Monday, July 02, 2007

Notas de Viaje: Part II Los Españoles

I know I said no Dear Diary moments, but what the heck!

1st july
The thing I notice first about Madrid as we circle in to land is the colour. The whole city is laid out gently tinted red, where in the US I only see the occasional aquamarine swimming pool and tree-filled swanky neighbourhood to relieve the grey. And the spectacular sunrise with the sky striped all the colours of the rainbow only served to add it. Not to forget the exquisite beauty of the sun rising through the mists over mountains, with horizontal fingers of god. If only I had the courage to whip out the camera! The other thing that defines Madrid for me is the smell - of cigarettes. My god the way they smoke. I got out of the metro train from the spankingly new, spectacularly well-designed with waving roofs, cheerful primary colours and insanely inconvenient layout airport, to transfer to the line for the bus station and the first hint I detect in the air is of cigarettes. Spain is one of the few places left in the western world where one can smoke inside a bar. Not necessarily a good thing!

One thing that really impressed me about the people here is their consideration. There is no Indian family that hasn’t gone running out to buy diet coke, bottled water and toilet paper for phoren family visitors. But I don’t know of a single Indian family settled in the US who ever makes sure there is a mug in the loo for people visiting from India. R’s parents are so adorable they bought wet serviettes, of the kind used to wipe babies’ bums, and made sure there was vegetarian food in the house, to the extent that they left the tuna out of the salad to add when they ate. This in a culture where the concept of no meat is so bizarre that I have been asked several times: pero chica QUÉ COMES?? [but what on earth DO you eat???] after i have said no meat and then refused offers of tuna salad and chicken soup.

Notas de Viaje*: Part I Magicality

30th june
There is something so beautiful about watching planes queue up to land. there they are in the perfectly patient line, tiered along a diagonal rising to the sky, marked by their headlights twinkling in the daytime sky. And then, as we taxi in O’Hare, looking for our gate, I see a 747 being towed, and I am stunned at the seeming effortlessness of its movement. Here is a giant skulking monster aircraft, weighing so much that the mind boggles, and yet it glides along like a pond-skater, pulled by this tiny little truck. And then, when in the air, it moves like a hawk, sailing through the sky, once again effortlessly, its wings bounce fragilely in turbulence, making me fear that they might snap off from the wind, I forget the sheer power of those engines, rumbling in the background, the sheer brute power required to keep this behemoth afloat. And when I remember it, I look out at those wings again, and am suddenly seized by terror, because I imagine the power of those winds if they shake those wings that hard, and am reminded of my own transience and fragility, because if they are that strong they could break the wings off, couldn’t they?

I remember thinking once that the magic of airports is alive only at night, when you can’t actually see the machines and the fuel and the force that goes into making those fairy lights glide off into the air. But I am forced to reconsider that today. I was stuck by the ease with which one is led to forget all that very physical, solid and metallic aspect to air travel at anytime, simply because the planes fly! And it led me to think about how the best crafted things hide their artifice. Is it innate to humans that we want to believe in magic? The insane amount of technology that goes into this laptop I’m typing on, sitting in this seat in this airplane is something we are all encouraged to forget. Think of the iPhone! It’s selling point is its cuteness and magicality [is that a word? My MSWorks dictionary says no. So be it, I have coined the word.] This plane I’m on even has a tail camera, which lets you get an albeit skewed realtime view of the take off at about the same level as the pilot. It was SO COOL. Felt like a videogame - again forget the reality and assume the magicality.

My biggest problem with the fictional work of Booker winner Arundhati Roy is that she tries too hard, and worse, it shows. So I began to think, is that why I am giddy with delight at the book that pretends it just popped out of an author’s head? That denial of artifice is precisely what excited me about One Hundred Years of Solitude, even if it is an endless and definitely boring piece of entertainment. So magicality is the aim. It is magicality that conceals the hours of backbreaking work that go into embroidery, leaving you gasping at the delicacy of the work and yet incapable of truly understanding the labour that went into it. So why are we so blasé about craft today?

A part of me wants to yell MANUFACTURE! The Spanish word for factory is fabrica, which is just fabulous in its portmanteau-ness. The fabrication of this result, never you mind how it happened, isn’t it magical? The fact that machines can now produce results very similar to those of humans leads us to devalue artifice. Magicality itself elicits a blasé reaction, if you will permit the oxymoron. I buy a chikan kurta, its pretty whether someone embroidered it by hand or a machine did it. Of course this means either I cease to appreciate it when it is done by hand, or I choose to demand my magicality. After all, the machines are also the result of artifice.

So let us unite my friends and demand the return of magicality!

*With all due apologies to Ernestito