— Fragments


It’s unclear to me what the recurrence of this memory means, or what a psychoanalyst would say about it (if I believed in that kind of thing), but the weirdness of it and the vividness of it after 25 years make this recollection worth a mention.

My earliest memories are from the late 1980s. There are some vague images that I can remember from the year I lived in Barcelona in 1987-88, but things get a lot more concrete after that, when my family moved back to Toronto. Between the return to Canada and the move to the current home at the end of 1989, I really start to remember.

History is funny, and for some things it moves very fast, and for others very slow. For example, the experience and technology of air travel has probably changed less in the last 25 years (1989-2014), than it did in the 25 years prior to that (1964-1989). An opposite example is the media business. The structure of that world in 1989 was not so different as it was in 1964, whereas between then and today, nothing is the same.

All this to explain why it was perceived as a very normal thing, at some point in 1989, for my mother to take me and my older brother David to a rerelease of Disney’s racist 1953 classic Peter Pan at the Varsity Cinema. At that time Disney Animation had totally lost their mojo. Their four most recent films were Oliver & Company, The Great Mouse Detective, The Black Cauldron, and The Fox and the Hound. No wonder they were recycling their hits.

In any event, we arrived at the theater and much to my delight, who should be there but Captain Hook himself! Or at the very least, a gentleman dressed as Captain Hook.

What he was doing there I cannot recall…greeting children, posing for pictures, I don’t really know. What I do recall is that at some point, Captain Hook’s mustache either fell off, or was removed by the Captain himself. The reason I remember this is because Captain Hook then gave the disembodied mustache to my brother, and solemnly told him that if he stuck the mustache to his bedroom wall, his dreams would come true.

I’m laughing as I write this because it just seems like such a great example of how bizarre the world is to children, that me and my brother swallowed this without any hesitation (I must have even been jealous that he got the stache, and not me). By the time the movie was over, the mustache had been lost. Obviously, my mother, charged with the safekeeping of this and other disgusting items, must have immediately gotten rid of this truly suspect item. I of course felt sad that we couldn’t stick it to the wall and that the dreams wouldn’t come true…

I don’t think I’ve discussed this memory with my mother or brother, ever. It’s not traumatic, though if it actually happened I do wonder…what kind of man tears a fake mustache from his face, gives it to a young child, and tells him it has magical powers? The fact that this was the dawn of the era of not talking to strangers starts to make a lot more sense.

Did this episode actually happen? I wonder, and will have to verify with the other eyewitnesses. But if it didn’t happen, what does that mean? What kind of man am I to implant such a memory in myself?

It’s no surprise that we have such a tough time explaining our worlds. Our consciousness and our memory, which make up the foundation we stand on, are nothing but shifting sands.

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New York, have I eaten my last oyster?
Is this goodbye to the city that made me a man?
Will I find nights of vodka and laughter under southern stars?
Will I chase another smile to bushwick or cobble hill?
Will my love grow forever, as my beard does?
Can I please swipe again at this turnstile?

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The implosion of Yugoslavia was a geopolitical tragedy. Yugoslavia was a vibrant multicultural and multiethnic republic with a proud history. It had thrown off the yoke of Hitler and of Stalin. It was a rare socialist state that allowed worker-run enterprises, a mixed economy, and free emigration. It helped to found the Non-Aligned Movement which played an instrumental role in ending colonialism around the world.

As we know, in the 1990s Yugoslavia disintegrated in an orgy of vandalism. The rape of Bosnia, the massacre of Srebrenica, the cruelty of Operation Storm. The senselessness of the Yugoslav wars claimed more than 100,000 lives and ruined millions more. To what end? What was one country is now seven weak republics crippled by their hate for one another.

Yugoslavia wasn’t a paradise. The atrocities committed in two world wars meant that ethnic tensions among the south Slavic peoples certainly simmered throughout the post-war period. But the breakup of Yugoslavia was no mere tribal squabble.

The economy of Yugoslavia was severely punished by the oil shock of the 1970s. It never really recovered. By 1988, a debt and inflation crisis had brought the economy to a standstill and in order to obtain a $1.4 billion bailout from the IMF, the government imposed a policy of austerity. Suffice to say, the medicine did not cure the patient.

It was in this context that vain and cruel men like Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic were able to rise to power in their regions. Instead of working together to solve the nation’s problems, they shored up their narrow support by scapegoating their adversaries and appealing to the worst impulses of their followers. When Yugoslavia most needed statesmanship and courageous leadership, its political class destroyed the country for its own benefit.

Is this too simplistic an analysis? Perhaps. But let’s bear in mind that in 1984, as the world celebrated the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, no one would have guessed that just a decade later that the Jerusalem of Europe would be suffering a plague of mortar and sniper fire in a bloody siege. Yet it happened.

So what has this got to do with Spain? Nothing at all, is my sincerest hope.

Spain is a country haunted by an ugly history. The scars of the civil war of 1936-39 have not healed. In Navarre, the province where my father was born, fully 2% of the adult male population was murdered by reactionary repression during the war. After 75 years, my grandmother was still emotional as she described to me this summer how a boy from her village had been dragged from his home and executed without trial. This was terror.

If they want, right-wingers can complain too. One month ago, Santiago Carrillo, the historic leader of the Communist Party of Spain died without ever having been made to answer for his role in the slaughter of thousands of rebel officers at Paracuellos.

After the Franco dictatorship, during the twenty-five fat years between 1982 and 2007, Spain attained a spectacular prosperity. After centuries of exporting people, people actually went to Spain in search of a better life. Unimaginable!

Today, despite all the sporting success, the party is over. Unemployment is over 25%. More than half of young people are out of work, the state is bankrupt, and hunger once again stalks Spanish streets. The economy is getting worse. In the midst of this misery, Spain has become the most economically unequal country in the eurozone.

One might suppose that in this environment, the leaders of Spain would be desperately finding ways to revive the economy and rescue the country. Instead, headlines are dominated by the invective of Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, and Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia.

While bad relations between Madrid and Barcelona are nothing new, the intensity of the negative feelings is quite surprising, mostly because the disagreements between the two leaders on the fundamental question of economic recovery are minimal. Both are committed to policies of austerity and have slashed public spending, which increases the pain that their people feel every day. Both are unable to admit that Spain’s banking sector is totally insolvent. And of course, neither of them will to stand up to continuing German demands for further turns of the screw.

In the absence of a plan to fix what is together with Greece the worst-performing economy in the world, we are left with debates and analysis that lose contact with reality. “The problem is that the Catalans don’t speak Spanish!” says Ignacio Wert, national minister of education. “The problem is that we give too much money to Andalusia,” says President Mas, whose region grew wealthy from the labor of immigrant Andalusians.

Spain has many problems and it’s right for politicians to disagree on solutions. But it remains unclear how encouraging chauvinism and ridiculing solidarity addresses any of them. What can we say about Rajoy and Mas? That they are irresponsible and short sighted? Let’s remember, in 1990, that’s the worst we could have said about Milosevic and Tudjman.

Throughout the Spanish economic collapse, consumption of luxury goods has continued to rise. More Lladró figurines are being sold than ever. But the biggest luxury Spain allows itself is a political class that cares more for its own privileges than for the nation’s problems.

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I sent the last post to my father with the subject line “Very angry.” He replied that he thought I was angry because Puyol was going to miss the Eurocup, not about Syria.

I am not angry that Carles Puyol will miss the Eurocup, I am sad. I first really became aware of the Spain and Barcelona defender at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. First of all, in the great tradition of Spanish international footballers, Puyol is a pretty caveman-looking dude, strikingly so. His hair, which has gotten even longer over the years, was already out of control back then.

Immediately noticeable in Puyol’s play was his fierce desire to compete and to win. To watch him fearlessly launch his body in the path of shots and oncoming attackers made you believe that here was a player that aspired to more than Spain’s usual quarter-finals. When Spain was cruelly eliminated by South Korea, Puyol was one of the last with any energy left, throwing himself forward again and again, in search of the goal his team needed.

When he attacked, he was tremendous. Look at this goal he set up for Fernando Torres at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Impressive skill.

It’s true that in his early days, sometimes his enthusiasm led him into defensive blunders. But he settled down, became an absolute rock. Let us remember that in the three games of the knockout stage at Euro 2008, and the four games of the final stage of the 2010 World Cup, Spain let in precisely zero goals. Puyol was the boss of that defense.

He was pretty useful with his head too. Take that, Germans!

For a few months this year, Puyol was the champion of Spain, Europe, and the World with his club, and the champion of Europe and the World with Spain. That is an absolutely unprecedented achievement in world football. Puyol is one of the best defenders to have ever played.

Puyol has injured his knee, and will not play his 100th game for Spain at the Eurocup. It is a hard blow for him and for all football fans. At 34, it’s unlikely that he will play for Spain again in a major tournament, so there will be no more memories of that tremendous fighter in the red shirt. We will have to satisfy ourselves with the many beautiful moments he has given us.

Gracias campeón!

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I wrote these little articles back in the spring of 2010. Circumstances distracted me, but Spain went ahead and won the world cup anyway. Thanks guys.

I suppose that I will make an effort to write more about my obsession with Spanish football, but I make no guarantees.


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