On the beach

English: Sunset at Zipolite Beach Oaxaca Mexico

Sunset at Beach, Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A star over the Pacific is twinkling orange then green. The sound of the waves is steady and unnoticed, and then a loud wave hits the shore in a riff. An electric cable in a side street is sparking. The night has a gentle sadness, I think, lying in the hammock on the porch. But I’ve been reading Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur the last few days, and he says things like that about the trees or place.

We swam in the morning and drank coconuts on deck chairs, then had snacks for breakfast and read all afternoon. The army started patrolling through the back streets, just walking together, looking, and one sat down outside a store to eat something. When the sun was low we walked along the pinklit beach, avoiding the army, and had prawn curry with rice at a table on the sand.

Then we all trooped on back along the beach to our cabin, earlyish, up the lane past a family watching tv on their backporch, beside the sea.

A peculiar and small cloud or odourless smoke drifted over the houses along the shore, between the palm trees. G and I sat on the porchwall wondering about the night, the high waves, the sparking cable and the clouds. Then an orange light appeared in the sky and passed along the beach until it went out of sight.

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The shadow under the palm

Palm tree

Palm tree (Photo credit: naggobot)

I like not using the Internet everyday. It can be a social lifeline, but it’s like a life that needs to be maintained and monitored, by sitting still and gazing into another world, which is this world.

My sister arrived at the bus station, after not having seen her for a year it was as if no time had passed. We all went out for pizza.

In the morning I went to yoga and the teacher said, in translation, Anything that your mind keeps coming back to, let it go. We had breakfast in a cafe at a dim table under a loft. In the evening we circuited the block and found a taco stand and torta cafe.

The road to X— starts along the side of mountains covered in short bushes and white dust. We passed quarries, so maybe it was quarry dust. It was dry and people-less. The road turned a bend and the mountains were covered with green trees. Further along there was valley below and also peaks far above with meadows and a house here or there.

The town was unexpected, plenty of hotels, but more a working centre. We had a corn with mayonnaise, cheese, and chili, and tortas.

I read a book The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam. Shankar says Researchers scraping beneath the bright circle of conscious thought slowly came to realise the circle was really a hole that sat atop another structure. They eventually found an entire pyramid of unconscious brain activity… There are many aspects of the hidden brain that are permanently sealed off from introspection. Unconscious bias is not caused by a secret puppeteer who sits inside our heads, but the effects of bias are such a puppeteer exists…

In situations that do not require conscious intervention, the hidden brain simply responds to what it sees without informing you what it has done. Vedantam personifies the conscious brain as ‘you’ and the unconscious brain as an other. This means you are your thoughts, the hidden brain is the attentive and unnoticed assistant, but the hidden brain is also you… just, not you, because you can never experience how it works.

In the morning we walked to the castle of surrealist sculptures and staircases in the jungle, and regressed up a very steep hill. The way back was misty and the bus was slow.

The next morning was cold and overcast. We three took the bus to D.F. and a plane to P—, which was uneventful, short, but traumatic as all leaving lands are. Our hotelito room had a thatched roof and loft. We had drinks on deck chairs by the water, I had a coconut. The heat muffles everything and made us feel more lethargic and relaxed. We went out to a beach side bar, and a library bar, and discussed cheese smuggling with a Canadian man.

We read by the pool the next day, and walked along the beach to a smaller beach, along a cliff path populated only by teenage lovers, crumbling concrete bridges, and waves, which was also traumatic. The beach turned out to be safe for swimming, but also full of people and fuel smells from boats. We had some Coronas and a lie down.

In the morning we had breakfast by the hot sand and carried our bags along the boulevard to the main road, where an onward bus stopped. We sat under a mango tree with a carver man who was drinking coke, near a trailer of many young and smelly puppies for sale.

People were transporting bags of limes and baskets of bread on the collectivo, and then the van stopped and the driver got out and started to brawl with a foreign looking man, which traumatised us. My sister reported hearing two foreigners next to us complaining about how dodgy the taxi drivers here were, and on the lane to our cabins two men digging coconut shells asked my friend if we wanted to buy cocaine. So went to our cabin and then walked along the quiet beach to a bar where at least some other people where sitting, wondering what kind of place had we come to. There were other foreigners, but surely they were fearful too, because they all disappeared not long after sunset. I sat on the porch before I went to bed and a police truck with men on the tray patrolled the road. Nothing felt right.

But in the morning the sun was bright and the sea bluer than ever, and we carried on as bravely as possible. We walked to a beach we’d heard about that was a little cove with a headland and two openings to the sea, that was popular with nudists. As planned, we went for a swim.

We came back and the staff at the breakfast were surprised by our ordeals yesterday, it is not common here. People don’t generally have ill feelings towards foreigners, and if we walk the other way along the beach, we’ll come to ‘downtown’. It seems more tranquil.

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Diving for pearls

Ocean and sky

Ocean and sky (Photo credit: FnJBnN)

I finished re-reading Gretchen Ruben’s The Happiness Project book last week: it one-part irks me. I think this part is the atmosphere of striving and self-perfection, which seems counter to my idea of what happiness should be, organic and from within—’happiness is you’ (Holden), happiness is the high seas, calm or stormy, ‘but the depth is still there, unchanged’ (Ricard). If striving for your happiness is self-indulgent, Gretchen counters this by saying that your own happiness is important because it influences the happiness level of others.

The thing I like about the Happiness Project is the message of action and conscious living, rather than passivity and the the days passing by. As my house mate said into my ear the last day I saw him before he returned overseas, Just try.

The book is spirituality-lite, but still, I’ve come back to it. Gretchen finds that being happy isn’t necessarily easy: it takes some energy and drive to ‘do’ the things that will make her happy. But she ‘resolves’ to do things every day. And then she realises that ‘the the bluebird was singing outside my kitchen window’ all along, which is what she knew all along. She’s happier, and she was happy before, but now she knows it.

On the windowsill of the cafe are three pots of lavender flowers just quivering in the breeze.

For my twenty seventh year I have some goals: Mindfulness / writing / health and energy / nature and environment / social / connection / have less + the simple things.

On this day I am at an impasse. I don’t know what I’m doing with myself.

Last week: a few days of desperate housewife, I started to walk in the morning and sew. We went to yoga and the teacher had us doing handstands against the wall. We went to the birthday drinks of my friend’s work colleague. We went to T— and then D.F to collect our race packs, and then to run. I ran or jogged the whole 10km, which is incredible considering I had trouble jogging 1.2km three months ago.

I spoke to my parents on Skype and they said our dog hadn’t settled well the last few nights. They called a vet, who came with his wife. He gave my dog an overdose of anesthetic while my Dad held her, and she died straight away. When we lived near the beach she used to race over the sea grass flats.

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The pilgrim’s progress

a castle spewing rockets and fire

a castle spewing rockets and fire (Photo credit: uteart)

On the bus I saw pilgrims walking along the shoulder of the highway, pairs of ladies in long tops and hats, as if out to stroll. Utes with splendid altars and flowers for the Virgin on the tray. Teenage boys cycling in matching t-shirts and blue sports pants accompanied by trucks with banners on the side, determined in the sun.

My friend and I reunited at anti-stress yoga, then I met the scientist at the lookout and we went for pizza, and to sit where a market was packing up.

We went to a day of yoga and meditation in a hot loft, and to a sushi restaurant. Then cleaning, supermarket and to sit by the pool. The sky was brown but clear and there were stars. What is there but certain simple things.

In the morning we went to the park to run when the sun was already clear and bright. I made three laps around the lake. We went for tacos and a big juice in a busy taqueria.

In the afternoon we went to a Mexican barbeque. The husband charred tomatoes and chilies and took them inside in a blender to make the salsa, which is apparently not typical for male householders. There was meat, vegetables, nopales with cheese. We sat on the back porch and I looked at the lantana and bougainvillea while everyone talked.

I took a taxi downtown. There was some kind of festival, with drums in the plaza and street and people dressed with bells on their ankles dancing ecstatically in the indigenous manner, as well as a brass band, and people dressed as death or America. I found my friend in the crowd. In another plaza a band played in a rotunda which was totally encircled by dancing couples, many elderly. My friend said it was beautiful and ‘the real Mexico’.

At the big fiesta we saw fireworks from the church and a fire castle, which is like a metal tower with different wheels up the sides. When the fuse is lit there are many sparks, and then the wheel starts to burn in the same way as a sparkler, but massive and coloured, spinning and spewing sparks. My friend said not to be worried because I have with me a paramedic. Afterwards, it becomes a wreck of metal.

Rilke has written in his Letters to a Young Poet #8: It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension… Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us… because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us… has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed…

We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside.

Which is what catches in the throat when dressing to go out, or looking at the flowers in the garden, or on the bus, and suddenly there is solitude. Something is working away.

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Climbing faux mountains

Church and Great Pyramid, Cholula, 1948

Church and Great Pyramid, Cholula, 1948 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Free coco pops and my sister talked to me on Skype chat about obsession, which, she counsels, is ‘a problem’.

Then I walked to the bus station for a bus to C—. The pyramid looked like a natural hill with a church on top. I went alone into the tunnel, first straight ahead, then to the left and straight ahead, then to the right and straight ahead, and then to the left and outside. All along there were tunnels off to the sides, level or stairs up or down. I was nervous so went quickly.

Outside the ruins are visible only around the base. At one part there is a plaza of three altars, one of which was discovered broken in two pieces 40m apart, which the sign said suggested the site was destroyed when it was abandoned. Around there are market gardens.

There is also a smaller altar, built after the main pyramid was abandoned, on which the skulls of decapitated children were found, as offerings.

It was a hot day. I went up to the church and sat for a while. The church was built of the pyramid stones. On wikipedia it says the Catholic church prohibits certain strong fireworks from being exploded up there because they shake the pyramid’s tunnels.

I took a bus back, ate some kind of bread roll with over an inch of cheese and talked to a French lady in the hostel. I walked through the downtown, which after all is beautiful. I listened for a while to an orchestra in the main plaza, and had a soup and salad in a restaurant.

Back at the hostel a German girl gave me some tips on places to go in Oaxaca, and my Spanish roommate came and shared a bag of soft guavas with me, and I practiced my Spanish with her. She was telling me some complicated scenario of difficulties with her amigos.

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In a lonely land

Monarch butterflies cluster in Santa Cruz, Cal...

Monarch butterflies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once back at the hostel for the night I was loath to go out alone even though I had only diet potato ‘chips’ to eat. But after two hours bleeding my eyes on the computer I went for a walk to a taqueria that had, when I asked, ‘comida vegetariana’, which turned out to be barbequed onion, green capsicum and pineapple stirred with stringy cheese (i.e. pizza topping), served with a pile of tortillas.

On the tv was a soap opera, then people sifting through ruins after what looked like an earthquake. A boy in the doorway was shaving meat off a revolving piece of meat, with flame. Coming back, the air was cool and the street curved away, empty, fronted by walls. Above, just a sliver of home lights on a black hill.

I paid a man to drive me to las mariposas, along with a woman from New England, who could talk alright, and a man from Mexico. In the mountains, conifers, and when we walked through the forest, a monarch butterfly here or there, and then butterflies flying through the trees like a disney movie, clumped over a tree. Also dead on the ground. The butterflies were like pieces of red snow, or light falling in the forest. You could hear their wings flapping. These are the Methuselahs that fly from the US and Canada to central Mexico, for ‘wintering’.

The herbs were burrs, thistles, yellow flowers, lupines. The valley bottoms were brown and flat but the hills were wooded. Because of the altitude the American lady and I had to walk slowly or get out of breath.

On the way back the water in the marsh was white against black plant clumps. The sun set red. There was little spots of burning along the valley, a kiln, scrub on a hill. A semi trailer had flipped on a bend, and spilled cubes of compacted recycled materials. What helped today: be as you are.

Then I took the bus to D.F. and another bus to P—. More burning along the highway, a causeway into a lake, men on horses herding cows, the stacks of corn stalks, lines of drying clothes on roofs. The taxi driver drove me to the hostel and I walked to eat mole enchiladas. On the way back the streets were almost deserted and I got lost.

I’m in a co-ed dorm with four men. I’ve forgotten how to be nice to people casually. One of the strenuous things about travel is constantly being around people who don’t know you. Unfortunately, I’ve started to cultivate a particular and audible nervous twitch when sleeping in the same room as strangers.

On the bus I remembered a poem called The Lonely Land by A.J.M. Smith about the Canadian landscape: the beauty / of strength / broken by strength / and still strong. The poet’s landscape is one of repetition of sound, of dissonance, ‘wind-battered’ trees, wild natural forces: of strengths breaking against one another but conserving their vitality and wildness, even when they’ve been hurled onto the rocks. Of strength that doesn’t dissipate or spend itself. I wish I could know how to describe the landscape here, especially the crumbling houses in the middle of straw coloured yards and rough scrub and cactus, which might be called ‘god-forsaken’.

My friend has written about certain forsakings ‘Everything will be fine, you’ll see’.

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The space and the silence is what

blue agave

blue agave (Photo credit: linsuehoo)

In a passage from Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River, Nora has written to a friend from the confinement of her parents-in-law’s house in the suburbs, where she lives. She says something like, these letters were boring, but if I had really told the truth about what my life was like they would not have been boring. This is not what Jessica has actually written, but this is how I always remember it. So.

What happened was I waited for my friend twice, the second place in a passageway outdoors, near a grim man sitting outside a shop. Then he came bounding up, and tried to give me a present but I didn’t know it was a present. We ate and sat in some churches, and plazas.

We went on a walking tour of the city, which I didn’t understand, and then I left abruptly to meet someone else for no good reason. He wrote the next day which means it should be ok. But since then I am wretched.

Then, I ‘graduated’ from my school.

G and I saw the movie, in English The Life of Pi. She said she thinks the message was: in life there will be suffering, so it’s better to choose a nice story.

We took the bus to Guadalajara, stayed in a hotel and talked by the circular pool in the evening with our feet in the pool.

We took the train in the morning to Tequila township, toured a tequila factory and tasted the steamed agave. The plant takes 812 years to mature, and along the train line they were planted in any little pocket of space, as well as marching up and over hills. A buffet lunch and many ‘cultural experiences’.

This day, I traveled alone to M. The city has a reputation for being dangerous (los narcos). At the bus station for this particular route they searched hand luggage and scanned persons with a metal detector. The city itself is soft and romantic looking. I went for a jog, then a walk, and all the plazas and streets have people sitting and walking. The hostel is tranquil and almost empty. All the doors open to the open air. I think I might be lonely.

I could watch scenery change all day, and think. The colour, the vegetation, the shape of the land. It is almost one month. What was left / the world in one thousand pieces / and one of them this pile of stalks / and one of them this pile of stones. I am distracted, and then there is what is left, which is simple but in the space between things.

(What was left is an album by Clare Bowditch)

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Las cosas

English: Underside of taro (Colocasia esculent...

leaf, backlit by direct sunlight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What happened: One of the students at the school had a birthday and the teachers sang happy birthday in Spanish.

The young man and I had a gordita each with a red chili salsa, and tall plastic cups of horchata in a hot diner.

We sat in a plaza. A girl more or less than 16 years passed me her baby to hold when she came to sell us a lollipop. Another lady sold us marzipan because she was out of a job and ‘42, they say that’s too old, but come on’, or similar. The young man showed me the book he reads to learn English vocabulary, circa 1975, complete with dated dialogues (darling) and era-specific photographs.

A minor mutiny at the school today when continued with basic lessons rather than the past tense.

At the vegetarian restaurant: watercress, spinach and lettuce salad with peanuts; bean soup; soya gordita; potato kofta ball in a tomato sauce; orange jelly; what can only have been parsley water. Many people dining.

There’s more, and it doesn’t have to be something new. The life of things, small, unknown things, is everywhere. And in the day where flavour seems lost, the things have a detail, a mood, and a chance. Not all / is lost. If one rather than the other seems indistinguishable, then there isn’t right or wrong. And in the crack, something like light.

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El fin de semana, very fine

Querétaro Train Station

Train Station (Photo credit: Cheryl & Rich)

On Friday I took a taxi to a sushi restaurant on the highway, my friend caught up on gossip about her ex-workplace with friends, I thought my thoughts.

We went to yoga. I walked downtown and stopped to look at the aqueduct, which is illuminated at night, and the city lights spread all around, and the roofs and spaces inside walls.

A scientist with a book under his arm befriended me and we went to have tea at the typical cafe of his friend. Our table was on the pavement and beside there was a shadow puppet show accompanied by a trio of folk musicians from the mountains. A small crowd watched from the steps. We talked about poetry and personal particulars. He took two cans of wine from his shoulder bag and his friend supplied two glasses with ice.

I met the young man in a plaza, he made me a coffee at his work and finished packing up tables. We went with his friends to a bar of rock covers. His friend’s cousin told me she was 15 and had left school to work as a waitress. The moon was full and luminous in the sky above the bar. We went to another bar with an orange tree in the courtyard. He explained that the context is very important in understanding verb tenses in Spanish.

In the morning I had breakfast downtown with the scientist to celebrate Australia Day: deep fried gorditas with mushroom and nopales. We went to a museum and the train station, which is perfectly and elegantly presented for travelers, except no passenger trains ever stop there. We saw a freight train pass with two pairs of guards seated on middle and rear cars. He told me that in the town where he lives, a person on a motorcycle once pulled up beside him at the traffic lights and pointed a gun at him, and cars behind him started honking their horns.

I had sushi by the pool with my friend. We lay on deckchairs and there were tiny birds flitting in the tree. Her work colleague escorted us to a cabaret-style bar with a different rock covers band.

We had breakfast by the pool and my friend’s friend described in detail the house of his grandparents in Europe. We jogged around the lake at dusk and dark, 5 km. The light was very soft, the ducks in a revolving bunch, white dust rising with each step.

A companion at my school told me her Mexican boyfriend had been listening to the Hottest 100. My classmate and I sat on the footpath and ate our gorditas in the sun, but I didn’t feel I was shining today. I walk down the street and a line from W.H. Auden’s poem slips into my head, always just the one line, ‘For nothing now can ever come to any good’. Then there is the church, the cobblestones, a man fitting new cobblestones and painting the joins with terracotta coloured paint.

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Somebody that I used to know in Mexico

English: Eucalyptus tereticornis (flower buds)...

 Eucalyptus tereticornis (flower buds). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My classmate and I sat in the gordita shop on the break. I had a gordita doble queso with salsa, barbecued onion and lime juice, dripping all over my fingers and the plastic sheet covering the plate—common, so they don’t have to wash.

On the television the video clip of Gotye’s Somebody that I used to know was playing. I told my companion ‘this song is Australian’, but he didn’t seem interested. So everyone in the world’s heard it? Here too. On the radio, in bars, on people’s iPods. When it was first released I imagine the pop station I listen to would have announced part-way in ‘Escutchas Gotye, Somebody that I used to know’ in a smooth, authoritative disc jockey way, where the meanings of the English words don’t seem to totally hold meaning. At 3 am one night I heard Land down under in a taxi.

Some people have heard about our prime minister who is a ‘tough lady’ and ‘like a Margaret Thatcher’.

I went to a bar with my friend and her work colleagues, on the top floor of a new business complex, in the middle of nowhere on the coldest night of the year, with the city lights spread around. The Australian Open was showing on all the television screens, and it looked really hot.

Eucalyptus trees are everywhere here in unlandscaped or informal places, especially by the side of roads. Noone seems to know or care that they are from Australia, but they are like familiar faces to me. I’ve also seen casuarinas, and a lilypilly by the gate at the park, which smelt the same as my chilhood.

After school I sit in the cathedral downtown for meditation. Today they were cleaning and there were no flowers. A boy was sweeping and polishing the woodern lecturn. Someone was practicing the organ, which sounded like a gaudy funeral parade. Beneath the soaring sound was the mechanical breath and fall of the instrument.

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