to dark and back in seconds.

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Imagine my surprise, when I finally found a way to meet Telmo at the Prado entrance, I got to witness several men relieving themselves against the statue of Goya or the bushes in the park. It became more than a “running gag” that night, pun most intended. When I explained this night to Manoli during la cena after I got back to Salamanca, she offered this concise observation: No entiendo porque la gente se porta a la bestia!  She’s right. And consider this, beasts run in packs, and they will piss in packs, too.
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I won’t obsess about this one detail best defined as “asceroso.” However, I am glad it didn’t have to throw away my black leather Vans after wading through the rivers of urine and trash that graced most of the streets of Chueca and the Gran Via. Apparently, this entire reality is courtesy of the maligned mayor of Madrid, the excoriated Ana Botella. Yes, she of the “having a relaxing cup of café con leche in the Plaza Mayor” fame. (Please look that up on YouTube. You won’t be sorry.) She doesn’t want to spring for public facilities throughout the city. I mean, who pissed in her cup of coffee, right? That doesn’t excuse the lack of manners of the populace, either. That’s the ugly of Orgullo. The “good” and “so bad it’s good” is something different altogether.

“Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere

Hands in the air like we don’t care

‘Cause we came to have so much fun now

Bet somebody here might get some now

If you’re not ready to go home

Can I get a “Hell, no! “? (Hell no)

‘Cause we’re gonna go all night

‘Til we see the sunlight, alright” – Miley Cyrus

The Taxi Driver, The King, The Queen and the Girlfriend

How to report on the rest of my Orgullo experience? I’ve been battling exactly how much truth to reveal about my night and half-day in Madrid due to how this might appear to certain members of my own tribe. But the education I seek from this month is Spain is not just of an academic nature. I joke about it being my “Shirley Valentine” moment, but deep down I really mean it. Hello, Telmo.

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As much as I like to bemoan our iPhone life, how about them apps? That’s how I discovered Telmo of Guarda. I liken this entire experience as having a pen pal with benefits. I knew we’d get to meet, but I wasn’t sure if it would end in the obvious. In short, as Allison Janney decrees with deserved joy in the 1999 cult comedy classic “Drop Dead Gorgeous” – “I got some!”

Why be precious about it? I wanted it to happen because I’ve lost so much of my confidence in making it happen. Period. I was tired of feeling invisible in L.A. I’m 46, single and scared that the prospect of finding someone with whom to share this life is dwindling. Worse, the failure of my last attempt at a relationship shook my self-esteem to the core. No, I wasn’t going to leave Spain without the chance to feel a frisson of my own. And I did.

The awkwardness of meeting Telmo face to face was a little daunting, particularly since his friends were so incredibly vivid. And closer to me in age. Yes, Telmito was 25. I have shoes older than him, but dammit if he isn’t an mature soul where it counts. What I didn’t anticipate how much fun I would have with his posse of Madrid’s finest. They were old friends, protective of their friendship with Telmo but absolutely welcoming of me. They opened up their lives in the most candid manner, answering my questions with such directness, it emboldened me and made me appreciate my own gay identity anew.

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This is what I miss in LA, a group of like-minded men with who to rage against the dying of the light. As much as I love the women in my life, I’m still very much a man. This group of five men featured a known blogger and writer, who was constantly being stopped on the street as we ventured through Chueca. His partner of 12 years was a taxi driver, who possessed such a wonderful knowledge of Madrid’s history. As we walked through several neighborhoods and landmarks (Lavapies, Chueca, La Puerta del Sol), the city was that much more alive in a night already teetering on the edge of sensory overload. Even after our group dispersed post-dinner, I will never forget the care and ease with which Juan and Enrique shared their combined knowledge of their hometown as we continued the night.

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Imagine my surprise to see one school turned convent that originally housed the children of the rich and the poorer progeny of los republicanos. Those children of the rebels were brought to the school, not with the intent of being educated, but to serve the school of labor. Or, how Lavapies was one of the truest neighborhoods of Madrid in terms of its identity. I walked the street where Cervantes lived, the pavement now embossed with quotes from other writers in the most banal touristy fashion, but no less impactful. Or having my own tourist moment by standing at the 0 km mark that siphons off into the varying postal routes that divide up the city.

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As we survived the outrageous mob of a urine-soaked Chueca, I could not help but marvel at the unbridled sights and sounds of debauchery that kept growing in intensity all around me. But Enrique and Juan kept their steady charge forward, with Telmo and I in tow.  From the historical to the personal, they all contributed to a rose-colored chronicle on how they all met and courted and lived their lives in Madrid. Forget about talk of us being disconnected. None of this happened over the Internet. It happened in real time with all the humanity that we have always craved and altered in the most deplorable fashion.

Now, about the King and the Queen and the Girlfriend… So, when Juan Carlos was in Africa in 2012 shooting elephants, guess who wasn’t with him? Yes, his wife, the queen. Of course, the man broke his hip. The ensuing scandal got better when the girlfriend was revealed, validating the endless chatter that JC was one unfaithful king. Even better, when he was back in Madrid to recover from the painful ordeal, Queen Sofia paid him a visit, natch. But she never saw him, choosing instead to sit in an adjoining hospital room to read a book. After 20 minutes, she left the building and told the gathered press JC was doing fine. As for the girlfriend, she’s no longer in the picture. And he’s since abdicated the throne after one scandal too many rocked the monarchy. The moral of story?

It’s good to be the Queen.

Aprendiendo a “zorrear” y dar “la putivuelta”

Orgullo was not without its academic opportunities, you know? Thanks to Juan, I was explained the virtues of two clubbing traditions in Chueca. And these apply anywhere where the public congregates to be seen. To zorrear means to “whore around.”  Dar una putivuelta is to walk by and scan the lines in front of the clubs to review the talent that’s also cruising you. If anyone looks good, all bets are off and you venture into the club with the goal to zorrear. The differences, like all romance languages, are quite distinct. It is all about intent and one way or another, even the explanation of tomcatting around has its nuances.

Isn’t culture a wonderful thing?

I’m a Bearbie Boy

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By Madrid’s standards, the night was still young at two in the morning. Telmo and I bid Enrique and Juan a farewell and continued our crawl through Chueca. After hearing about most of my classmates’ club lives, I raised the ante by engaging in a bit of cub life at Bearbie.

Man, it was good to dance like no one was watching. Maybe it was combinations of techno pop, mobbed floor and crap whiskey, but suddenly I wasn’t wrapped so tight. I wanted to kick myself for bringing my damn man bag. (Balenciaga, thank you.) I kept holding it close like I was a different Sophia, as in Petrillo. It was operating too much like a chastity belt when Telmo surprised me with a tender first kiss.

Suddenly, I was in a YA novel underscored by Gaga. As his beard rubbed against my neck, the electricity generated by this sensation made me sigh quite audibly. It was so fucking hot! My knees went weak as he pressed that much harder against me, kissing me with a force that could only end in total surrender. And I kissed him back in kind, pushing that damn bag to the side, just hoping it wouldn’t prove my undoing. Being that breathless will do that to you, even if it invites the prospect of being robbed on a crowded dance floor. To say the least, I couldn’t get enough.

You can’t underplay the importance of a dance floor make out. It is a two-way street, hermano. You have to give as good as you get and that night was absolutely restorative. I was a man reborn.  I wasn’t a sad sack full of complaints about how shitty it was being single at 46. Nor was I carrying on about “the one that got away.” That fever caused by a Saturday night in Madrid revealed someone very much engaged by what was happening because it was reciprocated in kind. I felt sexy and desired, not invisible and encased by own pessimism and solitude.

It was, as the kids say, the Best. Night. Ever.

As for the rest of it? I shall let the image fade to black once we made our way back to the hotel by early dawn. MediaJor’s are figurative and discrete, dammit. But I awoke with the knowledge that someone made my first night in Madrid one to remember. If that doesn’t personify real orgullo, or the pride of being alive, I don’t know what else would. I can only hope he feels the same about our time together. But like Shirley Valentine, I hadn’t fallen in love with him. No. As sweet a night we shared, the result was something a bit more profound.

I had fallen in love with the thought of living.

Lady Cab Driver and return home

After Telmo left to rejoin his friends, I prepared to make my way back to Salamanca. A fried food lunch at the nearby VIPS was in order to stave off the cruda. Then I hopped a cab to Chamartin train station. But I wasn’t out of Madrid’s throes, just yet. Heaven sent me Angela, the source of one of the better cab conversations I’ve experienced. As I explained my Orgullo experience, she said, “La cara de Madrid es de color negro, blanco y gris.”

It was true. The faces all amounted to a complex portrait that requires real study to understand, if ever. We did focus on the bad behavior of the public. She blamed the status of equality that men and women now share in certain degrees. For her, men and women are not truly equal because there are things women should not really do. “Like pissing in the streets?”

Si, claro,” opined Angela. “Mujeres necesitan ser mujeres.”

That may be the case, but men need to be men, too. I’m not sure what the coming weeks have in store, but the possibilities I am experiencing in Spain have never felt so endless. As I wrote to Norma over the weekend, I’ve contracted a strong case of optimism and good humor of late.  Dare I say it?

This feels so much like happiness to me.

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Monday, July 7 @ Manoli’s house in Salamanca, Spain.

Days 8/9 – From a castle in the sky to queens on the streets: Segovia to Madrid, Pt. 1

Days 8/9 – From a castle in the sky to queens on the streets: Segovia to Madrid, Pt. 1

Say what you think

Love who you love

‘Cause you just get

So many trips ’round the sun

Yeah, you only

Only live once

“Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves


 

It’s becoming a bit challenging to maintain a daily report of this Salamancan summer. Perhaps it was folly to think I’d be able to maintain a daily record. Most of my fellow students have tripped the light fantastic into the early dawn most nights from the moment we’ve arrived. I’ve opted to play the part of Christian in “Moulin Rouge,” hunkered down in my garret, waiting for that moment of divine inspiration to become “that writer.” I’m not necessarily waiting to fall in love as much as I’m wanting to fall in love with an idea worth writing about.

I’ve been diligently recording this series of little epiphanies as if channeling a dime store Proust. (“In search of lost time” anyone?) When the weekend approached, I’d been quite entertained by the lost time represented by group’s noches de ronda. So it was time to add some color of my own. Besides, as I look back at this first week of scribbling, I couldn’t help but think: “Lighten the fuck up, Jor.”  As to not overwhelm the casual reader, here is the weekend’s Confession in two parts.

La crónica rosa, primer capitulo

I’ve been avoiding all of my tried and true Internet haunts of late. It all seems like such a waste of time given the amount of history and culture that is Salamanca and Spain, in general. I mean, really, a great white shark attack in Manhattan Beach makes the front page of CNN? Come on! Perhaps that is why I’ve taken such an interest in reporting the “Real Houselives of the Students at the Pontificia.” Who needs artificial scandal when real, unfiltered life is sooo much better!

Believe it or not, a term exists in Spanish for this type of reportage, La crónica rosa. (Gracias, Enrique P. Sen!) Translated as the Rose Colored Chronicle, it is really designed to function as a less yellow version of the gossip pages that feature Madrid society’s finest and other people of varying degrees of celebrity. Case in point, one unlucky student in her early 20s from New York was shocked to discover that the young man with whom she enjoyed a weekend frisson opted to post pictures of her in flagrante delicto all over Instagram. Thanks to the barrage of douchey hashtags as an added bonus, the girl (and most of the school) discovered her Don Juan is really Don Juanito. He’s just 17. #legend, he bragged.

You get the “picture?”

So, today’s entry is probably a less refined version of Walter Winchell and/or Rona Barrett with a dash of Armistead Maupin thrown in for good measure. You’ve been warned.

Segovia

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Picture it. Salamanca, 2014. How do you spend your first weekend during a summer school session abroad? You do what every student does. You go to Segovia in the morning and take a high speed train to Madrid in the afternoon to take part in its legendary Gay Pride celebration. Kind of gives a new meaning to the term “Orgullo” altogether. But it was an action-packed day that is probably going to go down as #legend, too. Plenty of frisson, yes. But hold the InstaShame, por fa’.

I was glad to get out into Spain a bit more. At first, the day trip to Segovia was something out of a backlot experience as directed by Ridley Scott. I don’t want to diminish that historical beauty of this city at all. Its famed Alcazar castle is documented as being the source of inspiration for the artists responsible in creating the world of Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.” Yet, while walking these well conserved cobblestone streets you were transported deeper into its often conflicted past with each step. It is also a testament to an odd reconciliation, too.

You will see remnants of religious persecution and intolerance in La juderia, yet it’s juxtaposed with the city’s iconic acuaducto. It is hard to process how both stand as symbols so extreme. One personifies human innovation and ingenuity. Imagine a freestanding structure so epic, its stacked construction defies gravity as it does not feature elements to hold it together. Yet it does reinforce the sad duality of the human experience. We are such masters of creation here on earth, only to be the biggest purveyor of its destruction with the same hands.

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Our tour guide, Elena, was terrific, taking time to illustrate the human scope of this colonial hamlet. Like San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, the historic preservation of the area is given some priority. Unlike San Miguel de Allende, Burger King and the shopping mall built around the acuaducto reveal a more consumer-driven agenda in the site’s preservation.

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Still, Segovia “ilumina el cielo” or “Segovia Illuminates the Sky.” And that’s not hyperbole when you add the stately Alcazar to the mix.

Here’s a down and dirty metaphor to explain just how impressive Alcazar is to view. After you’ve had nothing but margarine or decaf, when you get to taste butter or Italian roast, you don’t want the fake shit again. In other words, forget the Magic Kingdom or the Excalibur in Las Vegas. Such bastardized examples of the Alcazar are unworthy of sharing the same sentence. Of course, walking these fabled grounds could not rob focus from its rather peculiar royal history that seems doomed to be repeated for eternity.

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“Juana la loca era enferma de amor”

During our tour of Alcazar, Elena kept referring to “Juana la loca.” I had to ask, “Who is Juana and why was she crazy?” Suffice it to say, Juana was married to a prince who was less than charming and kept cheating on her, despite giving him five children. What drove her crazy was not so much the possible epilepsy that may be responsible for the moniker bestowed upon her by the court. No, for some historians, she was driven to illness by the intense mad love she had for her roving husband. It seemed a fitting discovery to me since the situation involving Spain’s royal family this year also featured a wandering royal who was forced to abdicate his throne. More on that later because here comes Madrid and Orgullo 2014 in Part 2 of Segovia to Madrid, now online.
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Saturday, July 5 @ Hotel Indigo, Madrid, Spain.