Free-Floating Hostility

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Postcards from the Past

On Mike's last trip to Detroit, he discovered the collection of postcards I sent him during the summer of 2001, when I was in Spain. It's only been five years (meaning I was 20), but for a number of obvious reasons it feels like another era. Here are some excerpts, many of which are taken from postcards sent on weekend road trips in the company of a flamboyant Dutch IT specialist named Sacha--remember Europe before the Euro? When Rich told me he was moving to Sevilla he asked me what he should check out and I was blanking on the name of this beautiful little performance space where I used to go hear Sephardic music. After two days it dawned on me that it was called Casa de Memoria. Oy.

May 18: “2 thumbs up for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Hats off to you if you can pronounce it. But here’s my question: have you ever heard of Expressionism? I hadn’t before today, and I think I know why. It sucks, that’s why. Hard to describe, but bright and ugly. Nothing, though compares to the portrait of the King + Queen of Spain from 1992 (done for the Barcelona Olympics I suppose). The people are ok-looking but they’re set against these bright blotches of color like something out of Sears Portrait Studio. I guess you can’t really paint portraits of royalty in the contemporary style past a certain point. ‘Don’t be alarmed, your Highness, it’s just Cubism.’”

May 19: “…The book I’m reading, A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster, contains this charming aphorism: ‘Adventures to occur, but not punctually.’ One of the strangest facets of Spanish life to me is the fact that all vital goods are sold by tobacconists. Just try to get stamps or phone cards from a newsstand. They sigh more or less tolerantly and make the motion of lighting a cigarette. I wonder if it’s some kind of legislation to give tobacconists something to do when everyone quits smoking. Shah, like anyone in Europe doesn’t smoke. When I design European airports and restaurants, I’m putting in a giant fume hood under which all the smokers have to stand.”

May 23: “…I’ve solved the mystery of the bizarre vocations of tobacconists. The Spanish government has a state monopoly on tobacco products. So the ‘tabacos’ or ‘estancos’ aren’t really like newsstands, they’re like government offices. That’s why it makes sense to get your tax forms at the same place you get your rolling papers.”

June 5: “Today Paco took us around the Alcázar. I was wrong; it’s not a mosque at all. The word means schloss I think. This one was built on the site of the last Sultan’s palace, but all that’s left of it is one wall. The Catholic Kings built three palaces to replace it—each new king wanted his own Alcázar. But the architects were all Muslim, so it retains a lot of the old style. No Qurٔanic writings, though, only praise to Pedro the Cruel, etc. Over the wall is the old Jewish district from the period before the Muslims + Jews were expelled. Inside are a lot of gorgeous Muslim-style gardens that represent the oases of Arabia—palm frond stylized doors + fountains. Outside, green English gardens. We even saw two families of ducklings just a few days old. One of the prettiest things I’ve seen in Spain. Sacha tried to catch some for dinner but I’m happy to say she failed.”

June 7: “…It turns out that the word ‘kitsch’ exists in just about every European language. And apparently part of the hip vocabulary in Germany these days includes the word “fuck me shoes.” Antonio asked me to name words in Spanish that are actually English words and all I could come up with were ‘gintonic’ and ‘topless.’ Hooray for our national culture.”

June 9: “Fuimos a la playa. Tarifa is a really nice town…I think [it’s] relatively unknown, too—Sacha just saw it out of a bus window + decided to go—cause there aren’t many people. When we were eating lunch, she asked for an ashtray and the waiter just said “the floor!” Our pension is the nicest one I’ve stayed in, and it’s about $25 for the 3 of us. But unlike, say, Amagansett, NY or whatever the U.S. equivalent of Tarifa would be, there’s still a ton of old castles + churches, museums, statues overlooking the bay, etc. Very Span. And across the water we can see Africa!”

June 13: “I think Triana is the “cool” neighborhood in Sevilla. It’s where Sacha and a bunch of other people live, but I’d never been there till last night. The name means 3 rivers, possibly in Hebrew. Ramón keeps insisting that my name means river in Hebrew, despite my insistence that it means grace, which it does…On the Triana side of the river there are lots of little restaurants where you can eat overlooking the water. I’ve heard rumors of Greek + Italian food in the area, too, although most of the short-stay people insist on eating Spanish food all the time (which honestly isn’t that great). I’m not sure why the bridge is named for Isabel, besides the fact that everything in Spain is named for Isabel. Her husband was born in Sevilla, in the Alcázar, so maybe it was their capitol. I forget. I should buy a quick history of Spain.”

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