Times are tough. We should be smart enough to realize that the bad economy was long in the making and will be long in the fixing. There are no magic words or silver bullets that will quickly return us to pre-recession, pre-collapse prosperity.
The Republicans spent too much (on tax cuts and 3wars—Iraq, Afghanistan and war on drugs), many banks gambled too much and many people borrowed too much. When it all fell apart, an overextended government had to help overextended banks and overextended borrowers. The money stopped swirling. Jobs that flourished during the boom became scarce. The debt grew and the economy shrank.
Obama underestimated the crisis and underfinanced the stimulus package aimed at fixing it. So things got worse before they slowly began to get better. Structural economic issues, like the deflation in the housing market, and a poorly trained and outdated workforce remain. We are caught in a complex mix of poor choices and inadequate responses. Obama tried to help fix a mess that he didn’t make, but the fixing has come slowly. Is that failure? Romney and the Republicans say yes.
If the Republicans can keep framing it as a failure, they can push for, and maybe even push through, their brutal budgets, which cut programs that help the poor and struggling and benefit the rich—not what’s left of the middle class. While they push their anti- average guy budgets, they also make savage attacks on cultural issues: voting rights, women’s rights, gay rights, immigration, etc.
This is the Republican trick: Run on fiscal conservatism (forgetting that W wasted a multi trillion surplus when he took over after Clinton); bring 19th Century cultural values along for the ride. The Trojan horse platform.
Tapas make a meal here. The heat of the day and siestas over, people return to the streets. Locals fancy a copa of red and a bit of ham or fig wedge with manchego—– maybe topped with a spoonful of quince or fresh chile jam. In Barcelona at La Bodeguilla del Gato, ravenous tourists relax amidst the cool brick walls hung with contemporary paintings, old bullfight posters and concert ads (“El Flaco de Bad Boys”). My fellow travelers, freed from the confines of traditional menus order saucers of pulpo, ravioli sardines with mango, potato with egg yolk and basil jelly.
Barcelona will always be Gaudi/Dali to me. Surrealistic flights of fantasy in Parc Guell or Sagrada Familia. Think food and it’s El Bulli, Ferran Adria’s spot. Never went, but his influence is shot through all of the avant garde spots in this city. Herbal and fruit foams were born here along with micro fusion exotics. Like the architecture, the food is different than elsewhere in Spain, or anywhere in the world that I have been.
Geography helps explain– Costa Brava is a stone’s throw away from the heart of the city. The sea holds an endless supply of swimming protein and rocky cliffs hold the influences of two thousand years of Phoenician, Greek and Roman cooking. Not to mention the contributions from the Arabs —the Moorish occupation brought eggplant, saffron and cumin. And that infectious gypsy guitar, clicking castenets, the stamping feet of proud women—but that is another post about southern Spain.
Catalon food prepared along the northern coast and in tiny eateries in Barcelona is magic. But the Catalon heart is tougher to peg—Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are natives, but so are Genivieve Jamis and Sir Anthony Wedgwood. Melting pot claims Barcelona, as the Mediterannean does with with all her ports, which feel international and distinct from the rest of the country in which they happen to be positioned. But even as international cities go this is a very different place, more Istanbul than Paris.
One late night journal entry from sitting in a cafe in the medieval section of the old walled city of Barcelona: “Designer bars dominate, customers sipping local reds like Cava, Penedes or Priorato, eating salt and citrus combos on a crust of bread drizzled with EVOO, all of which soar to new heights of inventiveness.” Now, stay tuned for Andalucia. . .
Arrived on a hot overcrowded train from Munich. We untangled, dragged the packs from the overhead and heaved them on our backs on our way to the first waterway, asking anyone in an Italian State Railway uniform for directions. “Vaporetti numero dice.” Wrong, it turns out, as so much of the advice given by the impressively confident Italians is. The country is populated with folks who seem happy to suggest something—anything— no matter whether accurate or totally false. We found #82 after an hour on two boats that took us where we did not want to go. Finally on board the correct bobbing water taxi, overloaded and spewing diesel exhaust and grumbling off at a snail’s pace, we passed Santa Maria della Salute, then across open water to Palladio’s San Georgio Maggiore and our B&B, once part of a 15th century monastery.
She stripped, and joined me already naked on the grand bed. Cool crisp sheets and overhead fan. Heavy and ancient blackout floor to ceiling drapes. A musty maroon tapestry covering a peeling fresco. The room smelled old like stale bread and tobacco.
Our son was conceived in Italy, land of lovers, world capital of style, in the most unusual and unique man-made place on the planet. A Renaissance museum impersonating a city. As in all of Venice, great art was within walking distance of our room, despite its run down budget location. This little narrow curving spit of an island contains fabulous Tintorettos, Bellinis and Carpaccios hanging in churches, coffee houses and one tiny miniature in the hall to the toilet of the neighborhood trattoria. All unprotected—like black and white photos taken by a local photog showing his stuff at Starbucks.
Before I die I would like to climb to the top of the 60 meter SGM Campanile again—this time with my boy, whose life started here and who is now a man; whose life is as precious and sacred to us as all of the art in this holy, inspiring city built on water, which remains a monument to western art and midieval engineering.
Anna was in Havana last month. Lost my chance to hook up because I couldn’t catch a ride out of Mexico City. Had a second shot a day later but was too hungover to motivate. She’s still in the Caribbean. I’m in Miami April 1 but there are no direct flights to Cuba from the States. Havana via a Caribbean Island will work, then again if you make it to Jost van Dyke, why leave White Beach to check out a version of South Central? Cuba is raw and not much else on this hemisphere is these days and that is reason enough. But so is Anna.
Met her in ‘o8 with her dude. Kept in contact by email. She called on my Bday last year and invited me to New Zealand. Today she texted me that the guy she was traveling with in ’08 was killed in an accident somewhere in Africa. She told me details but I forgot. My head doesn’t give much of a shit anymore–an old brain is like a battery that won’t hold a charge.
They had broken up long ago and to tell you the truth the dead guy was unremarkable. Met him (American, silver spoon) and Anna in the Spice market in Istanbul. He was nondescript. Coulda been a lawyer, engineer, IT dude. Left brainer and highly competent. Someone you would gladly hire to help with taxes or a hard drive crash, but might regret inviting to dinner or having a chat over a pint.
Anna was another story. Never can gauge the attraction between men and women, especially where the female is alive and sparkly and the dude seems as if he misses Bob Hope. She and I would belt beers for breakfast in the Sultanhamet, listening to the call to prayer on the steps of our B&B across from the Blue Mosque. We ran the old city together, her cracking wise in a trisuit that was not consistent with Islamic modesty, always the bawdy lines at the ready, grabbing my ass as she passed me easily. Of course I was smitten, she was just having a go: ”No worries mate, there’s a good lad!”
Tonight I invited her here. Rude to ask I s’pose— when she called to tell me a guy she had loved just died, but there it is. Before ringing off she said two things I have to think about. “What do you think the point of it is then, Rick, coming to you?” And, “I’ll come, now straightaway. But you can and you must accept suffering.”
Already have Anna. And maybe we can chop away at whatever it is that festers within us by sharing. Being with another is supposed to be half the suffering and twice the fun. No doubt about the latter. We’ll kill that case of Foster’s before and after our morning runs downtown; the bells of old St. Mary’s on Van Buren, tolling.