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Road trip with girlfriends to Cantabria

8 October, 2015 (02:11) | Living in Europe | By: admin

Performance artist and lifelong friend, Elia Arce, visits for a month.

I originally met Elia Arce in Malibu at the home of hip octogenarians, Ben and Hazel, whom she met in Nicaragua in the 80’s, working on a film Ben was producing, called Latino. They became her adoptive parents and for many years she lived there with them in the Malibu Colony. In those days I lived in nearby Paradise Cove a few miles up the coast. Elia and I had immediate chemistry upon meeting (it was really random but somehow fated) and the spark we shared made it easy for a fun, fruitful and lasting friendship. She was a film major at UCLA studying on a Rockefeller grant. Applying for and receiving grants has been her mainstay income ever since I met her, and she still receives them, decades later.

On the day we met at Ben and Hazels, Elia invited me to a performance she was directing involving oversize puppets called “Blessed by the Contradictions” based on a poem written by Salvadorean poet Roque Dalton. I was impressed with her serious commitment to this odd choreographed performance, which was visually memorable.

This was the late 80’s, before I hooked up with Mark. Our friendship was blessed by an immediate chemistry, so a few years later, at the first suitable opportunity that presented itself, she hired me to write a song for a non profit anti-smoking campaign. She paid me $500 (which seemed like a lot of money at the time) to write this song in the style of a 50’s pop ballad. By then I was already with Mark, so I pulled him into the project. We wrote a catchy, slightly campy song, which was well received. UCLA was invoiced and we promptly received payment. It was all very professional, not to mention fun. Later in her last semester Mark and I starred in her (10 minute without cuts)  senior film school project, called “I just hope that my body rots at the sound of a stretch”. which earned her with an A in the course.

This is Elia today; what an infectious laugh she has!

Elia is delightfully funny, yet intensely serious at the same time. A bit like myself. We exchange profound insights and cackle at our shared conclusions. She’s extremely talented and self motivated. When we became friends she must have been in her early to mid 20’s, studying with a prestigious Fullbright scholarship and I in my early 30’s, with my popular punky reggae band, The Skanksters. I realized she was a lot more serious and obsessive about her projects than I, at least in her performances were, all of them cutting edge and thought provoking, often with a feminist or human rights theme. She dives into an issue literally with all her heart, body,mind and soul. Its impressive – I could do a whole blog about her performance art, but she has her own Elia Arce. website and following, and her work is already internationally known. Right now I’m just setting up the context for the fabulous photos and silly videos I’ll share with you later.

This blog is in 2 parts; PART 1 will give context and history to our friendship, PART 2 is focused on, including an unique road trip with another girlfriend.

So, for part ONE I will add that back in the 80’s I advised Elia she needed to find time to relax in order to continue being brilliant. She was a senior at UCLA, and had more projects going on than I could keep track of. She was constantly writing proposals, getting grants, obsessing on her next project. No rest. One day I told her that she needed to STOP.
“Why?” she asked.
¨Ÿou need to have some fun and relax a bit¨ I told her. ¨How can you continue to be brilliant at this pace?¨
¨But where should I go relax? Any suggestions?”
“YES! Let’s go to Joshua Tree. I’ll drive. It takes less than 2 hours to drive there. You’ll love it.”

She had never heard of Joshua Tree but liked the idea of a road trip somewhere not too far away. She was envisioning a classic flat desert with sand dunes. She looked forward to contemplation in a neverending flat and desolate nature reserve. Of course that was a preconception; Joshua Tree is in the High Desert. It is rugged with big boulders  and unfathomably balanced rock formations to climb. Its full of lots of hiking trails, two of which lead to an oasis. She had a couple of weeks break between semesters, so off we went with my big dog and van. I had been going to Joshua Tree with my canine companion since I got my own car as a teenager. Its the ultimate total escape from L.A. although its only a 1 1/2 hours drive with no traffic. I do have photos of those times, but they’re in my analogue archives back in Hollywood storage.

This digitized analog video from the 80’s shows how I regularly amused myself on camper van trips to the desert, animating my Sylvester slippers, my rubber bat which adhered to the back window with suction cups, and my silly cat skeleton. I had removed the back seats and replaced them with a mattr4ess. My whole adult life in L.A. I’d keep props in my car because one never knows when they can come in handy. This video is from before Elia and I hooked up. I had saved up for and splurged on a Sony video camera with a stop frame feature that had me animating everything I could think of for quite a few years. Because of that video camera, my life in the early 90’s is thoroughly documented. I wish they still made simple , not too expensive video cameras with that stop frame feature – at the time it was the *only* model on sale with that feature for sale to the non professional public.

As a result of our road trip Elia fell in love with the high desert and ended up moving there for 8 years, using it as a creative home base and launching pad for her projects. She is a genius at getting prestigious grants, scholarships, fellowships, awards, sponsors, patrons.
“Once you learn how to fill out the forms, they’re all alike” I remember her saying about getting a grant, and indeed to this day she still gets them, as well as fellowships, sponsors, awards and government money to develop her ideas.

Part 2
in 2014 Mark and I vacationed in Costa Rica, and Elia took the time to show us a couple of her favorite exotic locations. The vaporous photos of me and Mark are at a volcano she took us to where she videotaped a performance called First Woman on the Moon. The last shot above of Elia taking a picture in Puerto Viejo (Caribbean coast) , bending down with her butt out in order  to find the perfect angle and framing, oblivious to how she herself looks while shooting it, made Mark crack up. It reminded him of  the ridiculous postures I often get into when finding the perfect angle and frame for a shot. He laughed for hours afterwards. “You two really are alike.” he said. “I never knew that.”

“Oh yeah, ” I replied. “You have no idea how alike we are.”

“After spending these few days with her, I now understand why you two are such good buddies. You are both kooks.”

Elia had only recently moved back home to Costa Rica in 2013, after decades  living and working in USA. When we arrived for our 2 week vacation she was had a tight schedule, teaching a flash dance course at the University in San Jose,  looking for a place to live, and doing part time translation work. But she made time for us. She drove us to a couple of her favorite spots not too far from San Jose. We told her that if ever she came to Barcelona she could stay at our Gracia hippie pad.

The next year (this year) IBERESCENA, a Spanish/Costa Rican fund for artists, financed her trip to Barcelona and would reimburse all expenses she had receipts for. Cool! She arrived in Barcelona a few days before we signed for our new apartment, which I describe in my Our New Reality blog.

Elia did not come to Barcelona to sight-see, she came to work. She would stay in our Gracia pad for a month. A caveat to her financial arrangement stipulated that she go up north for 9 days to collaborate with curator Orlando Britto to develop a piece she would write in Spain and then perform in Costa Rica in September.


Elia immediately made herself at home on our extra computer in Gracia

Gracia proved to be the ideal space for her to write, record, and develop her ideas, and the perfect escape from the mental turmoil as well as the emotional and cultural upheaval that had been ruling her life of late. She is one of my deepest but also most fun of friends, so we didn’t let her job get in the way of exploring the city a bit, where we engaged in hilarious philosophical dialogues while we walked to some of my favorite Barcelona places I wanted to share.

I’d never been to Santander, nor had my Barcelona girlfriend Cristina, so Cris and I invited ourselves to tag along. We turned Elia’s working sabbatical into a fun adventure to the fabled region of Cantabria.


1 – Cristina agrees to a photo on our new balcony. 2 – Selfie with Mark and Elia, before we take off on our road trip.
Part 2 – Santander.

Understandably, Mark was not thrilled when I announced I’d be taking a trip right as we were moving into our new dream apartment, but sometimes a person has to seize the moment. It was Cristina’s idea to tag along. She’d always wanted to visit the Cantabria coast, as had I.

Although Elia would remain for 9 days in Santander living in the house of her collaborator, Orlando Britto, and his family. Cris and I would stay 4 nights at a boutique hotel near the beach. As excited as I was to move into our new digs, I was even more excited to take this road trip with girlfriends, thus avoiding the original chaos of settling into an unfurnished home. Our basic furniture and all our belongings were in storage during escrow so Mark would have to take care of orchestrating its delivery on his own. Poor Mark – I felt a little guilty, but not enough to cancel the trip. Sometimes one has to seize the moment, that’s my philosophy.

At the Santander airport:
IMG_2435captured moment

1) Las 3 amigas were greeted at the Santander airport by Elia’s likable collaborator and friend Orlando. 2) I like the above second photo; it actually tells a story within a story, and is worth clicking on to see the full size resolution.

From here on I’ll post mostly visuals with some narrative to provide context and location.

The hotel Cris and I stayed at was located on a most unusual beach, called Sardinero Beach. It is filled not so much with sun bathers and swimmers, but with leisurely yet determined walkers.

I filmed this weird beach scene with the Hyperlapse app on my iPhone (using cheesy iPhone sounds) with the intention of capturing the constant parade of perambulators to share with you.

Cris and I renamed Sardinero Beach “The Human Highway”, or ¨Autopista Humana¨ in Spanish

After Orlando dropped us off at our hotel, we wouldn’t see him or Elia for a couple days, as they were determined to get their project on its feet. Cris and I were intrigued by this beach in front of our hotel, so the next morning we decided to walk in the direction everyone headed towards.


Unsurprisingly, the walk is beautiful, with a few visual rewards. Cris with her iPad and I with my iPhone and Nikon set out towards Magdalena Beach, which we were told was a little over a kilometer up the coast and a worthy destination.




We hiked past Camel Rock, where we took a quick dip to cool off before continuing on to Magdalena Beach, which it turns out is more like 2 kilometers from where we started.


We finally made it to Magdalena Beach. I like the unusual tree sculpture, and love all the mossy greens and browns in abundance on the trail.

IMG_2576IMG_2578 We were pretty exhausted, took a dip in this pretty bay, when Cris spotted a chiringuito bar.
IMG_2591compañera cris 2

From here we took the paved road along the ridge back, shortening the by now exhausting hike by about 1/2 a kilometer. Later we learn we could have caught a return bus back to Sardinero.

Once back at the hotel I became unwilling to go out again because our boutique hotel room housed us up 3 flights of stairs and after living in a place with 88 steps to my front door for 6 years and knowing our new home in Barcelona has an elevator I was unprepared to leave again, though Cris went out drinking and carousing the city while I chilled. I can’t believe how much energy she has, she’s like an energizer bunny. After crashing soundly for two hours she sprung up and headed out solo for more adventure.

Fortunately, sleep completely restored me for the next hiking adventure. We decided to head in the other direction from Magdalena, and were told we could take a bus to a picturesque lighthouse and hike home along the coast from there. So we did.

More beaches, coves, and lush scenery

Although the lighthouse itself is nothing to write home about, the 1 1/2 km trail leading back to Sardenero beach is promising, with wildflowers and unexpected small bays and inlets.

IMG_2603otro playa


Cristina and I named this rock formation “cabeza Vasco”, or “Skull of a Basque man” because Basque people are famous for their big, Neanderthal size heads and bushy brows.

This certainly looks like the big head of a Basque man, we agreed.

We walked on a trail full of wildflowers, which lead us past a small bay, about 3/4 of the way home. We decided to return to this small beach tomorrow. After two days of big hikes, we are delighted by this bay which an easy walk from our hotel, yet feels secluded. All those human Highway strollers would never fit in this pristine opuscule of a bay. A day dedicated to lazing and swimming sounds like a perfect plan!

Cabeza de Vasco  viewnuestra playita

We were exhausted and starving by the time we hit civilization, but there was one more unexpected find on the boardwalk leading to restaurants and cafés; a Henry Moore sculpture exhibit along the boardwalk:

IMG_2613IMG_2492IMG_2493IMG_2497 H. Moore  & CrisH. Moore 3

We wolf down an overpriced but delicious meal overlooking Sardinero Beach and then head back across the street to our hotel.


Later we agree to meet up with Elia and Orlando for tapas and cervezas. Luckily we had a few hours to rest up before heading out again.

Elia  and CrisElia & cris 2IMG_2522Elia -sonriente
I’ve been friends with Elia for close to 30 years now, and friends with Cristina for nearly 20 years, but they’ve only met recently. As you can see, they hit it off.

On our third full morning we headed back to the small gem of a beach we located on the way home from our hike yesterday. Today is our designated chill day. We have no ambitious plans. My calf muscles are grateful for the break.

Playa de los MOLINUCOS beach

Laying around all day with lightly lapping wavelets licking our toes.


Santander, the city

On our last evening Cris and I met up with Elia and Orlando for a bite and a stroll through downtown Santander.

This is what I love about Elia; her spontaneity and joie de vivre.

Elia and and I energize each other, laugh a lot, brainstorm and always agree we need to spend more time drinking in each others’ creative energy. “We should do a project together” she stated. I replied, “You get the gig and just direct me what to do. You know what my talents are. I know she’s here for a whole month, but I already miss her. Who knows, maybe she will figure out a project for us to collaborate on. I take well to direction and love her concepts. If anyone can figure out a way for us to be PAID to hang out together in the future, she can…

As we kick around downtown Santander I realize that this is the quietest city I’ve ever been in. I mention this and we all listen; no one is yelling, laughing loudly, crying, coughing, spitting, honking or whizzing by in loud vehicles. How weird! And the whole city appears to be nicely dressed in muted colors. Orlando, who lives downtown, had never noticed this before, but once I called it to his attention he agreed. “No wonder I like it here,” he says, “its a city conducive to doing your own thing in peace,” while I think to myself, “I could NEVER live here and be able to sustain creativity. In fact, as refreshing as this little trip has been, I look forward to returning home to noisy, funky, brash, gaudy, bold, sometimes gritty, but oh so very human Barcelona.”

Downtown Santander

SANTANDERIMG_2628IMG_2629downtown Santander  2

Tapas, cerveza, laughter and conversation with friends on our last night:

IMG_2623IMG_2512IMG_2524Orlando & Elia

Orlando and eliaIMG_2628

Cris and I say goodbye to Elia and Orlando. Santander was a peaceful and somewhat rejuvenating hiatus, but I really looked forward to returning to my funkier life in our new beach pad, where “my boys” await me at our new surreal and luxurious home..