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COMMENTARY: Dancing with Caterpillars

VALLADOLID, Spain — The Festival Internacional de Teatro y Artes de Calle (International Festival of Street Theater and Arts) filled the plazas this weekend in Valladolid, Spain. It was a fun conclusion to a first week in an accommodating city, lesser known to U.S. turistas then, say, Madrid or Barcelona or even Salamanca.

A university town in north-central Spain, Valladolid has some 300,000 residents, joined by a semesterly influx of tentative Spanish language students from China, Japan, North America. Not yet proficient, we speak our common language to one another, English, but only out of earshot of los profesores. Even shopkeepers resist jumping into whatever English they have when we search for the right textbooks and unfamiliar incidentals, thus ensuring us the greatest bang for our language course bucks.

We stumble through classes with flamboyant professors, unsure if we’re saying we have hunger (hambre) or a man (hombre), but captivated by their cheerful enthusiasm for four hours a day.

We dine with our host families, who gather for their afternoon meals served with generous portions of patience, dictionaries on the side, and The Simpsons dubbed in Spanish.

We stroll the fringes of fans who fill sidewalk café tables with cervesas and cheers, watching evening futbol games, the reported source of the nation’s greatest polemics.

We root for Spain but hope Russia’s Babushki win Eurovision’s final spectacle of competing international singers, wondering if the universality of music is the intent or the two euros it costs to cast a cell phone vote while the Swedish winner comments on human rights violations in the host country of Azerbaijan.

We relax with Paulo Coelho in Plaza Mayor, worried that Generalísimo Franco’s seeds might lie dormant under its paving stones, devoid of the author’s hopeful vision, ever ready to reanimate in one form of fascism or another.

When the festival of street art launches, we watch jugglers, puppeteers, tumblers, magicians, who draw people from cafés and oficinas, from escuelas and mercados, eager for artful distractions from the day’s uncertainties.

We are transfixed by a dancer who performs with a Caterpillar Excavator, a waltz of man and machine, vulnerable grace and graceful brute, love and hate, dancing the dichotomies of the human condition.

Then the machine goes still. The man bows, walks away. And a child races pigeons to a fountain, certain she will win.



Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and is republished by SDGLN, The Ocean Beach Rag and The Progressive Post. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while working for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at kbgressitt@gmail.com.