What Happened?

August 18th, 2014

It was like this, two summers ago on the beach of Zahara de los Atunes, the winds from Africa picked up and caused the sand to pelt us all in the face and Tin, then three years old cried out to us all, “What happened??!!??” The winds are called Levante, they come from the east, where the sun rises, and are smokey hot and make the beach miserable when they are strong. No way to get to the cool ocean because the sands are a battleground.

Zahara is a beach community, an ancient fishing village, and not really on many people’s destination list because of the fickle winds – the levante or poniente – the winds from Africa – coming from the east or west – they bring cooler temps than beach life requires and hotter temps than anyone can afford especially without mod cons like air conditioning, much less ceiling fans.

This year, our fifth in Zahara for summer vacation, poniente dominated the weather forecast making the temps and water colder than usual – meaning that I swam less than usual. In this Andalusian village though, the weather was ideal for walking around, hanging out, and sitting and walkie/talkies on the beach with friends.

And it all happened so fast. “What happened?” was coursing through my brain last night when we arrived from our two day trek home, with only a slight airport delay, but included a four-hour train ride from Cadiz to Madrid, where the a/c system broke and we rode with sweat pouring off our body in coaches that had dogs, cats, and whatever anyone else had decided to bring to their summer vacation from Madrid.

“What happened?” was also on my mind when we touched down in New Orleans and I lugged the heavy suitcase up the stairs noticing the jungle that replaced my otherwise lush garden out front. What happened was a continuous loop as I went through mail, bills, news, dirty clothes, sandy flip flops and tried to find my iPhone that I haven’t used in over a month.

I woke this morning at the unnatural hour of 4am and meditated and felt eternally grateful that I woke in my bed, with clean sheets, after a hot shower where the water pelted me rather than dribbled out of a handheld faucet. I woke to my dirty clothes piled in neat color and fabric coded piles to be washed over the course of the next two days. I woke to the mail partially sorted.

I woke to green tea and gluten free granola, my friend’s cookbook finally arrived (Flourless – more on that later). I woke to a feeling like wow, summer happened once again, and I had the good fortune of spending time away, in Spain, with summer friends, with Tin, on the beach, living in Spanish, Andalusian style, a parallel universe to the one that is here for me in New Orleans.

As usual while I stepped out of my life, the world continue to blow up – Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza and Israel, Nigeria, and right here in the U.S. of A. in a place called Ferguson, Missouri. What happened indeed.

I stood in the airport terminal in Atlanta and watched a huge flat screen television show the protests in the streets while Tin danced around under my skirt. Michael Brown. Another boy’s name to add to the growing list of young Black men killed by white police. There are times when you just want to walk off the planet, like Robin Williams did, to escape the pain and destruction that is constantly bearing down on you.

But we had just returned from unplugging and the beach, and our getaway was not meant to last forever, it was a respite, a recharge, and now, SNAP, back to reality. Which means you get up hopeful the next day, that today is a day when the world will get it right.

And as Flower, my Russian friend is want to say, hope dies last.


Summer Snapshot

August 14th, 2014

Despite the weather, summer is almost officially over with school starting this coming Monday. And of course, back to work for the adults. But I want to remember all of the summer moments – the slipper towel (as Tin called the towel I put so he wouldn’t slip when he washed off the sand on the terrace), the performances including fab introductions in Spanish and English by him and his two new gal friends who live downstairs (his performance was to dance to Angelique Kidjo singing Voodoo Child), kicking water at each other on the beach, his first boogie board experience (courtesy of Felipe), his dinosaur rock videos watched with Ana, the beautiful vista of bougainvillea and mountain and sea from Ana’s terrace, the beach, Morocco in the distance, fat rice noodles from the Cadiz Asian market cooked with local greens and seafood, books-books-books, Tin’s outfits (good Lord!) and most of all summer friends.

If there was world enough and time this summer snapshot would come readily to mind during any moment of doubt or fear.


Love and Marriage

August 8th, 2014

I read somewhere that Margaret Atwood said a divorce is like an amputation, you’re less afterwards. That would make me 4/5th the woman I used to be and still I feel like there is so much more of me now than at any other point in my life.

On the way to Spain, I was trying to explain to my son that things had changed. A dear woman had passed from illness and old age, another had separated from her long-time partner (badly), a friend’s prominent restaurant had moved, and that another dear friend would only be there for a small part of our stay. Tin said, “Why do things have to change? I like them the way they are.”

Oh yes, we all like them the way they are until we don’t. A friend’s sister wants to have a baby, but she’s recently divorced and it is neigh impossible to meet, greet, and procreate in a short period of time. It’s been done, but not often.

I’ve had one too many interaction with couples spiraling into an abyss – cheaters, liars, indifference, not to mention the chronically needy. I watch from the peanut gallery – some experience under my belt – and yet perplexed at how appearances mean nothing when it comes to love and marriage (read: any committed relationship).

A few years ago, I read an advice column about a situation that I identified with – the woman who wrote said that she was fairly attractive but that her friend got all the guys. The advice was for her to look at the type of guys her friend got – were they men who would stay, commit, was her friend in a long-term relationship, and was she happy? I cut out the column and put it somewhere – a file folder, my scrapbook, a drawer – I don’t remember where, but I remember what it said.

A dear friend here suffered the worst tragedy imaginable and lost her husband and son in it more than a decade ago. A dear friend here found out her many decades partner was leaving and had another woman, one who was impregnated within months and is now about to have a baby. A friend here was walking down the beach with his new girlfriend as if last year he had not been doing the same with another. It is these moments when you want to turn your back on love, to say it doesn’t exist, to be paranoid about the fact that perhaps you created all those love affairs in your own mind and they did not really happen.

On the same beach, in the same town, are three relationships with husbands and wives and children – families where you see active love, longevity, commitment, support, parenting, kisses, and that special light when one lover looks into his beloved’s eyes. It’s all happening here folks, magic on the beach, and miraculously this is the fifth year in a row I’ve seen these three couples in situ. One of them told me you can overcome anything with a loving partner beside you to support and care for you. That, for her, love is the most important.

When people get married because they think
it’s a long-time love affair,
they’ll be divorced very soon,
because all love affairs end in disappointment.
But marriage is a recognition of a spiritual identity.
- Joseph Campbell

Another tongue

August 7th, 2014

Tin’s got a new playmate who is closer to his age than his usual posse here. She lives downstairs and keeps him on his toes especially when her younger cousin is around; Tin absorbs so much Spanish because he is constantly being corralled by these two female chatterboxes (or in the case of the cousin, screamers).

I have been taking my afternoon walks on the beach with friends and it’s amazing to drift in and out of my thoughts in English into a conversation in Spanish. The repetition of words is rhythmic like the waves – “pide, pide, pide” – “barato, barato, barato” – “es buena, es buena, es buena” – rolling waves of words. The woman who spends all her money on clothes and handbags and does not have enough to buy food. The musician husband who has to go to other countries to find work. Children who wont practice their instrument. The great aunt who talks nonstop in a monotonous voice so that everyone around her begins nodding off one by one. Children growing up and not wanting to be at the beach with their parents any longer. Conversations where a multitude of characters come into play and my interest in them waxes and wanes to such a pitch that I dream I am at a dinner table with all of them and decide I have nothing to say.

But the Spanish tongue – clickety clack – is this why the berenjena tastes better here? Or the aceite de oliva de Cordoba is divine? Or the miel de campesino so yummy delicious I could pour it on my hand and just spend the day licking it off?

It’s early in the morning, the madrugada here in Spain, and people are whooping it up outside at the feria. Tin’s seven year old friend had to leave at 11PM to go out to dinner with her parents (what?). And me, the standard bearer of a decent bedtime – I’ve got insomnia despite taking a half of an Atavan to try to sleep.

Another tongue, another time.
It’s all the same, yet different.


The Spot

August 5th, 2014

Along with my daily rituals that I look forward to – my two cups of pu ehr and a bowl of gluten free granola with goat’s milk yogurt, the beach with Africa looming on the other side of the blue blue water, heavy lunches with multiple glasses of Verdejo – my new favorite white wine – beach walky talkies with friends near dusk, gin tonics at night and all the reading that happens here – I’ve found something else noteworthy.

My friend had a skiing accident and is laid up downstairs in her brother’s half of the house while her apartment upstairs with its fuchsia sofa and terrace overlooking the sea and mountain is empty – until now – I came here today to work on my book and feel as if I have stolen away into a writer’s Valhalla.

Truly, I have found the SPOT and now I will have to juggle between my vapid beach existence and my desire to write here. Lucky me.


August 1st, 2014


I’ve had the pleasure of two free late afternoon strolls along the seawall. The park that surrounds Cadiz is lush with tropical size trees and a topiary garden that features gigantic carved cedars. The weather is so cool, I’ve almost had to turn around and get a sweater.

I’ve always said I love Granada the most in Spain, but the truth is this year I realized that after five years it is Cadiz I love more. It was love at first sight with Granada and Cadiz has taken time to love. It’s sleepier here, Granada this year felt like a bustling city, while the return to Cadiz was like worn slippers – comfortable and desirable.

I went to my favorite gallery here, an offshoot of the University of Cadiz – a modern building housed in a century old one. The exhibits were okay – not as compelling as those of the past years – this year was an artist named Costus – strangely colorful backlit pop – while another artist had self-photographs along with apologies for everyone. I love this little gallery by the sea.

And more importantly I love being reminded that I am forgiven.


A bar where everybody knows your name

August 1st, 2014

Tin is five and a half and already has two bars in Cadiz where everybody knows his name and has since he was two years old. In the bar by the church, Tin keeps asking how everyone in there knows him so well. There you have it.

The woman who owns the great wine shop, Margerit, has opened a stall in the foodie section of the gran market here in Cadiz. This year she introduced me to Ababol sacristia – a white wine that hails from a small vineyard north of Madrid. I told her it was the holy trinity of white wines for me – dry – fruit forward – with body. I picked up the Gran Ababol that takes it to the next level:


Tin insisted on acting like he is reading about the transvestite who murdered the elderly woman – the only thing he knows is that it is a transvestite who robbed somebody:

So many books, so little time …

July 31st, 2014

I got on the airplane with Alain De Botton’s Essays in Love and segued into Greg Iles’ Natchez Burning – a book that held me in its death grip until it ended and I picked up Mo’ Meta Blues from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, which was a romp through the mind of a music geek like no other. All I wanted to do when I put down his book was pick up my iPod and listen to music, but then I picked up Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and now I wish I had every one of her books.

I’m a book whore who has a bad jones since my daily life after the arrival of Stella has left little time to read except at night when I can get in a paragraph before sinking into a sound sleep. Before Stella, I could count on an hour and a half in the morning to read and drink my tea before Tin rose and could average a book or two a week, but now Stella is the first up demanding me to join her in her youthful frenetic greeting of the day. My book quota is more like one book in a week and a half.

But summer vacation – ahhh yes, this is when I can indulge in my addiction (most of them anyway). And what a portable library I chose, unfortunately, what the hell was I thinking? Adichie’s book is the last one of the group I brought! Thankfully, there was already Edith Wharton In Morocco here as well as James M. Caine’s Mildred Pierce and Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch in Spanish.

That should get me through the next few days as we head to Zahara de los Atunes tomorrow where my friend there has the latest copy of Julian Barnes’ new book and she’s finished it and says it’s excellent – yay!

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”
– Abraham Lincoln

The Materials At Hand

July 30th, 2014

I bought online a dozen sky lanterns to bring to Zahara de los Atunes this summer. My plan was to release them on the anniversary of my friend losing her husband and child in a car accident, and in memoriam to my friend who passed this year. But the TSA would not allow the sky lanterns to pass security.

Tin was on the beach in Cadiz and he dug a hole and filled it with wet sand and then piled it up and put a stone on it. “What are you doing?” I’ve made a grave for Dina. “How did you come up with that?” From Mimi’s grave. Mimi and Dina are here.


The Old Country

July 30th, 2014

We brought some of the thin books that a friend had given Tin years ago – each one asks a question – Why, When, How, Where, and Why. We were reading about the Nile River, how it is the longest river in the world.

Later, I was asking Tin where the Nile is located and he said Australia {and we laughed]. Then I said, think of where your ancestors are from, but he kept saying Australia.

I said again, who are your ancestors? Tin said, “JEWS.”

All three of us belly laughed for a good ten minutes.

And while the conversation didn’t flow to the next logical course – is Judaism a race or religion, why African Americans’ ancestry is unknown, and all the complexity that comes next, at this juncture, it was easy to simply say, “Africa, silly,” laugh and move on.