ON AUNT TERE STORIES ABOUT 1980s SPAIN

(Credit for the cover picture: Mashrou’ Leila’s Ibn el Leil album art)

Sometimes life brings me echoes from my parents’ young years. Although I have obviously never witnessed them, I grew familiar with those days through old photo books and my favourite aunt’s stories.

I guess 1980s Spain can easily be romanticised, especially when it’s a plate served by a nostalgic storyteller. Yet, I’d bet that there was a certain kind of authenticity to it that can hardly be found in the country any longer. From what I grasp, life was bolder and naïve, and people more vibrant, in a fashion that reminds me of Macondo’s early villagers –who unfortunately I have never met–.

The more exposure I got to these stories, the more I felt I was longing for a past that I’d never been a part of. So, when I heard about my aunt friends’ spontaneous 300 km journey towards Porto after a night out with the only purpose of having breakfast with a view of the ocean, I couldn’t help but picturing myself on that rusty car.

Despite what it may appear, I’m not fond of having their stories told because I believe they are crazy or wild. What I came to appreciate the most about them is how naturally and unpretentiously the events unfold in them and, especially, that they do so at its very own pace.

Indeed, when my aunt revisits her memories, she doesn’t intend to entertain me. In fact, a thrilling passage of her teen years can be followed by twenty minutes of tedious referencing to old villagers for whom the bell tolled long ago. Each anecdote abides by its own rules, and there is no way it could be tailored following the contemporary restrictions imposed by the reign of time management.

Unlike me, a dedicated millennial journalist in a permanent quest for more efficiently conveyed messages, my aunt doesn’t display a number-of-characters kind of thinking. She doesn’t care about highlighting some sentences or starting with a flashy headline. She wouldn’t bother herself repeating a joke on fears that it didn’t reach its public. While sipping her wine, Tere –that’s how my auntie is called– would barely acknowledge my presence, her target audience being mostly my mother.

Wine and coffee are common features of this world that is no longer young. Sunflower seeds –whose consumption is worryingly decreasing within our youth– are as well, to the extent that they represent conversation for the sake of it.

The values informing the contemporary version of capitalism, deeply intertwined with our core ones during our upbringing, result in competitive, time-managing, entertainment-oriented and individualised versions of ourselves. The car ride to Porto would have probably not happened today: it deviates too much from the norm, it’s too spontaneous, it prevents us from doing something productive the next day…

Even if it happened, it would have taken place in a radically different way. Casual conversations would be replaced by 6-second Snapchat videos trying to convey a West Coast-convertible-drive-fun feeling. The trip itself would be turned into a test: are you fun enough to do that? Are you crazy enough? Do you have what it takes?

My dear aunt Tere and my mum were not raised to follow this logic. I can tell that when they gather and talk casually while smoking cigarette after cigarette as their coffees get cold. I miss that Spain that no longer exists but whose footprints I still come across from time to time. Gone for good in the cities, its reminiscences can be traced in the villages. I miss the Spain I never got to know. I strive for it.

As I opened myself to new realities, I came to the realisation that this authenticity was in no way restricted to the borders of my nation. Denmark seems an unlikely scenario for such realisation. As a rule, people are spoilt by the culture of awkwardness imported from the United States. Feelings make them feel uneasy, and individualisation is so ingrained within the community that Donne’s “no man is an island entire of itself” rings hollow.

Nevertheless, it was in Copenhagen where I first noticed my aunt’s cherished qualities in a 19-year-old Serbian called Predrag. I can’t assure it had nothing to do with the way he smoked or let his coffee get cold, but I would have bet the similarities went far beyond that.

My suspicions were to be confirmed later when I visited him and another friend of mine in Serbia the following month. Belgrade might feel cold as a city, but it never did with him.  One night, after going out for some drinks with his friends, everyone said goodbye and we started wandering the deserted streets. I could feel the original pace of life, exuberant and multifaceted, gradually joining us.

That night we sat in a terrace to drink wine and discuss. We engaged in a bold conversation as we walked back home and I swear those kilometres felt like a single breath. When we finally entered his apartment at around 6 in the morning, his two roommates Isidora and Nevena were casually studying in the sofa, seemingly unbothered about the exam they were about to take three hours later. They were stoically coping with their unfortunate destinies drinking coffee and wine, and –of course– smoking like Turkish men throughout the whole night. They were so much like my mother and my aunt…

Predrag also accompanied me to the airport. That’s something we don’t do anymore. Airports are places where elderly Chinese tourist couples are supposed to find their way, so they shouldn’t pose a problem for an English-speaking young and smart European. He still came, though, and that gesture only made it harder to flight back to cold Denmark. The Serbian spell was over.

Serbia was only an appetizer, though. Morocco proved a full immersion into what I call –in the absence of any better term– “the spirit of 1980s Spain”. Here, the core Western notions of independence, privacy and individuality are contested every single time. This can prove annoying when poorly managed, but it’s also refreshing like abandoning yourself in a sunset dive in the Atlantic.

People greet more, and people greet differently. Danish university libraries were full of people that knew each other but would look away in order not to bother themselves in saying hi, God forbid. Small talking is considered awkward and uncomfortable, and the more you can isolate yourself the better. In Rabat, a person I barely knew and whose look I was avoiding so I could skip a greeting exchange came to my seat to handshake me.

Moroccan greetings encompass more interactions than Danish little talks. You are supposed to say hello, and then almost obliged to ask how is it going, so your interlocutor will greet you, answer your question and send it right back at you. That simply triggers conversation.

The entrance of my host university seems to me more like the main square of my grandma’s village on market day. Many came earlier to revise in the library but never made it through the door. In fact, they will most likely be late to their courses. The danger posed by those smoking and chatting under the sun is not to be underestimated.

When it comes to compensating for the damage caused by the happy procrastination days, we are all in the same boat. Last week, we had our house invaded by a group of students organising a three-day major event at uni. Our house felt like a newsroom on the eve of election day.

Coffee was prepared on an hourly basis, at 4 a.m. the night was still young and my bed was a haven for those who needed a 30-minute nap before continuing their sleep deprivation endeavour. The terrace was regularly nestled by smokers on the verge of a breakdown.

The night is dark and full of terrors, they say. But when a huge noise broke the silence of my apartment and I was too scared to go back to sleep, I could rely on Youssef to come to my rescue. Having noticed my terrorised state, he came by taxi, told me to pack my pyjamas and took me to his place so I wouldn’t spend the night alone.

Anouar is like that as well. He wouldn’t stop spoiling me with presents that are not even meant as those: “You are keeping that piece of underwear, it’s your size”. “You shouldn’t give me those pants back, you only have like two pairs, you need to keep them”. He once called to ask me about my T-shirt size because he had spotted one that would look good on me…

In a way, it’s like seeing my grandmother. “Do you need money? I can pay for your taxi”, “you’re so broke, dinner is on me”, “bitch, come join us, I’m inviting you to a drink”. Fighting over the bill is a recurrent motif, and he was determined to buy a pair of glasses for me when he visited Paris. He finally showed up with a book.

But it gets even crazier. He brings food to the house in the same way my grandma does when she comes to our home back in Spain. She clearly considers us incapable of properly feeding ourselves. He insists that I should get a jacket when I go out because “it’s not summer yet, habibi” (the temperatures rarely decrease below 18 degrees). Whenever I want to go somewhere by foot at night he would get furious and claim Rabat is unsafe. He makes Cidade de Deus look like a children playground.

Morocco displays all the charm Spain had during my parents’ young days. In fact, my dad wouldn’t stop taking photos to absolutely everything and everyone when visiting. Then he would send them to his brother and they daydreamed about those days. It still feels untamed. Even if capitalism is as prevalent here as pretty much everywhere else, it hasn’t got to people’s souls. Personal profit is not yet what leads people’s lives and hospitality is still not an empty word.

Loneliness is not chronically pandemical, and people don’t show a permanent uneasiness. They just don’t easily feel uncomfortable or awkward, nor they treat each other with a fake layer of customer service smiles. They would silently share a 5-seat car with six unknown people and it would be business as usual. The mere notion of grand-taxis would make a Dane lose his sleep.

Despite gender segregation and other types of ridiculous bullshit, Morocco remains a very sensual and tactile country. Kisses and hugs are on sale and, when in a gathering, you can’t get away without kissing at least four times everyone on the table.

Dear mum and dad, how did you manage to endure such transformation? Can we reverse the revolution of awkwardness? Can we appropriate again the notion of hospitality? I wish we could place humans back at the centre of the stage, and free the pace of life from its current reality-show time constraining format.

Life is shy and requires time to unveil its marvels. At night, it’s always best. We should all let our coffees get cold as the hours pass and unpretentiously drink wine with our loved ones. We should embark in an improvised journey to Porto to watch the ocean and strive for the long gone golden days to be back.

I guess it can all be resumed saying that we should connect with the human being that inhabits all of us. Because it’s there, and we are longing for it.

SAN JUNÍPERO

(All pictures belong to @textsfromyourexistentialist)

Yesterday he went to bed with a dissatisfaction long ago self-diagnosed as chronic, upon hearing the term during a cathartic encounter with Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona that left his eyes dry for hours.

He laid on the window side of his king-size bed and read some pages from a novel that seemed amusing. But at some point, he realized that he couldn’t be bothered to learn about the upbringing of a poor guy in the streets of a neglected city. Not today at least. So, he switched off the lights and faked sleeping.

However, his eyes were moving behind his lids, rejecting the idea of a day finishing in such an unfulfilling way. “Why do I always sleep on the window side of the bed? Why have I pick a side?”. He went on to ask himself why there were even sides on his bed, when he had no one to share it with. And then he felt it coming again, a recurring motif throughout his life: the grip of society sneaking into his consciousness like the ocean into the river in high tide.

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His will was flooded with alien narratives, that informed his ambitions and secret hopes in ways unknown to him. They were planted down deep in his mind, and, he was only to discover them when they blossomed after the caress of blue Sunday nights such as tonight.

What was he to do? He used to patrol the confines of his consciousness with a zeal that would make the European border police jealous. And yet, the feeling of being incomplete by himself would plunder past his walls, storming everything to the last standing vestige of lucidity.

When those episodes occurred –and they were all but infrequent–, he would imagine his last one-night stand and him marrying and moving to a newly bought house where a café au lait golden retriever would await them every night. Or, should no one-night stand be available, he would monitor Instagram in quest for potential partners to depict an artificial perfect life with, forgetting about the deluding logic that social media was based upon.

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That was the story of how chronic dissatisfaction met chronic delusion. He engaged in tempestuous relationships with a fake persona built on unreal aspirations. He projected all his hopes into the new partner, burdening him with expectations and obscuring his actual self. But of course, the castle in the air was meant to collapse. The fight was never an equal one, between the partners, but rather a clash of illusion and reality. It was a war in his mind until he finally woke up from his daydream, when it couldn’t stand any longer. It wasn’t Mr. Perfect and a golden retriever on the other side of the bed, but an actual human. And the human, was at this point very tired of knocking at the door and finding that due to civil war no one would show up to open. The human tended to leave.

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And so, life continued in the same way the fight between him and his misleading brain did. Alone or accompanied, he would always feel lonely on the window side of his bed. Unless loneliness was countered with fantasy and fake golden retrievers, but that San Junípero kind of life was not what he was looking for, was it?

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His bed was getting warmer now, after some minutes of reflection. He still felt lonely, but the blindfold had been removed. And that felt better, even if loneliness wasn’t less painful. He took a revolutionary decision then. He issued a decree abolishing the existence of sides on his bed. He wished himself good night, and started to roll under the sheets until he felt off bed laughing like a madman. That night, he had a great sleep.

SALOMÉ Y EL MITO DE LA CAVERNA

Los ojos de Salomé no paraban de llorar. Las cascadas de lágrimas fluían por sus clavículas y sus pechos para acabar precipitándose en las olas, donde la espuma se confundía con sus canas. Nadie diría que solo había visto 15 inviernos porque parecía que todos los que había visto el mundo arreciaban al tiempo en su corazón.

No sabemos que le ha pasado –ni siquiera el narrador sabe aun de su pena–, pero debe de ser de un terror insondable. Allí, en medio de su Ítaca particular, la avistamos cual faro de tinieblas, atrae hasta los bajíos a todas las carabelas del océano.

Avezados piratas y grumetes naufragan por igual en su corazón. Y cada ahogado que da con sus huesos en el lecho marino le provoca una avalancha de dolor. Si solo pudiese huir, nadar hasta tierra firme y que los marinos se encontraran simplemente una casa cerrada en lugar de un abismo… ; pero no, alguna suerte de estrella de brillo letal alberga lo moribundo, lo extraño, lo enfermo… que nos susurra cantos de sirena.

¿Un instrumento roto? Toquémoslo. ¿Una calle peligrosa? Paseemos. ¿Un alma herida? Vamos allá. La promesa de un reto atrapa y el magnetismo oscuro parece que todo lo puede.

En los ojos de Salomé no hay un destello de maldad, pero todos los cadáveres podridos del fondo del océano claman contra su mirada y la culpan de su desgracia. Dicen que prometía el oro y el moro, que era halagüeña como una ensenada del Algarve una tarde de verano, que parecía que era el Atlántico jugando a ser Mediterráneo al servicio del asueto de los turistas ingleses.

Como no se le puede pedir al lobo que sea cordero, tampoco al océano que juegue a ser mar interior. Y la mirada que parecía ojo de buey con vistas a la playa no era sino espejo opaco que reflejaba las esperanzas de los marineros. Al otro lado del espejismo solo estaba la pequeña Salomé. 15 años tenía, y llevaba todos ellos esperando en la bajo la lluvia, en medio del océano. Penélope, le decían algunos. Decían también que su Ulises se había ahogado y ella aguardaba en vano, ya canosa, su venida.

Las peores lenguas murmuraban que se regocijaba con cada náufrago ahogado en el camino a su corazón. Juraban los pescadores mientras regateaban para colocar su captura en la lonja que les dedicaba miradas fugaces, fogosas, a todos los que se acercaban. Y que, por un momento, el diluvio parecía incendio. Decían que toda la lluvia se convertía en vapor, y el mar latía tropical por un segundo. Que parpadeaba de nuevo y el hechizo se desvanecía, pero que era suficiente para volver loco al más taimado.

Mentían. Salomé no veía las barcas, los remos, los gritos de auxilio, los jadeos, las brazadas desesperadas, los hundimientos ni los jadeos. Solo se percataba de que lo peor estaba al llegar para un hombre de mar cuando el océano rugía e inundaba los pulmones vírgenes de una nueva víctima. Hasta entonces un velo de niebla le envolvía y le impedía avistar nada. En aquellos momentos ella lloraba amargamente, acrecentando la rabia del océano y su poder destructor.

Salomé miraba lejos, más allá, al horizonte. Sin catalejo – y diríamos más bien que con caleidoscopio– escrutaba la línea a la que la curvatura del planeta había limitado su visión. Buscaba a Ulises. Esperaba un faro, una cría de tortuga, una rama de olivo que indicara que la tierra estaba cerca. Esperaba un casco lustroso, un mensaje en una botella, aves que anidaran en la costa, aguas que portaran limo de algún río, gentes que hicieran pesca de bajura. Esperaba el barco de Ulises, gallardo. Esperaba recibir cualquier señal. Menos las que recibía.

A Salomé jamás se le ocurrió pensar que sus ojos eran el espejo en que todos se ahogaban sin haberse zambullido. Nunca supo que todos intentaban llegar a su corazón y se quedaban en el umbral de sus expectativas, justo en el momento de dejar de hacer pie. Pero tampoco supo que sus ojos eran un espejo doble. Y que, mientras el tifón fuera lo único que albergara en su interior, el reflejo no podría ser otra cosa que eso: vientos y lluvias, huracanes y tempestades. Salomé nunca supo que su corazón no miraba a través de sus ojos, sino que se veía a sí mismo reflejado en ellos. Salomé creía escrutar el horizonte, pero en realidad nunca cambió las bodegas, de paredes pintadas con motivos marinos, por la cubierta.

Fue así como Salomé se ahogó también. Oscurecida su alma por la tormenta que reflejaba la cara interior de sus ojos, un mal día se dejó engullir por ella. Si hubiera roto el cristal, habría sabido que Ulises estuvo en todo momento navegando con ella en la ola vecina. Hasta que se ahogó, tras estrellarse contra el reflejo exterior de su mirada de cristal.

A su muerte ambos tenían 15 años y el cabello canoso de almas viejas del tercer milenio. Este narrador ruega una introspección por su alma.

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HOW TO PINKWASH AN OCCUPATION? TIPS FROM THE WORLD’S CHAMPION

Disclaimer: this post has been rendered possible thanks to the student trip and advocacy of the organisation Horizons: Global Youth for Justice and Equality

“Rising from the golden shores of the Mediterranean, stands one of the most intriguing and exciting new gay capitals of the world: Tel Aviv. This dashing piece of gay heaven holds within the perfect combination for a perfect vacation for men and women: gorgeous guys dancing at the hottest clubs, stunningly beautiful women enjoying our pure shores, modern & contemporary art galleries, cutting-edge fashion, local & international cuisine, history-filled streets hosting the latest urban chic and amazing sunsets, only welcoming a night to remember, in the city that never sleeps. With its perfect weather, Tel Aviv invites you to have fun, be free and feel fabulous!”

Extracted from Gay Tel Aviv

No further than 15 kilometres from this “gay heaven”, at the other side of a wall often tripling in height that of Berlin, Palestine struggles to resist yet another day. You won’t spot gorgeous guys dancing, because being a homosexual here –although it’s not illegal since the fifties– is still far from acceptable to say the least.

This intolerance stems from the strength of the patriarchate in the Palestinian society.  This system equally oppresses LGBTs and women to an overwhelming extent. However, it’s the occupying power’s legal responsibility (under the IV Geneva Convention), to keep sexual minorities as well as the broader society safe from potentially harmful situations. Yet Israel doesn’t lift a finger to tackle the rampant discrimination, in fact, it further diminishes LGBT’s chances to fit in by blackmailing gay Palestinians into becoming informants, Israeli Intelligence Corps ex workers confessed.

Then why aren’t we witnessing an exodus of Palestinian LGBTs to the golden shores of Tel Aviv? Firstly, because despite being a part of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees (1951), Israel rejects to consider the applications of Palestinian asylum seekers, whatever their reasons to apply might be. Israel conflates asylum seeker applications with those made by people trying to get their right to return recognised, even if their petitions are based on completely different grounds: while the former are scaping dangerous circumstances and hope to find haven in a foreign state, the latter are trying to get their legally owned property back. Systematically refusing to process asylum application based on the nationality of the applicant is explicitly prohibited by the Charter, and thus illegal under international law. Introducing an element of discrimination in the application procedure is only rendered possible thanks to collaboration between the Israeli National Status Granting Board and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In short: the UN is helping Israel break the law.

Despite these obstacles, some Palestinians still manage to flee Palestine, making it to the “golden shores” of Tel Aviv. Most of them will never taste the marvels of this so called gay heaven, though. Gay Palestinian males often find themselves dragged into prostitution, drugs and poverty. Unfortunately, the conflict permeates into almost every single aspect of Palestinian’s lives… even sex. Those who work as prostitutes often found themselves asked to perform Israeli-Palestinian power relationships between the sheets for money.

The blatant discrimination of Palestinian LGBT population has not stopped Israel from branding itself as a glittery gay destination. This message is only delivered to the affluent societies of North America and Western Europe, where Israel’s legitimacy, support and UN veto votes stem from. The celebration of sexual diversity is always attached to an emphasis on the lack of rights for LGBTs in the Arab world. This severely undermines the viability of the Palestinian organisations taking a stance for tolerance (they do exist), and trying to engage in an intersectional struggle that addresses sexism, homophobia, and the conflict altogether. Parallelly it ignores the existence of LGBT population in the Arab world. Following this public relations strategy, Israel fuels intolerance in the Palestinian society: as the LGBT collective is associated with the Israeli oppressor, the LGBT community gets the same hostility the occupying power gets.

HOW DOES PINKWASHING WORK?

Sarah Schulman defined pinkwashing as “a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuous violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life”. At the same time, large sections of the Jewish state remain fiercely homophobic.

The branding campaign pursued by Israel is all but spontaneous. It was launched following three years of consultation by two of the most relevant advertisement firms in the world. The results showed Israel lacked a positive image within the younger population of the western world, especially those espousing liberal political affiliations.

It was not easy to prompt a change in attitudes across people that held negatives views on Israel. Progressive individuals are generally aware of the abuse of human rights and international law towards the Palestinians. It turned out that championing gay rights was perhaps the best possible choice. Most homosexuals, even in the West, have a past of enduring homophobia, and the traces of this discrimination can often be tracked to the present. When a gay individual visits Tel Aviv and gets exposure to the narrative of its “uniqueness” within the Middle East gay scene, it usually occurs to him to forge a connection with the Israeli state. Many LGBTs become supportive of the Zionist cause after visiting Israel, because they feel Israel stands for the same things they stand for.

Only that it turns out that Israel doesn’t. Israeli homosexuals cannot marry in the country (Israel registers couples married abroad but doesn’t recognize them), and it’s difficult to adopt. Blood banks don’t accept donations coming from gay people. Furthermore, there is a history of violence towards gays in Tel Aviv, and in LGBT parades in Jerusalem in 2005 and 2015. This year, the pride parade in Be’er Sheva was eventually cancelled over security concerns. In fact, a survey conducted by the leading Pew Research Center in 2013 found out that only 40% of Israelis viewed homosexuality as “tolerable”.

The government of Israel will continue to export a misrepresentation of the situation of Israeli LGBTs across the world, focusing on Tel Aviv and ignoring major issues that have long needed to be tackled. With the growing atomisation of the gay community in the West –homonationalism is on the rise in countries such as the States or the Netherlands)–, it is quite likely that Israel succeeds. This will only undermine the case for Palestinian rights and recognition in the international arena opinion.

Nevertheless, Palestinian gays are Palestinians too, and the bombs dropped in Gaza don’t have a gaydar preventing them from killing the oppressed queers. As the Palestinian activist Fahad Ali put it: “I am an Arab, I am a Palestinian, I am gay. My gay haven is not a glittered parade in Tel Aviv. It is a liberated Palestine”.