I once expected to spend seven years walking around the world on foot. I walked from Mexico to Panama where the road ended before an almost uninhabited swamp called the Choco Colombiano. Even today there is no road. Perhaps it is time for me to resume my wanderings where I left off as a tropical tramp in the slums of Panama. Perhaps like Ambrose Bierce who disappeared in the desert of Sonora I may also disappear. But after being in all mankind it is hard to come to terms with oblivion - not to see hundreds of millions of Chinese with college diplomas come aboard the locomotive of history - not to know if someone has solved the riddle of the universe that baffled Einstein in his futile efforts to make space, time, gravitation and electromagnetism fall into place in a unified field theory - never to experience democracy replacing plutocracy in the military-industrial complex that rules America - never to witness the day foreseen by Tennyson 'when the war-drums no longer and the battle-flags are furled, in the parliament of man, the federation of the world.' I may disappear leaving behind me no worldly possessions - just a few old socks and love letters and my windows overlooking Notre-Dame for all of you to enjoy and my little rag and bone shop of the heart whose motto is 'Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.' I may disappear leaving no forwarding address, but for all you know I may still be walking among you on my vagabond journey around the world.[Shakespeare & Company, archived statement]
George Whitman
Saturday evening, on a quiet lazy afternoon, I went to watch a bullfight in Las Ventas, one of Madrid's most famous bullrings. I went there out of curiosity. I had long been haunted by the image of the matador with its custom made torero suit, embroidered with golden threads, looking spectacular in his suit of light or traje de luces as they call it in Spain. I was curious to see the dance of death unfold in front of me, to test my humanity in the midst of blood and gold and to see in which state my soul will come out of the arena, whether it will be shaken and stirred, furious and angry, or a little bit aware of the life embedded in every death. Being an avid fan of Hemingway and a proponent of his famous sentence About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after, I went there willingly to test myself. I had heard atrocities about bullfighting yet I had this immense desire to be part of what I partially had an inclination to call a bloody piece of cultural experience. As I sat there, in front of the empty arena, I felt a grandiose feeling of belonging to something bigger than anything I experienced during my stay in Spain. Few minutes and I'll be witnessing a painting being carefully drawn in front of me, few minutes and I will be part of an art form deeply entrenched in the Spanish cultural heritage: the art of defying death. But to sit there and to watch the bull enter the arena… To watch one bull surrounded by a matador and his six assistants. To watch the matador confronting the bull with the capote, performing a series of passes, just before the picador on a horse stabs the bull's neck, weakening the neck muscles and leading to the animal's first loss of blood... Starting a game with only one side having decided fully to engage in while making sure all the odds will be in the favor of him being a predetermined winner. It was this moment precisely that made me feel part of something immoral. The unfair rules of the game. The indifferent bull being begged to react, being pushed to the edge of fury. The bull, tired and peaceful. The bull, being teased relentlessly. The bull being pushed to a game he isn't interested in. And the matador getting credits for an unfair game he set. As I left the arena, people looked at me with mocking eyes. Yes, I went to watch a bull fight and yes the play of colors is marvelous. The matador’s costume is breathtaking and to be sitting in an arena fills your lungs with the sands of time. But to see the amount of claps the spill of blood is getting was beyond what I can endure. To hear the amount of claps injustice brings is astonishing. You understand a lot about human nature, about the wars taking place every day, about poverty and starvation. You understand a lot about racial discrimination and abuse (verbal and physical), sex trafficking and everything that stirs the wounds of this world wide open. You understand a lot about humans’ thirst for injustice and violence as a way to empower hidden insecurities. Replace the bull and replace the matador. And the arena will still be there. And you'll hear the claps. You've been hearing them ever since you opened your eyes.
Malak El Halabi