This morning

13 October 2008

Walked down the Gran Eje to have café & read in the paper, unable to suppress a smile, that Fidel Castro, who has intrigued revolution & assassination in four countries, survived exploding cigars, deadly fungal scuba gear, & poisoned sweets, entangled himself in the gravest affairs of state of the last half century, plotted rubber flotillas of madmen, .38 calibre pistol shots in Bógota & collusions with dour Soviet spies in Mexico city, has now, in his old age, become a kind of sedentary newspaperman.

In this week’s column he writes, “De puro milagro que el candidato demócrata no ha sufrido la suerte de Martin Luther King, Malcolm X y otros.” The scandal being not, I think, that he implicitly compares Obama to MLK – but that it is the closest anybody has come to sharing my quiet & continuing (& welcome) surprise. I still remember a poetry professor of mine, three full years ago, saying with certainty: “They will kill him if he wins the nomination.” But that was late at night & in the quiet of the living room, surrounded by rows of silent pottery & handwoven rugs. This is headlining the inner pages of Spanish language dailies out in Jaén, of all places. I cannot even imagine what the reaction in the English press is.

And Castro, that lounging provocateur newspaperman, I picture in a small room somewhere with photographs of the violent & tumultuous crises he has survived pinned up on the walls, his joints aching, getting served coffee, taking small pleasure in its aroma, in cracking his knuckles, in being able to write exactly what he wants at any given time without editors and watch the press explode in furor & stern-faced speculation. I suddenly sympathize.

How can you do anything but chuckle – disquieting thoughts of our own decade of revolution & assassination aside? In the same article, Castro writes happily that the only thing abundant in McCain “son los años (tiene 72), y su salud no es en lo absoluto segura.” The gall to express worry over McCain’s health and advanced age, when Castro is ten years older and abdicated power after a hospital stay! You have to admire it.

And Palin? He calls her “la señora de rifle e inexperta ex gobernadora de Alaska” and then:“Se observa que ella no sabe nada de nada.”

“Se observa”? Now I have to picture him watching the debates – he can read English, but doesn’t speak it, so perhaps there is somebody translating – and mourning the decline of intelligent political discourse in his imperial enemy to the north. It’s too much.

I left the paper & my finished café con leche and when to the bakery on the corner to buy a baguette. Imagine, for a moment, that you are working behind the counter, a man in slacks & a light brown sweater comes in, you say in typically direct Spanish, “Dime,” and he says, “I would like – pardon me, I do not know the word for this – a part of bread?”

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