Parades

This is the first post I’m writing from Sevilla. I got here last Tuesday, and have had to live pretty much without internet over the last week. I finally got my connection to work today.

I’ve been spending my days away from everything I’m used to. Here my mobile phone is virtually useless, and I hate using it. (I guess I hated using it in Manila as well anyway.) I’ve been speaking Spanish more than 80 percent of the time–I catch myself now beginning to think thoughts in Spanish, however basic they may be, and I feel this is good progress. Instead of rice and ulam, I have an abundance of cheeses and breads for meals. I’ve been learning to get around on foot, by bus, by metro, and occasionally on my friend’s Vespa. I guess the material comfort I miss the most from my life in Manila is driving my own car. I enjoy my commutes of course, the city is absolutely lovely, but I felt so much more in control of my life when I could come and go as I pleased. Here I feel I am, in a frightening, abstract way, at the mercy of bus schedules and metro stops, of taxis that may or may not pass through. I’ve been able to go everywhere I’ve wanted without much difficulty, without knowing very much about anything. I feel braver, but also more fragile than I’ve ever felt. I’ve never thought of myself as fragile, but I suppose being away from all the things and people who make one feel secure has its own profound effects on one’s temperament.

Spanish lunch: salmorejo, jamon iberico y huevos de perdiz (partridge eggs!) on bread

Spanish lunch: salmorejo, jamon iberico y huevos de perdiz (partridge eggs!) on bread

I have plenty of friends here, more friends than most people do when they move to a new country, I suppose, but I’ve been inevitably spending more of my time alone. I haven’t been as lonely as I expected to be. Mostly I marvel at what an amazing thing it is to be able to pick up and leave and begin an entirely new life in an entirely new language. It makes me wonder what things really make up a life–possessions, relationships, ideas, activities, memories; makes me try to guess at the substance of each individual. What are you and who are you when all you have ever known and been are no longer there? Often I feel like Franz the way Milan Kundera described him in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Franz felt his book life to be unreal. He yearned for real life, for the touch of people walking side by side with him, for their shouts. It never occurred to him that what he considered unreal (the work he did in the solitude of the office or library) was in fact his real life, whereas the parades he imagined to be reality were nothing but theater, dance, carnival–in other words, a dream.

Maybe all I really am is all that’s here in my head, and even though I’ve moved here to Sevilla, to a place where I long to “be my other self,” I am cursed and blessed to be this same person in the realm of my real life–the life I live in solitude–regardless of my context, and people walking side by side with me, their shouts, are far removed, and cannot really touch me.

The night before 2666

Books are finite, sexual encounters are finite, but the desire to read and to fuck is infinite; it surpasses our own deaths, our fears, our hopes for peace.

– Roberto Bolaño, Last Evenings on Earth

Roberto Bolaño is like a drug. He fucks with your head (and I don’t mean fuck in a sexual way, I mean fuck in a fuck way), and it’s addictive (again: not in a sexual way). Not even Don DeLillo or Henry Miller, in my limited but intimate experience of literature, have come close: you feel it in every corner of your mind, but also in your body. It changes the way you breathe, the way you see and perceive things. There’s something about it, some quality to it, that makes you squint at the real world when you look up from your book, shrouding every tangible thing in a veil of doubt, because the prose is so much more vivid, the sand of the Sonora desert in your mouth, on your tongue, and you get lost in it, immersed and consumed, that you end up so deep inside your head you’re no longer sure how to find your way out when the book finally ends. Fucked. This is how it feels.

I read The Savage Detectives late last year, partly as a birthday present to myself, but mostly to get some Mexican literature flowing in my veins before a business trip to Mexico City from late November to mid-December. It was one of only two “Books that Changed my Life” in 2012. Of course it was only later on, as I bragged about my literary exploits, that the former Mexican ambassador informed me that Roberto Bolaño was, in fact, Chilean. But anyway the book was an inebriated love letter to Mexico if there ever was one. And the ambassador, who is a bona fide Mexican, was a nice guy.

It took me over a month to finish the 577 pages, in a deft English translation by Natasha Wimmer, told in three parts, spanning two decades, with over 40 different narrators, each with such a distinct voice I learned to play favorites among them.

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They say The Savage Detectives is only just foreplay for Bolaño’s magnum opus, 2666. I had told myself I wouldn’t go back to Bolaño until I was fluent in Spanish and could read him in the original. It’s not so much that I enjoy reading his prose in any traditional sense of enjoyment; Bolaño is not a chocolate bar. I want to return to Bolaño because I am addicted to the intensity of it. Like an out-of-body experience, standing on the edge of a cliff, gazing straight down, arms spread out. Like a drug.

A Spontaneous List of Likes and Dislikes

Browsing through today’s Freshly Pressed, and taking a cue from Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and Vladimir Nabokov: a spontaneous list of likes and dislikes

Things I like: semicolons, Kleenex soft tissue, dark chocolate, drinking water, bookstore attendants who know what I am talking about, conversations with old people, my girls, cold pillows, airplanes, long flights, long reads, new pens, fountain pens, trimmed fingernails, sweet wine, men with full beards, green eyes, loose tops, hot chocolate, Jim Elliot, new music from my sister, my sister, my two brothers, Picasso, Michael Fassbender, ramen, papaya, mangoes, writing and receiving letters, hugs, kisses, traveling alone, singing karaoke

Things I dislike: pimples, classmates who sit too close, pininyahang manok, noisy children, ringing phones, traffic, getting sand in my room when on a trip to the beach, taking pictures, Facebook, wearing jeans, dermatologists, salesmen, soda, fixing my hair, being handed flyers, unmade beds, how I smell after two hours of hot yoga practice, people who abbreviate my name, fruit-flavored chocolates, not finding a parking slot, malls, churches, triangle pose, Kanye West, lighters, sleeping on hotel beds, surprises, reading from a computer screen, quotation marks, going to the bank

Things I like: grocery stores, hardware stores, UP, yoga, the extended tree pose, Roberto Bolaño, Ernest Hemingway, the pistachio cake from Bizu, grandparents, the Bataan of my childhood, sitting next to the driver in the jeep, payday, writing checks and tearing them off my checkbook, going to school, seeing a friend one-on-one, making plans, Mexico City, waking up early, writing in the mornings, being first in line, coconut water, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, learning Spanish, letter openers, the smell of unlit cigarettes

Things I dislike: air conditioning, alarm clocks, electric fans, zigzag roads, having a driver, going to church on Sundays, sugarcane juice, meeting famous people, dressing up, clubbing, flirting, ex-boyfriends, swimsuits, pocket-sized books, movie tie-up editions of books, reality TV, TV, thermal underwear, romance novels, men who only eat “salad and water” instead of burgers and beer, being late, people who invite themselves, decoration, birthdays, Chinese food, t-shirts with tight necklines, taking out the trash, nonfiction, statistics

Things I like: books with good titles, books with jagged edges, hardbound books, second hand books, carrying a water tumbler, carrying a coffee tumbler, wearing house slippers, Toms, the New American Standard Bible, contemporary art museums, cheese, bacon, making breakfast, washing the dishes, cleaning my own bathroom, steak, post-its, teaching, sunglasses, thinking about getting a tattoo, grooms who cry at weddings, stamps, yogurt, eggs benedict, dresses, The Godfather, class cards, jackets, philosophy, socks