A Tragedy for Everyone

Several people have written to ask about my impressions of last weekend’s events in Cataluña. Here they are, a week later, stated as briefly as I can.
When red and yellow flags began to appear in the neighborhood last Friday, I at first paid little attention to them. By Saturday afternoon, there were so many hanging from balconies, windows and rooftops that it was impossible not to notice them. Thinking that there was a national holiday coming up, I wasn’t able to grasp their significance until I asked a local shopkeeper. “It’s not about a holiday,” he said. “Tomorrow on Sunday, the Catalans will be voting in a referendum to decide whether to become independent from the rest of the country, or not. The flags you see represent the solidarity of those of us who oppose Catalan secession and support a unified Spain.”
Early Sunday afternoon I left Paco’s flat and was walking on Avenida Jacinto Benavente overlooking the old riverbed on my way to catch a Metro to Mislata, when I noticed many fellow pedestrians looking behind me in the direction I was coming from. I heard a growling sound, like thunder. It wasn’t a storm, but a procession of hundreds of motorcycles, each rider or passenger waving a Spanish flag. Valencian police on their white motorcycles with flashing blue lights escorted the immense parade as it roared across the Aragón bridge to the other side of the river and the echo of its passing rumble gradually dissolved into the usual Sunday racket of cars, buses and taxis.
An hour later in Mislata, while enjoying a paella with the family and friends of my friend, Isabel Navarro, I told them what  I had witnessed. This prompted Isabel to leave the table. She returned a few minutes later with a grave expression. “There are riots in the streets of Barcelona. It’s on the television. Hundreds of injuries. Police too.” For awhile, none of us said a word.
It wasn’t until I read the papers on Monday morning that the weight of the damage began to sink in. Yes, hundreds of people hurt in the streets. Police too. But the most serious injuries are deeper and more threatening. In the view of the central government in Madrid, the vote violated the basic terms of the constitution of 1978; it was illegal. From my point of view as an estranjero, I have to agree. But police preventing voters from casting ballots,confiscating ballot boxes and beating citizens bloody with truncheons is not going to snuff out the desire of many Catalans for self-determination. If anything, it will probably make the desire even more ardent. And make the opposition even more inflexible.
I’m looking all this with the sadness of an outsider who loves Spain, handcuffed, watching a disaster unfold, as if in a dream, with no power to stop it. I feel that a great deal of the blame– and shame– lies with the Rajoy government and the Partido Popular. Politicians are supposed to negotiate settlements before things plunge out of control, but then, I’m only a mute bystander watching a parade of motorcycles. Or better said, I’m helplessly watching a tragedy unfold like a bitter flower, wilted even as it blooms.

The Hang of Things

After two weeks here in Valencia, I seem to be gradually getting the hang of things: thinking and speaking in Spanish– as difficult as always– also drawing more complex subjects.

I’ve attached another drawing of one of the many bridges in Valencia, this one with statues of the Virgin and a saint, whose name I have forgotten. I hope the software allows you to see the whole drawing, rather than just a fragment, which was the case with the image of a different bridge that I posted last week. (Getting the hang of posting images seems more difficult than speaking Spanish or drawing complex subjects.)

Why bridges? Or, better said, why these particular bridges? Well, I’m trying to draw things that exist here in Spain, but not in California. So far as I know, the bridges here, spanning a dry riverbed, are unique to this place, with or without saints. I’ll share all of the sketches soon on the webpage. In the meantime, thanks for reading this.

Changes

It has been three years since I have been here in Valencia, a city I have lived in and loved for nearly 30 years. A few days ago my friend Paco and I (he’s a native of the city)  walked through the streets of the old city remembering what it was like before so many of the small shops got converted into bars and restaurants for tourists. This change has happened only during the past couple of years. Paco’s former bank is now a Taco Bell (!!!) and the shop where one was able to buy newspapers from all over the world, and where I used to buy the international edition of the NY Times every morning, closed its doors a few months ago. On the plus side, Paco says at least Taco Bell will not swindle as much money from its clients as the bank did from theirs, but still, Starbucks and KFC in Valencia only makes me sad. Yes, change is inevitable, and Paco and I may sound like a couple of grumpy old guys, but I feel like a dinosaur, walking through the streets of Now and, at the same time, in the streets of my memories of years ago.

Here’s a sketch in ink and watercolor of one of the many bridges that cross the old riverbed of the river Turia, which the Valencianos rerouted 50 or so years ago after a disastrous flood and which has since been turned into an enormous park with bicycle paths, playgrounds, soccer fields, lots of shade for picnics, fountains for dogs to splash in, feral cats, paths for runners and benches for young lovers to entwine each like pairs of octopuses.

More sketches will follow in the days to come. Meanwhile, a hug to anyone who reads all this.

Today Before

This first blogpost on the new website is not from Spain, but from Grass Valley. On Saturday I’ll arrive in Valencia and, after a day or two of sleep and recovery from the trip, I’ll post drawings and sketches, as well as commentaries on living on the other side of the world.

Valencia_Post_Office

This sketch, from an earlier visit to Spain, shows Valencia’s main Post Office. During the next two months, some of you will receive post cards mailed from this actual building.