#PoetryFighters en el Instituto Cervantes y en el Bowery Poetry Club

Gracias a los nuevos amigos de la ciudad de Vigo, PoetryFighters, por invitarme a este festival. Compuse algo especialmente para esto porque soy enemiga de poner música de background cuando se lee poesía, sólo funciona si hay una dependencia entre la música y la letra, una intencionalidad, y ninguna de las dos funciona si se separan. Al parecer fue un éxito y el comienzo de un nuevo proyecto. La pieza se llamó “Vuelta de paseo”, en referencia al primer poema de García Lorca de “Poeta en Nueva York”; también estuvo presente en este experimento otra poeta de Andalucía, Carmen Inda, que me presentó a los PoetryFighters. ¡Que viva Andalucía, Galicia y toda España!

All the Women Against the President

The Women´s Strike is on its way. It´s set for March 8th, International Women´s Day. I took music and literature classes in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building, the place where that disastrous fire took place taking the lives of scores of immigrant working women: it is one of the events that is commemorated on Women´s Day, although the date is not exact. Students from all nations walk between those floors, many of them probably don’t know that those events occurred on that very same spot.

This country has never seen a general strike, though there have been some attempts to organize one. But never before has a social movement jumped over so many differences: generational gaps, race, religion, social status. The Women´s March, on January 21st, was a demonstration not only of power, but of unity with no precedent. Muslims and Jews, atheists and Christians, young and old from all races, men and women from all over the country took to the streets totaling more than 400 simultaneous marches. At the end of the day, there were zero arrests. My favorite sign was one that became popular thanks to a picture that shows with humor and acceptance the absurdity of our moment: “I can´t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit”, held by an elderly woman who smiles with irony. “I´m so angry I made a sign”, said another one. The outrageous recording of the president talking proudly about his sexual assaults found an answer in “This Pussy Grabs Back!” The squares were full of women who screamed “My body! My choice!” while the men replied “Her body! Her choice!” in reference to the atrocious agenda that will endanger our options regarding birth control.

Without intending to, Trump has awakened a movement that unified a very wide sector of USA society. Neither the movement against Vietnam War nor the civil rights movement had been able to bring together so many people divided by so many social differences. Now it is the majority, outraged by the lack of respect for its vote and its taxes, by the neglected environmental problems, by the attacks on the human rights of immigrants, Muslims, Afro-Americans, Mexicans, by the general corruption and incompetence. But the outraged-number-one are women. The fact that a sexual harasser made it to the presidency – and took the seat of she who could have been the first woman president, questionable and unpopular as she was – has caused more indignation than expected. The Women´s March has set a tight and radical agenda, giving no break to the Trump administration. They are also on the task of rethinking and recalibrating feminism, turning it into a weapon not only against sexism, but in a more general way, against Neoliberalism and its apocalypse horsemen: social inequality, systematic destruction of the environment, tyranny of corporations.

I believe something good will come out of this, something will change. These moments are the kind that write our history, and enthusiasm is the right response from someone aware of its transcendence. On the day that CNN released the news about the Russian involvement in Trump´s campaign, we all listened at the end of our training at the Shaolin Temple, and we celebrated the vague possibility of impeachment. I heard a teenager say, “I´m very excited to live here and during this time.”

At my university, an Afro American student dresses every day with her Black Lives Matter shirt, or Stop Shooting Us shirt. On Halloween, she disguised herself as someone murdered by the police, with a perfectly made-up bullet hole in her forehead which made me jump every time I turned to look at her. Another student originally from India dressed in her traditional dress on the day when university students organized a walkout in support of immigrants; it was her way of telling her Republican neighbors on Long Island that when they are talking about immigrants they are talking about her. Another student got arrested at one of the marches. We all were worried for her, but the next day she looked pretty relaxed and said in her record it wouldn’t be more serious than a traffic ticket.

I know going out to the protests and risking arrest is not for everyone. My part-time roommate trains dogs, she has a nice rent-stabilized apartment in the East Village, and my guess is she´s not crazy about marching in the streets; but her unique way to express her indignation about the current situation was to make dozens of dispensable bags for dog shit with the face of Donald Trump: #DumpTrump. In Mexico, one of my aunts had an almost opposite, conciliatory gesture: she went to the USA Embassy and hung a sign that said, “…and for the one who builds a wall against a friend, I´ll plant no thistles or nettles: a white rose I will plant”. The original is José Martí´s, and even the cops who guarded the embassy understood the poetic act and wanted to take pictures of themselves with the sign. To some, these all may seem like pointless gestures, but the point is to do something, even if it´s a small thing, for as Susan Sontag wrote, doing nothing, living in lethargic impotence, will eventually turn into frustration and apathy.

And those conquered without remedy by apathy and individualism will always be present, they will grow indignant if we disturb their agenda, full only of themselves. During one of the marches on 5th Avenue, close to the Trump Tower, a woman with many plastic surgeries, a fancy coat and shopping bags in hand screamed at us, enraged, “Get down from your ivory tower!” I can´t even imagine where she heard the phrase, and what made her think that the right moment to howl it was at the underpaid Hispanic crowd that we were: #Lady Ivory Tower. A Latina online insists that she´s not scandalized by the recording in which Trump insults women, she has real self esteem, Trump doesn’t intimidate her: and that´s exactly why she voted for him: #LadySelfEsteem. An arrogant bloviator writes in a newspaper about how much current feminism makes her yawn, same as those pasteboard marches that are so far below her intellect, and besides they just ruined her family dinner: #LadyYawn. I refuse to call these women “victims”, as some branches of feminism, more generous than me, would diagnose. To me they are just mercenaries, conformists. My immediate reaction to these ladies is always the same: I freeze, I cannot believe they exist; but that says something about my privileges, too – I consider that the biggest one of them all is to be surrounded everyday by intelligent, admirable, supportive women. Sometimes I even want to believe that even if it´s not all of us, there are still more of us.

At times when an overwhelming pessimism has been my everyday mood, I have no idea where these optimistic thoughts came from. Deep inside, I believe we will put up with Trump and his henchmen for four long years, and the damages will be irreparable: for the environment, for immigrants, for women. The setbacks will be devastating and the protests will continue for the same basic demands as always, because Trump supporters will keep saying that is better to have a president who is a billionaire, with a top model for a third wife, someone they can have a beer with instead of a damn know-it-all, or worse, a woman. The incidents will continue. Just a few days after the election, while walking down a lonely street, a man kept screaming behind me like a lunatic, “Donald Trump is president! All women are bitches!” I just waited cautiously and let him pass me by. A few blocks away from the Shaolin Temple, two skinheads stabbed two anti-fascists outside a bar. Close to home, somebody wrote on a piece of cardboard, “Jews belong in the oven”. On a subway line, somebody covered a car in swastikas written with sharpies, but someone posted on Facebook that other passengers put themselves to erasing them quickly with hand sanitizer. For sometimes it´s just about that, about not letting them have the last word, about insisting on our idea of a more dignified world and not losing it from sight. The Women´s Strike will be another way to insist on that, it will come and pass, maybe as an historical event in the social struggle, maybe just as another protest more or less well accomplished. Personally, I know I will keep fluctuating and some days I will embrace the most idealistic, impossible #LoveTrumpsHate, and some other days it will be that other message full of indignation and tiredness, but equally valid and nonconformist: I can´t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit.

New York, 2017

Todas contra el presidente

La huelga de las mujeres está en camino. La fecha será el 8 de marzo, el Día de la Mujer. Tomé clases de literatura y de música en el edificio del incidente del Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, el incendio donde murieron las mujeres inmigrantes que trabajaban para la fábrica de ropa: uno de los eventos que se conmemora en esa fecha, aunque el día no sea el exacto. Estudiantes de todas nacionalidades suben y bajan por esos pasillos, muchos sin saber que esos acontecimientos ocurrieron ahí.

Este país nunca ha visto una huelga general, aunque ha habido varios intentos fallidos por organizarla. Pero nunca antes un movimiento había librado, como con salto olímpico, la brecha generacional, las diferencias de raza y religión, de posición social. La Marcha de las Mujeres el 21 de enero no sólo fue una muestra de poder sino de unidad sin precedentes. Musulmanes y judíos, ateos y cristianos, jóvenes y viejos de todas las razas. Hombres y mujeres. En todo el país, las multitudes salieron a las calles sumando más de 400 marchas simultaneas. Al final del día, dejaron un saldo de 0 arrestos. Mi cartel favorito fue uno que muy acertadamente se volvió popular gracias a una foto que expresa el humor y la aceptación de lo absurdo de nuestro presente: I can´t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit, sostenido por una anciana que sonríe con ironía. “Estoy tan enojada que hice un cartel,” fue otro. La denigrante grabación del presidente hablando orgulloso de sus acosos encontró una respuesta en This Pussy Grabs Back. Las plazas se llenaron de mujeres que gritaban My body! My choice! mientras los hombres respondían Her body! Her choice! en referencia a las abominables políticas que afectarán nuestras decisiones de control de natalidad.

El movimiento que despertó Trump sin quererlo unificó a un amplio sector de la sociedad estadounidense. Ni los movimientos contra la guerra de Vietnam, ni por los derechos civiles habían logrado dejar atrás tantas diferencias. Ahora es la mayoría enfurecida por la falta de respeto a su voto y a sus impuestos, por la negligencia respecto al apremiante problema ambiental, por los atropellos a los derechos de los inmigrantes, por la criminalización de los mexicanos, musulmanes, afroamericanos, por la corrupción y la incompetencia. Pero la delantera en la indignación la llevan las mujeres. El hecho de que un acosador sexual haya ascendido a presidente, arrebatándole el lugar a quien pudo ser la primera presidenta de USA, por demás impopular y cuestionable, ha indignado más de lo que en inicio se esperaba. Y el movimiento de Women´s March se ha propuesto una agenda radical y apretada, no han dado descanso a la administración de Trump. Se ha propuesto también repensar y recalibrar el feminismo, volverlo un arma no solo contra el machismo sino de manera más general, contra el neoliberalismo y sus jinetes del Apocalipsis: la desigualdad social, la destrucción sistemática del medio ambiente, la tiranía de las empresas.

Pienso que algo bueno saldrá de todo esto, algo cambiará. Estos momentos son los que escriben la historia y el entusiasmo es la reacción normal para una persona que comprende su trascendencia. El día en que las noticias sobre la cercanía de la influencia rusa en la campaña de Trump aparecieron en CNN, todos escuchamos al final de la práctica de kung fu, en el Shaolin Temple, y festejamos por la vaga posibilidad del impeachment. Yo escuché decir a una adolescente, “estoy muy emocionada de vivir aquí y en estos tiempos”.

En la universidad, una alumna afroamericana se viste todos los días con su playera de BlackLivesMatter, o Stop Shooting Us; en Halloween, se disfrazó de asesinada por la policía, con un balazo tan perfectamente maquillado en la frente que cada vez que entraba alguien nuevo al salón se asustaba al verla. Otra alumna, originaria de India, llegó en traje tradicional el día en que la universidad se manifestó en apoyo a los inmigrantes; fue su forma de recordarle a sus vecinos republicanos de Long Island que, aunque ella tenga una buena posición económica, cuando están hablando de inmigrantes están hablando también de ella. Otra más de mis alumnas fue arrestada en una de las marchas. Todos nos preocupamos, pero ella llegó al día siguiente y sólo dijo que en su expediente no sería más grave que una multa por conducir mal.

Salir a las calles y arriesgarse a los arrestos no es para todos. Mi compañera de estudio es entrenadora de perros, tiene renta estabilizada en un lindo apartamento en East Village y sospecho que no es de las que sale muy seguido a protestar, pero su muy particular forma de traducir su indignación fue mandar a hacer cientos de bolsitas desechables para la mierda de perro con la cara de Donald Trump: La mierda en su lugar. En México, una de mis tías, en un gesto casi opuesto, conciliador, colgó en las rejas de la embajada estadounidense una manta que decía: “…y para aquel que levanta un muro contra el amigo, cardo ni ortiga cultivo, cultivo una rosa blanca”. Incluso los policías que custodiaban la embajada entendieron el acto poético y querían sacarse fotos con la manta. A muchos les parecerán gestos inútiles, pero lo importante es hacer algo, por mínimo que sea, porque como escribió Sontag, no hacer nada, permanecer en el letargo de la impotencia, se transformará a la larga en frustración y en apatía.

Y aquellos conquistados irremediablemente por la apatía y el individualismo siempre estarán presentes, se indignarán si perturban su agenda, tan llena sólo de sí mismos. En una de las marchas por la Quinta Avenida, muy cerca de la Trump Tower, una rubia de cirugía plástica, abrigo elegante y bolsas de compras en mano nos grita enfurecida, “¡Bájense ya de su torre de marfil!” No puedo ni imaginar dónde escuchó la frase ni qué le hizo pensar que el momento correcto para vociferarla era ante el montón de hispanohablantes asalariados que somos nosotros. LadyTorredeMarfil. Una latina en línea insiste en que ella no se escandaliza por la grabación donde Trump insulta a las mujeres, ella sí que se valora a sí misma, tiene una alta autoestima y Trump no la intimida: precisamente por eso decidió votar por él. LadyAutoestima. Una opinóloga arrogante escribe en un periódico lo mucho que le aburre el feminismo actual y esas marchas de cartulina, tan por debajo de su intelecto, además le han arruinado su cena en familia. LadyBostezo. Me niego a llamar víctimas a mujeres así, como algunas ramas del feminismo, más generosas que yo, diagnosticarían. Para mí son mercenarias, conformistas. Mi reacción inmediata ante estas ladies siempre es la misma: me dejan congelada, no puedo creer que existan, pero eso habla también de mis privilegios, de los cuales creo que el mayor es estar rodeada cada día de mujeres inteligentes, admirables, solidarias. A veces quiero creer también que, aunque no somos todas, somos más.

En tiempos en que un pesimismo abrumador ha sido mi cotidianidad no sé cómo pude llegar a estas reflexiones tan arrebatadamente optimistas. En el fondo, creo que aguantaremos a Trump y a sus secuaces por cuatro largos años y los daños en muchos aspectos serán irreparables: para el medio ambiente, para los inmigrantes, para las mujeres. El retroceso será devastador y las marchas continuarán por las mismas peticiones básicas de siempre porque los Trumpistas seguirán diciendo que es mejor un presidente millonario, con una tercera esposa modelo, alguien con quien puedan tomarse una cerveza y no un maldito sabelotodo o, peor, una mujer. Los incidentes continuarán. Unos días después de la toma de poder, en una calle solitaria, un hombre gritaba detrás de mí como un lunático, “Donald Trump is president! All women are bitches!”, yo esperé con cautela y dejé que pasara de largo. Apenas hace seis días, un par de skin heads acuchillaron a dos antifascistas a unas cuadras del Shaolin Temple. Casi a la vuelta de mi casa, alguien escribió en unas cajas en la banqueta, los judíos pertenecen al horno. En una línea del metro, alguien tapizó las ventanas con suásticas escritas con plumón indeleble, pero en Facebook alguien reportó que los pasajeros se dieron a la tarea de borrarlas lo más rápido posible con limpiador de alcohol para manos. Porque tal vez a veces se trata sólo de eso, de no permitir que ellos tengan la última palabra, de insistir en nuestra idea de un mundo más digno y no perderlo de vista. El Women´s Strike será una forma más de insistir, llegará y pasará, tal vez como un éxito histórico en las luchas sociales, tal vez como una más de las protestas más o menos logradas. En lo personal, sé que continuaré oscilando y unos días me entregaré a la consigna más optimista, al idílico pero imposible LoveTrumpsHate, y otros días el pesimismo abrumador me hará volver a esa otra consigna cargada de fastidio e indignación pero igualmente válida y sobre todo inconforme: I can´t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit.

Nueva York, 2017

Desear la violencia

Cuando Barak Obama fue nombrado presidente, durante las protestas de la extrema derecha (ésas que ahora los republicanos alegan que nunca existieron) alguien tomó una fotografía de un muñeco de trapo ahorcado que lo representaba, algunos de los marchistas enardecidos lo alzaban sobre la multitud. Esta imagen directamente alusiva a los mejores tiempos del KKK y en extremo racista me pareció representativa de lo que puede llamarse el deseo de la violencia, una violencia latente que espera ser, que palpita de entusiasmo por la oportunidad de convertirse en un acto.

La campaña y final triunfo de Donald Trump fue un ejemplo de este deseo de la violencia como pocos ha habido y no es exageración comparar a las huestes Trumpistas con las multitudes nazis en la Alemania de los 30s; sus estridentes opiniones sobre la tortura le ganaron votos, vociferó sobre traer de vuelta los tiempos del llamado “waterboarding”, prohibido en la administración de Bush, e insistió en que la tortura funciona y aunque no funcione los terroristas “se la merecen”. Su triunfo fue el triunfo del discurso de la violencia por la violencia, entendida por sus fanáticos como una forma de sinceridad más allá de la política, como si enaltecer los arrebatos de un sociópata fuera la forma correcta de hacer campaña. Trump encontró una forma de acoger y unir a aquellos que claman su derecho por verbalizar y externar su repudio contra mujeres, mexicanos, musulmanes, inmigrantes, homosexuales. Quienes desean la violencia hoy están bien representados.

Si los movimientos incluyentes a lo largo de todo el mundo han tratado de detener las agresiones a las minorías desde la palabra misma, una extrema derecha demostró con la elección de Trump sus ansias de violentar al otro y es una ingenuidad creer que no lo dicen en serio o que su deseo permanecerá en la esfera del lenguaje. Desear la violencia es perpetrarla, es estar siempre a punto de llevarla a cabo. Una violencia agazapada, que espera la oportunidad de lanzarse contra la víctima, elegida o accidental.

Si sobreviviremos a “lo inminente del fin” es una cuestión que sigue concerniendo al arte, pero que está hoy más allá de las palabras. Mientras el presidente Trump twittea y firma, censura y profiere, las protestas rodean su torre en la Quinta Avenida de Manhattan, llenan las plazas y las calles en todo su país y más allá de su frontera. Siento que en cierta forma hemos llegado al mundo del Viernes mutilado del que hablaba J. M. Coetzee: un mundo “donde los cuerpos son sus propios signos.”

Nueva York, 2017


El diablo viste de rayas

“Hoy traes tus pantalones de Beetlejuice”, le dice el director del ensamble a una de las guitarristas durante un ensayo, “por eso vienes particularmente cruel y despiadada”. Los mencionados pantalones que usa hoy Gaby son unos de rayas blanco y negro, anchas, verticales; no recordaba que eran la vestimenta característica de ese personaje de Tim Burton entre lo cómico y lo macabro. Este comentario sobre lo despiadado de las rayas me parece muy acertado, sobre todo si recuerdo un breve libro de Michel Pastoureau que descubrí por casualidad hace tiempo, Las vestiduras del diablo: breve historia de las rayas en la indumentaria (Oceano, Barcelona, 2005). El autor comienza no por citar algún empolvado libro de historia, sino el eslogan de una marca de ropa en los metros de París: “Este verano, atrévase con la elegancia chic de las rayas”. Vestir de rayas nos convierte en foco de atención, pues el efecto visual es instantáneo, no puedes elegir un atuendo a rayas y esperar pasar desapercibido: es un señalamiento intencional, un “atrevimiento”, como el eslogan lo indica, una forma de resaltar tu persona en contraste con el resto del mundo. Pero los primeros atuendos a rayas que recuerdo haber visto en mi infancia son los del ladrón en las caricaturas de La Pantera Rosa: si las rayas son involuntarias, forzosas, muy probablemente se trate de un señalamiento negativo, tal vez por esto tardé tanto en tomarles el gusto. Los siguientes rayados en mi imaginario personal fueron los gondoleros venecianos, los marineros y otros personajes que me parecían simpáticos pero no elegantes usando este peculiar uniforme que los ayuda a identificarse: las rayas, en este caso, otorgan un lugar dentro de cierto orden. Más tarde noté a los emos, con su supuesto luto perpetuo, a quienes en la repartición de la moda los darks les ganaron el negro liso, así que para distinguirse adoptaron las rayas como prisión. Y hablando de prisión, recuerdo también el fiasco de película (no sé si de libro) de El niño del piyama de rayas, donde un niño alemán es tan visualmente estúpido como para confundir durante días las rayas estigmáticas con las higiénicas, y simplemente no puede darse cuenta de que su amigo está en un campo de concentración. Recientemente me entusiasmó comprar un traje de baño a rayas blancas y rojas para sentirme en una de esas viejas películas italianas donde los trajes de baño, a menudo también las toallas y las sábanas, son rayadas.

Como lo explica Pastoreau, en la época medieval, tan partidaria de la neutralidad y la abstinencia, la extravagancia de las rayas desordenaba el mundo: los Carmelitas, estigmatizados por su manto a rayas, sufrieron agresiones y fueron forzados a cambiar su atuendo; el judío usurero, el bufón menospreciado, todos eran personajes vestidos a rayas que pactaban de una u otra forma con el diablo. Incluso el tigre era visto como un león “negativo”, como rival del Salvador. Pero en nuestra época, heredera del romanticismo, cuando la diferencia y la individualidad se valoran más que la norma, las rayas pueden ser el atuendo del personaje distinguido, del artista y el revolucionario. El traje de baño de la primera Barbie, el leotardo de Freddy Mercury o las medias de Gwen Stephany irrumpen en el paisaje del atuendo decente, se enorgullecen de la asimetría que provocan y la erigen como elegancia. Así, la semiología de las rayas es infinita y, en tiempos en que ser atrevido es una virtud, no hay nada más chic para resaltar nuestra naturaleza despiadada.

Tell me someone who´s ridiculous


On November 8th, I taught Spanish class at NYU at 11am. It wasn’t 11:10 yet and I heard the word ¨nazi¨ twice, coming from a couple of students who, against the class´ rules, were speaking in English. I turned to look at them and they said, ¨Sorry! We´re just worried about the election”. We all laughed, that nervous kind of laugh that says deep inside we still hope everything´s going to be all right. I asked if they had voted yet, some said yes, some said later after school. Everyone was voting for Hilary, despite the fact that they dislike her so much. It was one of those days when you realize it´s a wonderful thing to live and work in a University.

I always thought it was possible for him to win. I kept telling those who didn’t think he had a chance, “You had Schwartzenegger for governor! You had Reagan for president!” Still, I didn’t want to believe that Clinton, who had worked all her life for this, would loose to someone so obscene, so grotesque, so absolutely ridiculous.

I also went to Ethnomusicology class in the afternoon. A friend was wearing a hat with a poker card that had Hilary on it, “It´s my lucky charm¨, she said. We all smiled and agreed to leave early, for the professor had yet to vote. I went training to the USA Shaolin Temple, it was full and everyone was feeling cheerful, excited, hopeful. Sifu said at some point, “bam! Like you´re beating Trump!”. More laughs and smiles. Someone joked about himself being elected president, “Nobody knows how it happened, but Sifu Shi Yan Ming was elected!” I wouldn’t mind having a Buddhist Shaolin monk for president. He would make everyone stretch their bodies and their minds.

But when we finished training, a girl picked up her iphone and said it: “Trump is ahead”. Silence. Sifu, who became a citizen just a few years ago, turned on the big screen of the temple and we all watched, paralyzed. He just kept sighing and saying ¨stupid people…stupid people…” I stayed and watched for a while. In the women´s changing room, someone was saying, “my father is a Russian immigrant, and he voted for Trump…all those people, Mexican, Russian, Cuban immigrants, they voted for him…I don’t understand”.

I felt the need to go back home to my boyfriend, who was probably already watching how things got worse. We sat together for a while. I went to bed at midnight, broken and tired. Tony stayed up all night, writing about what he thinks will happen, what he wants to do, what must be done. The next day my first thought was that it had all been a nightmare. Then I went into the day. My students had an exam, one of them wrote to say she was so depressed that she needed to see a therapist. When I got to the classroom I said, “I haven’t been deported yet, so you still have an exam”. They laughed a very different kind of laugh, a “we´re all together in this nightmare” laugh. I immediately see them in a different light. The Muslim, the Jew, the Hispanic. The Women, oh yes, the Women with a capital W. How must they see me, I think, how do I look to them today, the Mexican professor. We are all wearing our tag.

In my next class, a white student was crying. A Trinidadian girl just said it: “this just shows you how this country is not at all about freedom, and democracy, and all that…you´re all welcome to live in Trinidad if you have to.” The shame of the Americans was so tangible when they heard her, they didn’t have an answer, and yet somehow we all shared the shame. “You´re all welcome to Mexico too, if you can jump over the wall”, I said, and we all laughed, and began the class as best as we could.

Three of my students came to my office afterwards. A black girl was so angry at those who voted third party candidates, we laughed bitterly at their choice. She hated Hilary, and still voted for her, she felt that she had to. An Indian girl said she has lived here for a long time, but she will never again say that she´s from here.

Late in the afternoon I met for tea with Karin Coonrod, a theater director, and Sue Mingus, Charles Mingus´ widow, at Sue´s apartment, close to Time Square. We share our anger and disappointment. Karin says she wants to contact Hilary and do something together with her, to present a theater play she wrote about Queen Elizabeth, Texts and Beheadings, a play that shows how difficult for a woman is to deal with the game of power without getting your head cut off. Sue says she´s been playing a game of her own with some of the musicians in the Mingus Big Band, changing the lyrics of “Fables of Faubus”, which Charles wrote about governor Faubus when he didn’t wanted to integrate schools in Arkansas in the 50´s. “We changed those lyrics to Donald Trump”, Sue says. What a wonderful game, I think, to bring that song with such irony and humor to our present day, and I can already hear it in my head.

– Tell me someone who´s ridiculous, Dannie.

– Donald Trump!

– Why is he so sick and ridiculous?

– He hates Women, Mexicans, Muslims, Jews!

– Then he’s a fool! Boo!

   Nazi Fascist supremists! Boo! Ku Klux Klan!

We leave Sue´s apartment. I go home to my white, Jewish, American boyfriend in the afternoon for a while. He tells me how much we should fear the people that will come with Trump, the ones who will destroy the environment, who will take away human rights, the ones who will lock the democrats out of the White House forever if we let them. And my mind´s already singing with him:

– Name me a handful that’s ridiculous, Tony.

– Giuliani, Christie, Mnuchin, Welch

– Why are they so sick and ridiculous?

– Two, four, six, eight:

They brainwash and teach you hate!
I walk through Union Square and I see someone is projecting in one of the buildings an image of Trump in black and white, followed by a list of adjectives that suit him well: “Ego Maniac. Xenophobe. Misogynistic. Entitled…” I feel like I´m in some futuristic movie, where the image of the tyrant follows you everywhere. I had dinner with a Spanish friend at a Mexican restaurant in Brooklyn. Her company is healing, and part of it is because she knows the power of humor. But tonight she also gets very serious, ¨Trump doesn’t get inside my house! And my house is Spain, and is France, and is Mexico all at once!”. I feel annoyed at the two white waiters who seem particularly condescending tonight to the two Spanish-speaking women. I feel as if they had done something to me, something personal. I try not to feel these emotions, and yet, there they are. I´m nice to them and leave a tip. Carmen and I walk to the subway, we part and I feel a little less safe on my own, on the train.

The stories of violence find us the next day. Even here, in the University, were we used to feel safe. And there´s lots to come. I think again of that fierce black student of mine, and how when they asked her if she was going to the protest, she said, “No, man, today I just want to go to church with my family and pray.” And I hear Mingus again in my head, with this “Fables of Trump” version I got now:

“Oh, Lord, don’t let them shoot us…

Oh, Lord, don’t let them stab us…”


The Permanence of the Insignificant (Introduction to The Circular Parade)

El desfile circular cover

In Toys and Reasons, Erik H. Erikson notes that through time, adults have judged playing and games as neither serious nor useful, and therefore unrelated to central human tasks and motivations. “Such division makes life more simple and allows adults to reject the suggestion, often startling, that play (and, thus, randomness) may occur in the vital center of adult preoccupations, just like it does in the center of childhood preoccupations”.

The history of the concept of play is difficult to track down. However, as Roger Caillois states, games provide us with evidence of human nature’s constancy, since their persistence is notable: “Empires and institutions may disappear, but games survive with the same rules and sometimes even with the same paraphernalia. The main reason is that they are not important – they possess the permanence of the insignificant”.

The play-element is immersed in our culture and is an essential part of it, but like the court jester, is never taken seriously. Play is an occasion merely for waste, says Caillois, “waste of time, of energy, of wit, of skills and, often, of money”: it is a useless activity, unproductive in itself, and in this it shares its essence with Art. Playing is an act of free will, since no one can be forced to play, but once you join, you must respect established rules that have nothing to do with social conventions or the norms of everyday life; in fact, sometimes the rules of the game are directly opposite to those of “real life”.

Among the 20th century’s favorite metaphors for expressing what life resembles, three refer to rides. We say “life is a roller coaster” to speak about a series of unexpected events, the sudden shocks we all face unprepared, the speed of modern world. I have heard the expression especially when big changes are about to happen, as if those who use it were on the highest mountain top, just seconds away from the first euphoric descent. People say “life is a Ferris wheel” to describe the luck and chance that sometimes leads us to success where we can sit side by side with the winners, and sometimes knocks us down to the lowest possible state, next to the unfortunate. But nothing lasts forever. The wheel may turn again, changing the destiny of our hopes and our place in the world. Finally, “life is a merry-go-round” can be heard in all kinds of songs to suggest that through life we spin on the same spot, around certain things, people, important events, in a circular journey which, where it will lead, we can never know. We lose sight of the beginning and the end: it is all about holding tight and enjoying the ride.

Love, as life, is often compared to these rides. Love is a carousel: with its constant spinning it isolates us from the world and allows us to be alone with whoever rides with us, while soft and joyful music is heard as if creating a world apart for the lovers. Love is a Ferris wheel: it takes us high above the clouds to contemplate an immense horizon, a view at first hidden from our eyes. But love can also take us down to the ground, heartbroken. And the image of the roller coaster will be always used in reference to passionate love, beyond our control, out of proportion, that can take us full speed into free falls that may even terrify us.

In his book Homo ludens, Johan Huizinga states that every game, in its free and meaningful sense, is a representation of something. If we follow this assertion, it is not hard to conclude that rides are the representation of a journey: they remove us from everyday life in order to displace us in different ways within a determined time-space intended for this purpose; their ups and downs change our vision of reality, we must accept their twists and turns, we must take the risk from entrance to exit so we can have a new experience, a new exploit to tell before we come back home. In English they are called “rides”, the word tells us clearly we have to ride the machine and complete a certain path, a certain journey on board. And life, like love, is a journey, according to the oldest metaphors of humankind.

It is no surprise that the emergence of rides coincided with the end of the era of exploration, around the second half of the 18th century. When the world stopped being an unknown place full of mysteries, when we ran out of borders (at least apparently), human beings turned their expectations to the subjective journey, the one that can be made through emotions and senses. A new era of explorations was born, but directed to the individual experience, inside the mind of every adventurer. Soon, medical or spiritual reasons would no longer be the only purpose for drug experimentation, which would become a pursuit of pleasure, or as Davenport-Hines describes it, a pursuit of oblivion, of joy. Travel to different countries, to places that changed from being exotic mysteries into territories vanquished by so-called civilization, might offer unbridled sexuality as a promise for an off-the-books adventure – the traveler could feel safe from watchful familiar faces. The brave adventurer, the explorer, the discoverer, became a simple tourist, and as Caren Kaplan says, “tourism is a herald of modernity, a product from the beginning of the culture of consumerism, leisure and technological innovation”.

This representations of the journey – the carousel, the Ferris wheel, the roller coaster – helped motivate the creation of a place within the city intended to get away from routine, to invert the rules and forget about day-to-day behavior: the fair. If we look at a Turkish watercolor painting from the 17th century or if we consult The Travels of Peter Mundy (1608-1667), we find in the descriptions and sketches of Philippopolis (today Bulgaria) that fairs of that time and place are presented very much like modern fairs. Some modern rides even existed in a primitive form: spinning rides that amused by going round and round, vertical wheels with seats that go up and down. In addition, there were musicians who created a joyful atmosphere, and people drinking and walking around, enjoying a ritual distant from the sacred and the political but equally necessary for their society.

It was only in the 19th century that world’s fairs and world expositions in Europe and America became the stage for scientists, artists and business men to exhibit their latest developments: the epitome of civilization and its progress. Additionally, these World’s Fairs promoted the cosmopolitan idea of uniting inhabitants from all around the world: Arab dancers and Eskimos, African magicians and enigmatic Japanese women. Previously, circuses had exhibited recently discovered wild animals as attractions. Then, it was human beings who displayed their exoticism and boasted about their origins and traditions. The ideas that made enemies of the unconquered began to be left behind, or at least, they were left out of the fair, which became a world’s sampler, a space where everybody mingled to be amazed by their differences.

In this context of cosmopolitism and eagerness for novelties, mechanical rides won their place in modern life. Besides giving more activity and movement to the fair, and often demonstrating the technological advances and risky new designs that could be accomplished, rides also opened a new panorama of feelings and behaviors. The fair would become the perfect space for fulfilling many of the ideas of Romanticism. Rides would help to do so by allowing free expression and breaking up familiar conventions. Love, courtship, the fall of racial boundaries, public and uninhibited liberation of the most intense emotions would all take place in the fair, and quite often thanks to these new mechanical rides that confronted their passengers with a new form of perception. There was always provocation and challenge in the act of riding these machines. Those who did it could brag about being brave and daring, two of the most coveted features of big cities’ residents.

Despite being a product of technological innovation and metropolitan amusement, the rides also appealed to the charm of nature’s elements. On the other hand, they also appealed to the creation of a world of fantasy, or a world that resembled that of bygone times allegedly obliterated by modern world. The carousel represented a ride on the back of steeds, jungle animals and even fantastic creatures otherwise inconceivable in the urban world. It evoked a world symbolically and literally distant from the city: the country, the jungle or fairy tale landscapes. With the roller coaster, the connection to nature is evident: a wooden or iron mountain that manages to infiltrate the structure of a city and to appropriate a distinct characteristic of its people’s life: the speed of events, their intensity, and the uncontrolled impulse towards the future. The Ferris wheel with its countless mystic allusions, seemingly unrelated to nature, revealed to its passengers a new form of enjoying a product recently offered to tourism and so cherished by romantic poets: the landscape.

Besides this consistent element of integrating nature, artificially or symbolically, into the structure of the city, and thus helping the creation of the “concrete jungle”, the appearance and decoration adopted by the rides seemed to tie together both ancient and modern elements. The carousel, with its rococo, shiny, and artificial aesthetic, enveloped us in fairy tales or the splendor of baroque churches. At nights, the Ferris wheel became a spectacle in itself the moment someone decided to cover it with incandescent bulbs, turning it into a luminous cobweb in the sky. The roller coaster presented attractions from all over the world during the course of the ride: Egyptian pyramids, Swiss Alps, and grottos, proving that the most characteristic sights of the planet could be condensed into a short and intense journey.

Very few pleasures are as universal as these three rides. They have succeeded in becoming a part of every culture and society without any resistance. They adapt to all contexts and insert themselves into all social conventions. They seem inherent to our own nature. Because of that, they seem to have suddenly emerged everywhere, without any specific origin, without anyone in particular who decided to invent them.

Nowadays, these rides are far from losing popularity and they continue in several forms as cultural obsessions. The race for building the tallest Ferris wheel, beginning in the 1980s in Japan, seems never to end. The Eye of London, at 443 feet, held first place from its opening in the year 2000 until 2006, when the Star of Nachang in China surpassed it by 82 feet. The Singapore Flyer in 2008 surpassed the Nanchang Star, but only by 16.5 feet. The period a Ferris wheel can remain the tallest of the world is short. The most recent project is in Staten Island, New York City, where construction was planned (at least before Hurricane Sandy in 2012) of a 625 feet tall Ferris wheel. Every new roller coaster is intended to be faster and more complex, to offer emotions more intense than ever. They have changed from “roller coasters” to “Mega Coasters” or even “Mega Hyper Coasters”, with completely vertical ups and downs, simulating not only freefall from a mountain top but a rocket launching into space. The carousel has experienced something different, since what is wanted from it is not improvement or modification, but the restoration of original roundabouts from the so-called “Golden Age” of the carousel. It is intended to be kept as a museum exhibit, an immense music box. The best example is Jane’s Carousel, in Brooklyn, restored together with its pipe organ and going round and round within glass walls on the East River waterfront. The craftsmen who first carved horses and animals on the carousel’s wood are now considered artists who were underappreciated in their time. The price of the original items has increased, and it is a collector’s obsession to obtain one and restore it as closely to the original as possible. The carousel awakens the nostalgia, the longing for past times proper to its own melodious, childhood-addressed nature.

We are more than beings of reason, according to Huizinga, since play is irrational. And great men of science and reason, business and technology served the irrational when building these rides. The stories of the early inventors, their work and the trying times they faced when building these remarkable innovations are little remembered. There are only a few reference books dedicated to these inventions, all of them based on old sketches, photographs, newspapers and patents. And we can count even fewer texts venturing interpretations of the reasons for the rides, and why their success has continued until today, to the point that we keep going to them in theme parks and we keep comparing them with life itself. Being on board these rides sets us free and helps us see things in a new light, it shows us a new landscape and allows secrets of our inner life to escape. Some people become addicts. Some cannot withstand the vertigo they provoke. But no one can remain indifferent to their constant presence and influence in our culture. They are there, they offer us a pleasure that is out of ordinary but so universal that it makes us feel more human, a pleasure that releases us from everyday rules and from our own personal boundaries, in order to send us into an apparently brief journey from which we always come back transformed.

Translated by Luis Miguel Estrada

Edited by Tony Geballe