Wednesday, April 09, 2014


I was thinking this morning about never learning Spanish properly, and how that is an immense shame. I simply never felt drawn to it in the way I did to French, German, Russian, and the Celtic and Classical languages. Not that it isn't beautiful, and I have felt enormous pleasure in Spain; I also acknowledge the great disadvantage in not speaking the language.

Twenty-four years ago at this time in April, I was in Málaga, staying with family friends. They took me to explore the coast: to visit Granada and the impressive lacy palace of the Alhambra; to Gibraltar, that mighty British outpost at the edge of the Mediterranean with red post boxes and Marks & Spencer. I ate paella and drank lots of wine. I read, I swam in their pool. I remember staying up late and watching The Terminator on their VCR. I was on Easter break from Cambridge, having first spent a week with my cousin in Paris.

I was enchanted by Spain, although I didn't know much about it. I hadn't focused on it in history, except in the broadest of strokes; Ferdinand and Isabella; the Spanish Armada being defeated by Elizabeth's navy in 1588; the Holy Roman Emperor and Charles V; the Hapsburgs. When I was 20, I don't even think I could have identified a Velazquez. Maybe an El Greco, maybe. I do remember watching the state funeral of Picasso on television as a very tiny child.

The following year I was introduced to Federico García Lorca when I was back at Bryn Mawr. The senior Drama majors put on a remarkable conceptual play that somehow involved both Lorca and Andy Warhol. I was immediately fascinated by Lorca and read his poetry in English. Through him, I discovered the Surrealists: how can you understand Lorca without going deeper to see Dali and Buñuel?

April is also my birthday month, and it is a difficult time for me. I always feel acutely lonely, no matter how beautiful a physical place I may be inhabiting. Surroundings don't help; my companions usually don't, either. I feel as though I am living in a separate place, looking in from far away.

That said, this particular poem of Lorca's has been rattling around my head today:

It Is True

Oh, what an effort it is
to love you as I do!

For love of you, the air,
my heart
and my hat hurt me.

Who will buy of me
this ribbon I have
and this grief of white
linen to make handkerchiefs?

Oh, what an effort it is 
to love you as I do!

trans. Harriet de Onis

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