Friday, October 25, 2013

Surrealism at Fundación Juan March

Hey all, I've written another article for Madrid-based magazine ¡VayaMadrid!, and you can read it here:

It's about a great surrealism exhibit the Fundación Juan March has right now. Below is my favorite painting from the exhibit, by Joan Miró.

Joan Miró's Le perroquet.  [Source]

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reflections On My Second Bullfight

     "The superiority...of the smiling hero over the frothing monster." 

     This summer I read Ian Gibson's biography of Federico García Lorca. In it, Gibson quotes from a letter Lorca wrote to the Italian writer Giovanni Papini. Lorca considered the bullfight an ancient ceremony, a "religious mystery" and "the public and solemn enactment of the victory of human virtue over the lower instincts...the superiority of the spirit over matter, of intelligence over instinct, of the smiling hero over the frothing monster." The bullfight, Lorca thought, was not a sport at all.
     Last year I went to my first bullfight after reading Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon, in which he too upheld the bullfight as as a tragedy rather than a sport. In fact, many writers and artist-types have thought highly of bullfighting. So, is it a brutal, reprehensible sport or a religious mystery, a triumph of humanity? Could it be both?
     The first bullfight I attended was a novillada, which pits less experienced bullfighters against slightly younger and smaller bulls. This year I went to a corrida, where ordained professionals dance with mature bulls. The afternoon had ups and downs. I find the hardest part to watch is when the bull gores the horse, nearly lifting it off the ground, leaving blood stains that show through the horse's protective padding. The fact that it takes so many people to kill the bull seems to detract from any sense of triumphant victory of man over bull. First the bull is let into the ring, run around by several banderilleros with capes, then the picador on horseback gores the back of the bull's neck with a lance, after which the banderilleros stab six sharp metal sticks into its neck. Only after this does the matador face the bull alone. Granted, the bull is still extremely dangerous and with one twist of his head could gravely injure the bullfighter. But the nobility of the sacrifice somehow seems lessened.
     Then there is the "public." The fans (and tourists) who attend the bullfight do not, for the most part, seem to consider the corrida sacred or spiritual. They shout obscenities, talk amongst themselves, and sometimes seem generally disinterested. This atmosphere does not lend itself well to the observance of a religious mystery. I imagine a mostly silent audience, completely involved in and fixed on the act before them, would better fulfill Lorca's poetic rendering of the corrida. Indeed, the audience sometimes seems more akin to the frothing monster than to the smiling hero.
     And finally there is the importance of "killing well", as Hemingway puts it. I don't believe I have ever seen a bull die well in the ring. I suppose it is the most difficult thing for the bullfighter to do. I thought it might happen last time I went, because by all accounts of the aficionados around me, and the entire rapt crowd, Manuel Jesús "El Cid" was working the bull flawlessly. Each pass drew robust shouts of olé from the crowd, and as he proceeded there was an energy in the air. It came close to the end. Someone next to me mumbled that El Cid must not try to kill too soon. Another hoped the bull would 'die well'. And so Manuel drew his sword, held it high in front of him, and thrust it between the horns. The sword didn't go in. The spell was broken and he knew he had come so close to triumph. After another pass he tried again. No good. And after a third, tortuous attempt, the bull fell. He was visibly upset that he had ruined such a good bull, that it had not died well. Even so, the crowd rebounded from the disappointment and urged him to make a pass around the ring so they could throw flowers, hats, jackets his way to honor such a great performance. Reluctantly, he did, but he knew very well that the victory had been marred.
     And so, after reflecting this past week, I am of the opinion that the theory of how a bullfight should be and how in practice it is carried out are two very different things. Certainly Lorca would agree that not all bullfights are as he describes them, but in fact only on rare occasions one might have moments of likeness. This is one reason why the practice of bullfighting is often abhorred and condemned by so many, yet others continue to dream of the smiling hero and uphold the ancient tradition based on the triumphal heights it could reach. At least in Lorca's case he created something beautiful out of such tragic events.

From Lorca's Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejillas, his friend and bullfighter who fell in the ring.

...Díle a la luna que venga,          ...Tell the moon to come out,
que no quiero ver la sangre          I don't want to see the blood
de Ignacio sobre la arena...           of Ignacio on the sand...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Writing For ¡VayaMadrid!

     I recently joined the writing staff of the Madrid-based magazine ¡VayaMadrid! It "was founded in 2012 by Anna Bitanga and covers culture, style, people, cuisine, entertainment, travel, tech and innovation in Madrid. Our mission is to offer local information, expat insights and community content to the English-speaking residents of Madrid." My first article was published last month, and is about Madrid's great concert venue, the Auditorio Nacional. Here is a link to the article: 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rubén Darío: Two Translations

     Last week a friend and I decided to start a Spanish poetry discussion group. Three members and going strong. We had our first meeting this Sunday, at which we cooked delicious chicken tacos and talked about a couple of poems by the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. He was very influential in 20th century Spanish poetry, and as we plan on going through the major figures of last century's Spanish language poetry, he seemed a good poet with which to start. I chose two poems; "Sinfonía en gris mayor" from his 1896 book Prosas profanas y otros poemas, and "De Otoño" from Cantos de vida y esperanza published in 1905. The two poems are strikingly different in style and subject, showing the evolution of Darío's poetics from one decade to the next. I've translated the two poems. You can read them below along with the original Spanish. What do you think?

Sinfonía en Gris Mayor
El mar como un vasto cristal azogado
refleja la lámina de un cielo de zinc;
lejanas bandadas de pájaros manchan
el fondo bruñido de pálido gris.
El sol como un vidrio redondo y opaco
con paso de enfermo camina al cenit;
el viento marino descansa en la sombra
teniendo de almohada su negro clarín.
Las ondas que mueven su vientre de plomo
debajo de muelle parecen gemir.
Sentando en un cable, fumando su pipa,
está un viejo marinero pensando en las playas
de un vago, lejano, brumoso país.
Es viejo ese lobo. Tostaron su cara
los rayos de fuego del sol del Brasil;
los recios tifones del mar de la China
le han visto bebiendo su fracaso de gin.
La espuma impregnada de yodo y salitre
ha tiempo conoce su roja nariz,
sus crespos cabellos, sus bíceps de atleta,
su gorra de lona, su blusa de dril.
En medio del humo que forma el tabaco
ve el viejo el lejano, brumoso país,
adonde una tarde caliente y dorada
tendidas las velas partío el bergantín…
La siesta del trópico. El lobo se duerme.
Ya todo lo envuelve la gama del gris.
Parece que un suave y enorme esfumino
del curvo horizonte borrara el confín.
La siesta del trópico. La vieja cigarra
ensaya su ronca guitarra senil,
y el grillo preludia un solo monótono
en la única cuerda que está en su violín.

Symphony in Gray Major
The sea like a vast quicksilver crystal
reflects the sheet of a zinc sky;
distant flocks of birds tarnish
the burnished pale gray background.
The sun like a round and opaque glass
with an ill pace walks to the zenith;
the marine wind rests in the shade
having for a pillow its black bugle.
The waves that move their belly of lead
below the jetty seem to groan.
Sitting on a cable, smoking his pipe,
is an old sailor thinking about the beaches
of a vague, distant, misty country.
This old man is a wolf. His face toasted
by the rays of fire of the Brazil sun;
the harsh typhoons of the sea of China
have seen him drinking his flask of gin.
The impregnated foam of iodine and saltpeter
has long known his red nose,
his frizzy hairs, his athlete biceps,
his canvas hat, his cotton blouse.
In the middle of the tobacco smoke
the old man sees the distant, misty country,
where one hot and golden afternoon
the brig set off with stretched sails...
The siesta of the tropic. The wolf sleeps.
All is now enveloped by the scale of gray.
It looks as if a soft and enormous stump*
of the horizon curve erases the limit.
The siesta of the tropic. The old cicada
rehearses its senile guitar snore,
and the cricket preludes a monotone solo
on the only string that is on his violin.

*The Spanish word is not confusing, just technical. A stump is an art tool, “a cylinder with conical ends made of rolled paper or other soft material, used for softening or blending marks made with a crayon or pencil.”

De otoño
Yo sé que hay quienes dicen: ¿por qué no canta ahora
con aquella locura armoniosa de antaño?
Ésos no ven la obra profunda de la hora,
la labor del minuto y el prodigio del año.
Yo, pobre árbol, produje, al amor de la brisa,
cuando empecé a crecer, un vago y dulce son.
Pasó ya el tiempo de la juvenil sonrisa:
¡Dejad al huracán mover mi corazón!

Of Autumn
I know there are those who say: Why not sing now
with that harmonious madness of long ago?
Those do not see the profound work of the hour,
the labor of the minute and the prodigy of the year.
I, poor tree, produced, for the love of the breeze,
when I began to grow, a vague and sweet sound.
The time has now passed of the youthful smile:
Leave it to the hurricane to move my heart!