March 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
I have a tendency to ask people what they think of the places they visit. I like to ask myself what I think of cities I visit. We tend to keep it brief – we like it or we don’t like it. It’s interesting or it’s not interesting. It beautiful or it’s not beautiful.
We got robbed in Cajamarca, Peru. It was two days before my sister’s wedding on New Year’s Eve a few years ago. It was at her home where we were staying. Where we were playing cards when we heard the dog barking furiously outside. The men were masked and strong and demanded money by the tips of their machetes. Physical shocks of fear, as real and debilitating as a punch in the gut, rushed through my body and continued after the robbers left and through the rest of the night. Sleep was as distant as the sun I prayed to come up because the nightmare was real for as long as it was dark. They would come back, I was convinced. I shivered in my bed, my dad standing watch at the window. It wasn’t until the first peak of light made its way through the window that my adrenaline subsided. But never again could I sleep in that house.
I still shudder when I hear dogs bark loudly at night.
What is it to know a city? Is it to know its history? Does it happen when you visit every street in the city or go inside every building? Is it a certain amount of time spent there? Is it who we are with or is it when we are alone?
During a trip to Puerto Rico a couple of years ago Mike and I took a jog one morning. We didn’t want to stray too far from where we were staying so we opted to run laps around the nearby hotel/casino. It was morning and the thermal blanket of the Puerto Rican sun was already in full effect. The hotel workers and cab drivers sitting around playing dominos looked at us like we were crazy. Hell, the lizards scattering across the sidewalk to get into shade, were very likely questioning our intelligence. I didn’t make it long. I’ve never done well in the heat and after three laps it felt like a dentist had suctioned out all liquid from my mouth and I was inside an oven. Mike and I found some shade and I collapsed into the lukewarm grass. Not a minute later a hotel worker, in a long sleeve shirt and pants, walked over and gave me his unopened bottle of water. He must have thought we were crazy for running in that heat without water but it didn’t matter. A man I didn’t know in a place I didn’t know reached out and I still think about it to this day.
A dreadful moment. An transcendent moment. But neither can define those places.
Made it south by the sea. I had a five hour drive today. I am sitting in a restaurant by the sea with jazz music waiting for my fish and chips. My phone is almost out of battery. Will write more when I get back to the airbnb. That was the email I received this summer from my dad who was traveling around Europe. I saved it and re-read it from time to time. I’m not exactly sure why. I wonder if it’s the amount of beauty in the brevity. A still moment hanging there without judgment – like a picture infused with mystery and expanse.
I think about all of the places I’ve visited and the words I’ve used to describe them and the memories and feelings that have stuck with me from those places – and still I wonder can we ever really know a city? Will our descriptions always fall short? Or are our descriptions simply describing us – an amalgam of our tastes and fears during that time of our life?
Maybe simple, physical descriptions are all that we have to know a place, and the rest, well that’s on us.
March 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
Words don’t come so easily these days. It seems when I put my focus on something else besides writing that part of my brain shuts down. Alas, I am not as capable a multi-tasker as I thought. Or maybe it’s just a reading season. A season where I take in words instead of spew them out. That is surely fine with me. I will surrender to this season gladly, albeit somewhat deluged because of the sheer amount of things I want to read. But I must quiet the cacophony of choices and focus on that page in front me. Just pick. And read. Turn the page and read some more. It’s the only way to get through a book, an endless list of books, the minutes of these racing days. Ya know, the thought just occurred to me that I’m writing about non-writing. How silly is that? Probably about as silly as being stressed out by the length of the list of books I want to read. If you’re looking for some extra reading these days:
- A favorite New Yorker piece on Extreme Caving
- This ridiculously good longform piece about a friendship that began with a mutual love for birding between two boys who lived on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, and has turned into a mutual effort to turn the former Iron Curtain into a greenbelt. That the boys began a friendship through the birds that flew freely between their two drastically different worlds just gets me right in the gut. Poetry at its finest.
- Emplumada by Lorna Dee Cervantes because poems like this:
I pick myself up ignoring
whoever I was slowly
noticing for the first time my body’s stench
I made a list in my head
of all the names who could help me
and then meticulously I scratched each one
they won’t hear me burning
inside of myself
my used skin glistened
my first diamond
- The other Sunday during an especially indecisive cooking mood I read this recipe for white chicken chili and all indecisiveness skirted away. I bought two boneless chicken breasts for the soup and slathered them in butter with a decent showering of salt and pepper and baked them in a 400 degree over for 30 minutes. Once the chicken cooled a bit I shredded it into the soup. I also purchased lots of flavorful toppings – jalapenos, green onions, cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips, cilantro. This was a definite favorite recipe this winter and is being filed away in my soup recipe arsenal for all time.