Monday, October 29, 2018

Little Gems of Memories, Walls Without Outsides

Little gems of memories, walls without outsides. I remember Saturday like it was emerald and sunshine, and there you were, in the mirror, in the room, bumping into me because the confines were so close.

Your laughter played my heart like the musician’s fingers, and your happiness became my happiness.

Then it was grey and yellow, as we wove and zagged our way to the show. And you blessed me with your smile, and your easy laughter. I skipped to keep up, and you could not be caught.

With the surest of thought, you made declarations and left me on the sidewalk, not a look to spare. I was the lonely one.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Road Map

Purpose

I can't say I see a reason for this blog any more.

Of course, I don't plan to delete it. From time to time, I anticipate I will update it. It's just to say, I don't feel it serves a purpose any more. Chances are, if you read this, you know me already, and we're close enough that you don't need this third party extension to our relationship to update you on my thoughts and whereabouts.

I look back on my posts and I smile at a younger Curtis, knowing now, what he did not know then.

I don't begrudge him his innocence, naivete, or in some cases, his ignorance or pettiness. I see his ego, his id, and that serves as a reflection I can compare myself to. It doesn't feel strictly necessary, but since this blog--this document--exists, there's no reason not to use it as a looking glass from time to time.

Of course, all of this "not going to use it anymore" talk is ironic, considering the medium I choose is the subject itself. Indeed, the more true expression of the sentiment can be seen in the preceeding year of silence.

I don't exactly know why I'm speaking into the void now, other than it's on the eve of another departure, and I just want to reflect a little--look into the looking glass, and see if it looks back into me.

Looking Back

I breathe deeper into my soul now. The foundation is settling and as I grow, the storms stay the same size, thus I rebuff and crest the waves more easily. I guess this is getting older.

The Mexico trip was an excellent adventure and, in order to endure a year and a half of tedium and mundanity, a necessary preface to my present circumstance.

Beyond its ameliorating property for the present condition, it instilled a sense of self-sufficiency I'd not held previously.

Navigating foreign roads, and languages and lifestyles and coming out even on the whole provided confidence in myself and in the world that I just plain didn't recognize before. I think about an experience I had on the road from time to time. A starless night and myself and the bike, winding and wending over the pitch black tarmac, guarded by the lane markings. Inside the helmet, it's just my little messed up brain and me. Little pieces of you and, everyone else I know, come criss-cross in front of the pulpit of my mind's eye and we talk. And things happen. Your patterns and theirs--any that I've been exposed to--can come to me and then I am in company. Meanwhile, a dark night smears past our rendevous as I twist that right hand.

I'm Getting Older, Too

You know, I thought I was done with the verbose, superfluous, writing. I guess I need the outlet from time-to-time.

I'm losing my vocabulary, interestingly. I speak with so few people whom I feel confident, with whom I can play and experiment with words and language. I stick to the safe, to the mundane. No confusion, no judgement. It's just easier that way. But I do miss the soaring rhetoric, the hyperbolic and the superfluous conversations. As a consequence of their absence I find that when I do wish to summon that odd word--that precise, delicious, satiating, perfect word--it eludes me.

Also, I catch myself often misreading and mispronouncing words with pure vowels. A feature of learning a pure-vowel language like Spanish, I suspect. It typically happens when I read a word I haven't seen in a while and subconsciously as I scan it. I can't think of specific examples right now, but it's like pronouncing 'bit' like 'beet' [edit: A specific example: 'river'. Isn't this just the craziest word? I want to say something like 'reev-air', or if we're going to distort it, why not 'rive-er'? Certainly, 'riv-er' is the most foreign to me, and I often find myself tripping on it.].

These curiosities certainly intrigue me, but I resolve not to fret them. In fact, I rather enjoy such an absurd behaviour as a person who truly does not speak Spanish, or any other language beside English, mispronouncing words in his mother tongue. And maybe it's just a sign of an aging, feeble mind. I don't know. With either, I'd be fine.

I enjoy diagnosing myself with strange and exotic disorders and diseases. Makes me feel special, I guess. To date, I have Pectus Excavatum, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (type unknown), and some sort of neurotic mental disorder, but I'm still pinning that one down.

I looked up dyslexia because I transpose numbers in sequences occasionally. I'm sure you do, too. It's just that I've noticed it more frequently (as opposed to noticing it occur more frequently). Anyway, the result of looking up dyslexia was a little reading on the subject and this tidbit I read that people with this condition exhibit abnormal speech and writing patterns. I'm kind of wondering if I exhibit them, too. I do feel like, if I don't monitor myself closely, if I free myself, that my speech patterns are very abnormal. Sort of Yoda-like, from time to time. Or maybe that's just my perception, or maybe it's just laziness in that I don't premeditate my sentences and just try to talk my way out of half-thoughts and upside down concepts.

Those strange patterns are fun to put to digital page, and I feel like I want to start writing again, but I don't know that it will be on here. We'll see. Really want to write a book. Really want to finish A Troubled Time of Youth.

Adios, muchachx.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wild Spirit of Woman

Friday, November 28, 2014
San Cristobal de las Casas


          Mark Egge is here. I lived with him in Phoenix for 6 months. He is traveling with a friend of his, Bri Jones. She speaks Spanish very well and together they are road tripping through Mexico. It’s by sheer coincidence that we happened to be in the same area. Once we figured that out, we made arrangements to meet.

          I was hanging out with them the first night they got into town, and we were looking for live music. Not having much luck, we ended up going into a bar where one large group of friends was singing at the top of their lungs to the music of a single guitar, played by the proprietor. The bar was really just a room the size of a small garage that had 5 tables and opened right out onto the street. The owner had a song list of around 100 songs, about half of them English, the other half Spanish. He sang along and had a good voice.

          The group of friends already there was rowdy. There were about 7 or 8 of them. They had pushed together a couple of tables which were filled with bottles and glasses. Their whole group was very friendly, shouting, laughing, dancing and toasting! They saw us peer in, and after we sat down, they bade us to join them and move our table to join theirs, and like that, we were included in their group.

          At one point, Mark and I ordered shots of posh, and intended to sip them. Seeing this, the group began to chant something in Spanish. Our bartender, an Argentinian named Javier, helpfully explained that the chant compelled us to shoot the shots, rather than sip them. Mark and I eyed each other with resignation and downed the shots. Not being subject to the same rules, we ordered beer the rest of the night.

          Among their group were two men and five or six women. I took note of one of the women whom I thought had a beautiful face.

          The whole group moved to another, larger bar, and there I had an opportunity to dance with that woman. I was pleased to find she was very kind and intelligent. Later, I would learn her name, Liss, short for Lissette.

          For the next two nights, our group (Mark, Bri, and me), hung out with Lissette's group, and we had some really fun times. Everyone being on a holiday of sorts, some more so than others, we all reveled with a kind of abandon. Even Mark danced, and that’s saying something.

          I recognized something in Lissette that I have begun to think upon: a wild spirit. I mean: a spirit that isn’t tamed, isn’t captive. A truly wild spirit. I've begun to look for that thing, that wild spirit, even after she and I parted ways. Like an energy or an elemental force, this idea of a concept greater than a single person but which a single person might tap into and channel. The Wild Spirit of Woman.

          Over those few days, as I thought of Lissette, I began to have this hunch: maybe I’ve been in love with this wild spirit before I even fell in love with those individuals who carried its fire. It’s the same spirit as the mountains, the sea, and the wind. It’s the spirit of the Mustang and the careless flame. Although a stranger, there was something familiar in the passion I saw in Lissette when she danced, or laughed. It was something that grounded me, and brought me to the present.

          Lissette had to leave after two days. She was working as a graduate student with the locals in the state of Chiapas, and she had a flight to catch back to Mexico City. I wasn't sure if I'd see her again, but we exchanged contact information and we had a wonderful dance party in her hostel the night (and early morning!) before she left. We said our goodbyes, and I told her I would write.

I want to specially acknowledge the financial contributions from Alexandre Nguyen, Manny Rangel, Michael Pang, my mom, and my aunt Julie, as well as Kate Phillips and Ian Wheatland for helping make these words and pictures possible!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Burning

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
San Cristobal de las Casas

    I’ve been in San Cristobal for several days now.

                It’s been good. Two days ago or so, I went for a run. I ran up a long flight of steps to a mirador (lookout) and a church. There was also an outdoor gym and even a rock wall! When I saw that, I thought, “I can stay here for a little while. I might belong.”

                Yesterday, I saw a man on fire. Before that, I went shopping with Raul and Silvi. It was fun to hang out with native Spanish speakers. Vendors that had stone faces seemed to come to life once they understood that they would be understood.

                We were looking for warm things, and I wanted to buy a locally made scarf, so Silvi suggested we go to Zinancantán, a nearby town known for its textiles.

                When we arrived, we walked around a little before deciding to look for a young girl that had approached us before, offering to take us to “where the textiles were made.” We found her near the same place we met her. She was maybe 12, and she wore the traditional clothes and colors of many of the other women nearby. In fact, it was at first difficult to find her because so many other young girls were dressed nearly or exactly alike.

                We asked her to take us to where the textiles were made, and unbeknownst to us, she was taking us to her home. We walked along behind her, up through residential streets and past many houses and gardens. Corn was growing in the gardens, and dogs and chickens were milling in the streets. There were small churches, and political party slogans were stenciled onto fence walls and crumbling buildings. The buildings were a white cement, that seemed to be made of a crumbling chalk, because the streets were dusty with the same color. A brightly painted door or window shutter here and there stood out in stark contrast.

                Our guide led us between two cinder block walls, forming a narrow alley, and we emerged onto the back patio where her two sisters and mother were weaving and sewing, and a little boy was playing.
              
               While we three browsed, the young girl, demure but sure of herself, brought to us a bottle (a 16 ounce plastic water bottle, with the label peeled off) of cinnamon posh.

                I bought a green scarf and Raul bought an orange one. Silvi couldn’t find one she liked.

                We walked back to the square with big hungers, and caught the collectivo to San Cristobal.

                On the ride back, Silvi and Raul were commenting on the cold fog that lay on the mountain, and comparing Mexican Spanish with Spanish Spanish.

                Traffic slowed down when we neared the city, and the views of the mountains and valleys disappeared from my window, replaced by a conveyor belt of the common 10 foot cinder block privacy walls. I was staring at those walls as they blurred and passed when an entrance and a driveway to one particular property came into view. I was listening to Raul and Silvi speak in Spanish, and there were a couple of groups of locals on the collectivo, too (the collectivo is a van that follows a set route).

                As I began to be able to see the opening of the wall, I saw flames dancing and wisping off the ground. It looked like a gasoline or oil fire. For a second, I had a chance to think about the situation; if it was normal or an emergency.

                It seemed tranquil. The sound track of the van’s buzzy engine and Raul and Silvi’s chit-chat continued unbroken, yet here was this scene of uncontained danger. I saw the flames were dancing outside of a guard shack, positioned outside of a wrought iron gate.

                Then, as the van continued past the gate, a man came into view. He was wearing a uniform-white shirt and black slacks. He was stalky and dark haired, and he was running up the driveway. It was then that I saw those same flames were dancing on his neck and shoulder, and he was swatting at them with both his hands. Then he passed out of view.

                I was startled.

                I said to Raul and Silvi, “There’s a man on fire!” and they looked just as he passed out of view. There was just a wall again. Blurred cinderblocks.

                Immediately after, I was confused, and I looked around at the faces of the people in the collectivo with me. Did they see it? Did they see a man burning? Their eyes were glazed. Maybe they hadn’t been looking, and they couldn’t understand me.

                But Raul and Silvi could understand. Surely, they would want to do something, I thought. Should we stop? What had happened? I didn’t know. The van kept plodding along.

                The most disturbing observation that remains with me from that story is the lack of empathy, or reaction from anyone in the van. No-one actually cared, in fact, as far as I could tell, they ignored the whole incident.

                I felt almost panicked, yet no-one else even commented on seeing a man running away, on fire.

                Raul, seeing my distress after  I persisted on talking about it, said, “Sometimes people are burned here—as punishment,” as if to excuse what we had just seen.

                It’s been several days, and the thought that I was present to witness someone on fire, burning, still disturbs me.

                I felt very isolated when I perceived that I was the only one empathizing with a stranger.

                I got the impression that the prevailing attitude was: if it isn’t happening to us, it’s not our problem; everyone should mind their own business.

                I think about that man, running, swatting at the flames licking and scorching his skin. Me, impotent and unsure, watching from a window. I am haunted.

I want to specially acknowledge the financial contributions from Alexandre Nguyen, Manny Rangel, Michael Pang, my mom, and my aunt Julie, as well as Kate Phillips and Ian Wheatland for helping make these words and pictures possible!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Settling In

Sunset from Kinoki Tea House and Independent Cinema

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014
San Cristobal de las Casas

I’m in San Cristobal now.

Today, I rode from the outskirts of Acuyan to San Cris.

I wasn’t prepared for the climb up to here. San Cristobal is on a high mountain. I took the road that ascends from Tuxtla Gutierrez, a large, prosperous city.

As the road climbed it grew cool, and the air felt easier to breathe. Maybe because of the altitude, maybe because of the temperature. I don’t know.

Coming into town, a nice woman and her friend offered me a flier for the hostel they own, Hostal Luna Nueva. I took the flier and followed the directions there.

The bike started making a noise the day after coming out of Mexico City. A whining noise like bearings or something as part of the drive train. I can’t figure it out.

At the hostel, I met a musician from San Francisco named Raul. His aunt owns the hostel, so he spends time in San Cristobal. I’m going to see him play a style of music called San Jaracho, tonight.

~*~

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

The sun has risen on a beautiful and pleasant day here in San C.

I went to the park and practiced guitar.

It’s very nice here. It reminds me of Antigua, Guatemala. I miss you painfully.

I think I will stay a little while. I want to practice guitar more than I have been able to do on the road, and maybe learn more Spanish (formally), but definitely practice it in any case. Then after all of that, maybe on to Pelenque and beyond.

~*~


Pedestrian Promenade Real de Guadelupe
I’m sitting at a café having just having eaten a pork and egg dish with rice and black beans. The eggs and pork were mixed.

As I sit, I’m watching the park square in front of me and the two young girls at the front of the restaurant trying to get people to eat here.

I came in because one of the girls looked me directly in the eyes and approached me confidently.

I find her confidence and charisma attractive as I watch her approach strangers and invite them to dine.

~*~

I’m at café Entropia, now. Raul is about to come on with his band. I also heard him play last night.

Listening to the band sing in Spanish makes me want in on the language more than anything else, except maybe to speak to beautiful women. 

I want to specially acknowledge the financial contributions from Alexandre Nguyen, Manny Rangel, Michael Pang, my mom, and my aunt Julie, as well as Kate Phillips and Ian Wheatland for helping make these words and pictures possible!


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Darkness and the Fog

Friday, November 21, 2014
Between Puebla and Verecruz

Unable to find a hotel in Puebla, I rode on into the dark, deep blue horizon as the sun set behind me.

The temperature began to drop precipitously and an overcast sky began to let fall a light rain.

After I passed through a toll station, I pulled to the side of the road by a rest area to add some layers.

I always ride with earplugs. The drone of the engine, and especially the wind noise, will cause hearing damage, so I wear earplugs to mitigate the noise.

There were people milling around the rest area, and a few vendors selling tortillas and soup. A fire was going and some men were chatting around it. I couldn’t hear anything, though, with my earplugs. The sounds were muted, and I felt as a ghost, moving unnoticed through the midst of these people. I experienced that sensation—of being a ghost—the rest of the night.

~*~
Trying something new: musical accompaniment.
(Press play and continue reading.)

Warm as I could be, I pressed on; into the dark, into the cold, into the drizzle—into the unknown.

The road had taken me to the highlands.  I had ascended to Mexico City, I knew, and I hadn't yet descended. The temperatures were 30 to 40 degrees cooler than what I had experienced up to now. I pressed on, hoping to find a hotel or lower elevation with warmer weather. 

And then I hit the fog.

The night was black, and that blackness closed in.

The road emptied dramatically, no more cars, just big semi-trucks lit up with all their lights. 

I began to see signs warning of something, but I didn't recognize the word. I suspected it was rain or ice.

Yellow lights flashed, signaling caution. The lane markers were illuminated by LEDs.
I slowed my pace, as fog began to grow thick.

I also began to pass many semi-trucks pulled to the side of the road—all their marker lights on. 

Oil fires were lit in open pans. I could see first their glow in the white haze, and as I grew closer, they illuminated the border between darkness and an opaque white ether. 

Sound soaked into the fog and did not come back. 

The road was dropping, and the bike didn't have to work as hard, the engine coasted, and with the low speed and ear plugs, there wasn't much to hear now.

Now the road became alive; the fog lifted it up. The reflections of its signs and lines all to be seen, but the world that held them seemed to vanish.

The lights of a truck or car here and there.

The darkness of sound was only punctuated by the big trucks, their engines pounding, resisting the steep grades.

As I approached each truck and trailer, they emerged from the white cloud like lumbering giants—sentient beings on a steady journey into this unknown. 

The road tried to get away from me, it was moving and squirming. I had to slow way down to keep my grasp on it. 

I weaved and banked the moto to stay on the winding curves as the road dropped, dropped into nothing.

At that point, I had completely departed this world. That was how I felt. The earth had fallen away, as an old depiction of a flat earth, and I had ridden a road off the earth and into space.

Looking up, I saw nothing, not stars, not sky, not clouds, just blackness, or the near grey whiteness of the cloud I now inhabited. I could not see to the side, as it was dark there, too. All that existed was what I could see before me; an infinite road that appeared from first the grey, then the white of the fog. Road lines receded away from me and vanished—not around a curve or behind a horizon, or into the distance, they just disappeared. Everything disappeared and appeared as if by magic. It was a surreal and visceral experience, all at once.

Before particularly tight turns—switchbacks—I could see the lights of trucks glowing in white fog not far below me, seemingly floating in blackness that spanned the distance between us. 

My light shown only 40’ into that white darkness. Shards separated from each other, the fog showed me the insides of my headlight’s beam, dissecting each reflection from within its housing.

This whole time we were descending. Down, down, into darkness, into silence, into nothing. 

With nothing to see beyond, I couldn't imagine what to expect, just more black road, white lines and yellow lines. More white fog and more darkness all around it. 

I went through three tunnels, holding my breath through each. I was thankful for the surety of a defined space, with all sides measured and quantified. And then I was back in the ethereal world, the nebulous world.

Indeed, the Spanish word for fog, printed in large, black block letters on white signs was “Niebla.” I made the connection then, to the warning and its meaning.

Finally, I descended out of that misty cloud, but feeling like I held some of that foggy mist in my head.

It was raining below that layer of the sky, but it was no worse than the cloud above.

As I entered the town of Orizaba, I spotted a sign that said “Hotel,” in red letters on a salmon-pink building.

I was going too fast to pull in, but I pulled onto the shoulder, turned around, and drove through the graveled mud to the front door.

~*~

Inside, two young women and a man were sitting in what looked like a restaurant.  It was stark and clean inside, though, almost too clean to believe it was ever used.

The room had bare tables with white tops. Black chairs surrounded the tables and the floor was gleaming white tile. The walls were as salmon-pink on the inside as they were on the outside.

One of the young women looked slightly older, and it looked like she was eating cereal. It was about 7:30 PM.

I opened the door and stepped inside.

Looking back from where I came, I saw my bike’s headlight was shining into the windows, and you could see it revealing the rain that the darkness was hiding.

I stretched to step onto a towel laid on the floor a little way from the door. I tamped my wet, muddy feet and smiled.

The man got up from the table speaking a polite farewell and departed the women. Walking out the door, he disappeared into the darkness.

I smiled, and asked for a room. The younger girl gestured toward the front desk, and I gingerly walked across the no-man’s land of pristine tile.

I had a delightful time talking to the younger girl, Selena, as she tried to explain she needed a “factura”—something like a form or a receipt, I gathered. She used Google Translate on her smartphone, but it didn’t seem to bring up the proper translation.

We laughed our way through the language barrier and settled the confusion with much smiling and shrugging,

Eventually, I paid 300 pesos and tip-toed off the gleaming tiles and walked back into the night and drove around the back of the hotel to park in front of room 104.

I want to specially acknowledge the financial contributions from Alexandre Nguyen, Manny Rangel, Michael Pang, my mom, and my aunt Julie, as well as Kate Phillips and Ian Wheatland for helping make these words and pictures possible!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Minor Tribulations

Thursday, November 20th, 2014       
Somewhere outside Mexico City

There’s so much going on and it seems like I can barely keep up.  
      
A musing: I finally “got” the word “antsy”, today. I had been sitting on the ground at the Tultec ruins, and I had noticed a lot of ants.

When I got back on the moto to ride, I got the sensation of ants in my pants. I started squirming and moving around a lot. I was really antsy, and then it dawned on me; what it meant.

I had a similar moment of epiphany with the word “stoke,” once, involving myself, a bottle of wine, and a campfire. 

I really enjoy those moments of revelation.

~*~

The populated areas of Mexico are drastically different from the rural areas. It makes me a little sad because the cities are so crowded and “committed” to their designs, I find it difficult to imagine improving them. Only starting over seems to make sense.

To be honest, that came as a surprise to me after all my time on the highways and in the countryside—everything seems to work well out there. I expected the same kind of utilitarian order in the cities, but they are antiquated infrastructure that simply cannot cope with the population.

~*~

Friday, November 21st, 2014
Veracruz

I’m sitting at a table under an umbrella on a beach.

I was interrupted twice, once by two different vendors, while I wrote the previous sentence.  I was interrupted a third time while I wrote the last one.

It’s tourist hell here, like Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. But it’s okay.

~*~

Yesterday was a tough day.

I found out later that Mexico City was actually supposed to have mass protests and traffic blockades during the day that I drove through there. This, because of the 43.

I might have seen one of the demonstrations. I saw a very large crowd of people in a park that had a yellow fence.

My time in the city was an intense experience. From the moment I entered the city, I thought, “This is not for me, keep moving.” And so I did.

Later, on the way to Puebla, I encountered super heavy traffic and construction. After only 45 minutes, my left hand was tired from working the clutch, and I was impressed and amazed I had made it through without making contact with any vehicle.

I cut it closer than I thought I could, and each time I was surprised and relieved when I made it through a gap.

It’s especially nerve wracking when splitting a bus and a semi, and other big, long vehicles. I would grimace, tell myself, “I must,” and then I would. 

It’s a reflex for me to want to shut my eyes, but I kept them peeled, and I would get so close that parts of the bike like the saddle bags, would go under the semi-trailer so I could clear a bus or something else on the other side.

Afterward, I stopped for gas at the base of a slope, and ate pollo con papas (chicken and fries) at the gas station diner, while a Jean-Claude Van Damme '80s action movie played on several TVs in the background. Before continuing on, I needed this time to rest my mind, and the bike was hot too, so I let her cool down.

It was growing late, and it had been overcast all day. I finished eating and began to ride up a slope into the haze.

It started raining almost immediately.

I presumed I was going to go over a pass, but I really didn’t know what was at the top of the climbing road, which disappeared into the ether.

Instead of stopping again, this time for the rain, I decided to punch through, having a feeling the rain would not last.

I was right, and it subsided when I got to the other side of what turned out to be a mountain pass, and I was happy my gambit had paid off.

The day was old, and night approached. I stopped at two hotels I saw in Puebla, but they were too expensive, so I rode on into the night. 

I want to specially acknowledge the financial contributions from Alexandre Nguyen, Manny Rangel, Michael Pang, my mom, and my aunt Julie, as well as Kate Phillips and Ian Wheatland for helping make these words and pictures possible!