Yesterday, the 29th of February 2016 marks 1 year, 4 months, 24 days since I moved from Manila to Barcelona.
Today is the leap day of a leap year. Every four years–for reasons that I do not think are all that important–we have chosen to add a day to the 365 we already have. Like birthdays and other holidays, marking time has its purpose.
Like anyone who likes to write, I have a penchant for reminiscing, of counting things, of finding and maintaining connections, and noticing patterns.
So since moving to Barcelona I have moved flats three times. First in Les Corts, then Eixample, now in Poble Nou. Next month I will be moving again. In order to renew my visa I enrolled in my second course, this time in Graphic Design at Bau. My spanish has significantly improved, I am happy to report, thanks to studying and working with Spanish people. Most importantly, during the past year I have had the good fortune of meeting some interesting people, some who I am happy to call friends.
The past 511 days have not all been fun and games, of course, and I have made mistakes and at times have not been as kind as I should be to others. I have been robbed. Twice. My heart has been let down and broken more than that. I have spent more than I have earned, and worked for less than I should.
So why the year of urgency? Three months into 2016 there have been several high-profile deaths, all of them from unnatural causes if I’m not mistaken. Cancer, suicide, overdose. Today something gruesome happened in Moscow. It probably is not the first time it has happened but this is the first time it has been widely publicised. My grandmother is 96 years old, bedridden, feeding through a tube. I have an uncle who has been comatose for the past two months. It will not be long before it is my turn.
And so, there is only that which we cannot see, feel, taste, touch or hear, but to which we must bow to: Time. If today is just like any other day in the year, then why does it feel…different? The prevailing theme of the leap day is to do something different; something new. But what is the point? Nothing is original. And like New Year’s Resolutions, trying to change things simply because of some arbitrary day of the year is not enough reason for me.
As I wrote previously, it has been a surreal start to this year and because of this, perhaps more than any other reason, is why I feel a sense of urgency. Specifically about what, I am not sure. Just like the year before, I wrote my annual review but I am opting not to publish it this time. I did make a pretty good joke about it though:
As before, I have the same categories of goals, with creation and production as the priority. But this time I want to do things faster, smarter, and to do exactly what I want as well as what needs to be done with expediency and to full effect.
Time is short. Get moving.
Suggested reading: Chris Guillebeau’s manifesto The Tower (free download)
Back in December 2015, I had gotten it on (what I believed at the time to be) good authority that David Bowie was coming to Primavera Sound 2016. The prospect of seeing a creative genius of his calibre live so excited me that despite my source’s admonition not to spread the word, I could not help myself:
Getting into the whole Bowie vibe, I started learning how to play his songs on the guitar, and began researching which day he would perform in Barcelona. Even my sister who was half a world away seemed to be channeling the Thin White Duke:
To be honest, I am not a hardcore Bowie fan, in fact, I was a new one. I didn’t realise it was his birthday or listened to Blackstar until after he had already died.
Then there was that series of highly-publicised deaths that first few days of 2016: Scott Weiland, Lemmy, Alan Rickman, Maurice White. Then Aaron Swartz and Dave Mirra.
But it was the building anticipation of seeing David Bowie live, that whole ‘you might not get another chance’ feeling, then to have it suddenly vanish, that made his death strike a chord. And to make things even more odd, here is where I spent the 1st of January (playing the guitar, to boot):
This inexplicable series of events compelled me to create what will be the #BowieForever series. The series will consist of six limited edition mono screeprints and shirts which will be released over the course of several weeks.
Each mono screenprint is numbered, printed on 300 gsm watercolour paper and signed by Jose Gamboa with a Certificate of Authenticity.
As I created each design (while listening to the mournfully brilliant Blackstar) I could not help but contemplate the power and influence and creativity that could come from just one man, a man who will live forever through his work.
It has only been a few weeks since his spirit rose and stepped aside, and for now, it will be difficult to imagine anyone replacing David Bowie.
One more thing: Before I left the Philippines for Barcelona over a year ago, I sawThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Although inspiring, the film was too cheesy and unrealistic for my taste (How can Walter Mitty’s phone never run out of battery? And downhill long boarding is no easy thing). Nonetheless, it was a good film. Anyway, I didn’t realise or remember (until recently) that David Bowie’s Space Oddity featured largely in that film, and I wanted to share Kristen Wiig’s more than decent rendition of it:
On July 19, pro surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark during a competition heat at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa. Here’s what happened:
It hasn’t been the first time a surfer has survived a shark attack–as one-armed surfer Bethany Hamilton who had her arm bit off by a tiger shark, and Shannon Ainslie, who after being attacked by TWO great whites simultaneously, has got to be one of the luckiest people alive–but it is the first time it has happened in full view of thousands, maybe millions of viewers.
I was seated in the backseat of an Opel Corsa; in the driver’s seat was Miguel S, 32, and on shotgun was his girlfriend, both of whom I’d met for the first time that morning. We were driving on the highway heading to Girona, about an hour and a half from Barcelona.
Why was I traveling in a stranger’s car you might ask? The answer was simple: I’m cheap.
I had hitchhiked once before, in Bacnotan, Ilocos Norte, Philippines, several years ago. I wasn’t alone though, and this was out of sheer necessity. Long story short, a mate and I had taken a siesta while our friends were in the water surfing. We didn’t notice them leaving, and they had assumed we had ridden in one of the other vehicles back to our lodgings in Urbiztondo, about forty minutes away by car. We woke up, and realising that we had been abandoned, walked out to the main road in our board shorts with not even the equivalent of €1 between us, to thumb a ride. My mate was awfully relaxed about the whole thing–I had a feeling he had done this before. Fortunately, the first car we hailed picked us up. It was a high school teacher in an owner jeep. He wasn’t going in our direction completely, so we had to take another ride, this time by public transport. Jeepneys do not have any dress code, and since this attire is fairly commonplace in rural areas in the tropics, two shirtless guys in nothing but board shorts and flip flops did not raise too many eyebrows. Although we did elicit some giggles from some schoolchildren. The driver seemed to understand our situation and did not ask us to pay the full fare. Upon arriving at our lodgings, our friends were quite amused by the entire affair, and I was less than amused that they didn’t even consider returning for us once they’d realised we’d been left behind.
Whereas being half naked in a stranger’s jeep and in a Public Utility Jeepney with a friend a few years ago was a matter of necessity, now I was by myself in a stranger’s car for less-than-unavoidable reasons: I was using the car-sharing platform Blablacar for the first time in order to get to Salt, Girona from Barcelona to see The Coup, a hip hop group from Oakland, California, as part of Girona’s annual Black Music Festival.
I had heard about Blablacar from a schoolmate who had used it to get to Madrid, and she had vouched for it, saying that it was quite secure. Blablacar works by connecting people who have cars with those who don’t, with the car owners covering their petrol by charging the riders less than it would cost if they took a bus or train. The website requires you to create a profile, and there is a feedback system which keeps the members accountable.
The Coup were playing from 2200 up to 0200, so I had booked a ride back to Barcelona the next day, at around 1630, this time with Arturo B, 44 years old, Renault Espace. Both rides cost a total of €14. But I still had to sort out where I would spend the wee hours of dawn after the concert. And whereas Blablacar costs something to get somewhere, to stay somewhere there is another online platform called Couchsurfing which is absolutely free.
I had been a member of the Couchsurfing community since 2010, but had never had the opportunity to participate. The way Couchsurfing works is, you offer a couch (or bed) in your home to travelers for a night or more, and they in turn are expected to pay it forward, hosting people in their hometown. The community had modest beginnings as a non-profit, but had grown massively, and was eventually bought and turned into a for-profit enterprise, much to the dismay of many veteran couchsurfers.
Spending one night in Girona seemed like the ideal opportunity to give Couchsurfing a try. I was able to find a host fairly easily (Guillem, 22, 9 positive, 1 negative reference), but the day before he said he couldn’t host me without giving any particular reason. I tried finding other hosts, but since it was at the last minute, I didn’t get any confirmations. As I had already booked the rides on Blablacar and paid for the concert tickets as well–and the Coup was one of my favourite hip hop groups–I opted to go the way of the ballsy and the brainless: I decided wing it.
So an hour and half later, after bidding Miguel and his girlfriend adieu, I stood in the middle of what appeared to be a shopping complex in Salt, Girona. No worries, I had a tablet and all I needed to do was find a wifi hotspot so I could get to the venue. I hung around a bowling alley for a bit since they had free wifi and window shopped since the concert was still three hours away. The map showed that the venue, La Mirona, was only 15 minutes by foot and upon consulting with some locals, apprehended that Girona was around 45 minutes by foot, since public transport wouldn’t be available after the concert. No problem. A 45-minute walk was a piece of cake to me.
At 0100 the Coup took the stage.
An amazing set. During the after party, Boots Riley and the rest of the band hung out with the audience. The Spanish women were all over them of course, and after managing to snap a few photos, I drifted to the bar.
At 0400 I exited La Mirona. It was dark, and the temperature was around 12°C and I started to walk. I was crossing a bridge when I heard voices behind me. A cursory glance showed two men, and as they drew nearer, they became two black men speaking English. American English. California English. It was the guitarists of the Coup. They were a bit disoriented and were looking for their hotel. We walked together, chatting and smoking, and I felt like I wanted to tell them I had no place to stay that night, and could I crash at their hotel? But my Asian etiquette would not let me.
We parted ways and I continued to walk.
At around 0500 it was getting colder. I had taken a few wrong turns, and I was starting to run out of energy. My plan was to get to Girona and find a hostel or something, since I’d been there before and it was more accustomed to tourists than Salt. But by 0530 I couldn’t keep on.
What would have been my first Couchsurfing experience turned out to be my first homelessness experience. I think someone came in at one point to use the machine, and the bright fluorescent lights kept me from getting any quality shuteye, so less than an hour later I was back on the road.
It was getting light, but colder than ever. I saw a door to an apartment building ajar, so I went in and napped on the steps for a bit just to keep warm.
Two hours after I had left Salt I sat in a cafe sipping tea. It was the best tea I had ever tasted.
The rest of the day I strolled around Girona, sketched, listened to some blues music in the plaza, had lunch, met with Arturo, 44, at 1630, picked up two other riders, and slept like a dead man until we reached Barcelona.