Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Opposite Of, a guest blog by Matthew Love

On the heels of my post about loneliness comes a post about the opposite of. Last week Wednesday the first of four friends descended on my lil house in Oaxaxa for a week-long visit. And this Wednesday past all four departed for their respective cities of New York and Denver. It was a glorious set of days, to say it simply. Oaxaca is somewhat quieter and duller now in the wake of their good company. But off of my melancholy, and onto the visit!
As I'm told, some of my dad's friends have commented, "your daughter is a good writer; she can't possibly get it from you." But in this blog you will inevitably come to know what a true artist of the word is, as my good friend Matt (who has provided this post) is a professional; writing is his craft. I hope he will permit me to lessen his post a bit with some pictures added by me (it seems wrong to offer photos where words have imagined for you; but I can't help myself). So, here is Matt:
And here is his post:

In a succession of moments, empirically stacked end-to-end in some recognizable form – oh, the span of a week, say – it’s difficult to summarize one’s experience in any effective way.

Great works of literature like Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” make this clear. The closer words come to some sort of understanding about one moment or another, the more the moment slides from the bounds of standard perception, its stitches coming unglued and its seeming solid shape dissipating.

It is in this spirit I humbly offer the following: balls, balls, balls, balls, balls*.

That is: when speaking of the slow, blissful haze of a week spent in the company of good friends with nothing to do but talk, eat and wander to our hearts’ content, perhaps it is best not to say, “we went here and then there, la la la” but rather offer a glimpse of the moment-to-moment experience in snatches of dialogue and bites of perception (almost) at random.

And so:

-- Sitting down in a decidedly un-harried market near Megan’s house, light falling into the space from a wall that is simply missing, teaching my BAG of smoothie to stand upright on a checkered tablecloth while munching simple - and magnificent - memelas (masa/tortilla, frijol, quesillo, red chile – minus asiento, the extra lard) in the cool afternoon.

-- Walking from the Reforma neighborhood into the Xochimilco neighborhood over the aqueduct after another big midday meal, holding leftover sticks from cajeta (essentially a light caramel) popsicles, bodies shifting back and forth along the ridiculously slim sidewalk. As Brian once pointed out, the mutability of the group is as it has always been; each person can talk to any one in the group at just about any given time, so during the trip I think all possible combinations of the five of us were achieved.

-- Ruining a breakfast, which is a metaphor for being one’s self, having fun and in doing so absolutely ruining an experience for people around you. It’s something this group is famous for… in fact, this may be its signature move. No matter the cafĂ©, hillside, or village it falls into, we are always a bit like a noxious clown car exploding into a spot where the audience did not know it was an audience (but became aware of this fact rather quickly). In this particular case, we ruined an actual breakfast for a crowd of locals in an unnamed, makeshift restaurant that exists only on Sundays**, eating tamales and drinking a drink I’m certain to pine for, for years – champurrado, a thick and comforting beverage of rice, milk, sweet, and cacao – when a radio was suddenly turned on very near our table and quite loudly***. We understood the hint, though I’m not sure as a crowd we’ll ever respond to such a hint very well. P.S. We paid about $3 per person for this meal. And it was… DELICIOUS.

-- Humping the corner of a white, stucco wall directly across from my friend Tim, who was also humping the corner of a white, stucco wall. (Well, okay, in our defense, we were dancing. But will the perception of the historical record support this fact?) I started because he did but I can’t remember exactly what set him off. He does like to hump (ah, dance with) inanimate objects.

-- Leaning over an open basket of crickets to pinch some between my fingers and push them in my mouth. Hm… salty. Crispy. Full of protein. Turns out, I love them. Customs even let me keep them, so I have a bag of tiny insects, red with heat, lemon, garlic, in my kitchen. For some reason, though this makes me a meat-eater, it doesn’t set off my normal vegetarian alarms. I fed them to Brian on his first night -- he ate them but resented me for it later.

-- At night, dancing in a crew at a fiesta to the sounds of a boisterous clarinet band with what felt like an entire community dancing or watching (tall gringos, much less tall flamboyantly dancing gringos, and cute white girls are something of a curiosity here) outside of a church, it’s doors open, everyone expectant for the fireworks – which do come, and feature the first animated vagina I think any of us had ever seen.

Flaming vagina not pictured here.

-- Eating shrimp, flax crackers, flowers, tuna, cake with prickly pear jam, risotto and fresh herbs until quite full or fairly nearly dead… the sun setting, the pond quivering, a small boy dropping a trail of rocks beside our small table. Thank G-D Megan loves food, and carried us to a series of amazing restaurants all over Oaxaca: street food, sweets, market drinks, snacks, dishes with tomato foam or entire four-course meals prepared by Italian chefs at their homes (the meal mentioned above) – we did it all. It is good all of us are clear on one thing: eating well is one of life’s undeniable joys. And so: mole, tortillas, mezcal, and much of each.

-- “Heh, heh.” A well-timed laugh from Tim, who was being quite a good sport, considering the circumstances.

-- Puttering up to the edge of the world into a pond at Hierva el Agua, where minerals have done a thorough job of petrifying a waterfall and making a miniature cliff-side water resort. Gorgeous and baffling. With the entire place to ourselves, we swam in the cold water, begged the sun to come out, took a series of goofy photos before the rain came. This site is also the location of Brian’s first ever porno. (Distribution of video soon to come)

-- Sara taking the enormous steps at the Monte Alban ruins immediately outside of town in Oaxaca. In fact, Sara walked everywhere. Every day. No cane, no nothing. How is it possible that her surgery was only a couple of years ago??? WOOF!

-- Woof (in general). Megan says that in Mexico, dogs say ‘wow wow’ instead of ‘woof’ or even ‘bow wow’. So Americans walking around saying ‘wow’ at everything are essentially barking in amazement. We took this on and said ‘WOOF’ to express awe at every opportunity.

Of course, there is more, more, more but at this, I must cease. I must work in the
morning and you, dear internet reader, must use your tired, ADD-addled eyes again at some point in the future. You’ll have to trust me as I say this doesn’t really even scratch the surface. If I were to generalize, this was the thread running through our trip: simple, impractical moments reminding us of our capacity for joy -- how simple they are, how little planning goes into them. And little fuss is kicked up in the simple machinations of living when you’re at rest in the arms of great friends with whom you feel absolutely comfortable. Now, heading back to the activities of our daily lives, it’s important we take that joy and comfort and shuffle it into what we do regularly -- a hard task, to be sure, but what is a juggler without all those balls. Ballsballsballsballs.

* Of course, for those of you paying attention at home, I speak of the unfortunate (possibly apocryphal creation of urban legend) gentleman whose case of Tourette’s Syndrome finds him repeating the word ‘balls’ loudly and repeatedly after hearing the word ‘balls.’ Quoth Tim, “His trigger word is ‘balls,’ and he knows it.”

** Did I mention that Megan is a magical tour guide who knows all of the secret things you want to know about a place highly unfamiliar to you? She loves walks down narrow, cobble streets with small fountains in courtyards, good graffiti, spots for rooftop drinks, interesting architecture and, yeah, it bears repeating: food.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Things that make me feel unneccesarily lonely

1. Putting suntan lotion on (or not, as it were)

I am embarrassingly pale. The shame is made more acute by the fact that I live in Mexico. Imagine me under a palapa, drinking something with an umbrella in it, if you must. That's not exactly what Oaxaca looks like. However, I think my legs have become this shade of blinding white due to two factors: It's rainy season here, and I have a job that requires me to be inside, with my nose to a computer for hours.

Regardless of all these obstacles, I have the desire, at time, to sit outside and take in the sun. How do you reach that darn triangle of back that only another person can access with SPF 30? Oh Coppertone, who knew you would make me feel so dependent on others....?

2. Wrist jewelry

Someone very kindly gave me a lovely silver bracelet for my birthday recently. I love it. I cannot, however, wear it. That is, unless, I find myself a personal dresser. It took me a good 20 minutes to get the clasp shut on this bracelet the other morning. I think I even was sweating in the end. It's now sitting permanently on my wrist--'cause who has time to struggle and sweat for 20 minutes in the morning...?

When I finally hitched the clasp I sat down, and felt a deep sense of melancholy...where oh where is my personal dresser?

3. Furniture from Ikea

Now I don't actually own any Ikea furniture any more. The big chain has yet to make its way to southern Mexico. But I DO recall trekking out to New Jersey a while back and buying a dresser, and some Sweddish meatballs once-upon-a-time. I even lugged the boxed up dresser home on the bus, and then the subway, dangerously hoisting it too close to people's heads on my rush hour train. But then I was stuck. You can't hold two pieces of wood together in an L shape AND screw them together. You just can't.

I called a friend, who graciously offered to help. It's an obvious solution, of course. But I felt so grateful that someone who wasn't bound to me by law, or sleeping with me regularly would spend an hour helping to fix plasterboard to naked wood. I almost married him on the spot out of gratitude!

4. My oven

Something spilled over from my white bean/pesto/ricotta casserole the other and melted into a glue on the bottom of my oven. The next time I was heating something up the whole kitchen filled with smoke. When the oven finally cooled off I found myself opening the tiny white door and starring into it, the casserole goo now a blackened smudge. Someone had to clean this--and it was obvious it should be me. I'm the only one who lives here. And I thought, "huh, I have to clean this oven. Me. I clean ovens now." Which was quickly followed by, "Mexico can be lonely."


And now...a roof dog!

**this blog written while listening to
Oslo in the Summertime by Of Montreal

Friday, September 05, 2008

Things that make me feel like an adult

Not necessarily inspired by turning 30, I present the first of a list of Things That Make Me Feel Like an Adult...

1. Dry cleaning.

It's not as if I've just begun dry cleaning some of my more delicate garments; I've been doing it for years. I remember the first time so clearly that I took my things around the corner from my Manhattan apartment to be washed and pressed...I felt awkward and humbled around all the steam and Korean women. I was sure someone would spot me as an impostor, and expel me from the place. And somehow that feeling has not faded over time. I still feel vaguely awkward in a dry cleaner--and like I'm performing the act of some much older woman. Like I'm playing house--but you know, the really boring part of playing house.

2. Buying stamps.

I don't know why--but for some reason I feel like my mom should pay for my stamps. There is absolutely no logic to this. She's raised me, fed me, sent me to school. Why, oh, why should she pay for my stamps? Well, she shouldn't; I know. And perhaps it's because growing up I learned that stamps came from the first drawer of Mom's teek desk and not from the Post Office, that's lead me to this ludicrous notion today. In the few years post college it bothered me so much to pay for stamps (I'm an old fashioned girl in the sense that I still like to send letters) that I would put "Roll of 100 stamps" on my Christmas list just to avoid purchasing them myself. I've since given that up. Which is no help--since sending even the simplest piece of mail here starts at $1 USD. So expensive! As if they don't want you to have penpals here.

3. Traveling alone in the airport.

The airport used to hold this sense of excitement for me as a child. Holly and I were shipped off quite young, on our own, on planes heading West to Arizona for visits with our grandparents over spring break. I loved it. The airport was just teeming with activity, the hello-goodbye stories, the tiny, single-wrapped foods, and the promise of the best views on the planet. Since moving away from home there's been a sharp swell in my visits to airports; I'm suffering from a bit of airport fatigue. Now I find terminals congested and annoying. I don't like being sandwiched into a tiny Tylenol-shaped metal bin, forced to keep myself occupied with whatever I've stored in my carry-on. Now I just want to get where I'm going. I'm not interested in the flight. (Oh boy, I'm just seeing this as a sad metaphor for my adult perspective on life--uh oh.)

But back to the point--since stepping from college, and into the world of "adult life" I have very rarely flown with another person. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the times I have flown accompanied in the last 7 years. There's no one to watch your bag while you go the bathroom. No one with whom to share the quintessential $2 gossip rag purchased before flight. Security is more serious. The food stinks. And all this is suffered alone. It makes me feel older--'cause who would ask a kid to do such things?

4. Buying health insurance.

Oy! This one probably takes the cake. Now, I've had insurance before--a plan not in tandem with either of my parents' companies' HMOs. But for many years, thanks to our kind country's persistence to not help those can ill afford the most basic health care in our country, I have opted to go un-insured. I know, it's dumb. But I was young, healthy, and poor. I researched a myriad of options. I even obtained some temporary insurance from the state of NY after a lengthy struggle with a local provider, which ended in me enlisting the help of my state senators to find a resolution. But when that plan petered out there seemed little other alternative than to just abandon the idea of health insurance altogether. I luckily made it out unscathed.

I probably would have kept on in this way for years, but had the fortune to get insurance through my fellowship. And even though that is done, it is far easier and affordable to get insured while abroad. So I found myself researching plans a few months back. I knew that the rate would go up once I turned 30--so was determined to sign up before that day struck. It felt so uniquely adult to make a decision based on the foresight of potential danger, and the fear of that danger (as in, danger in getting sick, getting hit by a car, getting partially eaten by pirrahnas). It was a strangely easy process. You call. You hand over some information about yourself. You give them your credit card. And it's done!

I hung up stunned. There I was, on the cusp of a new decade, insured, actually insured. I'd decided to take care of myself. That felt good. I felt happy. I mean, have you seen those people in Health Insurance ads--they look REALLY happy. They look like really happy ADULTS. Like they know, they know deep down inside if they wanted to, if they really wanted to--they could just hurl themselves off of a cliff--and a nice, warm partially-funded hospital bed would be waiting for them on the other side.

So what did I do in my new-found adult state...? I called my mom.