This is my first entry in months. After coming back to Spain, inspiration seemed to have run out. My life seemed to have settled into a new routine: teaching, studying, going to the mountains from time to time, spending and enjoying time on my own in the apartment where Lorenzo, Carla and I started our life together. It seemed that rather than “Remembering in London”, this blog should have been called Finding the lost inspiration in London. However, something happened yesterday that lit the old flame.
After having spent the day among papers, I decided to pay a visit to the old Albeniz cinema, one of the jewels that make it worth living in Malaga, the only place where you can enjoy truly independent cinema in the original version. It puts a smile on my face to see that there’s always a queue at the box office, although I must say that most of the aficionados are over forty. I bet many of them used to go to this very same cinema to see The Sound of Music every year, as I used to do with my aunties when I was a kid.
You don’t have to think much to choose a film at the Albeniz. Everything is good. I decided to see 20,000 Days On Earth, the documentary about Nick Cave, just because it fitted into my timetable. What I found was a feast to the senses: the sound of Nick’s deep voice as he recited the thoughts he had jotted down in his notebooks throughout the years, the involving nature of his music, composed together with Warren Ellis, the gloomy and evocative light of Brighton in the autumn… But most of all, what really put my brain into motion was to experience the enjoyable pleasure of looking back at your old self halfway through your life, discovering that you are pretty much the same, but not quite.
When I returned to Malaga in May, my mum, inspired by my reminiscence experience, decided to dive into the old boxes of memories we have at home and fished a collection of old photographs and a piece of paper she had kept for thirty years: a self-reflection exercise I had done during my last year of high school, when I was 17. It contained the drawing of a puppet, which I had duly decorated in a self-deprecating manner with thick glasses, a striped t-shirt and funny shoes, as a way of resting importance to the questions and answers that were linked by arrows to the different parts of its body – so typical of me, I thought, when I saw it.
There were questions of the type “On which shoulders do you lean on?” or “How do you face the future?” and before starting to read I thought I would laugh at how ridiculous my outlook on life would seem to me today, thirty years later. I couldn’t be more wrong. It was truly amazing to see that my view hadn’t changed an iota: I have lost and gained lots of friends on the way, but the people I lean on are exactly the same; I still see the future as a blank page and I try to enjoy the present; what I fear the most is not being able to recognize the people I love one day. It was me, just me, on that piece of paper.
When I arrived home, I found a text from Lorenzo: watch this wonderful documentary on the Spanish Television website. I followed the link he sent me and I found that the content of this other jewel was absolutely relevant.
Thirty years ago, in the same year I was drawing the puppet, the writer Montserrat Roig interviewed a series of young people for a documentary called Búscate la vida (an expression that means something like “Try to make a living”). Some of them were anonymous: a young matador who was keen on continuing his career on the bullring despite having lost an eye; a farmer from Marinaleda, a small village in Andalucia where the workers’ revolution was made in the 1980s; the youngest mayor in Spain, a girl of just 18; or a boy who decided to become a conscience objector (doing the military service was compulsive until 1996) and who worked delivering letters in a bank and tried to make a career as a pop singer. The other two names were familiar: Clara Moran, the daughter of the Socialist Foreign Secretary in the 1980s, and the choreographer Blanca Li.
In the programme you could see these young people nowadays, looking at the old recordings and reflecting on what they were and what they are. Most of them shared my feelings when they confronted their younger selves: deep down they had not changed; their outlook on life was more or less the same. You could see that some of them had received their blows in life (divorce, illness, death, unemployment…) Nothing was openly said about this, but you could infer it from their conversation or just from their look.
You could see that despite the economic crisis, life in Spain has incredibly improved since the 1980s: in one of the interviews, the girl from Marinaleda said that freedom was to be able to eat whenever you need to and to be able to express your thoughts openly. She assumed that she could not have the nice things she could see on TV but claimed that knowing that there were people with so little and people with so much made her angry. Nowadays she has a mobile phone and a car because she needs them… or perhaps because she has become like anyone else. She still lives with the boy she married one year before she was interviewed by Roig.
The mayor still lives in her little village. She managed to open a school so that the children did not have to leave their homes to study 70 km away, although they had to close it a couple of years ago because there are almost no children left. She still works at the Town Hall, now as a councillor. Thirty years ago the men in the village used to tell her to go home and do the housework instead of meddling with businesses that did not correspond to women. How has life changed since then!
The only one who has change a great deal is Clara Morán; life is obviously not what she expected. She would not recognize herself in the self-assured little woman on the screen. But she has discovered the value of naïvety and now she is not afraid of showing herself as she really is.
As for Blanca Li, she’s the most successful one. She was also the most focused, the one who was not afraid of failing because failing once does not mean that you will fail forever (what a lesson to be received from an 17 year old). Now she’s a renowned choreographer, living the life she always wanted, professionally and personally.
|Me 30 years ago, while studying Arabic in Morocco|