Aurelia Lorca began writing as a violinist/lyricist in a punk rock cover band called Unfortunate Mustaches with the legendary Roxi Christmas,...read more but was promptly kicked out upon having laser electrolysis. She then worked part time as a secretary for the Evil Dark Overlord of The Zen Baby Federation, but was eventually let go because she just couldn't wield a staple gun that quickly. She now free lances for free for anyone who offers clown magic.
I am interested in the vague, vagabond-like aspect of female character. Anything can happen to a solitary woman who has no defined aim, who is always on the edge of a crisis. Such a character is the perfect vehicle for telling a story … Erratic, not because they do not know what to do with their life, but because at a certain point – the point where the writer enters the story – they are searching for something they are only vaguely aware of.”
''I believe that I could not do this cinema anyplace other than Spain. The sense of freedom would not be the same. Everything I am is a response to this place. There's a context to my birth as an artist.”
~ Pedro Almovodar
Lorca was a bohemian,” my dad has told me. “Not working class. He was never poor. You don’t understand.”
It is 11:36pm in Triana and it’s the 22nd of July and it’s probably only 11:36pm in Seville but I am in Triana at a bar drinking a weak tinto verano con limon with large ice cubes and I’m with one of my cousins who says she cannot stop thinking about the garden in her mother’s house in their pueblo that the government has taken away.
“It’s all because my father allowed the Falang to have parties at his house,” she shrugs. She puts her drink down on the table with a clink.
“That was forty years ago! And what choice did he have? Your grandfather died under house arrest at the start of the Guerra Civil. He must have been terrified,” I say.
My cousin shrugs again.
“That’s how it is here, especially in the pueblos,” she says. “Nothing anyone can do. It’s just how it is.”
I look at the red and yellow chairs for sevillanas in the middle of the bar. The bar is old, older than the country where three generations of my family have lived and died. Outside, it is Feria de Triana, much smaller than Feria de Sevilla my cousin has told me. Calle Betis is saturated in crowds, churros con chocolate, a flamenco competition of little dancing girls, polka dot dresses and spit curls. The streets are banded with green, yellow, and red lights we can see from the balcony of my cousin’s apartment across the Guadalquivir. Triana, where Bizet and Pushkin hid in their imaginations with gypsies and Carmen, and Lorca poured one out for Antonio Camborio. Now it is, what my cousin says, “a good place to live.” The gypsies have gone. The matadors are somewhere else. The dead are god knows where. But this bar remains, in 300-year-old brick and longing.
It is the first straight bar my cousin has taken me to. When we are across the river, in Sevilla, we have to go to gay bars so my cousin can avoid her ex-husband, a señorito who seems to know everyone.
“He is the only man in Spain with two medical degrees and no job,” she my cousin has told.“He wishes the Fascists were still in charge because he thinks it made everything easier for him.”
When I first arrived in Seville that summer, my cousins ex-husband had flooded the bathroom of his parents house, claiming he was going to take a Turkish bath. Though he had quit drinking, everyone said he has lost his mind. My cousin’s son is starting the University of Seville where he is majoring in history. He proudly claims he is a communist, like his great-grandfather, and sees a therapist about his father.
“A communist in Spain is not the same thing as a communist in America,” my father said. It was a conversation that took place over the phone, and was a rare instance when my father called and felt like talking.
“And certainly not the same as those Marxist poets you admire who sit in cafes in North Beach. My grandfather was not a communist, he was with IWW, he was poor. ”
“To what extent can we see these politics in flamenco?”
“What are you talking about? There are no politics in flamenco,” he said.
“What about the photos of Grandma and Juanita in 1937 wearing their flamenco dresses? Juanita’s fist is in the air VIVA La Republica … And then in 1940 when everyone became Americans, and Juanita wrote over the photographs that her name was ‘Jane’ and Grandma’s name was ‘Anna?’”
“Why are you asking me about things that happened before I was born?” my father screamed, and hung up the phone.
The next morning in Seville, the digital thermometer outside my cousin’s apartment already read 35 degrees Celsius. The numbers are red and pulse like they are bleeding.
I am wearing green dress with black polka dots, los lunares, for good luck, and a medallion with the Cheshire Cat on it.
“Some wear medallions of the saints, I wear the Cheshire Cat. He is my patron saint,” I tell my cousin before leaving the apartment.
“Una chala,” my cousin laughed. “You are crazy.”
I go to my favorite coffee shop because the barista always remembers me. He takes a minute, ah yes a llevar como siempre, and hands me my coffee. I walk through La Plaza Nueva where the marble splendor is ruined by chic black posters for a dance festival, and go into a bodega for a bote de agua. All bodegas smell the same, like mold and bottled water. The bigger grocery stores sell legs of jambon that dangle from hooks. The first time I saw them, I felt like Dorothy in Oz. My father hates Spanish food, and it is family legend how whenever my grandmother served tripe, or paella, she had to give my father a hamburger. Last summer in Seville, my mother complained how embarrassing it was that he snuck off to Burger King after every meal my cousins prepared.
“My grandmother learned Eisenhower’s name just so she could become an American,” my father told me.“She wanted to become an American. She learned how to say Eye-sin-hower.”
I held my tongue. She became an American in 1953, at the height of the McCartheyism, and had been in the country for forty years. Back in 1940, her friend stitched her own flag of the Republic for her immigration ceremony. Years later, this woman’s son would become mayor of Monterey.
“I will not use Franco’s flag,” the mayor’s mother famously said.
“I don’t talk about the past,” her son said.
“I don’t talk about the past,” is my father’s favorite saying: It was what my grandparents said to him. There were more graves and brutality in the Spanish Civil War than in Pol Pot’s Killing Fields. Then again, Spain has culturally always been in a state of civil war, hence the trickster duende, the spirit that inhabits flamenco.
From the Plaza Nueva, I take a right through the Plaza de San Francisco, down la Avenida de la Constitucion to the Cathedral of Seville and the butterflies arch from my fingertips. The neck of La Giralda stretches out high over La Plaza de San Francisco and sepia buildings.
Throughout Sevilla there are thousands of tiny churches. Each one is like the rest is tiled with checkered marble and an alter of gold. Mary at the center, with a baby Jesus, the Acension above. Agnes of God. Gold, and gold, and gold, and gold, set against the blue and yellow of Moorish tile-work under gilded white frescoes. Everywhere there is a chapel to step into and pray, but I can never remember my prayers. Everywhere there are bells and angels with wings to fly though they are marble they are nonetheless celestial.
“There would be no poverty if the church emptied out all it’s gold!” my father’s grandmother told him. In Andalusia, she was an anarchist and a maestra des academias. In California, she was a migrant worker. She had a soft voice, but she chased the nuns out of the house when they came for my father and uncle, and said what they told every other Spanish family in New Monterey: “You know what happens to children who’s parents work in the canneries, they become bad, they become wharf rats. And twin boys? They are destined for trouble.”
Like most of the Spaniards living in the stink of New Monterey, Lala told them to go to hell: She had left Spain because of the church. The church had not changed, it still wanted money from the poor, and, even more unforgivable, it supported Franco during the war.
While my grandparents worked, instead of catechism, Lala kept my father and my uncle busy, taught them how to read and write in Spanish, and encouraged them to get involved in their school’s band program. But when Kennedy became President she started going to church, and insisted my father and uncle go too. Good Catholics, good Americans because McCartheyism and Cold War America were better than Franco’s Spain. I guess this is why my father, who has divorced and married my mother three times, always jokes that if he went to mass the walls of the basilica would cave in.
In front of the Cathedral a well read man from Africa quite convincingly and quite eloquently tries to sell me Kleenex, in Spanish as well as in English, tinged with a French-Arabic accent. I talk with him about Charles Dickens and Chinua Achebe, and laugh how I am a university educated American who speaks only one language well enough to write poetry in. Throughout the city streets there are men and women from Africa, most highly educated and able to speak four languages, selling packages of kleenex, desperate to stay in Spain for at least three years so they can get EU citizenship.
It is summer so the orange trees in front of the Cathedral are out of season. La Giralda – the tower of the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world – was once a Minaret, a Muslim Prayer Tower. The conquistadors had their practice on the Moors and the Jews, and aspired to find new trade routes to the East for Catholic Spain that circumvented Islamic territories. (And then ironically ornamented their "empire" with Moorish tiles and fountains.) The ugliness of man's greed has been historically wrapped in the golden ribbon of the Christian God, while forgetting there is No God But God. And now the same story repeats. Seville is an ancient city over 2000 years old. And what about the next 1000 years?
“This is my heritage,” my father has told me. “Not yours.”
I leave the Cathedral for the Barrio de Santa Cruz and find El Hosteria del Laurel, the bar from the legend of Don Juan.
Outside the bar, a pigeon crooks her small head to one side, and dips her beak into the cobblestones.
The bar is air-conditioned, legs of pork and braids of garlic hang from the ceiling, pictures and text from the legend of Don Juan color the tiles, and all is blessed by the horns of a black bull named, “El Magnifico”.
The bartender asks what I want to drink. I tell him in halted Spanish that I would like a mañanita, because it is still morning.
“Yes it is morning,” the bartender says in English. He narrows his eyes. I don’t think he likes me. “But what would you like to drink?”
“Una mañanita,” I say, smiling. I want him to like me.
“But what would you like in your mañanita? A mañanita is a drink that you have in the morning. It can be anything.”
The bartender begins cleaning shot glasses and is no longer looking at me. He is wearing a red vest and a white shirt. His neck is sweating . He does not like me, but it is okay.
“Let me think, what was it that they had....anisette! I would like a mañanita of anisette, make it a double!”
“Are you sure?” the bartender says. He does not look up from the glasses.
It was what my grandmother and my aunts had- a little something to start the day, a little something to heat the heart from within, when they worked on Cannery Row. The bartender nods and serves me my mañanita. I down the anisette in one gulp.
“Whoa,” I say. The bartender looks up. I grin.“That went down warm.”
“That’s why I was wondering if you wanted anisette. It’s not the drink for hot weather.”
I stop smiling. Despite the air conditioner, my face is flushed, and my hands are now sweating.
“It’s 36 Celsius outside,” I whimper. I remember my grandmother and aunties had this drink to endure the cold of canning sardines on Cannery Row. They were cannery workers and I am an idiot tourist who is drunk on anisette in Seville. I felt like a ghost, but then again Spanish history was a ghost story of the invisible, those who were not allowed to leave a trace, who were not part of dominant narratives.
“Not every Spaniard in California was a conquistador or a friar,” I mutter softly in English. Most of Spain’s cultural art, from Cervantes, to Goya, and even, arguably, Lorca and flamenco, was created from a place of exile. I trace my fingers over the rim of the glass and decide it is all part of my windmill.
“It’s probably more like 40,” the bartender says. He narrows his eyes, shakes his head, and returns to cleaning the glasses.
I pull out a ten dollar euro and leave it as a tip, and ask, “How do I get to the flamenco museum from here?”
The bartender gives me the directions. He is smiling but not because he likes me, but because I’m leaving. I nod, but I am too tipsy to write down the all of street names.
“It’s a little complicated,” the bartender says.“It’s not far from here, but this is a very old part of town, and the streets are small and winding.”
“I’ll find it eventually, I have time, thank you,” I say.
“Generally if you wander long enough around the same area in Sevilla, you’ll eventually find what you are looking for,” the bartender says.
But what is my heritage, if culture is a process and is never static? An American? A big mouthed second generation Andalusian-American who is finally free to say remember?
Drunk and sweating I wind through the cobblestone streets, and follow the spectacle of the sun as it glitters over la Avenida de la Constitucion and the shadow of the great Cathedral. I hear the cries of the city’s carnations and the shadow of carnations ornate with bright ruffles of sky.
“Where is my Lorca, my friend to the pigeons?” I sing. “Has there ever been such magic? Oh poet, oh Federico Garcia, look what has happened to the beautiful lunacy of your vision.”
I pass by flamenco dress shops with rows and roses of polka dotted flamenco dresses, and tiny churches, and walls with the poetry of Antonio Machado carved into them. Each street begins to look the same, each alleyway, each building. I weave and wind, and weave and wind, but I am unable to find the flamenco museum.
“Was it left? Or was it right, the bartender said.”
I ask others for help, but each gives me different directions in a rapid tangle of words in Spanish too quick for me to follow.
I want to cry, but I touch the Cheshire cat around my neck.
I find myself in the trellised gardens of the Alcazar where the wind cries with the mourning doves and echoes into the roses. A little boy on vacation sits next to me and collects on his thumb the flies the rest of the world twitch off. Next to both of us is the palace peacock as he cleans his quills, a complicated process: Fans out his tail like the skirt of flamenco. His three wives, their unimpressive feathers, sleep on a shaded ledge.