UNITED STATES—People were so nice in Madrid. For instance, the women who had been talking to the Egyptian ambassador, had tapped me on the shoulder after the initial outbreak of conversation when we threaded our way into the auditorium at the Casa Árabe, and said, “I will introduce him to you, if you like. He is very interesting.” Alas, we excused ourselves when the conference droned on without the benefit of my question about the meaning of this intriguing new term –aporophobia– and left that kind offer uncompleted.
In the woods around Parque El Retiro Juan David looked up the definition of aporphobia on his palm device:
Aporophobia (from the Spanish aporofobia, and this from the Ancient Greek άπορος (á-poros), without resources, indigent, poor, and φόβος (phobos), fear is fear of poverty and of poor people. It is the disgust and hostility towards poor people, without resources or helpless.
The concept of aporophobia was coined in the 1990s by the philosopher Adela Cortina, professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the University of Valencia, to differentiate this attitude from xenophobia, which only refers to the rejection of foreigners, and racism, which is discrimination by ethnic groups. The difference between aporophobia and xenophobia or racism is that socially there is no discrimination or marginalization of immigrants or members of other ethnic groups when these people have assets, economic resources and/or social and media relevance.
The aporophobia consists, therefore, in a feeling of fear and in an attitude of rejection of the poor, the lack of means, the helpless. Such feeling and such attitude are acquired.
Wikipedia thus enlightened us about the aporophobic phenonemon. And we travelers from America extended the definition to include the fear and suffering endured by the poor when faced by the specter of the wealthy.
Dan Hopper came to mind. Aporphobia hit home. There in the middle of Madrid, I was brought face-to-face with my own legacy of aporophobia. First, the concept blew us away, and then it hit home. Dan Hopper was a boon companion in the 80s and we’d met in Memphis through a mutual friend one Christmas, and then the summer of 1984. He was a rock-a-billy musician, a trove of Hollywood lore and a prevaricator par excellence. That fall he headed out to Los Angeles, as I headed back to the university and for awhile we shared a cockroach-infested garage behind the house occupied by the punk back Stukas Over Bedrock.
A lot of years passed and Dan and I renewed contact via social media. I had precious little time to be on social media and Dan felt rebuffed and sore about my lack of cordiality. The fact was, behind my restraint there lay a fear that Dan might show up on my doorstep and stick around for sixth months.
I was suffering acute aporophobia, especially after another Memphis friend reported that, after not seeing Dan for months, he ran into Dan, as fun and charming as ever, but he had that “sunburn on his neck you see in homeless people” and told the tale how he ran through his parents’ inheritance on beer and prostitutes. Why not, right? But this tale of frittering away bounty added a layer of horror to consorting with Dan.
It was not the best ending to a friendship. And when Dan, who established himself again in a little hamlet outside Memphis and then passed away prematurely, it hurt alright. Not one of the best chapter endings. Chalk it up to aporophobia, here in Madrid and in El Retiro Park.
Later, I this same muggy afternoon in Madrid I recouped a childlike glee, leaving the park and holding a plastic cup of chilled, oily-tasting red wine obtained at the same concession stand where the children get there Eskimo Pies and marveling at the fact I could walk and drink anywhere I wanted in this city.
Freedom, ah, freedom at last!
To be continued…