Roof Poopin’

It was a terrace Saturday and maybe we were just basking out there but Savi looked over the kneewall separating us from the neighboring rooftops and there, furtively picking a path between the terra cotta tiles, crept a little orange kitty. Being an experienced kitty rancher on the order of the Bubbles character from Trailer Park Boys, I proved once again the time-honored truth that cats will swallow their fear as long as they can wash it down with delicious, delicious meat.

At first I’d set a strip of jamon serrano on the knee-wall to see a little orange paw flash up and claim it. Maybe I’d dangle a strip of bacon or some chicken skin and let him war with his instincts and lose. Little by little, with constant persuasion-by-protein, the kitty gained the courage to leap onto the terrace. A bowl was set for him and on it the usual meat scraps or else a little white milk puddle for the lapping. Soon his skittishness became persistence and on a fateful day, he stepped through our door.

Last night he wedged himself between us in bed (no doubt the warmest spot in the house). He knows how to open our living room window and worse, the refrigerator door. We once were alerted to his presence by a quiet scratching from inside the fridge; he’d opened the door and under its own weight it’d shut on him, casting him immediately into cold darkness for we don’t know how long. We buy him cat food and give him pens to play with. He disappeared for a week and lately returned sans his male equipment, so he’s got owners several rooftops over who care for him. We’re thinking of buying flea collars in several different colors so as to fuck with his real parents big time. Of course his name is Kitty, the same as all of the cats who’ve leapt in and out of my life. The rooftops are his toilet and hunting ground, and as we’re in an arid climate rather than receive the sort of gifts given by temperate-weather cats (birds, mice, moles, rabbits) we get halves of lizards and bats. The lives of kitties are mysterious and wonderful.

Slippery People

I woke up this morning with “Slippery People” by the Talking Heads in my ears and sure enough, today has begun to take funky turns and shake its booty as if it were as loaded as the backup singers in “Stop Making Sense”. For reference:

On the face of it, no one’s having more fun than those onstage and to be sure, I’d have given anything to up there in some other life. Sometimes when you whip your tail in funky splendor, though, there is shrapnel: we made sounds this morning, the girlfriend and I, which indeed were funky but of the discolored variety which, admittedly, lend relief to the lush sounds we’re capable of. She intends for me a potential disappointment which she’s suffered this year and feels unwilling to suffer next year. It’s about work, about where and what hours, and it’s ugly. Working in a high school and normal hours has jaded her against working again in that capacity in Thailand; rather, she intends to split her time between very tiny children in the late morning and extracurricular work later in the afternoon/early evening, leaving me to work a regular day with 9-11 yr old children at a regular elementary. Maybe not too hard to savor, but for me it is and let me explain why.

Let’s pretend that we’re dancing the night away together at a Talking Heads concert at CBGB’s. Let’s also pretend we’re the same sex, and likewise are attracted to people of a common gender. You turn to shake awhile with someone and after a while, turn back to me a little turned off, with a sour look on your face. You plead with me to dance with that person who, granted, I may have danced with anyway but given your point of view of the situation, knowing that you yourself wouldn’t do it, I’m given to feeling that I’m expected to wear a mantle you would pass up should it appear again before you. You plead with me to dance with that person because if I don’t, you’ll be made to dance with them again.

Thus the funk falls in glops and gloops all over us and jams up our eyes and ears. A good wingman would fall on the grenade, wouldn’t they? What gives me pause is the feeling that I should owe it to her to do it because “it’s my turn”…to do what? To be disappointed? To become jaded? Perhaps had I known we were taking turns being broken on the wheel, I’d feel less suspicious. Perhaps if I could imagine myself asking someone to do something I’d sooner scorn, I’d feel less suspicious.

I sense envy lurking in this argument. I sense it has to do with the cold day, the early rising which runs contrary to her nature, the hostile atmosphere of her teacher’s lounge, the regularity of her dread for the workday…or am I selfish? Do I covet my mornings? Have I become dependent on the schedule I’ve built? Is my mind closed to a new experience? From the bottom to the top, we’re confounded in our towers.

 

The Radio

In an hour I’ll be on my way to Bar Ramirez, a great brown building made of wood, to meet Elena. She’s a ranking teacher at the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas next to Suarez Figueroa high school. Each week she does a radio program and this morning, she’s asked me to join her to talk a little bit about the US and Spain, and the whole thing’s going to be given in Spanish. Should they ask me why I’m here, I’ll have to lace some untruths through the facts but of course, to remain undetected is a bit easier as a foreigner who may have (or may not have) misspoke.

I can’t help but marvel a bit at how far my Spanish has come in just over a year. I went from stabbing blindly at vague memories of odd vocabulary words to giving a Spanish radio interview in what feels like very little time. Immersion is the only way to learn a foreign language.

Here in the full swell of winter the clouds have cleared off and the laundry’s drying well on the line. It’s colder in the apartment than it is outside, and the baked potato soup is on the stove.

Orange Warmth in Winter

(Preface: In addition to writing on my own, count this as post one in an endeavor to to talk about the scattered ends of life here, once daily, in digestible bits. These are time capsules for future me.)

They sit outside in the depths of winter which, granted, aren’t deep but keep us in coats and scarves and when it comes to eating out, eating inside. Particularly striking is the new Cafeteria España. The waiters in the morning set the tables outside on the sidewalk, against the building, under little iron arms bolted some eight or nine feet up onto the brick façade. These little arms indeed are heaters, their long twin elements feeding from the restaurant’s power and so much that the smokers below benefit enough to enjoy their morning papers in seeming comfort. All day this warmth rolls out from beneath the café’s great brown awning and at night, the customers sit bathed like metalworkers in an intense orange light.

Tits

We were invited out to the country this weekend by a friend of ours and what a lovely day for an outing. This activity, this heading out to the country for a day is an activity typical to this part of Spain; folks all have their spots and everyone returns to the same place each time for a picnic, a barbecue on an open flame, and time with their family. Savi agreed to this invitation before she knew what the outing was to be, and later learned it was going to be a convening of a coven of breastfeeding mothers. We were apprehensive that perhaps a table would be set up and milk-heavy tetas slung down in a buffet line and indeed, there were only three women but immediately, before we even left town udders had found their way in open air into tiny mouths.

I am not scandalized by breastfeeding. On the contrary, I was breastfed and I haven’t any beef with women who let it all hang out in public; that’s their choice, it’s their body, and good on them. What was surreal about this trip was the concentration of women at the same work. To me, they were machines; fit infant mouth to left tit and go for a bit, remove mouth, recapture left tit and wipe mouth, place infant in carrier, address toddler and ask if they’d like some tit, release right tit and fit toothy mouth onto nipple, pulse until toddler’s happy, recapture right tit and wipe mouth, notice infant in carrier, pick up and hold, release left tit…ad infinitum, the math never failing, the factory never slowing, three at once with their index fingers hooked under the hem of their t-shirts, sore nipples always playing at bulging through the sewn-on pocket and children thinking about soccer balls and the husbands hovering with mild headaches…no-one ever arrives at a point of rest. They’ve redefined for themselves what “feeling good” means to accommodate for the dearth of energy.

For us it was a lesson on paths and tits. When you’re pregnant your tits bloat and when they’re under assault every day, your nipples enlarge and their natural color is tinged red. When you choose to procreate you give up, to some extent, your freedom of will and choice. You must always account for a passenger in your car, which I’m not ready for. Savi is totally turned off to the very idea of this and for that I’m happy. The last thing we need is her joining some lactation group which for hours talks about tits and baby names. Lactation; it’s a focus here. In the religious museum here there’s a painting of a lactating Madonna with haloed baby pulled off-tit, and leche spilling down her underside, just above her lower ribs. I don’t know what it is with Catholics and their “sacred” fluids.

Speaking of udders, there were a small herd of cows out in the country which were a bit curious and fearful of us. They approached our campsite en masse but were too skittish to investigate, only stand some twenty yards off and give nervous looks. Their aim, finally, was to get through a closed cowpath gate. Fine; we opened the gate and after they’d all passed through, humping each other on the way, a solitary cow approached the way the others had come. It ran full-tilt and stopped at the barbed wire fence, confused as how to get to its mates. A young boy was holding the gate open, up along the fence line a ways. The cow ran at the gate, but when it saw the boy it stuttered, pitched forward once more, stuttered again, and just as it was getting to the gate gave up the ghost and threw itself through the barbed wire. It squeezed through the top and second string, somehow, and ruined the fence in doing it. A seven year-old boy filled it with so much fear that it was ready to risk it all on a potentially fatal chance. Amazing.

 

The Building that Saved Me

We were waiting aboard this modern jet for takeoff, me and several of the people from my CELTA group. There was no telling where we were headed but everyone was strapped in and specifically one of the teachers, she was seated in the back, atop this sort of sofa which stretched the width of the fuselage. I looked back at her from mid-plane and exchanged with her a warming smile.

The air was abuzz with nervous, excited twittering:

“Will it work?”

“I feel so lucky!”

“…history is being made here today.”

…and the like. The aircraft must have been new technology, and that day must have been its inaugural flight.

After a short time the lights dimmed and an engine whirred to life. It kept a low hum, and contrasted with conventional airplanes the way an electric car might with an old Peugeot. I braced myself, not knowing what to expect.

With smooth but sickening alacrity the jet whipped forward and up. Our ascent, we were making it through a short corridor of tall buildings, punctuated at the far end by two pylon-shaped structures dotted up and down with windows. As we were passing them the aircraft banked left at an impossible angle and began to extend a bit in the middle, wrapping around the left pylon like a salamander; we were breaking some barrier, possibly light as physical matter was bending as we went snugly around this huge pylon-structure. I understood then that we were to be shot like a slingshot outward at some unintelligible speed toward our destination. We’d be there in minutes.

Just as we were on the brink of coming full around, we failed to clear the pylon. The pilot had driven too close and one of the wings clipped the structure. No one could hear it as the plane cracked at my seat, and I didn’t have the presence of mind to call out, futile as that may have been. Strapped to my seat I tumbled through the air into the bay below as the plane frisbeed down and down, disintegrating in stages until it landed somewhere in the bay-side city in loose pieces without an explosion; all its fuel had been sprayed out in a mist, dissipating in the air.

I was the only survivor, bobbing in the water.

Yesterday morning I woke up from this dream and stumbled into the shower. Of course I was disturbed, trying to piece a meaning together. The only survivor of a plane crash; what was happening in my life right now and how could I relate it? As the light bulb in our bathroom is out and our hot water tank is very small, I quickly scrubbed down in the dim light, was sudsy when Savi broke in and said, “The bus is leaving in twenty minutes.”

She had shut our alarm, the one which would tell us to rise in time to shower and pack, she had clicked it off in her sleep. That day we were headed to Gibraltar for a little border magic. It was the day after which I’d become an overstayed tourist in Spain and my mission was to leave the Schengen Area on my American passport, check in to the UK’s littlest territory on my Canadian passport, and re-enter Spain a few hours later, when none of the border guards on duty would recognize me. I’d shoot a few pictures of the Rock of Gibraltar, a few of the airport runway which cuts straight through the territory (and is in fact in the middle of an urban area), all while Savi waits in a rented car in a big city park in La Linea de la Concepcion.

We ran for a few minutes up the narrow, cobbled streets of Zafra, past the baffled pre-dawn cleaning crews, until Savi couldn’t continue. Lately she’d been coughing the night through, leading me to suspect the onset of asthma. Lungs burning in the cold, wheezing cough, and both of these exacerbated by a seasonal cold…even at a slowed pace we made the bus and I outfitted her with travel pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs. In the gloaming I shot a little of the trip, up until sunrise, while she stole back a couple hours of sleep.

Fog was resting heavily over and through northern Sevilla when we arrived. I woke Sav from the depths of a sleep cycle and she only woke fully when we ordered hamburger-bun tostadas and burned café con leche at the bus station café. The old ladies at the next table sat scandalized and staring, and the trick, I’ve learned, is to stare back and outlast them, to remind them of manners. Sated we collected a map and the bus number we’d have to take to get to the car rental place. The driver eyed us a bit and collected our money, and after ten or so minutes clinging to the padded handrail I surveyed the map and learned we’d be riding nearly the whole C1 line before we’d reach the rental office a full hour late.

In vying for deals, Savi had reserved some cheap Citroën in my name. We showed IDs, we showed the reservation number, and when it came time to show a credit card, we were found wanting; we had left the card at home, in Zafra. They refused to rent to us, and our plan was a shambles. Back at the bus station, across the street from the rental office, Savi wallowed and I tried to comfort her. What had been a complicated plan had indeed been too complicated and we had no reason then to be in Sevilla. Our hostel reservation for that night would go unanswered-for by us, and the car rental money was gone. Our bus fare had not borne fruit and we were starving and tired. All of Spain was buzzing from shop to shop in preparing for Tres Reyes Magos, their gift-exchange day. If we could get to Zafra and back with the card we could have the car, they had said; that would mean four lost hours on a bus and another 40 Euros down the drain…I collected Sav and we decided to head home and think of a solution after a meal. On the way back, beautiful Andalusia and its castles were visible from the highway.

After devouring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some reheated Chinese food, and the rest of the leftover pizza, I read online stories of Americans deported from Spain. It was a short read; there was only one, and from its dissuasive tenor and cleanliness I suspected the writing team of having been on government payroll. The other, completely positive accounts on ESL message boards felt less machined.

At risk of being judged a sun-worshipper, I admit that morning’s dream returned to me then. The whirlwinds looked too alike, and the forced removal from a situation felt so natural I couldn’t help but decide to let my tourist visa lapse. Having been so buffeted twice I opted for the sea, and let come what may.

Tomorrow we make for Sevilla again, and relative leisure along its storied streets and relative peace in our rescheduled hostel beds.

Tempranillo and Roasted Bananas

I heard E and N outside on the street from our open balcony window. I greeted them and called down that we’d be there momentarily. S and I gathered our coats and descended out and traded besos with our friends. N was poorly outfitted for the cold and shivered on the way to E’s home. This was our first social call to the house of a local since we’d landed in Spain, and we were excited that night to try and forge a bond. We moved past the great old stone church and through the narrow streets and when we drew close to our destination, E spoke up.

“It’s easy to tell which is mine,” she said.

She was right; of all the shoulder-to-shoulder houses on this street, the terrazza of only one was overflowing with flowering tendrils, hanging so low as to obscure the high-street side of her door.

“It’s beautiful,” S said, fingering a woody vine on the way in.

The house interior remains one of the more well-produced I’ve encountered. We shed our jackets onto an old plush, wood-frame couch in the fireplace room. Then through the dining room and its upholstered, high-backed chairs (no two the same) into the dim kitchen, with its bin of potatoes and hanging garlic, its fruit bowls and field of spice bottles atop  a florid, Spanish-tiled counter top. Five people were a crowd in that room, but we nonetheless watch D, N’s man, spill large mushroom caps onto a cutting board and begin preparing them. In a moment a liter of Cruzcampo vanished into us and the second was opened as the Irish couple vinegared the caps of one species and sauteed the others in butter.

A spliff was passed around and we poured experiences into the evening’s intercambio. E had been in Zafra for better than twenty years, and now she’d been estranged from her husband. She called her son, B, down from his video games and introduced us; I was to be his English tutor. The boy’s father was American and at the time, I understood only that he and E no longer shared time. In her 50’s, E was ornamented with crows feet and a few frizzy gray hairs. Clearly, she had smoked for the better part of her life. We got the impression that she was kind enough, and perhaps laden with stories.

N was from a town near Belfast and was a touch younger than myself, but the young of us were interchangeable twenty-somethings. Her defining feature was a protuberant mole upon her eyelid, which I imagined to affect its function. She and D had come for a her year-long contract in the institute and had left back to Ireland, only to return after a year away to remain another two years.

“Life in Zafra is easy, and mellow,” she explained.

“I do odd jobs,” said D when his turn came. “Build houses, or whatever the day’s calling is. I’ve got a dome now-”

“A geodesic dome,” I asked.

“No, just a dome,” he said, and went on to talk about the ease of life in Extremadura.

The mushrooms soon were ready. One strain in a large bowl, yellow with vinegar and salt, and the larger, meatier strain in another, shallower bowl, warm and buttery. Between the bite of winter and the final sighs of fall, a window for these huge fungus opens, and not unlike morel hunters in the US, each local hunter has his or her “spot”. Both bowls depleted rapidly and conversation, fueled by continual spliffs and standing  a little shakily on four empty liters of beer, turned naturally to the political opera in the US.

“…and this missile which was launched off the shore of California, nobody knows who’s done it,” D said, his voice raising as the question drew on. This after a few examples of our government’s loosening grasp on their traditional reins and then, handing me a new joint, he asked what we thought of 9/11.

“I watched it happen, man,” I said, behind a lungful. “I can see it now; I was in an anthropology discussion section and it was a beautiful day. We started at 9:05 and I walked in on time and there was the projector screen pulled down. The smoke and fire and helicopters had me wondering why the hell we were screening a Die Hard movie in anthro. Then the second plane came in from off-frame and slammed into the second building and that’s when my blood went cold.”

“It’s kind of weird,” he replied, “the whole thing. The sound recordings of the explosions after the impacts, and have you seen the schematics?”

On cue, E produced from a drawer or shelf in the other room some material for our parusal: some DVDs, a book, and an envelope of color photographs. The unifying theme of these materials was “conspiracy”; the government has lied to the people, and recalling its fiscal success post-WWII has sought to generate war profits artificially. In the US, these people are called “9/11 Truthers”, and are ubiquitously understood to be conspiracy theorists and thus, worth skepticism. S and I turned the DVDs over in our hands and read the book jacket. I spent a good deal of time shuffling through the photographs while someone was talking.

The first was a shot of a steel support, rising vertically behind a fireman and sheared at a sick 70-degree angle. The message was that the cut was too clean to be a mistake. The fireman was gritty, and dramatic. Next, a shot of the building plan, with red lines and circles indicating breaking points. A shot of a firetruck reduced to molten metal. A shot of an empty stroller covered in stone dust. Near the end of the stack came a shot of a bald eagle, drawn and quartered seemingly by hand, its body strewn about the floor of an airplane’s cockpit.

“This shit is shopped,” I breathed to S. “All of these are shopped.” I flipped back through the stack and began to notice tell-tale signs of photo editing: cleanliness, for one, of line definition, and lighting abnormalities which suggested long work at a keyboard gone long enough to draw a “this will suffice” from the editor. The work was good; nay, excellent, but once revealed as a product I felt as though my hands held the loose rubber of an airless balloon. There was nothing here. Not a damn thing.

With the introduction of the materials the conversation’s tone had begun eroding and then, after twenty or so minutes of listening to the Europeans speculate over my government’s niggardly kindnesses weighed against the cost in lives of its transgressions against the race, the fire began choking on all the jingo gasoline. I was not ashamed; rather, pity flooded through me when I considered the weight these thoughts must press upon these people, these new friends of ours. The anger I understood, because what right does a foreign country have to rove about the world inciting conflict with intent to profit by it? Really, it’s not a question of understanding their feelings but a question of understanding the environment within which nights like these, with discussions flavored thusly, emerge.

A small voice cried within me: “Rehearsed!” It could have been the preparation I discovered in the photos coupled with the image of rich old white men scheming against their WTC countrymen, but the arguments were coming too readily to the lips of these people, and I could sense that they smelled my skepticism, and S’s. Without beer and ganja, the conversation gave way to tired eyes and covering our departure with warm smiles and a rain of gracious words, we left E’s just ahead of the Irelanders. I remember only vaguely our volleying remarks of disbelief as S and I made our way home through the cold.

***

The next week I tutored B, entertaining fantasies that his mother would pay me in marijuana rather than Euros. Nothing strange; I used a Spanish real-time strategy (RTS) computer game as a theme through which to teach vocabulary meaning and pronunciation (metal, wood, campaign, warrior, and others of the like) and after, was handed cash and bid good day. The following week, I met B’s father.

The end of our lesson had nearly come when he stomped up the old wooden stair treads and entered the room. Like B, he was short. In his face I saw a waste, like that brought on by a development soaked in liquor or psychedelic drugs. Beady eyes and hard lines, if you know what I mean.

“Got these new boots, B, new boots, man, for eight dollars, or, Euro or whatever,” he said. He showed off his boots and sat down in a heavy armchair at the head of the table.

I greeted him and we shook hands.

“And what are you doing in Zafra,” he said.

The following conversation was awkward. He was probing me subtly, or at least as subtly as he could. In return I’d asked about his role in this tiny Spanish city, so far from his homeland.

“Been here twenty years,” he told me. “Came here twenty years ago.”

He looked at me. I looked at him.

“You have chickens, right?” I said, remembering something D had told me weeks ago about someone uncharacteristically slaughtering five chickens in a day. I had made a leap.

“Yeah, yeah I have a campo,” he said, and he dropped the phrase “Food Forest” and the word “dome” while telling me about his little plot. Everyone here has a place in town and a “campo”, which translates to “country”, which in complete English translates to “country home”. He wouldn’t elaborate on “Food Forest” and I played delighted to hear about a dome. I knew who D worked for, and I had a good idea of where he got his weed.

“Gotta spend your money somehow,” he said.

I don’t know what he does for a living, but he doesn’t till a foot of land on that campo.

His arrival had all but killed the lesson. At the old man’s prompting, B recited a phrase: “9/11 was an inside job.” Many things were illuminated for me at that moment. This was an 11-year old kid who spoke only simple sentences.

“I know it’s wrong,” the old man said, “but it’s great, I mean, I tell him something and then test him, test whether he understands.”

***

I handed B some homework and descended the steps with father and son. The old man stopped me before I could leave; he produced a skateboard-type device which is popular now in Europe. He set it down, stepped up and began swiveling his hips to make it go. Up and down the house he went, dodging around corners and always narrowly missing his son on his Wave skateboard. What’s a Wave? Here:

Anyway, when I left the place B’s dad walked downtown with me, remarking that he hadn’t spoken to an American in a long time. As we meandered up the Calle de Sevilla, he acted distracted and was largely silent.

“See some weird stuff, man?” I asked him.

“That pizza place back there,” he motioned, “it’s new.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “People have said it’s been around for awhile.”

“No, it’s new. I don’t know. I don’t come into town very often,” he said.

“No? Why not?”

He leaned in as if the Spaniards understood English. “I don’t come into town anymore because of all the willing ignorance in these, these people,” he said.

I told him I knew what he meant. In fact, I think I understand now something about the whole situation. The recluse, the old man, he’s seen CoIntelPro and was scarred, and taught E to feel scarred. He left the US twenty years ago, left a Californian life. All the ideas we’d heard that night at the dinner table were his, regurgitated from the two heads that lately, at least, had spent the most time with him. He was conditioning the boy, who can’t express simple thoughts but says 9/11 was a sham job. Ignorance isn’t what frightened this guy; he had developed a degree of agoraphobia due to his lifestyle of voluntary exile.

Next weekend we’re headed to someone else’s campo to see D and N off. They’re finally leaving Zafra, and I might be receiving calls from some of her students. It’ll be interesting.