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.
Though the rotunda of sardines in the Monterey Bay Aquarium made you gasp, it was the jelly-fish exhibit that re-affirmed your belief in God.
“The tides are in our veins,” I said, pointing to a quote on the wall.
You nodded, and did not say anything and started walking towards the jelly tanks, and began to cry. Each window held a Maxfield Parrish dazzling of luminous blues and golds. Some of the jellies were tiny drifts, others were delicate blobs of light, all against the deepest of sapphires, lapis, and turquoise blues of the water.
“They are little beads of electricity,” you said, wiping a tear. “Little life forms that struggle most because they are so magnificent and tiny.”
You stood there silently weeping, but I could not reach out my hand to touch your shoulder.
“Though they don't think of this as a struggle. The tiny plankton are fantastic, microscopic yet so perfectly formed. How can it be alive?”
“They each have such ethereal tendrils and fantastic names- ‘Moon Jellies’,” I said.
“Every fiber is a perfect part of its being,” you said pointing to the messy tangle of orange tendrils of the lion’s mane jelly. “It is too beautiful to be an accident.”
“Like love?” I asked.
“They each have a different personality. A different pulse. Look at the ‘Gooseberry Jellies’ – they’re like little rainbow scepters. It’s so sad. Life that is so gorgeous, so tiny, just struggling along in the giant universe. Does it feel anything? Is it lonely?”
Staring at little pulses of rainbow light continued to weep.
“They’re almost shaped like comets,” you whispered, wiping a tear.
I fell in love with you a little more, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to touch you.
“They are so perfect and symmetrical,” you said.
I didn’t want to touch you. I didn’t want to say anything. You were crying. How could this love that is always threatening to leave, be this delicate, this beautiful, and of a divine plan? There was no fate unless there was something or someone to fate.
You keep telling me we might not last. One of the many reasons why is because I don’t believe in God, or a divine plan.
“I believe in the divine,” I’ve said. “The divinity that is love. Poetry is a way to connect to that divinity.”
“It’s not the same thing. I’m talking about a creator,” you’ve said. “A divine plan.”
We’re both lapsed Catholics. Yet, to some extent I can connect more to the arguments of Laveyan Satanism than I can to the dogma of the Catholic church, particularly in regards to homosexuality, and gender. However, there is a divinity that exists beyond canonical dogma and poetry in timshel, thou mayest- The choice to love.
“I’m not certain about a divine plan,” I’ve said. “I think the world is a beautiful accident, and thus beauty and love should be embraced whenever and wherever. Hence, the role of poetry.”
“The divine is more than poetry,” you’ve said.
“I see poetry as a way to connect my spirit to the physical world. To write poetry is to write love. Remember the fortune I got the day before you asked me to marry you: art is the accomplice of love?”
That Saturday, before we saw the jelly-fish, you stood teary-eyed under a glittering and swirling silver rotunda of sardines in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Once upon a time, the sardines were the diamonds of the Monterey bay, silver sparkling jewelry, silver rings, silver shards. There were diamonds in their scutes, prismatic scales, one, one thousand, two, two thousand, three, three thousand, how many, how many, too many, too many.
It staggered my humble childlike mind: there in the former Horvak Cannery on Cannery Row you, the Hollywood flamenco guitarist, Tony Triana, of the Triana flamenco family, whose father and uncle were friends of Federico Garcia Lorca,.
Outside the sky was a mystical alternation of fog and sunshine. Despite its name that signified a novel, or the canneries, Cannery Row now was just another street, a place, a tourist destination, a postcard of “The Good Life” – fancy hotels and wine tasting, all that encouraged tourists to pretend they are Jay Gatsby. At the end of Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium was a metallic monstrosity, a renovated cannery turned into an ecological series of fishtanks.
Outside the Aquarium on Prescott street, you asked, “Is someone going to pull out a gun, and say, ‘stop or I’ll shoot.’ Will anyone have a gun? Like in your story about Juan Rodriguez?”
“That was eighty years ago,” I said, and pointed to the resort hotel next door, and the Gatsby era roadster puttering down Cannery Row. “Hardly.”
“When did they decide to build this place?”
“It opened in 1984.”
“But when did they decide to build it?”
“In the ‘70s I imagine, when Cannery Row was a ghost town. It’s funded by Hewlett Packard – Packard’s daughter was a marine biologist who came up with the idea.”
Inside the Aquarium, you politely went to the small entryway exhibit about the canneries, hardly as stunning as the fish.
The exhibit was mainly old photos under signs that explained how Cannery Row was a women-led workforce. Now, said another sign, the Monterey Bay has learned to live with the Bay. Presumedly in a more “civilized” way.
“Never mind all the pesticides from Pebble Beach golf courses leak into the bay. Or the toxic waste from Fort Ord,” I said.
“Fourteen hour shifts, day and night,” you said, reading another sign.
“And they were not given fair rights without a brutal fight. It’s why Steinbeck characterized sex as labor and Dora’s whorehouse as following every labor code. I’ve always felt it was a middle finger to the misogyny of labor politics.”
“Look at the decline in sardines after 1946,” you said walking over to another sign. “Millions of tons, all disappeared. I bet it had something to do with the nuclear explosions in Japan. It had to have.”
Some of the signs are in Spanish- despues the end of the sardines, Cannery Row esta una puebla fantasma.
Eighty years ago, in Pacific Grove, the next town over, there once was a woman who shot at chickens. This woman was not any ordinary woman, she was a mayor, a professor, a biologist. Though she came from an era when women were not allowed to become too advanced in school, she went to Germany to get her PhD. The West was the only place where she could be at one with nature, the ocean. Never mind that Pacific Grove was next to the stink of Cannery Row. Never mind that Pacific Grove was over-run with Protestants who continually questioned her beliefs in God. No one questioned her shooting at chickens.
“Would you want a chicken shitting in your yard?” people asked. They had had enough. So they elected her mayor.
Along with not letting livestock roam the streets, the woman believed the beaches and nature should be open for everyone. She argued at town hall meetings. None dared argue back – she was smart and she carried a gun.
When Pacific Grove tried to put up a gate blocking entrance to the beach at Lover’s Point, the woman, who had become the mayor, put up a sign that said, “The entrance to this beach must be left open at all hours when the public might reasonably wish to pass through. I act in the matter because the Council and Police Department are men and possibly somewhat timid.”
I have decided that my aunts might have loved this mayor. She wasn’t mayor for long. My family didn’t even live in Pacific Grove. However, I know from all the photos in our album, Lover’s Point beach was their favorite beach. It was one beach over from Cannery Row where they worked. Hence, I imagine the mayor could have been their hero. She went all the way in school, while they worked for twenty-five cents an hour in the canneries. They worked so their nieces, and daughters, and grand-daughters, meaning me, would never have to. They worked for me to go to school. Except, I became an English major. A poet. I went to school all these years, as my father has said, to become a poet?
As Aurelia Lorca, I honor exiles and ghosts – Federico Garcia Lorca’s ghost, though he was a middle class poet, who only wrote about the working class. It’s comical. I am a high school English teacher, a poet. I am ridiculously middle class, ridiculous because the middle class does not really exist anymore in this country. I live in stories that are motionless in the twist of time. I have been a ghost, I have been invisible: Spaniards in California are conquistadors or friars or “fiery and passionate” flamencos. I often forget how to laugh because love has never come, never come, never come.
You know the story of the Spanish exiles-it is your story. Your father’s escape from Spain, dancing with The Queen of the Gypsies, Carmen Amaya, and La Argentinita, exiled and heartbroken over the assassination of Garcia Lorca, her best friend. You have told me stories about the great flamenco guitarist Sabicas arriving in your kitchen at 2 am. Your stories are the stories of the artists, the flamencos, the intellectuals, the stories that have been told. Yours is not the story of the Spanish exiles and working class, the stories of Spaniards that have not been told. When I think about it, it’s funny, and I can almost laugh. My story is the story of the Spanish working class, the ordinarios, and it began here on Cannery Row.
In the Great Tide Pool tank, a cloud of anchovies glittered into a formation next to the big-lipped fish hanging upside down in the kelp. Golden light speckled the cloud of silver.
“They all have the most peculiar expressions,” you said. “Look at him, with the big lips! Look what he can do!”
“That’s the sea bass,” I said.
“This is the most fascinating tank, I can’t get over all these schools of fish.”
“These little fish have smiley faces. Others frown. Awful fishes. I wonder what they must think of us?”
The anchovies became a whirling flower, a design.
“It’s like a spirograph,” you said about the anchovies. Your smile, which I haven’t seen in weeks, became big and wide. “You know, one of those toys we played with as kids?”
The tide-pool exhibit was steady opera of color that began with a frothy blast of waves: the plants held fast to the rocks and the owl limpets and striped shore crabs scuttled about. The anemones opened like flower petals, the barnacles unfurled their little legs. The orange puffballs and the sponges pulsed a slow rhythm. The flat fishes who hid disguised in the sand rippled and came alive. The abalone opened their mouths and took in what the waves gave to them in a slow smile. And the purple sea urchin, a tiny needled purple flower-like thing, released a shameless milky stream back into the gusting waves.
“I like the names of the creatures in the tide pool much better in Spanish,” I said about the bi-lingual signs of the exhibit. “Don’t ask me to pronounce them, my accent is terrible.”
As you pronounced each one, the names became so much more majestic and frilly.
“Starfish is estrella murcielago,” you winked. It was nice to see your smile.
“Green sea anemone,” you said about the creature with the plumes of green and a voluminous green skirt, “is anemona verde gigante.
“Orange cup flower is floral copa anaranjado.
“Anemona fresa is the strawberry anemone."
“This one is my favorite,” I said. “It’s a poof of pink, with tiny white pom-poms, like a candy I want to eat.”
“White plume anemone, anemona plumosa blanca.
“Estrella seprete de mer is spiny brittle star.
“Erizo morado,” you said, and pointed to the carnation shaped purple sea urchin that was was purple and poofy with a lot of hairs.
“The words are making me hungry,” I said. “Each one looks like a candy.”
The deep sea exhibit began with the rotunda of swirling sardines. You looked up and gasped.
“Sardines eat differently than other fish,” I said.
“Look at their mouths,” you said. “They swim with their mouths open.
“Sardines are not picky eaters. They eat all that floats into their mouths which they open only so slightly, only when they are hungry. They do not have big teeth.”
The next morning, I was eager to wake up and get to the Carmel Mission. Not for mass, but for the fiesta. You said you wanted to experience my Carmel – the fiesta would be perfect.In my haste to arrive by 9 am, I forgot it did not begin until 11 am.
The fiesta had barely begun. The multi-colored stands were brightly painted and the signs were the same. Burritos. BBQ Chicken. They still had the cake walk. Nothing had changed, except the gardens were more groomed than ever.
“You went to school here?” you asked.
“Baptized, took first communion, confirmed. The whole nine yards,” I said. “It was my mother’s idea. My dad’s family weren’t too crazy about it. Also, did you know when I went to Spain no one knew what I was talking about when I said Junipero Serra? They don’t say the name in the same way.”
“That’s an awful pronunciation,” you said. We stood in front of a tiled mural of Father Serra with a golden halo and a brown Native American child at his feet.
“I don’t know what is more offensive – The humble Native American boy kneeling at Father Serra’s feet? Or another painting of a Spaniard who is a Friar.”
“It happened,” you said. “It’s history. You can’t change history, you just can make peace with it.”
“But what about the histories that have been invisible?” I said. “Five years ago, at Rabida – where Columbus left for the New World – I was too angry at what the place symbolized that I could not sit at the altar and pray. To not piss off my cousin who was with me at the time, I realized instead of praying to God, I could pray to the divinity of poetry.”
“The divinity of poetry is not the same as a divine creator,” you said.
One booth had a series of articles about the fifty-year history of the Carmel Mission Fiesta. In it were flamenco photographs.
“One fiesta my cousin and I wore flamenco dresses her father had brought us back from Seville. Our classmates laughed and made fun of us.”
“But, what’s most absurd is the idea of flamenco in a church,” I said. “In Spain they’d never have flamenco in a church. Oh yes, flamenco in the Cathedral of Seville.”
“They have it at the Santa Barbara Mission,” you said.“I’ve performed there.”
“Hence your point that flamenco is hokey.”
“It was the sixties,” I said. “Franco was Andaluzifying the country and used flamenco as an emblem. The bastard murdered Garcia Lorca, and then had the audacity to use flamenco as a symbol for Nationalist Spain? What you’re seeing here is the Catholic church in the 1960s using this propaganda, trying to regain its people here in Monterey.
Many of the Spanish community stopped going to church during the Civil War. The nuns would come for children after they got out of school. My great-grandmother chased them out of the house when they tried to come for my father and uncle. The church took Franco’s side.”
“Art becomes something else, not art, when it becomes political. So does God,” I said.
You shake your head, and we go inside the basilica.
“The people here seem like trust fund Catholics. A lot of rich white people,” you said.
Inside the basilica we found a painting of Jesus and the Moneylenders.
“I think this is our painting,” you said.
“Maybe a lesson to the rich people who attend the church?” I said.
“This is not an appropriate painting for a church,” you said.
“What do you mean this was once your painting?”
“This painting was in our house,” you said. “For years. Look at the frame! It’s the same frame my dad put together. Look at the sloppy edges. He needed to stay away from framing.”
“I remember this painting because of the creepy looking money lender in the middle. My dad sold it to an art collector, who was from Carmel! Baylor. I remember his hame,” you said.
“During the Spanish Civil War no one had money to escape. Money was no good, people were using paintings and jewelry. Jewelry and art were better than gold. They escaped with anything they could. The experience made my father a life long art collector.”
“It’s our painting,” you said. “The last time I saw it, my father was alive.”
When we left the jellies and stood out in the rotunda of sardines again, I joked again, “sardines eat differently than other fish.”
What I wanted to tell you how once they swam and swam, a cloud of silver swimming and swimming, their mouths open, their silver bodies a net for tiny blooms of food drifting on the current: golden brown or blue blossoms, or creatures and their teensy little castles.
Sardines were not picky eaters.
Sardines ate all that did not swim. Sardines ate all that floated into their mouths which they opened only so slightly, only when they were hungry. Sardines ate while swimming and swimming. Sardines were a cloud of silver swimming the green soup of the bay and then into the nets of men.
Sardines did not have big teeth.
Sardines were tiny silver things of a silver thing, silver thing of a silver beauty, of a silver stink, that once turned into gold.
Sardines were a silver sparkling of silver shards. There were diamonds in their scutes, prismatic scales, one, one thousand, two, two thousand, three, three thousand, how many, how many, too many, too many. Six cans a minute because Cannery Row once was the street of six cans a minute, six cans a minute, twenty-five cents an hour.
This was the street of the Rodriguez girls. The two eldest were born in Spain. In Spain their father, my great-grandfather, was an anarchist and a labor organizer. In Monterey he was a gardener. Luz, the eldest of the Rodriguez girls and my great-aunt, was the beauty. She had two children and was proud of her hour glass figure. Luisa, my cousin, was Luz’s daughter, she liked to tell how she had worked in the canneries since she was ten years old. Once upon a time this was Paloma’s street, Luz’s younger sister, and also my Aunt. The tiny one, the sickly one, the one who married a fireman, and wore a short lace dress for her wedding.
Once upon a time this was La Niña’s street, Luz’s youngest sister – my grandmother and the fastest canner on the row, a thousand cans an hour. La Niña enjoyed the title, but earned the same pay as everyone else. Six cans a minute, six cans a minute or you were fired. Twenty-five cents an hour.
Once upon a time, this was Nick’s street, La Niña’s boyfriend, and my grandfather. Having only a fourth grade education, and illiterate in Spanish, his primary language, he learned how to speak Italian, Portuguese and Japanese so he could work on any boat in the bay. The fishermen called him “Waves” because of his perfect curls. His admirers said he was “the most handsome man on Cannery Row.” La Niña’s sisters joked that his sisters, also my aunts, put his curls in rollers every night.
Once upon a time this was the street of Nick’s sister Clara, canner; and her husband, my Uncle Adelino the skiffman. Adelino spoke almost as much Spanish as Clara spoke Portuguese. Once upon a time this was the street of Clara’s sister, Sandra, the greatest poker player of Cannery Row, my great-aunt, and the first non-Sicilian boss lady of the canners. Six cans a minute. Six cans a minute, or you were fired. Twenty-five cents an hour. Once upon a time, this was their street. Forgotten to time, this was their street.
It was all a song. It was an old song. It was the song that swirled in the twist of time, singing of love and silver luminosity. We are our own Gods. Time might ravage us, we might disappear, but we will always be magnificent and glittering in the eyes of love, love, love.