Monday, June 29, 2009

Grandma doesn't live here anymore

When I was six years old, my maternal grandmother returned to Uruguay after some years spent in Europe and Central America in political exile. We had already met once but she had always been a presence in our home with letters, pictures, presents and phone calls. It wasn't until that moment that I learned what she did for a living, though. She was a French teacher.

She had always loved the french language. Nobody in her family spoke it nor did she have any French ancestors, but she won a complete scholarship and made good use of it. One day she told me that it was with great sacrifice that her parents spared the tramway fare, so she would walk when the weather was fine. There was hardship but like two of her sisters, she got a long way down the path she chose.

She passed all of her exams with honors and she became a teacher at 18 years old. Pictures of the time show a slender young lady, with decided features and a sunny smile. It was really her. I've met men, elder men, who recall her and her two sisters. Those sisters were so intelligent, so interesting, they always say and I'm surprised they don't mention beauty.

She met my grandfather, they got married, they had children. She was the French instructor of many classes in Uruguay, Switzerland, Andorra and Mexico.

When she and my grandfather came back from exile, all her grandchildren were already born and old enough to learn so she tried hard to pass on her love for this beautiful language. I was the only one who was interested, who made some effort. When she passed away fifteen years later I kept all her french books, those of grammar and linguistics she had especially given to me but also any book written in french I happened to find among her stuff.

Obsessively I treasured those books all these years even if I never read them, even if they were yellowing paperback editions. But one day I changed my mind.

Because I realized that grandma doesn't live there anymore.

Too bad, cause I still miss her.


This post was originally written in French, for exam practice. You can read it below.

Grand-mamman n'habite plus ici

Quand j'avais six ans, ma grand-mère est retournée en Uruguay aprés quelques ans dans l'exile. Je la connaissais déjà, et sourtout, elle avait été toujours présente chez nous avec des lettres, des photographes, des cadeaux et des coups de fils. Mais ce n'était qu'à ce moment là que j'ai apprit ce que ma grand-mère faisait, quelle profession elle avait. Elle était professeure de Français.

Elle avait toujours aimé la langue française de toutes ses forces. Personne dans sa famille le parlait et elle n'avait des ancêtres français non plus; mais elle avait gagné une bourse pour l'étudier et elle en profita. Elle me racconta un jour que c'était un grand effort pour ses parents le payer le tram tous les jours donc elle faisait la marche à pied quand il faisait beau. Mais comme deux de ses soeurs, elle allât loin le chemin qu'elle choisit.

Elle réussita à tous les examens et elle devint professeure aux 18 ans. Les photos de cette époque montrent une jeune femme mince comme un fil, les traits décidés, le sourire limpide. C'était bien elle. J'ai rencontré des hommes, des vieux hommes, que se rappellent toujours d'elle et ces deux soeurs. Qu'elles étaient des femmes interessantes, dissent-ils toujours, et je suis étonnée qu'ils ne parlent pas de la beauté.

Elle a rencontré mon grand-pére, ils se mariérent, ils eurent des enfants. Elle fut la professeure de Français de beaucoup de générations d'étudiants, ici en Uruguay, en Suisse, en Espagne, et au Mexique.

Quand elle retourna, tous ses grands-fils étions nés et grandits, et elle essaiya de nous transmettre son amour por cette belle langue étrangére. Je fus la seule à m'en interesser, à faire l'effort. Quand elle mourut, quinze ans aprés, j'ai gardé tous ses livres de Français, ceux qu'elle m'avait confiés mais aussie n'importe quel livre français.

Obsessivement, je les ai conservés pendant ces ans même si je ne les ai lus, mais j'ai changé d'idée. Parce que je me suis rendu compte que grand-maman, elle n'habite plus ici.

Dommage, car elle me manque encore.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Rubber dream

Though my experience with ice hockey has been short and it is exclusively that of one spectator I followed this year's Stanley Cup playoffs with great interest, and even got tangled up in a FaceBook thread with 3 other people attempting to guess the scores and the winner of each series. I was right quite a few times in my predictions and wrong even more often but the thing is, I watched game 7 of the finals in a state of absolute excitement. The last week of the playoffs I understood the exact meaning of "feeling antsy".

But then it was over; on Friday 12th at 10 pm CDT I got my last taste of hockey for the season, and that was it. Happy for my friend in Pittsburgh I went back home and crawled to bed, and that night, I dreamed of hockey.

I dreamed of a scarred ice, glistening like an eye about to drop a tear, and of a puck gliding and bouncing (puck has to be an onomatopoeia), of skates blades swooshing - but that had a faint echo of when I sharpen my knives against each other, and sticks slapping and whacking - and that sounded pretty much like wood. Of bodies being slammed against the boards with a thump, and of the shrilling whistle of the referee's call bringing it all to a stop only to put into motion again with a new blow of the whistle - I have a longtime rancor for whistling sounds so that might have been a little too important. There were gasps and grunts and indistinct hollering, a sound wall of human voices but not one intelligible word. There was dripping dampness - maybe sweat or maybe water from the rink, and the only thing I noticed of the players' faces were their eyes, like a dog's tracking the fly he's going to crush against a window. There wasn't any jersey or color in my dream. There wasn't any beginning nor any end, neither goals nor teams nor game. Just motion and a whirlwind of noises and glimmering parts and pieces.

I think I dreamed a puck's dream.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Strawberry fields, forever

Last April I visited New York City for the first time and paid my respects to the Strawberry Fields and Imagine mosaic in the Central Park, across the street to the Dakota Building where John Lennon used to live and where he was shot to death too.

I wasn't two years old yet when John Lennon died, so I obviously don't have any memory of him from when he was alive. However he has been, and somehow still is, very important in my life.

The Beatles' music and some of Lennon's own songs, are almost like mystical revelations to me. I live in a pagan and materialistic time when being mystically moved is unusual, but some of that music manages to get me in deep.

Deeper than I ever thought something like that could get.

So I gave John Lennon a serious thought. I worked it out in the back of my mind while I was at any of my jobs, or studying, or biking or strolling around, or simply doing nothing.

Wondering why today, and surely for a long time too, John Lennon is there every time someone focuses on Paul McCartney, the Beatles, or pop music in general. Why people like me, or even younger, are so fond of John Lennon and keep listening to his music and buying posters and T-shirts with his face. I tried to understand it, and I come up with this conclusion: that there are 3 aspects or dimensions of John Lennon.

1. The human dimension. He was born in 1940 and died in 1980. Earned his living as a musician, got married twice, had two sons, loved, hated, wished, militated and tried to raise awareness, and died. He personally met a lot of people, but relatively few compared to all those people he somehow influenced.

2. The artist dimension. I have reasons to believe that the most artistically influential era in Lennon's life was during the Beatles' existence. During the seventies he swayed in political pursuits, withdrew from the public life for a time and didn't produce as much as he had done during the previous decade.

3. The third dimension, the legendary dimension. The John Lennon legend. A huge and inexhaustible interest for all things Lennon, for the twists and turns of his mind, for his music, but also for his concerns, motivations and origins. A gigantic whole that's impossible to cover, what's surprising since it only sources from documents -- John Lennon's been dead for almost three decades now. That same whole that explains that the Liverpool Airport is named John Lennon and it's motto is above us only sky, and the market is big enough to merit the release of a Lennon IPod.

Why so much interest? Why such a legend, unmatched by any of the other Beatles'? In his solo career he wasn't a creative powerhouse and the quality of his work was uneven. His pacifist attempts weren't followed by many and today, nobody would do what he did in order to raise awareness against the war and famine... so I tend to assume it's because they were ineffective. His most emblematic song, Imagine, was a hit when it was released in 1973 but then sled off and it was only after Lennon died and the movie with the same title was released, that the song gained immortality.

I believe there's so much interest because of Yoko Ono, his widow.

"The woman who lead the Beatles to their breakup" was said of her for a long time. And it might as well be true. But it's also true that Yoko authorized, and probably sponsored, the release of every song Lennon ever recorded, to the point that it's unlikely there's any version left officially unreleased. I wasn't aware until recently that there's been a "new" John Lennon album every four or five years, and the owner of those master tapes is Yoko. Yoko granted permission and provided a lot of material for the Anthology documentary, Yoko allows someone or other to publish letters or pictures, Yoko provides funding for the Liverpool airport and proposes it's named after John Lennon, Yoko still lives in the Dakota and gives public talks from time to time, it's Yoko who keeps the interest in John Lennon alive.

Mind you it's no small feat. With an occasional but steady releasing of books, films and lesser known or unfinished songs, over the years the prevailing perception during the sixties that Paul was the group's talented musician and George was the most accomplished performer, with John in a role of the group's leader was contested and overcame. His militancy and political concerns, seen at the time as desperate attempts from somebody starving for attention, now are regarded as thoughtful and courageous. His artistic pursuits and ambitions were seen as afterthoughts, but now are understood as the fruits of a prolific and curious mind. I am sure Yoko Ono was behind it all but never pushing, never imposing. Always shaping, one step ahead everyone else.

I have seen some of Yoko Ono's works in museums and I don't understand them, but I don't doubt for a second she is a true artist and her masterwork is John Lennon.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Philly ain't over til it's over

Maybe it's because I don't care a thing about Rocky Balboa and I don't think I've ever been through any of his films. Not because chances have been scarce - there are five (five!) installments, I've never felt like and I still don't. But there are two things I'm familiar with: Rocky's motto it ain't over 'til it's over and the iconic image of Stallone's back and risen arm.

Well, turns out that image is from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, prestigious owner of one of the most complete art collections of this great country. Owner of more Rodin's sculptures than any other museum of this great planet, now host of the exhibit "Cézanne and beyond", and a thousand more things, is popular with the throngs just for being Rocky's films setting.

And the effect of Rocky's films in the everyday life of the museum is anything but light. Can you believe that no matter the time of the day you find yourself at the museum's door (but specially after sunset) there are people running upstairs and raising a fist when arriving at the top? As expected philadelphians hate that tacky attitude from the bottom of their souls, and even more the Rocky statue that used to grace the museum's main door but some Director transferred to a less respectable spot in the gardens.

We went on Sunday night and the museum was closed, so we indulged in running upstairs and rising our right fists, and then going downstairs slowly to catch our breath and took pictures of the Rocky Balboa statue. That, as I noticed, is hollow and from somebody way more handsome than Sylvester Stallone.


You can read a Spanish version of this post here:

Monday, June 1, 2009

The cardinality of time

The body location of time never ceases to amaze me.

The present time, for instance, is located on the left wrist of the person who evokes it.

The past, conversely, is on the right or sometimes on the back. If the past is recent, then the elbow might be folded and close to the chest, while the forefinger might be slightly risen. If the past is not that recent, then the arm and hand might be stretched out, with the palm facing the front. In other words, the past is located like two feet away on the right.

In the cardinality of time, however, the future has no place.