Wednesday, August 5, Ronda, Spain, PART I

{Walker} Percy’s diagnosis was that when we are mired in the everydayness of ordinary life, we are susceptible to what he called “the malaise,” a free-floating despair associated with the feeling that you’re not a part of the world or connected to the people in it….A real-world crisis can provide a respite from the malaise….Percy wrote in one of his essays. “Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say an old hotel on Key Largo during a hurricane?” Part of the answer is that when a hurricane is about to hit, we no longer feel uncertain about our role in the world. Everyone is focused, connected, engaged. We know what we’re supposed to do, and we do it. (from Sunday’s NY Times Book Review section)

I think I need a hurricane.

I enjoyed Algeciras–or really I should say Gibraltar, which was my reason for being in Algeciras–but somehow I lost my way afterward. I’ve been in a malaise ever since. I haven’t even left my Airbnb-procured apartment today. I spent most of the day on the internet reading about Vivian Maier, drones, migrants in Lesbos, and assorted other topics. I’ve enjoyed myself but, of course, it brings up the question of why I’m not taking advantage of the exotic locale outside my window. It has always been my travel habit to take days off, to spend a day in Chichicastanengo or Abidjan reading. But that’s partially a rationalization. I am definitely in a funk, disinterested in real life.

I spent Sunday in Gibraltar, the Gates of Hercules. In seven hours of determined walking I circumnavigated the whole peninsula. I wanted to be there in part because of a memory of 1970.

By the winter of that year I had spent over three years in the navy:  one year in Chicago, one blissful year in Key West, and one year aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, CVA 67, aircraft carrier and floating hotel for 5,000 men. In the eleven months I’d spent on the JFK I’d seldom even sniffed the sea (i.e. the Atlantic Ocean that lapped up on our base in Norfolk, Virginia). When I hefted my duffle bag to the ship the previous winter she had been in dry dock. I didn’t get any actual sea time until late in the year. In fact, when we set sail for Guantanamo Bay in the fall it was my first real ocean voyage.

The day after we left Gitmo a rumor spread through the CIC room where I sat looking at a radar screen. Our presence was urgently needed in the Mediterranean Sea. The rumor-passer’s didn’t know why, just that we were going. And for once the rumor turned out to be true. My only memory or the trip was one night sitting in a little fenced in area beside the flight deck staring up at the millions of visible stars.

By the time we got to Gibraltar I was lying in my bunk below decks, so I never saw the lights of the Rock, or Morocco across the way. This time I wanted to see what I’d missed that November day in 1970.

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So I HAD to take a picture of these ordinary freighters leaving the Med.

The Brits stole this place from Spain in the early 17th century when the England was a growing super power and Spain was in decline. It was handed over “in perpetuity”, something the British took very literally. I learned while I was there that Britain cleverly granted Gibraltar representation in Parliament some years ago, before they held a referendum of the residents to see if they wanted to be handed back to Spain (they didn’t).

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A small fraction of the ongoing construction.

The place is a polyglot of languages (Spanish, English, and a unique tongue called Lanito); currencies (they’ll take pounds, euro’s or their own Gibraltar pounds); and cultures. The most mystifying thing to me is the extraordinary growth that is taking place. Everywhere you look there are apartment/condo buildings going up.

Who is going to live in these new apartments? Not spanish, I’m certain. That would only groove the way for reincorporation within the mainland. Certainly not the children of present residents. I assume it must be Brits looking for better weather. There are few jobs here so, again, I’ll assume the newbies will be retiring citizens of the British Empire. The peninsula does resemble Hong Kong with its multitude of high rises within a confined area. Maybe Gibraltar will be the new Hong Kong.

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I sat down for a rest on my walk up the mountain when I turned around to see this guy staring hungrily at me. He knew enough to position himself bestride the stairway where any food-carrying human would need to go.

One of the big tourist draws are macaque monkeys. There is a large colony of them who live on the two mountains. You can imagine how this impacts tourists. There are signs everywhere asking that you not feed the monkeys, a suggestion that is honored more in the breach than the observance. The animals are not the cute, cuddly creatures you might wish for. They are the greedy, resentful thugs you’d expect to see in any wild animal.

The real prize was to get one to sit on your shoulder while you fed him/her candy or bread. One guy wearing a backpack stood near a big male bruiser. Deftly the monkey reached out and snatched the bag from his shoulder quick as you can say ‘lunch’. But humans have their instincts, too. The human grabbed his possessions back before the monkey could get away. The whole scene felt to me like a cold war between the food-rich homo sapiens and their food-desirous ancestors.

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Even empty candy wrappers might be of interest.
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Mom and baby macacque
2015-07-30 14.09.19
It took me a long time to climb to the top so I’ll be darned if I’ll omit at least one picture of the harbor taken from the tourist aerie.

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Jerry Heverly

I'm a high school English teacher from San Leandro High School in California.

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