The best is when you rediscover.

12 10 2011

When you walk down a familiar street at an unfamiliar hour and the lightstreams flow orange like eels through the infinite columns.

When splashy new streetart wizards its way onto walls.

When a new bar transforms to an old bar, and they greet you with a shout and open arms and Rioja.

When a friend’s face illuminates at the first taste of jamón ibérico de bellota, and you remember yours and you smile big and you experience all over again.

When the cast turns over completely, when the script goes to shit, when you have to start it all over again, when you find yourself on the verge of what appears a terrifying void left by past loves and past support beams, past pyramids you were so proud to have placed together stone by precious weighty stone, feeling safety in stability and the known.

When you realize what plunging ankledeep waistdeep neckdeep into those shifting swirling sands means, that precise instant of cognizance where color shifts a degree this way or that and things start to rotate, buzzing excitedly.

When you’re told tales of your own enthusiasm, when your image is as a crackling electric ouroboros, when production takes a running leap and ends up keeping pace at consumption’s side.

When you give all of it, when you are seeking for the pleasure of seeking, when you spread far and wide, when you keep nothing for yourself.

When your unfurled tendrils meet the nourishment of the city in glorious chlorophyll feast, blossoming million-petaled-beauties everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.

Hola, year two. Vámonos.





El Bosque Pintado de Oma

14 08 2011

All credit to my excellent friend Alexandra Waters: months earlier, upon being informed of my summertime Pais Vasco plans, she had gushed to me about a highly unusual forest somewhere near Guernika that she had chanced to visit. Fast-forward to July, and Aldo’s handing me a tourist catalogue of the area; when I come across the photo I immediately recognize what it is I’m seeing.

Traveler’s destiny? I thought the same back in December, when Hondarribia was a strange name stumbling over the tip of my tourist tongue, when the long-awaited wild horses showed their fuzzy manes atop the most unexpected mountain. We can call it coincidence, if you prefer your grandiose proclamations fate free. A series of damn fine coincidence.

We make the trek to El Bosque Pintado de Oma on a hazy Saturday afternoon. Drizzle threatens but never materializes. It’s a several kilometer hike into the forest in order to find the famed painted trees, including multiple serious ups and downs, and a first view of white swaths of paint across trunks is uncompensatingly unimpressive. However, the forest floor is dotted with stone markers, complete with arrows indicating the direction in which one is meant to look – and from these particular points, what appears to otherwise be colorful chaos coagulates into magic patterns. Stripes zig and zag their way across the forest, alternatively forming both curved and linear designs. We see eruptions of flames, motorcycles, and a sudden menacing crowd that appears to have it out for the viewer.

Curiously, the eerie sensation of being observed appears to be somewhat of an artist’s theme; an enormous section of trees is dedicated to ever-alert eyeballs of every size and color.

Later this night, we mention to a few local friends where we’ve been all day, and are informed that the artist is not too highly regarded ’round these parts – seems his outspoken politics err on the side of facha, which certainly doesn’t go over big in el Pais Vasco. I do vaguely remember Alexandra mentioning something about politically-motivated vandalism of the painted trees. It certainly raises questions that are intriguing, if not too original: can art be “good” if its creator is “bad”? To what extent are we obligated to consider artistic merit in the light of the artist’s own proclivities? Those of you familiar with my beleaguered thesis will know my response already, but by no means do I consider the matter closed – what do you think?





País Vasco/La Rioja: Brushstrokes and Spray Paint

18 12 2010

País Vasco/La Rioja Introduction here.

In this exquisite corner of the earth, the creative energy so playful within the realm of gastronomy unsurprisingly extends itself into official institutes of Capital-A Art as well.

Bilbao’s metal-petaled Guggenheim is a major architectural treat both inside and out. The many distinctive folds of the form make for fascinating chambers within, many of which house pieces specifically designed to fit the particular angles and curves of the building. Some of the rooms are intensely powerful – we walk away stunned from one photography exhibit in particular – but the overall quality of the place is a bit impish, a successfully sprightly counterpart to comparatively musty Serious Art Spaces elsewhere. It’s perhaps best modeled in Koons’ gigantic Puppy made entirely of flowering plants and standing fragrant guard at the entrance.

On Couchsurfer Muriel’s suggestion, we poke our heads into the Artium during our day in Vitoria, País Vasco’s somehow often-overlooked capital.

Inside, I am particularly called by this piece, which spans an entire wall. Sam, classical art aficionado, notes my fascination and inquires – what is it that I find successful about modernity?

I respond that it’s not modernity in itself that captures my attention, but rather presenting forms in innovative ways such that they cause me to consider what I already know in a new light. Sam’s uncomfortable with the lack of context in many contemporary works, because it often leaves the meaning unclear. For me, this is exactly what makes them so successful – when they work best, they invite the audience to develop its own relationship with the art in the moment of experience. To me, this piece summons thoughts on prayer, femininity and the female body, what it is to ask for something, dreams, the ways in which ideas are and are not connected to each other, and where thoughts go when we project them into the world, among other things. It isn’t that I come to any specific conclusions, but I cherish the creative time spent considering the prompt.

Detail from another successful piece for me; the entire work is at least four times this size. Leah comments that this is a faithful rendition of her brain.

I see open-ended commentary on architecture, and I’m reminded of the climactic scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I consider a house made of sea and light.

As is likely evident by now, my personal favorite encounters with creativity are in public spaces, where it can be interwoven with the mundane and the daily (as opposed to officialized, institutionalized). Vitoria is replete with multi-story murals, rainbow paints and glittering tiles spanning the hilly streets. Many feature the multiple languages spoken in the region, English and Castellano phrases at play with Basque, all pockmarked with X’s and K’s and top-hatted A’s.

This, on the other hand. The other other hand. No, I don’t want to get my hands anywhere near that. Vitoria, why??

Both Muriel and I are seduced by Vitoria’s extremely well-designed publicity. I’m pretty sure this one’s calling for some variety of protest; isn’t it a thousand times more attractive than the red and white that papered Madrid pre-huelga?

And then there’s the straight-up graffiti, which I absolutely adore when it’s clever. This one (“Put spicy in your life“) is just off Calle Laurel in Logroño. I’m considering printing it out for display in my kitchen.

On a playground in Vitoria (“Stop complaining and act, asshole!“).

Yes, he does. In Donostia-San Sebastián.





Mientras Tanto

19 11 2010

The brilliant gleam of the new in Madrid has worn thin: the seductive beckon of unremarkable routine can offer too attractive a monotony to brush off like it ain’t no thang. Yet the medley of thangs continues, relentlessly, to occur, whether or not it falls subject to meticulous blogging.

The conversation of how to intermingle working with minors in a government-funded position with the Rights of the Blogger has come up several times, always concluding on a similar note: best to avoid it. I attribute part of my pause in daily wordiness to that phenomenon; this enormous part of my experience here has got to be treated as a bit of a delicate taboo. It isn’t that there’s anything specific I’m omitting – very few students ever get thrown in the Chokey, at least at José Luis Sampedro – but the weight of what I necessarily represent given my unique position can loom, heavy and ominous, when I consider regaling my clamoring international readers with sordid tales of what those sweet little beasties did this time, goddammit.

The other day, I noticed with alarm the extreme frequency with which I was talking about my job while not actually working, and made a pact with myself to immediately staunch that particular river. It grows more obvious with each day: teaching English is a means for me. That’s not what my Fulbright Personal Statement would have you believe, but let’s be straight up here (Straight BlogTalk with Torkington: Like It Ain’t No Thang). With each day, I’m allowing those myriad ingrained traditional understandings of What I Ought To Be Accomplishing With My Life to wither, and doing my damnedest to concentrate all my love and energy on unfurling leafy tendrils into self-development. I am a writer, I am a photographer, I am a chef, I am a linguist – but, more importantly, I am happy, day-to-day and long-term, in a way that makes sense for me specifically.

How ’bout THAT for stinky cheese, dear readers?

It’s okay to be a bit jealous. Let’s go out for cañas and we’ll talk about it.