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After The Fire Mercè Alegre & Noelia Pérez

The 31st October, 2008, I went to a party and I got burnt. To make the place prettier, we put some candles on the floor. I was wearing a black long skirt made of synthetic fibers and I stood near one of the candles, a white and long one. In just some seconds the candle ignited my skirt. It was that stupid and that fast. But I guess all accidents are just like that. I spent one month and a week at hospital and I had two operations. I had the 30% of my body burnt: the legs, the thighs, the forearms and the hands. Some of the burns were superficial and some were much deeper. I was very lucky. I didn’t burn my face, or my feet, or my belly. I didn’t have to live for more than one year at a hospital and I didn’t have more than fifteen operations. I have never been left alone, and I have never had any shortage of medicines or doctors. I can swim, run, jump, sit down, walk, crawl. Sometimes, I even forget that I had an accident and I think that I was born like that, with rosy legs. My body is happy. I feel normal. In fact, I like my scars. They are the words that the flames put into my body. The words I heard while it was dark and I was getting burnt. Ignited words maybe, who knows, for seeing a bit clearer. Words written on my skin, like a tattoo, so that I never forget what I was taught, through bites of fire,

by fire.


I don’t feel like talking about myself. In the world of the burnt, my case has nothing special. The most original thing may be that I got burnt with a candle. But this, I guess, is because I’m a metaphysic and a romantic. And also, I must say, a big mess. After all, we all have our scars, even if some are bigger than others: the difference is that some can be seen and others cannot. The real challenge is to decide what we do with our wounds, how we heal them and how we reinvent ourselves in order to revive from our own ashes. It took me one year and a half to physically heal from the accident, even though my case was not critical and I didn’t have any kind of complications. But burnts usually heal very and very slowly. On the other hand, it all was quite easy for me because the fire only affected the periphery of my body so, if I didn’t want to see them or to show them, I could hide them and that was it. But still, it took me a long time to accept what I had been through. To heal my wounds didn’t only mean to wait until my burnt skin regenerated, it also meant many other things: to face my multiple fears, my shyness, my hate, and my rage. I needed to empty myself of all those things that were hurting me. I had to do something with all that. I had to draw, to paint, to write, to take pictures of myself. I had to go back to the place where I got burnt. I had to dance with a candle. I had to share the stories that I lived and felt. I had to speak from my own skin. I had to sing. Time has gone by. When I got burnt I was 23 years old and I wanted to travel around the world. I still want to travel, but I have learnt that you don’t always need a ship or a plane to do so. When I couldn’t nearly move, I learnt to travel my insides. I have walked very slowly and many times alone, but I have also walked with many people. People I knew from long time ago and new people too. And Noe, a Medicine Woman from the 21st century who, with the magical click-click of her camera, has helped me transform the sadness and the pain of the bird eaten by the flames into colourful feathers. Take them. Paint yourself with them. Sing them lullabies. Stick them on a paper plane. Make freedom out of them. Make with them whatever you feel like. Don't do anything. But please, one last piece of advice: no matter how wonderful it may look, never leave a candle on the floor. Go to the woods and look for some fireflies. They are more ecological and they don’t burn. They just tickle your hands.


Four preliminary notes I can’t stop writing. One. When I got burnt I decided I would do everything I had to in order not to become a sourpuss and sad person. When I imagined myself hugging my own complains and sitting down in a corner, being eaten by sorrow and rage, I got into a monstrous panic, a visceral one. Maybe because I was a self-destructive teenager and I knew too well what I meant by staying in a corner without light. And suddenly, I wanted to live so much! Two. That’s why I want to say very clearly, to underline and, if necessary, to highlight it with a highlighter, that if my existence changed of colour and was dyed with life, it was not thanks to a candle, but only thanks to myself. Back then, I felt very lost, I had the feeling of walking without seeing, without knowing which way to follow. It is very easy to say that and to fall, straightaway, into the metaphor of the saving fire which came to light my path (in this case, literally). But it was not like that: the fire that burnt me had no intention to help me clarify my existential chaos with its light. The one who decided to go out of the well and transform that extreme experience in an opportunity of change was not the flame that ignited me, it was me. Three. I grew up and I was raised in a society that ignores and denies death, the loss and suffering. A society in which being ill is a failure, to be vulnerable is fool and to grow old is unnatural. At school, no one taught me what to do when something big happens and you have to speak face to face with pain. I think that this way of avoiding reality and of not getting ready to face pain makes us stupid and steals autonomy and dignity. Pain is part of human existence and if you don’t know how to relate to it, when it touches you, it will hurt you a hundred times more than if you had been taught to look at it in the eyes without being afraid. Four. Before the accident, I was some kind of big head carried by a nearly invisible body. When, suddenly, my skin was in flames, I rediscovered that I was an animal, a real being. In short, I discovered I had a body. Pain woke me up and my senses reactivated. Everything I used to learn with the brain, I was now learning it with the cells of my flesh. I stopped being a thinking head floating in the middle of pure theory. I felt alive, present, rooted, willing to breath with all the pores of my skin. But, in order to get there, was it necessary to get burnt? The end. My answer is no. A body which feels life with all its intensity doesn’t have to be a body which suffers. Knowledge is not more authentic and real if it’s been gained with physical extreme pain. In order to be wiser it is not necessary to turn to scarification rituals and to cross the border between childhood and adulthood, we don’t have to mutilate and renounce to parts of our body. To be ill or have an accident are not things that must be hidden as if they were shameful, but they aren’t a target we have to aim for and admire in an attempt to consecrate pain as the only way of profound knowledge either. What we really have to love is the natural wisdom and strength of our body and the will to live and laugh that lives inside it, in spite of everything, no matter what.


CHRONOLOGY October I terribly hated parties and costumes. But I had decided I would go. After all, that wasn’t any costume’s party. It was the party of the flat where I was going to live. A flat which seemed a palace and where five of us were going to live: one prince and four princesses. I rummaged around in my wardrobe, picked the only skirt I had and put it in a plastic bag. “I won’t come back too late”, I told my parents before leaving home, “save some food for dinner”. It was the last day of October. The first day of real autumn, with leaves on the floor and some kind of rain which made my foot equipped with mountain boots slip on the pavement. The flat was nearly empty and very dirty. Luckily, there was water and electricity. In order to counteract the darkness of the enormous walls, we bought candles and arranged them around the house. One of them, the typical long and white candle one uses when the light does off, dropped. I picked it up and I stuck it again on the modernist tiles of the living room, using its own wax. The guests were arriving. I got one of my usual shyness attacks. I didn’t know most of the people. I didn’t know what to talk about or where to stand. On top of it, I was feeling quite uncomfortable about my costume: I was wearing a quarter length sleeves t-shirt, jeans, and mountain socks. On top of the jeans I was wearing a long black skirt and, on my waist, another short, green skirt. I covered my hair and my shoulders with the scarf I usually wore in the street: it was a beautiful piece of cashmere. I sheltered in its sunset colours dyed of red and I tried to convince myself of being an Afghan princess. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was really hungry. There was a table with a lot of food in one of the corners of the living room. Guests were scattered around the room while they waited for the party to begin. I took a chip and, making a great effort to win my shyness, I started speaking to two girls dressed up as Chinese, which calmed me down a bit and made me feel better. Everything was starting to be ok. Suddenly, a very strong smell of burnt, came to my nose. The most curious thing was that it came just from behind me. I turned around: a stream of smoke was coming out of the edge of my skirt. Just from below the skirt. I stared at the stream of smoke: a little and bright flame was born. My brain couldn’t understand anything. It can’t be. Is there a flame in my skirt? It seemed impossible, a joke. Something supernatural and surreal. After some seconds which felt eternal my brain lit up: there was a candle underneath my skirt. The same candle I had stuck some minutes ago. I stepped back. The candle stayed where it was but the flame followed me. I turned around to look at the two Chinese: their eyes were incredibly opened and scared. I tried to get rid of my skirts. But they were too well tied. I turned to see the flame. It had started growing. I tried to extinguish it with my hands. But it was very difficult because I had to turn around too much to get to it. My hands were hurting. I turned around again. There was a large circle of people around me, everyone staring at me. They all looked like statues petrified by fear. I was petrified too. I wanted to fall to the floor but I couldn’t move. And suddenly, I started walking as a robot. I knew it was just exactly what I shouldn’t do. But I couldn’t stop walking. I think I was waiting for a miracle. But the miracle didn’t come. I had never felt so alone. I had never been so close to myself. Time changed. Everything was longer: distance, seconds. The world around me disappeared. I couldn’t see anything. It was only the fire and me. And I suddenly understood that if I was feeling alone it was because I had abandoned myself long time ago. Why didn’t I love myself? Why didn’t I trust myself? I couldn’t expect others to do so in my place. I couldn’t go on doing things I didn’t want to do. I couldn’t keep denying all the possibilities I had inside myself. I could do anything I wished to, no matter how crazy it seemed. I didn’t have to justify myself to


others. Suddenly, I was, once more, that little girl who run through the forests and swam naked in the sea, the girl who wanted to be like a bird, a deer, a fish, a stone. I felt freer than ever. Free and without fear. Life seemed immense, nearly infinite. But the fire told me to wake up. I don’t know how long it had been since I started walking but when I got to the door of the living room, the flames where shoulder-high. Someone told me about it later, I do not remember. I started feeling pain. A profound pain, enraged. I heard a high-pitched, yellow scream which sounded of a different person. But it was me who screamed. I thought I would die charred. But now I didn’t want to leave without living for real, without doing everything I wanted to do. Suddenly, the miracle arrived in form of a girl. She jumped on me and we fell to the floor. Someone took her away from me so that she wouldn’t get burnt too. I heard: “roll! Roll!” I did roll. Flames sank in my body like broken glass pieces. The fire extinguished. I looked at my legs. My skirts had vanished, only my jeans were still there. My socks and my t-shirt made of cotton were intact. I was curled on myself as if I had just been born, my breath faltering. I was taken to the bath. Someone turn on the water to maximum. My jeans were cut. Someone took them off very slowly: luckily, the clothes were not stuck on my skin. It was as if my arms had wanted to melt like the candle’s wax: strips of dead and white skin hung from them. I had a giant blister under the bottom. And a swimming pool of frozen water soaked my feet. When the ambulance’s nurse came in, I was so cold I was shaking and my teeth were chattering. I was taken to the sofa. They soaked my wounds with bottles of physiological serum. They were very slow because they only had little bottles and every time one was opened, they cursed the person who had forgotten to put the big bottles in the ambulance. They helped me breath: “inspire, expire”. I was bandaged. They covered me up with a blanket and I went downstairs step by step. I could barely flex my legs. I don’t know how I climbed onto the stretcher. I went out of the building looking up. I saw the dark and damp sky, the branches of the plane-tree. “Look into my eyes”, the nurse told me. I looked into his eyes and I held there. His girlfriend called him. “Yes, I’ll come for dinner”, he told her. I thought of the food that was waiting for me at my parent’s house. I was still hungry. I was given, almost in a clandestine way, a small bit of pie. It was delicious. It was like a little piece of clear blue sky in the middle of the storm. I saw the corridor’s white ceilings. Two white doors opening. Emergencies. A nursing auxiliary wanted to know what my costume had been. “I was a princess”, I managed to articulate. “We always say it, those costumes are very dangerous!” For the lapse of a second, I was full of embarrassment due to the possibility that he had imagined me wearing a super mega flammable and horrible dress of Cinderella from Walt Disney. Then I thought: “bah, may he think whatever he wants to”. It was the first time in my life I didn’t mind what others thought about me. Suddenly, I felt incredibly strong. I had never felt so well. I am a princess, I discovered, my own princess. And for her, I would do whatever. I ended up on top of the operating table. The nurses used physiological serum from head to toes in order to be able to take off the bandages and the gauzes that were stuck on my skin. The liquid went inside me instantly. It was as if my whole body was drinking. I would have loved it to rain on me for hours and hours because, that way, my body would burn less. When I saw my skin I was very shocked: I didn’t know where the burnt started or ended. My skin was all pelt and meat. It was as if my skin had opened everywhere. Some doctors came around me. It was very curious because they weren’t looking at me on the face. They looked at my legs, of course, and not exactly because they were beautiful. That hurt my pride. I had always been told I had beautiful legs. One of them made me sign a paper just in case I needed surgery. I didn’t understand why they wanted to operate. After all, it wasn’t so bad, I was only burnt. It was in that precise moment when I realized that I had absolutely no idea about what getting burnt meant, nor about what was


to come. They cut the dead skin with a pair of scissors, by the edge. They put on some very cold ointment which felt as if I was touching paradise. They cut my panties, I got a probe for the pee and a line on my arm, I was covered with a sheet and I was told to call my parents and tell them that they could now come and see me. “What a fucking hell I have just created for them”, I thought. “I’m fine”, I said on the phone. My mother said that, at first, when the nurse called them, she thought she was dreaming. My dad had spent the time walking up and down the corridor and she had ironed all the clothes from the washing machine. When they arrived, my dad was grey and my mother looked as if she had a knot in the stomach. I kept saying I was fine. I was taken to the last empty room in the ICU: the number thirteen. Nothing more appropriate to celebrate the terrific night of Halloween, wrapped as a mummy. I still had the time to smile in my brain, which was already turning off, and I fell asleep. November I spent one week in the ICU, three weeks in the Unit of Minor Burnts and, when I was nearly going to be discharged, the unit collapsed and I was taken to the Trauma Unit. I was finally sent home. It didn’t take longer than one month and one week. But it felt eternal. Some people had to stay for more than one year at hospital. How is it possible to put up with such a long time in there? I couldn’t help it but think of the “bubble kids”, protected and at the same time trapped inside their artificial uterus. I thought of the inmates, isolated from the world by walls, corridors and bars. How do they avoid becoming crazy? And the patients in a psychiatric, how do they survive to what they have around? They must be really strong. And believe that the best medicine, that one which can really save you, is yourself. The worst thing was not being able to move. I spent the first three weeks in horizontal position, immobile like an Egyptian queen in her sarcophagus. What do you do when life tells you to stay still forever? You can only move in your insides, to become the astronaut of your own universe. What do you do when you loose an organ of your body or when you break down, like the car toys the day after Christmas, and you cannot move the way you used to? The hospital seemed a different world. To start with, there were no beautiful colours. To continue, the words were very strange and flew on top of my head just as alien UFOs. At first, I couldn’t understand what the white coats were telling me about. The “stitches”, for example, were literally tiny stitches that were used to join the graft with the open wound. The “steak” was the frozen blood you were injected if you had hemorrhage. It looked like meat in a vacuum packet. And the clip that they put on my finger to measure the beats of my heart was called “pulsi”, poor little thing. Being connected to cables, tubes and bags, made me feel a bit like a lab cyborg. All the machines that were around me were extensions of my own body. In order to drink, as I couldn’t really sit up, I had to use a straw. Straws were beautiful because they had colourful strips and if I closed my eyes while I drank, they would take me far away, on a boat or in the middle of a deserted beach, and the water turned into lemonade or orxata (tiger nut’s milk) or into milkshake or fruit juice. To drink using a straw was nearly magic. At hospital, I stopped thinking. Brain: zero point five, just the minimum. I could only feel, sleep, eat, drink and ask for the bedpan when I needed it. Every day was a transfer of the day before. I was bored. I looked out of the window from my bed, but I couldn’t see a thing: the green top of some trees and the yellow helmets of the workmen when they walked towards the scaffoldings, and that’s it. I would have liked to see the faces of the workmen and say hello. I would have liked them to smile to me. If the top of the trees moved, or were touched by the rain or the wind, it was quite an event.


At night, that seemed la Rambla (one of the most crowded streets of Barcelona): nurses came in and out of the room every now and then. Sleeping was a utopia. Some of the girls spoke shouting just in front of the door. Honestly: I wanted to kill them! There were all kinds of nurses. Some handled us as if we were mere objects. But there also were real angels. I found one with blue eyes and I am sure that her presence regenerated instantly ten million cells. Most of the nurses were women. But, on the other hand, most of the doctors were men. Somehow, I think that the job of the nurses was considered as secondary. I’m not saying it to look down on the doctor’s job, quite the opposite: their work is very noble and hard. But I think that still today, the task of the nurses is not esteemed enough. They spend the day cleaning blood, touching shit, lifting deadweight and, specially, living together with the pain of the patient in a constant and direct way. To be a good nurse, I mean, expert, human, happy, sweet, full of energy, attentive and not to die while trying, I don’t think it may be easy at all. The cure was the starring moment of the day. Luckily, I only had one at ten o’clock in the morning. It lasted for one hour, more or less. They came in twos: one nurse and an assistant. I used to have the same couple for a whole week. The assistant gave me the breakfast, disinfected everything, cut my nails and washed my hair and the parts of my body that were not burnt. The nurse uncovered the wounds with the help of the assistant, cleaned them and covered them again. After that, she asked me how much pain I had felt from zero to ten. I never knew what to answer. I remember I usually said four, just to say something. Can you measure pain? The one who couldn’t measure anything was my body. Some say that the burnt people have the thermostat broken. I usually was hot, but when they were curing me, if they weren’t fast, I froze. On the ceiling on top of the bed in the ICU, there was a device of red lights that generated heat, like an incubator for eggs. Without my bandages and with my skin burnt, unprotected like a chick without feathers, I was really cold and my nails turned blue. The air hurt my flesh. Seriously, what would we do without our skin? We wouldn’t be able to touch nor feel a thing. All would stick on us and infect us. Maybe, the skin is the only border that should exist. From my bed, hundreds of miles away from the Strait of Gibraltar, I imagined the dark and salty waves raising, fierce like burning fire. The fact that I burnt, well, what can you do about it? That’s life. It was an accident. But the fact that twelveyear-old children keep drowning due to a line on a map, no, I’m sorry. It’s not an accident, it’s a crime. I would then feel colder and I would tell the nurses: “please, turn on the chick’s lights!” When the cure was a bit hard (for example, the first one after an operation) they would inject me morphine. Anyway, you had to fight a bit to obtain a dose. One nurse told me: “look, the doctors won’t listen to me. They will say I’m too frail. But if you cry, they’ll give you some”. Just as I was told, at first, the doctor told me he wouldn’t give me any: according to him, the cure would not hurt. What would he know if it would hurt or not? “Please”, I insisted. “Ok”, said one of the other doctors, “you will have a little supplement”. I didn’t know what he meant with a little supplement, but morphine made me so happy that I even was afraid of being addicted. It was as if, suddenly, a white flower opened inside my brain (“plop!”) and I started floating inside a cloud of talcum powder. Very funny, indeed. At first, the pain was distant, like the roar of a lion hidden in the savannah. I could barely hear it. It was an underground snore that travelled under my skin, sleepy thanks to the painkillers and the destroyed nerve endings. It was a pain that got confused with the nightmares, the heat and the thirst. Then, the lion got nearer and nearer. Every time more. The skin started to wake up, discovered she had been burnt and started screaming. She didn’t always scream with the same intensity, but when it was ten in the morning, yes. Sometimes, I realized I was crying only because the tears came into my mouth and they tasted like the sea. An unknown and colossal force weighed on my body, took all the space, and left no room for me. I had never felt anything so strong. And, of course, I was very scared. Then, I don’t know


how, I accepted the pain. And in less than five minutes, I forgot about it. Until the next day. Pain taught me everything that the cotton nest in which I had been living encapsulated for years had denied me. When my skin screamed, a lot of intense thoughts always came to my mind, knocked down and unconnected: can you die of pain? How do women bear the pain when they have their babies? What do the Buddhist monks think of when they commit suicide with fire? Why do we have to die in hospitals if they are so ugly? Why don’t we speak about death? When the nurses left, I stayed alone in my bed, exhausted as if I had just run a marathon, tired but happy, because I had overcome, once more, the ten in the morning test. Apart of morphine, my most usual (and affordable) drug was music: Vivaldi, Mercedes Sosa, Violeta Parra, Totó la Momposina... My favourite song cradled me as a baby in its cot: “Come on tell me, explain me Everything that is happening to you right now Why is it that, when it’s alone your soul cries? You have to take it all out, like spring Nobody wants that something dies inside Speak looking in the eyes Take out everything you can So that new things can be born inside” As I couldn’t read any book (reading means to use the brain during more than thirty seconds in a row...), I learnt by heart a poem by Iannis Ritsos. The Greek communist who had ended up in prison during the dictatorship of the colonels, made me discover that poetry can be as useful as a screwdriver: “Between the wild thistles A golden flower Said “present”. And what did you do? You said, also, “present”. And it was sunny.” When the bandages of my right hand were taken off, I asked for a paper and a pencil. I drew a red bird in flames which opened the beak to ask for help, shouting. The whole bird was a scream. I was the bird, of course. From then on, and despite the great physical effort that it took me, drawing turned into something as necessary as drinking a glass of water. When I did it, I emptied a bit of all those things I had inside: rage, fear, anger, bewilderment, pain, sadness, a shapeless and dark dough that moved inside me, without knowing what to do nor from where to go out. After my first operation I wrote: “today was a real day because I saw my legs. From the top to the toes. Alone. In my bedroom’s toilet. It was very ugly. But I didn’t cry, at least, not yet. It was a very strange feeling. But it wasn’t disgusting either. Hideousness, if looked at from a short distance, is not so hideous. And beauty, if looked at from a short distance, is not so beautiful.” Suddenly, I was very jealous of snakes. It would be so useful to take off the burnt skin and “hop!” to a have another one ready underneath, completely new... But underneath the bandages there was a surprise waiting for me: I had a new freckle just near the left knee! One of the sentences I heard the most while I was in the Burnts Unit was “it’s normal”. It was normal that the cure hurt. It was normal that I was very thirsty. It was normal that I had a blister. It was also completely normal that, suddenly, a group of doctors came and in front of me said: “this is a case of yadda, yadda, yadda. Look, look. Girl, rise your legs!” And I would put my legs up so that they would take pictures and I thought of the can-can dancers in the Moulin Rouge. I felt as a mandrel in the zoo, showing its red bottom to the whole world.


Luckily, when I said a poem I remembered that underneath the bandages, apart from meat and bones, there was something that was not exactly a thing, maybe a soul, I don’t know. I got used to speak to myself, when nobody else could hear me. I talked to my body, to calm it down. I sang, in a low voice, the songs that I liked the most. I sang in order not to be alone and, specially, in order not to forget that I was a person. My main activity was to eat. As I never moved, I was never hungry so I was veeeeery slow. If I had a visit, they always got me with the fork in my hand, it never failed. I felt like a goose with a funnel in the mouth. I was put a catheter, a plastic tube that went into my nose and went down my throat to my stomach and filled me up with synthetic food, day and night. When it muffled up, it was cleaned with Coke. I also had to drink some calorific concentrated three times a day. Those were some kind of dense and laminated beverages, which never ended and made me feel sick, yuuuuuck! Once, I said I wouldn’t have dinner. I just couldn’t eat. The nurse who was then working parked her smile, transformed into a Medusa and scolded me dramatically. I started crying like a baby. And there she was: telling me that everyone else ate a lot, that they all wanted to live, and me, why didn’t I want to live? Wait a second, but what was that woman saying? Of course I wanted to live! “Then, eat!” the Medusa thundered. “But my tummy hurts.” “Don’t be silly, your stomach is perfectly all right.” “I’m nervous. And when I’m nervous, I’m not hungry.” No way: “eat!” It was impossible to deal with a Medusa. I had to swallow the piece of fish while another nurse played the role of the good cop and explained me something about some green makeup that is used to disguise burnts. If I hadn’t been so tired, I would have explained her that I was not crying because of the colour of my legs but because it had been a lot of days since the last time I had moved from my bed, too long time without walking, running, dancing, jumping, caressing the wind, watching the sea, seeing the sun, or talking to the people in the street. I would have also liked to tell her not to worry about me, that I would be all right and that, to be happy, I hoped not to have to use any makeup. Finally, I was taken to the rehabilitation room, in a wheel chair, skidding in the corners. My heart jumped of joy. It was as if the country mouse went to visit the city. It was already time to see the place where I had been for weeks. I met people from other rooms. Everything was interesting. The physiotherapist asked me: “shall we dance a schottische?” We danced together something similar to a disrupted waltz, the perfect excuse to make me rise my knees and bend my legs. I thought that my skin would tear off like a paper. Even thought I had been very lucky, I kept thinking of the months that were waiting for me and I saw everything dark. It all were doubts, uncertainties. When would I be all right again? What would my scars look like? Who would love me? Who would kiss my legs without feeling disgusted? At night, I would get up to go to the toilet and I would question myself in front of the mirror. I would be surprised to see my eyes so big and bright: “that’s me!” I would repeat myself, incredulously. And I was happy I had met myself. December On Friday, the 5th of December of 2008 I left hospital. My mother helped me to dress as a “normal” person. Well, the meaning of “normal” is very relative: I wasn’t wearing a bra nor knickers! (I didn’t wear underwear for a long time because it hurt my skin). What I liked the most was to contemplate the skyline: far away I could see the sea. I had the feeling that it had been centuries since the last time I had seen it. It was very beautiful. All flat and blue. The world opened up and it was so huge, I couldn’t hug it. From the car’s window, and taking the chance because of a red traffic light, I watched a poster on the street. It was the advertisement of a film. Australia, was the title. With Nicole Kidman. It was as if I had just bumped into an alien. “What a strange woman”, I thought “She looks like made of


plastic.” My head was disoriented. I had gotten used to seeing another kind of things: blood, scabs, pus, blisters, gauzes, needles. And that doll derived from Barbie, caused me shivers of concern. In hospital, things were simple yet deep. Now, as I looked around me, everything seemed superficial and pointlessly complex. I thought: “the world is ill”. Compared to that prefabricated and synthetic advertisement, the flora and fauna of the Burnts Unit was a thousand times more beautiful and real. I felt, suddenly, very lucky to have seen all the things I had seen. To know what is hidden behind the bandages. My bloody and half shattered skin was the empirical evidence that I was not made of plastic, that all the human beings are combustible material, deformable -material in motion- and that I am not a product of a shop window, bright and unpolluted, eternal, as they want us to believe we have to be. My parents shared the functions as follow: my mother was the nurse and my father the driver. I still had some minor wounds to heal. The nurses called them “sparks”. It still took me some months to close all those sparks. The first month I went to cure them to different ambulatories. That was more a perambulatory, now here, now there, and be careful not to drop the bandages when you go out of the taxi or of dad’s car balancing. I will always remember the first cure out of the Vall d’Hebron Hospital. It was a weekend and there was a long queue. The clinic only had three nurses to take care of all the persons who kept arriving to Emergencies. After insisting quite a lot, they asked me to go inside. Automatically, I started taking off all the clothes I was wearing in front of the male nurse. In the hospital, I was used to go around half naked all the time. But the nurse didn’t expect it, averted his gaze and gave me, very fast, a white coat so that I would cover myself. For a second, I wondered if I had done something wrong but I chose not to be ashamed and I did lie on the stretcher. The nurse turned out to be very nice. He was from Paraguay and he was all the time joking. He asked me if I had tried to do voodoo to somebody. “Man”, I answered, “I would say someone wanted to do it to me”. He cured my wounds full of delicateness and respect. I couldn’t believe it was not hurting. It was even pleasant. He asked me: “are you nervous?” Well, yes, I was. It had been so long since the last time someone had touched me like that. I had forgotten my skin could also smile. But I didn’t tell him, of course. He concluded: “you go out in the morning and you don’t know if you will be back at night”. I went out there feeling a bit in love. During the last month, I did the cures in the bathroom of my home, with my mother. That was some kind of accelerated PhD on Practical Nursing. After all, we knew all the steps by heart (I think I could have even done it with my eyes closed): 1. I took off the exterior elastic bandage, the cotton interior bandages and the big gauzes, and I went into the bath. 2. I tried to take off the gauzes that were stuck on the wound using water or my fingers. The Betadine ointment was too sticky so we changed to Purilon (what names!), which was some kind of transparent jelly you have to cover with a greasy grid to avoid the gauze to stick on the wound. I had to scrape off the Purilon very carefully in order not to hurt myself. All this, holding a mirror as a rear-view mirror because, of course, I couldn’t see the back of my own legs. 3. I would lather using a sponge from the chemist and I would wash as gently as I could (that is, allowing the law of gravity to make slide, by itself, the water and the soap down my legs). 4. I would dry my legs with the hair dryer or, when I had no more patience left, using a clean towel, which maybe had more bacteria but was faster. 5. I spread moisturizer on my skin several times, a special one for the open wounds and a normal one for the closed ones. 6. When the skin was a bit dry, my mother and I covered, one by one, all the wounds: jelly, grid, grease, little gauze, big gauze, cotton bandage, elastic bandage and the finishing touch,


the surgical tape, which consisted on calculating how strong you had to press the wrapping so that it would not fell down to the floor, but it would not hurt your skin either. Altogether, if we were fast, it took us one hour. The most exasperating were the blisters. Just when I nearly had any open wound, they did their stunning appearance. It is said that blisters are the first to arrive and the last to leave. Every morning, I woke up seeing flames through my skin. My body was heavy as if it had been filled up with stones. Everything was very strange. I felt like Kafka’s beetle, paralyzed on its back. I didn’t know how to go out of bed without bending my knees. What’s more, what if my bandages broke up and I got dirty with the sheets full of bacteria? Oh, well. When after a lot of frustrated attempts of clumsy beetle I stood up, more than half an hour had flown away. But in fact, I was not in a hurry at all. I could spend, perfectly, three hours watching a white wall doing absolutely nothing. My brain’s cable was still unplugged, but at least, I could now read books. I reencountered Cortázar. I travelled to Greece and Mexico. When I didn’t know what else to do, I would close up in the bathroom and I took pictures of myself while I listened to the Latin American radio. The hit of that moment was Llamada de emergencia (Emergency call) and I loved it, especially when it said: “Control, we need assistants in the area. We’re loosing him, we’re loosing him... Control: he’s leaving, he’s leaving!” And you could then hear the electrocardiogram nearly dying: “tut, tut, tut...” It can seem strange or even macabre, but I had just left the hospital and any medical word proved close and familiar, and it made me feel less alone in my little world of gauzes and bandages. That winter was very cold but I walked around the house corridors without clothes, with just the bandages on, a towel and little more. It was too hot. It was as if fire was still under my skin. I drank water non-stop, I went out to the balcony naked so that the frozen air touched my skin and I dreamt that I was a penguin and that I had a bath between huge glaciers. But as I couldn’t afford a trip to the country of the northern lights, I just went to the kitchen and opened the fridge’s door. There I stayed, still and satisfied, until the machine started whistling non-stop. The skin awoke completely. Before, I only felt it from time to time, when I had the cure done or when a lightning of pain dipped me into an electric storm as unexpected as ephemeral. I now felt it without interruption, like a high-pitched and constant buzz of a botfly. The stinging attacks where the worst thing. A lot of nights I just couldn’t sleep, I could only scratch. Theoretically, it was strictly banned to scratch but I usually broke the rule. I so much wished to rest, even if it only was for a millisecond, from that festival of invisible fleas! To walk. To sit down. To go upstairs. To go downstairs. To lie down. Everything asked for patience and effort. I had the feeling that my body was of another person’s and that instead of legs I had two wooden sticks. When I sat down on a chair I could only use the end of my bottom, while leaving the legs stretched onwards as if I was Miss Lady, abandoned on a “chaise longue” in a spa of Bavaria. I always went into the car standing still and holding on to its ceiling. At the end of February, the last sparks closed and the last blisters disappeared. The next day I picked the metro to go to work. It had been such a long time since I had seen so many people together. I also went back to university. The truth is that I only took my body there. My head was still absent, lost in a sea of thick fog where strange words navigated, unattainable to my understanding. But now that I was not dependent on anybody to dress up, move around and take care of myself, I could leave my parent’s house and go to live to the flat where I had got burnt. March My room was finally painted white. In fact, my flat mates painted it for me, I didn’t do much. They offered me a bed and a mattress and I installed my things there: the Turkish carpet, the books, the


music, the medicines, the clothes and some furniture. The four walls soon lost their condensed perfume of paint and I started a new life in palace. When I went into the flat for the first time after the accident, there was an incense stick slowly burning on top of a wooden table. The smell of the smoke went straight into my brain. All my neurons started shouting: “be carefuuuuuul!” I turned around as if there was a bomb ready to explode behind me: there wasn’t a thing... I felt ridiculous. How could a simple incense stick make my heart beat a mile a minute, have me soaked in a cold sweat and make me want to run away like crazy? That made me remember, an anecdote from hospital: one day, the wife of a gypsy patriarch arrived. The nurses cleaned her and left her smooth as a baby, but when her husband went to visit her, he exclaimed: “you bastards! What have you done to her? You have stolen my wife’s scent!” I don’t know what that man saw when he smelled his wife but that incense stick made me relive my whole accident from A to Z in a second. Like that: fiuuuuuuu! It is said that the oldest part of our brain is the reptilian, which dates, more or less, from the time of the dinosaurs. It activates due to external stimulus which trigger in our organism instinctive and mechanical actions, very difficult to control. This system, called limbic, is the one which manages the nerves and feelings, and is singularly sensitive to olfactory stimuli. To sum up: it was absolutely logical that the diplodocus living in me would be scared when suspicious smoke signals were detected. For a long time, the simple scent of a toast or burnt rice would make a double reef knot in my stomach. Every time the boiler growled, I thought it would explode right in front of my nose, and let me be honest I never could switch on the heating in the dining room without praying in a low voice so that the butane gas canister would not explode. I usually woke up at around four or five a.m. thinking what would I do if the flat got on flames. One night, I even dreamt I fell in love with a boy called Fire. Time went by and I ended up accepting that I had much more possibilities of dying cruelly knocked down by a mass of tourists desperately looking for the Picasso Museum. After all, my crazes were quite humorous. For example, as I was told that sugar kills the skin’s cells, I ran away from it as if it was the same devil. “Taste this cake.” “No, it’s got sugar.” “Do you want a chocolate?” “No, it’s got sugar.” “Here, have this tea.” “Nooooooo! It’s got sugar!” So I would only have Arabic sweets hoping that they would only have honey. My new activities were really easy: job, university, yum, yum, zzzzzzz... I never went to parties. I was always tired. For months, anything I did, no matter how small it was, made me exhausted: walking down the corridor, cooking, hanging the clothes, setting the table, going shopping. More than once I had to lie down in bed for a while in order to fill in my energy’s tank and if I didn’t take a nap, I wouldn’t make it to night. In the street, it was sensational: everybody passed me. Even the neighbour from downstairs, who walked with a stick and with her bent back, went upstairs faster than me. I was, definitively, like a snail. And I discovered I liked it. I liked to be slow. Why is it good to be the fastest and to always run to be the first on the list? Between step and step, I watched people and I saw a lot of angry faces, expressionless mouths, eyes that couldn’t see. Robots with one function: work, buy, spend. It was then when I understood that I didn’t want to spend my whole life in a city full of smoke, cars, speed, aggressiveness, hypocrisy, futilities and absurdities. But by then, it was all just parked inside the garage of ideas of my head. The scars needed me all the time, like a new born baby and I didn’t have time to dream. Twice a day I went into my room, closed my door, put a huge towel on the Turkish carpet and I fulfilled the ritual to try to revive the red feathers of my burnt body. For half an hour, I massaged my skin with rosehip and sweet almond oil. Very slowly, I tried to bend my legs, flex them and stretch them until the skin was soft and I could sit down on the towel. I looked at the scars on a


mirror and I tried to think: “well, it’s not that bad!” Usually, as I moved as a circus’s contortionist, happy and lighten notes came from the other rooms and escorted me: “The room of Tula, caught on fire. She fell asleep and didn’t blow the candle out.” When I emerged from my room, I went straight to the shower. With a bar of soap I tried to remove the greasy layer of oil that covered me. Water slid on top of my scars like a distant rain which never really went inside my body. The windows of my skin, there where the fire had been walking were bricked up and I had the feeling to be covered with plastic. I dried up. Aloe gel. I waited for it to dry. Compression stockings. Clothes. I opened the door. The imaginary timer told me an hour and a half had gone by since I had started. With so many litters of oil going down the drain (poor sea!) it was inevitable that the pipe blocked and that the bath turned into a swimming pool. During a year I cleaned it twice a day (365 times two are 730 times: not bad, is it?). I was so tired that I often forgot to use the gloves and I would leave the ceramic the way it was, dirty and slippery. And then, the next person who went into the shower... That muck couldn’t be taken away by Fairy Plus Ultra, not Mr. Clean, nor nothing. While I cleaned, I protested energetically: “you see, if you hadn’t gotten burnt, you wouldn’t be here like a fool, trying to clean all this muck!” And then I cursed the bath, and the candle, and the party, and my bad luck and, once started, why not? I cursed the whole world. Oh, and that damned oil which scented my room of an unforgettable stench of rancid. All my clothes smelled of it: the stockings, the sheets, the bathrobe, the underwear, the t-shirts... But in general, it was all good. After spending so much time between four walls, the mere fact of walking completely alone on the street, made the happiness serotonin rise to one thousand. I walked through the park and with the fingers I followed the naked bark of the trees. Lumps, cuts, holes. If I closed the eyes, it felt like I was touching my own scars. Suddenly, everything had a skin. Hurt clothes. Stories to explain. Nearly inaudible murmurs in the middle of the urban magma. One afternoon, I stumbled with a cat. It was a quite curious cat: he could speak a lot of languages, worked in a hotel at night, he wasn’t afraid of dancing under the rain while music from the Balkans played and his ears smelled of jasmine. Because the cat was a lot taller than me, he helped me hung the world’s map in my room. In that moment, my body turned into a very light balloon and I flew on top of the roofs of the city. The cat walked around freely on the roofs and, from time to time, he would say: “meow, meow, you’re so beautiful”. Until one day, I didn’t see him again. That summer I turned into a vampire. I had the feeling that if the sun touched me, it would instantly strike me down. I walked stepping on isles of darkness, from shade to shade, so that the light would not touch my skin. I picked a pair of black socks, I made a hole on them to put my fingers and my hands in, and that was it. In August I walked around wearing elbow-length gloves and compressor stockings under my trousers. It wasn’t so terrible. I just got used to sweat. When I saw the advertisements on the streets, I really wanted like crazy to put up a modelling agency with real women. And when I urgently looked for a dress without viscose, polyamide or any other atrocity, I really felt like putting up a shop which only used natural fibers. I read the chemical components on the labels and I realized that, in fact, the big industries want us to become walking oil containers. Multinational companies make of our lives one more product, highly exploitable and flammable, but because nowadays commercial fashion is a religion to thousands of unconditional devotees (prior brain wash) I thought that, with no doubt at all, my modest cotton, silk and wool enterprise would be bankrupt in no time at all. My ideas weren’t always that clear. Sometimes, when I went shopping, my anti-Barbie guerrilla beliefs melted like an ice cube. I was envious of those mannequins wearing mini-skirts. One of  


those ironies in life: I had never wanted to wear them and now I would die for one. Inside the fitting rooms, I tried not to see myself on the mirror. I would have broken it. On the street, my destructive instinct multiplied. I would have killed all the girls who showed their legs. I would have strafed all the fashion and beauty advertisements. I felt like a broken doll, in decomposition. Damaged. Suddenly, all the Michael Jackson’s zombies that had always scared me were very nice. They were the only ones that back then could take me in between their putrid and loving arms and I turned little and found shelter in them, I would hold them strong and I would cry with rage because, once again, I had let the stupid and empty song of the mermaids fool me. October II October introduced November. One day, I thought of Noe. She was a girl of big dark eyes and dark straight hair, like the pictures of ancient Egypt. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time and, in fact, we didn’t really know each other. But something told me that she was the person I was looking for: a woman, photographer, engaged with her ideals and very sensitive. If somebody had to take pictures of me, it was her. No one else. She welcomed me holding her baby girl in her arms, Firefly. That’s how everything started: around a table full of papers, with the sound of the baby sucking the mother's breast and two cups of tea on our hands. Showing the scars was not a problem. The most difficult pictures were, justly, those in which nothing was seen. Maybe because they were full of symbolism and they talked about the things you can’t see with the eyes: emotions, feelings. Going back to the place where I burnt or dancing with a candle on my hand were two important moments for me, even if, apparently, I didn’t feel anything special. Buying a candle pack in the supermarket of the corner was an unforgettable historical moment: it cost 1.69 euros and the cashier dedicated me a smile, bright as a 1,000 watts light bulb (I don’t know if those kinds of light bulbs exist, but that’s how it felt like). Noe and I talked a lot about our scars and about things that affected us: − − −

Yes, in a hospital, a lot of times, it feels like you can’t give an opinion, even if what is at risk is your body, your life. If you are different, you are not “normal”. You don’t fit the esthetical and ideological pattern dictated by the rest of society. There aren’t any bombs or deaths, but it’s just as if there was a war, very hygienic and silent that wanted to annihilate us all. You have the feeling that TV and advertisements and politicians and banks surround you and try to occupy your body and mind to fill you up with necessities that have nothing to do with what you really want and search. Where does so much urban and antihuman violence come from? Look at them, they say this society is healthy and, if you pay a bit of attention to it, it’s very easy to see that sores ooze non-stop.

Rage. That’s what connected us. It was not a destructive rage. It was a big need of saying “no”. That we didn’t agree with a lot of the things that surrounded our daily life and that depend on nowadays system of repression and social control. Talking about scars was not only talking about blood, bandages and ointments. It was, specially, telling what is behind them: people’s reactions to pain, the capacity of empathy, the need to establish bonds in order not to feel alone in front of the environmental pressure that threatens with turning us into robots and the internal fights to overcome fear and be ourselves and not what is expected from us to be. I could finally sit down on a chair normally and the 9th, April, 2009 I jumped into a plane to Syria. There, no one would look at me in a strange way if it was hot and I was covered from head to toes. One morning, I saw myself on the oval mirror in my room. With my eyes half closed I saw, suddenly, that the scars smiled me, beautiful and rosy. And I, of course, smiled back at them.


STORIES The couple from Salou arrived by helicopter. One first and then, the other. They had to be intubated. They were burnt from head to toes. Gas leak. One lit the lighter and the accumulated gas in the non-ventilated chalet burst. The elder in the room near mine was a pain in the neck and was always shouting for the nurse. Like that: “nuuuuuuuuuuuuuurse!” Three times in a row or even more. He didn’t let me sleep. There was an inmate in one of the rooms of the hospital who had burnt. A policeman watched his door day and night. It really outraged me. If he was seriously burnt, how the heck did they want him to run away? I never knew what had really happened to him. But in my head flew gruesome stories, stories of jailers who caused accidents so that it looked like that the inmates had committed suicide. Or stories in which the inmate burns his bed with a cigarette but nobody goes to take him out of his cell until it is already too late. Mrs Juliana’s gas oven exploded. Luckily, only her legs and one hand were burnt. She summarized her situation with short words: “my body is sad”, she told me. At night we could hear her old roommate asking for water and moaning because her wound had gangrene and her leg had to be amputated. The painkillers didn’t have any effect on her anymore. “Poor Mrs Cloti”, would then say Mrs Juliana, and her body’s sadness became bigger. My second roommate had burnt her face and neck while she was cooking. “I had blisters on my ears that hung until they reached my shoulders”, she told me. “They seemed earrings!” Yasmin burnt her tummy with boiling water. She had four surgeries. Her eyes were big and open and her skin was caramel-brown colour. Sometimes, she run away from her room on the corridors and she would put her head from behind the door. I always said “hello!” from my bed and she hid, with her playful girl’s giggles. The boy who played Lego in the rehab room had burnt his head with hot oil. His head was so full of bandages that all you could see where four holes for the eyes, the nose and the mouth. He had jumped on top of her little sister to save her from a pan that fell from the stove. Jour’s skirt had ignited with the motorbike’s exhaust pipe, while she was driving. While her clothes were being unstuck form her skin, the nurse also cried. Jour told me: “cry every time you need it, always. Never be ashamed to cry”. The young man with the cap had burnt with an electric shock. “When you receive an electric shock it’s even worse, because you don’t get burnt from the outside to the inside but from the inside to the outside”, he explained. “You’ll see, when all the wounds are healed completely, you will always scratch. You won’t even realize!” Fofana, the African with no papers. He had burnt his hands. He ran away from hospital without having all the wounds healed. He was afraid that police might come to arrest him and deport him. I wished I would have been able to say hello or speak to him. Mrs Antonia got burnt with the stove. She explained it as follows: “I went out of the house, in flames, shouting help. Then, a Chinese young man who was going upstairs told a Moroccan young man, who was also there, “Hug her!”” She was very sedated. “I’m all right”, she kept repeating, “it doesn’t hurt”. Mrs Antonia was stone-deaf but I promised her (shouting) that if she needed anything at night, I would call the nurses because I had practiced a lot (the bell didn’t work, so I would hit the bed rail with a spoon). But that same night arrived, suddenly, like an avalanche, more than twenty burnts from Gavà, I was taken to a different floor and I didn’t see Mrs Antonia again.


All the burnt persons from Gavà were gypsies. They set up tents in front of the hospital and a security guard came to prevent them from going into the Burnts Unit out of the visiting time. There was a really long queue of family members on the door, waiting to listen to the names of those who were dying. Most of them had really serious burns in more than the 60 per cent of the body. While I was going out of the rehab room on my wheel chair heading to my room in Trauma, I heard how they read in a loud but sweet voice: “María”. And a very young man, tall and thin said: “yes”. It was very sad. The homeless was quite a whinger and a pimp, but he was also charming. I don’t know how he burnt his legs, he never told me and I didn’t dare ask him. We were discharged the same day. We shook hands and wished each other good luck. I went to my parent’s house and he went to a day centre, alone. I thought: “who is going to take care of him?” I couldn’t help it and remembered that in the year 2005, three teenagers burnt alive a woman who was sleeping in an ATM in Barcelona. My parents wanted to hide from me the newspaper’s cover but I found it anyway: a Greek policeman, during the riots in Athens just after the murder of a 15-year-old student, Alexis Grigoropoulos. In flames. My skin hurt from the view of him. One of the Fotopress prices in 2009 was Gender-based violence in Pakistan by Emilio Morenatti. He showed the burnt faces of several women victims of attacks with acid: Munira Aseef, Irum Saeed, Shanaz Bibi and Najaf Sultana, between others. On the Metro’s walls there were pictures of the exhibition with the face of a woman who had an eye missing. In its place, some jerk had stuck, in a systematic way, a green chewed gum. Ali showed me his arm: “look, here is where the drop of concrete fell”. He had a little, round and light scar, on top of his brown skin. I met Cecilia in the Metro. She played the guitar. Her father had burnt from waist above, during a demonstration in Venezuela. Molotov cocktail. He had to live for a long time without closing his eyes because the fire had burnt his eyelids. We were walking through el Raval (a suburb in Barcelona) when, suddenly, an ambulance passed us on the right, at full speed, followed by a fire truck. “What happened?” we asked. “A girl jumped from the balcony. The gas had caught fire.” I didn’t want to look. Now the girl might be on the floor, covered with a white sheet. I heard, far away, maybe in the inside of my head, the metallic sound that men do while they transport the pile of orange canisters: clang, clang, clang... Like a strident bell which doesn’t have the time to grief.


DICTIONARY Acid: chemical product which jewellers normally use to treat gold. In Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Cambodia a high number of attacks with acid to women are recorded every year. Acid is highly corrosive and its effects on human flesh are devastating: it destroys skin and can even dissolve bones. Most of the attacked women are underage or very young and their faces remain disfigured for the rest of their lives. Offenders are, nearly always, family members, husbands or the victim’s suitors and, usually, commit the crime because the girl rejects them, because someone wants to repudiate her or because of land or dowry conflicts with the family. Ai: “Ai” in Japanese means love. Albinism: genetic abnormality defined by the absence of skin, body hair, hair and eyes pigmentation. Albinos usually get blind or skin cancer. In Africa, one out of 4,000 persons is albino. In a lot of Sub-Saharan societies, the so-called white Africans are considered cursed beings or devils that should be outcast and exterminated. A lot of midwifes make them disappear just after being born. In some places they are considered magic beings who bring good luck and are then victims of human organ traffickers and wizards who kill the bought or kidnapped albinos, most of them little children. With the rest of their bodies, mainly the skin, really expensive amulets are made and sold to businessmen and politicians who want to ensure their careers. The musician from Mali Salif Keita is albino. Beauty: the elders of Myanmar tell their grand-daughters the reason why, in the Chin village, all the girls tattoo their faces black. Long time ago, a king was riding his horse in his kingdom when, suddenly, he discovered, in the middle of the country, a girl more beautiful than the moon. The monarch decided to make her his concubine and took her away. But he soon got tired of her and abandoned her. The girls of the Chin village were afraid that the king came back and kidnapped another girl, so they all decided to paint their faces with coal. When the king, some time later, went back, a row of girls with dirty black faces went out to welcome him. It was so scary that the horse reared and the rider near fell down. Man and horse ran away to never go back. From that day, Chin girls tattoo their faces black. Doll: some time ago, dolls were made out of cloth, wood, straw, mud. They were imperfect, like real girls. But one day, a plastic doll appeared. Her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, but everyone calls her Barbie. She was born in 1959 from the hand of Ruth Handler, a North American executive who worked for the toy company Mattel Inc. Barbie is a slim girl, blonde, with blue eyes and she always smiles. She has a boyfriend named Ken Carson, from who she was separated between 2004 and 2009, time during which she flirted with an Australian surfer called Blaine. She also has an African friend, Christie, a Hispanic friend, Teresa, and a redheaded friend who is pregnant for the third consecutive time, Midge. She has no children but does have a garden with a pool and many animals, and Ken recently bought a puppy, Sugar. Barbie’s mother, Lilli, is German, and until the mid-60s she appeared in the comics of the Bild-Zeitung in Hamburg, dressed in bikinis. Lilli has struggled to be financially independent and works as a secretary. Outside of America, the Barbies have also multiplied. Fulla was born in Damascus in 2003, in the heart of the company New Boy. She has two girlfriends: Yasmin and Nada, the three of them wear a veil, have a pink rug to pray and play baking cupcakes. Fulla is a doctor and a professor. It is said she will never marry. Dress: throughout the nineteenth century the North American prairies were emptied at a breakneck pace of the huge herds of buffalo that inhabited since immemorial times. The fur trade of the Far West was accelerated with the construction of railway lines crossing the continent from end to end. Shooting contests were organized for train passengers who indiscriminately fired from the car, killing as many buffalo as they could. Traders then removed the dead animal’s skin and went by, leaving hundreds of naked corpses rotting under the sun.


Electricity: in the year 1886, the state of New York decided that it had to replace the gallows for a more “human” execution instrument. Thomas Edison, who had just patented his first light bulb in 1879, and Harold P. Brown, his lab assistant, were responsible for creating the electric chair which started to be used in 1889. The tests and demonstrations were done with cats, dogs, horses and Topsy, a circus elephant. The first man executed was William Kemmler in 1890 and the first woman, Martha M. Place, in 1899. The electric chair very quickly became popular throughout much of the United States, especially in the East. In 1929, a multiple execution of up to seven persons was conducted. In 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian workers accused of theft and murder, were electrocuted. The verdict was based on manipulated evidence and ultraconservative xenophobic feelings aroused by the two immigrant anarchists in the jurors. The execution sparked mass demonstrations in New York, London, Amsterdam and Tokyo, and strikes throughout South America, as well as large protests in Paris, Geneva, Johannesburg and Germany. Finally, after some cases in which the condemned did not die instantly and had to be electrocuted several times were made public, the chair fell out of favour and was replaced by the gas chamber and lethal injection. Some veteran electric chairs, like the Old Sparky and Old Smokey, remind, with their name, that electrocution means to burn people from the inside. It currently still exists as a possible alternative to the lethal injection in the states of Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Fire: 1) On February 7, 2009 an extraordinary fire broke out in the south of Australia, in the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Millions of hectares were destroyed. It razed more than 2,000 homes and killed about 200 people and hundreds of animals: kangaroos, koalas, cows, horses, etc. The heat wave raised temperatures up to 46 degrees and the funeral homes in Canberra received an average of 50 deaths a day due to suffocation. 2) The international day of working women is March the 8th. The reason for this date is quite controversial. Some say it was March 8, 1857 when a group of 129 workers who had occupied the Cotton’s factory in New York died of arson. The factory owner had locked the women inside and he would have lit the fire for them to die. Others say it was on March 8, 1911 when an accidental fire burned alive, 146 factory workers of the Triangle blouse’s factory in the same city. The accident could have been avoided if the security measures that had been denied to the women who one year before declared a strike had been taken. Gasoline: in Vietnam, in the 60s, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk just nineteen, publicly immolated himself as a way to protest against the atrocities of the dictatorship. He poured petrol on himself, sat in the middle of the street in the lotus position with legs crossed and eyes closed for meditation and so remained, still as a statue of stone taken from a temple, as the flames consumed him. Joan of Arc: Joan of Arc (or Jeanne Darc) was born in Domrémy and actively participated in the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) until she was captured by the Burgundians, resold to the English, stuck in prison, judged by the Inquisition and finally burned in the square of Rouen, on May 30, 1431. Over time, the French government regained her figure and made it its own, transforming her into the heroine of an epic and patriotic symbol of the most conservative French centralism: in 1920 Joan was canonized and declared the patron saint of France. Eight years later, the Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer revisited her history from a very different perspective. The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film in black and white centred on the woman’s inquisitorial trial, based on historical documentation of the process, showing the abuse of power of high religious and political hierarchies, and especially how this power, eminently with a masculine face, oppresses, tortures and punishes with death to all those women who do not fit in the advocated female model: passive, sacrificed. Three years later, Bertold Brecht premiered a play titled Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses with which he denounced the exploitation and corruption generated by the capitalist world: Joana Dark ended at the stake for being true to her ideals of human solidarity. Legs: Aimée Mullins was born with a genetic problem that forced doctors to amputate both legs below the knee when she was one year old. She was diagnosed that she would not be able to walk anymore. When she was two years old, she had two prosthetic legs for the first time and she slowly learned how to walk and then how to run. She has been champion of the hundred meter dash and long jump. She has also been an actress and a model. She paraded down the catwalk with two so


long prostheses that turned her into a more than two meters high woman. For Aimée, having been amputated is not a boundary but a challenge which makes her overcome her limits. “Pamela Anderson has more prosthetics than I do and no one says she’s handicapped”, she says. Napalm: in 1972, U.S. warplanes bombed the small town of Tran Bang, South Vietnam, with napalm (“jellied gasoline” highly flammable, invented by the Nazi military during the Spanish War of 1936-1939). As the survivors of the attack fled from their straw houses on fire, Nick Ut photographed a naked girl running toward him: “it’s too hot, it’s too hot”, she cried. Her name was Phan Thi Kim Phuc, she was nine and napalm was eating her body as seconds went by. Nick Ut took her to a hospital, where the girl spent fourteen months: she had third degree burns over 65% of her body and had seventeen surgeries performed to implant skin in 35% of his body. Nick Ut’s photo is the most famous image of the armed conflict that ravaged Vietnam between 1964-1975 due to the U.S. military occupation. The same year, 1972, he received the Pulitzer Prize. The girl who was burned was converted into a media icon by those who had given the order to toss napalm on her house made of straw. Oven: according to an ancient legend of Ghana, Iyaloda was a deity who lived on earth with her friend, animals and plants. One day, she was very bored and decided to create children: “Look”, she said to her companion, “we’ll bake cakes and we’ll get them in the oven.” “Ok, it’s a nice idea”, he said. They created some figures and put them in the oven. The first girls and boys came out as white as snow. The following came out dark as night. And the last came half cooked, toasty and golden. “Very well”, said Iyaloda, excited, “now, let’s do some more ...” “No”, said her companion feeling a little bit hot, “we have enough children for now! We should wake them up so that they can move and walk.” “You’re right”, replied Iyaloda. Then, the two spirits breathed life into the cupcakes and this is how the first human beings were born. Pyromaniac: person who goes through (or “burns”) the border between Morocco and Spain illegally. Pyrotechnics: pyrotechnics was born in China, between the VI and X centuries. The Chinese discovered that if bamboo was filled with gunpowder and ignited, an explosion occurred: boom! The “ground rat” (or “drunk rocket”) was born in 1200 and when given wings, the sky was filled with fireworks. The military use of fireworks stands officially at the battle of Kai-Keng, 1232, when the Chinese were able to intimidate the Mongol military rocket base. The expansion of pyrotechnics to the rest of the world took place then, thanks to the Mongols, who perfected it to counter the Chinese and carried with them on their journey to Europe. This is how the European military artillery was born: cannons throwing stones and pieces of iron, during the Battle of Crecy, 1346. Centuries of development have resulted in millions of firearms: muskets, carbines, pistols, shotguns, machine guns, tanks, howitzers and more. Rain: between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009, took place the Operation Cast Lead (also called Summer Rain). For three weeks, Israel besieged and attacked militarily by land, air and sea in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. It is estimated that between 1,166 and 1,417 Palestinians died, most of them unarmed civilians, and 13 Israelis. According to the official government’s spokesmen, the offensive took place as a defensive response to rising Qassam rocket attacks by Hamas on Israeli territory. During the bombing a highly flammable and explosive chemical was used, one which cannot be extinguished with water: white phosphorus. The aircrafts burnt a school that the UN had built and where civilians had taken shelter to protect themselves against air raids. Witch: children’s tales describe witches as ugly, bad and with a wart on their noses. Real witches, with or without warts, usually ended up stoned, hanging from gallows or burning in a stake. Still today, in some parts of the world, some persons die accused of being witches. If we focus on the history of witches in Europe, we will see that, contrary to what it is usually said, the moment of highest persecution was not during the Medieval Age, but after the 15th century. The word witch has been used to define a very varied spectrum of persons and it has been redefined, widened or reduced depending on the historical context of the moment. Normally, the accused was blamed of


having relationships with evil beings and taking advantage of the power those granted him or her to hurt persons, whether by order or under their own will. The witch usually was a marginal person, usually an old, poor and lonely woman, or a person with a different language, culture or religion, for example Gypsies or Jews. Persons who were considered heretic by the Christian Church or political dissidents were judged and burnt, accused of witchcraft. Generally, people, encouraged or supported by the established power, made of all these persons an easy victim who they blamed for all their ills. That’s how the big epidemics, bad crops, hungers, wars and other misfortunes that blighted Europe from the end of the Medieval Age until the middle of the 18th century took millions of alleged witches to the stake and, to a lesser degree, wizards. From the popular punishment system based on the execution of a scapegoat, the persecution of witches was also systematized from the highest levels of power, travelling often to the manipulation of public opinion through terror and blackmail to encourage complaints in exchange of a financial reward. Although the executioner of witches always had multiple heads and hands, an agency of the Catholic Church named the Holly Office or the Inquisition was the one who certainly systematized death in a relentless way. Created in Rome in the 4th century, it was not until the 15th century when the tribunal got real power. It worked well into the nineteenth century, mainly in France, Portugal and Spain, to protect the interests of the Catholic Church and the secular power. In the Iberian Peninsula, the Inquisition was mainly devoted to persecute Muslims, Jews and converts, apart from heretics and political opponents and women considered witches. In the year 1610, the court of the Inquisition judged in Logroño 53 persons in Zugarramurdi, mostly women: eleven of them were burned in the stake, six living and five dead due to the tortures committed during the trial. In this case, the real reason for these crimes committed in the name of law and God was to punish in an exemplary manner rebellious people who refused to pay taxes. Out of the catholic area, there were also important witch hunts: a good example is the Salem Trials, in a little village of Massachusetts, where in 1692 twenty-five persons died (once more, most of them women), out of the about two hundred persons who were detained during the whole process. The fact that the word witch is feminine and not masculine is not a coincidence. The concept of witch was built during the Medieval Age, using the patriarchal and misogynist filter of the Roman Catholic Church. Traditionally, women used to be related to body care, may it be because of the labour, the cooking, the care of someone who is sick or getting the shroud ready. Some life stages were directed exclusively by women, such as childbirth. The Church of Rome, in an effort to impose their voice above any other spiritual and intellectual reference, broke this popular mindset. A progressive demonizing of women started and, especially, of wise women, who based their knowledge in practice and intuition and conveyed from immemorial times, from generation to generation. The church wanted to get rid of these self-sufficient and free female figures, respected and consulted, who did not fit their standards of dependent and servile women, arguing that the descendants of Eve are bad by nature, weaker than men and susceptible to obey devil. Knowledge was slowly hoarded by men: not a single woman could go to university and work legally as a doctor, no matter if they had the same or more experience than any of the doctors who had an official title. The unions linked to medicine such as apothecaries and surgeons did not admit women in their circles. Mostly illiterate, were very few women could write manuals of science and those who did had to hide their identity or affirm, as the abbess Hildegard von Bingen did in the twelfth century, that all their biological studies, their medicine and physics were directly inspired by the word of God. Women were not allowed to charge for providing medical services because they were not considered professionals. Only occasionally, when the queen or some noblewoman did not want to be visited by a man, the king granted a license to practice the profession with dignity to a woman with reputation in the field of folk medicine, not matter if she was Christian or not. However, the voice of the church was eventually imposed. After several centuries of contempt and constant prohibitions, these women, before almost divine beings, were transformed into evil creatures that had to be exterminated.


EPILOGUE We met around 2005, in the dark room of the photo lab at the Massana School. We got along. She was small, with a very sweet voice, and curious. I liked her pictures, but did not tell her. In fact, one day, without her knowing, I secretly took a copy she had discarded and had thrown in the trash: a white wall with graffiti. “It looks like the Palestinian flag”, she said. After completing the course in Massana, I lent her a cookbook titled Arabic Aroma by Salah Jamal. That was how the mjadarah (a typical dish of the Middle East made with rice and lentils) kept us together, foreshadowing an excuse to reconnect. Since then, we kept seeing each other, by chance, in different demonstrations in Barcelona. Among the crowd, the shouting, the pushing and runaways from the police, we always said goodbye with a: “I have to give you back your Jamal’s boooooooook!” The last time I heard from her was in June 2008. She inaugurated a collective exhibition in the Artistic Cercle of Sant Lluc, and from then until the winter of 2009, I didn’t know anything else from her. On November the ninth, Mercè sent me an e-mail. I remember it was late and I was very tired; I had given birth just a month before. The title of the e-mail surprised me and, despite being tired, I began to read: “Super long mail, oops! But it’s worth it!!! :-)” In the e-mail she told me about her accident and that she wanted to take pictures of herself. I very soon understood that she didn’t want to take those pictures in order to feel sorry for herself or to make others feel sorry, but to show herself how she is and accept herself, with that physical, but also internal, change. On the other hand, the desire to photograph meant that within a few years, when the scars were a little better, she could remember everything she had lived: “will I know how to retain the lesson of this story?” she would say later. In that e-mail, Mercè expressed that she wanted the photos to be beyond her: she liked the idea of more people seeing them, especially women, to help them be freer and less dependent. The accident and the scars made it very difficult to look at the mirror. And then, on top of that, seeing those women on billboards, magazines or television. Not easy at all. That e-mail stirred me up: I had never suffered such a terrible accident, but I also felt, very often, that the mirror showed me an image which wasn’t mine. All those shared thoughts and feelings, all those thought and suffered contradictions, ended up with two questions that went deep inside me: “What does it mean to be normal? What does it mean to be beautiful?” That story also came to me in an important moment: a moment of internal and external changes. I very soon realized that I WANTED TO TAKE THOSE PICTURES and that, in a certain way, I was grateful that she trusted me to do so. We had to try it and, if nothing came out of it, we would always have our words and the experiences we would live together. My recent maternity (the pregnancy and the birth as an overall physical and emotional experience, which changes the body and the person) could also feed and make our project grow although, without any kind of doubt, Mercè’s accident was what had to be explained. I think that we both had very clear that we didn’t want a self-contemplative project (even if in its base beat a therapeutic intention and, in consequence, of reflecting oneself) but a shared dialogue about certain specific experiences. She was as afraid as she was eager to do it and me, almost the same, for it implied thinking of my own scars and wounds.


It was very important to talk about all that before taking the pictures, not only because of the technique and the aesthetics, but because we both knew that in the same way that those pictures could help us, if we jumped into the pool, they could also make us feel really bad. Until then, Mercè had not been able to take any pictures of her scars. It was very complicated, not only because of the psychological fact, but also because the scars were mainly in the back of her legs and thighs, and she would have had to be much of a contortionist to be able to take them. So, she had never taken any pictures of the wounds on her body, but she had drawn them and she had written about them. The winter from 2009 to 2010 was a continuous of meetings to talk, see the materials that we had (pictures, diaries, objects), take the pictures... While she told me her story, I had the opportunity to think about my own process. The extreme and inhuman medicalization with which I lived my daughter’s birth opened both inner and outer wounds in me. I liked the idea of seeing my pregnancy and the labour, with their physical marks, as an initiatory ritual throughout which, by means of the body, I incorporated some knowledge. I liked the idea of seeing accidents and hard experiences as a way of having your feet on the ground once again. For Mercè, it was getting burnt. For me, labour. Of course, I’m not intending to compare both situations but I could, somehow, understand her very well. Mercè’s story arrived in an important biological moment for me, but it also did in a photographic one. Going back to that same summer in 2005, just when Mercè and I said good bye after that course in the Massana School, I discovered a photographer who was some kind of catalyst of all my urge to go away from the so disgusting documentary photography that I saw on TV or on the mass print media. I recall it was the 12th, June, 2005, the same day as my birthday. I was walking around el Raval, just as I usually do those days in which I just want to be alone when, suddenly, while walking in front of the MACBA (the Contemporary Arts Museum of Barcelona), a poster with a woman wrapped in a sheet, looking straight into the camera, caught my attention: “Beyond the perfect image” I quickly went into the exhibition. The photographer was Jo Spence and, when I saw her work, I had that feeling one sometimes has, when you see or listen to something that anchors your life in a crossing with no way back. In series as The Picture of Health, which the artist developed during the ten years since the diagnosis of her breast cancer until her death in 1992, Jo combined her images with phototherapy and a deep reflection about the health representation in relationship with genre and social class, without ever falling into victimization. I liked how Jo made photography a tool for rebellion and, at the same time, therapy. From then on, Jo’s spirit escorted me and, that winter of 2009 in which I worked so intensively with Mercè, I could not stop thinking of that sentence: “write or be written off” “Write, or be written off”, said Jo in 1988. Writing, taking pictures, is taking power, is explaining your own stories instead of assuming that other persons have made up about you. Yes, we had to explain Mercè’s story, and our own story, but... how? Some doubts and thoughts were constantly hitting me. Many open fronts which I didn’t know to solve.


1) The approach had to be biographical, since self-representation was a central axis of the work. I wanted to focus on this and on the stereotypes of beauty and health, and to jump from there and expand our discourse to reflect on the models of social representation through photography and illustration. But very soon, real problems of representation or documentation came up which were specially related to institutional censorship, family censorship and the own censorship: which images do we show and how? Could we fall into morbidity by showing the burnts and the scars? What if we showed non-shaved legs? How would Mercè feel showing herself like that? Dirty? Ugly? It is interesting to see that we are so loaded with shame, wishes, fear or trauma that we can barely say something about ourselves, although it looks like that, as photographers or artists, we have a lot to say about others. 2) I could also see, from the beginning, that it was very important to understand that every time there was a photographer and a photographed, every time there was a story to tell, unless photography or the exchange of knowledge was reciprocal, there would always be a power imbalance. That’s the reason why I understood that we could only bring this work together, from our friendship and solidarity as women. I was interested in working on those things that helped us to find ourselves. This project started as a story of female alliances, discovering secrets, on an abundant battery of experiences and emotions, and with very few solutions. Perhaps, the most valuable, was the act of collecting experiences and remembering the story, not just the mere events, but the way it came into us, the effect it had on our way of seeing things and the establishment of a new system of values to face life. 3) There have been different crisis throughout the process. I remember the first one was the impact Mercè had when she didn’t feel anything while performing for most of the photo shoots. She felt like a robot and, at the same time, she put in a lot of feeling: “What am I doing? Why am I being taken these pictures? What am I doing in the same place I got burnt? What is this nightmare which doesn’t look like a nightmare?” I guess that she suddenly realized that she didn’t want to think about what had happened nor to explain what she had been through. I think that she got some consciousness of the meaning of making public something so private and she felt weak and unprotected. For a moment, her pictures and her writings submerged her in sadness, in something she realized it would not be easy to talk about without hurting herself, despite the apparent normality with which she spoke about the topic. Just then, in that moment, Mercè decided she had to stop writing and painting about the accident. It was not the moment yet. She just could not talk about herself using the first person tense. Other delicate moments where those in which her face had to be seen on the pictures. I remember that the first times she was doubtful. I guess she related the accident to a distraction, a mistake, a weakness and that, somehow, she felt ashamed. Crisis came and left and every time that Mercè externalized them, I also wondered if it made sense:


“Why am I taking pictures of her? What for? What am I doing here?” I have to add that I was afraid of my reaction when I saw her scars. I am a very apprehensive person and I usually get dizzy when I see wounds or blood. I was afraid of not being able to take those pictures and that, in the case I could, I didn’t want to reproduce a television or a dramatic image of the burnt woman who “has lost her beauty”. I couldn’t stand the idea of the pictures being read that way. Mercè’s courage, intelligence and sensitivity made everything, in the end, much easier than what I had expected. With so many doubts and crisis, so much coming and going, we usually had to stop and remind ourselves why it was important to take those pictures and that we had, in us, two very strong and felt reasons: criticism and outreach. Criticism towards the macho and authoritarian society in which we live, and outreach to make known a reality, the burnt world, a common but often hidden one. After some time working together, we realized that we got blocked when we rationalized the creative process, the accident and the reasons for everything. Mercè started feeling sick and she even wanted to throw up. That made us think, maybe, the best way to work was the intuitive, the emotional and metaphoric. We were piling up a lot of material, but we also had the feeling of being lost, we saw it all too big, we did not know where to start from. Mercè told me that she wished I could be the “reflexive Cartesian rational” way of the project, but it was quite difficult for me to be so, since I was also talking, indirectly, of my own scars and wounds. 4) We have not been very good friends of straight lines and so we got lost many times before arriving to where we are now. Our “Little encyclopaedia or illustrated dictionary of how to get your skin burnt and remain beautiful” (temporary title that we gave the book, following the track of those huge enlightened eighteenth century books, as in Diderot and d'Alembert style) evolved into a first model that did not quite convince us: it abandoned the strictly photographic project and took the form of visual and graphic one, making the book an object itself. We didn’t like it. We continued shaping the project, this time returning to the initial photographic and textual view, we turned it upside down, we hit it, we killed it and that’s what came out: the very same thing you can see. 5) I want to clarify something: sickness isn’t cool and words and images aren’t neutral. Throughout the so trendy “positive thinking” I see, with some disgust and very angrily, how some visual documents on the capitalist economic crisis (photo stories about the unemployed, strikes, evicted...) and several misfortunes (illness, death, war, famine...) incorporate and reproduce ideas and language of the ruling classes to strengthen and sustain the reactionary ideology that maintains capitalism still standing. The pandemic of positive thinking, which is used to try to convince people that losing your job is a “great opportunity to open up new horizons” or that having cancer is a “gift to see life with more optimism” is, in words of Pierre Bourdieu, a symbolic violence in which a group imposes meanings, ideas and symbols on the others. This positive thinking has been infiltrated in every aspect of our daily lives through a brutal and less subliminal visual colonialism: from the first coffee of the day we are showered with messages and orders to see the injustices as opportunities: “your day is what you decide”, “This will be fixed by us all”, “From the crisis we’ll all go out reinforced”, “The crisis is a moment of opportunity”, “You


have to think positive”. The dictatorship of positive thinking preached by neoliberalism encourages reality’s denial. Having your skin burnt in an accident is not cool. The fact that we have searched a particular kind of beauty or aesthetic in the images does not mean that I wanted beautify something that has been an ordeal that I wish could have been avoided. As photographers and artists, we have the duty and the constant struggle to learn to listen, look, see and identify the possible infiltration of neoliberalism and positive language in our photographic practices to keep our spaces free of neoliberal control and to stop this consent. 6) I guess we both wish this book would encourage others to say that they are happy and beautiful in their imperfection. I would like to think that this work can be a step to free ourselves from speeches that train us to be identified as female specimens. I am very interested in anything that makes visible the social construction (both through the media and advertising) of a certain female body based on a standardized beauty and regulations: long shiny hair, plump face with high cheekbones, long fluttering lashes, thick sensual lips, stylized, thin, moulded body, a doll’s skin... Elements of an exclusive canon which socially determines us as women, which generates frustrations, tensions, diseases and repression. I’m fed up of normality. I’m tired of being imposed this femininity. And I guess this work is also about this. There is life beyond the “miracle diet”. I love dishevelled dirty women, happy with their hair, scars, not at all polished nails, mascara running down their faces who want to flee from that Paradise announced by a bright sign of “Corporación Dermoestética” (the major plastic surgery clinic in Spain). Femininity and masculinity are two poles of mass indoctrination and I don’t think no woman recreates her femininity without shorts, fears and resignations. It has been a very long time since I last identified myself with the “I love being a woman” with which they want to sell us immaculate and protooncogene pads, but it doesn’t mean that I have overcome everything. I’d like to see Mercè and me as collective authors. In this process I struggle to see where my work ends and where hers begins. And I also think that we have to be away from hegemonic artistic evaluation parameters (authors and copyright, influences, techniques...). I want my voice to be confused with hers and that of many others that came to me through activism, books and photographs. I want to make my own, memories and experiences of others. We have already said that writing in the first person is an intimate striptease exercise often complacent, often torturous. As if it was a hip-hop album Mercè has a “solo” chopped by my voice. This is how I see this collective work. This is a book which has passion, anger, friendship and emotions as methodology. It is a book of playful visibility, aesthetics and politics. Point. (*) Disobeying the androcentric grammar laws I will use the female generic to write.


ONE LAST NOTE To all the burnts in the world. To all women burned alive by their husbands, lovers or brothers. To all the plants and animals that die each time a moron sets fire to a forest or a jungle. To the children of Gaza who disappeared in a shower of white phosphorus while I was recovering. To Mrs Juliana, my dear hospital roommate. To all the doctors, nurses and medical staff that helped me recover. To Conchita, who knew how to mummify me like nobody and to Cati, who entered my room saying: “good morning, little flower!” To Mercedes Sosa, who died in 2009, and to all the artists that heal the invisible wounds. To Ester Casals, who made Reiki to me since the first week after my accident. To Carolina and Jimena, who danced with me and the candles. To all the people who have told me their stories of ash and fire. To Radio Nikosia, Bea Cantero and all those that helped us to share this book. To my friends, who phoned me, mailed me, sent me presents and visited me. To Joan Casas, who kept my place at work while I still was convalescent. To the cat-who-smelled-of-jasmin. To my flatmates in Princesa Street and to all those who lived with me the accident. To Olatz who saved me from the flames: I will never have enough words to thank you. To Cris, who got burnt when she was little and who is my mitankala. To my family. To my father and my mother without whom I wouldn’t be born and I wouldn’t be who I am. To the candle that burnt me. To Noe and Lucía: without you this book wouldn’t exist. You are magical and I love you.


I DON’T DO THINGS ALONE THANK YOU: To my beloved Lucía, for filling my heart with joy every morning and for everything she teaches me. To my parents, Manuel and María, for being always by my side. To Manuel, Alex and Mario, with all my affection. To Alba and Gemma Quinto: you are the best sisters in the world. To Steffi Fock, my dear friend and sister. To Laura P. Sola, my oldest friend. To Laura García, Carol Jobé and Lua Ocaña friends with whom I have learned to look. To Llorenç Raich and Carles Costa from the Institute of Photographic Studies of Catalonia. To Srta Jess Spinoza, my sister and muse. To Jaume Quinto. To Jaume Roqueta, my dear crazy love. To Mercè, for opening and sharing her head and heart. I love you dear sister.


English edition, March 2017


After the fire  

What does it mean to be beautiful? What does it mean to be normal? This book talks about getting our skin burnt and how do we heal despite s...

After the fire  

What does it mean to be beautiful? What does it mean to be normal? This book talks about getting our skin burnt and how do we heal despite s...