Archive for April, 2011

Barcelona & Madrid: What to Read? Watch?

Most of my travels in the last few years have been to places undiscovered. I keep coming back to London, and will again this year, but Istanbul, India, even France, Switzerland, Ireland — all new to me in the last year or so.

But this year I’m going back to the place where the wanderlust began. I studied abroad in Spain the summer of 2000 and am meeting up with an American friend for six days there before visiting friends in Lausanne, Amsterdam and London. I have been thinking of, dreaming about, expressing my love for Spain for the last 11 years. To go back… a gift. I feel something in my bones about the trip. I want to start soaking it all up—now.

My traveling companion and I have talked about putting together a “reading” list, to which I’m adding time-efficient film, to be steeped in culture before we go. My preference is for great art that illuminates Spain, its people, its places, its history and its culture. I’m particularly keen to read a great engrossing personal-drama-focused historical novel about the Franco era, a la La Fiesta del Chivo, which I pored over while in the Dominican Republic five years ago.

Here’s my list so far. Add your suggestions in the comments, please. I’ll update accordingly.

Spanish History: Film

  • The Spirit of the Beehive: made while Franco was still in power in the 70s, set in the post-Civil War days. Watched part of it last week. Fell asleep. This is not a comment on the film, but on last week.
  • Salvador: A 2006 film I stumbled on at some hotel site that tells the story of an anarchist executed during the last days of Franco’s reign. Anyone seen it?
Barcelona: Film
  • L’Auberge Espagnole: saw this years ago and want to soak it all up again. I want to spend as much time at cafe as they did.
Madrid: Film
  • I got nothin’. Other than Almódovar films, of which I’ve seen many, is there anything iconic? Browsing the Wiki page for Films Set in Madrid, I’m interested in Esa Pareja Feliz, a 50s film, mostly for its in-the-moment look at what Spain was like under Franco.
Spanish History: Books
  • I found this list of the 40 best novels in Spanish, collected on someone’s blog. I’ve been interested in La sombra del Viento … uh, though I will probably read it in English. Probably. I read Allende in Spanish once upon a time.
  • Also very interested in Nada, a novel called once of the best written during the Franco regime about a young female protagonist.
  • And, this list wouldn’t be complete with a little lament that I studied Spanish literature in college, and I’m still struggling to compile this list. I got a great overview of the 16th-19th centuries, I suppose…

My Heart Cries Out for Art

Late at night my heart cries out for art.

During the day? I’m not sure. Too busy with making a living, too afraid of what people might think, too concerned with meeting expectations, I float through the days. Some happy, some exasperating, but honest. Productive. Legitimate. This is how I spend my days. But at night… My heart cries out for art.

Tears well up in my eyes as I pass a windmill and ragged pieces of metal wrapped around a chalk board on the streets of the Lower East Side, declaring, challenging, boasting facetiously, “This is not art.” A smile plays across my lips and my heart physically warms as the clock nears midnight and I walk past a wall of six video screens displaying an Andy Warhol film on a quiet stretch of the Bowery. My eyebrows arch but I am inspired as I encounter mannequins with teddy bear heads and cafes that beckon on the streets of downtown.

Late at night my heart cries out for art.

It’s as if the inspiration wells up all day. Though I am distracted, my creative mind records the stimuli I encounter hour by hour. At night, when my rational money-earning people-pleasing self finally gives herself permission to rest, my heart can be heard, at last, crying out for art. I need to consume it, desire to create it, weep at the deficit of it, and vow to make room for more.

My heart is made for art. Not merely at night, but from dawn until dusk. Though it cries out for it at night, I will choose to nourish it more each day. My soul was made to create by the creator of all. I will honor him by creating, by writing, by committing.

Because my heart is not the only one that cries out.. So many hearts cry: for art, for beauty, for hope. What answers their plea? What have I to say to those hearts, those insomniac hearts, crying out for art?


Thanks to my aunt, who reminded me to tell this wonderful story from December 2010.

As I took my aisle seat on the tiny plane from Minneapolis to Sioux City last year at Christmas, I was greeted by a great big smile and a hopeful set of eyes from the older woman seated next to the window. That woman was Shirley.

I endeared myself early on by helping her out of her jacket and stashing it in the overhead compartment for her. We had plenty of time to get to know each other, as our flight sat on the runway for twice as much time as it spent in the air.

Shirley is a 78-year-old woman from Yankton, South Dakota, though, as I told her, I honestly would have guessed her in her late 60s. She has that spark that my grandmother had; that glint in her eye that betrayed the reality that life had not always been so easy and comfortable, but the fire that assured her if she could overcome that, she could face anything.

She, as they say, had me at “hello.” But I truly fell in love with her spirit at her description of her sister-in-law, who had been born and raised in the north of England before moving to the U.S. “She was real stylish, real stylish. Oh, kiddo… she knew how to dress, she did. And she knew how to use makeup!” Shirley always wished she had gone to visit her, but young children at home in South Dakota had made the trip seem impossible. She has since passed away, Shirley told me with no small pang of regret.

When we found out our tarmac-bound plane was to be even further delayed, we both called our loved ones to let them know to delay their trips to the airport. After Shirley hung up with her son, she started relaying to me every word he had said—while I remained on the phone with my parents and tried to make sense of the little bit of conversation I could hear through the cacophony of voices. She told me about the son who was picking her up, about her daughter, and about another son, the one she had lost. He had a heart condition, the seriousness of which he kept from them as long as he could—until the day his father found him dead in his bed. “That was real hard on Charlie,” she told me. “It was real hard on him…”

Charlie was Shirley’s husband. “Oh, he was an absolutely wonderful man. Just a wonderful man,” she declared, a smile on her face that was full of equal parts gratitude, pride, and sadness. Because he, too, is gone. He died last year, two days after Christmas, while shoveling snow near their farm. They were married 53 years. She told me that he loved to brag to their friends that they never fought once in all their decades of marriage. “But then I’d say, ‘Tell ‘em why, Charlie.’ And he just told ‘em, ‘Anytime Shirley starts to get a little off kilter, I just smile and walk outta the room. No one for her to fight with then!’”

My paternal grandmother grew up on a homestead in South Dakota. Her childhood, and for the most part, her life, was defined by austerity. She was a child of the depression, no doubt. But she could laugh. And she could love. Both my grandmothers shared those two wonderful qualities. Shirley was cut from the same fine Midwestern cloth—her hardships had only made her stronger. I was moved to tears as she spoke about loss after loss, and told her so. She simply smiled and said, though it had been tough, she was “real blessed.” Real blessed.

She was also real talkative. I got precious few words in during our hours together, as I learned about her job at a print shop in South Dakota; how lovely the dress she wore to her granddaughter’s wedding had been (“You shoulda seen me, kiddo. With earrings, and everything. Oh, it was a real pretty dress, honey. I was a sight.”); how she was a 20-year veteran of her hometown’s sensible eating support group, and how now, in her 70s, she mentored newcomers of all ages (“I teach them how to cook some nice vegetables. I’m a great cook.”)

As we got off the plane and my parents rushed up to meet me, I watched out of the corner of my eye to ensure Shirley found her son. I was attached to her now. If her son hadn’t shown up, I would have made my parents give her a ride to Yankton or take her to lunch. Three hours together in a prop plane, and she had become my newly adopted grandmother, adorable in her collared sweatshirt and admiration for well-dressed British women.

At baggage claim, I introduced her to my family, gave her a hug, and wished well to Snickers, her “sweet little dog,” whom she said had kept her company since Charlie’s death. And then we were off, both going our separate ways.

But I’m still thinking of her, all these months later. Spring will be coming soon to South Dakota. She’ll have fresh grass in her yard and leaves on the trees in her backyard that overlooks the river. I hope she’s traveling again soon; maybe that trip to the UK that she had always regretted not taking. I hope Snickers is well.

But more than anything, I pray the people in her world realize how blessed they are to have a mighty woman like Shirley in their midst.

Writing Playlist

I found this in my iTunes yesterday. I don’t know what I was writing when I put it together, but based on the song selection, it must have been heartbreaking, beautiful, intensely melancholic and oh-so-very wistful; set in the British Isles and featuring a sensitive but troubled/broken male protagonist.

What do you listen to when you write? Comments please.

  • Cosmic Love (Florence + The Machine)
  • Gabriel & the Vagabond (Foy Vance)
  • Indiscriminate Act of Kindness (Foy Vance)
  • Blue Eyes (Cary Brothers)
  • Every Time I Say Goodbye (Christoper Williams)
  • Emer’s Dream (Colm Mac Con Iomaire)
  • Mr. Jones (Counting Crows)
  • The Blower’s Daughter  (Damien Rice)
  • 9 Crimes (Damien Rice)
  • O Mio Babbino Caro Redux (East Village Opera Company)
  • Falling Awake (Gary Jules)
  • And The Healing Has Begun (Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová)
  • You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere  (Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova)
  • Little Pieces (Gomez)
  • When You Find Me  (Joshua Radin)
  • Gone Away (Lucy Schwartz)
  • Poison & Wine  (The Civil Wars)


Where I’ve Been

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